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Seinen Manga: Maturity in Japanese Manga

There has been much talk around the internet about Japanese form of comics known as manga. Most of the focus is on shounens which are manga aimed at children or rather for younger men and boys, generally from eight to eighteen years of age. Many people don’t realize there is another side of manga. Among which is seinen manga, which I will try to introduce you guys to now.

Akira (poster)Seinen manga’s target audience are adult men from age eighteen to forty. Seinen manga have a wide variety of art styles and variation in subject matter compared to its younger counterpart Shounen. They can focus on action, politics, science fiction, fantasy, relationships, sports, or comedy and may also have sexual content. While some stories feature gore, nudity, and sex for shock value, there are others, featuring stories that touch on realistic themes, having mature and thought provoking content, becoming vivid with the artistry and imagination of the author.

Through this article I will now introduce you to some of the best (eight series for now) this genre has to offer. I will focus on the series that have been or are being currently published in English so that you might check these out. While all of these series are not strictly fantasy, these are all great works of fiction and I guarantee that you won’t disappointed with starting any one of these gems.

Akira

Akira (cover)Akira is set in the post-apocalypse Neo-Tokyo of 2030, a vast metropolis built on the ashes of a Tokyo annihilated by an apocalyptic blast of unknown power that triggered World War III. The lives of two streetwise teenage friends, Tetsuo and Kaneda, change forever when dormant paranormal abilities begin to waken in Tetsuo, who becomes a target for a shadowy government operation, a group who will stop at nothing to prevent another catastrophe like that which leveled the city. And at the core of their motivation is a raw, all-consuming fear. A fear of someone or something, of unthinkably monstrous power known only as “Akira”.

This might be the most famous seinen of all time. If you are a manga fan you probable have already read it. It is a fun blend of cyberpunk in a post-apocalyptic setting with themes focusing on the nature of youth to rebel against authority, control methods, community building, and the transformation experienced in adolescent passage. It won the 1984 Kodansha Manga Award for best general manga, the Harvey Award for Best American Edition of Foreign Material in 1993, and was nominated for the Harvey for Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work in 2002.

Berserk

Berserk (cover)Guts, known as the Black Swordsman, seeks sanctuary from the demonic forces attracted to him and his woman because of a demonic mark on their necks, and also vengeance against the man who branded him as an unholy sacrifice. Aided only by his titanic strength gained from a harsh childhood lived with mercenaries, a gigantic sword, and an iron prosthetic left hand, Guts must struggle against his bleak destiny, all the while fighting with a rage that might strip him of his humanity.

Another well-known gem of this genre which is still ongoing and still adored by many fans, that perfectly symbolizes seinen as a genre. Berserk is a dark fantasy manga with themes of isolation, camaraderie, and the question of whether humanity is fundamentally good or evil pervading the story, as it explores both the best and worst of human nature. The manga is noted for its use of graphic violence and sexual content. It won the Tezuka Osamu Award for Excellence in 2002.

Monster

Monster (cover)Monster weaves the riveting story of brilliant Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a famous surgeon with a promising career at a leading hospital. Tenma risks his reputation and career to save the life of a critically wounded young boy. Unbeknownst to him, this child is destined for a terrible fate. A string of strange and mysterious murders begin to occur soon afterward, ones that professionally benefit Dr. Tenma, and he emerges as the primary suspect. Conspiracies, serial murders, and a scathing depiction of the underbelly of hospital politics are all masterfully woven together in this compelling manga thriller.

Monster is a masterpiece by one of the giants of seinen manga, Naoki Urasawa; who is also the author and artist of other great works such as 20th Century Boys, Pluto, Master Keaton, Billy Bat etc. All of his works are worth checking out in my opinion, but Monster is generally regarded as his greatest work. Monster won the 46th Shogakukan Manga Award in the general category.

Vagabond

Vagabond (cover)Growing up in late 16th Century Sengoku era Japan, Shinmen Takez? is shunned by the local villagers as a devil child due to his wild and violent nature. Running away from home with a fellow boy at age seventeen, Takezo joins the Toyotomi army to fight the Tokugawa clan at the Battle of Sekigahara. However, the Tokugawa win a crushing victory, leading to nearly three hundred years of Shogunate rule. Takezo and his friend manage to survive the battle and afterwards swear to do great things with their lives. However, after their paths separate, Takezo becomes a wanted criminal and must change his name and his nature in order to escape an ignoble death.

Vagabond portrays a fictionalized account of the life of Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, loosely based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel Musashi. It won the 24th Kodansha Manga Award in the general category in 2000, and the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2002. It was nominated for the 2003 Eisner Award in the Best Writer/Artist category.

Mushishi

Mushishi (cover)They exist in the most unexpected places—be it within your eyes and ears, under the floor and roof of your house, or in the trees and flowers in your garden. They are everywhere, and yet nowhere, at the same time. Are they alive or not? Perhaps it is more apt to say they are beings who transcend the concept of life and death itself. They are mushi. Some wreak havoc in the lives of humans; others bring them deliverance from suffering. Mushi are neither good, nor evil: for just like any other creature, they are merely striving to survive in this harsh, competitive world. Ginko, a lone wanderer with a reclusive personality, offers help and guidance to those plagued by mushi. This is the tale of his travels and exploits in a wondrous world populated by these mysterious entities.

It has won many awards including Excellence Prize for Manga at the 7th Japan Media Arts Festival (2003), Kodansha Manga Award – General Manga (2006), 9th place on Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs List of Best Manga. The anime adaptation further won grand prizes in the categories of Television Series and Best Art Direction (for Takashi Waki) at the 5th Tokyo Anime Awards held at the Tokyo International Anime Fair in 2006.

Vinland Saga

Vinland Saga (cover)As a child, Thorfinn sat at the feet of the great Leif Ericson and was thrilled with wild tales of a land far to the west. But his youthful fantasies were shattered by a mercenary raid. Raised by the Vikings who murdered his family, Thorfinn became a terrifying warrior, forever seeking to kill the band’s leader, Askeladd, and avenge his father. Sustaining Thorfinn through his ordeal are his pride in his family and his dreams of a fertile westward land, a land without war or slavery, the land Leif called Vinland.

Vinland Saga is a Japanese historical manga series written and drawn by award-winning manga author Makoto Yukimura who is also the author of another excellent seinen Planetes. Vinland Saga won the Grand Prize in the manga division of the Japan Media Arts awards in 2009 and the 36th Kodansha Manga Award for Best General Manga in 2012.

Blade of the Immortal

Blade of the Immortal (cover)“To end his eternal suffering, he must slay one thousand enemies!”

Manji, a ronin warrior of feudal Japan, has been cursed with immortality. To rid himself of this curse and end his life of misery, he must slay one thousand evil men. His quest begins when a young girl seeks his help in taking revenge on her parents’ killers and his quest won’t end until the blood of a thousand has spilled!

The series won an Excellence Prize at the 1997 Japan Media Arts Festival and the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award in 2000 for Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material.

Tokyo Ghoul

Tokyo Ghoul (cover)Strange murders are happening in Tokyo. Due to liquid evidence at the scene, the police conclude the attacks are the acts of man-eating monsters, ghouls. College buddies Kaneki and Hide come up with the idea that ghouls are imitating humans so that’s why they haven’t ever seen one. Little did they know that their theory may very well be reality.

I am ending this list with a relatively new series. While Tokyo Ghoul and its sequel might not have had time or scope yet to develop into masterpieces as the previous series’ in the list, it has gained quite a bit of following recently and is a fun and fast paced read to enjoy lightly.

There are many more seinen manga gems besides these eight series. I would recommend any fans of comics and fantasy fiction in general to check out these series and others available in English. And if you dare to enter into the realm of fan translation there are much more fun to be had.

Please do comment with your favorite seinen manga or any other interesting manga that you can think of mentioning to readers of fantasy.

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