Good evening and happy Friday, chums! Have you ever come across a manga series (or an anime or a film or a TV serial or anything else) that had so much hype surrounding it, or that was so large in content that you felt a bit intimidated by interacting with it? I’ll admit that I feel something similar with hyped books, although it’s not intimidation nearly as much as it is an eye-rolling frustration. However, with manga there are a number of serials that I have always wanted to read yet felt too intimidated due to how exceedingly beloved they are, or by the fact that they have a high-volume count.
One of my favourite demographic genres within the otaku medium is seinen. As a human who adores dark, morbid, and remarkably fucked-up narratives, I gravitate towards seinen titles the way that my cat Kheb does to fresh, flowing water—bright-eyed with twitching whiskers and a slight spittle of drool on my chin. Within this specific demographic, there are some manga titles that are considered to be the best of the best and anyone who is a breathing entity that claims to be a fan of seinen, should have at least experienced them in one way or another (either via their original manga format or via an anime adaptation, if one exists for it; also that previous bit was said with mild sarcasm).
I have lost count as to how many times I’ve had chats with other otaku blokes, lasses, and non-binaries about our mutual love of seinen stories, only to be ridiculed and labelled as a “fake fan” simply because I had not had the opportunity, or gall (thanks hype) to pick up Vagabond or Blade of the Immortal, for example. Although, I am finally reading through Blade of the Immortal, and holy hell is it bloody brilliant! It’s not a series for everyone, but I’m keen as hell.
These kinds of perceptions are elitist and toxic and need to go the fuck away. I don’t think most people really grasp how depressing hype can be for some folks. Hype can make a title seem so incapable of wrong that if/when you engage with it, there is almost always some room for disappointment. Everyone has their own personal notion of what is flawless, and because we are so diverse in what we consume and find pleasant or unpleasant, we are not all going to like the same thing or even going to want any part to do with something that is placed on a grand golden pedestal, no matter how appealing the premise sounds. For example, Initial D is my flawless baby (even though it’s jam-packed with imperfections, which makes it even more perfect for me), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to judge you for never having read the manga or seen the anime, or for disagreeing with my belief that it’s a 90s masterpiece.
Tonight, I wanted to share with you five manga serials that I have always been intimidated by because of the hype surrounding them and for the hate I’ve received for not having read them yet. I will confess right from the start that most, if not all, of these seinen titles are ones with snippets that make them feel like they are exactly the types of tales that I would normally devour in one sitting with my jug of chai or lassi. Nevertheless, that fear of disappointment, as well as judgment for not liking it, are real and have kept me on the defensive thus far.
05. I Am a Hero by Kengo Hanezawa
I Am a Hero is a horror, psychological thriller with 22 volumes about a failing mangaka who is in his mid-thirties and living a life filled with disappointments, whether it’s with his career or other pursuits. Then one day his entire life takes one hell of a chaotic shift after he learns about a terrifying disease that turns people into homicidal maniacs.
If I were to put hype aside for a small second while considering why I haven’t picked this up, regardless of how much it’s everything that I adore, I think it would have to be the creepy factor. Super graphic content usually doesn’t bother me, unless it’s a specific trigger. But the illustrations in this manga are so phenomenally detailed and life-like that they creep me the fuck out! The chills are slithering up and down my spine simply from starting at these panels! I love being scared, but I hate being scared. Does that make sense? Can anyone else relate to this at all?
04. Sun-Ken Rock by Boichi
Sun-Ken Rock can be classified as either a manga or a manhwa as it’s written by a Korean-Japanese man and is an action, romance series with 25 volumes. The story begins with a guy named Ken who becomes a delinquent during his adolescence due to the Yakuza murdering his entire family when he was younger. He ends up falling for a girl named Yumi and she is the biggest source of motivation in his life. But Yumi decides that she no longer wants to be in Japan. She moves to Korea where she eventually becomes a cop. Unable to live without Yumi in his life, Ken follows suit, also hoping to become a cop. However, shortly after arriving he gets caught up in some Korean gang shit and finds himself as the leader of the gang; a truth he vehemently tries to conceal from his beautiful beloved.
Romance. That’s really the only thing that has kept me from picking it up. I don’t mind romance, really, but I also don’t actively go out seeking it in stories either. Either way, aside from the lovey-dovey element, I’m intimidated by Sun-Ken Rock because I’ve heard it is sensationally violent and has a lot of rape scenes in it. Exaggerated violence in unapologetic abundance? Sounds excellent. But when you toss in rape, things become a bit iffy for my consumption. While this is a trigger I’ve been working on conquering and breaking down, reading such vast quantities of it does make it much more difficult for me.
03. Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida
Tokyo Ghoul is a dark fantasy, horror series with 14 volumes about a university student in modern Tokyo named Kaneki Ken. In this world, humans live alongside humanoid creatures called ghouls who feed upon flesh and live a normal life. But for Kaneki, his life is turned completely upside down in horrifying ways when a woman goes out on a date with him for the sole purpose of feeding on him. Things take an unexpected turn for both individuals, and Kaneki finds himself transitioning into a half-ghoul.
Okay, I know, I know!! It’s Tokyo motherfucking Ghoul! I know what you’re thinking: “How the bloody hell can you be intimidated by this, Nyan? What is wrong with you?” As someone who committed the blasphemous act of watching the anime first, and fucking loved every minute, you’d think that reading the manga would be no issue. Dude, there is so much fucking hype surrounding this series and people get extremely judgey about it too. “Oh, you saw the anime, you need to read the manga or you’re not a real fan.” What is this, Naruto? When Tokyo Ghoul’s first season ended, I did seek out the manga, and I wanted to find people to chat with about it, but there was this line of hate between manga readers and anime watchers that I didn’t want to touch with a 10-foot stick. It was very sticky territory. Granted, most of that ridiculous hate does seem to have subsided, so my goal is to finally pick up the Tokyo Ghoul manga again sometime later this year or next year, when I can properly purchase the volumes.
02. Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue
Vagabond is a historical, martial arts manga with 37 volumes about a dude named Shinmen Takezō in the 16th century Sengoku Era in Japan. He becomes an outlaw when his village casts him aside due to his incredibly aggressive nature. Afterwards he survives a catastrophic military campaign and becomes a legendary rōnin on the run.
This series bleeds all the things that I love. Nonetheless, if you’ll recall from my intro, it’s one that I’ve been called a “fake fan” for not having read. Insulting me is not going to make me understand your point-of-view or acquiesce to doing the thing you want me to do or feel that I need to do to prove my passion. It may be petty or prideful, but I hate giving into assholes that are assholes because they have some elitist bullshit notion about what’s best or not. Regardless of those gruff feelings, the reason so many fans of the series feel the way they do is because of the esteem with which they hold Vagabond. It’s about as infamous as Gundam, One Piece, or Dragon Ball Z. That can definitely make it a bit threatening.
01. Berserk Kentarō Miura
Berserk is a dark fantasy, adventure series that is known for being one of the most graphic fucking things in existence. It has 40 volumes and revolves around a former mercenary named Guts who’s also known as the Black Swordsman. He is on a quest for vengeance while being persistently pursued by demons of various sorts.
Okay, if you knew that Berserk was going to be number one, raise your hand… not that I can see it if you did. If there is any title out there, regardless of medium, that is the perfect personification of hype, it is Berserk. Holy hell, this is one loyally loved or wholeheartedly hated series. Both opinions contribute to its flimflam in one way or another. For the longest time, I felt so frightened to pick this series up because I was afraid of being a bad otaku if I didn’t like it. Then I learned that it has 40 volumes and is still fricking ongoing. It began in 1989… 1989! That’s thirty years ago!
Then this really amazing thing happened. Berserk was re-vamped, enlarged, and planned for re-release in extraordinary hardback deluxe editions. I pre-ordered all of the available volumes that I could of these editions and told myself it was time to kick this intimidation in the arse. My first deluxe edition came in a few weeks ago and it is, by far, one of the most beautiful collector manga editions that I own. I honestly can’t think of a better way to start my journey with Berserk. Also, if you’d like me to share those editions with you, let me know and I’ll make a post showcasing it.
If any of you have been around for a bit and have had the chance to read some of my self-care posts, or other rants about being judged for what you like and whatnot, you may know that I don’t like being intimidated. It’s a feeling that is very harmful and toxic and also one I’m trying to expunge from my life as much as possible. With that being said, I also believe that it’s healthy to chat about the things that make us uncomfortable no matter how seemingly small or supreme the reasons behind those feelings are. Some of you may think I’m being a whiny brat about why I haven’t read the things on this list, and frankly that may be true to some extent. Regardless, I am learning to be more aware of the negative feelings that I have, particularly as it pertains to my passions. This is a key first step towards making a positive and optimistic change, no matter what it pertains to.
So, now that I have openly chatted about a topic that I truthfully felt quite anxious in sharing, I am ready to move forward and dive into all five of these seinen manga serials (not simultaneously) so that I can defeat the feeling of being intimidated. And you know what, if I don’t like something listed here, that’s okay. It doesn’t make me less of a seinen addict or an otaku or anything else. It just means that I’m an individual with their own unique tastes and opinions; neither superior nor inferior to that of others.