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Manga 101 – Seinen Studies Part 1

Previously in Manga 101 we learned about a few series that are great to get started with. These series all fall into what is considered "shonen," a genre that is primarily targeted towards adolescent boys. Of course, that does not keep them from kicking ass, but for those looking for something that aims at an older demographic we have "seinen" manga. Seinen manga tends to take a greater shift towards realism in its art and themes in an effort to appeal to an older audience. Sometimes this means that the violence and sexuality is more graphic, sometimes it means that the plot and characters are genuinely more mature, but most of the time it just means that the violence and sexuality is more graphic. In the end, though, young or old, full frontal or just a bit of fan service, all that really matters is whether or not it's a good comic. Here are a few that are:

Berserk by Kentaro Miura
Original run: 1990 - ongoingBerserk #1
US Publisher: Dark Horse
What is it?: Dark fantasy at its darkest and most fantastic. Berserk is a long-running epic that follows Guts, the Black Swordsman, in a quest for revenge and redemption. As a young orphan, Guts found a home in the mercenary guild, Band of the Hawk. That is until his best friend and leader, Griffith, betrays the entire Band of the Hawk as sacrifices to the demonic Apostles so that Griffith may join their ranks. Guts and his lover and fellow Hawk, Casca, survive the slaughter, but they both take away scars and Casca's are of the mental and not easily fixed kind. It is here we catch up with Guts in his mission to eradicate any evil and demonic presence he finds in order to find the Apostles and Griffith and to regain Casca's sanity. The art is incredibly detailed with fully realized medieval European kingdoms, grotesque monsters, and gore galore. Guts is some sort of magic murder machine. With such intense and well-drawn action, it could be forgiven if the story was somewhat lacking, but, after a couple seemingly mindless opening chapters, the story is truly well written. The main cast is very well characterized and there are some truly weighty issues that ask readers to consider the depths humanity will sink to in order to gain what it desires. If you're skittish around violence, then give this one a pass, but for everyone else, Berserk is really the complete package.
Western comparison: A darker and more violent Lord of the Rings. We're all aware of the tropes inherent in Western fantasy, and dark fantasy is nothing new. Of course, Berserk isn't new. It's been doing this a long time and it is very good at it.

Claymore by Norihiro Yagi
Original run: 2001 - ongoing
US Publisher: Viz MediaClaymore #1
What is it?: More dark fantasy! Calm down, punctuation. While this is another medieval European-type setting, it is not the standard fantasy fare we have come to expect. Instead we find a world plagued by monsters called Yoma. A couple qualities of Yoma are that they are unspeakably strong and have the ability to take on a human appearance. Another is that they eat humans. Have no fear, though, because that's where the Claymores come in. An unnamed organization has the capacity to bond young human women with the remains of Yoma to create a hybrid between human and Yoma, resulting in powerful warriors that wield large claymore swords to kill the monsters terrorizing humanity. The weakest among these soldiers is a kind yet cold girl named Clare. When Clare uncovers a conspiracy involving the organization that made her what she is, it becomes time to step up her game and take action. Once again we have a series with solid art and a mature winding story that contemplates what it means to be human. To be fair, this one is kind of on the threshold between being seinen or shonen, but I think the death and dismemberment is rampant enough that it can fall on this side of the wall without too much complaint.
Western comparison: The setting is straight out of Western fantasy, but beyond that I'm not really sure. Pick your favorite piece of "girls team up to kick ass" media and enjoy, I suppose, but that doesn't really do it justice. Look up some of the monster designs straight out of your non-denominational nightmares.

Gantz by Hiroya Oku
Original run: 2000 - ongoing
US Publisher: Dark HorseGantz #1
What is it?: A high school kid dies and a black sphere forces him to play a life and death game involving extraterrestrial murder. Doesn't sound too complicated, right? Protagonist Kei Kurono and his friend Masaru Kato are a couple guys who decide to do the right thing at the wrong time and end up getting hit by a train for their trouble. Except instead of waking up dead, they find themselves in a room with some other befuddled souls and the aforementioned sphere, known as Gantz. Gantz tells Kei and company that they get some nifty cool uniforms and weapons and all they have to do in return is kill some aliens. Kills are ranked and if you get enough points, then you get to leave the game, alive and everything. Sweet deal, right? Problem is, the aliens are a hell of a lot better at murdering players than vice versa. Seriously. Characters drop like flies in this series and the ones that live still take some damage. There is a grander overarching plot to deal with, but the story really boils down to Kei's growth as a person and how he goes from being the guy everyone makes fun of to someone that others genuinely rely on. Plus there's nudity. It is a sick and twisted coming of age tale.
Western comparison: I honestly can't think of anything in Western media that is this blatantly nihilistic. The aliens are generally in disguise, so think of the Transformers movies if, instead of Autobots, Shia got a pistol and had to face Megatron one on one.

Chobits by CLAMP
Original run: 2001-02
US Publisher: TokyopopChobits #1
What is it?: Rounding out part one of this feature is a series that shows that seinen manga does not have to be overly violent to be so. In fact, Chobits doesn't have any violence at all; it's a romance. In the near future, computers will be replaced by androids called "persocoms." Persocoms look like your boyfriend or girlfriend, but they are actually your laptop. Enter Hideki Motosuwa, a good natured and destitute young college hopeful. Walking home one night, Hideki finds a persocom left in the garbage and, becoming quite taken with her and in need of a computer, brings her home to his apartment. Upon getting her going, so to speak, Hideki finds that his new pc is more pretty little idiot than powerful computing device. Instead of syncing with his printer, the girlputer runs around acting adorable and expresses the capacity to say only "chi." Assuming that he is dealing with some sort of Pokemon, Hideki names her Chi and proceeds to bounce between awkward situations, trying to find out Chi's origins, and falling in love with her. Once again, we are dealing with the theme of what it truly means to be human and how close you can justifiably get to your computer when it's indistinguishable from human interaction. However, Chobits asks readers to always look on the bright side of life and treats its characters with a genuine and irrepressible sweetness. If you can get past the cutesiness of the whole ordeal and the potential creep factor, it is really a fun and uplifting read.
Western comparison: Pretty much anything from Isaac Asimov and the like. Just insert a cute girl as a robot in place of whatever creepier Robin Williams character they would have instead.

There you have it for part one of my look at some seinen manga that you should also be looking at. Feel free to leave a comment if you have some favorites of your own and come back next time for part two.


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