Manga ARC Review: UNDEAD GIRL MURDER FARCE Vol. 1 by Yugo Aosaki & Haruka Tomoyama (2021)

Genre: Fantasy Mystery Seinen
Year Release in English: 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Read a NetGalley eARC
Content warnings: Blood, murder, nudity, disembodied head

In 19th Century France, vampires are allowed to live alongside humans. Detectives are called in but little does anyone expect, it’s the disembodied head who’s also a demon.

This manga opens up with a dead vampire, a family member suspected, and a kooky trio consisting of a maid, a himbo, and a disembodied head in a cage. It is wonderfully strange and not very deep. It ends on a cliff-hanger, and I’m eager to see what the cage user has hidden behind his kind lack of sense.

The art style is really neat, though at times, the background work gets in the way of comprehending the words on the page. I’m unfamiliar with the differences between ARC manga and finished copies, so perhaps it is cleared up, and I hope so. I had a ton of fun during this read.

If you’re looking for something with cheek, thought-out world-building, and engaging action, definitely give this a shot.

Manga Review: TO YOUR ETERNITY Vol. 1-3 (2017-2018) by Yoshitoki Ōima

Genre: Fantasy Shonen
Year Release in English: 2017-2018

Reminder: The star rating reflects overall opinion of the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Body horror, starvation, infection

An immortal being comes to earth and needs to be challenged in order to gain new levels of consciousness. It can take on multiple forms as it learns what it means to be alive despite its immortality.

The primary word I would use to describe this series so far is dense. So much happens in the first volume. We meet Fushi, the immortal being, the Yanome and the Ninnanah, and go through most of what feels like a complete arc. The art is epic and leaves a lot of negative space for the reader to process what’s going on. I can already tell this series is going to destroy me as these personal connections are what allows Fushi to ascend to the next level of consciousness.

Content warnings: Body horror

These characters can’t catch a break as the Yanome have their own schemes in mind. I found it interesting how Ōima explores humanity’s reactions to meeting the divine. The Yanome want to study it, March and Parona want to befriend it. All the while, Fushi learns what this relationships mean to a creature that has otherwise existed in a vacuum.

The stakes skyrocket in this second installment. There’s a prison break, a marketplace brawl, and an intense battle between Fushi and another which might be just like him. It’s pretty light on lore so far, with the reader learning about what Fushi is at the same time he’s learning about our world. At a structural level, it is breath-taking.

Content warnings: Body horror, immolation, alcoholism, nonconsensual medical experimentation

As soon as volume 3 opened up with two brothers and chapter titles that suggest an exploration of monstrosity, I was ready for pain. Fushi has moved on from the Yanome and Ninnanah to another village where a young boy’s brother abandoned him and he had been left disfigured in an accident.

The exploration of virtue versus beauty hits so well in this volume. No one is evil, per se, but more of a product of their choices. They have perspectives molded by their experiences. For a character like Fushi whose entire purpose is to absorb experiences, it serves as a nice foil that I hope continues to develop.

There’s also the concept of memory as a mechanic for Fushi’s abilities It is one of my favorite tropes, and something that will hurt later on. In addition, this Beholder character seems like one that is divine but also painfully neutral in a way that may or may not be downright antagonistic, and that’s definitely going to keep me going at least for a little while longer.

Manga Review: THE KINGDOMS OF RUIN Vol. 1 & 2 by yoruhashi (2020-2021)

Genre: Dark Fantasy Seinen
Year Release in English: 2020 – 2021

Reminder: The star rating reflects overall opinion of the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Gore, violence, public execution, internment camps, mass destruction

Witches and humans lived alongside each other until an industrial revolution ushered in an era of distrust, and the witch hunts begin. Adonis was only a boy when his mentor, Chloe, was publicly humiliated and executed. As a human who uses witch powers, he captured and hidden away for ten years. Until he wakes up as does a ferocious thirst for revenge.

This series is intense. It’s very grimdark and the precise art does not pull any punches. Some pages are just hard to look with the hyper violent content on them, but if that’s your thing, you’re in for some delights.

The set-up of a very capable anti-hero protagonist and the oppressive government he’s up against are evenly matched. This kingdom defeated the witches despite their magic somehow, and it’s internally consistent as far as the world-building goes. Plus, the magic system with Adonis using a pen to summon spells really works and renders beautifully from panel to panel.

I am definitely going to keep reading because I just have to know how these battles between magic and science play out and the twists that lay ahead.

Content warnings: Gore, violence, public execution, internment camps, mass destruction

In Volume 2, it seems all is lost for Adonis, until he’s rescued by other witches planning a resistance…from their base on the moon. It is here he discovers a way to review Chloe using magic and his memories.

This series in two just volumes achieved big Code Geass energy in that you know the unexpected is going to happen, but in which direction, you have no idea!

The world-building continues to be great, the art gorgeous. I really loved the design and concepts upon the lunar base. Adonis is consistently angry and bitter, but he’s not impulsive and I think that’s what makes him so interesting. It’ll be good to see him interact with other characters in future volumes.

Manga Review: MADE IN ABYSS Vol. 4 & 5 (2018-2019) by Akihito Tsukushi

Genre: Dark Fantasy Seinen
Year Release in English: 2018 – 2019

Reminder: The star rating reflects overall opinion of the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Maggots, immolation, body horror

Riko and Reg bring Nanachi along as their new companion into the Abyss’s Fifth Layer. The landscapes are gorgeous and inventive, and I love the dynamic among the three of them.

But at the bottom of the Fifth Layer is the Ido Front, stronghold of Bondrewd. He is irredeemable, but as a villain, he is so good. Charismatic and hateable, I won’t say anything more because spoilers.

The reveals that unfold between the two volumes are also incredible, so you’re in for a treat if you can also ride through the upset.

Content warnings: Body horror, so much body horror, dismemberment

I have no idea how to review this without spoilers.

It’s upsetting. The questions raised by the world-building are disturbing at best.

Bondrewd still sucks.

I cried for over an hour when I finished.

Manga Review: CAN’T STOP CURSING YOU Vol. 1 by Kensuke Koba & Natsuko Uruma (2021)

Genre: Horror Shonen
Year Release in English: 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Gore, murder, dismemberment, murder, blood

This horror mystery series is a perfect combination of Death Note, Future Diary, and Another. Sae-sensei uses his position as a biology teacher to cover up his true profession: a Curse Breaker. A cat-and-mouse game ensues as he works with new assistant Kanta to determine who’s causing the deaths of several classmates.

The tone of this manga is off to an excellent start. Deeply irreverent with fantastically distorted faces to show off their sinister natures. The font choices also made this incredibly fun.

The mechanism of the curse-killing itself was a little silly, but it was simple enough to set the rules of this world where curse gods give people powers. Plus, it let the readers get a feel for the characters. The last pages showing off who’s really at play really teased my interest, and I definitely can’t wait to read the next volume when it comes out this summer.

Manga Review: THE PROMISED NEVERLAND Vol. 9-11 by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu

Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen
Year Release in English: 2018-2019
Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription

Click here to read my review of Volumes 1-3, and click here for my review of Volumes 4-8. Major spoilers for the anime. General spoilers for the manga.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: hunting of children, gun violence

My lord, is the Goldy Pond Arc just ramping up the tension. We think we’re getting to the bottom of the mystery of Mr. Minerva and all we get is…a literal golden pond. It’s so disappointing, and opens up so many questions. But the questions don’t come in a way that obfuscates everything that came before. The thread remains and the kids’ search for Mr. Minerva continues.

I do love the relationship between the older kids and Lucas. The dramatic irony of knowing the fate of “the man,” and Lucas thinking he is the sole survivor tugs at the heart strings.

We also find out what’s going on with Norman. The poor boy has landed himself in yet another farm-like facility, this time without any other children around. He’s being prepared for something, and those questions are left up in the air, but it is nice to get confirmation of his fate. Which only makes Emma’s recollections of him hit differently.

It’s tender in a way that draws a straight line to everyone gathering together to finally take down Leuvis and his team of demons. I blitzed through these chapters because the action leaps off the page, and you’re rooting for everyone to survive. Everyone has their own strengths, but together, you’re desperately hoping they’re unstoppable.

Content warnings: Gun violence, body horror, cannibalism (demonic), impaling

The internal screaming and stress continues as Emma faces off one-on-one against Leuvis, counting down the minutes for the other teams to take down the other demons. These fights are tightly-paced and the action leaps off the page. On one hand, you’re cheering the kids on, but on the other hand, you’re a little concerned how proficient they are with firearms. But the demons fall, and hope rings. Until the fight with Leuvis, who is the strongest demon we have seen so far.

What I greatly enjoyed here is how balanced the battles are. The demons aren’t completely overpowered. While the kids have their weapons and their cleverness, there is still a real sense of danger and tensions are through the roof.

So, I read these pages while my boyfriend showers. It took all my energy to not cheer out loud when two familiar faces show up. The gang is kind of back together, but there’s still the problem of seemingly-unstoppable Leuvis to deal with.

Content warnings: Gun violence, gore, blood

The way my eyes watered during this volume sure was something.

The kids defeat Leuvis, and Lucas reunites with the man, named Yugo. The tenderness between them borders on romantic, but it is cathartic given that they haven’t seen each other for thirteen years. The relief across both their faces and the use of flashback throughout this volume as so evocative.

There is much healing and reunion to be had. One arc closes and another begins. A happy found family lives in the bunker, and there is no way this happiness can last. Peter Ratri and his clan show up at the very end and the stress kicks up once again.

Manga Review: JUJUTSU KAISEN Vol. 0-2 (2019-2021) by Gege Akutami

Genre: Horror Shonen
Year Release in English: 2019, 2021
Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription

Note: Volume 0 came out in 2021, while Volume 1 came out in 2019. I’ll be reviewing them in numerical order.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Body horror, loss of a significant other

I recognize this was published a few years after the first volume, but this is where I started with the story of jujutsu sorcerers and the curses they exorcise.

Keeping true to prequel form, this volume follows the older students when they were first years. A new kid, Yuta Okkotsu, enrolls in the academy with some serious baggage: his girlfriend had been brought back in the form of a powerful Queen of Curses.

The monster fights in this one are fun. The demon designs are inventive, with clearly delineated powers. There’s a sense of horror-type fear, rather than just nerves informed strictly by the world-building.

The characters also leaped off the page. I was particularly endeared to Maki and Yuta, but thoroughly creeped out by Toge. I did enjoy the tenderness that developed between them as Yuta grew to trust his classmates.

The resolution was bittersweet, but it was a great introduction to the tone of the series, and I’m fully onboard with this delightful blend of shonen and horror.

Content warnings: Body horror, consumption of body parts, animal death, gore, death of a relative

Volume 1 kicks off the series with Yuji’s occult club being disbanded, which results in a curse haunting him. Then Yuji’s grandfather dies, leaving him with some inspirational words, leading him to consume a cursed object and become possessed with the King of Curses, Sakuna. We’re introduced to the hierarchy of Jujutsu sorcerers and all their quirks. And the volume ends with Sakuna taking over Yuji’s body.

So much happens, and it’s a fun ride from first chapter to cliffhanger. As with Volume 0, I love the creepy and scary monster designs. Building up the relationship between Yuji and Sakuna also works, in a way that pits them as simultaneously enemies and reluctant allies.

The magic just also speaks to me, and it’s presented in a way that doesn’t require too much exposition. My personal favorite is Megumi’s ability to summon shadow monsters, and oh boy, are they useful in a pinch. Though are mains are not overpowered from the get-go, which I appreciate in terms of tone-setting and pacing. I’m concerned and excited to keep reading.

Content warnings: Heart outside of body, death, body horror

I am completely charmed by this series. In this volume, Yuji has a heart-to-heart with Sakuna that ends with a kind of fae agreement that I’m sure will end great later. Gojo trains him via watching movies to control his emotions. There’s a face off between Gojo and a scrub, and we learn what Gojo’s powers are.

The illustrations are so rad from start to finish. I love how Akutami depicts the cursed techniques without too much explaining or dialogue. Getting to see the actions unfold really tickles my brain. Especially with the domain expansion, for which I’m sure the physics is complete bullshit, but the series is convinced and so am I.

I’m also very much enjoying the dynamics between the students, with my current favorite character being Gojo Satoru (I am weak to white-haired lads). He’s so goofy, but not easy to underestimate. It seems a mistake that the villains are committing to, and I wonder how their plan to “defeat” him will go through.

Manga Review: MADE IN ABYSS Vol. 1-3 (2018) by Akihito Tsukushi

Genre: Dark Fantasy Seinen
Year Release in English: 2018

Reminder: The star rating reflects overall opinion of the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Body horror, illness, vomiting

A journey begins when a plucky cave-raider-in-training, Riko, finds a robot named Reg, during one of her training expeditions into the first layer of a giant cavern called the Abyss. It goes down seven levels, with the consequences of ascension getting more and more severe the further down you go. In this world, only White Whistle cave raiders can go far below. Riko’s mother is such. Her Whistle returns and Riko sets off to find out what happened to Lysa the Annihilator.

The tone of this manga is interesting. There is so much that lures you in with the promise of something wholesome with a positive, adventurous spirit. But there are so many details strewn throughout that might suggest that this series will be darker than initially thought. This first volume of introduction is so well done in that it lays the ground rules of the Abyss for the reader. And much like Riko, there is much wonder around the secrets to be found. But at what cost, and what horrors await?

Well, we’re about to find out as this first volume ends with Riko and Reg making their descent to the depths of the known world.

Content warnings: Child abuse (traditional punishment), bed-wetting, corpses, body horror, vomiting

The wonder and majesty of the first two layers of the Abyss can only be matched with the fresh hell found within as Riko and Reg make their way. Riko’s uncle tries to stop them, but it ultimately convinced by their determination. Reg’s mission is to keep Riko safe, but that gets called into question when they meet Ozen the Unmovable, another White Whistle.

The lore of this world blows my mind. There are so many details that Tsukushi weaves in the background, with both intricate art and the pause-pages which explain a relic or a new beast.

Most fascinating, to me, are the White Whistles. Each new one we meet has been more unhinged than the one before it. Are they like that before going into the Abyss or have the various ascents through treacherous layers damaged them? Guess we’ll find out next volume when they arrive at Ozen’s Shelter.

Content warnings: Child torture, attempted amputation, poisoning, bleeding from every orifice, execution, disfigurement, body horror

Volume 3 concludes the anime. And, oh boy, is it a doozy. Riko and Reg complete a messed up training regiment with Ozen before setting off again. Between the third and fourth layers, they’re attacked by a creature. The suddenness of the ascent and a poisoned puncture wound almost spells the end for Riko, but the two are saved by an adorable fluffy named Nanachi’s whose entire backstory is one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever read. Complex and emotional charged, Volume 3 covers so much ground that I need to recover after a bit.

With regards to the depravity of the White Whistles, we start with Ozen dealing out corporal punishment to see how powerful of an Artifact Reg is. She also puts the kids out to wander without any assistance for 10 days as part of training. And then we meet Bondrewd through Nanachi’s flashbacks and just…

As I mentioned before with Volume 1, it lays out all the rules of the world. You’d think that one would be prepared for the tragedy, pain, and suffering. And yet, seeing it unfold in real time with the attention to detail in the gorgeous artwork. My eyes wouldn’t stop leaking during the last scenes with Nanachi before the volume’s end.

Bondrewd can take a hike, but I need a bit of distance before diving into this story again, because wow does my heart ache.

Manga Review: THE PROMISED NEVERLAND Vol. 4-8 by Kaiu Shirai & Posuka Demizu

Genre: Dark Fantasy Shonen
Year Release in English: 2017-2018
Source: Viz Media Shonen Jump Subscription

Click here to read my review of Volumes 1-3. Major spoilers for the anime. General spoilers for the manga.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Child abuse

Correction: this is the chapter that ends with the explosion.

There’s still a bit of a lull as the kids plan their escape. But the mortal chess game they’re playing against Mom tightens its deadline as Norman is the next kid to be sent out for “adoption.”

What I really enjoyed was the way the reveal was handled about the greater structure of the world. Shirai definitely trusts the readers a lot more, much like in the previous volume. It’s also fun as a reader to learn details as the kids discover them.

Content warnings: Attempted self-immolating, arson, corpses

This volume is an absolute delight. From the pacing to the planning to the world-building.

We finally see the world on the other side of the wall around Grace Field House and, ho boy, is it a forest full of terrors. It’s not just demons, but also man-eating carnivorous plants and a brief glimpse into the hierarchy of the demons.

The art in this volume is just so dynamic. And I really liked how the stakes don’t just end at whether or not they will escape. It’s not even as simple the group of older kids who escaped surviving. At some point, they’ll have to go back for the younger kids, and I’m reading more to see how that unfolds.

I am thoroughly enjoying the demons’ complexity. We have our main villain set, but in this volume, the kids are rescued from a feral demon by two pious demons who reveal that the world was actually split in two. It gives me major Tales Of vibes, which was a treat.

This throws another wrench in the plan to rejoin the human world in a twist that couldn’t wholly be predicted. It does work, and it’s great that Emma proves to use her powers of endearment to learn additional secrets.

The volume ends with them arriving at B06-32 which looks like a temporary reprieve.

Content warnings: Attempted murder, guns, body horror

Of course the kids wouldn’t be alone at B06-32. Why would they be? They’re met with a formidable deuteragonist in the form of Mister. He too has a brand like the kids, and he reveals that Mr. Minerva, a figure who left clues in the kids’ books that led them to the shelter, has not been found.

Ray and Emma elect to go out with the man to find the next destination. The reveals here reminded me of certain moments in Attack on Titan where we get glimpses of the human world outside the context of the farms. Emma and Ray discover a cache of weapons and have to do battle against symbiotic demons. The battle is fierce and the body horror is exquisite.

Content warnings: Hunting children, gore, dismemberment, child death

The next destination, Goldy Pond, is nothing what it seems to be. It’s a secret hunting ground for demons called Poachers, who are not affiliated with the farms.

Emma, of course, true to character, wants to save the other kids trapped there. But the dangers are on a whole other level. The Poachers are on the same level of villainy as Mom, with Emma on her own facing off against this new enemy.

She’s not alone, though. There’s another group of escapees and their adult leader, Lucas, knew the man from the bunker. It’s emotional and gives an uncomfortable cyclical nature of the orphans’ plight, and I fear it’s only going to get worse.

Manga Review: IBITSU by Haruto Ryo (2018)

Genre: Horror
Year Release in English: 2018
Source: BOOK☆Walker

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Trigger warnings: Gore, body horror, self-harm, torture, asylums, suicide, sibling abuse

A young man is on his way home when a girl dressed up as a gothic lolita sits in a trash heap and asks him if he would like a little sister. He answers her, and what begins is a nightmare of stalking and supernatural entities. I could not tear myself away from this read, even as shit escalating to the murderous.

What this manga does so well is set up its world rules as soon as we hit the first chapter. There is an urban legend, but otherwise there is no magic in the world. So everyone involved is left to their own devices in terms of dealing with the terrors that unfold.

This one is creepy from start to finish in a way that you hope the protagonist unlocks some kind of key to getting his fake-sister to leave him alone. Until the ghostly lolita tricks his landlady into giving him a copy of the key, and starts terrorizing his younger sister. Their parents aren’t safe either, and though he tries to tell his friends about the lolita, they’re scumbags who can’t see past their own interests.

A fantastic urban legend horror, but keep in mind the trigger warnings before diving in because it is a lot.