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Endings can make or break a story. It doesn't matter how much you enjoyed the beginning and the middle, if the ending is not up to expectations, you will hate the full tale. However, if the ending blows your mind away, even the biggest sins of the beginning are forgiven. There´s no manga that can run too long, if the ending is satisfactory. In the opposite direction, if it's an amazing ending, you forgive if the story is short even if you want to see more of the characters. However, making a good ending is not as easy as it sounds.
We've said before that what a good or bad ending is comes down mostly to what the reader thinks of said ending, however, just as there are endings that no fan can forgive, there are also some endings that even the staunchest critics will agree are amazing.
So in that spirit, here are the 10 endings we believe deserve the title of best manga endings, and of course, our reasoning why. Spoilers ahead of course, so proceed with care.
10. Maison Ikkoku
- Mangaka: Rumiko Takahashi
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Slice of life, Seinen
- Volumes: 15
- Published Date: 1980 - 1987
Rumiko Takahashi is well known for her amazing stories, although her endings tend to be very open and thus, not for everyone’s taste. However, there’s one of her works that has a perfect, satisfactory ending, and that is Maison Ikkoku. After 15 volumes of watching poor Yuusaku Godai trying to convince Kyoko Otonashi to leave the memories of her late husband behind, as well as trying to fight other suitors for Kyoko’s love; such as Tennis Coach Mitaka, who was -according to all the tenants in the house- a much better suitor, it is incredibly satisfying to see him and Kyoko, not only confess their feelings openly, but also let go of their past and get together in a wedding that actually ends like a wedding.
It is important to note that Maison Ikkoku is a “Will they, Won’t they” manga, and from the old school too, having been serialized in the 80’s. That means that we, as readers, knew that Yuusaku and Kyoko would end up together because they were the main couple. It was not a question of if, rather a matter of when. And while some people may feel that 152 chapters is a bit too long for them to finally get to confess their actual feelings, the truth is that Takahashi made it worth our while because the story doesn’t end there. After chapter 152, there are 9 more chapters were we get to see the changed relationship between the two, which makes the ending even sweeter.
Because of this resolution, and the way in which every character grew along the story, Maison Ikkoku is the tenth place on our list.
- Mangaka: Morita, Masanori
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, School, Shounen, Sports, Slice of Life
- Volumes: 24
- Published Date: 1998 - 2003
Koichi Kawato is the teacher everyone would love to have: young, optimistic, honorable to the point of foolishness and 100% dedicated to his students. Rather than follow the usual techniques of Japanese teachers, Kawato tries to bond with his students as a friend, and that leads him to promise that he will carry the school’s baseball team all the way to the Koshien even if he has no idea of how to play baseball and the club has been taken over by the worst delinquents in the school. Still, Kawato doesn’t hesitate, and tries to reach to said delinquents, as in his opinion, there’s no such thing as a bad kid, just kids that haven’t had the right support to follow their dreams.
Rookies’ ending is incredibly satisfactory for a sports manga. Because it has not one, but two endings: The first one, in the original run of the manga, sees the Futakotamagawa team reach the Koshien in a tight game that, due to the actions of other players, may very well be their last. Kawato’s job is on the line, even if the players don’t know it, and thus, the result of the game is almost heart-stopping. So when you find the solution, and the consequences to everyone’s actions, you can’t help but smile. The second ending, a one shot recently released, is a bit more realistic, and it follows Mikoshiba, the team’s captain, as he leaves the school to try and pursue a professional career, and how said dream may not be as easy as it seems.
Because the first ending is a perfect ending that respects all their characters and their growth, as well as bookends the story with a similar situation to the beginning, Rookies gets the ninth place on our list.
8. Death Note
- Mangaka: Obata, Takeshi (Art), Ohba, Tsugumi (Story)
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Shounen, Supernatural, Psychological
- Volumes: 12
- Published Date: 2003- 2006
Shinigami are death spirits who use Death Notes to decide who dies and when. They can kill any person, as long as they know the person’s face and name so they can write it in their deadly notebooks. However, their lives are very monotonous as they only watch humanity to decide who dies. This makes Ryuk, a shinigami quite interested in the human world, grow bored; and in order to get some fun, he lets his own Death Note fall to Japan to see how a human would use the powers of the notebook. The one who stumbles upon it is Light Yagami, a prodigy high school student who claims to hate the state of the world due to crime and soon decides to start using the Death Note to make sure criminals are purged from earth.
Death Note quickly became a fan favorite due to the complex mystery that Light, now nicknamed Kira by the press, created for the police who chased him because even if his victims were killers, he was still a serial murderer. While most readers say that the best part of the manga was when Light clashed with L, world’s best detective and the only one who came close to understand the full mystery behind Kira, the second part of the manga that pitted Light against L’s successors, Mello and Near, was equally engaging until the final moment, when Ryuk finally fulfills a promise he made way back in volume one: That he’d be the one who would write Light’s name in his own Death Note, the moment he stopped being amusing.
While the ending is really satisfactory, and one has to give credit to Ohba and Obata for killing not one, but three main characters (four if we count the epilogue and six if we consider L and Rem), we can’t ignore that perhaps the manga went a bit too long after L’s demise, so Death Note only reaches the eighth place on our list.
7. Parasyte (Kiseijuu)
- Mangaka: Iwaaki, Hitoshi
- Genre: Action, Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 10
- Published Date: 1989 - 1995
Shinichi Izumi has the bad habit of sleeping with his headphones on, and it was that bad habit what saved his life the night a worm-like creature tries to enter his body, first through his ear, then through his nose, waking him up. In the following scramble, the parasite manages to get into his right hand, which it proceeds to assimilate. But Shinichi’s parasite, later named Migi, was not the only one that arrived to earth, just one of the very few that didn’t manage to reach the brain of their host. In fact, the Parasites have invaded Earth, and their main food source are humans; this is dangerous to Shinichi, who wants to protect his fellow humans, and to Migi, as other parasites sense that both have their personalities intact and thus look to attack the pair whenever they meet them.
The ending of Parasyte can be described as a rollercoaster: We have first the very tense confrontation between Gotoh, the five-parasite composite and Shinichi and Migi; once that is done, we get to see what happened to the rest of the parasites now that humans are aware of them, and a very heartfelt scene where Migi decides to go “Dormant”, basically to become Shinichi’s right hand and lose his own identity. Once that emotional bomb is done, we get to see how Shinichi’s life is following the loss of his friend, as well as the tying up of the last loose thread from the previous arc… and the ending itself can bring a small tear to even the hardest of hearts.
Because of the way Parasyte plays with our feelings at the same time as it remains true to its premise and its characters, it earns the seventh place on our list.
6. Chrno Crusade
- Mangaka: Moriyama, Daisuke
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Sci-fi, Shounen, Supernatural
- Volumes: 8
- Published Date: 1998 -2004
Sister Rosette Christopher has been working with the Order of Magdalena as an elite exorcist for almost 4 years. Her main motivation for going on the most dangerous missions is to find and save his younger brother Joshua, who has been kidnapped and brainwashed by a demon named Aion. To help her on her goal, she has made a deal with another, friendlier demon named Chrono, which unfortunately means that her life is ticking away and she may not live past her twenties. Chrono is very aware of that, so he is not very happy when she unseals his full power, as this eats more of her lifetime, but given that he also feels responsible for Joshua’s kidnapping, he keeps helping her despite his misgivings.
Fans of the anime know that that adaptation had an incredibly tragic –and some may say, unfair- ending. The manga ending is equally tragic, but it holds some comfort to the readers: Joshua and Rosette do reunite before a very difficult battle, where Chrono is seemingly lost forever. But Rosette won’t give up on him. She stubbornly clings to life, even as she ages prematurely in the years following the battle, sure that he’ll come back to her. And he does, just before she passes away, in a scene that is sure to bring tears to anyone reading.
The bittersweet ending fulfilled the threat of the plot, but at the same time gave us a somewhat happy ending for the secondary characters, and let Rosette and Chrono rest in peace together. Because of this, Chrono Crusade earns the sixth place on our list.
5. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (Sailor Moon)
- Mangaka: Takeuchi, Naoko
- Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Magic, Shoujo, Romance
- Volumes: 18
- Published Date: 1991 – 1997
Usagi Tsukino is a clumsy young girl whose whole world changes the day she meets a talking cat named Luna who promptly informs her that she’s Sailor Moon, a chosen soldier with the mission to find the Princess of the Moon Kingdom and defend mankind from those who will attack the Earth. As the story advanced, we got to meet many other Sailor Senshi, one for each planet, as well as Tuxedo Mask, the mysterious protector of the girls. And then Usagi happened to be the Moon Princess herself, and the enemies grew more and more powerful, and had more personal reasons to attack the Sailor Senshi.
There’s not much that can be said about Sailor Moon that hasn’t been said before. It is, after all, the responsible for the Maho Shojo boom of the nineties, not only in Japan, but also all over the world. The ending, however, is not often discussed as it is easily summarized as “And then Usagi and Mamoru got married and lived happily ever after”. Which yes, it is the ending proper, but that doesn’t count what happens in the previous pages, when Usagi, alone, after witnessing the death of her friends and beloved at the hands of Sailor Galaxia, finds it in herself not only to forgive Galaxia, but also to sacrifice herself so that her light will be able to destroy the Cauldron where all stars are born, where Chaos has made a home for itself.
This ending, completely true to the message of the story and the character of Usagi, definitely earns the fifth place on our list.
4. 20th Century Boys
- Mangaka: Urasawa, Naoki
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Historical, Sci-Fi, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 22
- Published Date: 1999 – 2007
Kenji Endo has some regrets, but also a lot of childhood memories that make said regrets a little easier to take. Sure, he never became a great rockstar and is instead taking care of a convenience store and his sister’s baby, but that doesn’t mean he is not happy. Or so he thinks, until he receives a letter from his childhood friend “Donkey”, telling him that he has been murdered by one of his friends from the past. It is then when Kenji discovers a very dangerous cult intent on destroying mankind, led by a mysterious masked figure who is only called “Friend”; the problem is that said cult’s teachings are completely based on a secret game Kenji and a very small group of friends from the past knew, which means that Kenji must figure out which one of his oldest companions is in fact a madman trying to destroy the world, at the same time he tries to stop the destruction from happening.
Now, we’re cheating a bit with this particular manga as the ending was not published as 20th Century Boys, but as 21st Century Boys. But as they’re the same character, the same story, we’re counting 21st Century Boys as the true ending which is tying up all the threads left by the final confrontation between Kenji and Friend, during the 3FE music festival organized by Kanna, Kenji’s niece. It tells us what happened with the survivors, how mankind manages to keep going after an almost complete destruction of civilization, and how each character gets to live after what they’ve witnessed. But, more importantly, it gives a very fair answer to the biggest mystery of the series, and manages to end in the same place as it began: With T.Rex’s 20th Century Boy.
We’re forced to take some points off given the change of title, but still, this masterful show of narrative from Naoki Urasawa earns the fourth place on our list.
3. Nodame Cantabile
- Mangaka: Ninomiya, Tomoko
- Genre: Comedy, Romance, Slice of life, Josei
- Volumes: 25
- Published Date: 2001 - 2010
The relationship between Shinichi Chiaki and Megumi “Nodame” Noda is one for the books. Despite being complete opposites –and Chiaki at some points feeling as if he was babysitting Nodame, rather than partnering with her- they make wonderful music together, and they help each other to grow as people. So Shinichi becomes a bit less pretentious, and learns to deal with messes in a healthier way while Nodame starts facing her fears of competition and starts getting some order in her messy life. In short, they manage to complement each other, and the lives of the people that surround them, creating a great orchestra in their school.
Unfortunately for fans, Nodame Cantabile suffered from some programming problems due to Ninomiya’s health. Due to this, the series originally ended in 2009 and just like 20th Century Boys, got an epilogue in the form of Nodame Cantabile-Opera Hen. And while the ending of the original manga may have felt underwhelming to some, the actual ending to Opera Hen more than delivered with both Chiaki and Nodame having their first performance together, and then deciding to keep going forward with their studies.
This sweet ending left readers satisfied and it was true to the spirit of the story, but as it was published in a different title, it only reaches the third place on our list.
2. Full Metal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi)
- Mangaka: Arakawa, Hiromu
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Shounen, Military
- Volumes: 27
- Published Date: 2001 -2010
Edward and Alphonse Elric are alchemy prodigies. Sons of a mysterious, but very knowledgeable alchemist, they had managed a lot of milestones of transmutation growing up. Unfortunately, when their mother dies, as their father is absent, they decide in their grief to break the biggest law in alchemy and attempt a human transmutation circle to get her back. And in doing so, they learn the hard way why it is such a taboo: not only can’t they resurrect her, Alphonse loses his entire body, and Ed his left leg. Even so, young Ed decides he won’t be losing his brother too, and so he sacrifices his right arm in order to seal his brother’s soul in an ancient armor. This leads to Edward being drafted in the army, as a state alchemist, which he uses to his advantage to look for the Philosopher’s Stone, an artifact powerful enough to return them to their proper bodies.
Full Metal Alchemist is an incredible ride of intrigue and politics, mixed with some heavy action scenes. With a great cast of characters that go from the other military members –special mention goes to Roy Mustang, Riza Hawkeye and the whole Amstrong Family-, the evil Homunculus, and even the characters branded as terrorists, it’s hard to imagine any ending that would top two of the most tragic deaths in manga from the first decade of the century. And yet, Arawkawa delivers a perfect ending that is true to the characters, her universe rules, and to be very honest, it’d be a crime to completely spoil.
And that is why Full Metal Alchemist more than earns the second place on our list.
1. Billy Bat
- Mangaka: Urasawa, Naoki (Story & Art), Nagasaki, Takahashi (Story)
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Historical, Supernatural, Police, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 20
- Published Date: 2008 - 2016
Mankind evolves through art. Kevin Yamagata doesn’t quite understand those words when he meets the author of the manga he thought he was accidentally plagiarizing in the USA: both had drawn an anthropomorphized bat named Billy who went into different adventures as a private detective. However, the older man is not worried about plagiarism, he’s more worried about which bat inspired Kevin, the white one or the black one. The next morning, the man is gone, leaving Kevin with a manuscript of the Japanese Billy Bat that, unknown to Kevin, predicts a tragedy that had happened that very night: the death of an important business man, who was later placed on the railroad to be crushed by the train. And it’s then when Kevin has to start running for his life, as he has been involved in an ancient conspiracy that spans centuries, and could very well end mankind itself.
Where 20th Century Boys could be considered a love letter to music and how it affects us –with a very good dose of childhood nostalgia and learning how to let go of grudges-, Billy Bat is a love letter to manga and comics in general. And nothing makes it clearer than the ending, which, in true Urasawa tradition, was foreshadowed in the very first volume. As always, Urasawa’s narrative is perfectly tight. There’s no superfluous panels, no character that doesn’t play an important role, and so many twists and turns that even knowing that the ending is foretold, it still comes as a surprise when it finally arrives.
And because of that excellent connection, and the way the ending fits with the whole narrative and the message of the story, Billy Bat has the number one spot on our list.
A good story deserves a great ending, and these ten manga are excellent examples of both. But we have to admit that when the story gets longer and longer, it’s harder to imagine what kind of ending could be good enough for the characters we love. One could even say that there are stories that we don’t want to see end –even if that could bring another set of problems, as the longest running manga also have proven.
What is your favorite manga ending? Is it on the list? Or did we miss an amazing ending? Please let us know in the comments below.