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Fiction can change lives. We know, that sounds cliché and tired, but the truth is that sometimes, the things you read stay with you a long time and can even make you make different choices in your life. A very simple example is Masashi Kishimoto, author of Naruto, who decided to become a mangaka when he saw a poster for Akira. This, long after he had lost interest in manga and was starting to become a decent basketball and baseball player. Something as simple as a poster rekindled his love for the arts and years later made him a legendary author in his own right.
Now, a manga doesn’t have to be life-changing to make a long lasting impression. There are manga that are so shocking, that even years after reading them, you still get goose bumps when remembering some of the scenes. Other manga are tragic enough that just the title may bring you to tears remembering the fate of some characters. And we can’t forget the ones that are so horrific that the memory of a certain scene will make you sick. All those are scars in your brain, and only great stories manage to create that effect.
Here, we celebrate ten manga titles that, through action, horror, tragedy, comedy, and life changing lessons, will scar you deeply.
10. Ao no Exorcist (Blue Exorcist)
- Authors: Katou, Kazue
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Demons, Drama, Fantasy, School, Shounen, Supernatural
- Volumes: 20
- Published: 2009 - ongoing
Rin Okumura is a normal boy who loves getting into fights just to anger his adoptive father, the priest Shirou Fujimoto. However, what he doesn’t know is that he is, in fact, the son of Satan, and that Father Fujimoto has always been working on keeping him safe from the hosts of hell. But the day that Rin finds out the truth as his demonic power surfaces, is when Father Fujimoto’s heart gets broken and he is killed, defending his son to his last breath. From that moment on, Rin swears he’ll become an exorcist and prove that he is not as evil as his biological father is.
The manga has incredibly emotional moments, from the death of Father Fujimoto, to the discovery of traitors within the Exorcist organization. But the biggest emotional punch, at least for those who have pets, is when a grief-stricken Kuro, the cat demon who was friends with Father Fujimoto, learns of the Father’s death and goes on a rampage, demanding for the story to be a lie and for Father Fujimoto to come to him. The moment when he realizes that will not happen is heartbreaking, and it will resonate with anyone who has pets, or has lost a pet.
Due to the way in which the manga manages to give out the emotional punches, it will be a while before you forget it, and thus, it earns the tenth place on our list.
9. Franken Fran
- Authors: Kigitsu, Katsuhisa
- Genres: Comedy, Horror, Supernatural, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 8
- Published: 2006 - 2012
If you need a medical miracle and live in Japan, your best bet is to try and contact doctor Naomitsu Madaraki. The problem is that Madaraki hasn’t been in his house in years, and so if you manage to get there, the person that will be attending you is his “daughter”, Fran Madaraki, a skilled surgeon who will do anything in her power to fulfill any request she gets. No matter how insane it is, no matter how impossible you think it is, Fran will find a way. Unfortunately, she also has a very interesting view of medical ethics; she thinks that life has to be preserved no matter what. Because of this, many of her patients end up wishing that they had been left to die instead of being treated.
Franken Fran is a great horror comedy, but it has a lot of gory scenes and body horror to last a reader for a lifetime. From a dog with a human face, to women who transform into living giant praying mantises, and from a group of live park mascots that eat human meat, to baby maggots that would at some point become human if not eaten before they can grow, you can have your pick. And every revolting sight is done with such detail that it’s really unlikely you will forget them anytime soon.
Since it’s a great manga that at times requires some brain bleach to forget, Franken Fran will definitively scar your brain and thus earns the ninth place on our list.
8. Platinum End
- Authors: Obata, Takeshi (Art), Ohba, Tsugumi (Story)
- Genres: Drama, Shounen, Supernatural, Psychological
- Volumes: 6
- Published: 2015- ongoing
Mirai Kakehashi wants to die. He is ready to jump from the highest roof he can find in order to end his suffering, as he has been treated as a slave by his aunt and uncle since the day his parents and little brother died in an accident. But right after he steps out into the empty space, a smiling angel named Nasse catches him. Once she is sure he’s safe, she reveals to him that she can give him a gift. He can choose either to share her wings, and thus fly wherever he wants and have absolute freedom, or he can choose her “Red” arrow, a special angelic weapon that will make anyone hit by it love him and do anything for him in the span of 33 days. Mirai, not believing her, claims that he wants both and he gets them, only to be told later that it means that he accepted to be a Candidate to become the new God.
As is expected from a manga done by Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ohba, Platinum End has a lot of interesting questions about life, good and evil. We see acts of unspeakable evil from one of the Candidates, while Mirai insists that no matter what, he will not kill anyone, not even the Candidate who killed a 10-year-old girl right before his eyes for no real reason except to cull the possible Candidates to God and make sure that he’ll be the Chosen one. Add to that that every Candidate was approached as they tried to kill themselves, and we have a very grim manga where even the Angels seem to be bored with existence.
Between the philosophical questions and the gorgeous art, Platinum End earns the eighth place on the list.
7. School Mermaid (School Ningyo)
- Authors: Yoshitomi, Akihito
- Genres: Horror, Shounen, Supernatural
- Volumes: 2
- Published: 2006 - ongoing
Empty, dark schools are inherently creepy, but girls looking for true love don’t care. They know of a somewhat scary urban legend that says that, if you recite a poem in the school pool at night, you will be able to see mermaids. If you manage to capture one, and eat her meat while thinking of a boy you like whose name starts with the letter the mermaid has in her chest, he will love you forever. There are only a few problems with the plan: The mermaids don’t look like traditional mermaids, but like schoolgirls in their swimsuit uniform. Some girls who said they would go looking for a mermaid are never seen again. And some say that if you fail to eat the meat of a mermaid before the sun is up, then you will become a mermaid to be hunted yourself.
As horrifying as the premise may be, the manga becomes more disturbing when we get to meet the different girls that try to make their wishes come true. As the story is narrated in a series of one-shots, we get to meet many different girls who want to try a bit of black magic to get a happy ending. Some manage to do so, some others become mermaids themselves, and that’s where the true horror of this manga comes to shine as you realize that these girls are eating the flesh of their former friends. And then you have to think about the boys, who simply have no say in this and end up falling in love with girls they may not even like. All in all, the worst part of School Mermaid are all the implications hidden between the panels.
Due to these implications, and the way in which you see young school girls chase one another with knifes, School Mermaid has the seventh place on our list.
6. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Kurosagi Shitai Takuhaibin)
- Authors: Otsuka, Eiji (Story), Yamazaki, Housui (Art)
- Genres: Comedy, Mystery, Drama, Horror, Supernatural
- Volumes: 21
- Published: 2000 –ongoing
When you’re in college, one of the biggest fears you may face is not knowing what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. And, depending on your major of choice, you may also have to face your parents or loved ones asking if you’re sure that you can support yourself once you’re done. After all, there are many jokes about design majors that work in fast food restaurants. And if you think that finding a job is hard with a major in arts or philosophy, you should try to find a job with a degree from a Buddhist University. That is the problem that plagues five students as their only talents lie in talking to the dead. Fortunately for them, some dead people have need of their services: if they can find their body and take them to their final resting place, karma will pay them somehow. And thus, the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is born, no matter where you die, they will make sure to take you to your final destiny.
Kurosagi is a funny little manga at first. While it has some horrific graphics, the whole premise is so fun that at times you can forget that the clients of the service are dead people, usually by murder, who can´t leave their bodies because they haven’t had a proper burial or have some lasting regrets. But as the story advances, and we start learning more about the deaths and about the past of the five students, things stop being fun really fast. Dealing with suicidal parents, senseless murder, ancient rituals and child abuse tend to do that. So little by little, this manga burrows in your brain and won’t let you go until you finish reading… and not even then.
Because the images are so haunting, and the story so good, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service earns the sixth place on our list.
5. Oyasumi Punpun (Goodnight Punpun)
- Authors: Asano, Inio
- Genres: Drama, Slice of Life, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 13
- Published: 2007 – 2013
Punpun is a normal child to anyone who sees him. Except that his father is completely absent of his life, and his mother at times can be abusive. Oh, and that he looks like a badly drawn bird, but that may not be how others see him. He falls in love with a young girl in his class, who has demons of her own. And behind their story, there’s a cult that is convinced they will save the world with Music. It is a very strange manga, which starts sweet but bizarre, and soon takes a turn into tragedy and mind breaking.
And that is the reason why Oyasumi Punpun can and will scar its readers. It could also be called Murphy’s Law, the manga, because everything that can go wrong for Punpun and his beloved Aiko goes wrong. They separate in their teenage years, during which Punpun’s family life becomes even more difficult, and he has to leave his home, while Aiko’s mom joins a cult and begins abusing Aiko. Once he and Aiko reunite, Punpun tries to get Aiko away from her abusive mother, but he accidentally kills the woman instead. They escape, convinced they’re being chased, and their relationship takes a turn for the worse. It’s one emotional punch after another, and they just never stop.
Because of those emotional punches, Oyasumi Punpun has the fifth place on our list.
4. Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu)
- Authors: Matsui, Yuusei
- Genres: Action, Comedy, School, Shounen
- Volumes: 21
- Published: 2012 - 2016
There’s a school that celebrates success so much, that the 5% worst students are sent to a different building so that they don’t affect the others. They’re the E-class and they’re treated as the worst garbage on campus, to the point that they can’t have friends outside their own class and people who were their best friends before just ignore them. But that’s not the strangest thing that happens in the 3-E classroom. At the beginning of the year, they’re introduced to a new teacher, a strange octopus-like creature who calmly tells them that if they don’t kill him in a year, he’ll destroy the world. Then the military gives them special weapons, and so the Assassination teaching starts.
In a world where, unfortunately, school shootings happen too often, one could believe that the reason why Assassination Classroom is in this list is because, in the end, we’re seeing teenage boys and girls trying to kill their teacher with very real-looking guns. Kids learning techniques to kill, no matter how much they’re hidden behind a great explanation and some really funny jokes, can’t stop being disturbing. But the real meat of the story is not the killing attempts, instead, it’s a very pointed criticism of the school system in Japan.
Due to an unexpected emotional punch, and the way it makes you think about education, Assassination Classroom more than earns the fourth place on our list.
3. 20th Century Boys
- Authors: Urasawa, Naoki
- Genres: Mystery, Drama, Historical, Sci-Fi, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 22
- Published: 1999 – 2007
Childhood dreams have a strange quality to them. There are the realistic ones: be an astronaut, be a doctor, become a rockstar: that can be fulfilled with effort and luck. But when one grows up, said realistic dreams get downsized: the future astronaut settles as a science teacher, the would-be doctor becomes a paramedic, and the rockstar is happy singing karaoke once in awhile; but they’re still close to their dreams. Other childhood dreams are considered crazy and everyone assumes they will be forgotten: Save the world, become a superhero, or, you know, conquer the world. 20th Century Boys shows what happens when someone wants to make that third option his reality.
There are many shocking scenes in 20th Century Boys. From the moment Kenji finds out about a friend’s suicide, to the very last scene, it’s a rollercoaster of emotion that just won’t let the reader go. And that is what makes it one of the best, if not the best, of Naoki Urasawa’s work. Because once you start reading it, you can’t let go of it until the end. And once you have read it, you just can’t forget it. Like Kenji’s song, it remains in your brain, coming up at the weirdest moments. And because its subject matters, Childhood and friendship, Betrayal and loyalty, are pretty much universal.
For all these reasons, 20th Century Boys remains as the third choice on our list.
2. Uzumaki (Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror)
- Authors: Ito, Junji
- Genres: Drama, Horror, Romance, Supernatural, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 3
- Published: 1998 - 1999
The town of Kurozuchou is, at first glance, a pretty normal and boring town near the coast of Japan. However, Suichi Sato, a young high-school student, knows it’s haunted. The only reason he can notice the difference is because, unlike all the other teens living in the town, he goes to a school in a different district, so he can compare normality to what passes for normal in his house. But no one believes him because he says that the reason for the weirdness around town is not a ghost or a witch, but a concept: The Spiral. It may be because his own father was obsessed with the pattern to the point of death, or because his mother was deadly afraid of the same until she died in the hospital; but even his own girlfriend, Kirie, tends to think he’s exaggerating. Until things get worse.
While Junji Ito is a well-known name in horror manga in general, one of the modern masters of the genre, none of his stories has reached as many readers and fears as Uzumaki. Chosen by the American Library Association as one of the best graphic novels for young readers in 2009, the narrative of this manga is as tight as the horror that the plot shows. Little by little, as you read, you become as haunted as Kurozuchou, as you start discovering all the hidden spirals preying on Kirie and Suichi, and the spirals around you in real life.
A haunting tale that remains with you even if sometimes you’d wish to forget, and that’s why Uzumaki earns the second place on this list.
- Authors: Otomo, Katsuhiro
- Genres: Action, Sci-fi, Seinen
- Volumes: 6
- Published: 1982 - 1990
In 1988, during World War III, Tokyo was completely destroyed by a mysterious explosion. Thirtyone years later, Neo-Tokyo, the huge city built around ground zero, is a city of contrasts. It has huge skyscrapers, the most advanced technology in the world, and rich people live in luxury; but there are also huge slums filled with crime and drugs. Because of this, many poor people either join cults, gangs, or an underground rebellion against the government, as they are sure that they had a lot to do with the disaster of 1988. There are guerillas, explosions, and so much violence that after dark, that only the bravest gang members dare to step out. Shotarou Kaneda, who is followed by his best friend and rival Tetsuo Shima, leads one of those gangs. Unfortunately for Tetsuo, his desire to show that he’s Kaneda’s equal will lead him in a path of destruction that could easily destroy Neo Tokyo as well.
While the animated movie is well known and loved by fans and critics alike, story-wise it doesn’t hold a candle to the manga. Many story threads that were cut and simplified due to time constraints have a time to shine in the manga, even if it is only six volumes long. Among those, is a better understanding of who Akira is, his relationship with Tetsuo, Tetsuo’s rise to power, and the real goals and role of the government in the whole mess that created Neo-Tokyo. The art is also gorgeous, and it shows Katsuhiro Otomo’s talent for storytelling and narrative. Even without the magic of animation, you can feel the characters move as you pass the pages. And once you get to the final arc, there’s no stop to the emotions that will engulf you.
Due to the great art, and the way Akira has stood the test of time, this masterpiece holds the first place on our list.
What makes a manga scar your psyche? Is it the drama? The thrills? A surprising ending? or a shocking, gruesome scene? Every reader is different, so every answer is unique. And while we stand by our list and choices, we also want to hear your opinion. Is there a manga that you just can’t forget? One that haunts you, or that you remember with loving nostalgia for that moment in which it grabbed your heart? Let us know in the comments below.