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We’ve talked before about manga endings and how some work and some really don’t, depending on the reader and the story. But there are other kinds of endings that don’t go in the “Best” or “Worst” category, and those are the ones that are true to their stories, making them good, but also incredibly unfair and cruel to their characters, so the readers can’t really call them “great” endings. These are the endings that leave you crying, hating the universe for being cruel, and seriously considering that the mangaka hates you personally and wanted you to be hurt.
And yet, they are also beautiful. Because they may be cruel, and they may be unfair, but at the same time, they’re the best possible way for the story to end; even if it hurts the characters and readers. A happy ending would feel unreal, or even tacked in when everything has been tragedy, even if we wanted it to be the author’s choice. And so, despite their cruelty, we the readers also love those tragic endings.
So here are ten endings that will make you cry, but also will leave you satisfied. Of course, proceed with caution, as there are SPOILERS below.
10. Socrates in Love (Sekai no Chuushin de, Ai wo Sakebu)
- Mangaka: Katayama, Kyoichi (Story), Kazui, Kazumi (Art)
- Genre: Drama, Romance, Josei
- Volumes: 1
- Published Date: Dec 2003 – Jan 2004
High school romance stories are usually bittersweet. While there are still many people who do marry their high school sweethearts, in fiction they tend to add an extra layer of drama even if there is a happy ending. More so, nowadays we seem to have a trend of really tragic high school romance stories in the West, highlighted with stories such as The Fault in Our Stars, and the romance subplot in 13 reasons why. However, Japan had us beat in these kind of stories years before they became fashionable here. A perfect example is Sekai no Chuushin de, Ai wo Sakebu, better known in English as Socrates in Love.
Sakutaro Matsumoto, also called Saku, and Aki Hirose are starting to date now that they’re in high school, despite having been friends since junior high. Aki loves seeing outside, and so they tend to travel together in their dates to different places. But their romance is to be short-lived as Aki discovers she has leukemia. Saku, unwilling to give her up, buys tickets so they can go together to Australia, the one place Aki really wanted to visit. Unfortunately, the writer is not merciful, and Saku dies before she can get to the plane. The manga ends with Saku spreading her ashes in the Ayers Rock in Australia, taking her there even after death.
It is a poetic ending, very beautifully done, but that doesn’t make it less tragic. The only reason why it’s not higher on the list is because the manga is very short, and while Aki dies, we can see Saku treasuring his memories with her.
9. Magic Knight Rayearth
- Mangaka: CLAMP
- Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Magic, Mecha, Shoujo.
- Volumes: 3
- Published Date: Nov 1993 - Feb 1995
Hikaru, Fuu and Umi are three junior high students from three different schools. When they go on a school trip to Tokyo Tower and they meet for the first time, they’re transported to the magic world of Cephiro. There, they are met with the wizard Guruclef and the strange creature he calls Mokona. Guruclef explains that the ruler of their world, Princess Emeraude, has been kidnapped by her evil High Priest, Zagato. He goes on to say that they were called by the princess to save her and Cephiro, as without her as the Pillar of the World, the magical place is crumbling down, filling with monsters that attack everyone.
The ending of Magic Knight Rayearth is one of CLAMP’s most famous due to the final twist right after the girls manage to kill Zagato, there’s still one last enemy they have to defeat: None other than the same Princess Emeraude they were supposed to save. The truth was that she was in love with Zagato, and the only reason why he kidnapped her was to make her stop being the Pillar as it meant they could never be together. It also meant that the girls’ mission was not to save her, but to kill her so a new Pillar could be chosen. The fact that they are executioners and not saviors, weighs heavily on the girls as they return to Tokyo, crying in each other arms for the last panel of the manga.
Although stories with child soldiers are more common now, in 1993 and in a shoujo that was following Sailor Moon’s success, it was a huge shock. The ending of Magic Knight Rayearth more than earns the ninth place on the list, and the only reason why it’s not higher is because there’s a sequel with a slightly happier ending.
8. Saishuu Heiki Kanojo (SaiKano)
- Mangaka: Takahashi, Shin
- Genre: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi, Seinen
- Volumes: 7
- Published Date: 1999 - 2001
Shuuji is a very smart high school student who sometimes has trouble with social interaction. This is why his relationship with his girlfriend, Chise, seems a bit strange to everyone who knows them, especially as Shuuji can be a bit insensitive at times making Chise feel bad and apologize even for things that are not her fault. Still, Chise loves Shuuji deeply, and while Shuuji at first is not sure if he loves her, little by little he learns to care for her and to enjoy their time together. However, things are not as easy: Japan is at war with another country, and a special weapon has to be deployed constantly to help the Self Defense Forces of Japan. Said weapon is, to Shuuji’s shock, the same shy Chise who apologizes for being slow because he walks too fast.
Saikano, also known as the Last Love Song on This Little Planet or My Girlfriend, The Ultimate Weapon, is a very touching manga from beginning to end. We can see how Shuuji and Chise fall in love, and how the war affects them both even without taking into account that Chise is losing her humanity little by little, turning into a more fearsome weapon after each battle. So much so, that by the end she doesn’t even look human: She turns into a spaceship and decides to mercy kill what little is left of mankind, everyone except Shuji, whom she takes within him to an unknown destiny
It is a bittersweet ending, as our main characters survive, in a way, and they do remain together. But at the same time, the world is destroyed. And this is why it’s the eighth place on our list.
7. Deep Love: Pao no Monogatari
- Mangaka: Yoshi (Story) Kurosawa, Akiyo
- Genre: Drama, Shoujo, Slice of Life
- Volumes: 2
- Published Date: 2005
Pao has had a hard life, despite being quite young for a dog. The owners of his mother neglect her and abandon her and the puppies, which makes him separate himself from his siblings, wandering around and trying to find food –after watching his mother starve to death so that they could eat. While most people he encounters abuse and kick him, there’s a young woman who doesn’t seem to hate him, and one day, adopts him; finally giving him a home. Unfortunately, his new owner, Ayu, has problems of her own, and Pao, being small and a dog, can’t really help her much.
Deep Love: Pao no Monogatari is a spinoff of Deep Love: Ayu no Monogatari, and it’s told completely from the point of view of Pao, Ayu’s loyal dog. Now, make no mistake, Ayu no Monogatari’s ending is incredibly tragic, as Ayu dies from AIDS just as she was turning a new leaf in her life, but as it continues a bit and we see her friends rebuilding their lives (at least until their own sequels), it can’t be considered a tragic ending. Pao’s story, however, ends when the loyal dog chooses to stay in his dead owner’s arms, sleeping until death takes him too.
As this ending can’t leave anyone with dry eyes, it earns the seventh place on our list.
6. Kokou no Hito
- Mangaka: Sakamoto, Shinichi
- Genre: Drama, Sports, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 17
- Published Date: 2007 -2012
Mori Burato has one passion: He adores mountain climbing. And thus, he has one single goal in his life: He wants to reach the top of the K2 Eastern Wall, one of the most dangerous mountains in the world, and one that has never been climbed due to the instability of the ice formations on that side. Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Back when he was in Highschool, Mori was quite aimless, introverted and lonely. It wasn’t until he changed schools and got into a fight with the Climbing club that he discovered his love for reaching high places, preferably alone. So we follow him as he grows and trains, getting ready to conquer the mountain path that no one has been able to conquer.
And while the manga has its ups and downs, and can be incredibly dramatic, nothing holds a candle to the last volume, where Mori is alone in K2 East side, as his companion Takemura was when he died not long ago in a horrible accident. He’s alone, slowly falling prey to hypothermia, hallucinating, and yet, still trying to reach the top of K2. The penultimate chapter mixes the lyrics to Amazing Grace, scenes of an ancient ship crew saving their mates from a storm, and Mori alone, climbing steadily, knowing he’ll die soon as he has no strength to return to his campsite. While he does come down, the price is high. He loses toes and fingers, and will never be able to climb again. Mori Burato, the person, survived. Mori Burato, the Climber, died on the top of K2.
And this is why it’s a tragic tale, because we don’t know if, for Burato, fulfilling his dream was worth the sacrifice; and so, it earns the sixth place on our list.
5. Koizora: Setsunai Koimonogatari
- Mangaka: Haneda, Ibuki (Art), Mika (Story)
- Genre: Drama, Romance, School, Shoujo, Slice of Life
- Volumes: 10
- Published Date: 2007 – 2009
Mika Tahara wishes to find her one true love. She’s really romantic, and wishes to have her own love story and a happy ending. Due to a random phone call, she ends up meeting Hiroki “Hiro” Sakurai, a delinquent a bit older than her. Despite the fact that he originally scared her, due to his bad boy looks and the gang he’s part of, they end up falling in love. Unfortunately, their path to happiness has many obstacles; from his ex-girlfriend that is determined to make sure that Hiro returns to her even to the point that she arranges for Mika to be raped, to an unplanned pregnancy. Still, Mika doesn’t leave Hiro, convinced that they can overcome any challenge as long as they’re together.
Unfortunately for any reader cheering for them, Koizora is not a happy manga. And despite the fact that one really thinks that nothing can go wrong once that Hiro and Mika are together, the story refuses to give them a break. In a devastating turn of events, Hiro is diagnosed with cancer and, despite all the treatment; he dies after promising Mika they would see each other again. Mika is so devastated by the news, that she actually considers killing herself just to be with Hiro and their unborn child again. It is reading his diary what makes her stop, and try to continue living.
Because of the tragedy of Hiro’s death, Koizora qualifies for our list. But as Mika manages to try and rebuild her life after he’s gone, it only reaches the fifth place.
4. Jungle Taitei (Kimba the White Lion)
- Mangaka: Tezuka, Osamu
- Genre: Drama
- Volumes: 3
- Published Date: 1950 - 1954
The King of the jungle was Panja, a white lion, who ruled as a gentle king and attacked all humans who tried to hunt him or other animals. But when a foreign hunter discovers he has a beloved, he uses her as bait for a trap and finally manages to kill him. As they take the lioness to a zoo in London, she gives birth to a white cub, naming him Kimba. Soon, she makes him escape the cage and makes him promise he’ll reach Africa and be the new King. However, while this saves him from the ship sinking in a storm, Kimba ends up in London anyway, and is adopted by humans, learning about their society before he finally reaches Africa again.
Jungle Taitei was one of many Osamu Tezuka manga, and its anime version was shown all over the world, particularly in the United States, as Leo the White Lion. It’s considered a great story for children, and a good way to learn that humans must respect nature so we can live together in peace. What most anime versions don’t adapt, however, is the ending: Once that Kimba, now an adult, has managed to create an animal utopia where carnivores and herbivores live together in peace, humans arrive to search a special mineral and start a plague that kills many animals, including Lyra, Kimba’s wife. Kimba himself dies, protecting an old human friend, and while his children survive, it’s hard not to cry when we see his pelt, and realize exactly how he died.
Because of the jarring tone shift in the series, and the way in which a beloved hero dies, Jungle Taitei earns the fourth place on our list.
3. Bokurano (Bokurano: Ours)
- Mangaka: Kitoh, Mohiro
- Genre: Drama, Mecha, Sci-Fi, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 11
- Published Date: 2003 – 2009
Imagine for a moment that during summer camp, you and your friends find a secret grotto by the sea, which is filled with computers. There, a man who owns the place finds you and claims that everything there is to help him program a new game where a giant robot must defend the Earth against many alien invasions and that in order to make sure it works, he needs precisely fifteen beta testers. Would you be tempted to sign a contract to test his game? Well, the main characters of Bokurano decide they want to do so and soon they are fighting a battle for Earth’s survival for real and the consequences are quite deadly.
If you have seen the anime, you probably know the story is quite depressing on its own but still has a somewhat happy ending where at least the main character survives and the “game” ends for good. Not so in the manga where every single one of the children we met at the beginning dies as they pilot the giant robot, and the one character that died in the anime but survives here, is seen going to a new Earth, a different reality, to start it all over again. And it will continue, forever.
Due to the horrific implication of the ending, and the fact that the children involved were no older than 14, Bokurano more than deserves the third place on our list.
2. Dear Friends: Rina & Maki
- Mangaka: Yoshi (Story), Watanabe, Ayu (Art)
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Shounen, Supernatural, Psychological
- Volumes: 1
- Published Date: 2003
For Rina, friends are completely unnecessary and are just people to be used when appropriate. This makes her very antisocial and lonely in her school, although this is not really her fault; her father is rarely around and her mother tends to be very overprotective so she doesn’t have much of a social upbringing. So when she is diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, she has no visitors to cheer her up. Except for a classmate from her school, Maki, who pretty much volunteers to become her nurse and even manages to get her down from the hospital roof when Rina tries to kill herself after a mastectomy.
Stories with sick main characters are always difficult for a reader. After all, we all have had friends or family that have been in the hospital at least once, and we all have felt the fear of thinking they won’t return. However, Dear Friends manages to give a twist to its tragedy by allowing Rina to survive. She goes into remission, just to find that she can’t return to her old life, and thus, we’re back to the roof. The story then delivers its hardest blow: a nurse wheels Maki, who had disappeared from the story for a while, to talk to Rina. The reason why she had stopped visiting was because she has a degenerative disease and now she can’t walk anymore. The last pages of the manga are heartbreaking, as we see how Maki gives Rina a reason to live, but yet doesn’t survive to the end herself.
As the manga ends with Rina crying over Maki’s death and finally realizing why friends are important, it earns the second place on our list.
1. Koukyou Shihen Eureka Seven (Eureka Seven: Psalms of Planets)
- Mangaka: Kondou, Kazuma (Story & Art), Kataoka, Jinsei (Story & Art)
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Mecha, Romance, Sci-Fi, Shounen
- Volumes: 6
- Published Date: 2005 – 2006
Renton Thurston is just 14 years old, but he is a bit bored with his life. He lost his father, who was involved in averting a planet-wide catastrophe. Then he lost his sister, who was trying to save their father. And now, life with his grandfather is so uneventful, that Renton can’t help but wish for more excitement. He loves lifting –a form of surfing, but in the sky- and his personal goal is to become good enough to join Gekkostate, a renegade group dedicated to lifting even in dangerous and forbidden places. But when he meets Eureka, a mysterious pilot who crashes into his room with her giant robot, and finally gets the chance to joining Gekkostate, he’s shocked to discover that they are in fact an anti government guerrilla.
Eureka 7 is considered a very eco-minded manga, as it is focuses on the damage humans can and do to the environment and its consequences. But where the anime gives us a happy ending with everyone surviving and humans and Coralians having their own universes so they can evolve and then learn to coexist, the manga gives us a very different result to the love between Renton and Eureka. While it is still strong enough to save the human world, and the Coralians leave in a heartbreaking scene when they realize that they were just surviving and not really living –where they go is not clear in the manga, we just see them go-, Eureka is too weak from the fight to continue. She dies in Renton’s arms, after once again telling him she loves him before disappearing in thin air. While Renton is sure she’ll come back one day, we, the readers, know that that’s just a dream. And that’s how the story ends.
Because of this emotional punch, that is even more unexpected if you are familiar with the anime, Eureka 7 is the first place on our list.
Tragedy is one of the most ancient genres in fiction, and it has been a way for readers and audiences to have certain closure for their own problems by being witnesses of someone else’s suffering. While it has changed over the ages, in the end it still helps us to connect a bit better with our emotions, and, in the most extreme cases, be glad that these things won’t happen to us.
That said, there are many different definitions of tragedy. So we ask you, did we miss your favorite tragic manga ending? If so, what is it? Or do you agree with our list? If so, can you tell us which one was your favorite and why? We eagerly await your comments below.
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