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The definition of Mystery is “something that is difficult or impossible to understand”, usually followed with “a story dealing with a puzzling crime, especially a murder”. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that some of the most interesting manga around are mysteries. After all, everyone loves a story where the answers aren’t spoon-fed to the audience, and we have to collect clues to try and figure out the truth before the main characters do.
Manga is a perfect medium for mystery. As the reader has all the time in the world to review each panel, re-read the chapters and words, and go back to the old volumes as new ones come up; it’s a lot easier to put the pieces of the puzzle together than it would be with anime or with a novel.
And there are thousands of mystery manga, which made putting this list together a challenge as difficult as figuring out the ending to many of these manga. So without further ado, here’s our list of the top ten mystery manga that we guarantee will keep you glued to your seat.
10. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Kurosagi Shitai Takuhaibin)
- Mangaka: Otsuka, Eiji (Story), Yamazaki, Housui (Art)
- Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Drama, Supernatural, Horror
- Volumes: 21
- Published Date: 2000 - 2016
Studying at a Buddhist College may seem like a good choice for those who want to follow the spiritual path, but the reality is that unless you have a family that works in a temple or something similar, work options after graduation are not that many. That is why five young graduates decide to use their special skills –all of them involving dead bodies- to form a business with a very niche customer base: They will deliver your corpse to any place you wish after death.
This is only possible due to Kuro Karatsu, the main character, who is able to speak with the recently dead and thus, hear their last wishes. With the help of Ao Sasaki, the brains behind the company; Makoto Numata, a dowser whose detection powers are limited to the dead; Yuji Yata, a young man who wears a felt puppet that channels an alien named Kere Ellis; and Keiko Makino, one of the very few licensed embalmers in Japan, Karatsu tries his best to bring peace to the dead. Unfortunately, since the dead who are not in their proper places when they die usually had a bad encounter with some criminal element, this brings the Delivery Service to also work as detectives most of the time.
This Manga, written by Eiji Otsuka and drawn by Housui Yamazaki, was first published in Kadokawa Mystery, later in Shonen Ace, and finally in Young Ace. To this date, there are 21 volumes. Usually, the chapters are self-contained, following the investigation of the death of the service’s more recent client, but there’s a continuous arc about Kurata and the origin of his amazing power. Because the mystery is usually on the light side and easily solvable, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service earns the tenth place in our list.
9. Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit (Ikigami)
- Mangaka: Mase, Motoro
- Genre: Action, Mystery, Drama, Seinen, Psychological
- Volumes: 10
- Published Date: 2005 - 2012
In order to make sure that productivity is high in Japan, the government has come up with a very special law. Once a child enters elementary school, they’re given a shot. It’s not a vaccine, but a 1 in 1000 chance to get injected with a nano capsule that, when the child is between the ages of 18 and 24, will explode and kill them instantly. No one knows which child will have this fate, but it makes everyone work harder, as if each day was the last. Death doesn’t come as a surprise, though. A group of workers for the government get a notice of death, an Ikigami, and have to deliver it at least 24 hours before the time of death so that the citizens can put all their business in order.
Ikigami is a very strange manga. The premise itself doesn’t sound like a mystery, more like a study of how people would react if they knew the exact time in which they will die. However, as we follow our main character, Kengo Fujimoto, as he delivers the Ikigami to the different victims, we start sharing his doubts. Exactly how does the system work? Is it possible to have a successful society on the back of dead innocent people? And why was this law passed in the first place? Who benefits from all the dying?
All those questions, and their answers, make Ikigami, the manga written and drawn by Motoro Mase, the ninth manga on our list.
8. Young Kindaichi Case Files (Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo)
- Mangaka: Kibayashi, Shin(Story), Kanari, Youzaburou (Story), Sato, Fumiya (Art)
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Supernatural, Shounen, Psychological
- Volumes: 27
- Published Date: 1992-1997 (Original series)
Hajime Kindaichi is the grandson of the greatest Japanese detective of all times, Kosuke Kindaichi. Because of this, despite being a bit of a slacker in school, he is highly intelligent and very good both at deduction and sleight of hand; two things that helped his grandfather during his long career. And now, those abilities serve Kindaichi well, as he is faced with many mysteries that he promises to solve in the name of his grandfather. From theft to murder, Kindaichi won’t rest until the guilty are behind bars.
Kindaichi Case Files, written by Yozaburo Kanari and later by Seimaru Amagi, and illustrated by Fumiya Sato, is a very interesting manga. It started serializing in 1992, and despite having some title changes, it remains serialized with only a small hiatus between 2001 and 2004. Of course, the fact that it is slightly based on a famous literary figure helps add to its popularity; imagine a comic based on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ grandson that kept the grisliness and cruelty of the murders that Holmes and Watson solved. Because that is what Kindaichi offers. Every case which usually spans a whole volume- is as serious as any case from a novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, or Agatha Christie.
If you are a fan of the detective genre, however, some cases may have an easy solution. It’s only because of that small flaw that the Young Kindaichi Case Files lands the eighth place on our list.
7. Death Note
- Mangaka: Ohba, Tsugumi (Story), Obata, Takeshi (Art)
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Supernatural, Shounen, Psychological
- Volumes: 12
- Published Date: 2003 - 2006
When criminals all over the world start dying of unprovoked heart attacks, the police start suspecting a new serial killer. In order to find this killer, the Japanese police create a task force that is also contacted by L, one of the greatest detectives in the world, in order to stop this killer, nicknamed Kira by the press. Unknown to everyone, Kira is actually Light Yagami, the son of the detective heading the task force to bring the killer down. More importantly, his method of killing is impossible to detect because he uses a death note, a notebook from a Shinigami, that determines when a person dies and how.
Death Note is a backwards mystery at first. We, the readers, know everything about Kira and his methods long before the cops do. In fact, we are forced to cheer for Kira and wonder how he will manage to escape the attempts by L to catch him because he is doing something good by ridding the world of crime. This changes in the second arc of the manga, when new killers appear, but the beginning is what made Death Note such a different story from all the others of its time.
Written by Tsugumi Ohba and drawn by Takeshi Obata, Death Note is one of those mysteries that have managed to stay in many people’s minds and transcended manga by getting an anime adaptation, and not one, but three live action movies. Still, because at the beginning the secrets are told to the audience instead of letting us figure out what’s going on, it lands on the seventh place on our list.
- Mangaka: Tonogai, Yoshiki
- Genre: Mystery, Shounen, Psychological
- Volumes: 24
- Published Date: 2007 - 2009
There’s an app for everything. And in this case, Rabbit Doubt seems to be a perfect app for murder. The goal of the game is to protect your group of “Rabbits” from the “Wolf” disguised as one of them. It’s a Multi Player game, in which everyone who is a Rabbit is desperate to find who the Wolf is before said predator eats everyone in the colony. But when six players decide to meet, they are promptly drugged, kidnapped and put in an abandoned hospital. One of them is dead, and the game takes a frightful turn to reality.
Doubt is a very interesting manga, as it is one long closed room mystery. The Wolf must be one of the six main characters because we are shown that no one else could have been around once they are locked in the hospital. Suspicions run high as each body appears, and it becomes obvious pretty soon that the only way to make sure someone is innocent, is if that person appears dead.
Drawn and written by Yoshiki Tonogai, very obviously influenced by Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’, Doubt is an amazing mystery that all fans of the genre should read. However, as the manga is pretty short, we give it only the sixth place on our list.
- Mangaka: Mori, Kouji
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 17
- Published Date: 2008 - 2016
The decision to commit suicide is a serious one. And when one fails to kill themselves, there are two possible reactions: Either you are glad that you survived and are ready to face life again, or you regret having been saved. In Japan, the government has decided on a creative way to treat the second group. Once a person who has failed to kill themselves insist that they wish to die, they’re moved to a “Suicide Island”. There they are informed that they no longer count as Japanese citizens and have no human rights as they’re dead for Japan. They can’t go back to the main Island, but they’re free to do whatever else they like.
Jisatsutou, or Suicide Island, has an inner mystery that is rarely addressed by the characters but it is the backbone of the story: Who decided this was a good idea? Why is this a secret from the citizens of Japan? When did they start to send those suicidal people to the island, given that most of it is empty and without any supplies for those who may decide they want to live after all? And yet, we have to ignore those questions, as there’s a much urgent matter at hand: How people react when told there are no rules, and they can do whatever they want.
Drawn and written by Mori Kouji, this manga asks many questions, but as they remain mostly unanswered, it stays in the fifth place of our list.
- Mangaka: Urasawa, Naoki (Story & Art ), Tetsuka, Osamu (Story)
- Genre: Action, Mystery, Mecha, Sci-fi, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 8
- Published Date: 2003 - 2009
In a society where robots and men live and work together, there are always some robot-related crimes. Usually, perpetrated by men against robots and easily solved; but when the strongest robots in the world are destroyed in mysterious circumstances, it’s only possible that the culprit is another robot. And since that hasn’t happened in eight years, the implications are frightening. Enter Gesicht, a German robot detective, who also happens to be on the list of the strongest robots in the world. As he connects with all the survivors, he meets with a young Japanese robot named Astro, who is also investigating the same crimes but from a different angle.
Pluto is an historical manga. Drawn and written by Naoki Urasawa, following the plot of one of Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy’s story arcs, it’s the only manga adaptation of one of Tezuka’s works that is completely approved by the family of the legendary mangaka –there are anime that follow the characters created by him, but aren’t allowed to deviate from what Tezuka himself created. And Urasawa steps up to the challenge, by turning what was originally a fairly straight anti-war plot into a complex conspiracy/murder mystery that delves into the lives of those robots that may not be as human-looking as Astro, but are equally sentient. Instead of focusing on Astro and his family and issues, Pluto gives us a broader look into the universe created by Tezuka, and does it in a wonderful, heartbreaking way.
Because of the care Urasawa takes in this scenario, and the complexity of the mystery, as well as the surprising solution, Pluto takes the fourth place on our list.
3. MPD Psycho (Tajuu Jinkaku Tantei Psycho)
- Mangaka: Otsuka, Eiji (Story), Tajima, Shou (Art)
- Genre: Mystery, Police, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 24
- Published Date: 1996 - 2016
Yosuke Kobayashi is a Japanese detective who is chasing a serial killer that dismembers his victims. When the latest victim happens to be his girlfriend, who was kept alive and mailed to his police station, his sanity crashes and he develops Multiple Personality Disorder and kills the murderer, earning himself a life sentence. Years later, it’s revealed that one of his personalities is a talented investigator; and that is why upon his release, he starts working with Machi Isono, a private criminologist, in order to solve the crimes that seem to be connected to his many personalities.
MPD Psycho, or Multiple Personality Detective Psycho, is written by Eiji Otsuka and drawn by Shou Tajima. It shows one of the most common elements of the mystery manga: the episodic murder; however, it mixes it up with a long running conspiracy that may or may not be involved with all the other murderers, so the reader has the choice to go back in the multiple volumes to try and figure out what is going on and see if they can guess what is in store for all the characters.
Full of suspense, mystery, and with an amazing cast of characters, MPD Psycho is clearly worthy of the third place in our list.
2. Billy Bat
- Mangaka: Urasawa, Naoki (Story & Art), Nagasaki, Takahashi (Story)
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Historical, Supernatural, Police, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 20
- Published Date: 2008 - 2016
Comic book artist Kevin Yamagata was enjoying a moderate success in New York in 1949, when he’s told that his prized character Billy Bat was based off a manga character from Japan. Confused by this, he vows to travel to Japan to find the original artist, and beg forgiveness for his accidental plagiarism. This puts Yamagata in the middle of a strange conspiracy that spans thousands of years, all around the mysterious image of a bat, that has shaped mankind’s history since the beginning of civilization.
And the story doesn’t end with Yamagata. To the contrary, the more the story advances, the more characters get sucked into the conspiracy, both trying to solve it and trying to protect it. At one point, Yamagata ends up in Dallas, November 1963, as the Bat Conspiracy is also behind the JFK assassination. As the years advance, the story’s scope becomes bigger and bigger, until we are not sure who we can trust to tell the truth.
From the pen of Naoki Urasawa with help on the argument by Takashi Nagasaki, whose eye for detail is perfect for mystery manga, Billy Bat gets the second place in our list; and that is only because the end solution to the mystery is not as spectacular as our number one choice.
1. 20th Century Boys
- Mangaka: Urasawa, Naoki
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Historical, Sci-Fi, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 22
- Published Date: 1999 - 2006
Remember those games you used to play with your childhood friends? Where you were the heroes that saved the world from aliens or other earth-shattering menaces? Now imagine that now, as an adult with a 9 to 5 job and many responsibilities, you discover that someone has taken your secret childhood games and made them the basis for a new religion and a secret plan to actually bring the end of the world.
That is the main story behind 20th Century Boys, one of the most famous manga by Naoki Urasawa. Kenji Endo is the character put in the horrible situation where he realizes that not only are his childhood fantasies being used to kill innocent people, but also, that the only one who could be doing so is one of his eight closest friends from that time. And we are witnesses not only to Kenji’s plight, but to the suffering all over the world as the story time-jumps from past to future to present and back again, showing us bits and pieces of the clues necessary to figure out who is Friend, and how to stop him.
There’s nothing superfluous in this manga. Every character has a role to play, and everything we’re told is a clue for the future. Because of this, and the masterful way in which Friend’s identity is kept a mystery to the last volume, 20th Century Boys is the best mystery manga we can recommend.
Who did it? Why did they do it? How will they be caught? Those are the questions that Mystery stories create in our minds as we read them. A well crafted story will put us in the shoes of the main character, making us feel as frustrated as they are whenever they hit a red herring or a wall in their investigation.
If you are not the kind of person who rather read the end of the book before finishing the story, mystery is a genre for you. If you have never read mystery manga, this list is a perfect way to start. And if you have, and have your own favorites, please let us know in the comments which are your personal choices. Just remember, no spoilers! Because half the fun of these is figuring out the mystery ourselves.