While most of us enjoy the prospect of living healthy, fulfilling lives, sometimes life itself just gets in the way of our plans. It goes without saying however, that these bumps in the road won’t always prove to be world-ending, but sometimes… sometimes stuff happens; sometimes circumstances transform into really the sad and downright unlucky. The same can be said for the stories we enjoy. Sometimes a good dose of something absolutely tragic is exactly what you need – and we’re here to help! So let’s get on it – Top 10 Tragic Manga!
Beware, tragedy may befall you unless you know that there are some spoilers up ahead!
10. God Child
- Mangaka: Yuki Kaori
- Genres: Historical, Horror, Mystery, Shoujo, Shounen Ai, Supernatural, Tragedy
- Published: 2001 – 2004
19th Century London. A young nobleman, Cain C. Hargreaves of the House of Hargreaves assumes the role of the head of the family after the untimely death of his father. However, the Cain family has a dark past and mysterious crimes seem to follow Cain everywhere he goes. With his servant Riff and his ten-year-old half-sister, Mary Weather, Cain investigates the darkness that plagues him.
The eerie and unlucky reality experienced by nobleman Cain C. Hargreaves is one set up for ultimate levels of tragedy, with his father’s departure, Cain has been forced to take over at the helm of one of London’s most prominent noble families. To make things worse, the most heinous crimes seem to occur around him, from axe-wielding decapitators to people who make dolls out of human beings. However, with surprising wit, Cain is able to get to the bottom of each case, but living with the pretext of being pursued by incredible amounts of bad luck with no way to escape it is nothing short of an endless tragic nightmare.
- Mangaka: Asano Inio
- Genres: Drama, Seinen, Slice of Life, Tragedy
- Published: June 2005 – April 2006
Straight after graduating from college, Meiko went to work as an office lady, but a gnawing lack of fulfilment from her work causes her to seek something that will add substance to her life. Determined to accomplish bigger things, Meiko quits work, but will everything actually go according to plan? Will her relationship with her boyfriend, Taneda, survive the rapidly changing climate of Meiko’s life?
The freedom Meiko enjoys as a result of breaking away from her place of work is short-lived. Despite feeling relief from no longer being part of the legion of corpses who trudge to work for “the man” every single day of her lives, the giant empty hole left by having nothing to do with herself everyday eats away at her. For the time being, her boyfriend, Taneda, takes over as the breadwinner despite only working part-time and harbouring raw dreams to pursue a musical career. Their gravity of their financial situation begins to take its toll on their relationship, but they eventually patch things up, only for Taneda to pass away on the very day they sorted things out. Life can be unfair.
- Mangaka: Mase Motoro
- Genres: Action, Drama, Mystery, Psychological, Seinen, Tragedy
- Volumes: 10
- Published: January 2005 – February 2012
As a result of the laziness and apathy of the general populace, a “National Prosperity Law” has been passed in a certain dystopian nation, declaring that citizens who fall in the bracket of ages 18 – 24 are to be randomly selected to die for the sake of the nation. The selected individuals are notified of their impending deaths 24 hours before the fact, receiving “Ikigami”, or a Death’s Notice. The government hopes to use the National Prosperity Law as a means to force the population to think about the true value of life.
Imagine coming home from a long day of living only to be confronted with the sight of your own family members lethargic as they process that they’re in their last moments with you. Ikigami is a unique take on the mantra that has taken root in various human societies. We’re often told that we only live one life and should live it to the fullest, but imagine being part of a society that kills off its own members in order to make a constant reminder of that truth. Once a character receives a death notice, they have 24 hours to come to peace with the fact that their life’s work will remain unfinished; all dreams, all hopes, all aspirations to be reduced to nothing.
- Mangaka: Tonogai Yoshiki
- Genres: Drama, Horror, Mystery, Psychological, Tragedy
- Volumes: 6
- Published: January 2010 – August 2011
Hiro has a secret crush on his childhood friend Hikari. Unfortunately for him; however, his older brother, Atsuya, is dating Hikari. Hiro’s feelings for Hikari cause him to commit what he thinks is an “unpunishable” crime against his older brother; well, at least he thought it was until he was kidnapped and imprisoned by a group of people hiding behind the visage of animal masks. With that, the judging begins!
Ah, where to begin… Well, our MC in this particular manga starts off with ample misfortune as his crush is dating is older brother. After being painfully encouraged by Hikari to pursue the person he loved, Hiro steels his resolve but does his brother dirty in the process: due to Hikari’s absent mindedness, Hiro finds himself in possession of Hikari’s phone and uses it to lie to Atsuya about the plans Atsuya and Hikari had for Christmas Eve. Hiro plans to buy himself one hour of alone time to confess to Hikari, but his lie ends up being the major factor in Atsuya’s untimely death after being hit by a truck. Not only was he in love with his brother’s girlfriend, his fiendish tactics ended up setting the scene for his older brother’s death.
6. Nanase (Telepathic Wanderers)
- Mangaka: Tsutsui Yasutaka
- Genres: Drama, Sci-Fi, Shounen, Supernatural, Tragedy
- Volumes: 4
- Published: 2001 – 2003
A beautiful young telepath named Nanase makes her way back to her hometown to settle down. Unfortunately, her telepathic powers make it impossible to have a normal life, regardless of how quiet a life she tries to live. Nanase then meets Norio, a little boy who has suffered abuse throughout his life who has incredible powers of his own. Nanase takes the child under her wing and together they lead a nomadic life, complete with plenty strange encounters.
Humans are social creatures and as such, we tend to form groups with people with whom we bear similarities. Unfortunately for Nanase, people aren’t too nice to people who are different, so she has had to live her entire life hiding her telepathic powers from everyone she knew. Nanase returns to her hometown with no family to speak of; her parents died in a car accident. Simply wishing to live a normal life, we all know that her powers make her incapable of having a life she so desperately aches for.
5. Tokyo Babylon
- Mangaka: Okawa Ageha x CLAMP
- Genres: Drama, Fantasy, Shoujo, Shounen Ai, Supernatural, Tragedy
- Volumes: 7
- Published: 1990 – 1993
16-year-old Sumeragi Subaru is the cheerful head and medium of the Sumeragi Clan who, with the help of his twin sister, Hokuto, and his friend, Seishiro, takes care of ghosts and spirits. It is in Subaru’s nature to do his best to help anyone in need, but the severely polluted atmosphere of Tokyo in the ‘90s creates a feeling of desperation within Subaru that threatens to crush his spirit and render him incapable of helping anyone.
On his first ever job as an exorcist, a nine-year-old Sumeragi Subaru is drawn to a beautiful cherry blossom tree. Seven years later, Subaru returns to the same cherry blossom tree, where he meets an old friend, Seishiro. While at the tree, Subaru sees visions of a young boy standing at the tree; a vision which turns out to be of his younger self. Young Subaru witnesses Seishiro murder someone and as a result, Subaru is distraught, unable to fathom the fact that someone he held in high regard was capable of murdering even children.
4. Vampire Juujikai (Record of a Fallen Vampire)
- Mangaka: Shirodaira Kyou (Story), Kimura Yuri (Art)
- Genres: Magic, Shounen, Supernatural, Tragedy, Vampire
- Volumes: 9
- Published: August 2003 - February 2010
According to legend, thousands of years ago, the Vampire Queen almost destroyed the world after unleashing her powers. Unable to defeat her, the humans decided to seal her away until a time where they would be strong enough to completely destroy the seal and vanquish her. However, the Vampire King cast away his kingdom and betrayed his race of half-vampires in order to search for his queen and destroy the seal holding her captive before the humans do. Fearing the inevitable end of the world that would be brought about by the reunion of the Vampire King and Queen, the humans and half-vampires seek to hunt down the Vampire King, by any means necessary.
Due to the fact that he and his Queen are the fated harbingers of destruction, war has torn them apart and seen the Vampire Queen sealed away. Determined to find his Queen, the Vampire King is subjected to endless fights against countless Black Swans, assassins sent to kill him before he is able to locate and break the Queen’s seal. Alone in the world, it seems that separation from a loved one, even as a powerful vampire, is both tragic and painful.
3. Hana no Miyako de
- Mangaka: Takarai Rihito
- Genres: Drama, Historical, Romance, Tragedy, Yaoi
- Volumes: 1
- Published: September 2012 – January 2013
Motoharu, the one next in line to head the Tsujimura Clinic, has always had a crush on his childhood friend, Hazumi Akira. He confessed to Akira but was unfortunately rejected. Despite being turned down, Motoharu still enrolled at the same university and department as Akira, but ever since the confession, the two have kept their distance from each other. At some point, Akira suggests that they sort it out and for the first time in a long time, the two walk home together. However, while walking home, Akira throws a curveball at Motoharu by suddenly kissing him, feeding Motoharu’s hopes for Akira to accept his feelings, but later, Akira tells Motoharu to forget what happened.
Ever since they were kids, Akira and Motoharu have loved each other, both as friends, and as much more than friends. So when Motoharu confessed his feelings to Akira, Akira felt ambivalent; happy because he felt the same way. Unfortunately, Akira is unable to return Motoharu’s feelings and become his lover because he is victim to one of the oldest social transactions: the arranged marriage. Akira’s family owed the fianceé’s family because of how Akira’s father was taken care of after the war. In the best interests of his family, Akira has no choice but to abandon the love of his life in order to marry rich.
2. Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (Our Happy Time)
- Mangaka: Gong Ji-Young, Sahara Mizu
- Genres: Drama, Music, Psychological, Romance, Seinen, Slice of Life, Tragedy
- Volumes: 1
- Published: March 2008 – August 2008
Mutou Juri, the daughter of a formerly famous pianist, has attempted suicide three times as a result of being plagued by a traumatic experience she had as a teenager, and she has also come to detest her mother. One day, Juri’s aunt Monica decides to invite her to visit a death row inmate known as Yuu. Yuu has been charged with the murders of three people and has consequently attempted to end his own life several times. Monica often writes him letters with the hopes of helping him, but Yuu sees this as an act of pity and plans to tell Monica to stop sending him letters. However, the next time he met Monica, he met Juri, and their lives changed forever.
From the day she was born, Juri’s mother resented her. She had not wanted to give birth to another child and as a result of the delivery, the once-famous pianist’s right hand became paralysed, thus ending her career. Juri’s father died early on in her life and so she had lived most of her life under the care and guidance of someone who completely resents her for something that couldn’t possibly have been her fault. To top it all off, Juri wants to die. Sad, huh?
1. Oyasumi Punpun
- Mangaka: Asano Inio
- Genres: Drama, Psychological, Seinen, Slice of Life, Tragedy
- Volumes: 13
- Published: March 2007 – November 2013
Onodera Punpun is your average unassuming 11-year-old Japanese boy. His youthful innocence somewhat intact, Punpun is a hopeless idealist and romantic, but his transition to adulthood begins subtly after his first encounter with the new girl in his class, Tanaka Aiko. It is at this point that Punpun begins to understand the difficulties of maintaining a relationship and the transition to adulthood. When his father assaults his mother one night, Punpun begins to realise that the people he idolised are not as praise-worthy as he thought, and with his problems compounding, Punpun is reduced to voluntary reclusiveness. However, this decision only serves to worsen his problems, sending him well on the path to maturity.
Punpun’s family situation, despite his apparent innocent childish nonchalance, is one that is fairly toxic, having to live with an abusive father and a mother who is vocal about her wish to get away from the life and family she now finds herself in. Punpun’s prepubescent life at this point is filled with epiphanies and discoveries, and his relationship with Aiko seems harmful to say the least. His mother is visibly suicidal and his uncle, despite keeping a convincing façade, is buckling under overwhelming loneliness. Funny enough; however, Punpun’s worries are surprisingly trivial despite the world slowly collapsing around him. For several reasons, Oyasumi Punpun can be seen as one of the most brilliant coming-of-age stories in manga form.
Another person’s pain is better than our own, right? Perhaps. Tragedy in our favourite stories can serve to be a sobering reminder of the various not-so-bright realities in which we all live, and it can serve to be a great tool in storytelling, used to bring depth and a human familiarity to characters and stories alike. In some cases, seeing a character’s life crumble before their eyes can encourage much-needed reflection in our own lives. That being said, that isn’t always the case, more often than not, we just enjoy the drama! Did we miss your favourite tragic manga? Why not drop a comment below and put us on… we might put it on the list next time. But wouldn’t it be more tragic if there simply wasn’t a next time?