Tetsuo Hara is not only one of the top manga artists of the 1980’s, but probably throughout the history of the industry itself. He enjoyed the manga of his youth such as Tensai Bakabon and Tiger Mask, and they influenced him to seek a career as a manga artist. After graduating junior high, he enrolled in an art program at a high school in Tokyo. While attending, he was a member of its manga club and he happened to befriend Osamu Akimoto, the creator of the long-running Kochikame manga series.
After he finished high school, he attended Kazuo Koike’s manga class. If you’re familiar with Koike’s manga, then you already know that his style is unorthodox in comparison to the mainstream manga. While manga is famous for its big eyes and wacky hairstyles, Koike takes a much more realistic approach to his designs, and those qualities (and especially has shadowing and inking) are strongly seen in Hara’s own style. Through that class, Hara got a job as an assistant to Yoshihiro Takahashi, famous for the Ginga Densetsu WEED manga series. In 1982, he entered one of Shounen Jump’s contests and won. In that same year, he made his debut in Shounen Jump with a motocross manga called Tetsu no Don Quijote. From there, the rest is history and we wish to share with you his top mangas.
5. Kagemusha Tokugawa Ieyasu
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Samurai, Military, Historical, Shounen
- Volumes: 6
- Published: Dec 21, 1993 -Feb 28, 1995
Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, what do they all have in common besides being controversial rulers that were repeated targets for assassination? They had body doubles! In fact, Kagemusha is a Japanese term for body double and this manga tells the story of a body double for Tokugawa Ieyasu. And who is the man assigned to such a position? That would be Jirosaburo, a warrior who needs a job and thankfully, he naturally resembles Tokugawa Ieyasu to the point that nobody can tell them apart. However, in this manga, somebody failed to do their job and the real Ieyasu is assassinated so Jirosaburo assumes his identity so his followers won’t lose hope. But thanks to his field experience, he has the skills necessary to lead his army in hopes of carrying out his vision for Japan.
Prior to the debut of this manga, the idea of the real Tokugawa Ieyasu dying and being taken over by a body double had been popular in Japanese pop culture for ages. It originated from a novel of the same name, and that is where the manga comes from. With Hara’s art, we get a realistic feel of feudal Japan and as stated earlier, he does not draw in a typical big eye fashion. The inking and shadowing do a great job of capturing the unique texture of samurai armor and does a great job of portraying the warfare of its time.
What this manga is known for is that Hara tends to use fewer lines in comparison to his previous works, and his editor and readers praised the series that it made it easier to look at and follow. Other than showing off muscles only steroids can give you, there are no complaints about the art. So if you want a unique action political thriller, Kagemusha Tokugawa Ieyasu is at the top of our list.
4. Cyber Blue
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Shounen
- Volumes: 4
- Published: Nov 22, 1988 – Jul 11, 1989
In the year 2035, humans have migrated to Planet Tinos but require support systems in order to live, and they are in limited supply. After being killed by a corrupt cop, a teenager named Blue is rebuilt as a cyborg to fight the corruption on Tinos. If Hokuto no Ken takes from Mad Max and other post-apocalyptic franchises, Cyber Blue is a mix Total Recall and Robocop, but add in some teenage delinquency for humor. While most of Hara’s mangas rely on hand-to-hand combat, the setting appropriately allows more gun-slinging action.
Considering that Blue is a teenager (with the body of The Rock), he has a more laid-back attitude in comparison to Hara’s other mature heroes and as a plus, he was doing brain hacking before Ghost in the Shell made it cool. In a way, try to mix of the childish qualities of a young Joseph Joestar with the masculinity of Jotaro from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and that’s what you get with Blue to some extent. Just like how Joseph can say something explicit in English, in the Japanese version, Blue has a tendency to say ファック. So if you want 1980’s sci-fi action, Cyber Blue is the fix you’re looking for.
3. Hana no Keiji: Kumo No Kanata Ni
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Samurai, Historical, Shounen
- Volumes: 18
- Published: Nov 14, 1989 – Jul 20, 1993
You are probably familiar with the legend of Maeda Keiji through Kessen, Warriors Orochi, Sengoku Basara, and Pokemon Conquest. But prior to those games, he was portrayed in the manga Hana no Keiji. If you’re not familiar with those games, this manga gives you an account of Maeda Keiji through the masculine art of Hara. It portrays Japanese imperial life and that Keiji doesn’t want any part of it and wants to be his own man.
While this manga does explore masculinity like many of Hara’s other works through kicking ass and taking names, Hana no Keiji is about finding out who you are and being true to yourself as a man. This manga has action and man tears so fans of samurai and Hokuto no Ken should be able to enjoy this. Many of the character designs are consistent with Hara’s works, so you can easily identify Keiji as a samurai Kenshiro. Heck, there are other characters you can easily identify as other characters from Hokuto no Ken, but that doesn’t negate it one bit. It tells its own story for readers to enjoy and appreciate.
2. Fist of the Blue Sky (Souten no Ken)
- Genre: Action, Martial Arts
- Volumes: 22
- Published: May 2001 – Aug 27, 2010
Souten no Ken serves as the prequel to Tetsuo Hara and Buronson’s eighties cult classic, Hokuto no Ken. The series takes place in Shanghai in the 1930’s and Kasumi Kenshiro, a master of Hokuto Shinken and university professor, goes to China to save his friends and for some Kung Fu fighting. What makes this Kenshiro distinct compared to the one from Hokuto no Ken is that he has more of a sense of humor and his fighting style is less violent.
What this manga does a great job of portraying is Imperial Japan’s sins during that time period. While those sins have been a controversy that selected government officials try to dodge, Souten no Ken openly condemns them. Officers of the Imperial Military treat the citizens of China rather inhumanely, and Kenshiro doesn’t approve of treating innocent people that way so he is willing to go against his own country to take matters into his own hands.
The series also takes into account many historical events and figures into the story since it takes place in Shanghai, which has always been a hub for foreigners. Some famous people from history are woven into the story such as Chiang Kai-sheik, and Puyi, the former emperor of China. Hara’s style does an excellent job of not only staying consistent with his realistic and masculine designs, he also captures a 1930’s China look like you see in Jet Li’s Fist of Legend or Donnie Yen’s Legend of the Fist.
1. Fist of the North Star (Hokuto no Ken)
- Genre: Action, Martial Arts, Sci-Fi, Drama, Shounen
- Volumes: 27
- Published: Sept 13, 1983 – Jul 26, 1988
There is no denying that Hara’s legacy is forever going to be defined by what is considered the manliest manga of all time, Hokuto no Ken. It even has some celebrity fans such as former UFC champion Josh Barnett (who even uses Kenshiro’s catchphrase “omae wa shindeiru” when promoting his fights in Japan) and multiple time WWE champion John Cena. Gary Daniels who portrayed Kenshiro in the controversial live action movie even named of his sons Kenshiro.
Taking influence from Mad Max and old school kung fu flicks, Hokuto no Ken takes place in the year 199X after a nuclear holocaust. The only law left is that the strong survive while the defenseless are plundered and slaughtered. The only man left to protect the weak is Kenshiro, the master of the deadly Hokuto Shinken fighting style where a simple touch can make you explode into a pile of guts. In this world, he only wishes to reunite with Yuria, his true love who was taken by Shin, his former best friend.
Beyond its explosive action and high testosterone levels, Hara finds a great balance of taking a traditional and realistic approach to designing the characters. While the men look more realistic with their facial features, the women and children are presented with your typical big eyes and sharp faces. Thanks to Hara’s costume design, toning, and shadowing, he manages to make everything equally believable.
The manga takes a lot of pop culture figures of its time by presenting its realistic qualities by featuring characters who strongly resemble Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, and Sloth from the Goonies. There are some panels of Kenshiro in sunglasses that obviously looks like the cover to Cobra, one of Sylvester Stallone’s hits from the 1980’s. Not only does it contain edgy action, the series popularized man tears showing that it’s ok for macho men to show emotion and vulnerability.
While Hara’s designs may come across as repetitive, try to think of it as something similar to how Masami Kurumada (of Saint Seiya fame) approaches his. Try to think of the characters in the mangas as actors taking in a different role. Some directors like to use actors repeatedly, so Hara is more or less like that. In his manga, you’re still going to get something different in context to story and setting that makes it feel fresh.
With Hokuto no Ken, you’re getting a bit of a dieselpunk. With Souten no Ken, you’re getting the appropriate real-life steampunk design and you get the samurai and open feel of Hana no Keiji. His style universally applies to many times and settings, which is why it works for him and readers. While Hara will mostly be remembered for Hokuto no Ken, please check out his other works.