Nobuhiro Watsuki is a Tokyo-born mangaka who has been involved in the industry for the majority of his life, starting as early as high school. His expertise is largely acknowledged, and he has guided other notable mangakas as well, such as the creator of “One Piece,” Eiichiro Oda. Additionally, Nobuhiro Watsuki's works are prolific in regards to the other media they impact. For instance, many of his manga has been adapted to anime and live-action films, that are just as high quality as the original. Despite only releasing a small amount of completed manga for readers to enjoy, the most successful collections have endless episodes and side stories to immerse oneself in.
Therefore, the top manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki is a relatively small list in terms of titles, but certainly not lacking in terms of quality. The most well-known of his works has a huge amount of interconnected spin-offs that could count as different stories for fans to enjoy. Reaching critical acclaim countless times, the works of Nobuhiro Watsuki as a mangaka should definitely be explored, especially for fans of shounen manga, but also including those who enjoy deeper themes. Listed below are the top manga created by Nobuhiro Watsuki.
1. Rurouni Kenshin
- Genre: Action, Drama, Historical, Samurai, Shounen
- Volumes: 28
- Published Date: Apr 12, 1994 to Sep 21, 1999
Easily the most famous, and the most prolific, of Watsuki’s works, Rurouni Kenshin is a magnificent example of manga at its best. An original concept expertly executed, Rurouni Kenshin (also known as Samurai X) is beloved by fans and critics alike. The story is based around Japan during the Meiji Period, a time in Japanese history where culture and society rapidly progressed into modern times. In the manga, a former assassin for the Bakumatsu disappears from his line of previous work and sets out on forming a new life. Changing names from Hitokiri Battosai to Himura Kenshin, he goes forth crafting his new image.
Despite being a killer in his past, Kenshin now vows never to take another human life while protecting Japan. Watsuki strove to differentiate his work from other shounen manga released at the time, and because of this ambition, the manga’s tones are more serious, exploring the themes of atonement and peace, rather than strength and violence. This desire to be different paid off; Rurouni Kenshin is wildly successful, with many anime, video games, art books, and live action films being based off of the series.
What separates this manga from others of its kind, and makes it the number one recommended work from Nobuhiro Watsuki, is its depth, accuracy, and sheer amount of affiliated works. Watsuki’s other works are somewhat limited —with less than ten best manga to recommend— but this lack is simply because his efforts were so focused on all of the side stories involved in the world of Rurouni Kenshin.
2. Buso Renkin
- Genre: Action, Comedy, Fantasy, School, Shounen, Supernatural
- Volumes: 10
- Published Date: Jun 23, 2003 to Apr 25, 2006
A shounen manga following an alchemist warrior on his fight against homunculi, Buso Renkin is another great example of Nobuhiro Watsuki’s work as a mangaka. While not as expansive as his most famous work, Rurouni Kenshin, Buso Renkin has 10 volumes and has published over a two year time frame. The manga follows the story of Kazuki Moto, whose body contains an alchemical device known as a kakugane after sacrificing himself to save an alchemist warrior while fighting off a homunculus. The kakugane’s effects vary according to the person’s personality that they reside in, and it is also the only weapon that can kill a homunculus. After this, Kazuki joins the other alchemical warriors in their battle against the homunculi.
This manga is recommend for its crisp, high quality of art, and attempts at being creative in the shounen manga genre. In the years of its release, the manga saw a lot of popularity, especially in North America. While critical reception was mixed, overall, the good aspects of the manga, in addition to the popularity, redeem Buso Renkin and solidify its spot as a great example of Nobuhiro Watsuki’s manga abilities. The fantasy elements of the manga, combined with the usual action expected of a shounen manga, make Buso Renkin a solid manga to experience. Additionally, the manga grapples with certain issues of morals and values, especially in regards to what constitutes a human life. As the battle between the homunculi progresses, and more secrets are revealed, the true nature of what is considered a human and what is considered homunculi is questioned. This distinction truly elevates the manga beyond that of a mere action manga.
Buso Renkin also spawned a large collection of other related media. It was adapted into an anime that aired in 2006, as well as released CDs, light novels, and associated video games. The world of Buso Renkin therefore does not end solely at the manga, but can also be enjoyed through other mediums. A solidly popular manga, Buso Renkin remains a great example of the type of shounen manga that Nobuhiro Watsuki can easily achieve, and is a great option for fans of that genre to enjoy.
- Genre: Action, Drama, Historical, Horror, Romance, Shounen, Supernatural
- Volumes: 10
- Published Date: Nov 2, 2007 to Apr 4, 2015
A unique blend of historical and fantasy elements, Embalming follows the story of if Frankenstein had existed, and if his grotesque monster had actually been completed. 150 years following Frankenstein’s death, scientists are still attempting to create his notes and his horrible results. Set in 19th century England, real life events from that era are blended into the manga, blurring the line between fiction and reality. Currently, a variety of different monsters are roaming the world, causing chaos.
The story is told from multiple different perspectives that do not necessarily intersect completely, but are involved under the same story arc, as all characters are pursuing their own study of Frankenstein’s abomination. An example of such a story line is of that involving famous figures such as Sherlock Holmes and the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper. Famous English author Mary Shelley is also included in the manga, as she reached notoriety for her successful novel “Frankenstein.” The seamless combination of fantasy with accurate historical facts succeeds in creating a believable alternate reality that entraps the reader.
This manga series was quite popular, with a number of volumes reaching the top of Oricon’s best-selling charts. Critical reception was much more favorable as compared to Gun Blaze West, and praised the ingenuity achieved through the narration style and blending of genres. The art style is often praised in this manga, especially in regards to maintaining a darker tone without becoming overly gory when dealing with the undead. The manga is elevated beyond that of a normal shounen, but is still capable of delivering the action and excitement that such a genre demands.
4. Gun Blaze West
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Shounen
- Volumes: 3
- Published Date: Dec 12, 2000 to Jul 31, 2001
Canceled after only three volumes, this American set Western style manga only highlights the talent of Nobuhiro Watsuki briefly. In the manga, the place known as “Gun Blaze West” is a legend similar to the Fountain of Youth or Atlantis, in that it is an unconfirmed oasis where people of all types would be able to live. Reportedly, only the strongest of the strong could make the journey to this utopia. According to the myth, it can only be accessed at the end of every decade by receiving a special item known as the “Sign To West.”
The protagonist, Viu Bannes, is a character determined to journey to the famed Gun Blaze West. As a child, he receives a gun belt in alarm wrestling competition, and is encouraged by a drifter to train harder and become faster in order to reach the area successfully. As Viu continues through his life, he trains and searches for people and clues that can help him on his journey. Viu’s strength is seemingly unparalleled, as he fights against enemies, gangsters, and anyone that opposes him.
Sadly, the series’ early cancellation leaves the ending a little wanting; despite this, the manga
shows serious promise in the genre of shounen works. Similar to other manga such as Naruto, the theme focuses around a single-minded determination to complete a goal and become the best, and shows that consuming ambition throughout the story. This whole-hearted theme had an endearing quality that showed the manga’s worth, and yet ultimately, was unable to be continued. Despite that, Gun Blaze West remains a good example of the potential that Nobuhiro Watsuki’s manga has to offer.
A highly skilled mangaka, Nobuhiro Watsuki works between genres using Western, Fantasy, Supernatural, and Historical in his shounen creations. His focus is more trained on specific, crowd-pleasing works rather than on producing a wide variety of different manga; nevertheless, Nobuhiro Watsuki’s manga are a treasure that can be enjoyed by many different types of readers. Despite working in the shounen field, his manga can achieve more mature themes that differentiate his work from normal shounen manga. Overall, the manga produced by Watsuki is undeniably valuable and definitely worth exploring. Did we miss any of Watsuki’s major manga? Do you think his work should be ranked in a different order? Let us know what you think in the comments below!