I ♥ Naoki Urasawa. Like a lot, a lot. And you will too.

(Dec 04, 2009)

To be honest, I don’t really buy many comics. I pretty much only read what Tyler or Jason pick up. So this year, if anyone would ask me what comics I’ve been reading I would have to fess up and tell them I’ve been reading trashy superhero comics and two manga series. This would embarrass me a bit as both ‘superhero’ and ‘manga’ are words that tarnish one’s alternative comics cred [not that I really have any to begin with]. Anyhow, it doesn’t bother me as much now because both comics fulfill a need in my life. Superhero comics are a fun, quick read for when I’m eating a meal or on the toilet. And the manga series are SO DAMN GOOD that I don’t care who knows I’m reading them.

The main series I’m referring to is Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa. [the other two series are by him as well, Pluto and Monster, but I’ll talk about them later.]


The basic plot of 20th Century Boys is that in the last 60’s/early 70’s a group of young boys create a secret base and imagine a future where the world will be destroyed and they will come to save it. As adults, they learn that one of them has seemingly randomly committed suicide, as well as murders and other strange occurrences, at all of which a mysterious symbol that they drew as children keeps appearing. At the same time, a mysterious cult is surfacing that is also connected to the symbol.

How does this tie into their childhoods? What does the symbol mean and what can they do, if anything, to stop what is happening?


Keep reading for a full review [without spoilers, I promise!] of 20th Century Boys.

Viz started publishing 20th Century Boys in English here stateside starting in February with a new book released every month. From the beginning I was hooked, but by the time book 5 rolled around, and I had crapped my pants with the extreme awesomeness of it all, I couldn’t wait another month to read what happens next. At this point I caved and totally broke a vow to myself to not read comics online and found scanslations of the rest of the series.

The thing that I think stands out the most for me of all of Urasawa’s work is his intricate and layered storytelling. As you read, you think that the story is building to a certain point, but once you reach that point, you realize that it was only a tiny fraction of what the overarching story is. In the first couple of books I found certain parts to be a bit confusing, as they seemed out of place or tangential. But as you read further, you realize that every moment, every character has a purpose, whether it is revealed to you right away or not.


Something that has come up while I explain it to people is relating it to the TV show, Lost. The biggest difference I think, is that with Lost, I think you get the idea that the creative team halfway knew where they wanted to go, and then they made up the rest as they went along. As the show in entering it’s sixth and final season, you’re left wondering what will actually be explained and what will just be a loose end dangling in the air. That’s fine by me, as I don’t mind if everything I want doesn’t get explained or revealed. It’s been a fun ride and I like the spontaneity of approaching the story that way.


That being said, you have to appreciate someone like Urasawa who obviously had everything planned out from panel one. I can’t even wrap my head around how one would approach writing a 4000+ page comic story that is as intricate as 20th Century Boys. And yet, he doesn’t hold your hand and explain everything to you. There’s enough subtlety and mystery that by the time the end happens, nothing is spelled out, certain things are left ambiguous, but you’re so satisfied because it all seems so perfect.

I really can’t express how much I was impressed by the series. If you like comics, or just like a good story, you should do yourself a favor and go pick up 20th Century Boys right now.

And as an end note, after reading 20th Century Boys, I’ve started reading Monster, another series by Urasawa. This one is published by Viz too, and luckily, and all 18 books are finished being translated in English. This story is about the brilliant young doctor Tenma, who is rising through the ranks of the hospital hierarchy, but when a young boy comes in with a gunshot wound to the head and he chooses to operate on him instead of the mayor who arrives at the same time he quickly falls from grace. Years later it’s revealed that the boy has grown up to be a serial killer, and Tenma feels responsible for stopping him before he can kill more people.

I’m only halfway through, but the review thus far: AMAZING.

Another note: Earlier in the post I used the term scanslation. It’s a nerd term used to describe comics where the foreign language comic has been scanned in and translated and then made available digitally. Though I recommend buying 20th Century Boys from your local bookstore, if you are interested in reading the rest of the series, here’s a link to the scanslation.

20th Century Boys

EDIT: Mr. Humphries made a good point that I forgot to mention in my initial post – the last 16 chapters were actually published as 21st Century Boys and the link for those that want to plow through to the end can read it here [thanks, Mr. Humphries]:

21st Century Boys



2 Responses to “I ♥ Naoki Urasawa. Like a lot, a lot. And you will too.”

  1. The link you provided doesn’t seem to include 21st Century Boys, which sounds like a sequel but isn’t: Urasawa just went on a hiatus because he had been working with two dislocated shoulders on 20th Century Boys and Pluto simultaneously, returning a year later to wrap up the series but put out the last two volumes under the title “21st Century Boys.” I don’t know if you knew about it, but someone reading the series from the link wouldn’t have any indication of its existence.

    While I would have been fine with the ending of 20th Century Boys, I know people respond rather negatively to it as it stood (as well as to the end of 21st Century Boys, but that’s another ball of wax).

    In any case, I totally agree with your comments. In Monster and 20th Century Boys there’s this thing Urasawa does that’s rather interesting to me. Throughout much of both series (moreso Monster) Urasawa is pretty up-front and direct about his themes and ideas (though not obnoxiously in-your-face either) but by the end of both series he seems to drop the bottom out so to speak in a way that points to something deeper and more coherent that has never quite reached surface level in the series but which bears obvious thematic continuity with everything thus far.

    Or maybe I’m just crazy. In any case, he’s a bloody brilliant storyteller blessed with art skills and a literary mind.

  2. When I was reading it, I was actually pretty confused myself after finishing 20th Century Boys because I had no idea about 21st Century Boys. I had to do some research online and find out about the last chapters. I was fine with the ending of the story as a whole, once I realized there was still more to read, but I can totally understand your comments on hints of something a little more.

    Anyhow, thanks for chiming in, Mr. Humphries. Good insight, and I actually hadn’t head about the dislocated shoulder and the delay and what not. Good stuff.

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