2014
09.29

I tried weekly blogging an anime once. It didn’t end well.

I wrote three fairly decent editorials about Kill la Kill. I put a lot of effort into those pieces, and I’m still quite proud of them. But that’s all I had in me; a few critical analyses about other critical analyses, as it were. Substantial arguments against other substantial arguments that fell on deaf ears because our readership was low. I wanted to engage in a discussion about how I perceived the issues others had with a series I liked, but of course, that didn’t really happen. Which is fine, except for the part where almost everything else I wrote about the show was simply awful. As it stands, only one of my more traditional episodic blogs was anything resembling good, and the other two not-terrible ones don’t hold up because everyone who isn’t insane has realized that the point of them has been rendered moot over time.

But I still shouldn’t have stopped weekly blogging KLK. Even if every post I wrote turned out to be garbage, I shouldn’t have given up like that. I should have tried harder, learned how to analyze, and not worried about looking stupid. Because shit, man… I already looked stupid to the people who disagreed with my blogs that weren’t crap. Everything else I wrote made me look boring, which is even worse. And the fact that I gave up — that made me look like a quitter, which is worst of all. The truth is, when you put your heart into something, you’re going to end up looking stupid to those who think differently from you. And if you look stupid to someone, somewhere, you must be doing something right.

My weakness, if not outright failure, as a writer was and is on full display. I was immature; cowardly. I know that now. Which is why I have to take this one last chance to make it right.

This episode is special in that it finally brings back both Ryuuko's and Mako's favorite foods.

Before we begin, yes, I know this OVA has been out for nearly a month now. I’m not going to pretend I was busy and didn’t have any time to write about it. But I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over the past week or so, and I’ve just now realized that I need to write about this if I want any chance of moving on from the ineptitude I displayed last year. Better late than never, I suppose. I guess you could say I lost my way, and now I’ve found it again.

In a move that can only be described as fitting, this episode’s storyline plays out like a parody of those bad shounen anime spin-off films that extend the original premise far past its sell-by date while also adding very little to the overall canon. Much like one of those wonderful pieces of art, episode 25 brings back a minor villain nobody cared about and forces the protagonists to do battle with clones of themselves who were created by magic or some shit. (Actually, they’re physical manifestations of the bad things they did in the past, and you know how that goes.) It’s a dumb, fun homage to dumb, fun action manga; in other words, what Kill la Kill does best.

That said, while entertaining, the OVA feels entirely unnecessary and even a bit rote, which doesn’t exactly make for the greatest viewing experience… though there is a point to it. On the surface, this is one of the weaker episodes of the series; it’s enjoyable, certainly, but it doesn’t pack the frenetic punch of KLK’s best installments, and the trademark humor and unique artwork are noticeably weaker than usual. It’s nice seeing all of our favorite characters again, but they honestly aren’t given much to do here. What saves this episode from being a disappointment, and elevates it thematically if not artistically, is that it marks the first time since the earliest installments that I’ve felt like this show has tried to say something meaningful.

That headband gives her infinite ammo.

The main theme of this episode is moving on — that we can’t keep going through the motions and doing the same things forever. Someday we all have to grow up, and that includes archetypical characters in an action-comedy anime. Back in March, a lot of people wanted to see Kill la Kill continue on for 24 episodes more, and some folks even wanted it to keep running indefinitely. Certainly, as its self-proclaimed “biggest fan” during the first cour, I once felt the same way. But that’s a silly and immature way to look at things. Just as life cannot continue on forever, neither can an anime (unless it’s Sazae-san, but I digress). Saying that Trigger should make another season of KLK is like insisting that Spike isn’t dead and still hoping for more episodes of Cowboy Bebop 16 years down the line. The story is over, and forcing more episodes onto the back end would only serve to retroactively degrade the quality of something those most hopeful must doubtlessly hold dear.

And that, above all, is the point of this OVA. It’s not a particularly enthralling watch, but when you actually sit down and think about it, it provides plenty of food for thought. Why do we cling specifically to these characters and this universe, to the idea that nothing else can ever match the enjoyment we had with this specific work? I’m not just talking about Kill la Kill here, but any fictional work that’s earned itself loving followers. It’s not like the writers, directors, animators, or composers of our favorite anime are going anywhere. They will continue to make things for our enjoyment — new things, original things. The characters and stories are not real, but the people behind them are. If you’ve developed a connection with their art, follow them as they to continue to create; don’t wallow in the past hoping for them to return to something they’ve retired. Chances are, if you ever find out what – exactly – happens after The End of Evangelion, you aren’t going to like NGE as much as you did before. Because nothing happens after The End of Evangelion, and if something eventually does, it’ll just be Gainax going back and half-assing some new content to make money off of an old idea.

Kill la Kill is over. It was over long before this episode came out. I loved it (more so back when it was an episodic comedy with silly action, but that’s neither here nor there), and I miss it, but there isn’t any more, and I don’t want there to be any more. This OVA goes out of its way to prove that there isn’t any room for more episodes, which makes it simultaneously infuriating and brilliant. Much like any other piece of fiction that appeals almost directly to my tastes and sensibilities, I think it’s perfect as it is, and I don’t want to see extraneous add-ons stain my memories of it. Which isn’t to say that KLK has no flaws – it has tons of them, actually, especially in the second half. But when something speaks to you like this anime so often did to me, you can really only see it as an entity of flawed perfection. It’s hard to be objective when you’re emotionally invested. This final installment recognizes that fact, while simultaneously reassuring the viewer that it’s okay; but you have to move on. In all things, especially real life.

Just like how you can’t forever hold on to the things you love without a little sacrifice, you can’t hate yourself for mistakes you’ve made in the past; those mistakes are what influence you to grow as a person. When something’s been bothering you for a long time, you have to confront it head on to prove that you’re a better person today than you were yesterday. And while it might not be presented particularly well, that’s exactly what the characters in the Kill la Kill OVA learn as they fight their evil doppelgangers.

I think I can move on now.

2014
09.27

For my initial impression on Aldnoah.Zero, please refer to my entry on the Summer Clusterfuck Week 1.

When I first experienced Aldnoah.Zero, I summed up my opinion piece *points upward enthusiastically*, with the note that this is Urobuchi at his most blasé. Well… little did I know Urobuchi would depart by Episode 3’s end, leaving the rest of the season under someone else’s responsibility. So, as a result what I saw after the first three episodes was not the intended vision of Urobuchi. However, it is not much to talk about in the end since there is little to say.

After the first episode, the remaining two were… okay at best. If there was anything great about them it was how Urobuchi settled the foundation for the series’ tone and style. The Earth characters are relentlessly reluctant, cynical, and uncertain about their prospects and the Versian ones are remorseless, unforgiving, and evil in their blatant scorn for the former. It is a bit cliché but it is nice to know where all stood at that time. Style-wise the first three episodes did a good job establishing the style of mecha battles that would dot the rest of the series. Such battles involve a heavy focus on the struggle between utility (Earth) and hubris (Vers), and it is kindof exciting to see how the former manages itself when the latter has the feeling of invincibility due to advanced technology. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was not raised exponentially (even with the startling act at Episode 3’s end), but remained very cautious if curious on how things will go from there without the Urobutcher…

…Yet after going through all twelve episodes, all I can muster is Aldnoah.Zero was a thing that happened. I am rather at a loss on what to think about series as it both greatly intrigues me and deeply irks me (Irktrigueging?). One minute I was all “Oh this show seems fine, interesting even.” While five minutes later I was all “Oh you’ve got to be freaking kidding me.”

Its intrigue is helped by how everything looks and sounds nice. Granted once you get past the character designs with the moeblob faces, and the rather procedural plot one could swear was inspired by Code Geass, everything is of polish. The CG animation fares and works well enough with the rather calculated battle sequences, and Hiroyuki Sawano’s music offers a nice, techno, ethereal edge to the show. Plot-wise, despite its Geass-esque conventions, the show finds ways to foment moments of shock that compel the viewer to check in next week to see what happens. It is a well-run machine all things considered.

I just wish the staff running said machine was more interesting and appealing, never mind I doubt both their work style and ability to keep it running as it is in the next season.

If there is anything irksome about Aldnoah.Zero is its characters. Apart from Lt. Marito, there really is not much to say about the characters. Most of them are fairly procedural in their capacity as reluctant students cum soldiers, regular soldiers, evil aristocrats, and the like. They do their job but there is not much for appeal in any of them. They do not do much bad, but they do not much good either. For something so well polished as Aldnoah.Zero it is in a way frustrating that I cannot find myself invested in any of the cast.

This is unfortunate, for that includes the ‘tagonists (as the other reviewer of episode 1 deemed them): Inaho and Slaine. Initially I found Inaho to be a breath of fresh air compared to the milquetoast, uncertain, whiny protagonist with his taciturn, near zen, demeanor when it comes to conflict. However this opinion slowly changed as the series went on. No longer do I think of his demeanor as zen but just outright weird, possibly mentally off. Nothing really sparks Inaho on an emotional level to get us to connect with him in any way, and his ability to just pull things out of his ass when the chips are down can get pretty old (this will be covered later in the review).

Slaine is even worse. I guess he fills the reluctant mecha rival role that Suzaku from Code Geass or Athrun from Gundam SEED had, and he just SUCKS at it. It seems that apart from gazing longingly for the Princess figure, what the show tends to do with Slaine is essentially make him its bitch. When he is not cocking up with strange outbursts of killing and mutiny, he is getting chastised, whipped, and beaten by his Martian superiors, who keep finding ways to keep the schmuck. Then when he decides to be an active participant in the chaos he somehow finds ways to screw THAT up too, and then we are back to Square One where Everybody Hates Slaine. Even the show gets in on that when every moment of Slaine slowly but surely getting the respect of the Orbital Knights is always cut short by whatever plot contrivance is needed for the episode.

This leads into what I mentioned as the work style of the series. While the tactics of Inaho and crew against the Orbital Knights are initially cathartic and well-planned, it quickly loses its luster. How so? The Orbital Knights are revealed to be nothing BUT complete and utter idiots (No wonder the Vers Empire is in deep shit). While it can be said there is dramatic irony that their hubris is their downfall, it becomes a wash when ALL of them have the same problem. None of them are cunning; there is no clash of intellect or any sudden flashes of inspiration and improvisation. It inevitably becomes the tale of a markedly erudite David taking on dimwitted Goliaths. Then after such we get a plot twist of sorts which engages the viewer somewhat in its shocking turn, but then gets lost in the series resuming status quo of traveling then fighting the next big dimwit in a giant robot. This is where the aforementioned ability part comes into play here, because it will be to the series’ detriment if they keep pulling this next season.

Speaking of next season, the crown of what makes Aldnoah.Zero so irksome is that goddamn ending. After slowly but surely realizing what has been previously stated, getting past the intense moments, and then finally meeting the end… We got this finale. It all works well until the final part of the episode, where the actions left me dumbfounded. While there is no character assassination (so to speak), I am at a loss why the show ended the way it did. Had it been like a 25 episode coul or it had more focus on the characters I may have accepted it in a way but this… This is how we end Slaine’s arc for the coul!? This is how we end Inaho’s arc? Where the fuck do you go from this finale with how the characters ended up!? It did not feel right and when coupled with my distant feelings toward the characters, it becomes worse!

Even so, it has sadly accomplished in getting me hooked on waiting for the next season in January 2015. Should you? Eh, mileage may vary. If you are like me and you kept watching despite your reservations, it is best to wait for the second half. Aldnoah.Zero is a truly nice machine, but again, I dunno if it will keep its luster with the kind of crew performance it had for the first season.

If it sadly does, then Aldnoah.Zero is truly the biggest thing that happened in current anime, leaving me with the biggest feeling of ambivalence since well… the Escaflowne movie. That can’t be good right?

2014
09.18

Rocket Power cast post-operation.

The Great Curry High Trip… that title explains it all, doesn’t it? I was prepared to go all smarmy lit critic and discuss how the episode’s a discussion on duality between the roles women are given, but then they flew Nanami to Africa and the whole episode became stupid. It’s a fun kind of stupid, with some parts that make the episode almost worth the experience of a naked Saionji eating a banana, but this outing feels hollow compared to last week’s. It’s an episode that does nothing but pull repeated jokes that milk the series’ surreal atmosphere dry, where a plot device that could have been subverted or tossed around is played straight to a mind-numbing degree.

That isn’t to say this episode is complete filler though. Having Anthy be perfectly fine in Utena’s body while Utena feels otherwise makes for some intriguing character interactions, like when Utena’s personality shifts Anthy from her regular role as the victim who gets slapped around every week. It’s a bit of fun seeing other characters react to this change, though it would have been nice to see more drama or at least a brief dollop of tension from these events. Alongside those two, the episode reinforces Nanami’s love for Touga and his disinterest and often annoyance of her. Even if Nanami’s part of the council, she does little to advance their plans. Quit the opposite, when she almost squanders their main agenda through almost harming the Rose Bride. Touga’s aware of this, and exiles her off to Africa so she can fix her mistake while being as far away as possible. While Nanami’s thoroughly portrayed as an unpleasant person, this episode goes out of its way to screw up any and all of her actions, even the good-intentioned ones. It’s cathartic seeing someone who would be an actual threat in other high school shows reduced to a complete joke.

There’s also some enlightenment for Saionji’s character in the mix. Behind that abusive demeanor lies a guy in deep enamor over a girl, but is too thick to directly open his feelings to her (as well too out of the loop from the rest of this week’s events). Though his blindness to Utena’s personality follows Nanami’s adventure in being cathartic, there could have been more done with these two meeting up in such a circumstance. This would have been a way for Utena to figure out what Anthy’s relationships with other characters can be like beyond the slap on the face. She even gets Anthy and Saionji’s love diary, which could help her figure out who the hell this girl that claims to be her bride is supposed to be.

Yet, this doesn’t get explored further. Instead, it’s just more wackiness. The episode overdoes the “Isn’t it funny if the tomboy acted like the damsel and vice-versa?” shtick after a while, going for gags and sitcom-level hijinks in lieu of looking deeper into that question. That might sound pretentious, and even a bit dismissive of comic relief, but it’s just a bit uneven for a dramatic episode where a young woman expresses her traumatic past through fighting other people with a Freaky Friday allusion. The idea of an aspiring prince forced into a damsel’s position sounds neat on paper, and I’m a bit disheartened that they didn’t take this opportunity to show a duel between a body-switched Utena and one of the council members.

In the end, a comedic farce that thinks it’s funnier than it actually is, something that seems like the writers taking a day off or Ikuhara taking the piss. Or both. But to give the episode credit, it’s worth watching if only for the surfing elephants shot.

2014
09.16

The following is a list of story arcs we never got around to including for one reason or another. Each compiler will include a reason why the arc was not included and maybe you will hate us all a bit less. Nonetheless, these are all extra nominees that just missed the cut for the final list. Chances are, if it’s good, we looked it over. So enjoy this compilation of stories that didn’t quite make it on.

Ashita no Joe – Carlos Rivera & Jose Mendoza

Ashita no Joe as a whole is fantastic, and these arcs are two more of it’s best. “Carlos Rivera” sees Joe find a new rival that manages to re-ignite his passion for boxing, and shows him work to overcome the trauma he’s been struggling to deal with throughout the entirety of “The Fall of Joe Yabuki” arc. “Jose Mendoza” is the final arc of the series, culminating on series long character arcs, showing Joe give his all in a fight with the world champion, in what becomes the finest fight of his entire life, and ends with a scene that I reckon everyone knows even if they have never seen or even heard of AnJ before. Both are high-quality arcs, and two of the best in any anime or manga, but because of our two arcs per series rule, they just ended up missing the cut. ~Cartoon X

Buddha – Devadatta/The Forest of Uruvela & Prince Ajasattu

Osamu Tezuka’s fictional account of the birth of buddhism and the life of the Buddha is divided into 7 parts, split into 8 books in Vertical’s print edition. The arcs I’m referring to here are the third and the sixth in the series respectively, and have been named after the volumes the arcs are found in. “Devadatta/Forest of Uruvela” is the longest arc in the series, and sees the Buddha struggle with understanding the nature of life and death, ultimately attaining enlightenment, while also tracking the youth of the orphan Devadatta, depicting the adversities he faced as he tried to find a place in the world, and showing him become the ruthless, power-hungry trickster he would later be. “Prince Ajasattu” focuses in part on the titular Ajasattu and his efforts to overthrow his father King Bimbisara, unwittingly fulfilling the very prophecy he refused to believe in the process. As buddhism increasingly grows in popularity and influence, the duplicitous Devadatta schemes to usurp Buddha as his successor, using his connections with Ajasattu as a means to back his takeover by force in Buddha’s absence. Meanwhile, in his journey to spread his teachings to more people, Buddha reencounters his old enemy Prince Crystal, and attempts to end the Kosalan Kingdom’s persecution of the Shakya people, while his oldest friend, Tatta, betrays his principles, opting instead to pursue his revenge against Kosala. Buddha is one of Tezuka’s best works, and these two arcs are it’s best sections. A story about finding an answer to the suffering one suffers in life, and the good and evil that exists in all people, Buddha is a fascinating tale of moral and religious exploration, and though it is a fictional story, it is nonetheless a good way to learn more about buddhism, and in general is some of the best manga you could ever possibly read. ~Cartoon X

Lupin III Franchise – The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

This is one arc that, quite frankly, we only left off on a technicality. You see, unlike a mini-series like War in the Pocket which does still take place in a larger continuity, Fujiko Mine is technically a rebooted iteration within its own franchise, so including it on this list would be breaking the rule of excluding any story arc that comprised an entire series. Having said that, it still deserves massive props for essentially taking an age-old franchise and making it entirely relevant to the world of modern anime. The arc is comprised of many vignettes detailing the devious escapades of the master thief, Fujiko Mine, all while interacting with the many other iconic characters of the Lupin Universe, including Lupin himself. It is hands down one of the best anime to come out of the past five years, and while we deeply regret not being able to rank it on our list, this honorable mention will have to suffice. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

Bakuman – Newbies

Mashiro and Takagi are high school students with the unlikely dream of being manga creators. But can they succeed in a field where success is due as much to luck as it is to skill? What makes this arc so good is that it’s completely fresh. We learn the ins and outs of what it means to become a good manga writer and artist as our characters grow and we learn about the world around them while meeting rivals who want success as much as they do. Though it’s lighthearted, it’s entirely engrossing and a lot of fun, while at the same time being a love letter to storytelling and the manga art-form. Nonetheless, it just missed the list. Pick it up regardless. ~Spark Of Spirit

Cross Game – Portables

The second and longest arc in Mitsuru Adachi’s masterfully written baseball manga. Determined to make their old friend Wakaba’s dream a reality, series protagonist Ko and his friends Akaishi and Nakanishi join their high school baseball team. But since they didn’t participate in the early tryouts, they are placed in the reserve team, known as the “portables,” named so after the worn-down portable shack that serves as their training grounds. But this is actually a blessing in disguise, as the coach of the starting team, Daimon, is willing to sacrifice the health of his less talented players in order to serve his grand, calculated scheme meant to further his own career, having formed a deal with the principal of the school to get the baseball team to play at the holy ground of high school baseball, Koshien stadium. However, if the “portables” are going to have any chance to play in official games, they must defeat the starting team and somehow get rid of Coach Daimon. The arc takes an interesting look at some of the most unsavory aspects of high school sports, while laying the groundwork for the birth of Seishu’s greatest baseball team. While perhaps not the most emotional or personal of the arcs, it’s highly memorable for the combination of the careful planning and sneakiness it takes to outwit Daimon and develop the skills to beat his all-star team, as well as for featuring the longest single game of baseball in the entire series. The entire manga is fantastic, but the “Portables” arc comes off an incredible set-up arc and develops the story into something truly great, and one of the best sports series in recent memory. ~Cartoon X

Dragon Ball – Saiyan

Yeah, so, the only reason the “Saiyan” arc wasn’t in our list was because I pushed for “Namek” over it and E-K and Spark were nice enough to agree. So, “Saiyan” arc fans, you’ve got me to blame for that one. But even though we didn’t put it on the list, the “Saiyan” arc is really one of the best in Dragon Ball. The series’ strongest warriors band together to face a threat none of them could take on alone, incorporating the most well-done teamwork and tactics in the entire series, and really the only time it takes everyone’s effort to take down the main villain of an arc. The “Namek” arc is on the list because of basically everything I wrote about it; it’s culminates the entire legacy of Dragon Ball up until that point and has several interesting intricacies to it’s plot and some of the most iconic and influential elements of the entire series. The “Saiyan” arc is on the same level of quality, though, and if it was possible, we could have put them together as a single entry. That wouldn’t have been proper, though, since they are really separate arcs, so it ended up being left off the list because of our two arcs per series limit. It was a tough decision, but I personally think it was justified in the end. ~Cartoon X

Yu Yu Hakusho – Dark Tournament

If there is anyone to blame for this iconic arc not making it on our list, then you may direct that at me. I should also make it clear that I am a massive YYH fan, and it is in fact my personal favorite anime. That said, I had to put personal love aside for this list, I just found that it would be too tough to justify a tournament arc over many of the more story-driven in our compilation, including the Chapter Black arc from this very series, which all three of us authors firmly stand by as the best arc to represent the series, despite popular opinion saying otherwise. Regardless, the Dark Tournament arc is the greatest tournament arc of all time, so it deserves its dues. Anyone who dismisses this as “just another tournament arc” either hasn’t seen it, or is completely missing the heart of what makes it so well-written and entertaining. By all accounts, a tournament arc should just be about brainless fighting and not much more. Yoshihiro Togashi proudly sticks a middle finger towards that notion and does far more with this arc than he had to. The Dark Tournament is an underground fighting/death-match competition of demons held in the human world and funded by crime bosses who sponsor teams and bet against each other for some good old-fashioned blood sport. Yusuke, his friends, and his mentor are invited to the tournament as special guest entrants, and this is their chance to take down one of the biggest foes that Yusuke has yet had to face. What follows is a long series of fights, yes, but some of the most well-thought-out and downright strategic battles that you are ever likely to see in the genre outside of a series as battle happy as JoJo or as intricate as Hunter X Hunter. However, beyond the fights is a surprisingly nuanced and intriguing backstory between the Yusuke’s mentor and the main villain of this arc, and just as interesting is to see how each character grows both in terms of skill and in terms of maturity as characters. It is an arc that, on the outset may just seem like a tournament, but like all of Togashi’s best stories, the true brilliance lies in what you read in-between the lines. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

Excel Saga

Yes, fellow Excel Saga manga fans, the series’ story arc (which I’m still not sure what to call) was almost a part of this list. The issue was that I wasn’t confident I could write something substantive about it without reading it again, as it is a surprisingly complicated, nuanced story. Ultimately, I wasn’t able to re-read the series, and thus I decided to not write about the arc. In any case, Excel Saga’s greatest strength is in it’s expertly written humor and characters rather than it’s plot, so while I wish I could have written about it, I’m not too torn up that it didn’t end up getting included. Still, everyone should make sure to read Excel Saga, because it is the greatest, smartest, and funniest manga comedy ever made. No, seriously, stop what you’re doing and read it right now. I’ll wait for you. ~Cartoon X

Fate/Zero – The Fourth Holy Grail War

Vying for the coveted Holy Grail, 7 chosen mages summon heroes from throughout history to serve and fight for them, the sole survivor earning the spoils. Kiritsugu Emiya desires to use the Grail’s power to create a better world, and forms his contract with Saber, who turns out to be King Arthur, who turns out was actually a woman. Who knew? But a formidable obstacle is put in Kiritsugu’s way in the form of Kirei Kotomine, a ruthless mage-killer serving the aristocratic mage Tokiomi and his servant Archer, who is as powerful as he is ambitious. Much like how War in the Pocket is on the list because it is a part of a larger narrative in the Gundam franchise, we could have justified putting Fate/Zero on the list since it’s in-continuity with a completely different story arc in the same universe, Fate/Stay Night. Though we didn’t end up doing this, Fate/Zero is nuanced storyline chock full of incredible battles of wit and strategy, interesting philosophical musings, and excellent character development. One of the most popular and best anime to come out in recent years, if you haven’t watched it yet, you really should check it out. ~Cartoon X

Dragon Ball – King Piccolo

For those who have followed the story of Akira Toriyama’s most iconic series since it’s inception, they would know that it was mostly a comedic series that was heavy on adventure and a bit lighter on action than what the uninitiated might expect, given the series’s notorious (and quite frankly undeserved) reputation, mostly thanks to a certain sub-par anime adaptation which did the original comic no justice. Regardless, like all great series with humble beginnings, this one evolved into something more than what was initially intended, and the King Piccolo arc stands as that point of evolution, as the first major arc that was very serious in tone the entire way through. Up to this point, Goku had faced tough villains before, and even managed to lose the life of someone who he failed to protect, but the threat of King Piccolo trumps all of that. The arc literally starts with the shocking death of Goku’s closest friend, Krillin. And, sure he could come back to life with the use of the titular Dragon Balls, but at the time it was still a big deal to see a main character brutally murdered. Goku races to confront Piccolo’s killer to avenge his fallen friend’s death, but is soon greeted with a harsh defeat at the hands of the demon King Piccolo, who bears a particular grudge against his master for being part of the martial arts school that imprisoned him so many years ago. What follows is a very well-constructed and surprisingly emotional arc in which no character is safe from the threat of this evil and everyone must sacrifice their life just to have a chance at defeating him. Of course, being Dragon Ball, it still never completely loses its charming sense of humor (the main villains are named after musical instruments, among other things), but this is the first time where the balance clearly swayed more to serious drama and action, and as the first attempt at such a relatively dark tone for the series, it’s a true classic. The only thing preventing it from making it onto our list was that the series had done even better arcs in this category since then. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

Hunter X Hunter – Chimera Ant

Thanks to the 2011 anime, Hunter X Hunter has been exposed to a whole lot of new people, and gained several new fans, many of which consider “Chimera Ant” the best arc of the series. And it’s not hard to see why, because overall it’s a fascinating and well-done story with fantastic character development, particularly for Gon, Killua, and the arc’s main antagonist, Meruem. But it’s also somewhat inconsistent in quality, the first third of the arc being a bit unfocused and containing many moments that exist only for shock value, while the arc also begins to drag a teensy bit towards the end. While we do love the arc for everything it does so, so well, we ultimately decided that York New City was just a more consistent story arc to represent the series on our list. ~Cartoon X

InuYasha – The Final Act

Yes, I like InuYasha. Yes, InuYasha is actually good…the second half of it, at least. No, this arc was never going to end up in our list, but I’m still going to mention it here because it really is one of my favorite arcs in anime/manga, and a darn good one. The most tightly-paced section of the series, “The Final Act” sees every one of the series’ core characters go through a personal character arc, and builds upon and resolves series long subplots, all culminating in the long awaited restoration of the Shikon Jewel, and the final battle with series antagonist Naraku. With strong character development and interesting new insights into the motivations of the characters and the relationships between them, it’s by far the most well-written part of the story and easily the best writing Takahashi’s done since the end of Maison Ikkoku. I’ve seen my fair share of battle-shonen, and InuYasha has to be one of only a rare few that somehow managed to improve itself after a mediocre stretch of writing in it’s first half and turn itself around into a solid and strong story by the end. While InuYasha is not one of Rumiko Takahashi’s better works, it’s a pretty decent battle-shonen overall, and “The Final Act” is by far the best part of it. ~Cartoon X

Cowboy Bebop – The Real Folk Blues

Spike’s past is by far the most compelling arc in Cowboy Bebop, but we just couldn’t fit it onto the list. For a show as flashy and as full of style as Cowboy Bebop, it could manage to stuff a lot of character and information into a storyline that really only lasts a handful of episodes into the story. Learn how one man is destroyed by the world he covets so much and how an old friend has to drop in and save him the only way he knows how. It’s an engaging arc with a lot of heart, and is simply not to be missed. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve already seen it. There’s a reason for that. It is a classic of anime. ~Spark Of Spirit

Black Lagoon – El Baile de la Muerte

Following up on Rock’s conviction at the end of “Fujiyama Gangsta Paradise” to save people’s lives from the influence of the criminal cesspool known as Roanapur, “El Baile de la muerte” (also known as the Roberta’s Blood Trail OVA series in the anime) gives him his chance when the patriarch of the wealthy Lovelace family is accidentally killed by U.S. agents, and the family’s maid, Roberta, returns to the city to get her revenge on the men responsible. The race is soon on to find Roberta and curb her path of destruction, as her conflict with the United States escalates into a volatile situation that threatens to expose the existence of Roanapur to the world. Rock, desperate to both save the life of the young Garcia Lovelace and reform Roanapur, schemes a plan to outwit the town’s most influential crime boss, Chang, and engineer a situation that will get what he wants, even if it means he must dirty his own soul and use the young Garcia as a pawn in his dangerous and deadly game. Another fascinating arc for the development of all integral characters involved, especially for Rock, and improved upon in presentation in the anime adaption to be a highly intense, suspenseful experience, “El bailie de la muerte” rivals “Fujiyama Gangsta Paradise” in quality and is another solid storyline to come out of Black Lagoon that just narrowly missed the list in favor of other, more diverse choices. Though it might be years before we get a proper conclusion to the story, the ending of this arc actually feels like a bittersweet, but satisfactory stopping gap for the story up to this point. If you’ve already watched the first two anime seasons but haven’t seen the OVA adaption of this arc yet, I strongly recommend you do. ~Cartoon X

Kaiji – The Bog

Kaiji is one of those series that is admittedly light on substance, yet so finely crafted and engaging that it keeps you hooked until the story is done, and then you’ll probably just think of starting the beginning of the next arc out of curiosity and find yourself hooked on that one as well, before long. So, consider this entry a placeholder for just about any arc from this series, but The Bog is a personal favorite of mine. This series deals with its titular loser of a character, Kaiji, who is mostly a bum and constantly finds himself in debt. The story-lines focus on the insane predicaments that he finds himself in as he attempts to gamble his way out of whatever new debt he has created for himself, with both the humor and tragedy of his character being that, no matter how many times he wins, he will always lose at something else, digging him into even deeper debt than before, and forcing him into new predicaments where he must once again come up with brilliant strategies to gamble his way out of whatever current debt plagues him. It’s a simple formula, but one that hardly ever gets old with this series. In this particular arc, Kaiji has spent months stuck in debter’s hell at this point, and thanks to his winnings from a previous arc, manages to literally buy himself a few days of time from the labor camp he was being imprisoned at. In that short amount of time he must win a shit-load of money fast in order to buy himself, and his friends, out of that prison. It already sets the stakes up incredibly high, and on top of that, offers up one of the most intriguing challenges that Kaiji has ever had to face. As he finds out, the only possible way for him to make the money he needs in a short enough period of time is to challenge the unbeatable Bog, a nickname given to a Pachinko machine in a high-stakes underground Casino. If it sounds like just luck to you, consider that there are several tricks that make it highly rigged, and in this arc, Kaiji has to incorporate skills more akin to a film like Ocean’s Eleven than straight-up gambling, making for one of the most intense and ingenious story arcs in the entire series. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure – Diamond is Unbreakable

Now, I love all of JoJo’s, pretty much. But aside from Stone Ocean, if I had to choose just one other arc to put in our list, it would have to be part 4, Diamond is Unbreakable. DiU can be considered a sort of cross between a slice-of-life and a murder mystery series. Unlike the continent-traveling adventures of the other parts, DiU takes place entirely in the town of Morioh, which allows Araki to flesh out and develop the setting into a believable community environment. Most of the conflicts in DiU don’t arise from bad guys trying to kill our heroes, but arise from normal (albeit, messed up) people using their Stand powers for selfish gain in everyday life situations, and Josuke and co. just getting caught in the middle by chance. Especially interesting is the arc’s main villain, Yoshikage Kira, who is unique among shonen villains for being completely, utterly unambitious. All he wants is to live a normal, white-collar, salaryman life. A life that just happens to involve him killing young women and cutting off their left hands and carrying them around as a means of stress relief. And he’ll be damned if he’ll let anyone ruin his perfect, totally innocuous life that he’s worked so hard to maintain all these years! With his all-consuming desire for anonymity and disturbing, yet somehow hilarious personality, Kira is one of the most memorable villains in not just JJBA, but in any battle-shonen series, and the mystery surrounding him and uncovering his whereabouts makes for a unique and exciting story. Though Stardust Crusaders has always been the most popular arc, DiU is the secret favorite among many JJBA fans, and for good reason. If you were to read only just one part of JoJo’s, I’d highly recommend you choose this one. ~Cartoon X

One Piece – Marineford

Separated from his crew, Monkey D. Luffy decides to focus his efforts on first rescuing his older brother Ace from being executed at the headquarters of the World Government, Marineford. In this endeavor, he manages to ally with old enemies as well as new friends, and the race is on to stop Ace’s execution as the inevitable war between the Marines and the Whitebeard Pirate Alliance finally begins, the fate of which will change the era of piracy and the world of One Piece forever. Straying from the established formula of One Piece arcs, and culminating in a conflict of unimaginable scale, with consequences that permanently change the status quo of the series, the Marineford arc is the possibly the best written part of One Piece. However, because it lacked the majority of the series’ main characters, and because the CP9 arc captures a similarly strong sense of scale alongside better balanced mystery and adventure elements and more personal conflicts for the characters overall, we ultimately decided to favor the latter. Still, the Marineford arc is one of the highlights of all of One Piece; the perfect conclusion to the series’ first act, and a level of quality it had not reached before and has not managed to meet since. ~Cartoon X

Full Metal Panic! Sigma – Burning One Man Force

Unfortunately, Tokyopop never got past volume 5 of the light novels, and this manga was never licensed in North America up to this point. However, that doesn’t stop it from being a fan-favorite. We decided to go with the EDBD arc on the main list because it was more easily accessible and legally available in English, but this is yet another excellent arc that deserves its due. Getting into the plot would be tough due to heavy spoilers, but it’s a relatively short but engaging story involving our main character, Sousuke Sagara, operating as a stand-alone mercenary for higher for the first time in a long while since he had been part of the organization MITHRIL. What ensues is a story where he finds himself in a beat-down but highly populated and thriving trade town, full of many dangerous folks such as himself. He comes seeking gear and information on the whereabouts of a certain person, but nothing comes for free, and before long Sousuke finds himself teaming up with both an undercover agent under the guise of a reporter, and a rag-tag group of mechanics as he participates as a pilot in a series of underground mecha battles. All of this in order to work his way up to gaining access to information from the big shots that sponsor these unsanctioned events. Revealing any more than that would be major spoilers, however suffice it to say that the arc is full of plenty of action and a surprising amount of both humor and drama. Even better, though, is that while we spent most of the story hearing about how bad-ass and ruthless of a mercenary Sousuke was before his MITHRIL days, this is the first time we get to see him start to revert back to that persona in the present. It happens slowly but surely, and makes for interesting developments in an already interesting character. This is definitely a must read, either via the manga or light novels, for anyone interested in continuing the series past where the anime leaves off. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

Outlaw Star – Hilda

Outlaw Star is fairly forgotten now, but when it started, it was a marvel. The first handful of episodes throws you into the world of pirate Hilda, a frosty woman who cares as little for others as she does the universe. Slowly throughout this arc we are introduced both to the world of Outlaw Star, of spaceships, caster shells, action scenes, and adventure, and we see a sacrifice that comes out of nowhere that would work well enough as an ending to any other show. Simply put, it’s gripping stuff. The only reason it isn’t on the list is because it’s only a small handful of the total show, and not much like the rest. That said both this arc and the show are totally worth your time. ~Spark Of Spirit

Phoenix – Future & Space

Every Phoenix story is worth reading, but I will highlight these two in particular to be among the cream of it’s crop. “Future” is a rollicking sci-fi story that takes us to the last days of humanity and sees the birth and rise of new civilizations as the cycle of life infinitely loops. “Space” is a fascinating murder-mystery, and boasts some of the most innovative layouts in any manga as Tezuka gives each of his core characters their own tier of panels in a fantastic escape sequence, tracking their actions individually and simultaneously. “Future” is a morality tale that ultimately ends with the hope that mankind might one day truly learn from their mistakes, no matter how many times they have to repeat them, while “Space” is a more character-driven tragedy, as the relationships between the characters are explored and examined, as they slowly realize just how little they really knew about people they had been close to for years, and ultimately, are all by some circumstance isolated, left alone for the rest of their days. These are two of the most memorable and fascinating stories of the series, and feature powerful, moving themes and imagery that will stick with any first-time reader. Again, all of the arcs in Phoenix are worth your time, but if you can’t track down a copy of “Karma,” “Future” and “Space” are just as recommended as entry points into both the works of Osamu Tezuka and this unfinished masterpiece. ~Cartoon X

Trigun Maximum – Wolfwood

After rescuing Vash the Stampede from Knives’ ship, Wolfwood returns to the orphanage he once grew up in, and ends up having to protect it from the Eye of Michael, who are looking to eliminate Wolfwood for his betrayal. The most deadly of his enemies are none other than his old master, Chapel, and the final Gung-Ho Gun, Livio the Double Fang, an old friend of Wolfwood’s with a tragic past, and a disturbed psyche. This arc almost made the list, but was ultimately cut at the last minute in favor of others. But it’s a fascinating character-driven story, not only giving us a look into Wolfwood’s past, but also featuring the culmination of Wolfwood’s character arc, in a way that is arguably superior to the anime’s version. It’s the highlight of the Trigun manga, and is the finest hour of one of anime/manga’s finest characters. If you liked the Trigun anime, and loved Wolfwood, then you should definitely read the manga, and check this brilliant piece of storytelling out. ~ Cartoon X


And that’s our list of story arcs! It took a long time to compile this together, so we hope you enjoyed it. Now the next step begins. Have any favorites of your own? Agree/disagree with the list? Or maybe you think three drunk monkeys could make a better list on nothing but a typewriter? Sound off in the forums and let us know!

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2014
09.15

#05. Revenge/Remembrance (Rurouni Kenshin)

Creator: Nobuhiro Watsuki
Original Years of Publication: 1997-1999
Manga: Volumes #18-28, Chapters #152-255
Anime: Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal #1-4 (Remembrance only)
Studio: Studio Deen
Japanese Publisher: Shueisha (Weekly Shonen Jump)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: Aniplex of America
Recommended Version: Manga

Revenge:

Rurouni Kenshin is a story about change; changing times, changing values, and changing people. Moreover, it’s the story of how it’s main character, Kenshin Himura, makes an oath to atone for his past sins, swearing to protect the innocent, and never kill again, and how he commits to those principles. But, to quote the words of the first Toonami promo for the anime, “old memories seldom fade, and bad habits die hard.” Throughout the series Kenshin encounters those much like himself: people who are troubled by the past and their regrets, attempting to regain something they’ve lost. Kenshin’s interactions with these people not only reopen old wounds, but also challenge Kenshin’s commitment to his new values. As one of Kenshin’s former enemies puts it, he only needs to flip his reverse-blade sword, and the spirit of a ruthless killer would awaken once again. An important aspect of the Kyoto arc was Kenshin struggling with the temptation to return into his old ways as the killer hitokiri Battousai. If Kenshin was left alone, he may have been forced by the circumstances to give up his oath. However, Kenshin not only had people he cared dearly about and had sworn to protect, but people who believed in his principles and, most importantly, in him, and ultimately, that was what allowed him to stop himself from falling back to his old ways. In the end, the Kyoto arc saw Kenshin finally abandon his identity as the hitokiri Battousai for good, the danger of reverting to what he once was forever avoided. But while Kenshin may may have finally quieted the temptations of old habits, he is unable to quell the burdens of old memories that continue to weigh on his mind.

And they weigh on the minds of others as well. Though Kenshin has earned the forgiveness of many former foes, there are some so entrenched in the past and hurt so deeply by Kenshin that their greatest wish in life is nothing more than to see him suffer as much as they have. And so, a group of people who loathe the Battousai have come together, seeking but one thing – jinchuu, or, in english, revenge. And the greatest grudge among them is held by none other than the group’s leader, Yukishiro Enishi, a man with a very deep, personal vendetta against Kenshin, fanatically determined to avenge a person both once held dear, and whose death Kenshin was responsible for. Enishi, blinded by this single-minded desire, seeks to punish Kenshin for his past sins, putting not only Kenshin but also his friends in mortal peril as the band of blood-thirsty revengers set out to destroy everything and everyone he holds dear.

The Revenge arc serves as the ultimate test for Kenshin’s character arc of self-redemption. It forces him to not only face old demons from his past, but re-examine what he’s fighting for and what he must continue strive for. Kenshin had abandoned his life as a vagabond before this arc, having found a place and people he cares about and care about him enough to want to stay. Now that decision has put those people in danger, and having lost someone close to him before, he refuses to allow yet another innocent suffer because of his past deeds. He’s ultimately pushed to a point of emotional exhaustion, his will to live broken after a tragic event. But though his heart is wounded, his hand still clings to his sword. Kenshin battles not just an external enemy, but an internal one. He must leave behind the memories that haunt him and his regrets, and focus on what he can do in the present, and in the future. Enishi embodies the past Kenshin has struggled to forget, and he creates for him a situation where he must overcome great suffering and grief and learn to embrace what happened and be content in who he’s become. Kenshin has struggled throughout the series trying to understand what it means to truly change. In the Revenge arc, he finally finds his answer.

Some RK fans feel that Kyoto was the apex of the series and the Revenge arc was unnecessary. It’s true that the core conflict of this arc is not quite on the same scale as it was in Kyoto, where the entire nation of Japan was at stake. But the Revenge arc is what makes the series truly whole. It’s the most personal, resolving the series long struggle of Kenshin’s self-redemption character arc, providing an answer to the mystery of Kenshin’s past while allowing him to finally come to terms with it. It’s the what the series felt like it was building towards, the defining chapter of the story, providing a conflict that brings out the best in every character and provides finality for each one’s personal arc in a way that feels natural and complete. It is where a story about change makes it’s final case, the arc that really sets it apart from most other battle shonen, and what truly makes Rurouni Kenshin the masterpiece it is. The Revenge arc ranks as one of the greatest arcs to come out of any manga, and is a true classic of it’s medium, lightning in a bottle that very few rival and very few ever will. ~Cartoon X

Remembrance:

No, we aren’t cheating here by including two entries in the place of one. Technically, Remembrance is a smaller part of the Revenge arc. A more appropriate way to look at it would be as an arc within an arc. It just happens to be such a special, stand-out part of the Revenge arc that we felt that it deserved its own focus in this write-up. For you see, this flash-back arc, which is usually taboo and almost a guaranteed flop in most shounen series, manages to answer the captivating question of how Kenshin went from being the legendary man-slayer to the peaceful vagabond that we know him as throughout most of the series. The events of this distant memory detail Kenshin’s character arc as we see his tragic upbringing, learning how he went from being an innocent child to a cold-blooded killer who served as a central central figure in the war leading up to the Meiji era of Japan, and from there to abruptly rescinding the code of life that he lived by up to that point. Essentially, Remembrance is a character arc within a story arc within a story arc. I call it arc-ception!

Admittedly, it’s very difficult to give away any major plot details of this arc without letting out some major spoilers, but some details must still be spared. The first quarter of this arc deals with a then child-aged Kenshin being rescued by his future mentor, Hiko Seijuro. Upon their second encounter a day later, Seijuro decides to take Kenshin in and teach him the way of the sword. Kenshin naturally proves to be a prodigy and becomes a master swordsman by the young age of 14, yet he leaves the presence of his master on bitter terms when they have a falling out. Kenshin wants to participate in the revolutionary war on the side in favor of establishing the Meiji government to replace the old and outdated systems of Japan. What results is a still relatively young Kenshin, who thinks he understands the world and knows what’s best, venturing out to become a true legend among samurai, albeit for reasons he would never be proud of. He becomes an integral part of the war in under a year’s time, and kills many, many men, without a hint of remorse.

Then, one day, he meets a woman, and as you’d expect, everything changes. Tomoe, as she’s called, has come as a spy, and seeks to fulfill a personal vendetta against Kenshin for having killed her fiance (albeit unbeknownst to him, of course). The proceeding events really do a tremendous amount to detail Kenshin’s character in ways that we haven’t seen before. Here, we see a side of his character that is the complete antithesis to the one we know throughout most of the series. He is true to himself only in that he believes he is serving a just cause, but outside of that, he is cold-blooded and downright arrogant. The beauty of this situation, however, is that he is eventually forced to look at himself, and realize that the ideals he thought he was fighting for have become so skewed out of his original intentions right under his nose. Gradually, he becomes more unsure of himself and highly unstable, yet it’s this gradual (and fascinating) breakdown which makes the future development of his character, slowly but surely, into the Kenshin that we are all familiar with a possibility, and a rewarding one for any fan to witness, at that.

And, it’s at this point where I must stop giving away further details, but needless to say, the rest of the story and Kenshin’s character arc, as he interacts with Tomoe, is a flat-out masterpiece. Even if you think you know how it will play out, you find that you don’t even think about it much because the execution is so perfect that the story is too engrossing to criticize it for being predictable (which to be fair it has to be, since the outcome was already revealed in the present story-line before this arc even began). To put it in a single description, picture all of the excellent plotting and memorable characterization of a Shakespearean tragedy, expertly combined with the action-packed craziness of a great battle shounen series. If that doesn’t sound amazing to you, then a list like this probably isn’t for you in general. For everyone else, this is an unforgettable classic. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

#04. 2014 (20th Century Boys)

Creator: Naoki Urasawa
Original Years of Publication: 2000-2003
Manga: Volumes #5-15, Chapters #50-169
Japanese Publisher: Shogakukan (Big Comic Spirits)
North American Publisher: Viz Media

So, at the time I am writing this entry, it just so happens to coincidentally be the year that this very arc was named after, and according to this manga, some pretty serious shit is supposed to go down before the year ends. It’s content like in this arc that can make me glad that we don’t live in a world of fiction such as this (although, we do still have a few months left, so who knows). From the acclaimed manga author behind Monster (another fantastic series that is prominently featured on this list), we were treated with yet another masterpiece under the name of 20th Century Boys (and the ending to the series which was specifically released under the title 21s Century Boys). Much like Monster, discussing absolutely any tiny bit of this manga’s plot is at risk for delving into deep spoiler territory, so the challenge will be in trying to convey its brilliance while being as vague about it as possible, but try I shall.

For starters, the concept of this manga alone is as complex and grand-in-scale as they come. To put it simply, imagine a story like Stephen King’s It, where a group of youths grow up and must reunite with each other to fight an evil that is mysteriously and hauntingly linked to their past. Now, imagine that story actually done well, and you have a better idea of what 20th Century Boys is about, with the exception that these characters must come together several times throughout the years. The first arc of this story takes place between 1997-1999 within the context of this fictional world, and deals with a mysterious cult that is slowly but surely growing in number and scope as its ambitious yet elusive goals come crashing into the lives of Kenji and his friends. Of particular note is how these cultists seem to have a particular interest in capturing Kenji’s own niece, Kanna, who is just an infant throughout most of this phase of the story, and is clearly someone sacred in their pseudo-religion of sorts. As the mystery starts to unfold and the scope of the conspiracy grows unbelievably out of control, the cultists unleash a deadly terrorist attack which costs millions of lives and results in a night that is known as Bloody New Year’s Eve.

Now, fast forward 14 years to 2014, and after all of this chaos and mayhem, that is where this arc only just begins. In this phase of the timeline, the group has been split up after failing to stop the cult, and that so-called cult, lead by the illustrious masked-figure known simply as “Friend,” has risen in power as a full-on legitimate political organization. At this point, our surrogate point of view character has now switched from Kenji to Kanna, who resides by herself in a beat-down neighborhood in China (which is still very communist even in this fictional Universe, in case you were wondering). The arc follows not only her exploits, but those of Kenji’s other friends as well, all of whom have been split up and stuck in various circumstances, from being in hiding disguised as various everyday people to being stuck in one of the most elite prisons known to man. The story from here proceeds throughout the year as they each get their time in the story to pick themselves up from defeat and find a way to band together once more to stop Friend’s organization from growing even further in power and reaching their ultimate goal. However, the stakes are even greater than ever as this may very well be their last chance in a plot that’s so crazy that it involves everything from alliances with underground crime syndicates to attempting to stop the assassination of the Pope.

That is everything I can possibly give away about the plot without downright killing any major twist of the story, but needless to say, it does it no justice. What does make this arc so fascinating, though, oddly enough does not deal strictly with the elements of its plot, but rather the characters that move it forward. You see, 20th Century Boys, at its heart, has always essentially been a story about growing up and learning from your life experiences. I know how strange it feels to read that with all of this other plot mumbo-jumbo going on the whole time, yet like any great story, all of that content is just a metaphor for something in real life. In that light, if Monster was Naoki Urasawa’s metaphor about humanity’s balance between good and evil based on what always seem like the best of intentions for humanity as a whole, 20th Century Boys is ironically the more down-to-earth metaphor about the trials and tribulations of growing up. Let’s really think about it. The main conflict of this series is brought upon by the main antagonist, Friend, who it is revealed from early on in the manga is directly linked to the past of the main cast. As the story goes on through the years, the characters have been their separate ways for more time than they have been together, and have gone through both many achievements and tragedies throughout their lives. With this manga being heavily invested in contrasting its character flash-backs with what is actually happening in their character arcs in the present, we get to see various facets of what one has to deal with throughout different phases of their life.

One particular character has to deal with the fact that he was so engrossed in his work as a man that he never truly got to know his own son, and when his very son died in a tragic accident, it spiraled him into depression for years, before a soul-searching journey brought him back to reality. It serves as his lesson throughout the series to truly cherish and protect the people that he cares for. Another character arc deals with a character who always turned the blind-eye to any wrong-doing, and with the world at peril now, he must take responsibility and stand up to what he knows is wrong, even at the cost of his own life. Kanna in particular must take the little that she got to learn from Kenji when she still lead a normal life, and must do the rest of her coming of age on her own as she sets forth to reunite their group. And the main antagonists of this arc, especially Friend, are all people who have deep ties to their past and in many ways, never truly grew up or improved themselves as people. Even various new characters who are introduced in this very arc, as well as the final arc, represent different aspects of different phases of life, and must achieve their own coming of age in some regard within the context of the plot as this separated yet bound together group of characters fight for their lives and attempt to oppress the forces of Friend, with the very world hanging in the balance. Talking about an arc like 2014 is no simple feat, but suffice it to say that it’s on our list for a reason, and 20th Century Boys is an absolute must read for any and every fan of adult fiction.
~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

#03. Chapter Black (Yu Yu Hakusho)

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Creator: Yoshihiro Togashi
Original Years of Publication: 1993-1994
Manga: Chapters #113-153
Anime: Episodes #67-94
Studio: Studio Pierrot
Japanese Publisher: Shueisha (Weekly Shonen Jump)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: FUNimation Entertainment
Streaming: FUNimation
Recommended Version: Anime

By all rights, Yu Yu Hakusho should probably be forgotten by now. It’s a show about a hot blooded teenager who saves the world with his special powers and strange group of friends. I mean, come on! There’s even a tournament arc, for crying out loud! The artwork isn’t all too amazing, the designs are fairly competent, and the final arc in the manga was pretty much a disaster on an epic scale ending a popular manga in a way they should have left it cosigned to the back of any list. So you might be looking at what was just written and then the ranking on the list and scratching your head. That’s okay, it’s a bit of a funny story. That being the anime directed by Noriyuki Abe (Director of famed anime GTO) and written by Yukiyoshi Ohashi took what was a pretty good shonen manga, sanded off the rotten parts, sharpened the edges, and brought the original story to its full potential (though Yoshihiro Togashi does get credit for an excellent arc on his own for the manga).

Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the best shonen anime out there that stands the test of time for several reasons. The first is that underneath everything, Yoshihiro Togashi is nothing if not an excellent plotter and incredible at characterization, no matter how awful his work can get by being bogged down in gore, meandering moments, or bad story choices, those two strengths always shine through. It is a skill few shonen authors have, and most overlook for cool powers or flashy moves. The second is that the show succeeds at everything it sets out to do from lighthearted comedy to drama to action sequences. The third is that it eventually salvaged what was an irredeemably awful final arc in the manga, fleshed out the themes, dropped the chaff, and gave the series the proper ending it deserved. The final reason is the very arc this entry is about. Chapter Black is one of the best arcs in manga or anime, and stands tall as Yoshihiro Togashi’s crowning achievement in his very, very, very, strange career.

The story so far is about a teenage punk named Yusuke Uremeshi who is a spirit detective. He fights paranormal crime and saves the world with his spirit sword-wielding friend Kuwabara, sly fox-demon pal Kurama, and the rebel without a care Hiei. So far, the group of four has managed to tumble through a few scrapes together with nothing but spirit energy and a lot of planning, but with Chapter Black, they are pushed to a whole new level. This time they have to fight a human, something they have so far avoided doing.

Chapter Black centers on the appearance of psychics due to events from earlier in the series. These psychics have “territories” that they can use their powers with that vary from being creative to being downright deadly. The story starts because a man named Shinobu Sensui, a former spirit detective like out protagonist, enlists a group of these psychics to help him destroy the human world by leading demons into it, something that is strictly forbidden. What ends up occurring is a cat and mouse game between Sensui’s psychics and Yusuke’s group culminating in a reveal about the villain that is at once completely crazy and perfectly reasonable. Much like the villain himself. “Chapter Black” refers to a tape that contains the most horrific acts in human history and it is said that no one can watch it without going mad, to which Sensui did, causing his fragile image of black and white (basically whatever side he is on is white and everything else is black) to shatter and with it his sanity grew a deadly seed that sprouted into the very thing this whole arc is driven by. The unstable personality of Shinobu Sensui is at once a diabolical villain and the force that constantly tests out heroes’ wits and abilities. It is only through Yusuke and his many trials by fire so far that Sensui may see the light before it is too late, or maybe something else will emerge from the dark . . .

Now, characters aside, the action sequences and plot turns in Chapter Black are all as unexpected as they are deliciously well written, using every single trope in the shonen genre into a weapon of Togashi’s own, he is able to surpass them, making this arc his best work to date. If also his sharpest and to the point, themes of black and white, trust, loyalty, and life over death, never failing to guide out characters along. This is the reason Yu Yu Hakusho still remains acclaimed by anime fans even so many years later. It is proof that sometimes even stories that check the boxes can be as exciting and well written as original works . . . except that this work is original as well. In other words, Chapter Black has everything.

There are many ways to experience this arc from the manga (be warned, it gets pretty awful after Chapter Black concludes) to the excellent anime adaption. Go pick up the Funimation collections of this show and go to town. Then maybe you can see what it is that makes a man who is good for bad reasons become a man who is bad for good reasons, and wonder if they’re not both just as mistaken as the other. ~Spark of Spirit

#02. Ruenheim (Monster)

Creator: Naoki Urasawa
Original Year of Publication: 2001
Manga: Volumes #17-18, Chapters #144-162
Anime: Episodes #68-74
Studio: Madhouse
Japanese Publisher: Shogakukan (Big Comic Original)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: Viz Media (Out of Print)
Recommended Version: Manga

Many years ago, a certain man experimented on certain children, trying to turn a human being into a monster. But then, one day, he fell in love with a woman, and as so often happens, this changed his outlook. But there was no escaping what he did. At least, as long as people still knew who he was. The man who went by many names thus set about to be remembered by none. He attempted a perfect suicide, by killing everyone who knew about the experiments, who knew about the woman, and who knew about her children. He freed one of her children, giving her a name. He then disappeared, retiring to a peaceful, pleasant life. But he failed to erase everything. And those children grew up. One of them molded by his experiences into becoming something frightful. The one who wasn’t given a name. The one who wasn’t told not to become something. The fiction became a reality. The nameless monster came to be.

But eventually, the monster discovered he wasn’t who he thought he was. That the memories he thought were his own were someone else’s. That he was not the one who was supposed to be the monster. But then who was he? Who could he blame? Who was at fault for his life, and his deeds? And so, left with no identity to call his own, the monster decided to end it all. But that wasn’t enough. Like that certain man all those years ago, he needed to completely erase his identity. The monster needed to cease to be real. A real man needed to become a fictional one. And so, he decides to silence all who know of him, and lures them to the place that a certain man now calls his home. That is where it will all end. The place where the monster will commit his perfect suicide, and put an end to everything.

Ruenheim. A peaceful town. Where ordinary people live ordinary lives. There is no crime here, and few if any own guns. Why should they? The worst that ever happens here is a dog gone missing for a day or two. Everyone knows each other, and everyone goes about their daily lives following the same old routine. Nothing remarkable would ever happen in this town. At least, not without a little push. A quiet gunshot. A mysterious death or two. Guns gifted by strangers. People start getting on edge. Paranoia sets in. Old friends start to become suspicious of one another. Tension slowly starts to boil. And then, it starts. A single gunshot spirals the town into a mass of anarchy and bloodshed. These were normal people. They wouldn’t have ever killed before. But in all of humanity lies a delicate balance between good and evil, kept in check by fear and love. And when people start to fear for their lives, or become enveloped by selfish desires, and lose trust in their neighbors, and those they care about, the very worst in all of us is set loose. This is the monster’s thesis. Ruehnheim becomes a display of the worst of humanity, the perfect scenery of doomsday.

Can this be stopped? Can this town be saved? Once it begins, there is no hope of turning back. But there are still things that can be done. Acts of kindness, restraint, trust, and forgiveness; the only way to counter the worst in humanity is to offer it’s best in turn. In the now deadly town of Ruenheim, a small band of people, knowing of the monster’s intentions, attempt to save as many lives as they can by offering and reminding people of these very things. And, for as many lives that are lost, they are as many saved. Good finds ways to overcome evil. One cannot dominate over the other for long, no matter how hard it tries.

In Ruenheim, people find out what they are capable of, and what they had all along. Take the case of another man who had a monster inside him. Though this man was a grinner, he couldn’t actually experience joy or happiness. He couldn’t feel anything at all. Even when he lost someone close to him. Whatever emotions he had, he thought he lost them forever. But humans don’t lose their ability to feel. What was done to him could only hide the feelings from him, locked away deep inside. Normally, when this man experienced a deep pain, eventually, the monster inside him would come to protect him, and do away with his enemies. But in Ruenheim, that monster didn’t come. He felt the pain, the anger, and the rage, and he let them all out. And when he was done, he finds the very things he thought were gone forever return to him. The emotions he should have felt way back when finally come back to him, and for the first time since his childhood, he is able to experience genuine feelings of both sadness and happiness. They tried to rob him of his humanity. But they could only suppress it. People can’t lose their emotions. Sooner or later, the monster inside him was bound to disappear. And, in the end, he returns to being human.

Yes, in Ruenheim, the immutable humanity within all people reveals itself. People find out whether they can really shoot another human being. They discover humility, and regret. They experience guilt, and despair. They are forced to remember things they once wished they didn’t. They realize how precious memories, and one’s sense of identity, truly are. They come to new conclusions about themselves, and come out as better, stronger people for living through it. They discover what they really needed all along was something they never realized they had or could be given in the first place. They also find out things don’t always happen quite the way they plan to. No matter how cruel or cunning, there is no human being who is completely a monster. There is always a chance for redemption. There is always a choice one can make. In the end, the main protagonist of this story is spared having to make one choice that would ruin a life, but is given another than can save someone else’s. The monster was wrong. All human beings are not only equal in death. They have just as much of a right to live too.

This is the end of the tale called Monster. Where the final questions are answered, the last secrets are revealed, and the final choices are made. It culminates a fascinating exploration of the balance of good and evil that dwells within the human spirit, our shared humanity, and what it takes to do what is right. A nuanced, intricate tale that deals with the nature of the human mind, and what we can be capable of at our worst, and our best, the finale lives up to all expectations and exceeds them, providing a conclusion both profound and meaningful. In the end, everything our characters suffer through, all the pain and hardships of their past, are left to memory. Life goes on, people move on, and they find ways to cope and survive. There are some things that can never be forgotten, but that can’t stop people from moving forward to new phases in their life. The final scene says it all. The monster is gone. What happens from there, no one knows. But it’s an optimistic ending, one that promises that these characters, all of them, will find both purpose and happiness in their lives.

And that, friends, is the Ruenheim arc, the greatest piece of storytelling famed mangaka Naoki Urasawa has ever written, and one of the finest stories to ever come out of both it’s medium and all of fiction in general. Yet, this fantastic story arc is still only the second highest arc on our list. There is still one more. One other arc that boasts a profound, meaningful experience similarly unrivaled. And what is this arc, you might ask? Well, it’s none other than… ~Cartoon X

#01. The Fall of Joe Yabuki (Ashita no Joe)

Creators: Asaki Takamori, Tetsuya Chiba
Original Year of Publication: 1970
Manga: Volumes #9-11
Anime: (Ashita no Joe) Episodes #54-71, (Ashita no Joe 2) Episodes #1-6
Studio: Mushi Production (Ashita no Joe), Tokyo Movie Shinsha (Ashita no Joe 2)
Japanese Publisher: Kodansha (Weekly Shonen Magazine)
Streaming: (Ashita no Joe 2/Champion Joe 2) Crunchyroll
Recommended Version: Manga

So, it has finally come down to this. After all of these exciting story arcs on the list that can range from being insanely action-packed to deeply philosophical, we reach our number one choice which happens to be a relatively obscure little title (outside of Japan) that had one other entry lower down on this list. Reading that should have already given you the idea as to what kind of series this is. So, why is it the best story arc in all of anime and manga based on our collective opinion? What does it do better than any other arc on this list? To be quite honest, there is nothing that makes it objectively better than any other arc that we’ve ranked. In fact, this whole thing is obviously based purely on opinion, so none of it is objective. Instead I can attempt to answer why it is collectively our favorite arc. While it may not be nearly as flashy or grandiose as almost any other arc on this list, it is arguably the most deeply personal and genuinely fascinating story arc for any single character out of anything we’ve seen in the medium.

Getting into the meat of this arc without spoiling anything is nearly impossible, and yes, this is a manga where you don’t want certain details spoiled for you. In order to break the ice, though, I’ll let it slide that the subject matter deals with Joe Yabuki’s period of grief over the death of a major character, and arguably the closest friend that Joe has ever had in his relatively lonely and impoverished life. Before this point in his life, Joe was on the rise with his career as a rookie boxer, even going so far as to face his ultimate rival, one of the highest ranked boxers in Japan, in the previous arc from this series that we covered. However, in his avid and single-minded focus and determination to overcome his rival, he neglected to notice the strain and declining health of his own friend, and upon his death, it leaves Joe Yabuki in a state of utter shock and depression. Most notably, Joe blames himself for the outcome, even when reassured by every character who has known him that it was never his fault. What is particularly captivating about this scenario is that this is portraying Joe Yabuki as we’ve never seen him before: broken down and mentally unstable.

It is this very guilt and mental instability that causes his career to decline. He is training harder than ever, even to the point of degrading his own health in the long-run, yet some psychological barrier is holding him back, and he is losing matches left right and center. It gets to the point where he sinks so low as to drop out of the professional boxing scene at one point to make ends meet just by using the name status of his glory days to make a quick buck participating in fixed, un-sanctioned fights. This is no longer the Joe Yabuki that we have known throughout the series up to this point. Yet, in Japan, he has since gone on to become one of the most iconic and memorable characters in all of anime and manga. That is precisely what this story arc is. It is the break down and dissolution of who he was, Joe Yabuki the punk from the slums, and lays the groundwork for building him up as Joe Yabuki the icon.

Despite the cartoony appearance of this series, it handles the aspects of grief, guilt, and depression with a surprising degree of maturity, somehow combining the subdued nature of a Naoki Urasawa-esque character study with the blunt simplicity of an Osamu Tezuka manga (as it should, considering that Takamori and Chiba were among his most popular contemporaries). It is simply quite unlike anything else in the medium. It is not a fantasy shounen where the dead can come back to life, and unlike how a modern series might handle the issue, it is made abundantly clear that Joe will never be able to drop this from his memory for as long as he lives. He instead must resolve to live with it and let it guide who he becomes as his life goes on, or he will waste away, alone, wallowing in his own self-pity. Not only is there no easy way out of the situation; there is no way out, period. The subject matter is handled with a heavy dose of realism, and it treats its audience, young or old, with the utmost respect in discerning the message that Joe, like all of us, must cope with our losses in life and move on.

On an analytical level, it is far from the deepest or most nuanced presentation of any aspect of the human condition. On a visceral level, there really isn’t too much actual boxing here, so it’s low on the action and violence factor. And, on an excitement level, it is neither grand in scale nor fast-paced. It’s just a continuous string of damn strong writing, with some scenes full of insightful dialogue between characters, one particular scene involving a conversation between Joe and Yoko, a character who has always been on his bad side up to this point and vice versa. In this scene, she is the perfect person to give him a dose of what he needs, going through her own period of grief at the same time, and explaining to him how doing anything but living his life in the ring as he always had would be to dishonor his friend and those whose careers he has crushed. The conversation turns into a heated argument in such an uncomfortable way, yet convincingly hits so much home for Joe in the process. Other scenes completely forgo dialogue and convey powerful emotional impact with the use of absolutely nothing but the power of simple, suggestive artwork detailing character actions and vivid facial expressions, something that firmly cements manga as an art-form, and something that too many modern series have all but forgotten they can use.

For all of these reasons and probably a few more that none of us have the ability to properly convey with words, we consider this to be the strongest story arc that we have ever viewed in the medium of manga or anime up to this point. It is worth noting that both anime adaptations technically adapt this arc. The first anime does an adequate job, but quite frankly can’t capture the liveliness of Chiba’s artwork or the spot-on pacing of Takamori’s writing. The second anime is a great adaptation of the second half of the series, in its own right, but this arc is the exception, as it literally butchers the content by cutting together fragments of the story in an effort to rush past what the first anime had already covered. Needless to say, the manga is the version of this arc that you should be viewing.

As a work of fiction like any other on this list, can we outright call it the best that there is? Not by any means. However, in our collective opinion, we have yet to view any material stronger than this.
~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

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2014
09.14

#10. The Gung-Ho Guns (Trigun)

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Creator: Yasuhiro Nightow (series creator), Yousuke Kuroda (writer), Satoshi Nishimura (director)
Originally Aired: 1998
Anime: Episodes #12-26
Studio: Madhouse
North American Distributor: Funimation
Streaming: Funimation, Netflix

In recent years, Trigun has been known as the “obvious lesser” of the fan-dubbed “Space Western Trilogy” which has somehow been given an “obvious” hierarchy. The order would be Cowboy Bebop > Trigun > Outlaw Star, despite none of three even remotely attempting the same thing and all three being great shows well worth your time. But if we want to be objective, it can be argued that Trigun is actually the strongest of the three, and the reason lies in what many consider the series highlight, the appearance of the Gung-Ho Guns. Now the case is not being made that Trigun is objectively superior to either series, but to dispel a strangely prevalent opinion that the quality of all three are objectively tiered. The fact of the matter is that Trigun actually gets better with age and maturity, and is actually superior to the source material it arises from, which is an amazing feat of its own.

Before we reach the main story that begins in episode 12, we are treated with an episodic journey of a wandering gunman who seems to be able to get through any problem without killing and even takes five episodes before he draws his gun, which is only to defend innocents from an attack. This set up is crucial, because without it a lot of the power of the back half of the series is completely lost. The comedic and lighthearted nature of Vash the Stampede is the key to understanding how a world so covered with death and decay is able to laugh and smile and find away to escape their troubles despite facing extinction. While the lightheartedness is the set up, it all changes within a second when an objective evil called Legato Bluesummers arrives to tell Vash he is a target for demons, and the real story of Trigun is kicked off.

Before this arrival, trumpeted with fear and foreboding, the toughest problem Vash had faced in the series was a runaway sand steamer that was solved because of the moral compass of one lost boy and the honor of a murderous thief that Vash saw the good in. In other words, Vash saw the good where no one saw any, and it ended up saving them all from disaster. There is no good left in Legato Bluesummers. A man so consumed with despair, he instead believes the world would be better stamped into dust and that beings like Vash are only hinderances to his goal. He sends a wave of talented mercenaries called the Gung-Ho Guns, all seemingly as dead to the world as he is, in order to crush Vash’s way of life and the remnants of human beings on the desert planet. Vash does reach some of them, others he does not, and still others he never gets the chance to, but they all challenge his worldview and show it for being rather shallow and too idealistic, not complete. He soon finds that you can’t save everyone, no matter how much you want to. Where this becomes more prevalent is with the reappearance of an earlier character in the series, wandering priest, Nicholas D. Wolfwood. A man who could either be Vash’s greatest ally, or worst enemy.

Wolfwood’s character arc is very important to this story as Vash’s polar opposite yet other half, theologically and philosophically. Wolfwood has lived through much sin and despair in his life, and knows the only way through is fighting it, but along the way he lost faith in everything except God and children, as they are the only things man cannot corrupt no matter how hard they try. He loathes the human race and their tendency toward destruction, the exact motives the Gung-Ho Guns have. When Vash falls after learning he can’t save everyone, then believing there is no point in fighting, it is Wolfwood’s words of encouragement that push him along. Time and time again, Wolfwood prevents Vash from falling apart, and it is also Vash that gives Wolfwood his love of life again. The rub off on each other and give each other the side of life they need. It is Vash’s optimism and hope in the human race that allows Wolfwood to move beyond his murderous past and his doubts about the things he has done in order to remember that we always have another chance. Forgiveness always conquers sin. By the end of the tale, both Vash and Wolfwood have grown and become complete in their worldviews and are able to face the road ahead of them. The battle against evil will never fully be won in this life, but you still have to get up and fight, because true evil doesn’t just want you dead, it wants you crushed.

By this point it should be mentioned that the anime staff deserves a lot of credit. While there are a lot of similarities with the manga, including characters and events, it is the anime that ended up the definitive version of the tale. It did this by making everything more subdued and slower, more symbolism and carefully chosen words in dialogue and directed shots. It is no coincidence that with the first mention of God in the story at the end of episode 1 the camera pans up to reveal the planet’s two suns (for the first time) staring down at Vash as if a pair of eyes watching him. The care and craft that went into the show is tremendous, including shaving off the edges of things the manga did that either aren’t very exciting or are too comic-bookish for the overall tale. The fate of the human race given extra punch and the final battle are only two examples, but otherwise are powerful precisely because of the changes the anime staff made. However, credit should be given to the manga for aspects the anime does not cover, as it is a quality piece of work in itself.

Trigun is not a flashy series. It doesn’t have the greatest budget. It’s only 26 episodes long. It didn’t do well in Japan where only the manga was popular. None of this matters one iota. Trigun is a story about the battle for the soul. The soul of the human race, the planet, the drunkard who gave up on life, the murderous mercenary, the orphaned punk, the plant engineer with a vendetta against her supposed murderer, the nihilist who wishes everything no longer existed, and the brother who cannot understand the fundamental principles of living beings. What Trigun lacks in high budget explosion and stylish action sequences, it more than makes up with content and a topnotch story. The story of Trigun is already a classic in the anime world, and has aged remarkably well over the years. If there is anything it lacks is that its presence should be more well known outside of just anime circles.

As you walk into the sunlight after a year alone in the desert, you might see what Vash does when he looks up and the burning pair of suns staring down at him like the eyes of God. Carrying the weight of existence behind him as he walks, he looks ahead to find the enemy waiting for him at the end of his long road. There he raises his weapon and the battle begins.

“Repeated tragedies, repeated pain, the wishes of a man are so strong, and yet so frail and weak. To live. To stay alive. Who would have thought that survival would be this hard, this painful? I must choose, I must make the choice, in the moment that intertwines life and death. Can I choose to remain a human?”
~Spark of Spirit

#09. Sannoh (Slam Dunk)

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Creator: Takehiko Inoue
Original Years of Publication: 1995-1996
Manga: Chapters #221-276
Japanese Publisher: Shueisha (Weekly Shonen Jump)
North American Publisher: Gutsoon! Entertainment [Defunct], Viz Media

BOO! Hiss! Sports manga! GETITOFFTHELISTGETITOFFTHELIST! Sports are terrible and you are terrible people for even thinking sullying my untouchable Japanese entertainment with such jock-related filth! What are you guys, sports lovers? Believe it or not, there are still people in this day and age that will not touch anything if it has a sport attached to it. Such people have foolishly missed some great manga and anime, including what is arguably the best one, if not one of the most influential, Slam Dunk. A manga about a punk kid who joins a basketball team to impress a girl and ends up learning much more than he ever expected.

Slam Dunk is partially responsible for the great Basketball explosion in popularity in Japan from back in the mid ’90s. That is how good Slam Dunk is. It inspired people who read the manga or watched the anime to get out there and play the very sport Inoue Takehiko was writing about. You can’t get much more praise than that, but I’ll sure try. One of the reasons Slam Dunk is so popular is because it both tackles the sport realistically and because it has such a heavy emphasis on characters and their drive for the game. But the main reason is because the story ended on what is easily one of the best arcs in manga history, not only one of the most popular, but one of the outright best. A shamble of a basketball team manages to slowly cobble together a team of individuals that work together masterfully, even at different skill levels and strengths. Throughout the entire story of the manga they grow and grow, eventually leading them into the tournament that will finally allow them to show the results of everything they have gone through.

What makes this arc masterful is how at the same time the biggest game of their lives (so far) plays out, all the characters essentially complete their character arcs and in the process become the best players they can be. This happens at the same time the game is literally going back and forth with a constantly rising score at a nailbiting pace, impossible moves are made and countered, while characters (sometimes literally) throw themselves around just to give the edge their team needs to make that final point ahead of their opponents. It’s intense. Shohoku Vs. Sannoh has since gone down as one of the most exciting arcs in sports manga history because of how great this game is. Now if you can explain to me why the anime never covered it and still sound sane, I will be surprised.

The most memorable aspect is not in the results of the match (which is quite incredible) but in what ends up happening after the match ends. Life goes on, paths converge and diverge, and eventually there will be other games to play. The manga ends its excellent run as Hanamichi Sakuragi reflects on how much he loves the sport that gave him his drive and vows to keep going and getting better and better. Its an excellent capper on an excellent game and an excellent series. The Sannoh arc is the culmination of everything this series stood for cranked up to the maximum. If you value good entertainment, and a story that will stick with you, give Slam Dunk (and Inoue Takehiko’s other works) a shot. It might surprise you to learn that there is a reason sports form such a large part of every culture beyond attracting people who like winning. ~Spark of Spirit

#08. Red Ribbon Army (Dragon Ball)

Creator: Akira Toriyama
Original Years of Publication: 1986-1987
Manga: Volumes #5-8, Chapters #55-96
Anime: Episodes #29-67
Studio: Toei Animation
Japanese Publisher: Shueisha (Weekly Shonen Jump)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: FUNimation Entertainment
Streaming: FUNimation, Hulu
Recommended Version: Manga/Anime

We have plenty of great long-running shounen arcs on this list. Some have great balls-to-the walls fights, while others have great intrigue and mystery. However, only one has pure adventure and heart through and through, and this one is it. The Red Ribbon Army saga is actually really a collection of smaller story arcs that tie together under the premise of our (at the time) young hero Son Goku searching for the seven legendary Dragon Balls (again), all the while fighting off the forces of the oppressive organization, the Red Ribbon Army, as they race to beat him to the same goal. While in our earlier DB entry we got to see Son Goku kick ass as an adult, it’s this child version of the character that’s all about the spirit of a great adventure, and this arc delivers that in spades. In top of being incredibly, genuinely funny with some of the hardest hitting gags and jokes that you’re likely to find in any comic from any country, it is crammed full of every awesome thing that any kid (or adult who isn’t afraid to deny the temptations of their inner child, which should be anyone reading this list in the first place) would ever want to see in an amazing adventure story. Oh, yes, it has plenty of awesome and memorable fights to be sure, but as to actual adventure, let’s just look at what this crazy story arc has in store.

Do you want to see a kid ascend a tower, in a land of snow, that is one big reference to and parody of Game of Death, fighting a Terminator reject, the world’s worst ninja, and a giant blob-thing monster along the way? Done. How about having him and his friends look for buried treasure in an underwater pirate cave full of booby traps, a talking giant octopus, and a deadly robot pirate? Done. Does an in-canon crossover with one of the most popular comedy manga of the time, as Goku hilariously attempts to chase down one of the RRA’s most “elite generals,” sound good to you? Done. Will scaling the world’s largest tower (BY HAND THIS TIME) in pursuit of the mythic sacred water that can make anyone stronger, only to find the anthropomorphic cat version of a Mr. Miyagi-esque teacher waiting at the top, whet your appetite for entertainment? Done. And what about our kid hero single-handedly taking on the entire RRA and beating down all sorts of ass? DONE! AND! FUCKING! DONE! And that’s just the bare-bones outline.

And, aside from humor and being downright hilarious, let us not forget the incredibly heartfelt and genuinely dramatic moments of this arc. And I’m serious. Seeing Goku’s conflict with Mercenary Tao (or Tao Pai Pai for you purists) as the first villain who was ever able to best him, causing him to experience the loss of a life of someone that he failed to protect, will forever be one of the most iconic moments in the DB franchise. Even more iconic is the legendary training he endures to make his comeback as he climbs Korin’s tower (something that One Piece itself would directly reference). Let us also not forget that this was still a time when other characters besides Goku were incredibly useful, from Bulma’s genius gadgetry, to Krillin’s sly deceptiveness and wit to outsmart any enemy, and the fact that Master Roshi was still one of the most bad-ass martial artists in the world. This story arc, or collection of them, was easily the pinnacle of the legendary and iconic Dragon Ball franchise in our eyes, and by extension one of the 10 greatest story arcs of any manga or anime.

Speaking of which this is one unique case in which we can’t recommend one version over the other. Both are worth experiencing, but if you were to choose one, then consider the following. The manga has Akira Toriyama’s slick pacing, spot-on timing with humor, and deliciously cartoony and incredibly lively artwork, which basically just flows off the page. Comparatively, Toei’s budget animation and use of extensive filler obviously can’t capture these qualities, but would you believe that the filler is actually good (for the most part), thoughtful, well-written, and well-directed material that actually enhances the experience? Because, it totally does, and combined with Kikuchi’s excellent score for this portion of the series, the anime is definitely a must-watch, even for those who have already read the manga. Of course, either way, you can’t possibly go wrong with how you choose to view this classic story. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

#07. Riah Space Colony (Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket)

Creators: Yoshiyuki Tomino (series creator), Hiroyuki Yamaga (writer), Fumihiko Takayama (director)
Originally Released: 1989
Anime: Episodes #1-6
Studio: Sunrise
North American Distributor: Bandai Visual

So, let’s get one thing clear: yes, this whole 6-episode OVA series is being counted as a story arc. If this may seem to go against our rule of not including an entire series on the list (effectively making any series with only one story arc ineligible for this list), consider that it’s really a story that technically takes place in a larger established fictional Universe, and is officially in-canon with that Universe; in fact taking place during the One Year War of the original MSG….or at least according to Wikipedia, which is never wrong, of course! Putting that matter aside, War in the Pocket, as its title suggests, provides all of the intensity of a galactic war in a smaller scale, more personal story. And, it’s the latter of those two elements that makes it such an endearing arc, both within its own franchise and in general.

You see, even if you are not a Gundam aficionado to any degree (and believe me, I know next to nothing about the franchise outside of this OVA series), this is a very self-contained and easily accessible story. It puts us in the shoes of a child protagonist, Al, who himself is a surrogate character for the audience. Like most kids, he is an enthusiast of extreme violence, and thinks that a war where people in giant robots kill other people with giant robots is the coolest thing ever, no matter which side you’re on. However, also like most kids (and presumably like a fair chunk of the audience), he doesn’t really understand all that much about the war, or at least not as much as he believes. However, eager to be the cool kid in his class, he one day manages to sneak into the woods where a Gundam battle had recently occurred in his colony, and ends up finding the wreckage of a damaged enemy machine, complete with a breathing and very much alive enemy pilot attached to it! But rather than kill the kid to keep him quiet, he decides not to be a heartless bastard and manages to make the kid agree to be quiet as he assumes a fake identity, but in hoping to get rid of a nuisance, our other main protagonist (that same “enemy” pilot), Bernie, ends up having to deal with a kid who is both too annoyingly eager to get involved in things that he shouldn’t, and simultaneously too damn smart for his own good, for it is Al’s own cleverness that proves that he’s far more useful than Bernie or his comrades initially think.

The rest of the story plays out sort of like how one might expect, yet is executed in such a brilliant way that it doesn’t feel the least bit predictable or cliche. There are really two interconnecting parts to this story that progress simultaneously. One part tells the story from Al’s point of view. We get an understanding of his ordinary life at school, and his disappointing family life, where his father is almost never home and his mother doesn’t even seem to really know who he is or understand a thing about him. It’s no wonder then that he takes such an interest in Bernie and his comrades, who to him are like an escape from his everyday mundane life into a world that he has always dreamed of being a part of, or so he thinks.

The other portion of the story focuses on Bernie’s point of view, his growing fondness of Al, yet his need to keep his distance, and his effort with his comrades as they attempt to carry out a downright suicidal mission for their side of the war. The heart of this story is in the unlikely friendship between our two main leads, yet it is a very enriched story that manages to progress to one hell of an intense and climactic ending, with some truly brutal action scenes (for it’s time) taking place toward the conclusion. From beginning to end it is perfectly paced, and the character development is simple but executed admirably. Whether you care about Gundam, giant robots, or neither, you can’t ignore the sheer quality of a story arc as well-written and directed as this one, and being as accessible as it is for either franchise fans or newbies, it truly is a must-watch. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

#06. The Golden Age (Berserk)

Creator: Kentaro Miura
Original Years of Publication: 1991-1997
Manga: Volumes #3-14, Chapters #9-110
Anime: Episodes #1-25, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc #1-3
Studio: TV Anime – OLM, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc – Studio 4?C
Japanese Publisher: Hakusensha (Young Animal)
North American Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
North American Distributor: TV-Media Blasters (Formerly/Out of Print), The Golden Age Arc-Viz Media
Streaming: Neon Alley (Berserk: The Golden Age Arc only)
Recommended Version: Manga

Come now, you all knew this was going to be on the list. No list of greatest anime/manga story arcs should be without “The Golden Age” somewhere in the top 10. It’s an arc everyone knows about, from a series everyone knows about, and pretty much everyone who’s read or watched it loves it. It’s lauded as one of the best pieces of storytelling to come out of the medium, and Berserk would not be nearly as popular as it is without it.

But, if you haven’t heard of Berserk or this story before, then allow me to try and explain why this is revered as the classic it is. Of all the arcs on this list, it’s probably the most accessible to get into right off the bat. That’s because, while it’s not the first arc in the series, it’s basically an extended flashback arc. A very, very long flashback arc, but an effective one. Before this, our main protagonist, Guts, wasn’t much of a likable character, swinging his sword around and cutting people up without feeling or remorse, but clearly troubled and haunted by something from his past. This arc serves as an explanation as to how Guts became the skilled, deadly fighter that is reluctant to get close to people that we saw in the first arc. From birth, Guts had been used and abused, thrust into the role of a fighter when he was but a young boy. One day, the man who was essentially his father figure, Gambino, betrays him and when Guts fights back, he accidentally kills him. Emotionally scarred and without a place to call home, Guts is soon forced into the life of a vagabond, a wandering killer for hire, loyal to none, no purpose in life but to keep on living until he one day falls in battle. That is, until a fateful encounter with a mysterious, charismatic man named Griffith, who after beating him in a duel, forces him to join his group of mercenaries, the Band of the Hawk.

There’s really a lot of elements that make this arc as strong as it is. One thing that I think draws a lot of people to it, and the series in general, is the setting; a rich medieval world of violence, blood, and gore, where war is constant, no one is safe, and life is always a struggle. Miura’s artwork breathes life into every scene and background, sculpting out a environment that feels incredibly three-dimensional and believable. There is always a sense of danger, always something mystical, or ominous, which is apt considering the supernatural elements of Berserk that get explored and explained here. Combine this setting with incredible Tolkein-esque battle scenes featuring whole armies of knights and so much going on in every moment, every frame, and you have one gloriously brutal and action-packed manga. Later arcs don’t quite have the scale of the conflicts featured in “The Golden Age,” at least not with as much frequency, and the artwork helps to set the tone of the setting and the arc while providing action scenes you can’t really find in any other manga.

But the setting and artwork are just icing; a tasty extra touch on an already sweet cake. The meat of the arc is it’s story, and the intricate relationships of it’s core characters. Slowly but surely, the emotionally aloof Guts starts to let down his walls and find a home in the Band of the Hawk, growing meaningful friendships with it’s members, and more complicated, developed relationships with Griffith and the Band’s female officer, Casca. In Griffith, Guts finds not only someone he respects and admires, but someone he wants to prove himself too, to be an equal of, worthy of being his friend. More importantly, Griffith’s ambition to become a king makes Guts consider what he wants in life, and what he wants for himself, and this makes him determined to find his own way in life, out from Griffith’s shadow. Casca, holding unrequited love for Griffith, starts out jealous of Guts and his special place in Griffith’s heart, but after an incident that forces the two to work together, she opens up to him, and the two form a special bond of respect, one that eventually turns into something more. As for Griffith, he deigns to become a king, and ruthlessly manipulates, slaughters, betrays, and does whatever he can to further his aim, the Band of the Hawk a means to an end. But in Guts, he finds someone worthy of his respect and attention, and despite himself, grows to care about him as a friend. Ultimately, Guts’ desire to seek his own path in life conflicts with Griffith’s plans and ambitions, and the two come to blows. The outcome forever changes the fate of the Band of the Hawk, Guts, Griffith, Casca, and the world of Berserk in general. Like a Shakespearean tragedy, things completely fall apart for our protagonists, everything that can go wrong goes wrong, and when there comes a brief stint of hope, it is soon dashed in the cruelest, most horrifying way possible, friendships broken, grudges born, and a man losing nearly everything he holds dear, left with nothing but a seething desire for revenge.

It’s a fascinating, multi-layered story; one of trust, ambition, jealousy, love, lust, betrayal, and greed. Miura masterfully develops the relationships between the characters and the political and internal conflicts of them and the world around them, leading to many powerful, riveting moments and a tight story that leaves not a single dull or purposeless moment. “The Golden Age” the arc is named after refers to the high point of Guts’ life, but it’s a fitting descriptor for this entire part of the story as well. By the time this arc ended it was thrice as long as the non-flashback story up until this point. For many, this arc no doubt is Berserk, the highlight of the entire story, and it honestly stands alone incredibly well. It’s no wonder the tv anime adaption exclusively covered it, omitting the Black Swordsman arc that preceded it, while the movie adaptions start off with it yet again. At this point, the arc is only about a fourth of the still ongoing story, yet most fans agree that while the series is still good, nothing since “The Golden Age” has quite lived up to it’s standards of quality and rich storytelling. Admittedly, this is not an easy task, because few things can rival “The Golden Age” in what it does so, so well. It’s a Shakespearean, medieval fantasy tale like no other, with a richly crafted world and fascinatingly developed characters, the arc that earned Berserk it’s rightful popularity and critical acclaim, and indisputably one of the greatest story arcs in any anime or manga, period. ~Cartoon X

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2014
09.13

#15. Munich (Monster)

Creator: Naoki Uraswa
Original Years of Publication: 1997-1998
Manga: Chapters #47-77
Anime: (Monster) Episodes #25-39
Studio: Madhouse
Japanese Publisher: Shogakukan (Big Comic Original)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: Viz Media
Recommended Version: Manga

There’s a doctor named Kenzo Tenma on the road searching for a man named Johan. A man as sick and twisted as he is good at hiding his evil intentions, Johan quickly rises through the criminal underworld with nothing but charisma and smarts to aid him. Meanwhile, our hero finds himself at odds on how he should stop the killer he is responsible for making. You see, Dr. Tenma is the reason Johan is still alive and wonders at what his responsibility is toward the killer. Should he sink to the level of evil he is facing, or is there another way? And what of the innocents Johan wraps around his fingers in the process? How can you save someone who has no idea they have a knife hanging over their head when you can’t bring attention to the blade itself? When the story of Monster rolls into Munich, we finally begin to understand exactly who Johan is, and what he plans to do with the world.

Monster is the breakout hit from famed mangaka, Naoki Urasawa, the work that came out of nowhere to surprise everyone with its depth of characterization, twisting storyline, and meditations on good and evil. There is not a point of this series that isn’t top notch and among the best of the anime/manga cream of the crop, but this arc is the one that really begins to show Urasawa’s chops.

Johan, the story’s antagonist, is essentially the central character of this arc despite not being the point of view we see the story from. Most of the plots and events center on his involvement, and it is up to the main characters to figure out how it all links together and how he figures into them. The tongue of a snake, Johan has let himself into the prestigious University of Munich in order to fulfill some scheme involving a man named Hans Georg Schuwald. At the same time, a boy in the university commits suicide, and a private detective finds a link to that death which goes back to earlier murders in the story. We are eventually introduced to Dr. Reichwein, a concerned doctor whose patient ends up dead under strange circumstances and he resolves to find out why. Meanwhile, Dr. Tenma follows Johan around with the psycho in his sights . . . but just can’t pull the trigger. Or can he? This all leads to a tremendous showdown to foil an assassination attempt at the library of the University of Munich when all these plots intertwine and it is up to Tenma to make the final call of what he is meant to do. How do you really stop a monster?

Monster is a labyrinth of plot turns and character reveals, so describing it here will not do it justice, but it is the start of something even bigger which is come. Eventually the story will feature a man with a literal monster living inside him, a bodyguard with a heart of gold, and a final showdown that will leave you with your jaw on the floor. It continues getting better every chapter (or episode) and it all really hits the groove in Munich. ~Spark of Spirit

#14. CP9 (One Piece)

Creator: Eiichiro Oda
Original Years of Publication: 2004-2007
Manga: Volumes #32-46, Chapters #303-441
Anime: Episodes: #207-325
Studio: Toei Animation
Japanese Publisher: Shueisha (Weekly Shonen Jump)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: FUNimation
Streaming: Adult Swim Video, Crunchyroll, FUNimation, Hulu, Neon Alley
Recommended Version: Manga

Water Seven:

It’s no secret that battle-shonen series are obligated to increase the stakes of their conflicts with each successive arc. What this mostly amounts to is that the heroes are presented with an even stronger enemy than the last, have to go through a few trials or training to get stronger to beat them, and then engage in an endless string of battles where the supporting cast takes on the minor villains in several one on one fights until the main character takes down the big bad. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this formula, but the problem is that several series stick to just inflating the threat but not truly challenging the characters and their situation in a new way. This makes things a rather boring affair after a while, since the series is just going through the motions of what a large chunk of other battle shonen since Dragon Ball have done; endless, meaningless fighting with some half-assed emotional aspect thrown in hastily at the last second. A good battle shonen arc should not simply increase the power of the villains and heroes, but rather, develop the story to new heights, develop it’s world, and evolve the characters and give them something personal and challenging to go through.

The CP9 arc of One Piece does just that. We’ve seen the Straw Hat Pirates fight against an evil syndicate trying to take over a kingdom and a maniacal god that only central protagonist Luffy could defeat in previous arcs, so at the start it’s hard to imagine what could truly challenge our heroes in a way that hasn’t been depicted before. The arc chooses what one might expect to be the natural enemy of the pirate crew, the World Government, the strongest organization in the OP world, and presents your standard antagonist group in the form of the CP9, enemies Luffy and co. are overmatched by in their first confrontation and must get stronger to defeat, though thankfully we are spared any training sub-arc. But if introducing a new, stronger gang of villains was all this arc did it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as it is. In the first section of this arc, dubbed “Water 7,” the Straw Hats’ initial intentions are to rebuild their beaten-down ship, the Going Merry. But in an eventful encounter with a chilling adversary they are given a cryptic warning not to trust one of their own, Nico Robin. After which, arriving at the Venice-inspired city, Water 7, they learn that their precious ship is beyond repair. Worse, one of their own is robbed by a gang of crooks and Nico Robin suddenly disappears. From there on the arc presents a mystery and a series of twists and turns that ultimately end in some shocking revelations and developments that build upon previously established plot-threads in former arcs, and set the stage for the showdown with the arc’s titular organization.

Water 7 provides a foundation that distinguishes the arc from previous ones: an inner turmoil within our group of protagonists combined with a political mystery and strong sense of crisis, all before we ever learn who the villains are. The Straw Hats as a group are tested as tensions run high, they lose a precious symbol of their identity in their ship, and they question the motives of a seemingly turned traitor. The character Ussop is given a personal arc built upon self-doubts and actions developed up to this point in previous arcs, finally erupting in a violent falling-out with his captain over the fate of the ship, leading to what is possibly the most emotionally-charged fight of the series, and his sudden and heart-breaking defection from the crew. The Straw Hats as a group or as individuals had never been challenged by such strong internal struggles before this, and the arc places them into a state of vulnerability that we’ve never seen before and rarely seen since. The mysteries involving the political conspiracy in Water 7 tie into the Straw Hats’ personal plight as they go deeper into it, questions answered in uncovering a decades-old conflict far greater in reach and severity than they or the reader could have possibly imagined, tying together what at first appeared to be unrelated plot points into a single, engaging story arc that manages to give our heroes their single greatest challenge yet, building the anticipation and the stakes of this arc to levels that no doubt surprises every first-time reader, leaving a profound, lasting impact. Instead of coasting on the established battle-shonen formula, One Piece instead introduces several elements going into this arc that build on top of each other to heighten the experience, providing weight to what transpires, making every page, and every critical moment in this arc, a rewarding and refreshing reading experience, and one that elevates the series to whole new level in it’s storytelling. ~Cartoon X

Enies Lobby:

Whereas Water Seven was intriguing and presented us with an interesting history regarding key characters that related to some of the biggest events in the world of One Piece, it was still merely just the set-up half of the CP9 arc. As things went to shit by the end of that act, it’s in Enies Lobby where all hell breaks loose for the Straw Hats and the World Government. Luffy and crew are determined to rescue one of their own, who was taken captive in W7, and brought to the titular Enies Lobby, one of the three great World Government strongholds. This one happens to be the execution platform for some of the world’s most dangerous and notorious criminals. It is here that we learn about Nico Robin’s past, and why she is one of the most wanted criminals by the World Government, which has much more to do with her history than the fact that she’s a member of the Straw Hat pirates. As Luffy and his crew race against the clock, they must deal with the World Government’s elite force, Cipher-Pol 9, in the process, and considering how badly they got their asses handed to them by CP9 in the W7 arc, it’s already not looking good for the team.

On a base level, Enies Lobby does everything that a good shounen story-arc should. It has an engaging story to keep viewers focused, it has plenty of great and creative fights for each character, it contains many of the series’ most iconic scenes, and is presented in a grand scale that feels bigger than any previous arcs to come before it. However, plenty of great arcs can boast that, yet what sets EL apart from the rest is what else it accomplishes besides that. For one thing, it manages to brilliantly enrich the history and mythos of this world, and for once is a shounen arc where the flash-backs are genuinely intriguing in unraveling a humongous mystery that ties in with the main plot, rather than feeling like a disruption. The emotional stakes are high as well, pushing characters to go beyond their physical and mental limits to overcome the great obstacles that lie in their way. Probably the most important of all, though, is that it expands the scope and possibilities of the series for all future arcs.

Before this arc, the Straw Hats had been just a relatively low-level band of thugs that weren’t a priority of the World Government on their list of most wanted “criminals.” This arc has them directly clashing with the world’s most powerful organization, so regardless of the outcome, you know that they are on their radar big-time, now, and it will change the circumstances of the characters and their world status forever, which is incredibly exciting. Add in the fact that this arc even brings back many playoffs from story elements and characters that were foreshadowed and alluded to in previous arcs (something that almost no other shounen manga really does), and you have an arc that is so central and pivotal to its own series that it just made itself destined to be one of the greatest ever put to page. Combining thrill and intrigue of the W7 arc with the action and intensity of the EL arc, the CP9 arc is one the greatest story arcs in anime, manga, or any medium. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

#13. Stone Ocean (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure)

Creator: Hirohiko Araki
Original Years of Publication: 1999-2003
Manga: Volumes #64-80, Chapters #595-752
Japanese Publisher: Shueisha (Weekly Shonen Jump)

Okay, so I have to confess something; I haven’t finished Steel Ball Run yet. Yes, yes, I know that many JoJo’s fans regard it very highly, but I just didn’t get the time before we started making this list to read more than a fourth of it. So I have no idea if it’s actually the best arc or if it’ll be my overall favorite part of the series. But, I have read all of the shonen arcs of JoJo’s, which means I’ve still read 6/7ths of the manga so far, and I’m a huge fan. And, when it came down to deciding on an arc from it to put in this list, I had a hard choice on my hands, because all the arcs after the first are very strong in their own rights. But, in the end, I knew that if I was to choose one part to represent the best of everything JJBA has to offer, it just had to be the sixth, Stone Ocean.

Stone Ocean is rather underrated compared to most other installments of the JoJo’s series. Internationally, Stardust Crusaders is the face of the franchise, while Battle Tendency has grown in popularity thanks to the 2012 anime adaption. Diamond is Unbreakable has long been the secret favorite among fans, while Steel Ball Run is easily the most critically acclaimed. Yet, don’t let the fact that it is overlooked by many fool you into thinking it has any less to offer. On the contrary, Stone Ocean is the best written part of the series, or at least the best of the shonen arcs. It features the most tightly-focused narrative, with excellent characters and character development, some of the best Stand fights in the entire series, and provides finality to the conflict that had pervaded the story since it’s inception.

Conceptually, it’s also pretty interesting, especially for how much it strays from the typical JoJo’s formula. Whereas parts 2,3, and 5 followed the basic battle-shonen adventure formula, the majority of part 6 takes place in Green Dolphin Street prison, following  the struggle of new inmate Jolyne Kujo, who was framed for a crime she didn’t commit, as part of a larger conspiracy. Whitesnake, a mysterious Stand user with the power to take away people’s memories and Stand abilities and store them as CD discs, deigns to avenge his fallen comrade, none other than the long-time enemy of the Joestar bloodline, Dio Brando. Using Jolyne’s imprisonment to lure her father, Jotaro Kujo, to Green Dolphin Street prison, Whitesnake successfully steals Jotaro’s memories, which contains the secret needed to fulfill Dio’s life-long ambition. Without his memories and his Stand, Jotaro is left in a near-death state. In order to save his life, Jolyne must gather allies and figure out the true identity of Whitesnake, determine the secret of what was written in Dio’s long-lost diary, and recover the discs that hold her father’s memories and Stand before Whitesnake achieves his twisted objectives.

What follows is a prison break story mixed with a mystery story that eventually becomes an apocalyptic epic. Jolyne and friends maneuver around the prison trying to gain intel on Whitesnake and the location of the discs, put in multiple life-or-death situations as Whitesnake bestows Stand powers to several violent inmates to eliminate the gang and retain his anonymity. Whereas previous installments of the series followed a more Stand-of-the-week format, where the heroes fought against several enemies in string of different battles, most of the villains in part 6 do not actively pursue the heroes or seek to fight them, and the encounters come about due to Whitesnake manipulating situations to put the heroes in danger, and as hazards of their efforts to uncover his secrets. Instead of being fight-driven, it’s much more story-driven, akin to the second part, Battle Tendency, rather than the third part, Stardust Crusaders. Everything that happens in the story is consequential to the plot, with no extraneous encounters or developments, something that parts 3 through 5 were guilty of to some extent. Things move quickly in the story, as secrets, twists, and plot development come at a rapid pace. Though most parts of JoJo’s are addicting because of the strategy-driven and battle-of-wits nature of the series’ iconic Stand encounters, part 6 is the first to be equally addicting because of it’s intriguing, multi-layered plot. This is also easily the most, well, bizarre part of JoJo’s to date, featuring abilities ranging from an artificial personality whose body is made up of plankton, to a Stand that brings cartoon characters to life (sadly, Araki denies us any crossovers, but at least Kenshiro and Raoh did apparently destroy Tokyo off-screen), to a stand that uses the sun’s rays to literally transform people into snails. Araki goes all out on each and every battle and encounter in this arc, which keeps the excitement and entertainment high throughout, and helps make Stone Ocean perhaps the most balanced story arc in the entire series.

What’s more, the characters are fantastic. Jolyne has the best character arc of all the titular JoJo’s thus far, starting off a whiny, naive, and weak-willed brat but maturing into a capable, strong-willed, no-nonsense heroine with all the best traits of those before her. She has Johnathan’s passion for justice, Joseph’s sense of humor and wit, Jotaro’s coolness and badass moments (her signature sigh of exasperation, “Yare Yare Dawa,” is also similar to her father’s “Yare Yare Daze”), Josuke’s lovable punk attitude, and Giorno’s adept skill to use his power creatively to adapt to any circumstance. She is the only female JoJo’s to date, and a rare main female protagonist in battle-shonen series. Other characters, from Ermes Costello, who is presented as a smarter, cooler version of part 3’s Jean-Pierre Polnareff, to Weather Report, an enigmatic man with a mysterious, tragic past, are all excellently developed and used in the story, and overall comprise the strongest group of protagonists in the series, or at the very least second to that of Diamond is Unbreakable’s.

It’s also rather fitting that Jolyne encompasses the best of her predecessors, because the core story of part 6 is about the legacy of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure up until this point. Dio Brando has shaped the plot of every story arc in the series thus far, his influence far reaching, and inescapable for the descendants of the Joestar bloodline to avoid. Whitesnake seeks to make the last testament of Dio’s legacy a reality, and as a consequence, he must erase the threat of the Joestar bloodline once and for all, drawing them into one final conflict, this time, the fate of reality itself at stake. What’s most fascinating about this is what Whitensake’s objectives are and the philosophy behind them. Haunted by a tragic event that occurred due to a mistake of his own as a kid that he couldn’t foresee, Whitesnake cursed the fact he couldn’t see his fate. Thus, he sought a means to show people how their lives will play out ahead of time, so that life may proceed following along a strict, pre-destined narrative. He essentially wants all people and life to follow a routine, or rather, a formula. For a series as wild, unpredictable, and bizarre as JoJo’s, that idea of normalcy is counter to the very essence of the series. Reality itself, the Joestar bloodline, and the chaotic element that characterizes the world of JoJo’s is all put at stake in this arc, and the result literally and permanently changes JoJo’s as we know it forever.

Steel Ball Run was not originally labeled as a part of JoJo’s when it first started in Shonen Jump. It was only when it moved to Ultra Jump that it was revealed as it’s seventh part. It’s highly possible that Stone Ocean was meant to be the final arc and culmination of the entire series. We’ll never know this for sure until Araki comments on the matter, but the arc itself makes a damn good case for it. It concludes the long-standing blood-feud between the Joestar clan and Dio Brando, presents a different take on the standard JoJo’s formula, has a main protagonist encompassing the best parts of those before her, and ends in a way that gives a real sense of finality. It encompasses the best of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and everything great about it, and we feel it is hence a worthy representative for the entire series, and one of the best story arcs in the medium, which is why it’s on our list. ~Cartoon X

#12. Karma (Phoenix)

Creator: Osamu Tezuka
Original Years of Publication: 1969-1970
Manga: Volume #4
Japanese Publisher: COM
North American Publisher: Viz Media

Though Osamu Tezuka was purportedly agnostic, many of his works are nonetheless deeply spiritual. They often feature explorations of moral issues as well as existential musings on life and death. Religion and religious themes are often used in several of them as means to explore these moral and mortal concepts, such as the use of christianity in Ode to Kirihito and MW, for instance. But Tezuka seemed to have a curiously pronounced interest in buddhism, in particular. Specifically, in the ideas of karmic retribution, and reincarnation. These concepts are explored in detail in two of his works in particular; Buddha, a fictional epic detailing the birth of buddhism and the life of the Buddha himself, and Phoenix, a work meant to be his magnum opus. Phoenix is not really a single narrative, rather, it is a collection of several different stories, taking place in different time periods, connected together by the presence of the titular Phoenix in each. Tezuka used this loose format to tell several diverse tales from all sorts of genres, while exploring new ways of comic storytelling through innovative panel arrangements and breathtaking artwork. And of these stories, it is widely agreed the best is the fifth, referred to in the Viz edition as “Karma.”

It’s an apt name, for the story centers around the contrasted lives of two men whose actions income to shape their spiritual fates. The story begins tracking the birth and early life of Gao, a one-eyed, one-armed boy who was disfigured in an accident when he was only a baby, leaving his father dead, his mother mad, and himself an object of hatred and discrimination in his village, and regarded as an inhuman monster. One day, the pent-up anger dwelling in Gao breaks loose, and he goes on a murderous rampage, ultimately becoming a cruel, merciless criminal, killing and stealing whatever he can to survive. One day he crosses paths with Akanemaru, a buddhist scholar, and this fated encounter changes these two mens’ lives forever. For as both go their separate paths in life, a series of circumstances lead both to become wood carvers, masters of their craft, and enter spiritual journeys in which they come to learn of the cycle of reincarnation, and the concept of karma. But whereas one’s path in life leads to reverence, respect, and fulfillment, the other’s leads to nothing but empty riches, loneliness, and eternal regret.

“Karma” is a work of complicated morals, and unexpected fates. And it really embodies it’s namesake. Every action and every trial the two characters suffer every come back to them in some form, good deeds rewarded with good, bad deeds with bad, times of suffering with those of joy, and vice-versa. It’s a testament to the unexpected way our lives can turn out, and how things do not always go as we wish, for good or not. Yet everything has a grand purpose in the overall scheme of things. Both characters learn this when they come to learn the idea of reincarnation, where they discover their ultimate fates in later lives. For Gao, he will never escape suffering in any of his lives, but he comes to appreciate the fact he lives and the beauty of the world surrounding him, and devotes his life to helping those around him as long as he can. Akanemaru, however, does not become resigned to his fate. Staying alive becomes an idea that consumes him as he chases the Phoenix, the ultimate embodiment of eternal life, and ends up abandoning his ideals to become a vassal for a morally corrupt lord who cares nothing for religion but only status. Gao, in his suffering, comes out a better person, able to craft works of considerable skill and soul, which leave a lasting impact and help people. Akanemaru, instead, creates works carved exclusively as symbols of his retainer’s power, useless displays in the face of the suffering of the people around him, and turning a symbol of religion into a wholly political one, begetting the artistic integrity that once drove him.

The narrative explores a wide variety of moral and spiritual ideas, but the central thesis of it is basically this; devote one’s life to doing good and you will find happiness, but live selfishly and you will suffer in turn. A particularly interesting aspect of the story is Tezuka’s social and historical commentary, drawing parallels to how religion can be corrupted as a political tool, and lose sense of it’s original, meaningful purpose. What it means to be religious and the value of religion is explored in the story through some characters who embrace it’s teachings through their actions, while other characters cling to it superficially to serve their objectives. Tezuka ties this idea back into the value of life, and what one does with one’s life, and the difference shows clearly when Gao and Akanemaru cross paths again for the final time; both are masters of their craft, but only one creates works that are truly immortal. The original japanese name for this arc was “Hououhen,” in reference to the titular Phoenix, which is appropriate, considering it features the most symbolic use of the Phoenix in any of the stories. Both main characters try to understand why they live, when life seems to exist only to die. The Phoenix is a constant, representing the “is” that is life; that it will always be, always precious, forever fleeting. It is nature itself, and our relationship with it, and a cycle of life and death that will always exist until the end of time.  One embraces this, the other does not, and ultimately, their choices in life are reflected in the legacy they leave behind.

“Karma” is a fascinating work. Not just for it’s deeply complex narrative, but also because of the way Tezuka tells it. In “Karma,” Tezuka shows off the skills of a master story teller, with an incredible use of panels and layouts, spectacularly rendered landscapes, gripping action scenes, and many powerfully depicted sequences featuring some of the best artwork in any of Tezuka’s works, and really, in any comic out there. It fully takes advantage of the medium to create a powerful piece of dramatic storytelling through sequential art, in a way that is solely, wholly Tezuka. “Karma” reflects Tezuka’s greatest qualities as a creator and a master of the medium, and stands as one of the greatest works he ever wrote, and possibly one of the best graphic novels ever published in general. If you were to read any part of Phoenix, or any work of Tezuka’s, let this be the one you experience. It is a fine testament to comics’ greatest potential as a medium of art and storytelling, something Tezuka strove to show throughout his life, and was surely proud to have proven. ~Cartoon X

#11. As Long As Love Lasts (Maison Ikkoku)

Creator: Rumiko Takahashi
Original Years of Publication: 1984-1987
Manga: Volumes #9-15, Chapters #87-161
Anime: Episodes #53-96
Studio: Studio Deen
Japanese Publisher: Shogakukan (Big Comic Spirits)
North American Publisher: Viz Media (Formerly/Out of Print)
North American Distributor: Viz Media (Formerly/Out of Print)
Recommended Version: Anime

I’ve seen many anime/manga since I became a fan, and though there are many anime/manga romance series out there, I’ve found that genuine, believable romances are few and far between. This is particularly true if the series is mostly comedic instead of dramatic, and if the will they/won’t they element of the relationship drags too much. I think what a lot of what these kind of series should be doing is not focusing so much on the characters becoming a couple, but instead showing how they develop as one. The build-up to them realizing/admitting they both love each other and getting together is fine, but it’d be more interesting to see how the characters make a relationship work and how that turns out, which most anime/manga just tend to skip. But when it comes to romance series in anime/manga, the one I think possibly everyone who sees it agrees it’s great is Maison Ikkoku. That might sound surprising, considering Rumiko Takahashi is known for her goofy humor and stalled relationships in her shonen mangas. And it’s not like it doesn’t take a while for Godai and Kyoko to finally get together in the seinin Ikkoku, either, even though the series is a couple hundred chapters shorter than any of her shonen works. In fact, they don’t really become a couple until about the end. Yet, no one ever complains about this. Why? Well, the relationship between the two, and what they go through in the series, is presented and developed in a way that makes this entirely believable. The characters recognize their feelings for each other early on, but are hesitant and wait to become a couple for understandable reasons. What’s more, the characters themselves are well-developed and characterized throughout the series, and the pay-off succeeds in making the build-up completely worth it. But perhaps Maison Ikkoku’s biggest strength as an anime/manga romance series is the fact that it is not solely about the romance.

Before I elaborate any further, I guess I should point out how exactly we’ve divided Ikkoku into an arc. Well, you guys know how the Trigun anime is like, right? This is sorta like that. Essentially, the series was comprised of shorter, more comedic story-lines for most of it’s first half, with slow but sure character and plot development, but not many too serious stories and generally moved along at a leisurely pace. But, around when Godai lands a student-teaching job and the character Yagami enters the story, the series noticeably changes. The story moves with rapid-fire new consequential plot developments, character arcs are being pushed forward much faster, and story-lines become much more inter-connected. The series starts to drop episodic comedic chapters/episodes and focuses more on more serious serial ones. While one could make the argument that you could divide up this section of the story into even more specific arcs, because all the plot-threads are so inter-connected and returned to during it’s entirety, it just makes sense to consider it as one, whole story arc. As for where the name came from, I took it from the first half of the last anime episodes’ title, “As Long As This Love Lasts! Ikkoku-kan is Forever…!!”

And hey, it’s a fitting descriptor. Love drives so many of the characters of Maison Ikkoku. It’s what makes Godai try so hard to find a good job. It’s what makes Yagami go so out of her way to help him find one. It’s what makes Mitaka determined to overcome a long-held phobia. It’s what makes Asuna overcome her shyness and actively pursue a relationship with him. And it’s what keeps Kyoko so conflicted as to whether she should move on in her life, and how long she should wait. Love encourages the characters, confuses them, breaks them down, and helps them become better people. It’s a powerful motivator, one that sees them through good times and bad.

But there’s not only romantic love at play here. There’s the filial love of Yukari Godai for her grandson, that make her help him out and push along his relationship with Kyoko, or that of a mother who seemingly abandons her children, only to return for them later as promised. There’s the love the pre-school kids have for Godai, and Godai’s love for teaching and playing with them. And let’s not forget about the residents of Ikkoku’s love for the place they live in, their one and only home. In Maison Ikkoku, love takes many forms, and comes about in many ways. It’s not always sweet, or straightforward, and it’s often frustrating, but it’s always there for you, whether you realize it or not. What you love, and who you love, are the backbones that help support you and keep you going no matter how tough things are for you in life.

That’s the thing that makes this arc special, what makes Maison Ikkoku the classic it’s regarded as. It’s not just a love story; it’s also a story about life. The arc sees Yusaku Godai struggle to find work, to finish college, and manage the relationships he has with the people around him. And it’s not easy. Few anime or manga can really be called relatable, but you’d be darned not to feel for Godai as he suffers and deals with rejection, experience the joy when he discovers the thing he loves to do, and then be just as crushed when he finds out there aren’t any jobs out there for him. It takes a lot of work, a lot of luck, and a lot of perseverance for Godai to finally achieve a steady job, and throughout the experience he sees brief glimpses of hope and disappointment from prospective interviews, job recommendations, and several side-jobs just to make ends meet. It’s one hell of an emotional roller coaster, and it’s an experience that rings true no matter who you are.

But that is just Godai. What about the other characters? Let’s start with Kyoko. She’s happy in her job as the manager of Ikkoku, and to be surrounded by many good friends who care about her. But though the years change and she grows closer to Godai and Mitaka, she still finds herself to reluctant to move on out of lingering loyalty for her first, young love. But she is also bothered about what she wants to do in life, whether she’s really happy being single, or being manager of Ikkoku, for the rest of her days. And if she were to date or marry one of her suitors, is there a guarantee she will be happy? Or, worse, will she have to forget that first love and the people associated with it, and leave those memories lost deep in her mind in order to make one work? She’s afraid of that happening, but knows if she waits too long, she might lose many people she holds close to her, and her impulsiveness and indecisiveness in matters in the story ultimately costs her many opportunities and choices. As for Mitaka, he makes tremendous strides to overcome a phobia he’s held since childhood. But once he’s overcome it, he finds he has new suitors, especially one hand-picked by his relatives personally. But can he just abandon a relationship he’s worked so hard to create without it even beginning? Can he continue to wait forever for a woman who cannot make a choice, and marry someone he doesn’t love, or is afraid to fall in love with, for equally stubborn reasons? Mitaka finds himself increasingly reluctant to continue his laid-back, bachelor life-style. He wants to settle down as quickly as possible, but is forced into a position where he must chose between love and convenience.

The characters in Maison Ikkoku experience tough challenges that anyone might face in their lives, and ask themselves tough questions that we all ask at least some point in them. Though their struggles are deeply personal, they are presented in ways that prove highly relatable. The arc tracks a specific portion of Godai’s life, where he must finally grow up and become his own man. During this time, other characters are going though their own new transitions in life, and the conflicts that arise as they adjust drive the story, affect each other, and effect the ways each of they lives turn out. But it’s not all serious, and the characters aren’t always in the worst of times. Life is not like that, after all. There is still plenty of humor, funny surprises, and intimate pleasures even in the roughest of times, and this helps make both the dramatic and the joyful events in the story stand out, and have a resounding impact. And through it all, the thing that helps the characters push forward is the love they have for one another. Nosy family members, sometimes frustrating but sometimes helpful friends, a place one is happy to call home; all of these support the characters as they walk towards new paths in life.

So, why does Masion Ikkoku succeed as a romance series? Because it understands there is more to love than just the feeling. Though few of the characters officially engage in a steady relationship until the end, they suffer through all the trials and tribulations of one during the period, knowing each other intimately by the end of the story, and maturing as people and forging stronger relationships because of their experiences. Moreover, the story tracks not just the development of these relationships, but how these characters change through a 8-year period of their lives, and sees them overcome every obstacle and struggle it takes to make it and survive in an adult world. It’s a story about the changes one goes through in their life, including the ones that suddenly happen without us seeing them coming, and how we have to adjust and move forward. It’s about how any obstacle or problem in one’s life can be overcome with dedication and the help of people who care about you. It’s a love story about two people, one struggling to become an adult and working towards his future, the other one already thrust into adulthood but stuck in her past, and it’s also a story about the lives of these two people and how their relationship with each other affects them for the better. It’s a story about how important love is in our lives, whatever that love may be. These facets are what make this series stand the test of time as a classic of the medium, and one of the highest-praised anime/manga romantic comedies, and anime/manga in general, there is. And it’s the highest ranked non-action oriented arc on our list for that very reason. There are few, if any, other arcs in anime or manga that feel so true to life as Maison Ikkoku’s manages to be. ~Cartoon X

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2014
09.12

#20. Kyoto (Rurouni Kenshin)

Creator: Nobuhiro Watsuki
Original Years of Publication: 1994-1997
Manga: Chapters #48-151
Anime: (Rurouni Kenshin) Episodes #28-62
Studio: Studio Gallop
Japanese Publisher: Shueisha (Weekly Shonen Jump)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: Aniplex of America
Streaming: Crunchyroll, Hulu
Recommended Version: Manga

Oh, come on. You can’t tell me you haven’t seen or read this yet? Rurouni Kenshin, known as one of the best manga series out there, and one of the most influential, is a story about a wandering ex-samurai looking for his place in the new world he helped create. He settles in with a group of friends and begins to help them through through tough times as the new era is beginning. However, they wonder about his past as he never seems to talk about no matter how often it comes up. Then an old face comes knocking and everything changes. What is revealed about Kenshin Himura’s past is the catalyst for the Kyoto arc, and when the manga goes from being pretty good to being an outright classic.

Rurouni Kenshin’s main theme is suffering, repentance, and living on, all within nearly the same moment. The characters throughout the story Kenshin encounters are usually either perfectly content (or discontent) with their lives as they live in the present and try to make ends meet, and it is up to him to help them find their place as he feels responsible for their predicament. After these adventures, he attracts attention and a wolf comes knocking at the door to remind him and the world of the past that will not die. The Kyoto arc involves a band of mercenaries of a fading era attempting to regain control of a world that has left them to die . . . in more ways than one. Kenshin, as the vanguard for the new era, and his ragtag group are the only ones that can stop their plans before the world is dragged back into the fire it barely escaped from the first time.

Now, most anyone who reads manga or watches anime has heard of this series, if they have not experienced it. It is well regarded as a classic, and this is the arc that shows why that is. Now, there have been far too many adaptions of this arc (to the exclusion of other top shelf material from the anime, unfortunately) to go through, but the only one worth your time outside of the original manga is the anime series adaption (as long as you stop watching when the arc ends) the rest vary in quality, with one OVA that outright spits right in the face of the themes from the original, so tread wisely.

What else can be said but that this is one of the best and most popular arcs in all of manga and anime? It has earned that popularity for a very good reason, so don’t miss out. ~Spark of Spirit

#19. York New City (Hunter X Hunter)

Creator: Yoshihiro Togashi
Original Years of Publication: 2000-2002
Manga: Chapters #67-128
Anime: Hunter X Hunter (Original) Episodes #48-70, Hunter X Hunter (Reboot) Episodes #39-59
Studio: Nippon Animation (Original), Madhouse (Reboot)
Japanese Publisher: Shueisha (Weekly Shonen Jump)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: Viz Media
Streaming: Crunchyroll, Netflix
Recommended Version: First Anime

Yoshihiro Togashi has a bit of reputation among fans of anime and manga for being aloof. No, aloof isn’t the right word. Eccentric is a better one. A man as known for his shocking laziness as he is for shocking plot twists, in the world of shonen there is nobody really like him out there. Hunter X Hunter is his current long running epic known as much for its creativity as it surprising story turns, and York New City is the best of them and exemplifies the best aspects of Togashi’s skills.

Explaining the entire story of Hunter X Hunter would require an education in how the hunter license works, how the Phantom Troupe (the enemies of our heroes) operate, and all the various story threads that lead to this point. But we already have a series for that, so let’s just say we’re coming in mid-story with this arc. Kurapika, one of our main characters, is hunting down the criminal group that slaughtered his people and cut out their eyes to make a profit. In his journey he ropes in our other main characters as well as mercenaries who are hired by the mob for a task of their own in his bid for vengeance. What ends up happening is a standoff between multiple groups of characters all looking to off one another, and the plot twists . . . well, let’s just say that you will never see the ending coming.

What you will see a lot of in this arc is wanton death and destruction, so if you have a weak stomach, you should beware. Togashi is not shy about killing characters he introduced moments before or surprising you by killing someone you didn’t expect at the strangest moments. Considering this is an arc dealing with the criminal underworld and one character’s slide into darkness, expect a lot of bad people to do a lot of bad things. Oh yeah, and Gon making friendship speeches. Be sure to expect that.

Here’s a story with more twists and turns than any shonen this side of Death Note, and one that will keep you glued to the screen (or the pages) throughout. Hunter X Hunter might have a bit of mixed reception as a whole, but that doesn’t stop this arc from being one of the best arcs out there. Be wary that the first anime series tapers off into OVAs, so to finish the arc you will have to venture a bit further, but it is worth the time. ~Spark of Spirit

#18. Namek (Dragon Ball)

Creator: Akira Toriyama
Original Years of Publication: 1990-1991
Manga: Volumes #21-28, Chapters #242-329
Anime: Dragon Ball Z Episodes #36-107, Dragon Ball Kai Episodes #18-54
Studio: Toei Animation
Japanese Publisher: Shueisha (Weekly Shonen Jump)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: FUNimation
Streaming: Daisuki, FUNimation, Hulu
Recommended Version: Manga

Perhaps the most famous arc of the Dragon Ball series, the Namek arc took the intensity of the previous Saiyan arc and ratcheted the stakes up to even greater proportions. An impressive feat, since the fight against the Saiyans was one of increasing desperation, showing many of the series’ strongest fighters fall one by one in futility against the alien invaders. Yet, as fierce as that situation was, the Namek arc finds our heroes against even greater peril. Not only is their archenemy Vegeta recovered, vengeful, and searching for the dragon balls that they need to bring their dead friends back to life, but his ex-employer, the intergalactic overlord Freeza, has learned of the dragon balls’ existence and now seeks them for himself. Soon the two begin a bloody power-struggle on the planet Namek, slaughtering hordes of it’s powerless population in their wake, with Goku’s son Gohan and his friends caught helplessly in the middle.

Though typically most remembered for it’s impressively long final fight, the Namek arc boasts a much deeper plot than it is often given credit for. Whereas Goku and friends never backed down to a fight in previous arcs, the insane difference in power between them and their foes force them to stay under the radar and concoct plans designed not to defeat their enemies but set them back enough to buy time in order to get the dragon balls for themselves and make their wish before either Freeza or Vegeta can. This ultimately leads to a lot of stealth and strategy, as the characters go through great lengths to avoid encountering Vegeta or Freeza’s minions. Instead, much of the conflict early on follows Vegeta, who takes the role of an anti-villain, with his encounters with Freeza and his men and his maneuvers to steal the dragon balls from him front and center. Dragon Ball is famous for having many of it’s villains team up with the heroes after their introductory arc, but Vegeta is notable for never truly becoming a “good guy” at any point in this arc. Rather, he is as violent and villainous as before, but is still presented as a protagonist, and we see new sides to his character that make him worth rooting for even before he allies with Goku and friends. For the first half of the Namek arc the conflict is strictly villain against villain as Vegeta takes out Freeza’s goons while slowly collecting the dragon balls, while Gohan and Krillin lurk around taking whatever chance they can to get stronger and set back their enemies’ plans.

It’s a situation that at once hearkens to the both the adventure-driven element of the early arcs and the serious power-fights introduced in it’s recent ones, while presenting a new and original structure to the series’ formula. It’s hard to think of many other arcs in a battle shonen series where the heroes and even the villains try their best to avoid fighting each other, which not only serves to increase the suspense that permeates the arc, but makes each battle that occurs intense and engrossing. Adding to the tension is the sheer magnitude of what’s on the line. In the Saiyan arc the fate of the earth and everyone on it was at stake. Here? Freeza threatens not only to wipe out Namek but to crush the entire galaxy under his three-toed claw. If he gets the dragon balls and becomes immortal, he will continue to wipe out and destroy innocent lives across the universe. Combine this threat with the mystery behind his immeasurable power, his chillingly aggressive politeness, and the cool confidence of an intelligent businessman (fun fact: Akira Toriyama based his character on real estate speculators, which he considered to be “the worst sort of people”), and you have what is the most terrifying villain in the series, and the threat he posses feels real in a way that was simply unrivaled by those before him, and quite frankly, those after. And it’s one of the biggest things that sets this arc apart. The story that began as the comedic adventures of a monkey-tailed country bumpkin became a story about a fated hero fighting against the reach of the most powerful evil in all the galaxy, to avenge fallen innocents including his own people, and save others from his reign of terror. Later arcs in the series boasted even stronger villains, but with much less ambitious motives and hence far less at stake. There is no equal to the moment where Goku finally meets Freeza face to face, being the only one left who can defeat an enemy that had to be stopped at all costs.

There is this rumor that exists among fans that Akira Toriyama planned to stop the series after the Namek arc. This has always been an unconfirmed and exaggerated claim that is simply not true. Yet, reading this arc for the first time, you might very well think it was. The Namek arc feels like a culmination of everything in Dragon Ball. It is the last time the dragon balls are integral to the series’ plot, it elevates the scale of the central conflict to previously unimaginable proportions, and it incorporates several elements that present a sense of finality. Some might feel the battle with Freeza goes on too long, and indeed, it is in fact the longest fight in the entire manga, and even disregarding the filler added to it in the anime adaption. But considering everything this arc is about, and the entire saga of Dragon Ball up to this point, it feels only natural that it is so. The Namek arc might not be the best in the series, but it takes it to places in it’s story and character development that no other arc ever had or ever did later on, and remains one of the most iconic and influential arcs in anime or manga history. It’s placement on this list is more than well-deserved. ~Cartoon X

#17. Rikiishi Tooru (Ashita no Joe)

Creators: Asaki Takamori, Tetsuya Chiba
Original Years of Publication: 1969-1970
Manga: Volumes #7-9
Anime: Episodes #40-53
Studio: Mushi Production
Japanese Publisher: Kodansha (Weekly Shonen Magazine)
Recommended Version: Manga

Rivals. Whether born out of hate or respect, they push each other to become better than they can possibly be, each one gunning to prove themselves to the other in an eventual showdown, to see which of them is truly the best. There is no lack of examples in anime or manga, as pretty much every battle-shonen series and sports series have them. A truly great rivalry is a rare occurrence, but the best rivalries leave a lasting impact, as they can lead to some truly strong character development, and some powerful moments in a story, earning it iconic status. Perhaps the greatest rivalry in the medium is found in one of the greatest and most influential series there ever was: Ashita no Joe. And that rivalry is none other than the one between titular protagonist Joe Yabuki and this arc’s titular character, Rikiishi Tooru.

Though AnJ is virtually unknown among most anime/manga fans in the west, Ashita no Joe is fondly remembered in Japan to this day, and the rivalry between Joe and Rikiishi is as iconic and it was influential. It’s not hard to see why, as both characters found in each other someone who could motivate them to become better boxers like no other, creating a profound relationship unlike any other rivalry in the medium. It fundamentally drives the entire first act of the series. It was only through his desire to beat Rikiishi in a fight that Joe started taking boxing seriously, fully embracing the sport and resolving to become a professional boxer. Rikiishi, though already a high-ranked pro-boxer of considerable reputation and skill, was nonetheless impressed by Joe’s potential and tenacity, and found in him a true challenge worthy of him. And so Joe set out to become a successful professional boxer, one worthy to fight Rikiishi in a professional match. It was a tough road, the odds set against Joe from the start, just to get in the ring, and even beyond that, to win fights against veteran opponents filled with ambition and experience. But Joe’s ambition to fight Rikiishi kept him going, and made the impossible happen. And after a tough match, where Joe proved his mettle, Rikiishi was more than impressed, he was awed by Joe’s skill. He was the real deal, and opponent that would truly challenge him like none other in his boxing career. And so, the fight between the two was arranged, which leads to this arc.

Up until this point, Joe was the one taking the initiative in the rivalry, with Rikiishi providing inspiration and encouragement. But the Rikiishi Tooru arc is aptly named, for a large amount of focus is on Rikiishi’s preparations for the match. Most rivalries have the two characters just try to get stronger than each other, but Rikiishi would be grateful to have that problem. The world of boxing is a harsh one, where weak wills do not survive, and sacrifices must be made. In this profession, people can become crippled for life, or even die. And in order to simply be able to fight Joe, Rikiishi must go through a fasting like no other. It’s one thing to simply lose a little weight, but with Rikiishi’s body type, he has to become a bantamweight, three whole weight classes below his own. Rikiishi pushes his body to his absolute breaking points, and his fast and harsh training conditions puts him through a true living hell, with Chiba’s brilliant artwork capturing every pained expression on his face and every minute detail on his thin, bony body.

As anyone who has tried to lose a little weight can tell you, it’s hard, very hard. Contrasting Rikiishi’s plight in the story is a short sub-plot featuring Joe’s friend Nishii, who finds himself unable to endure his diet, and ultimately resorts to sneaking out for a bite in the middle of the night. Rikiishi is way leaner than Nishi as it is, though. He was perfectly healthy for his weight class. Losing more pounds requires him to eat and drink virtually nothing, training in bulky, heavy clothes in a hot room. Even in this living hell, Rikiishi does not ease up on his training, working tirelessly in these conditions each day to lose weight and prepare for the match. Unlike Nishi, Rikiishi’s will and determination is strong, and he resists all temptations put before him, and ignores the pleas of the Shiraki’s, who fear his training is endangering his life. But Rikiishi knows that Joe worked hard to become a professional boxer, and he desires to return the favor. His rival is not slouching off either. Seeing Rikiishi work himself half-to-death, single-minded in honing his strategy to seal Joe’s fighting techniques, makes the normally brash, overconfident Joe worried about if he’s truly a match for him. But determined to give the greatest fight of his life, Joe works himself doubly hard, his body beaten to a mash of bloody and sweat in his training sessions, all to be able to match Rikiishi’s skills in the ring.

For both characters, this fight is the most important event of their lives, taking precedence above anything else. Rikiishi feels he cannot aim for the championship without settling things with Joe once and for all, while for Joe, Rikiishi is his goal, beating him his purpose for becoming a boxer in the first place. They are willing to go through any lengths in order to defeat the other, and this conflict proves as awe-inspiring and gripping as their battle itself. What Rikiishi puts himself through is painful to see, and leads to some memorable scenes, including a brilliant moment where he nearly breaks down and sacrifices everything he worked for just for a glass of water. The fight itself is just as incredible as the set-up, both fighters pushing themselves to their limits, struggling to adapt to the other’s fighting strategy, ultimately culminating in an intense battle of wills, where the first one to make a move is sure to be the one to lose. These characters have undergone tough struggles, and have come a long way as both people and boxers since their first encounter, each other’s influence bettering the other, and the Rikiishi Tooru arc provides a gripping conclusion to the inspiring rivalry between them.

But perhaps even more remarkable than the core of the arc is the aftermath. As stated before, the boxing world is a harsh one, and after what these characters went through, there had to be consequences. And these consequences devastate the characters, and forces Joe into his lowest point, ending the first part of this series on a tearful, solemn note, and leaving a lasting impact that affects the remainder of the series as well. I hesitate to say more, but I will tell you that the reaction to this arc was so powerful when it was first published in Japan that it led to a real-life event honoring one of the series’ characters. That’s just how much that character, and this series, meant to readers in it’s day, a reaction that really hasn’t been quite rivaled by anything else since. The rivalry between Joe and Rikiishi is just that strong. And this arc is it’s definitive moment. The Rikiishi Tooru arc is an iconic, influential, and important arc in anime/manga history; an unforgettable piece of storytelling that helped make Ashita no Joe into the masterpiece it is, and will be forever lauded as. ~Cartoon X

#16. D-Reaper (Digimon Tamers)

Series Creator: Chiaki J. Konaka
Originally Aired: 2001-2002
Anime: (Digimon Tamers) Episodes #38-51
Studio: Toei Animation
North American Distributor: Saban Entertainment
Streaming: Netflix

Yes, there is a kid show on this list. Get over it. Anyone who has ever seen this show or arc know why it’s here. You see, Digimon made its name from a digital game that was seen as the competitor for Pokemon back in the late-90s, not really succeeding taking a piece of the pie, except in one area. It’s generally agreed upon that the anime for Digimon has almost always, outside of stray exceptions, been the superior of the two. The first three seasons in particular are well known for their adventure-filled plots, character dynamics, and inventive transformations, but also in the knowledge that they are really well crafted. The first season of Digimon (Digimon Adventure) was a surprise hit that lead to a somewhat rushed second season that didn’t quite satisfy, but opened the door to what is regularly considered the franchise peak. That would be third season, Digimon Tamers.

Digimon’s heavy character focus is usually sharp, but even more so in this season. The events of the series thus far has lead our heroes, villains, and supporting cast to the final threat against their world, a being that exists only to destroy, the D-Reaper. It escaped from the Digital World where the virus was most prevalent, attaching itself to those in despair who the enemy can manipulate for its own ends. When it arrives in the real world, it is up to everybody in the world to fight back, and fight back they do. From heroic sacrifices, to self-discovery, to forging new bonds, the D-Reaper storyline encompasses all the best of children’s entertainment while still being deep enough to interest the older crowd. One second you’ll be seeing a discussion on the importance of life and trust and the next there will be a climactic battle with a venomous parasite that ends in buildings being destroyed. Digimon, and children’s cartoons, rarely get better than this.

Sure, okay, it’s a tie-in for a video game series. So what? That doesn’t preclude bad writing or a show worth ignoring. Digimon has frequently astounded anime fans with its surprising level of entertainment since day one. If you haven’t been watching it because of the dollar signs and advertisements for other products clouding your judgement, you’re missing out. Digimon Tamers is well worth your time, and the D-Reaper story is the peak of the entire franchise that it will most likely never match. ~Spark of Spirit

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2014
09.11

#25. Ending Day by Day (Full Metal Panic!)

Creator: Shoji Gatoh
Original Years of Publication: 2000-2001
Light Novel: Volumes #4-5
Manga: (Full Metal Panic! Sigma) Volumes #1-3, Chapters #1-12
Anime: (Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid) Episodes #1-13
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Japanese Publisher: Fujimi Shobo (Fujimi Fantasia Bunko/Light Novel, Monthly Dragon Magazine/Manga)
North American Publisher: Tokyopop [Defunct] (Light Novel)
North American Distributor: FUNimation Entertainment
Streaming: FUNimation
Recommended Version: Anime

Full Metal Panic! was a series of light novels that ran from 1998-2010 (and is still ongoing via a spin-off series by a different author). It was fairly popular with Japanese readers and had its first 3 main-story volumes adapted into an anime by Studio Gonzo. It was well-done and entertaining, but ultimately not that memorable, much like the source material was up to this point. However, all great stories will hit their stride eventually, if not right away, and with this franchise it was definitely with the EDBD light novels. To be clear, this is a series with an insanely complex and convoluted publication history….ESPECIALLY when it comes to international licensers and the various formats that it has been adapted to (including multiple manga series). And this isn’t even taking into account the numerous short-story compilation novels that make up a bulk of the series’ content past the main story-line.

The point of this little history lesson being that with so many different hands passing this property around, it is simply amazing that it didn’t become an utter incoherent mess in translation. What’s even more amazing is that Kyoto Animation, with the assistance of Shoji Gatoh himself in the scripting department, managed to take the series’ first great story arc and make it even better, albeit taking some healthy liberties with the story and characters while remaining mostly faithful to the source material. In this 13-episode story, the series’ main protagonist, Souske Sagara, finds himself finally starting to adjust to the life of a normal, modern, everyday Japanese high school student. Naturally, that wouldn’t make for a very interesting story, so shit goes seriously wrong for his “esteemed colleagues” at the mercenary group, MITHRIL, pretty quick. The ensuing conflict forces Souske to part with his close friend and developing love interest, Kaname, and puts both characters down a dark and foreboding path that takes them out of their comfort zone into dangerous territory where each has to step up fast to survive, or die in the process.

What makes this such a great story arc is that it does precisely what the middle portion of any long-running series should. If the beginning was a light-hearted introduction of the characters and the set-up of future events to come, then the middle is the start of these future events unfolding, and it takes these characters into substantially less light-hearted territory. Not just our main leads, but the entire cast is forced to evolve to deal with a rapidly worsening situation, where the specifics of the plot are loaded with nuanced details and plenty of twists and turns. Yet, in all of this, the real emphasis is always on the characters, and it’s as a character piece that this arc will keep you watching through all 13-episodes without a break. That, and it doesn’t hurt that there is a ton of bad-ass giant robot action to go around. Yeah….this is a mecha anime….which says a lot about how invested I was in everything else great about it to momentarily forget that. As a continuation of the series, it elevates the stakes to new heights for the fans. As a stand-alone piece, it’s just undeniably good entertainment. Either way, it’s one of the greatest anime story arcs ever told, at least in our collective opinion. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

#24. Magnostadt (Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic)

Creator: Shinobu Ohtaka
Original Years of Publication: 2012-2013
Manga: Volumes #16-20, Chapters #149-198
Anime: (Magi: The Kingdom of Magic) Episodes #38-50
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Japanese Publisher: Shogakukan (Weekly Shonen Sunday)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: Aniplex of America
Streaming: Crunchyroll, Hulu, Neon Alley
Recommended Version: Manga

So, imagine if you took a series like Harry Potter, mixed it with elements of middle-eastern folklore and fairy-tales, and then blended it with certain elements and the grand scale of fantasy epics such as The Lord of the Rings and A a Song of Ice and Fire. That’s pretty much the Magnostadt arc in a nutshell, and yes, it’s every bit as amazing as it sounds. The arc plays out in two distinct halves: the first portion deals with our main protagonist Aladdin attending a magic school (with its own ass-hole version of Dumbledore, to boot!) in the kingdom of magic, Magnostadt. What initially seems like a utopia for mages quickly turns into a dark mystery for Aladdin and his friends to uncover, which they do in finding out just how this kingdom treats its lower-class, non-magic citizens. However, whereas most generic shounen would treat this as a 1-dimensional conflict, no clear answer is presented hear. The people may be hidden underground and stripped of freedom as life energy is slowly drawn from them throughout their lives to power the great city, but they are also cared for and are mostly none-the-wiser to their predicament since most have never known the outside world. Is it right to keep a people contained if most are content with their status only by being oblivious to any other way of life?

Well, let our heroes be damned if they have any time to think about it. As stated, the world of Magi is as grandiose as many great fantasy epics, and the turmoil and long historical conflict between Magnostadt and the mighty Liam Empire looms dreadfully over the horizon. The outbreak of war between the two nations which was built up throughout the arc finally forces them to clash, with Aladdin and his friends stuck in the middle of a struggle in which they don’t ideologically support either side, yet must work to defend their people. This alone is enough for greatness, but the story only ratchets up its intensity to world-shattering levels (literally), and while this easily could have become a convoluted mess in lesser hands, the strong narrative manages to flow seamlessly from beginning to end. This makes for what is easily one of the most unique and unforgettable arcs to ever come out of a shounen manga. Admittedly, its one weakness may be that it relies heavily on build-up from previous story-lines, making it poor viewing as a stand-alone arc, but as a general piece of entertainment, it is arguably unrivaled by most contemporaries in its genre. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

#23. Fujiyama Gangsta Paradise (Black Lagoon)

Creator: Rei Hiroe
Original Years of Publication: 2005-2006
Manga: Chapters #22-37
Anime: (Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage) Episodes #19-24
Studio: Madhouse
Japanese Publisher: Shogakukan (Monthly Sunday Gene-X)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: Geneon [Defunct], FUNimation Entertainment
Streaming: FUNimation
Recommended Version: Anime

Pop Quiz: What do you get when you combine the stylistic gun-toting action of a John Woo movie (An actual Cantonese John Woo film, that is) with the dark humor of a Tarantino film, top it off with the thoughtfulness and character depth of a(n) [insert whichever non-pretentious director that you want to, here] film, and present it all in glorious animated form? Well, naturally it’s something awesome, but more specifically, it’s this very arc. In this story we see our two main characters, from the Lagoon Company, travel to Rock’s own homeland of Japan (on “business,” of course). From there the story takes dark turns into the depths of our lead character Rock, as well as our main female lead Revy (albeit to a lesser extent).

In the case of Rock, he is presented with an immediate contrast to the life he has grown accustomed to living as an outlaw in the town of Roanapur in China. Having lived most of his life in his comfort zone as an everyday, ordinary salaryman, he had been utterly tempted to go back to that lifestyle in previous arcs, almost regretting his decision to become an outlaw in the vein of being distressed with his corrupt higher-ups and basically having to be their bitch everyday of his life. Yet, he remembers how much simpler and less life-threatening (in terms of the “oh my god, I could die any day living among these crazy fuckers!” sort of way that he’s become accustomed to as part of the Lagoon Company), and is finally presented with an opportunity to go back to it. Interestingly enough, this is such a contrast for him because it is only now that he realizes how alien it all feels to him, and this is where both him and the viewer really get a feel for how much he has changed as a character in a relatively short amount of time.

What enhances this conflict even further is the character of Yukio, the leader of a lowly Yakuza group in Japan who happens to be the “business” that Rock is being used for in the first place (albeit as a measly translator). She is in many ways an analogue of his character, having once been stuck between pursuing a normal life or sinking into the depths of the criminal underworld. Her whole character is a representation of the latter path, and she even brings it up to Rock that he is at a pivotal point in his life and needs to decisively make his own decision on the matter. It’s particularly interesting and simultaneously tragic as the two characters have so much in common, yet Rock can clearly see that Yukio genuinely loathes the life that she chose, even if she won’t openly admit it, but he also acknowledges that going back to his or her former lives would not necessarily make them feel any better (and is nigh impossible for Yukio at this point, anyways). Basically, it’s a shit situation either way….kind of like real life (actually….eerily way too much like real life).

But hey! This is an action show, remember? And having demonstrated that it clearly has way more thoughtful plotting and characterization going into it than you’re ever likely to find in any Michael Bay film (or most big-budget blockbusters to come out of Hollywood these days, really), it can devote the rest of its time to well-animated and balls-to-the walls action, of the aforementioned John Woo-style shoot-out variety, for the most part. Of course, It’s worth mentioning that Revy, the actual cause of 90% of the awesome action scenes in this entire series, gets some good development in this arc as well, but this is firmly Rock’s story, and she is mostly delegated as a side character outside of the action sequences. Also, I kind of don’t want to turn this whole write-up into an essay explaining every little detail about the characters, so perhaps you should just go watch the arc instead (along with everything else on our list that you haven’t seen, while you’re at it). ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

#22. L (Death Note)

Creator: Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata
Original Years of Publication: 2003-2005
Manga: Chapters #1-59
Anime: Episodes #1-26
Studio: Madhouse
Japanese Publisher: Shueisha (Weekly Shonen Jump)
North American Publisher: Viz Media
North American Distributor: Viz Media
Streaming: Netflix, Neon Alley, Hulu
Recommended Version: Manga

Everybody knows about manga and anime knows about Death Note. But if you’ve been hiding under a rock or avoiding it because of the obsessive fans, you can come out now and enjoy one of the best thrillers to come out of Japan in a long, long time. The manga super-team of Ohba and Obata (the team behind the superb Bakuman) have created an interesting take on the typical detective story. They did this by throwing in supernatural beings, a battle of good and evil, a winding storyline, and a strange sense of self-deprecating humor, all while centering on Absolute Power Absolutely Corrupting one young man and following the devastating effects it has on the world.

Death Note is not a particularly long series, only 12 volumes in manga form and 37 episodes in anime format, and it is separated into two halves the second of which being more of an extended epilogue and denouement to the first. The second arc basically closes off themes in the first arc by following everything to its logical conclusion. But what really hooks people into Death Note is the thunderous battle centering on the first part which takes up the majority of the story.

Death Note is the battle of the villainous protagonist named Light Yagami who has taken it upon himself to become judge, jury, and executioner, to the world, and the exploits of a ragtag band of police officers who are sent to stop him. The team is lead by the super-detective known only as L who takes it upon himself to find the killer, not because it is the right thing to do, but to prove that he can. Nonetheless, this battle of wills is what drives most of Death Note and its clever twists and turns. This is mostly what drives part one, but is also crucial for what is to come in the second part and is by far the most important part of the story.

The character of L is not much like Light who is handsome, smart, logical, and charismatic. L runs off paranoia, eccentricity, cleverness, and inclinations, to forward his means which puts him at odds with the serial killer known only as “Kira”. The two clash, even as they meet in the strangest of circumstances. L is unaware of who Light really is (or maybe he doesn’t want to believe he is), and it is fairly clear that in another life they might have been good friends. But Light is a perfectly corrupt person, his evil is focused and sharp, and the beaten down and weary L can only push himself to think like a killer for so long before even he starts to slip and Kira gains ground on him. Their contrasting personalities and drives leads to one of the most memorable face-offs in manga or anime.

You can’t really explain Death Note’s appeal without ruining the surprises, so this is where the explanation will have to end. Suffice to say, there are few thrillers out there as big in execution and ideas as Death Note, and few as sharp. You won’t find profound discussions on good and evil or what leads a man to fall, but you don’t need them. What you ill want to see is how far it can go, and if it can be stopped. ~Spark of Spirit

#21 Ketil Farm (Vinland Saga)

Creator: Makoto Yukimura
Original Years of Publication: 2009-2014
Manga: Chapters #55-100
Japanese Publisher: Kodansha (Weekly Shonen Magazine/2005, Monthly Afternoon/2005-present)
North American Publisher: Kodansha Comics USA

Makoto Yukimura must be the secret best mangaka in Japan. First he created the surprisingly weighty Planetes and then began his currently running epic Vinland Saga which is a mythological version of the story of a Dane named Thorfinn as he wanders through the ancient world. It’s not historical record, or all that realistic, but it doesn’t claim to be. It is more of a mythological account. The story is an action adventure tale about a boy growing into a man, and what happens to those who never grow into one. What started out as a better paced version of Berserk in its early chapters– a tale of war, deceit, dread, and emptiness, soon became something entirely different by the time the first part of the story (called “The Prologue”) ends. Vinland Saga soon becomes something much different (and better) once the first part of the story begins on Ketil Farm.

Our two slave main characters soon make a life on the farm and live their days as common workers. They plow fields, cut down trees, and talk about what they do when they buy their freedom. That’s all that happens for most of the arc. And yet it’s excellent for every moment of it.

On this farm we meet a small group of characters, slaves, workers, mercenaries, even the land owners, and they are all fully fleshed out and shown their human qualities both bad and good. You want the pair to eventually gain enough money to no longer be slaves and buy their freedom, but at the same time, you don’t want to leave these characters behind. Some have traveled dark paths, but long for a brighter future, just as some have had a good life and yet long to grow to be stronger people. There is not much action for most of this arc, but there doesn’t need to be. Compared to the hyper-violence of the first part, this deals with the desensitization that war and mindless carnage can cause to the soul and what must be done to become human once more, and as such, includes more soul-searching and lighthearted conversations and less mindless bloodshed and disregard for human life that the fist part was full of. The characters come to discover a world living under them that has what they’ve always been looking for, something that was in front of them the whole time and yet they are just beginning to see it. However, the outside world eventually comes in to remind them all both of the bloody past that refuses to be left behind and the uncertain future that might lead to their downfall.

What ends up disrupting everything is quite interesting on its own, tying in to events from “The Prologue” and cannot be gotten into without spoiling the whole thing, but you’ll be on pins and needles through the entire climax, wondering if your favorite character will make it through okay. Then they all must face the future ahead, taking with them everything they had learned since arc’s start. Vinland Saga is the best manga currently running right now and the best action adventure manga in years. If you aren’t reading it, well, I can’t imagine why. ~Spark of Spirit

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2014
09.10

In the world of animated series, there are a plethora of great episodic masterpieces, from the humor of Rocko’s Modern Life to the great stories of Batman: The Animated Series or Cowboy Bebop. However, as amazing as any of those more episodic series can be, it can’t be denied that they have their limitations in story-telling possibilities. After all, there is only so much you can do with just a mere half-hour at a time to work with. This is where the beauty of fully realized story-arcs come into play. By extending a story-line across multiple episodes or chapters, you now have the possibility for grand plots to build up and interesting character development to ensue, a feat which shines in works like Gargoyles, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and many other cartoons of that nature. In particular, though, it is with the medium of Japanese animation and comics where this style of story-telling has been more commonly practiced for a longer period of time. Considering that trying to list the best story arcs out of anime, manga, AND all other sources of animation and comics would be nearly impossible, we decided to honor the greatest story arcs of just anime and manga for this list, perhaps saving any other medium for future lists.

Please keep in mind that this is an OPINIONATED list. In no way do we claim that our choices are factually better than any others, so don’t get so sore if your favorites are not featured, here. We also had some ground rules set while making this list, which forced us to exclude certain other choices, so please read this thread for more information on that.

Putting all of that technical drivel aside, we now proudly present the first part of our list of the greatest story arcs from Japan ever put to pen and paper or the television screen.

#30. Covers (Kill La Kill)

Creators: Hiroyuki Imaishi, Kazuki Nakashima
Originally Aired: 2014
Anime: Episodes #16-24
Studio: Trigger
North American Distributor: Aniplex of America
Streaming: Crunchyroll

Satire is a funny thing. It can either be wholly pretentious and so up its own ass that it’s unintentionally fun to mock, or in the case of Kill La Kill, it can be presented in the most over the top fashion in a way that clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously. The latter can make for something that’s both metaphorically relevant in what it has to say about society, while simultaneously being intentionally hilarious, which is no easy feat to accomplish. In a world where fashion is everything and the clothes that you wear literally determines your status within society, KLK presents us with an immediate moral struggle for uniformity versus individuality. Thankfully, it does this in the most tounge-in-cheek of tones while still not losing the message in translation. The Lady Ragyo of REVOCS heads a global corporation that literally intends to take over the world with brain-washing clothes (no, seriously….I’m not shitting you….yeah, God bless the possibilities of anime), forcing protagonist Ryuko to band together with friends and rivals alike to take her down.

In this story, clothes are everything, and I really do mean it. From mind control and dominance, to the super-power inducing Goku uniforms, to a shit-ton of manga and anime references. However, the concept is so rich that it can speak volumes about modern society in general. Whether it’s Japan, North America, or almost anywhere overseas, many cultures seem to be unintentionally aggregating to whatever is popular at the time, be it clothes, music, television, or numerous boring fads. And it doesn’t just need to apply to that context. How about something a little closer to home? How many boring and safe anime do we get plagued with every year that does the same “moe” shit that we’re all tired of, yet get enough pander-happy otaku to support them and remain profitable?

By no means is this a new concept. It’s been done to death in in all mediums of entertainment. So what makes this one stand out? Most likely the fact that unlike many other stories of this nature, this one doesn’t give a rats ass about preaching anything to the viewer, who it expects doesn’t need to be taught any lessons. Instead it just crafts an interesting story with great characters that are entertaining to watch, and has as much goddamn fun with parodying the concept as possible. Admittedly, as something that literally only aired this years it may be a bit too early for us to consider ranking something like this on a list full of proven classics that have stood the test of time. Normally we would wait a solid year since the end of airing to determine how something holds up. However, as the most fun anime to come out in an era of anime where we have been long overdue for one, we just had to let our bias get the better of us. Toss in some awesomely unique artwork, incredibly zany and fluid animation, and mix it with one of the most kick-ass anime soundtracks to ever be conceived, and you have the best anime of the past year, and certainly one of the best story arcs ever. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

#29. Boy Meets Girl (Urusei Yatsura)

Creator: Rumiko Takahashi
Original Years of Publication: 1986-1987
Manga: Volume #34, Chapters #356-366
Anime: Urusei Yatsura: The Final Chapter
Studio: Magic Bus
Japanese Publisher: Shogakukan (Weekly Shonen Sunday)
North American Publisher: N/A (formerly Viz Media)
North American Distributor: N/A (formerly AnimEigo)
Recommended Version: Anime

With the exception of battle-shonen parodies and some rom-coms, gag-manga don’t typically have many long story arcs. If they do, they typically will at most last a volume, rarely more. This is especially true of older series, and Urusei Yatsura, the mother of practically all modern anime/manga comedies, was no exception. “Boy Meets Girl” is the longest story in the entire series, suitably so, since it is the final one. You would think a gag-manga of this nature would just end on some self-referential outing, a silly throw away story that doesn’t resolve anything but presents a sense of finality and leaves the series on a high note. Rumiko Takahashi’s most popular work, the gender-bender rom-com Ranma 1/2, ended like this, going out in a two-volume long sorta-battle shonen-y arc where Ranma and friends fought against the evil (well, as far as Rumiko Takahashi comedy antagonists go) Phoenix people of Ho’oh peak, which didn’t resolve anything, but was a fun way to end a series that didn’t take itself that seriously anyway.

But the final arc of Urusei Yatsura, Rumiko Takahashi’s first and most influential series, is a bit different. There is not just finality, but the central characters change here. Not just suddenly, but as payoff on an entire series of subtle but sure character development. This boy-meets-alien girl comedy started off as what you’d expect of the premise: alien girl Lum takes a liking to hapless lovable (though not at first) loser Ataru, for no apparent reason, and dotes after him while the reluctant boy pushes off her advances. As the series went on, though, the relationship between the characters grew into something more meaningful. The characters developed in subtle ways and we saw more of their personalities, and why they’d both care about each other, even if Ataru would never admit it. The relationship between the two, and their interactions with their friends and family, is what drives the entire manga.

The final arc of Urusei Yatsura takes that relationship and challenges it. It forces the characters to mature, and things to progress. A recurring theme in Urusei Yatsura is embracing one’s adolescence before it becomes time to grow up. Lum and Ataru, for all their quarreling, truly care about each other, but like their relationship the way it is. They want things to stay as they are for as long as it can. It’s an idea that drives the second and fourth movies of the Urusei Yatsura film franchise in particular, and there is no absence of evidence in the series and manga. But here Lum is forced to become an adult, whisked away against her will to marry someone she doesn’t love. Ataru does not hesitate to give away his book of girls’ phone numbers and addresses, essentially giving up his girl-hunting ways, all for the sake of rescuing Lum. What happens when the two are reunited is a series of misunderstandings that leads to a falling out, but this time, Lum getting mad and yelling “Darling, you idiooottt!” while shocking Ataru with her signature electric attacks will not resolve anything. Both have been hurt by the other, and refuse to make up with each other before the other apologizes first. But soon an accident takes everything back to where the series first began, the game of tag that first brought Lum and Ataru together. In order to save the earth from being covered by a spread of fast-growing gigantic mushrooms, Ataru must once again touch Lum’s horns, a task he has no chance of succeeding at, unless he gives in to Lum’s one simple demand. Ataru must tell her that he loves her. And if he doesn’t, Lum will quit. She will ditch Ataru, and the life on earth she loves so much, and all the friends she’s made. And with the aid of a memory-erasing device, she will make everyone, including Ataru, forget her, her alien friends, and all the time they’ve spent together. For the residents of Tomobiki-cho, most of whose lives were enriched from their association with Lum, things will be as if she never existed at all.

There is a lot on the line here. The earth is at stake, people’s memories are at stake, people’s friendships and lives are at stake, and the relationship between the two main characters is put to it’s greatest test. Lum has never been more desperate, just wanting to hear the words “I love you” at any cost, regardless of whether it’s genuine or not, willing to risk it all if the words are never said. But Ataru knows, under the circumstances, that if he says those words, that while the earth might be saved, while things can stay the way they’ve always been, Lum would never know the truth for the rest of her life. And so he refuses, all the way to the bitter end. All I can say is that the way this conflict is resolved embodies the age-old adage “actions speak louder than words,” and an ending that, while at first glance may seem like things will go on as usual, but upon reflection, is a truly definitive, meaningful ending to a wonderful, fun series.

There are few endings in comedy anime/manga that are as strong as this on a character level. Urusei Yatsura did not start out as a series that took it’s central relationship seriously, yet, it developed it and two characters in far more meaningful ways than just about any anime/manga comedy of this ilk, and more “serious” and plot-driven rom-coms, ever do, including Takahashi’s subsequent series Ranma 1/2 and it’s numerous imitators. But on top of the strong character arcs being resolved here, this arc just captures the spirit of the entire manga so damn well. It’s cleverly funny, involves some crazy sci-fi adventure antics, brings the bulk of the massive ensemble cast back together, and in bringing back an element of the very first story in the series, the game of tag, things feel circular, and the story feels like a rewarding conclusion for the series proper. And it does this all in eleven chapters. It’s a perfect ending. There’s a reason why nobody enjoys the sixth movie, outside the fact it’s a shallow imitation of the strengths of the series: the ending of UY leaves on too final a note for one to really want to see more, leaving what goes from here on to the imagination. That’s what a good ending of any series should do. That’s what makes this arc stand out from other comedy anime/manga story arcs. And it’s why it makes this list. End of story. ~Cartoon X

#28. Urumi (Great Teacher Onizuka)

Creator: Tohru Fujisawa
Original Year of Publication: 1998
Manga: Chapters #53-66
Anime: Episodes #16-19
Studio: Studio Pierrot
Japanese Publisher: Kodansha (Weekly Shonen Magazine)
North American Publisher: Tokyopop [Defunct]
North American Distributor: Discotek Media
Recommended Version: Anime

So, do you all know the story about a dysfunctional group of troubled youths trying to find their way in life, but who are just so misunderstood that they must cause mischief and mayhem to gain attention, until one day a good-hearted teacher comes along to teach them that they have a path in life and that people will give a shit about them if they just open their hearts to the outside world? Yeah, GTO is the complete “fuck you” antithesis to that kind of story. The self-proclaimed “Great Teacher” Onizuka is a delinquent with a shady background who literally somehow weasels his way into becoming a middle school teacher because he thought that status would give women the hots for him. However, to his dismay, it doesn’t do diddly-squat for his status and if that isn’t a big enough blow to his ego, he is dumped into being the home room teacher for the most notoriously sinister, trouble-making, teacher-despising class 3-4, who have thus managed to successfully run every predecessor of Onizuka’s out of the school by driving them crazy. However, Onizuka is going to take none of that shit lying down, and most of the fun of the series deals with Onizuka reforming each student in his class, one-by-one, only playing them at their own game in the process. In real-life, that would be a horrible way to teach kids life-lessons, but that’s why this is a comedy manga. Onizuka spends most of the early portions of the series one-upping every little punk who tries to to stand in his way….until he finally meets his first true match, with the student prodigy, Urumi Kanzaki.

Urumi, as it turns out, was playing hookie from school because quite frankly it wasn’t even the least bit challenging for her, and like most of her class, she had her own personal deep-resentment of teachers. She ends up coming back after being called in by those of her class-mates who have not been turned over to Onizuka’s side, hearing of how “challenging” this new teacher is to get rid of. What results is a clash between the two of them that is unlike anything that Onizuka has been through before. On the one hand, this arc is just as tight as any other in the series with tons of gags and great laughs to be had in the shenanigans pulled by both sides. However, beyond that it is particularly great for representing the series due to how heartfelt it can get without crossing into the territory of being downright corny. As the confrontation between the two gets more heated, Onizuka soon realizes that Urumi, unlike the students before her, is completely willing to cross the line and even put others at severe risk for serious damage. This causes him and various other classmates to have to look further into Urumi’s troubled past and determine the root of where her problems truly stem from. The resulting conclusion is something with a genuinely emotional punch to it. Really, this arc could be considered more of a place-holder for the series as a whole, but we picked it because it perfectly represents both facets of what the series does well when it’s at its absolute best. ~Dr. Ensatsu-ken

#27. The Greatful Sound Festival (BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad)

Creator: Harold Sakuishi
Original Years of Publication: 2000-2002
Manga: Chapters #14-32
Anime: BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad – Episodes #11-25
Studio: Madhouse
Japanese Publisher: Kodansha (Monthly Shonen Magazine)
North American Publisher: Tokyopop [Defunct]
North American Distributor: Funimation
Streaming: Hulu
Recommended Version: Anime

Take the standard shonen formula of plucky heroes against an unstoppable evil and make the heroes a rock n roll band then have the villains be the hurdles that come from it and you have BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad. This unique manga/anime is a story about a rock band saving the world from the corporate stiffness of the modern music industry and how terrible it has become. It’s a unique twist on the old shonen formula, and one that successfully carried the manga through 34 volumes and an almost ten year run while simultaneously being a very apt critique on how awful the music industry has been since the manga first started.

But the most memorable arc will always be the first major one (covered in the original anime series, and improved on it as it was the anime’s climax) which involves the unknown group of mysterious musicians to come together and slowly work their way through the underground music scene while dealing with the pitfalls and successes that come with modern life. The story reaches its peak when the band is allowed to play the legendary “Greatful Sound Festival” that has itself been taken over by payola enablers and lame modern music managers just as the airwaves have. The band makes a deal with a crooked record exec after securing the spot which means they must either preform the show of their lives or give up on their dream. This sets up the whole “Do people prefer the music the industry tells them to like or do they go with what sounds good?” theme that floats by on occasion throughout the entirety of the manga’s run.

The climax, however, is probably one of the most energetic you will ever see in a shonen anime. It might not be a battle of guns, fists, or blades, but it manages to be just as intense– and all it is is a concert.

It’s the arc everyone remembers from BECK, and the one that received the most publicity due to actually being made into the highlight of the anime series, but more than that, it is highly energetic, memorable, and will probably have you cheering along with the crowd. Sure there are music shows out there (and terrible shows that use music as a crutch for lack of things like plot or purpose) but BECK remains the best and the one any fan of manga or anime should experience. ~Spark of Spirit

#26. “Once Upon A Time” Astro Boy Tales (Astro Boy)

Creator: Osamu Tezuka
Original Years of Publication: 1967-1969
Manga: Volumes #6-8
Japanese Publisher: Kodansha
North American Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

If you have been an anime and manga fan for more than 2 seconds, then you should already know who Osamu Tezuka is. Regarded as the “God of manga,” and one of the key figures responsible for making the medium a respected art form, Tezuka was not just a man full of ideas, but also a man fascinated with philosophy, technology, and the human condition. His comics explore a variety of subjects and themes, be them political, social, or historical. This includes what is surely Tezuka’s most popular work, at least in terms of name recognition, Astro Boy. Do not let it’s childish exterior fool you; Astro Boy is no less well-written or lacking in Tezuka’s signature commentary on all aspects of modern life. No storyline in Astro Boy best exemplifies this than it’s longest, and most ambitious; the “Once Upon A Time” Astro Boy Tales arc.

Initially made to answer fans’ questions concerning the fate of our hero at the end of the 1963 Astro Boy anime, the arc sees Astro Boy blasted back in time from the 21st century to 1969. In a world without advanced robotics, Astro Boy struggles to survive and find a way back to his own time. What follows is Tezuka re-inventing the origins of his (at this point) seventeen year old series, as Astro Boy makes new friends and enemies and encounters several familiar faces, while getting involved in troubles of the modern day. But without the fuel necessary for him to survive, Astro Boy fights against the clock, his inevitable death weighing on his mind. Yet, even so, he does not hesitate to stand up for what is right, though as he soon finds out, there is only so much of a difference he can make…

The reason Astro Boy, as a series, has endured over all these years is because while it features fun, action-packed stories to entertain children, it also contains layered, complex storylines that grow increasingly more relevant the closer we approach a time where artificial intelligence and robotics will bring such longtime fantasies of robot and human co-existence a reality. In this arc, Tezuka touches upon the development of robotics and artificial life and it’s ethical and moral consequences, which soon leads into a contemporary commentary on the civil rights movement. Tezuka provides no easy answers, and few true villains in the issue, and though Astro Boy tries his best, ultimately, he cannot single-handedly change people’s minds, or save people’s lives. But this isn’t the only issue the arc explores. Finding fulfillment in one’s life, what it means to be in love, to be a friend, to have a family, to be a human being, and to not, as well as the consequences of advancing technology in daily life and the workplace, humanity’s innate fear of the unknown and unfamiliar, the cost of war and dangers of the atomic bomb, and so, so much more is explored and developed as Astro Boy lives across decades, experiencing the best and worst of humanity, while coming to terms with his own mortality. At one point, Tezuka even comments on the Vietnam war, resulting in a powerful sequence where Astro Boy exhausts all his power to save an innocent village where a newborn baby has just been born from being wiped out. Yet his noble deed proves naught, as new bombers come the very next day, destroying the village, killing everyone, including the day-old baby. And when Astro Boy reawakens in the future, he is left none the wiser that his sacrifice was in vain. It’s a somber sequence, musing on the futility and pointlessness of warfare, and a moment of political commentary that you simply can’t find in a modern battle shonen series, perhaps even in most seinin series either, especially handled with such delicacy and tact.

Complementing the wealth of social and political commentary in the arc is the re-invention of Astro Boy’s own origin. We learn how characters like Professor Ochanomizu, Shunsaku Ban, and Astro Boy’s own creator, Dr. Tenma, came to be who they are, and are shown how Astro Boy became the hero he was destined to be. It’s a fascinating story that succeeds in adding a greater depth to the characters while providing a starting point for the beginnings of whole new adventures. You’d be hard-pressed to find another story arc in a mainstream anime or manga series that could combine so many ideas and themes in the masterful way Tezuka does here, and these mere 2 and a half volumes showcase some of the best qualities of Tezuka as a writer and creator. For over forty five years this story arc has stood the test of time, and is perhaps even more relevant now than it was back then. It endures as a powerful reflection of the issues of it’s time, as well as those of the present and the future; a timeless tale that will forever continue to impress and resonate with readers of any age. ~Cartoon X

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