Kentaro Miura’s Berserk is a dark fantasy series that is published irregularly by a magazine called Young Animal in Japan.
It’s more than that though. It’s an epic tale of horror, fantasy, and betrayal set in a world stylized like Medieval Europe where a war has been raging for 100 years. It’s a story where impossibly evil beings triumph over the heroes repeatedly and yet the protagonist perseveres, going the distance in a way that could never happen in Western comics.
This manga has spawned many adaptations and interpretations. There are two series of anime — the first serving as an adaptation of earlier books while the second is currently in production and releasing episodes that are available weekly on Crunchy Roll (an anime streaming service), picking up where the first leaves off. It’s also a trilogy of animated films, the first of which can be streamed on Netflix. That movie also covers the first several chapters of the book, although it does so more closely and with a higher attention to detail. Berserk has also been translated from Japanese into English, and is a series of 37 collections published by Dark Horse Comics. The collections are available in over 10 countries, having been translated into many languages.
The book centers on the story of Guts, a giant mercenary on a mission to avenge his fallen comrades and his love’s broken mind. The narrative is dark and twisted, following a person who just sets his mind on a task and does it. He is unstoppable. The character has been led literally to hell and back on his mission to kill beings of pure evil. But the thing that is most unique about Berserk is how the story unfolds. Kentaro Miura goes into extreme details about the origins of characters and how they connect with Guts, meaning that there are several stories going at once. Guts is always the focus, though the series also juggles two or three subplots.
The Western style of comic book doesn’t do it that way, unfortunately, preferring instead to release them as separate titles. I love how the Japanese presentation shows us what the characters are doing in real time, before they interact with Guts, and what events lead to them crossing paths with the Black Swordsman (Guts’ nickname). Its parallel stories occur simultaneously and they manage to converge at some point, with Guts serving as the linchpin who ties the plot together. It’s a different way to tell a tale, one not really seen in Western comics or even television and literature.
I want to share how I came to appreciate Berserk. It’s not a series I found on my own, instead being introduced to Guts by my roommate (a comic-book fan whose credentials check out). I had rarely, if ever, seen him as committed and excited for a series as he is for new episodes of the anime, new films, and new collections. It’s infectious to watch and after being exposed to an episode or reading one volume of the books, what drives that kind of devotion becomes clear; it’s extremely easy to get hooked.
This series will not be for everyone, however. It is an extremely dark story with graphic scenes of violence, sex, and rape. But it is worth at least trying, as, if it turns out it is for you, Berserk an immaculately drawn and very well written comic. The animated series are just as good, presenting twists and turns that leave you craving more. It’s a series that explores themes of religion, greed, and survival in a truly unforgiving world where war and violence has been the day-to-day existence for over generations. It’s a beautiful story of love, friendship, and the lengths that one will go to for justice and peace. It’s also a medieval fantasy/ horror story about a roving knight slaying monsters on his question for retribution.