Although I gave the same 8/10 to Urasawa's other manga 20th Century Boys and Pluto, overall I like Monster the most. I think Urasawa is really good at writing thrillers but he has a bad habit at messing up in some areas that prevents his manga from being super classics. That being said Monster is one of my favorite manga.
I am going to assume everyone already has a basic grasp of the premise to Monster, so I'll skip that introduction. The first thing I would like to talk about is the characters, since they were one of the most notable parts of the manga to me.
I can't really say the character of Kenzo Tenma is unique, I think everyone has seen the kind of depressed and reluctant, yet still kind altruist at heart on a mean mission. Normally seeing such a character archtype play out is really boring to me, but that didn't really bother me in Monster. I don't know exactly what separates him from Kevin Yamagata, and the main dude from 20th Century, but I think it has to do with how he just kind of darker than those characters. Although like I said he is still an altruist and a nice guy at heart, he never gets on the soapbox giving some tearjerker shit that I've seen like 10 times in Billy Bat, Urasawa's latest manga. So that just made Tenma more likeable to me, the way his character played out was just a little bit more mature and that made the difference. But Tenma is actually, in my opinion, one of the least interesting characters in Monster. As in Urasawa's other manga, the characters are all pieces in a really grand plot, and although theres a main character he is not as influential as Johan Liebert, the main antagonist.
Johan was my favorite part of the manga, because he captured a suspense in me. Everytime he appears you know shit is going down. This is really similar to Urasawa's other antagonists, like Friend in 20th Century, but he started doing this archetype with Johan first. Johan is a complicated character, and the mystery of his past dominates most of the plot. Urasawa humanizes him in the middle of the manga, and progressively more so towards the end, specifically in the beginning of the manga he was less of a character and more of a plot device. The reader doesn't know anything about him until later. I'm not going to spoil big stuff, but I enjoyed the backstory of him as well as his twin sister Anna, another important character. Although I liked the jigsaw puzzle of his past, the way events unfolded in revealing it all was kind of sloppy, but I'll talk more about that later. Anyways, Johan is a huge dominating presence and really gets the blood rushing in the reader. In the end of the manga when the reader gets a chance to pry into his character, Urasawa really excells at making him scary but also a guy you can start to figure out a little, like his complexes start to make sense. I enjoyed being able to put those details together, as I think most readers would. Johan is definitely the most mysterious character in this manga, but he isn't super fleshed out, like I said before just enough to make him interesting but not enough that hes just some bitch sap who isn't cool. Then the manga would lose its thrill.
There are tons of side characters in Monster, and I definitely can't go over them all. Some were really boring but thats what side characters are for. Some were pretty good. I liked Wolfgang Grimmer esepcially, and Anna Liebert to a degree. Beyond those two, almost all the other characters were either really one dimensional, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, or they had a dynamic that basically went: (Character is introduced with an objective, has a revelation about something that CHANGES EVERYTHING, character fades into nonimportance as the plot progresses.) I really don't like that formula and it was used quite a many time in Monster. Karl, the lawyer, Peter Capkek or whatever were all examples of these. Granted, the plot is exciting enough to make you not care if these guys fall out of the limelight in a really boring fashion, even if you do pay close attention to characters, but still it could have been better. Thats what happens when the story gets super big like this, things can go out of control, especially towards the end. I've seen the same thing happen in Pluto, and ESPECIALLY 20th Century Boys, but admittably it was handled better in Monster.
So the characters were alright, some were interesting and mature, with alot of cool depth, and others were really stupid throwaways. But the most important thing in Monster is the story, it is a super thriller manga. If Monster can do one thing right, thats ENTERTAIN. It is really entertaining, thats something Urasawa knows well. I never, ever got bored reading Monster, which is one reason I think so highly of it. It was able to largely keep its style intact while doing so, which was also cool. This manga is a flippin roller coaster. However, its not perfect, but that should be obvious just because its a roller coaster kind of story. The biggest issue I have is how the mystery of Liebert twins unfolded. It's like they jumped from one mystery, and then the manga tells you that mystery was just the tip of the iceberg of another huge mystery, and that mystery was only the tip of another HUGE MYSTERY, blah blah blah. This manga really would have been more unified if it had some overarching foreshadowing. For example, the night Johan was shot as a child did not have huge importance for the first 15 volumes, except of course the first one. But then in the last few volumes, Anna starts having flashbacks that unveil crucial plot points that unfolded that night. To me the reader, it was as if these developments were conceived after the first volume was actually published, such was the lack of foreshadowing and overarching material. This doesn't stop there though, Monster is almost COMPLETELY unrecognizeble from the beginning, compared to the end. It goes from a plot about a doctor chasing down a serial killer to some huge conspiracy that unveils book reading experiment and how Johan isn't so bad after all, or it isn't his fault etc. It was obvious from the beginning the Lieberts had a mysterious past, but to continually pile up new mysteries out of thin air really isn't great writing, and it wouldn't hamper the entertainment much except some of the new mysteries unfortunately aren't as interesting as the old ones. The Kinderheim 511 conditioning subplot was made completely irrelevant compared to the bookreading conditioning subplot, and the birth of the twins subplot, and the trauma of Anna subplot, so on so forth. The only factor that remained constant throughout the manga is that Johan is evil, but the unveiling of the mysteries don't particularly enchance this, nor do they excite the reader.
RATHER, the speculation that these mysteries lead to is the real juice. Although Urasawa's answers don't blow your socks off, the mysteries themselves push the plot forward for more entertainment value for the reader. And since its really fun to read, its hard to be so sharply critical of it. Just things could have been better in my opinion, I would have preferred the plot to take the shape of one, thick plotline from beginning to end, with various sub plots branching from it but always returning to the same plotline. In comparison, it was like the manga started with one plotline, then jumped ship to another one at least 3 times.
So I have given a bunch of criticisms of the storyline, but I still give that category a 9. What gives? Well, I think when people get all up on their soapbox about being a super critic like me, they lose sight of some aspects of the manga that you can't comprehend using a microscope. That would be the fun factor, and this manga has alot of it.
Art is pretty good, I like his style. Having a unique art style is always something I like in anime and manga. The technical detail didn't blow my socks off, but this manga is a bit old. One thing I didn't like is that, for side characters, Urasawa seems to have a set number of archetype for character design and faces. Throughout the manga I seem to have only encountered 4 types female face: the child, the bitch, the crone, and the maiden. For example, the various female children in the series, Eva Heinmann, that old prostitue the Red Blimp or whatever, and Anna Liebert, respectively. Similar something going on with the male characters. So 7/10 for the art.
That's about it. I would recommend this manga to anyone who wants to have a fun read that doesn't make you feel like a dumbass. Forget about the hipsters and the extremists, this is a good manga and you'll have a good time reading it.