What makes a great psychological thriller? An intelligent plot? Unpredictable plot twists? Memorable, deep characters? Or is it the overall atmosphere of the series? If you're looking for a manga that can give you all of the above, Naoki Urasawa's got your back. Chances are that you have probably heard of Monster before and was wondering if it's as good as some people make it out to be, and to be quite honest, it deserves every bit of praise it gets and lives up to the hype surrounding it. Securing a position at the top of almost every manga ranking site, Monster is a critically acclaimed manga that is often regarded as the manga that came closest to being flawless, whether you want to believe that or not is up to you, but one thing is for sure, it's a gem that shouldn't be missed and a must-read for mystery enthusiasts.
Monster's story is the aspect that it excels the most in. it features a long, intellectual and complex story with zero plot holes despite its lengh, and somehow manages to be relatively slow paced yet engaging and captivating. Set in Germany, it's centered around Kenzo Tenma, a brilliant brain surgeon, who -out of his own sense of justice- saves a mysterious kid from certain death, not realizing he had just revived a monster, which leads to a series of events that will forever change his life. He then sets out on a journey to fix the mistake he made and restore his normal life that he lost.
The story delves into the characteristics of human nature and explores the origins of evil. The story is told from the point of view of several characters, which helps providing a more in-depth view on the occurring events. The pacing of the story is simply amazing, a slow burn which suits the manga's theme perfectly. Of course, with the pacing being slow and all, this manga isn't really for everyone, but the fact that it can keep you interested all the way is something I can guarantee. There are no real "fillers", most of the backgrounds of the side characters are either related to the story one way or another, or help explain the actions of those characters in an effort to flesh out the characters, they were enjoyable as well and didn't derail the main plot.
Plot twists are around every corner, the mysteries are solved in a way that builds the suspense and tension towards the climax. It's like a jigsaw puzzle in the sense that it starts out slow and obscure and in time you start to see the big picture.
The end poses lots of questions, most of the answers are there for you to find if you put enough thought into it.
Urasawa has demonstrated his solid writing capabilities in other occasions, but for me Monster is his best work. In short, one of the best stories you'll ever find in a manga.
It was the complaint of some critics that Monster has a wide cast of characters, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Unlike what we're used to see, the side characters of Monster aren't just there to push the plot forward. Each of them has a role to play in the main plot, with their own stories and motives, stories that reinforce the message this manga delivers, humans are the real monsters.
Most of the characters are fleshed out well-developed too, which is something most manga fail at. I don't think there was a single character that was bland and uninteresting. Urasawa pulling that off with that many characters is an accomplishment on its own.
The main character, Tenma, is your good-hearted person who believes all humans are equal and cares deeply for his friends. Although he's a very good character, Tenma is outshined by the rest of the main cast.
Johan, the main villain (And my personal pick for the greatest anime/manga villain), is a genius, cold-blooded serial killer and a master manipulator, he's the embodiment of pure evil and the kind of villain who would make Hannibal Lecter look like a little girl in comparison. Johan doesn't need a death note or an eye that can control people, all what he has is his wits and charisma, and his innocent features and calm nature make him even more terrifying.
Lunge is a character I liked throughout the series. A smart and very successful detective who's in charge of solving the serial killings case, dedicating himself to that to the point of obsession. One of his most memorable habits is how he taps his finger to memorize all what he hears.
As for the art, there isn't much for me to say. It was very good, not the best you could find but still great for a 90s manga. Urasawa's art style is unique, he dishes out simple, yet great, character designs, and his talent at drawing facial expressions is pretty evident.
The backgrounds were so beautiful and detailed it feels like the characters were just cropped in there, in a good way.
I was surprised at how well-written this manga is, it maintained a constant level of quality throughout the 18 volumes. Whenever I read it I just couldn't stop. Monster's atmosphere and cliff hangers left me at the edge of my seat every time, always leaving me waiting for more, that's how a thriller is supposed to be.
All in all, Monster is one of the best psychological dramas in manga history, it sets the standards to all other manga of the same genre. If you haven't read it yet, do give it a shot, it's certainly a worthwhile read.