It's hard to write a review of this that isn't biased by the sheer awesomeness of the last 3 volumes. So, part 1 of this review is going to solely cover the first 15 volumes, because realistically, that's the bulk of this manga. Part 2 will talk about the last 3 volumes and the impact they left. (No spoilers) Also, this review is from the perspective of someone who had only a little mahjong knowledge before starting.
Part 1: Review of volumes 1-15 -
Story - 7
The story begins slow. We see a few mahjong matches involving Ten and Hiro that only count as casual encounters compared to what is to come. These matches aren't very memorable at all, and the stakes aren't very high, so they weren't very interesting, and certainly not very thrilling. I could blame this on my lack of mahjong knowledge at the time, and that could very well have been the case, but the fact of the matter is that a large portion of this manga's western audience probably doesn't know mahjong in depth. They probably jumped into this after Akagi and expect to go along for the thrill. Let me make this clear -
LEARN MAHJONG IF YOU WANT TO ENJOY THIS. Jump right into the first few chapters, but look up every term you don't know. Meanwhile, practice online, and try to make the same hands that they are making in the manga. You need to know mostly all of the common yaku if you want to enjoy this manga the way it should be enjoyed.
Moving on- After the slow start, somewhere around volumes 3-4, the series introduces the main aspect of the story, which is the East West Battle. I have a few complaints about this, but for the most part is was quite good.
My main problem with the East West Battle was the vague stakes. Something about the balance of mahjong rep players in the underground? Frankly, I didn't understand it. This was somewhat of a problem, because when the reader doesn't understand the stakes of the battle, winning or losing won't seem to matter. You lose, what's the worst that could happen? It's not like you'll fall to your death off of a pole or get a needle into your eardrum. (Sorry, Kaiji is just such a good example of high stakes.) So, the vague stakes make this battle a little less intense, but it definitely isn't a big problem at all.
The East West Battle was very interesting, since at that point, I was familiar with all the common yaku in mahjong and could follow along easily with what was going on. It goes VERY in depth to mahjong gameplay, so aside from having a good read, you learn quite a bit. But we're not here to learn, we're here for an epic mahjong battle, right? Indeed, and the manga doesn't fail to satisfy. The East West battle is full of interesting mahjong tricks, badass Akagi moments, character development, a fair amount of suspense, and overall is just a great read. Let me once again stress that you'll need to have a fair amount of mahjong knowledge for optimum enjoyment.
So overall, volumes 1-15 had a pretty good story. Nothing incredible, but certainly quite a good read.
Art - 7
Fukumoto's art back at the time of Ten's publication is certainly not top notch. For the first few volumes, we get very shoddy character designs with bad proportions, against a minimally detailed background which provides no atmosphere. This also might have contributed to my lack of enjoyment for the first couple volumes. But, as it progresses the art gets better. Towards the end of the manga, we have modern Fukumoto art, which retains his style but is cleaner and more refined. It's brilliant art. I actually really like Fukumoto's style, because it's unique and interesting. People like to say it reflects human nature or something. I guess if you want to be all pretentious about it you could say that, but I just like it for what is is. A unique artform.
Character - 7
The characters are all different, and they have their own barrage of various mahjong tricks, and usually have at least one specialty trick that they have mastered. Watching their playing styles contrast during the East West battle is always interesting. We do get a fair amount of character development throughout the East West Battle, primarily for the three protagonists. So overall, throughout volumes 1-15, the characters are pretty good.
Enjoyment - 8
I've basically combined the "enjoyment" category with the story category, so there's not much to say here. The first few volumes aren't too enjoyable, but the East West Battle is very enjoyable if you know enough about mahjong. It averages out to be around an 8.
Overall - 8
As I rate all series primarily based on enjoyment, I give volumes 1-15 an 8 overall. They are very good.
Part 2: Taking into consideration the last 3 volumes, and overall thoughts -
Forget about everything I've said so far in this review. Here is my brief review of Ten as a whole -
Story - 10
Art - 10
Character - 10
Enjoyment - 10
Overall - 10
You might be thinking right now, "Wait, how does every category become a 10 all of a sudden, in only 3 volumes?" Well, aside from personal bias, I do have reasoning. The story, art, characters, and enjoyment of the last 3 volumes are all TOP NOTCH. The art is crisp and detailed, and Fukumoto clearly put a lot of care into providing a good atmosphere with it. It's a huge contrast from the iffy art early on in the manga. The characters, who didn't really develop too much during the first 15 volumes, are all expanded upon, greatly. I found myself caring about every character, even the side characters who weren't looked into much during the first 15 volumes. As for enjoyment, I read the last 6 volumes in one sitting. I tried to stop after 15, but after a glance at 16 I was sucked in. A mere glance and I wanted more. 16-18 were highly enjoyable for me, since I'm such a sucker for philosophy and emotion. I do legitimately believe that the last three volumes pull every category up to an average 10, however unbelievable that might sound.
I've had a lot of negatives to say about Ten in this review. Let me say, it's hard to do that. It's hard to bring up the negatives when this series left such a huge impact on me. Quite simply, I loved it. The East West Battle, it was great. But what came afterward transcends great. It is groudbreaking. After being a huge fan of the Akagi anime, the ending of Ten was quite shocking, but definitely a very proper ending, considering Akagi's character. Akagi had always been somewhat stiff, though a good amount of his philosophy came through during the East West battle, and even a bit trickled through during the anime, but as you'll see in the last 3 volumes of Ten, those brief moments don't even scratch the surface of the depth of Akagi's character. You'll learn to really know Akagi. He is one of my favorite characters of all time now, and with good reason.
Final comment -
Very enjoyable, highly impactful, and will always have a place in my memory. Ten was brilliant.