*Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Book 1 — Recommended

In Monster, Naoki Urasawa turns the usual expectation of good and evil on its head.

Dr. Tenma is a brilliant Japanese surgeon working in Germany. He’s a rising star due to his skills, and he’s engaged to the daughter of the chief of the hospital. She’s got his advancement all planned out so she can be the wife of a rich and powerful man. He’s got bigger concerns, though — his risky operation on an opera star brought the chief and the hospital plenty of favorable media attention, but he should have helped a construction worker who was brought in first.

Naoki Urasawa's Monster Book 1 cover
Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Book 1
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These meaty concepts, dealing with the moral dangers of chasing fame and weighing the values of different lives, would be sufficient for a book of their own, but they’re only part of the prologue to the main story in this ambitious series. And that’s where the author’s switch occurs.

Burdened by the results of the earlier choice, even though it wasn’t his to make, Tenma ignores the chief’s direction to work on the mayor, choosing instead to save the life of a little boy, victim of a gunshot wound. The reader thinks “ah, that’s the moral of the story” and settles in for a comfortable read, reaffirming standard ethics.

However, Tenma’s decision ruins his life, and his morals are cold comfort as everything he thought he could rely on is abruptly stripped away from him. Worst yet, he might have been wrong. Not all little boys are innocent. Some are monsters that would have been better off left to die.

The clear, quietly shaded art presents the story directly, never getting in the way of the horrors it subtly portrays. The fiance’s cruel rejection and Tenma’s crushed soul, to name only two examples, are simply shown in single panels that sum up all of the emotional weight of the powerful moments. It’s a deceptively easy read.

With a series of unsolved murders and a bulldog investigator, the material is as exciting as an action movie, but with an added element of thought-provoking ethical debate. Doctors make life-or-death decisions regularly as part of their jobs, but few (at least in this story) are willing to confront what that actually means. A series of medical annotations of the series have been posted.

21 Comments

  1. For my money this is the best comics being published right now.

  2. Actually, Tenma’s choice is only questioned in volume 1. Because, really, it’s a no-brainer given general principles and the information available at the time. True, Tenma comes to regret his decison somewhat, but as it’s not a sane alternative to generally leave children (who are also first in line) to die because they might turn out to be psychotic killers, there is no dramatic tension there.
    Rather, the dramatic tension comes from pondering whether “Some are monsters that would have been better off left to die.”, i.e. the death penalty and taking justic into one’s own hands (“if you’re a doctor and the potential victim is a former patient whose life you saved and no consider taking” thrown in on top of it.)
    Still, great series.

  3. Shh, shh, no spoilers!

  4. Monster is easily one of the best manga I’ve ever read, second only to Akira. I picked up vol 7 at NYCC and was going to get v8, but Viz missed a shipment. Monster needs to come out more often, particularly since it’s something like sixteen volumes.

    It’s genuinely suspenseful often and rarely drags. A lot of the characters he meets along the way are very interesting, too.

  5. I love Monster too.

    BTW, Monster vol 7 is the latest volume. It just came out last week. Volume 8 isn’t until May. They release a volume every two months

  6. Viz was going to have an early printing of volume 8 at the con, but it did not arrive in time.

  7. Ralf Haring

    I didn’t really get into the series until the fifth volume (I think), basically right before I was about to give it up. The word of mouth on the book was fairly strong so I stuck with it for a bit. I was initially disappointed that the hospital status quo was left behind so quickly in favor of a “Fugitive” setup.

  8. one of the best manga (and anime) of all time.
    If you enjoyed Monster and even if not I strongly recommend Naoki Urusawa’s “20th Century Boys” don’t let the cover fool you it is a brilliant read.

  9. […] final volume of the series continues the same high quality established by the first book. […]

  10. […] of Pluto, Manga Worth Reading has helpful reviews of the first volumes of 20th Century Boys and Monster. […]

  11. […] first box set of the anime version of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster will be released on Tuesday, December […]

  12. […] “We may be creating a monster,” of course remind me of Urasawa’s other work of that title. Several of the concepts and images evoke classic science fiction tropes, whether the idea of […]

  13. the Under-Cover Fan Girl

    I haven’t read the manga, but the anime version of this is one of my all time favorites. I’m glad it’s here, because I’m new and thought you might only review shoujo. But then, I don’t understand.
    Are all of these just plot summaries like this? Or are there analyses and reviews? Am I looking in the right place?

  14. What I say about a book depends on the book and what it suggests to me. The first book of a series, I usually try to give a good idea of the premise and plot, as well as who might like it and its strengths (whether twists, art style, or whatever). And we do try to avoid spoilers, so that limits how much in-depth analysis we can do. But yes, we cover all kinds of manga. Keep looking, and thanks for visiting!

  15. […] Monster by Naoki Urasawa […]

  16. […] a difficult question, and it’s probably a good idea that Viz released Pluto and Monster first, to build a reputation for Urasawa in the U.S. that gives readers more faith that the payoff […]

  17. […] Book 1 […]

  18. […] talk mostly about 20th Century Boys, but we wound up enthusing a lot over how much we all enjoyed Monster […]

  19. […] Law movie. Remember that plan?) I’m really eager to see this one, though, because the manga original was a terrific, twisty read, and the talent involved in the proposal is […]

  20. […] has announced at Otakon this weekend that they will be bringing Naoki Urasawa’s Monster (originally released in English from 2006-2008) back into print as 2-in-1 deluxe omnibus volumes. […]

  21. […] but this one is the most exciting! Master Keaton by Naoki Urasawa, author of the wonderful Pluto, Monster, and 20th Century Boys, will be published in North America in December as a Viz Signature title. […]

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