*Black Jack Book 1 — Recommended

I like this Osamu Tezuka manga for its entertaining medical craziness. Behind stories of insane, unbelievable surgeries lies a strong sense of morality and justice.

Former site writer Rob Vollmar has talked up the works of Osamu Tezuka, “God of Manga”, here before, but none of them clicked with me until now. (Big thanks to David Welsh, whose contest got these books to me for free.)

Black Jack Book 1 cover
Black Jack Book 1
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Black Jack is a rogue surgeon, an unlicensed doctor who refuses to kowtow to the medical establishment. He requests immense fees to accomplish the impossible, such as treating sores that form faces and talk or transplanting a brain to a new body so an artist can finish his life’s masterpiece. (His treatment methods can also be extreme, as when he shoots a possessed patient to knock him out for an operation or treats uterine cancer with a sex change.)

Customers think he’s only in it for the money, but he’s more noble than that … although being rich also helps insulate him from those petty officials and selfish egomaniacs who want him stopped. There’s a kind of Randian individualism to Black Jack’s choices. He can do amazing things, and he has little patience for those who get in his way because of their own fears and insecurities. Hypocrites and the corrupt think of him as one of them, but he’s far from it.

Tezuka majored in medicine in college, which gives him enough background to give these crazy operations somewhat plausible grounding. The real point of the stories is a moral message. Black Jack uses his skills to play god sometimes, bringing a just end to those who deserve it when no one else can.

For example, in the first story, a rich man’s spoiled son has destroyed himself in a car crash. He’s so far gone that another body is needed for replacement parts. The tycoon has no problem framing a poor man for murder, then delivering him to be cut up, but instead of rebuilding the son, Black Jack uses plastic surgery to make the innocent man look like the now-dead son, thus neatly defeating the corrupt.

The characters are caricatures, showing their personalities through their features. The wealthy patriarch is hawk-nosed, with sharp edges and curling hair resembling a crown of feathers. The cowering hospital head is all big nose and balding head, a comedy figure. When we first see Black Jack, it’s a striking pose, cape-like coat blowing in the wind, scarred face and two-tone hair showing how distinctive he is compared to others. The pacing is perfectly suited for action and suspense.

The over-the-top premises of the stories are engrossing. It’s unbelievable that a woman can get visions from a cornea transplanted from a murdered donor, or a famous woman’s psychic “living tumor” could become a doll-like companion to Black Jack. (Katherine Dacey talks about the problems with Pinoko in her review.) Even the Christmas story involves amputation and a rare romance. (Love isn’t treated kindly in this series.) I can see this appealing to fans of shows like CSI or House.

The publisher’s website has previews available. Vertical plans to bring these books out every other month until the whole thing is collected, at least 17 books’ worth. They need your support to follow through on these plans, and the material is deserving of readership.

Chris Butcher‘s review talks about how the stories have been rearranged and redrawn in some cases. Jog has also covered the book.


  1. […] modify mechanical life), Buddha, who is often presented as something of a doctor/mystic, or even Black Jack, a later Tezuka drama about, of all things, a rogue surgeon with a disfigured face and a heart of […]

  2. I’ve been waiting for Vertical’s Black Jack editions for some time, and they’ve been very well worth it so far. The hardcovers for the first three volumes (the third isn’t out yet) each have an extra story, but they’re limited editions and may be a bit hard to find.

  3. That’s why I didn’t mention them — they’re comic shop-exclusive, and I really hate the idea of “extra content only available in this edition”. Plus, Diamond’s been messing up with them, sending them out late and not delivering everything ordered.

  4. […] Johanna Draper Carlson recommends vol. 1 of Black Jack at Comics Worth Reading. Park Cooper reviews vol. 24 of Hunter x Hunter at Manga Life. […]

  5. Oh yeay! I’m happy to hear that Vertical has translated these; this is a series I’ve been wanting to read since I first heard about it five years ago but couldn’t find any translations.

    “Buddha” will probably remain my favorite of Tezuka’s works, but I’m looking forward to reading these. :)

  6. […] astounded that this second book contains even more far-out stories than Book 1. I didn’t think there could be such a thing. […]

  7. […] Black Jack — Demented. Excellent. Viscerally imaginative. […]

  8. […] Black JackThe legendary series by manga master Osamu Tezuka, about an unlicensed doctor and his amazingly inventive operations, comes to America. It’s as crazy as you’ve heard, but well-suited for a culture obsessed with the autopsy porn of CSI. […]

  9. […] the only series of his I’ve liked, in terms of choosing to read it for enjoyment, is Black Jack. There, the exaggerated appearances match the outrageous actions. With much of the rest, I find the […]

  10. […] Manga Worth Reading […]

  11. […] that I’m no longer astounded by the sheer medical craziness of this classic series about a rogue doctor, I’m reevaluating why I read these stories. They do, at times, bear signs of age (especially […]

  12. […] has been a good year for English-language Osama Tezuka fans. Vertical is printing his Black Jack series in beautiful editions. DMP published Tezuka’s experimental manga, Swallowing the […]

  13. […] makes them happy without worrying what anyone else thinks. The story where everyone (including a Black Jack cameo) detoxes, losing everything that’s negative about their personalities, is also pretty […]

  14. […] like a really interesting blend of fields. I’d love to see someone present on Tezuka’s Black Jack! Similar Posts: Religion in Comics Conference § Road to God Knows Launches Online § A […]

  15. […] Black Jack 1 […]

  16. […] copy I’m looking forward to reading, but my answer for favorite Tezuka title would either be Black Jack or Princess Knight, depending on my mood. The former is the popular choice there so far. […]

  17. […] series doesn’t have any connection to Osamu Tezuka’s famous Black Jack, other than that they’re both about doctors fighting a corrupt system. Here, Saito is an […]

  18. […] several of Tezuka’s most famous series. Each issue is over 100 pages of stories, including Black Jack, Phoenix, Dororo, and of course the title series. Later issues include Buddha and […]

  19. […] of Message to Adolf as well as paperbacks of the classic shojo Princess Knight and the lengthy Black Jack pulp adventure. Even some of the lesser-known science fiction books were put out by Dark Horse a […]

  20. […] in print many of Osamu Tezuka’s lesser-known works (since the best-known, like Phoenix, Black Jack, Princess Knight, and Message to Adolf have already been handled by other publishers, mostly […]

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