Demon Slayer Manga: A Modern Shounen Classic?

About a year ago, I reviewed the first season of the Demon Slayer anime. While I mostly stand by it, I do wish I had been a bit more critical of it. Looking back, while I still greatly enjoy it, I can acknowledge it is a more flawed show than I let on. Still, I am greatly looking forward to the movie and any future seasons.

Although, I have ruined one aspect of the story for myself: surprise. Because I got a little too impatient and bored. So, I did the only thing available for me: I read the manga. And just in time, too! Because I started just in time to catch up right before the final chapters!

So, now that the story is done, how does it stand? Is Demon Slayer a modern classic? Or just another passing fad? Well… if I’m being honest: no. It’s fun, sure! But I hesitate to call it a masterpiece.

We all know the story already. Tanjiro’s family gets murdered by a demon, all except for his sister Nezuko, who became a demon. In order to turn her human again, Tanjiro becomes a Demon Slayer swordsman and sets out on a journey to find a cure and kill the demon responsible: Kimetsuji Muzan. Together, he and Nezuko must defeat as many demons and save as many people as possible.

The premise itself is pretty compelling. Unfortunately, in execution, it does leave a lot to be desired. The characters, while likable, are all flat, with very few characters experiencing a proper character arc. The villains are uninteresting and forgettable, especially towards the end. It has a decent ending, though I can’t say I particularly love the final chapter. Plus, the artwork can be a little visually confusing at times, though the panel structure is very good. It is a decent, highly flawed manga.

The biggest problem is the pacing. See, the story doesn’t really have any noticeable forward momentum. Mainly because it just goes in a circle of repeating story beats. Those beats being:

  • Tanjiro and Nezuko, along with arc-central characters, go to a place
  • They fight a demon
  • Oh no, the demon is too much for them
  • Work together to kill demon and surpass limits
  • Tanjiro goes to train and get stronger

Rinse. Repeat. For an entire story. This shit is more of a ‘monster of the week’ story than fucking Kamen Rider!

It certainly doesn’t help that the character development boils down to ‘character gets stronger’. And… yeah, that’s it. Tanjiro’s character growth is just learning how to use the Hinokami Kagura. Nezuko’s is getting stronger as a demon, then becoming human again. Zenitsu just becomes faster, save for one moment where he gets over his fear, then goes right back to being the way he was.

There are a few exceptions, of course. Inosuke has a great arc early on, wherein he slowly becomes friends with Tanjiro and the others. Kanao learns to listen to her heart and make her own decisions. These are compelling arcs, but they don’t last long. That, or they don’t get much focus.

Other characters have arcs, but they’re so unbelievably rushed that it’s basically a joke. Giyu is a self-isolating asshole, then Tanjiro says one fucking thing to him and he drops the act. In fact, most of the Hashira are the exact same way! And by most, I mean literally all of them except for Rengoku!

Cause he kind of… well… I won’t spoil anything for the anime-only crowd. At least, any more than I already have.

And then there are the villains. Remember how they only got backstories right as/after they died in the show? Well, that remains true in the manga. And no, it never changes. All the information you need to care about them as characters is given after they’re dead. I appreciate the attempt to humanize them. But for fuck’s sake, find a way to work it into the story rather than tacking it on like an afterthought!

The worst one is Muzan. This motherfucker is such a boring antagonist! His backstory boils down to ‘I almost died and now I never want to’. He’s just sadism, apathy, and power. He has no interesting emotional conflict with Tanjiro beyond lying to him to try swaying him to the dark side. He could have been an incredible antagonist. But then they actually have to fight him and he just ends up becoming boring. Like an obstacle to overcome rather than a character.

Where have I seen that before?

Completely unrelated picture of Jiren.

Finally, we come to the ending. The second to last chapter is pretty good; it wraps up the stories of the main cast in a satisfying, emotional way (even if none of them have grown much as people). Then, in the final chapter, we get a whole bunch of look-alikes living a peaceful life in the modern age! Literally every human character is reborn in some way, with the exact same designs! To hell if it doesn’t make sense, that’s what they looked like before, so that’s how they need to look when reincarnated!

I have mixed feelings on this ending. On one hand, it does illustrate how our heroes lives weren’t wasted. Having the descendants of our heroes live in true peace makes their sacrifices feel meaningful. On the other, it completely sweeps aside the established cast, relegating them to unnamed great-grandparents to the new, reincarnated characters. Plus, having it take place so many years after the story itself makes it feel completely disconnected. It feels more like fanfiction than a proper epilogue.

But hey. At least we won’t have to deal with a crappy sequel starring the kids. Cough cough Boruto.

Alright, I’m done bullying the writing. Now I’m going to bully the artwork! Although not nearly as much.

The art in this series is really good! It has a distinct, memorable style that helps it stand out. All the character designs are great, especially the demons, which look monstrous and disturbing. The panel structure is great, being super easy to follow and read.

My main problem is that some of the drawings can be a bit cramped. Often times, there can be so much going on in one drawing that it can be difficult to tell exactly what’s going on. It mostly happens in full-page drawings. Granted, you’ll often take your time looking at those ones. But even after extended analyses, I still find myself confused.

Still easier on the eyes than the Dragon Ball Super manga. Completely unrelated, I know. But after experiencing that hell, most other manga look so much better now.

All in all, the Demon Slayer manga is… just okay. The writing is positively riddled with problems throughout, with many lows to match the highs. The artwork is great, though it can be a bit muddled at times. It’s far from perfect. I hesitate to call it a modern Shounen masterpiece. But I can’t deny that it was a lot of fun!

And now we wait for the anime to slowly adapt everything. Can’t wait to come back to it in twenty years.

You guys think I’ll still be blogging by then? I hope I will.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: