An Introduction to the Neon Genesis Evangelion Manga

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Neon Genesis Evangelion is back—and for a lot of people, it’s here for the first time. The show begins streaming on Netflix on June 21, making it widely available to North American viewers for the first time in years. For those who’ve already seen it—or if you’re reading this on June 22 and you’ve already binged all 26 episodes—and just can’t get enough NGE, the manga makes a great companion read. If you’re not into anime but don’t want to be left out of the Evangelion party, it also stands really well on its own.

The anime was first broadcast in Japan in 1995, but the manga started earlier and lasted much longer: it wasn’t completed until 20 years later. Although it started out as a fairly straightforward adaptation of the anime, it later veered off and became its own thing, so the manga actually has unique elements of its own—making it worthwhile even if you’ve seen the entire run of the TV series. (Of course, reinvention is part and parcel with this franchise: the anime was swiftly followed by a several movies that tweaked the ending, then decades later by a still-ongoing four-film reboot that changes a lot more than that.)

Get in the f@&%ing robot, Shinji!

Neon Genesis Evangelion starts out as a familiar sort of sci-fi action manga. It takes place in Japan in 2015, some time after an event called the Second Impact caused the polar ice caps to melt and much of the world to be submerged. The setting is Tokyo-3, a futuristic city built after the original Tokyo was destroyed, and the nudge that gets the story rolling is an attack by a giant being called an Angel.

The lead character, Shinji Ikari, initially seems like your typical shonen hero, a nebbishy guy who will turn out to have one really important talent that allows him to excel in some sort of competition. In this case, the talent is piloting a giant mecha, and the competition is fighting the apparently cybernetic monsters called Angels. The Angels keep popping up and attacking things, and as is so often the case, only teenagers operating incredibly complicated equipment can save the world.

Right from the start, though, it’s obvious that there’s something strange about these machines, the Evangelion Units. There’s more to piloting them than just good motor skills:the pilot syncs with the machine in a sort of mind meld. At first that makes sense: Shinji wills his arm to move, and the suit’s arm moves. Things get weirder, though, when he loses consciousness during a fight and drifts off into a bizarre nightmare while the suit goes berserk and defeats the Angel on its own.

The mecha are not what they seem…

All this takes place under the auspices of NERV, the organization responsible for developing the mecha and matching them with pilots. Shinji’s father Gendo is the head of NERV, but he seems to be answering to some sort of higher power. Shinji’s mother disappeared during the test of the first Evangelion suit, 10 years previously, and Gendo subsequently abandoned his son, leaving Shinji to be raised, apparently without much tenderness, by relatives. Shinji resents his father’s disappearance, and although they are reunited at the beginning of the manga, Gendo is cold as dry ice and Shinji can’t get over his anguish at his father’s apparent rejection.

This all sounds pretty serious, but there’s also a lot of light-hearted byplay in the manga (and even more in the spinoffs—see below). Shinji goes to school, where he quickly makes two friends, a tough guy and a nerd. His sort-of guardian, Misato Katsuragi, is the sexy/smart chief operations officer of NERV, and when she’s not doing Important Science Stuff, she likes to drink and flirt and care for her super-adorable pet penguin. Rei, the other pilot at NERV when Shinji arrives, is pale, quiet, and apparently emotionless. She takes a beating in the first fight Shinji sees but is willing to go back out again without complaint. Asuka, the other pilot, is a duplicitous, angry redhead who changes her entire bearing depending on who is around her.

Fans of the anime like to make fun of Shinji for being so neurotic, but he comes across as pretty likable in the manga: he doesn’t want to be tossed into an Eva with no training, but he does it to keep Rei from having to go out again. He’s earnest and heartfelt, if a bit clueless, and he’s easy to empathize with.

No spoilers here, but as the story goes on, many secrets are revealed, some of them horrifying and some of them pretty deep. There’s a lot more to the story than teens in mechs, and the narrative eventually draws in a lot of different strands of religion, history, and philosophy to create its own unique mythology. The religious references, only a few of which I’ve mentioned here, are a giant clue, but they all take on new meanings of their own in this story.

Although the anime was largely the work of director Hideaki Anno and was shaped by his struggles with depression, the manga was created by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. Sadamoto was the character designer for the anime, so the visuals are consistent, but he has made the story his own. The first three volumes were released before the anime aired, partly to promote it, but the fourth volume did not come out until well after the television version had ended. Progress was even slower after that; although the manga was supposed to run as a monthly series, Sadamoto was busy with other projects and there were long delays between chapters. The final volume was not released until 2014, 20 years after the first chapter came out. Over time, the manga wandered off from the anime, becoming an alternate version of the story.

Speaking of alternate versions…

Neon Genesis Evangelion was such a phenomenon in its time that it generated numerous spinoffs, some only tangentially related to the original. Here’s a quick look at what’s available in English.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project, by Osamu Takahashi
Battles take a back seat to relationships in this spinoff that focuses on the triangle of Shinji, Rei, and Asuka. In this world, Asuka and Shinji are childhood friends, and Rei is the new kid who messes things up. This story is 18 volumes long—four volumes longer than the original series—and Dark Horse has published it as both single volumes and beefy three-in-one omnibuses.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Detective Diary, by Takumi Yoshimura
Shinji, still in high school, plays detective when his friend Toji gets into trouble with some gangsters. All the characters in this two-volume series appeared in the original manga, but here they are cast in a very different story.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Campus Apocalypse, by Gainax
We’re back to action stories in this three-volume series (collected by Dark Horse into a single omnibus). Shinji is a student at the elite NERV Academy, and his fellow students, Rei, Asuka, and Kaworu (another NGE character) are out every night fighting humanoid Angels on the streets.

Tony Takezaki’s Neon Evangelion, by Tony Takezaki
There’s an unwritten rule of manga (or maybe it is written down somewhere, who knows?) that anything really popular must eventually be turned into a gag manga. Takezaki does the honors in this book, a collection of spoofs and imaginative new takes on the familiar story and characters.

Thanks to the continued fan interest in the original anime and the subsequent revisions and reboots, there’s also been a steady supply of art books, most of them drawing from material created for the various filmed iterations. Viz Media recently released Evangelion Illustrations: 2007-2017, collecting character sketches, key art, posters, chibi character designs, and even a spread featuring Evangelion Unit-01 fighting Godzilla—concept art for a theme park ride you’ll need to go to Japan to experience.

In August, Udon Entertainment is releasing another must-have for fans: the Neon Genesis Evangelion: TV Animation Production Art Collection is a massive hardcover volume collecting 432 pages worth of draft artwork created for the original anime. As we said above, Evangelion manga-ka Yoshiyuki Sadamoto creaated all the character designs for the series, so this is fascinating stuff no matter your preferred medium to experience giant teen-piloted robots battling invading massive monsters.

If you love Evangelion as an anime, have you gone on to read the manga? Let us know which version you prefer!

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Find Your New Favorite Manga: 12 Series to Pick Up During Our B2G1 Free Viz Sale

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Viz is the largest publisher of manga in North America, and with not one but two Japanese publishers as parent companies, it has a huge inventory of manga to draw from. While it’s the home of classic series you’ve definitely heard of (Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach) and today’s bestselling franchises (Tokyo Ghoul, One-Punch Man, and especially My Hero Academia), Viz publishes a wide range of series spanning every manga subgenre.

Here’s a look at some of of our less well-known favorites, all of which deserve a wider audience—and all of them are included in our Viz Manga Buy 2, Get the 3rd Free promotion, running from now through the end of April (details here). By all means, stock up on My Hero and complete your One Piece collection… and then search out a new favorite series!

Real, by Takehiko Inoue
Real is set in the world of wheelchair basketball and follows three young men facing different challenges. Tomomi Nomiya is a former basketball fan who caused a motorcycle accident that left a girl paralyzed from the waist down. He was not left with a physical disability, but his guilt weighed on him so heavily that he dropped out of school. Kiyohiko Togawa was a promising sprinter until he lost one of his legs to bone cancer. Hisanobu Takahashi was the prince of his school, gifted with athletic and academic ability and a charming way with the ladies, but a traffic accident left him not only paralyzed but in constant pain. Inoue, the creator of the basketball manga Slam Dunk and the samurai manga Vagabond, creates a more grown-up version of sports manga with Real, and his art, as always, is top-notch. The series is incomplete, and the stretches between volumes are pretty long, but the good news is that there are 14 volumes out already, so there’s plenty of story to enjoy.

Ran and the Gray World, by Aki Irie
Ran is a little kid, but when she puts on her mother’s magic sneakers, she becomes a beautiful adult woman with magic powers. Unfortunately for Ran and her long-suffering brother, Jin—but fortunately for the readers—Ran can’t control those magic powers very well, so she gets into a lot of scrapes. What’s more, she may look like an adult, but she’s still a kid and that’s how she acts, even around other adults. Ran’s mother is a powerful sorceress who spends most of her time away from the family but drops in from time to time to wreak havoc. This all makes for a good story and some fun slapstick comedy, but what really elevates this manga is Irie’s artwork. It’s clear from the covers alone that Irie knows how to compose a page, and her draftsmanship is amazing—which we get to see, as she fills the panels with birds, flowers, household clutter, festivals, all beautifully drawn. Viz gives this manga the special treatment, with a larger trim size and a deluxe cover with French flaps,

Behind the Scenes!, by Bisco Hatori
Behind the Scenes is a shoujo manga that focuses as much on friendship as romance, and the setting is pretty cool, too. College student Ranmaru, a shy guy from the country, is sitting on a park bench by himself when he is run over by a horde of zombies. The zombies are the work of the Art Squad, which produces props, costumes, and scenery for the college’s student filmmakers. Ranmaru is quickly drawn into the club, finding a warm reception in a group of creative and sometimes oddball fellow students. What’s more, he turns out to have valuable talents of his own to offer. Hatori is also the creator of Ouran High School Host Club, and she has a deft hand with the art and a light touch with the story. The series will wrap up with volume 7 in August.

Assassination Classroom, by Yusei Matsui
Sure, this series is popular in the U.S., but not popular enough, so we’re including it here. A strange, octopus-like creature has destroyed part of the moon and plans to destroy the earth in one year—but he wants to spend that intervening year teaching high school. In keeping with the logic of shonen manga, the authorities go along with this and assign him to Class 3-E, which is deliberately designed to be a dead end for students who don’t do well in academics or life. The students are tasked with assassinating him, with a little help from the grown-ups; just to be on the safe side, the weapons they use are harmless to ordinary humans and can only work on their teacher. For his part, Koro Sensei, as the students call him, has all kinds of superpowers that make him hard to kill, plus he’s a really good teacher who uses the students’ assassination attempts to teach them important lessons. The whole thing is both a sendup of shonen manga, exaggerating and undercutting many of the standard clichés, and a really good shonen manga that quickens your heartbeat and pulls at your heartstrings at the same time.

Golden Kamuy, by Satoru Noda
A tale of war veteran searching for gold in the frozen North, Golden Kamuy sounds like something from Jack London, but it’s very Japanese. The North in this case is the northern island of Hokkaido, and the soldier is Saichi Sugimoto, who earned the nickname “Immortal” in the Russo-Japanese War because he seemed to be impossible to kill. Hoping to strike it rich so he can help the widow of his best friend get needed surgery, he heads to Hokkaido and soon gets wind of a hidden cache of gold that can only be found with a treasure map that was tattooed on the skins of a group of prisoners, who have all escaped from their confinement. Sugimoto has to track them down one by one, but he would have ended up as a bear’s dinner in the first volume if not for Asirpa, a young woman who is a member of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. She saves his life, and the two team up, both for survival and to find the treasure. This story is grisly in places but beautifully drawn and filled with interesting bits of Ainu lore.

Nana, by Ai Yazawa
A compellingly readable story about young women navigating love and life in the big city, Nana has been on hiatus in Japan for 10 years, but there are 21 volumes to enjoy. Nana Komatsu is a naïve romantic from a happy home who follows her heart to Tokyo because her boyfriend has moved there; predictably, this does not end well. Nana Osaki comes from a rougher background—she was abandoned by her mother and expelled from high school—and she is the vocalist of an up-and-coming punk band. Despite, or perhaps because of, their contrasting personalities, they end up becoming close friends, and the story chronicles their romantic and musical ups and downs. It’s an intense roller-coaster ride of a story, with perfect pacing and expressive artwork, and it deserves to be regarded as a modern classic.

Shiver, by Junji Ito
Ito’s talent for evoking the uncanny really shines in short stories, such as the ones in this collection. His stories are rooted in everyday things turned inside out: Balloons, marionettes, a vinyl record, all are vessels for the terrifying and the unspeakable. While some of the stories work better than others, this volume is enhanced by Ito’s commentary on each one. Those who hunger for more can check out Fragments of Horror or his long-form works Gyo, Uzumaki, and, most recently, his own take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Deadman Wonderland, by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou
Deadman Wonderland is a prison that’s also a theme park—one set up not for the enjoyment of its inmates but the general public, who get to watch the prisoners compete in potentially lethal games. The games are creatively sadistic, but the alternative, for the prisoners, is certain death. Teenager Ganta Igarashii is sent there, a death sentence hanging over his head, after his entire class is found slaughtered and he can’t prove he didn’t do it. Once behind bars, he gets help from a strange girl who seems to drop in out of nowhere, and he sets out on a quest to find the mysterious “Red Man” and clear his name. That’s all just in the first volume—the story gets even more twisted from there. Deadman Wonderland was originally published by Tokyopop and was later picked up by Viz; the series is 13 volumes long.

Saturn Apartments, by Hisei Iwaoka
The human race has left the earth and resettled in a ring-shaped colony that orbits 35 kilometers above the surface of the planet. The Saturn Apartments are literally stratified: Those with the most money live on the upper floor, where they are exposed to health-giving sunlight, while the lower regions are the dark, chaotic home of the lower classes. The middle stratum is used for schools and agriculture. Mitsu is a window cleaner, so he and his co-workers are among the few who can travel between levels, and they are keen observers of the human drama behind the glass. Mitsu is young, having recently inherited the job from his father, who has mysteriously disappeared, and part of the story is his quest to figure out what exactly happened. Iwaoka has an incredible sense of space, and her renderings of the maze of the lower level contrast nicely with the huge, empty, sunlit spaces above. The series is seven volumes long.

Dr. Stone, by Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi
Dr. Stoneis sort of a high-concept shonen manga: Two teenage boys have to re-create all of modern technology from scratch, after they and the rest of the world were turned to stone for over 3,000 years. It still follows the Shonen Jump formula, with the everyman protagonist, Taiju, who was about to confess his love to a pretty girl when both of them suddenly became statues, and the super-smart guy (de rigeur in survival manga), Senku, who is kluging things like gunpowder and an anti-petrification solution from bits and pieces of the natural world. As more people emerge from their stone cases, conflicts arise (DUH!), and soon there’s a super-cool professional fighter to provide some menace, and of course the girl is revived as well—but romance has to go on the back burner for the moment. Dr. Stonecombines shonen action and comedy with some pretty clever McGyvering and a few actual science facts, making it a nice read for those who like a little something extra with their manga.

That Blue Sky Feeling, by Okura and Coma Hashii
That Blue Sky Feeling feels a bit like a shoujo romance, the one with the closed-off dude who is aloof towards everybody and the transfer student who tries to get through to him. The difference here is not just that both are male but that they, and their friends, act a lot more like ordinary high schoolers than most manga characters. Noshiro is a big, friendly guy who has moved schools several times and has learned to adjust to new places. Sanada, a fellow student in his new school, keeps to himself, and everyone acts very awkward about that. At first, Noshiro thinks he’s being bullied, and when he finds out that there’s a rumor that Sanada is gay, he is indignant. When he finds out the rumor is true, he is confused but still determined to be friends with Sanada. Sometimes he says the wrong thing, even hurtful things, but by the end of the first volume he and Sanada are starting to figure things out, with a little help from Sanada’s older, wiser, and not at all creepy ex-boyfriend. This manga started out as a self-published webcomic, and it has a heartfelt feeling to it as well as a good sense of how high schoolers really talk and think.

Dead Dead Demon’s Dedededestruction, by Inio Asano
The aliens have invaded Tokyo, but it turns out they are sort of loser aliens: The invasion was stopped with a special new weapon, provided by the Americans, and now the mother ship hangs listlessly over the city, blocking the sunlight but otherwise causing little harm. Occasionally a smaller saucer emerges, but they are so slow and weak that one was brought down by a kid throwing a rock. While the aliens no longer seem to present an immediate danger, politicians and industrialists have seized on their presence to promote their own agenda, while the rest of the population is simply uneasy. Asano’s story starts with a pair of high school girls; one lost her father in the invasion and is in the process of losing her mother to the subsequent paranoia, while the other is a junior philosopher who is fascinated by the whole phenomenon. Together they follow the news in a desultory sort of way, goof around with their friends, and play video games late into the night. As the series goes on, the cast expands and a plot begins to emerge, but Asano is taking his time, building up a fascinating picture of a dystopian world, as seen through the perceptive and ever-critical eyes of teenage girls. Asano uses a lot of photo reference, building up complicated, cluttered pages and then plopping weirdly cartoonish figures into them—most of the side characters look more like blow-up dolls than real people—adding to the sense that ordinary reality and the unthinkable are coexisting side by side.

Shop the Viz Manga Buy 2 Get the 3rd Free Sale, now through April 29.

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