It's time for another addition to the 'New Manga in the Spotlight" category and what better manga to grace the category than the new monster hit about human survival. Just a quick note: North American readers may recognise this title by its English name Attack on Titan.
I'm going to be honest and say from the beginning that I only checked out this manga because of its extraordinary sales figures. Any manga selling over 500,000 per volume is bound to be half-decent, the likes of One Piece, Naruto, Bleach etc. always grace the Oricon best seller lists with opening sales of 500,000 plus and slightly lower down we usually see Toriko, Reborn! and Nurarihyon no Mago start off with sales of over 200,000 for the first week, so I decided to trust the popularity and dive in whole heartedly. What was the outcome
I can't say that I was hooked instantly but after a few chapters I didn't really want to stop reading after about the 10th chapter. The manga is interesting to say the least - everyone loves a good man versus titan/giant story - and could probably be seen as a direct competitor of Claymore since both series have certain similarities with the big plot elements but the manga still remains different from Claymore and if I'm being honest at times it is much better. Obviously as a direct competitor of Claymore and maybe even Vinland Saga, the story is plenty brutal with blood and guts from the get-go.
For me, it was the limited world where the story is set coupled with plot revolving around mankind's survival that work very well, proving that sometimes the most enjoyable stories are the ones that are simplest. All of that's not to say that the plot doesn't develop and become more complex, especially since the number of characters in Shingeki no Kyojin that play an important role is considerable and as the manga progresses the story becomes more complex at an appropriate pace whilst also incorporating more and more of the characters into the story.
Even with only 34 chapters of the manga published (at this point in time), the pace remains fast enough to make you stop and take a breath before continuing but not so fast as to gloss over crucial developments in the plot and with the characters.
Artwork is always a big factor in making me decide to pick up a manga or not. It doesn't have to be the prettiest or the most complex but it does have to be in synergy with the story and Shingeki no Kyojin manages to do so with its rough, dark and unpolished art that boarders on the fine line that separates the shonen and seinen demographics.
The character designs and designs of the titans was also something that stands out for being very simple yet effective. The human characters are drawn in a way that doesn't really make them stand out with any special characteristics (that's the beauty of this manga not being on the Shonen Jump roster), and somehow they are still distinguishable as individuals without many opportunities to get them mixed up due to some type of confusion; the titan character designs on the other hand are a little unsatisfying and for the most part lack creativity but when looking at the bigger picture they work quite well with story.
Even with unpolished artwork befitting a series such as this it's the scenery artwork that stands out the most, making the limited world setting all the more enjoyable.
Unlike quite a few manga series which go too fast or too slow, Shingeki no Kyojin has found its stride which I would consider to be optimal. The story doesn't move slowly in many chapters and even in the ones that take their time there a sense of a climax being built up. I remember reading a few early chapters of Claymore where the story seems to progress at inconceivable speeds whenever there were fight scenes and then later being disappointed by a huge change in pace (of course this has happened with many other series) but this manga doesn't have that problem and has managed to keep the panelling of each chapter and their lengths at very appropriate levels.
I'm still amazed by the fact that series has been referred to as a "sleeper hit" on more than one occasion but I understand that a for a series like this, which most wouldn't expect to be popular, it would have to be done very well in order for it to become as popular as it is. I'd say that fans of Claymore, Vinland Saga and those who enjoy series that aren't your run of the mill shonen fantasy battle series would enjoy Shingeki no Kyojin very much.
It's popularity isn't for show, with impressive sales figures that place it in the top 10 best-selling manga of this year (thus far) and a live action adaptation on the way so give it a read if you're looking for a shonen manga that isn't your typical adventure/battle/fantasy story and enjoy!
Authors Final Note: I wrote this review as kind of a introductory post for the series, since it's being added to the Monthly Manga Review and many readers are probably not familiar with the manga itself. The most recent chapter (34) will be reviewed and added to The Monthly Manga Review - May/June 2012 post by the end of tommorrow (11th June 2012).