I’ve read a lot of long running comics in my thirty eight years upon this earth and many of them have came and went and reached a satisfactory (and occasionally amazing) conclusion. In the case of manga, some stories can be digested in a week, a day or an afternoon. Some however require a lot more investment on the reader’s part. Every person who reads a lot of manga will have at least one series that they’ve been reading/collecting for years that is still nowhere near its conclusion. Some of them may have started five years ago or maybe ten, but how about series that started twenty years ago…..or even thirty?
While I’m not old enough to have been a fan of many of these series since the beginning, and many of them weren’t made available to the west in English at the time anyway, I have still spent a large portion of my life reading them (and in the case of the rarer ones looking for translations).
Read on as I share my five favourite manga that started a looooooong time ago (one before I was even born!).
BIO-BOOSTER ARMOUR GUYVER (1985 to present) By Yoshiki Takaya (32 Collected Volumes)
A lot of old school fans who got into anime in the 90’s will remember the adaptations of the Guyver, specifically the 80’s OVA version. However none of the adaptations have made it through anywhere near all of the source material leaving the manga by far the definitive version. This sci-fi tale has a lot of elements common to action and shonen manga but its dark tone, relentless action and intrigue mixed with its spectacular monster and mecha design have made it a firm fan favourite in the west. The story is centred around a teenager named Sho Fukamachi and his Friend Tetsuro Sagawa. The duo see a strange object fall from the sky and soon Sho accidentally bonds with a mysterious alien artefact known as “The Guyver” a bio-mechanical suit of armour that protects him when he is attacked by the evil agents of the Chronos Organisation, elite soldiers who can transform into powerful monsters called Zoanoids. Soon Sho’s father, his friends and his entire hometown are at risk as Chronos targets those close to him so they can kill him and retrieve the Guyver unit. Takaya’s art may not be as impressive as many of his contemporaries but his designs are absolutely out of this world (fitting given the subject matter really). His writing has a real sense of momentum and Sho and his friends being relentlessly pursued by Chronos while discovering more about the Zoanoids as well as the Guyver units (as well as their creators) just never gets old for me.
The series has been on hiatus for a couple of years now and fans have began to worry about whether it will return anytime soon. The pacing of the series would suggest that it isn’t really close to being concluded either. Please return soon Takaya-San! I’d hate to never find out how it all ends.
Availability: Unfortunately while VIZ once released Guyver in monthly comic format and collected editions, they ceased publishing it a long time ago and the old books are now out of print. The only available translations are the fan translations online.
BERSERK (1989 to present) By Kentaro Mirura (40 Collected Volumes)
There really is no other manga artist/writer like Kentaro Mirura. His work defies description. His art is so meticulously detailed that none of the anime adaptations made thus far have even come close to capturing the world of Berserk on the screen. A medieval fantasy epic like no other; Berserk chronicles the quest of the warrior named “Guts” (also known as the Black Swordsman) as he cuts a swath of vengeance through the demonic monsters and minions of the evil “Godhand”. Honestly the less you know about the story going in the more you’ll enjoy the ride. Everything I just mentioned is set up pretty early on but the story is about sooooo much more.
Berserk may appear at first to be a simple action/horror tale but keep reading and you’ll discover one of the most incredibly crafted and fascinating fictional worlds ever created. If Mirura’s art was all he had going for him it’d still be an easy recommendation, however he creates brilliantly realised characters and a story with such a huge sense of scale so masterfully that it’s hard not to be intimidated by his talent as a writer. Word of warning though: this book is extremely dark, if you don’t like graphic content then forget you ever heard of this manga. This book pulls no punches whatsoever and there are some genuinely disturbing scenes.
A running joke online is that Mirura is too busy playing the Idolmaster videogames to finish Berserk. He mentioned a few times in interviews that he likes the games and sometimes can be distracted from working on manga when playing them, but fans online have blown this way out of proportion over the years.
Mirura is only in his fifties and often manga authors work for a lot longer with many legends being in their 70’s and older, however I have a genuine worry that something may happen to Mirura before his masterpiece is complete (that’s how much I love this story). Take good care of yourself Mirura sensei!
Availability: Dark Horse currently publishes Berserk in English and it just released the 39th volume. An English translation of the official Berserk fanbook (Which I have on pre-order) will be released on 2nd October.
HAJIME NO IPPO (1989 to present) By Jyoji/George Morikawa (122 Collected Volumes!!!)
The title of this manga translated into English means something like “First steps”. It chronicles the life of teenager Ippo Makunouchi who after being given a pretty bad beating by local bullies is invited by Mamoru Takamura, a professional boxer and owner of a local gym to take his frustrations out on a punching bag. However this incident leads to Takamura discovering that Ippo has a natural aptitude for boxing and eventually he takes him under his wing to train him to be a pro like him. What’s great about Hajime No Ippo is the fact it focuses on character development and the pasts and backgrounds of many of Ippo’s rivals as much as the slugfests themselves. One of the greatest parts of the series for me is the relationship between Ippo and his friend and rival Miyata and the amount of natural character growth throughout.
Then there’s the art. The way Morikawa draws movement is beautiful. The best manga artists convey a sense of movement before your eyes even though you’re looking at still images and Morikawa excels at this. Often you feel the speed and weight of a character’s punch or get a sense of the pace of the fight. Even some very popular well loved (and undoubtedly good) manga don’t always get this right. I particularly love Morikawa’s shading and his use of multiple drawings of Ippo’s movement in the same panel to convey his fighting speed.
Availability: Unfortunately, like Guyver, there is no official way to purchase Hajime No Ippo currently. Despite the anime being released on US DVD the franchise doesn’t seem to have a particularly big fanbase in western territories. Everything I’ve read (which is nowhere near the full series so far) has been due to kind hearted online translators.
GINGA Series (1983 to present) By Yoshiro Takahashi (127 Volumes across all series and spin offs)
Okay so this might be cheating slightly but I’m referring to a whole manga franchise here rather than just one iteration. The Ginga series began in 1983 with Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin (Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin). Don’t let the cute images fool you, like its protagonists this series has teeth and it’s not afraid to use them. The original manga is centered around the efforts of Gin (Japanese for Silver) a Japanese Ikita and his friends who are trying to stop a bear called Akamuto from taking over their territory and killing their friends. I was introduced to the saga by finding a fan site online some years ago and at the time the only translations I could find was of the sequel Ginga Legend Weed. I’ve since read some of the original online though not all of it is fully translated. The second series is about the titular dog Weed, the son of Gin (the protagonist of the previous manga) and his efforts to find his father. The characters are likeable enough but its the spectacle and drama of the series that makes it great. While it is suitable for a younger audience and not exactly ultra violent it doesn’t shy away from strong topics such as humans mistreating animals and the harshness of nature and the elements. It portrays the struggle for survival that the animals face every day and that’s what makes it so compelling. If you like the novels of Richard Adams like Watership Down and The Plague Dogs or their animated adaptations (or if maybe you’re just a big dog lover) you’ll probably really enjoy the Ginga series.
Availability: No official English version, just online translations.
GOLGO 13 (1968 to Present) Created By Takao Saito/Written by various (190 Collected Volumes!!!)
Again another manga series old school fans may have heard of due to the fact the 80’s anime movie Golgo 13: The Professional was released in both the US and UK in the 1990’s and was likely another gateway drug for some early anime fans in the west.
This extremely long running manga follows the adventures of the hitman for hire codenamed “Golgo 13” (sometimes known by the alias of Duke Togo) although the series never reveals his real name (as far as I’ve read anyway) or gives any definite information about his background. A refreshing thing about the series is that it is comprised of completely standalone stories about Golgo’s various “jobs”. Whether he’s fighting neo nazis or sniping an expensive bottle of bootlegged wine you can be sure you’re in for an interesting tale with the steely eyed, stoic faced one around. The manga’s art honestly isn’t its strong point but I love the ridiculously over the top nature of Golgo’s near superhuman skills and the insane attention to detail and planning that goes into his assassinations. Because the series has been going on so long there are hundreds of Golgo tales with hugely varying subject matter. The one constant though is that Golgo ALWAYS succeeds no matter what. You know he’s going to kill the target or achieve whatever objective he has been hired for, it’s just a matter of how. Therein lies the beauty of the series, seeing just how crazy or imaginative his method of carrying out the job will be this time around. I also love the historical stories that put Golgo at important world changing events, he’s kind of like the cigarette smoking man in The X-Files. A shadowy figure who has toppled governments and changed the outcome of presidential elections all with the single pull of a trigger.
With some of these long running series that are more focused on an ongoing storyline I’ve expressed the fear of some of my favourites not getting finished. That’s not really a concern with Golgo since all the stories are self contained. If it ended tomorrow it’d be as good a time to end as any!
Availability: VIZ media released (aptly enough) 13 volumes of what they considered Golgo’s “greatest hits” (terrible pun intended) rather than attempt the monumental task of releasing every volume of the series. Despite really liking my physical books perhaps the entire series could be a good candidate for a digital release. Once the series is finished it’d also be a contender for release as an E-One book. If you have no idea what I’m talking about you can read about the E-one book here in this article.
Another small issue regarding Golgo’s availability is that a handful of chapters have never been republished even in Japan due to them courting controversy by covering subjects of a sensitive nature.
What are some of your favourite long running manga that aren’t finished yet? See you in the comments! I hope to cover more manga that I love in future articles.
UPDATE 18/10/2018: I recently read an article from 2015 that I had previously missed regarding Golgo 13’s shelf life. Creator Takao Saito was quoted in a 2015 issue of Shogakukan Big Comic Magazine (the current home of Golgo 13) as saying the manga is “working towards its conclusion at last!” however considering the extremely long running nature of the series and the fact that day still hasn’t arrived we could be waiting some time for the final installment yet.