It would be difficult to find a manga that is more influential than Kentaro Miura’s Berserk.
The dark fantasy manga has been going ever since 1989, where the story of Guts, the Black Swordsman, the Struggler himself, began to unfold for many readers.
Miura continued this gruesome, tragic and reflective story for decades, all the way up until his tragic passing on May 6, 2021.
For whatever reason, I had never read Berserk before, despite knowing it had inspiried so many other stories that I loved from the mediums of manga, anime, movies, video games, and novels.
Well, I finally sat down and read the whole thing over the course of a week and it was quite the traumatic experience.
Joke’s aside, Berserk is quite the disturbing manga, one which provided some of the most horrifying scenes I had ever read.
I actually needed to take breaks when reading because some of it became a bit much.
However, gruesome is not all Berserk is because Miura was brilliant at crafting reflective and emotional scenes, as well as horrifying ones, resulting in what has to be one of the best protagonists I have ever read, Guts.
His struggle against his inner demons in the face of a monstrous world is one I will not forget.
I went from disliking Guts, to sympathizing with him, to being sympathetic but still horrified by his actions, to smiling at his redemption.
There are so many emotional moments with his character.
He is such an amazing character and his supporting cast is just as good.
The most noticeable of these if Griffith, who has been the subject of quite a few memes saying, “Griffith did nothing wrong!”
Well, after reading the eclipse chapters, I can say that, yes, Griffith did do something wrong, quite a few things in fact.
You know what?
He didn’t just do “quite a few things” wrong, he took the entire concept of wrong and became the freaking personification of it!
Seriously, what the f**k Griffith!?
Still, an incredible character who complements Guts quite well.
Then, there’s Casca, who is also amazing, and her romance with Guts is fantastically written, especially with how it culminates in the brilliant “Wounds” chapters.
Honestly, pretty much every other character is fantastic as well.
Puck, Judeau, Pippin, Rickert, Schierke, Farnese, Serpico, Isidro, Roderick, The Skull Knight, Zod, Luca, Silat.
There is not a single weak character that I can think of… well, except for Nina, she sucks.
The story these characters drive is also both a horrifying and beautiful one, just like the world they live in.
This results in some incredible arcs like the famous Golden Age Arc, and the Conviction Arc.
Accompanying this amazing story and these amazing characters (except for Nina) is some jaw dropping artwork.
So often, I would just stop reading and gaze at the beauty of what Miura had drawn,
I would go as far to say that, in my own personal opinion, Miura is the greatest mangaka of all time when it comes to artwork.
It feels like some of these panels could have gone into a museum, that’s how incredible they are.
So, with all this praise I have been heaping on Berserk, it would be safe to say that I consider it to be a masterpiece, right?
Well, unfortunately, I do think there are a few things which hold it back from taking that title, at least for me.
The first of these issues is minor, and it is that the story does drag a little bit at the boat arc.
Since this storyline lasted years when being written because of how long gaps were between the release dates of chapters were, I imagine it must have been agony waiting for this storyline to end for some fans.
Well, since this arc had been finished by the time I read it, it only took me a couple of days to read but it was probably the weakest part of the story for me.
Still, this is not a huge issue because Berserk is over 300 chapters long and, when you get a story of that length, it is almost inevitable that it will drag at some points.
The next issue, which I found to be a bigger one, is the treatment of Puck’s character.
I really enjoyed Puck’s role in the story for the first half of Berserk, with him basically serving as the angel on Guts’ shoulder, not that Guts really listens to him.
However, after the Conviction Arc, Puck becomes a complete caricature of his former self, his only role in the story now being to tell insufferable, fourth wall breaking jokes that do not even suit his character.
I remember a moment when I was reading through one of the final arcs in the story before Miura’s passing, where Guts was having an inner monlogue and he thought about Puck, and I realized I could not remember the last time the two of them had even had a conversation.
The final issue I have with Berserk is the most problematic and its the rape, or rather the constant usage of it.
Now, credit where it is due, I do think that Miura did an amazing job portraying the trauma of sexual assault, especially in regards to Guts and Casca,
How their trauma resulted in the “Wounds” chapters and Casca’s return in the Fantasia Arc was very emotional to read.
However, while I do like the depiction of the trials Guts and Casca faces due to their trauma, I think Casca suffers from the threat of sexual assault way too much.
I honestly lost count of how many times Casca would go off on her own, comes across a group of random rapists, who would then rip off her clothes, followed by plenty of uncomfortable panels of her naked body, only for Guts to save her or for her to save herself.
The first few times this happened it was horrifying, but by the third, fourth, and how ever many more times it happened, I was completely tired of it.
Was there really no other way to show that Casca was in danger that wasn’t so degrading to her?
Well, at least Miura seemed to realize how repetitive this was because the constant danger of rape Casca was facing ceased in the last few arcs.
It was these issues I had that kept Berserk from the title of a masterpiece for me.
That said, I completely understand why this manga is a masterpiece to so many other readers.
It certainly has many masterpiece moments and characters, with Guts already being one of my favourite protagonists, and the artwork itself is a masterpiece all on its own.
When I reached Chapter 363, I immediately went to read the next one, only to realize that this was the last one released before Miura’s passing.
While it is sad to see that his epic story will potentially remain unfinished, what’s more important is the loss of a man who inspired a generation of creators.
Without Berserk many great stories simply would not exist.
So, may you rest in peace Kentarou Miura and thank you for gifting us with this amazing work that so many have loved and been inspired by.