I make no excuses for this one. Call me otaku if you must, but let’s not pretend that Japanese graphic novels, better known as mangas, are not full of totally rad characters who would not be out of place at a Manowar concert or the <insert preferred name here> summer festival. (Side note: you might like Manowar, but not as much as this guy.) From excessive gore to plots so insane that they couldn’t fit into a Dan Seagrave album cover, the best horror or horror-action manga is as good as any slasher flick or thrash metal album from the ‘80s. And despite what you might think, there’s quite the overlap between metal and manga–some the best manga artists and writers are noted metal fans, while a few of your favorite metal musicians, like Trey Azagthoth, are manga connoisseurs. So, accordingly, let’s celebrate two historically dorky subcultures by meeting over a peace table of Pocky, cheap beer, and a couple of G.I.S.M. records. Let’s celebrate the 8 most metal characters in the history of manga.
8. The Cat-Eyed Boy
An golden oldie from manga legend Kazuo Umezu, The Cat-Eyed Boy is a goblin child who was abandoned by the other demons because he looked too much like a real boy. Well, he does, except that he has the eyes of a cat. Shunned by the things that bump in the night and hated by those who walk during the day, the Cat-Eyed Boy is one of the earliest anti-heroes in the history of manga.
What Makes Him Metal: Every time The Cat-Eyed Boy is around, something bad happens. His very presence is apparently catnip for monsters and ghoulies, and since Umezu is one of the undisputed masters of grotesque artwork, The Cat-Eyed Boy’s very existence means a whole lot of metal moments for readers.
7. The Monsters in Gyo
Junji Ito’s Gyo is disgusting in all the right ways. After an Okinawa holiday goes (literally) sour after strange fish start washing up on the shore, Tadashi and his galpal Kaori begin looking into the reason why these strange fish seem to be partially mechanical and why they stink to high heaven. The answer: during World War II, when the Japanese Army knew that the fight was no longer their’s to win, they infected host animals with a deadly virus and strapped them onto contraptions that would allow them to penetrate enemy lines and sicken all those who came into contact with either the host animal or its pungent stench.
What Makes Them Metal: Weird science plus half-robot, half-zombie marine life plague carriers equals manga goodness. Also, Pungent Stench, a phrase I used two sentences ago, is the name of a metal band, ergo Gyo is metal.
6. Tiger Mask
As I’ve shown in an earlier article, pro wrestling can be very metal. Heels are especially prone to flashes of metal awesomeness, and there’s no greater heel in the history of manga than Tiger Mask. Created by Ikki Kajiwara and Naoki Tsuji in 1968, Tiger Mask was a manga series centered around a mysterious heel wrestler known as, you guessed it, Tiger Mask. While in reality a sweetheart of a guy named Naoto Date, who wrestles so that he can help out some local orphans, Tiger Mask is a vicious monster in the ring who often gets disqualified for the thrill of it. Also, he wrestled Black Python in “The Death Match of the Century.”
What Makes Him Metal: The Tiger Mask phenomenon became so great that in the 1980s, New Japan Pro Wrestling created a real Tiger Mask in order to boost their junior heavyweight division. In a weird turn of events, the real-life Tiger Mask wrestled Antonio Inoki just like the fictional one did decades before.
Written and drawn by Go Nagai, one of the most respected creators in the history of manga, Devilman explores the idea of what would happen if evil fought evil. Once the puny weakling Akira Fudo is shown the fossilized skull of an ancient demon by his shady friend and son of a prominent archaeologist Ryo Asuka, he begins his transformation into Devilman–a half-demon, half-human super anti-hero who macks it with the ladies and slays hordes of others demons. Originally released in 1972, Devilman is supercharged with sex and violence. You know, the good stuff.
What Makes Him Metal: Not only does Akira look like Misfits-era Glenn Danzig, but it turns out that Danzig is such a huge fan of Devilman that he released several issues under his Verotik Comic Book company.
An ageless vampire who’s hard to kill and who hunts after other vamps and their ghoul minions with giant pistols shooting a big .454 round that can rip open doors and faces? To quote the greatest, most beautiful hack of them, that’s PFG. One of the primary heroes of Kouta Hirano’s Hellsing manga, Alucard is Dracula (“Alucard” is Dracula spelled backwards–a plot device lifted from 1943’s Son of Dracula), but instead of trying to ruin England by working his way through one beautiful neck after the other, he’s made himself into one of the greatest defenders of the Anglican Church against the evil whims of both the Nazis and the Vatican.
What Makes Him Metal: So much blood is spilled in Hellsing, that entire black-and-white pages are blacker than Spinal Tap’s greatest album.
If the entire genre of deathrock ever opened a Twitter account, its avatar would by Ryuk. A shinigami (which in Japanese mythology is a death god or spirit), Ryuk is a likable monster who is attached to the hip of Light Yagami, a bored sociopath who uses Ryuk’s old supernatural notebook to kill off those people he deems useless or evil. Although less evil than Light, Ryuk scores points in Death Note for looking so goth-y.
What Makes Him Metal: Did I forget to write “death god” or are you just not paying attention?
Anything associated with Fist of the North Star is pretty metal. One of the most violent manga series ever that became a violent anime TV show and movie, Fist of the North Star is a Hong Kong film trapped inside the same dystopia as Mad Max Rockatansky. It should be no surprise then that the series’s protagonist, Kenshiro, was modeled after Mad Max. But in terms of gore percentage, Kenshiro spills more red paint than Mad Max ever did, plus the fact that Kenshiro comes from a long line of assassins only makes him far more metal than Mel Gibson in black leather.
What Makes Him Metal: Kenshiro’s nickname is the Man With Seven Scars. Also, this.
1. Dark Schneider
Created by a metal and Dungeons & Dragons fan named Kazushi Hagiwara, Bastard! revolves around a powerful wizard named Dark Schneider. In a world full of sorcery, monsters, and ridiculously large-breasted women, Dark Schneider just wants to use his black magic, rule the world, and pick up every woman in existence. He’s essentially every LA band circa 1983, but don’t hold that against him.
Bonus: Detroit Metal City
Detroit Metal City is basically the Japanese version of Metalocalypse, which pokes fun at black metal’s overly serious demeanor and its various attempts to be evil at all times. It’s worth a read/watch.