Top 5 best manga on hiatus and why you should read them anyway: Berserk and more!

Kentaro Miura’s Berserk. Pic credit: https://japanobjects.com/

The dreaded abbreviation “TBD” is well-known to all manga fans and, sadly, sometimes even the best manga go on hiatus. The doom and gloom is difficult to describe to the oblivious non-manga fans, especially when you’ve been eagerly anticipating each next volume for many years, only to discover down the road that your favorite title may never be finished.

Worst case scenario, your favorite manga will definitely never be finished!

How can something that terrible even happen?

Why do manga go on hiatus?

To be sure, sometimes manga get canceled prematurely simply because they aren’t selling well. With so many new titles popping up all the time in Japan, it’s only to be expected that not every one of them will be popular. Competition is fierce… that’s good news, right?

Not necessarily.

Sometimes, even exceptional manga may fall victim to hiatus when the topic isn’t popular; at other times, the timing isn’t right. Sometimes, a more popular manga of the same genre may leave an equally good, but less popular, manga behind. Occasionally, cultural sensitivity is to blame (don’t get me started on political correctness and its perception in different cultures!).  

But why on earth would a stellar, out-of-the-box, top-selling manga go on hiatus out of the blue?

Mangaka are human, just like us

In some cases, the worst news is to blame. Unbelievably enough, mangaka are human just like us and they also grow old and get ill. Some manga will remain unfinished forever because the mangaka has passed away, while others may get an alternate ending drawn by a different artist.  

And no, manga are not drawn by one person alone. Rather, there are small teams working on different aspects (background, shading, etc.), as everyone who has seen Bakuman or Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-Kun (among others) should be aware of. Hats off to these people, not only to the names who get credited!              

There are other, less terrible reasons as well. Sometimes, a mangaka earns more money than they could possibly spend, so they eventually give up. Selfish, one might think at first, but I beg to differ.

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The breakneck dynamics of manga publishing doesn’t even begin to compare to the dynamics of… well, any other form of publishing!

Most manga chapters get published on a monthly basis (there are 40 to 45 pages per chapter, on average). Multiply that by the number of chapters of your favorite ongoing manga, and you’ll arrive at the sobering conclusion that mangaka hardly get any time left for anything else except, perhaps, an occasional shower, a short nap, and some food. That’s the very definition of burnout, if you ask me.

Who can blame them, then, if they choose to give up once they’ve earned enough money?

Obviously, the fans do (even the most empathetic ones). The sentiment is not that difficult to understand when you put it into perspective.

I.e., George R. R. Martin’s fans can easily relate — I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire series when there were only three books published… which was 22 long years ago. Today there are five installments (yes, two books in 22 years!) and the series is still far from being finished.

Many fans think they’ll never be finished, too. Taking into account that the writer isn’t getting any younger and that he’s been obviously giving priority to just any other project, this is a likely scenario.

Nevertheless, A Song of Ice and Fire is still getting new fans simply because the books are too good to miss. The same applies to manga. Exceptional manga are simply too good to ignore, even when they’re on hiatus (temporary or indefinite, regardless). 

Why you should give a chance to manga on hiatus

As we’ve already seen, manga publishing deadlines are frightfully demanding.

However, burnout or not, loyalty should not be taken for granted. There’s no denying that fanbases can be a pain in the neck, but who do you think makes the creators rich? Some kind of conclusion is desirable, at the very least, but rushed endings often ruin the entire series.

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Personally, I prefer unfinished manga to stellar manga with an unsatisfactory ending, but each to their own.

That’s why you should give a chance to good manga on hiatus. Even though they may remain unfinished forever, exceptionality should not go unrewarded.

Clearly, not all unfinished manga are worth the trouble, but there are many masterpieces out there just waiting to be discovered. Merely Berserk and NANA are illustrative enough and there are many, many more extraordinary manga on hiatus that can change readers’ perception for the better.

Berserk alone works in mysterious ways… it eventually ends up on the reading list of all manga enthusiasts, for various reasons. The glaringly obvious one is that the manga is legendary, mildly put. Yet, it will never get finished, not by the original mangaka anyway.

To spare you the trouble of going through synopses of all manga on hiatus (there are many), let’s go ahead and present the best ones that are definitely worth reading (for one reason or another).

5 best manga on hiatus

5. Bastard!!: Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy (BASTARD!! -暗黒の破壊神-)

Bastard!!: Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy is a manga by Kazushi Hagiwara that began in 1988. It went on hiatus in 2010 and while there aren’t any updates, given the length of the hiatus, it is unlikely that the series will resume.

Bastard!! covers a range of genres, including adventure, fantasy, and supernatural. Inspired by heavy metal, the plot takes place in the fantasy world of Metallicana and focuses on a 14-year-old boy who is much more than just a mere boy.

VIZ Media, which originally licensed the manga (“originally” meaning that only the first nineteen out of twenty seven volumes have been released) offers the following synopsis:

“In a postapocalyptic world of heavy metal fantasy, the only thing able to save humans from orcs, lizard men, and other monsters is something even MORE evil. Sealed within a 14-year-old boy, the chaotic wizard Dark Schneider is unleashed to fight four mighty generals and their plot to resurrect on evil god!”

The manga has inspired a six-episode OVA series (1992-1993) that covers the first seven manga volumes.

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BASTARD‼ -Heavy Metal, Dark Fantasy- | Teaser Trailer | Netflix Anime

An ONA adaptation by Liden Films was announced earlier this year. Directed by Takaharu Ozaki, with script by Yōsuke Kuroda, music by Yasuharu Takanashi, and character design by Sayaka Ono, the OVA will premiere on Netflix on June 30, 2022 (the first 13 episodes, with the remaining 11 being announced for “later in 2022”).

4. GANGSTA. (ギャングスタ)

GANGSTA. is a gang/seinen manga written and illustrated by Kohske. It started in 2011 and suddenly went on hiatus in 2018. It resumed in March 2019 and is being published rather irregularly due to the mangaka having been diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus.

After being continually questioned about her irregular publishing schedule, Kohske Tweeted:

Basically, GANGSTA is on on-off hiatus all the time.

VIZ media introduces the manga in this way:

“In the city of Ergastulum, a shady ville filled with made men and petty thieves, whores on the make and cops on the take, there are some deeds too dirty for even its jaded inhabitants to touch. Enter the “Handymen,” Nic and Worick, who take care of the jobs no one else will handle. Until the day when a cop they know on the force requests their help in taking down a new gang muscling in on the territory of a top Mafia family. It seems like business (and mayhem) as usual, but the Handymen are about to find that this job is a lot more than they bargained for.”

『GANGSTA』 - Official Trailer 1.5 - 1080p

A spin-off manga (Gangsta: Cursed) started in 2015. GANGSTA. has been adapted into a TV anime (2015) produced by Manglobe (the final anime before Manglobe went bankrupt). The series is directed by Shūkō Murase and Kōichi Hatsumi, with character designs by Yōichi Ueda and music by Tsutchie.

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3. Vagabond (バガボンド)

Vagabond is an epic martial arts manga written and illustrated by Takehiko Inoue and one of the best-selling manga of all time. It follows a fictionalized account of Miyamoto Musashi’s life (based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel Musashi). It started in 1998 and went on hiatus in 2015.

Vagabond won the 24th Kodansha Manga Award for the best general manga category (2000) and the 6th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize (2002).

Takehiko Inoue has stated that creating Vagabond has put a huge strain on his mental well-being and that he’ll return to it once his enthusiasm is back. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened for 7 years now, but hope dies last.

Vagabond is a must-read for all fans of Miyamoto Musashi and of elaborate manga art. The exquisite drawings are out of this world.

2. NANA

Albeit the manga had been serialized in the monthly shōjo manga magazine Cookie for the entirety of its run before it went on hiatus (2000-2009), it would be blasphemy to label NANA by Ai Yazawa shōjo. This manga simply has it all: the depth, the happiness, the insecurities, the tribulations of young love…

NANA deals with complex topics and profound aspects of the relationships of the two main characters Nana (Osaki) and Nana (Komatsu) and touches upon all their friends (all of whom are as unique as it gets).

VIZ media’s synopsis claims that:

“This is the story of two 20-year-old women who share the same name. Even though they come from completely different backgrounds, they somehow meet and become best friends. The world of Nana is a world exploding with sex, music, fashion, gossip and all-night parties.”

The synopsis doesn’t do justice to the truth because this manga walks over pretty much all other shōjo and josei manga combined. Let’s put it this way: Ai Yazawa’s manga are to shōjo what Satoshi Kon’s anime are to psychological thrillers. You simply can’t go wrong with any of them (give the Paradise Kiss anime a go if you don’t believe me).

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NANA Official Trailer

The manga won the 48th Shogakukan Manga Award for Shōjo manga. NANA was adapted into a TV anime by Madhouse (directed by Morio Asaka) and aired from April 2006 to March 2007 on Nippon TV. Viz Media’s English dub of NANA aired on Funimation in September 2009.

1. Berserk (ベルセルク)

It is with a heavy heart that any true otaku discusses Berserk, a legendary dark fantasy manga by Kentaro Miura that started in 1989. In May 2021, everyone was shocked to learn that the mangaka had suddenly passed away, leaving his masterpiece unfinished.

The posthumous 41st volume was published in December last year, with the publishers of Berserk stating that the future of the manga is “currently undecided.” It has been speculated since that Miura’s assistants might bring the story to its close, but as of today, Berserk is still on hiatus.

Chris Warner, Dark Horse Comics’ Editor of Berserk paid his respects:

“The news of the death of Kentaro Miura has been devastating. It has been my honor to have edited the Dark Horse editions of Berserk, and I have been consistently amazed at the imagination, depth of character, and audacious energy of the series, an ever-evolving epic that rivals any adult fantasy work from any medium. Miura-sensei poured his heart into Berserk for over thirty years, crafting more than eight thousand pages of extraordinary storytelling. Those of us who have been touched by his work humbly raise our swords to the passing of a giant.”

It is exactly the “imagination, depth of character, and audacious energy of the series” that make Berserk what it is: a manga in a league of its own. Miura’s elaborate drawings, dark setting, and storytelling leave no one unimpressed and the plot is worth the time invested in diving into the magical world of the Band of the Hawk, the series’ protagonists.  

Berserk 2016 Official Trailer

Berserk won the Award for Excellence at the 6th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2002 and was adapted into a 25-episode TV anime series by OLM (1997-1998), three theatrical anime films (2012 and 2013), and another 24-episode TV anime series (season 1 aired in 2016 and season 2 — in 2017).

As of 2022, the manga has sold over 50 million copies (digital versions included), which makes it one of the best-selling manga series of all time.

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