When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With Should I Be Reading… ?, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.

There's no shortage of death in comics, whether as a marketing gimmick, all-consuming evil to beat, or wonderful guide to the afterlife. But aside from that last bit, death is rarely portrayed as something good. That's where Atsushi Ōkubo's Soul Eater stands out: by making the Grim Reaper a job in training at a Hogwarts-esque academy for superpowered teens who are earnest, goofy, sometimes not that smart but, in the end, heroic.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?

Maka Albarn and Soul Eater Evans are students at Death Weapon Meister Academy (DWMA) in Death City, Nevada. Soul is a Demon Weapon, able to transform into a giant scythe, and Maka is his Meister, who wields him in combat. Their goal is the same as all DWMA students: to turn Soul into a Death Scythe, a weapon powerful enough to be used by Death himself (who runs the school) by collecting and devouring the souls of 99 evil humans and one witch.

 

 

As the manga starts, they've almost completed this. But due to a funny mix-up with a witch named Blair, all their work becomes forfeit and they have to start all over again. They're not alone, though. Two other Meister-Weapon teams --- the cocky, would-be ninja Black Star and the saintlike, multi-weapon Tsubaki; and Death the Kid, Death's son who has crippling asymmetriphobia, with sisters Liz & Patty Thompson, who dress like cowgirls and turn into guns --- are in the same boat.

Together, these crazy kids just might succeed. That is, if they can deal with the evil machinations of the witch Medusa and her henchmen first...

WHO'S IT BY?

Soul Eater is written and illustrated by Atsushi Ōkubo (and a team of assistants). Ōkubo started out as an assistant to artist Rando Ayamine on the shonen manga GetBackers before creating his first manga, B. Ichi, in 2002. When that series ended after four volumes, he came up with Soul Eater, which brought him worldwide success.

Ōkubo also created a prequel called Soul Eater Not! (starring a Weapon instead of a Meister), which ran from 2011-2014, and was a character designer for the acclaimed Nintendo 3DS RPG Bravely Default.

 

 

WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?

Ōkubo's not exactly doing groundbreaking work here. This is typical shonen: be the strongest, protect your friends, etc, etc. But the saving grace is in the details.

For one thing --- and this is big --- the main character doing all that protecting and fighting is a girl. Maka is a 180 from a typical manga heroine. She has really no romantic inclinations whatsoever (possibly due to her scuzzy, cheating dad), she loves reading, and she wants nothing more than to make Soul into Death's personal scythe. Basically, imagine Maps from Gotham Academy if she could sense people's souls and was more scholarly.

For another thing, Ōkubo's artwork is full of tremendous energy and life, crackling off the page. While that can mean a little rough pencilling at times, it also means a sweeping breathlessness that moves the reader along so quickly that you don't even notice the major artwork shifts. For example, in a early arc where Tsubaki confronts her evil brother Masamune, the two of them face off in a otherworldly realm rendered with lighter, hatchier pencils that lack the intensity and inked weight of the comic's real world.

 

 

The big caveat here, and one that will turn off a lot of readers, is the way the series presents all this good art and story under a big layer of sex jokes, nudity and fan service. This is aimed at teenage boys so there are jokes about breast sizes, male characters peeping on female characters, panty jokes and so on. And one of the key details about Demon Weapons is that, while they're in Weapon form, their human self as viewed inside the weapon is usually naked. Yet as crude as that seems, this manga does have a ton of humor that will endear the reader to the characters.

WHO SHOULD READ IT?

Fans of the Soul Eater anime by Bones from 2009, currently on Netflix, Hulu, and Funimation. Readers of Gotham Academy, Naruto, Bleach, Hellblazer and We Are Robin. Anyone who wanted to read a story like YuYu Hakusho that's easier to find in print.

WHERE CAN I READ IT?

Published monthly in Square Enix's Monthly Gangan Magazine in Japan from 2004-2013, Soul Eater is published in English by Yen Press. The complete series is available in 25 volumes in print from a variety of retailers and your local library, and digitally on Amazon Kindle and Yen Press' official website.