Preface: If you’re wondering how I already have a review of Attack on Titan the day after it finished, don’t worry; I didn’t pirate it! There are official channels through which to finish this manga right now, at least in the U.S. One is to read the last leg of it on Crunchyroll’s manga tab that they actually updated after the death of Flash even though most people never use it. Alternatively, you can buy the remaining chapters on BookWalker for about 2 USD each. Of course, you’ll have to have read all thirty-two currently published U.S. releases for it to work. But you know what, at least you’d be supporting the actual creator!
There are types of stories that have existed since the dawn of man. Romance, for example, as full of BS as it is, is one of the most enduring story types of all time. Stories like Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan are insanely common; plucky teens thrust into a world of strife against some “mysterious enemy” that the main character “happens” to be “special” enough to save the world from. However, Attack on Titan is probably one of the best variations of this story ever created. And here’s why.
The plot is nothing new. We have the Titans—the “mysterious enemy”—ravaging mankind and driving them into hiding behind some walls (“But what about the possibility of an AERIAL ATTACK?!” Squidward Tentacles exclaims). After the designated first-chapter-death, the “plucky teens” join the designated “cool fighter people” and, well, fight the Titans.
I’m gonna tell you straight. You likely already know what’s going to happen, thankfully minus the dumb romance sideplot. As much as this series excels at foreshadowing and build-up, you don’t need it. If you’ve read stuff like this before, then you can probably make several ballpark guesses on what the low-down of this manga’s world is and at least one guess would probably be correct.
But you know what, strong execution beats lack of originality. The rules of how the different units of the military work are all thought out (even if the Survey Corps are the only ones who matter), the “parkour gear” or whatever it’s called is one of the coolest things I have ever seen, and there’s always something engaging going on in terms of plot progress. Even during a later arc that is notorious for its utter lack of Titan combat, the manga consistently keeps the momentum going.
Most of the time, I’m not a fan of “human” characters. But unlike cardboard boxes such as Rimuru Tempest from TenSura, Isayama actually seems to understand the definition OF a human being in the first place, especially what it’s like to be a teenager who has to live in a world of despair, and to have their perception of their established facts of life turned upside down numerous times. Wow, that was all one sentence…
First off, the three main characters—Eren, Armin, and Mikasa—somehow manage to maintain a relatively platonic relationship throughout the whole series. Two male characters and one female character, all of which are childhood friends, is a perfect love triangle, and any [bad] YA author would’ve done it in a heartbeat and ruined the story forever. Mikasa clearly has some level of “thing”-ness for Eren, but it’s seldom ham-fisted into your face but instead shown visually merely by the scarf that she wears; a gift from him when they first met. The fourth main character is Best Boy Levi, who is raw badassery and intellect rolled into one handsome boy. What’s there to dislike? The supporting cast is also phenomenal. From gambit-happy Erwin Smith, to potato-eating Sasha Blouse, to Actual Best Girl Krista, these kids are surprisingly easy to love.
This manga warrants a reread, because re-experiencing the story by watching the anime from the beginning, after having read past chapter ninety, really shows how organically they have developed over time. I cringed at the first episode, at Eren’s incessant whining, thinking, “Is this really the SAME GUY who I grew emotionally attached to?” THIS is character development at its finest.
“Rough around the edges” is an understatement for the art in this manga. Based on the “rules of art” that have been established over the years, Attack on Titan has “objectively” bad art. It’s not smooth nor crisp, but for me, it somehow “works” (It’s as if art was never meant to be assigned rules to begin with…).
If there is one “rule of art” that it follows, it’s gesture drawing. The many (MANY) tiny strokes in Isayama’s technique helps to convey motion in a spectacular fashion. I didn’t need the anime’s sakuga to feel the force of the parkour gear as our intrepid heroes flew through cities and forests, striking Titans as they went. All this in addition to his great sense of good panelwork makes Attack on Titan a tightly paced read. Not even the dialogue-driven chapters feel like a waste of time.
For the last paragraph, I’ll touch on the one thing that always ends up being divisive for long-running battle shounen series: the final act. Don’t worry; I’ll word it in the least spoilery way possible. Late-ish in Attack on Titan, an epic battle—one of the best in the series—unfolds in spectacular glory. But the aftermath opens up a can of worms that drastically changes the entire tone of the manga. Although it is still a great arc, the biggest problem is that it introduces a metric ton of new characters that I honestly didn’t care about, let alone remember their names in the first place. It also didn’t help that this was the arc where I had caught up on the most recent chapters, and ended up playing the waiting game most often. Since I’m always pressed for time, I can’t reread volumes to make sure I still remember stuff.
And honestly, like a lot of long battle shounen, the plot gets pretty complicated. There’s even the possibility that it was retconned at some point. But you know what, I still love this manga to death. You gotta give mangakas some benefit of the doubt, since a lot of them are forced to make this stuff up as they go along. No matter how confusing it got, I still loved Attack on Titan all the way through. Isayama knows how to make a story feel engaging regardless of what’s happening. That takes talent.
Final Verdict: 9.8/10
Attack on Titan is one of my favorite manga of all time. Isayama draws (no pun intended) influence from the very best of Western culture, without using any of the BS, to make a fantastic battle shounen series that miraculously maintains a consistent state of cohesion for a decade-long runtime. I’d recommend it if you want a shounen series that’s light on the fanservice, but I also just recommend it in general. The biggest issue will likely be the art if it doesn’t suit your tastes, but other than that this manga is a masterpiece through and through.