Inio Asano Is A Dark Manga Artist For Adults Who Want Something Real

When you're an adult, sprawling out in the manga aisle of your neighbourhood bookstore with a copy of Fruits Basket isn't the same. Even though it has nostalgic appeal for adults longing to relive their childhoods, manga written for teens might not be stimulating enough for the 20+ crowd.

These days when I read manga, I don't want to flip through some cutesy and predictable love story or a dozen fist-pumping shonen arcs. I want to feel something new.

Solanin

When done well, dark and disorienting manga does a lot more than entertain. Like signing up for skydiving classes, the truly mind-altering stuff takes you outside yourself to somewhere terrifying. No manga artist I've read does that better than Inio Asano, whose affecting portraits of narcissistic and self-hating personalities are the stuff of psychological thrill seekers.

Asano's work is the comics equivalent of hyper-realistic still-life paintings. A lot of his stories are about despicable teens and adults who have given up on being happy. Through his 20 years making manga, Asano's characteristically selfish protagonists are real enough to be relatable, but too real to be likeable.

Goodnight Punpun

Last year, a friend recommend A Girl on the Shore to me, adding that it might haunt me forever. It has.

It begins with a high school girl on a date with an older student who demands oral sex. Upset and looking to regain control, she begins having casual sex with Keisuke Isobe, a classmate who's in love with her. Isobe has the house to himself a lot and spends his time running the anime blog of his late brother who committed suicide. At Isobe's place, the two develop a jagged, raw relationship so unhinged that it feels voyeuristic to experience.

After devouring A Girl on the Shore, I had to read the rest of Asano's work. Goodnight Punpun follows a very ordinary boy named Punpun Onodera and his extremely messed up family, who are all birds. Everybody else in the world is human, which puts a spotlight on Punpun's dysfunctional life circumstances.

His dad's in gaol. His mum begins to lose her mind after her husband's departure. Also, his uncle, who's taking his dad's place as a father figure, has some gnarly proclivities. As a kid, Punpun sees everything in black and white, firm in his belief that he's a normal guy, while his world is in fact overwhelmingly grey. That grayness eventually absorbs him.

More of a feel-something read than a feel-good read, Goodnight Punpun is an hard-to-swallow story about failure and missed opportunities.

Dead Dead Demon's Dededede Destruction

Last month, manga publisher Vix Media released Asano's Dead Dead Demon's Dededede Destruction in English - and it's just as off-kilter as it sounds. Three years before the manga starts, aliens invade Japan. They aren't terrifying War of the Worlds aliens - just lingering, weak out-of-towners in a hovering flying saucer.

DDDDD follows two best friends who want to play shooter games and do mundane crap against the background of the alien invasion, which, after three years, has become totally normal. It's funny to read the way DDDDD's teens communicate about the invasion on gaming fora - "Earth go bye bye \(^o^)/" - and watch the two best friends run over to the nearest crashed spaceship to "hoot 'n' holler at it", as though it's a dead deer.

Asano's stuff is out-of-the-ordinary. It's dark and funny and haunting. It's also not for kids.


Comments

    I find the older I get, the more I gravitate towards light hearted manga and happy slice of life. At 40, I have more than enough existential angst in my life without having to deal with it in my reading material, and I was that way pretty much through my 30s. Maybe 20s is just the emo weird phase patch?

    A friend recommended Inio Asano to me many years back and I was glad that they did. So far I've only read Solanin (curiously used as the article header and then never mentioned) and most of Goodnight Pun Pun but I'm definitely going to get his other works too. I'm surprised the article didn't mention where to buy them. Comixology has Dead Dead Demon's Dededede Destruction, Goodnight Pun Pun and Nijigahara Holograph while Viz digital manga has Solanin, Dead Dead Demon's Dededede Destruction, Goodnight Pun Pun and What a Wonderful World.

    If you're curious about Asano's work but don't know if you're ready for his more bleak stories then Solanin is a great place to start and is a great manga to read all round.

    A girl on the shore sounds like absolute trash. But I have to agree with akeashar, even though I've only just hit mid-20's, I definitely find myself less inclined toward darker media now. It's actually the teens to lap that stuff up more than anyone else, to absorb those experiences and gain some understanding of their newly developing complex feelings. With so much great, serious, television, anime, games etc these days, it's actually becoming a little harder to find the light hearted stuff I've found.

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