Content Warning: This article discusses topics from Kentaro Miura’s Berserk which involves sexual assault
Kentaro Miura’s Berserk is known as one of the most long-running and popular adult manga series ever published. Since its 1989 premiere, Berserk has led to a hit anime TV series and feature films, video games, collectibles, a trading card game, and is the top-selling series in Dark Horse’s history, with about two million copies sold and counting. To say that the world is devastated today is an understatement. Late last night, it was announced that Kentaro Miura had passed away at age 54. Confirmed by his publishing company, the mangaka has impacted fans and fellow creators alike through his art, writing, and contributions to the fantasy genre, which has left Berserk a dark fantasy gold standard. As we mourn the loss of this icon, I wanted to take time to open up about the impact Berserk has had on me and those in our community.
I remember exactly when I fell in love with dark fantasy. It was high school, and I was an anime fan who was convinced that all the things we had access to weren’t dark enough — you can thank working at Hot Topic for that. Then my co-worker suggested Berserk. Created, written, and illustrated by mangaka Kentaro Miura, Berserk hit everything I had been looking for. A high fantasy setting twisted by trauma, the series is more than its heroic lead and his big sword. It’s a story of hope and healing and ultimately is the blueprint for everything in dark fantasy that we see today across mediums like anime and manga, but also gaming, comics, and more.
Contributor and Social Media Manager for our community, Cidnya Silva, explained how the news hit them, “I feel devastated. Mangaka Miura is a staple not just for manga/anime but for fantasy in general. So many things I love like Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Final Fantasy are inspired by his work…I’m saving up for those beautiful hardcover editions…So, I’m just so heartbroken. I feel immense pain for the community because Berserk has touched us all in one way or another, and we’re all collectively mourning.” They explained further, “One thing that Berserk does so well is that it captures the human spirit to continue on.”
In truth, this all does feel like collective mourning. One that fans have been sharing since the news dropped by posting panels and examples of what Miura’s work means to them. And even hosting an impromptu remembrance event in Final Fantasy XIV put on by fans in the community who play as the Dark Knight job, a class that is inspired heavily by Guts, the main character of the manga’s armor and fighting style. But as we mourn together, we’re also sharing memories and moments that Miura has given us through Berserk. As a series, it’s that push towards the light in the utter darkness of the world and the way it hurts you that has made Berserk a classic. Miura has been able to not only use the building blocks of fantasy and twist them into something sinister, but he also uses them to push towards something better. His characters suffer, yes, but they learn how to keep moving forward.
Olive St. Sauver, manga and anime critic for Anime Feminist and But Why Tho? explained the nuance and the way that Miura confronted trauma, especially in his lead character, Guts. “I will stand by my opinion that the first time between Guts and Casca is one of the most thoughtfully done sex scenes I’ve read. [Berserk] never forced Guts to “man up” and move past his trauma from being a survivor of sexual assault. The scene gave both characters grace, and that is something incredibly important. It is so important to have a character like Guts, who literally swings around a giant hulk of iron, also go through his journey as a survivor of sexual assault, and to have that taken seriously.”
In fact, it was Miura’s ability to tactfully and respectfully handle Guts’ trauma that has meant the world to some fans confronting their own. Derek Van Dyke, of SDGC, opened up about the impact the series had on them, “I fully understand if Berserk’s content, especially its occasional bouts into sexual violence, make it too much for people to stomach. I understand if people find it gratuitous. I understand that all too well as a sexual assault survivor myself. All I’ll say is that in an industry and art form that too often treats nonconsent as titillation, Berserk treated that subject matter as horrifying as any gory imagery. Berserk understands what happened to me was not to be fetishized. That’s more than I can say for a lot of anime/manga.”
Going further, Van Dyke explained, “Berserk is sort of about change to me. The manga changed so much, and so did the reasons I was reading it. At first, it was just this dark, edgy, provocative thing that was doing things no other manga I had read ever dared, and it was gorgeous in the process. But as time went on it showed a light at the end of the tunnel, a [gradually] increasing lightness and a promise of something better for Guts, Casca, and their devastated world. And I stopped reading it for the action and started reading because I NEEDED them to get that happy ending.”
In fact, the way that Miura wrote about trauma, not only Guts’ struggle but Casca’s has brought new readers over the years, Monti Velez, Editor at Uppercut, shared her journey of finding Berserk, “I found Berserk when I was in middle school after I read one of my other favorite manga, Mars by Fuyumi Soryo. I was trying to find more manga surrounding how young women coped with trauma. There was a listicle that had the both of them, and decided to give Berserk a go based on its unique art.” She continued, “Growing up, there are a lot of stories you read where good things happen after the bad. Berserk was able to click that for me as a middle schooler who had no means of emotional support or ways to feel better. Casca and Guts still found light in the devastating things that happened to both them and the things around them”
While Berzerk’s themes and their impact will live on in the hearts of fans that his storytelling has touched, so will the visuals he created. Miura’s influence can be noted in other works like the Final Fantasy series, Attack on Titan, Castlevania, and Dark Souls, to name a few. The way Miura leveled violence against beauty in his art and how crafted the stories around them can found in the new classics of today. That said, he has also changed how storytellers outside large entertainment industries write. But Why Tho? contributor Max Funkey explained, “Berserk is incredibly important to me. It has changed the way I tell stories and enjoy fantasy. As a [Dungeon Master], I have channeled Miura’s storytelling and plotting many times. I don’t know that any other work has had as large an influence on me.”
Even outside writing original works of fiction and D&D campaigns, Berserk has also inspired some to enter the critic space. As But Why Tho? contributor and podcaster, LaNeysha Campell opened up about, ” [Berserk] means so much to me. It’s been a part of my life for so long. I love to re-read it all the time just to appreciate the art and the effort that Miura put into the series. It is one of my comfort manga, and it’s also the series that introduced me to dark fantasy, writing/reviewing manga.”
In truth, Miura’s impact is as wide as what inspired him. St. Sauver explains, “While my journey with Berserk may not be as personal as most, no one can deny Kentaro Miura’s talent and influence. My favorite moment is not actually from Berserk but from an interview with Miura published in the Berserk Official Guidebook. In it, he discusses his fondness for shojo manga and how, when he was struggling in the early days of the series, he looked to The Rose of Versailles for inspiration. It may seem small, but I truly believe it is a mark of how great an artist he was to be so open about his respect for the medium across demographics and genres. It just takes one look at Twitter to see just how many different people of different backgrounds all over the world were impacted by Miura’s work. That is the mark of someone who valued all stories.”
And it’s not too late to read Berserk now, as Campbell implores, “I really encourage people to read Berserk. It is more than just a manga about trauma and violence. It has some of the most amazing art and tells a beautiful story about perseverance, finding your own path, love, found family, and so much more.” And even if you’re not into the genre, or ready to tackle the series now in its eighth omnibus deluxe edition, that’s okay. Play Bloodborne, roll into the Dark Knight job on Final Fantasy XIV, bing watch Castlevania. Miura’s work, his legacy, is all around us. And as we mourn together, I hope he feels it somehow.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.