Attack on Titan (also equally well known as Shingeki no Kyojin, its Japanese name) is set in humanity’s distant future. Around a century prior to the story’s plotline, huge humanoid monsters called titans appeared and began eating humans. Somehow, the remnants of mankind managed to build three massive walls to keep the titans out, and lived in relative peace for a hundred years. But then, one day, a giant titan appeared from nowhere and breached the outermost wall, throwing humanity back into chaos.
Anyone tired of post-apocalyptic story settings? Anyone? Bueller? What about manga and anime where teenagers have to save the world and are better at it than adults for some reason?
Yeah, me too, but this is a pretty good story, all told. It follows Eren Jaeger, his childhood friends Mikasa and Armin, and their team of rookies as they join the Scouting Corps, the branch of the military tasked with learning about the titans and regaining lost territory from them. Eren’s father, who disappeared the same day the Colossal Titan broke the wall, was an expert researcher on the titans, and the Corps hopes to somehow get back to his house in the lost territories so that they can unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the monsters. On top of all this, it appears that some of the humans have the ability to change into titans because of ~science~, and in that form they can either greatly help or greatly hinder mankind’s chances of survival.
Alongside Free! (aka Swimming Anime) and Danganronpa: The Animation, Attack on Titan‘s anime adaptation recently gained a ton of popularity on Tumblr. Seeing as my dash was filled with it anyway, I figured I’d check it out. Its first season recently drew to a close, however, with what looks like a lengthy hiatus before more episodes air, and so I figured I’d check out the manga in the meantime. There’s enough material in the manga beyond where the anime left off for at least another season, and it also gets around to filling a lot of what seemed like plot holes to someone who’d only seen the anime. If your life feels like it’s got a titan-shaped hole in it since the anime ended, I’d recommend you give the manga a try.
One thing I really love about this series is the wide range of female characters it has. Mikasa is especially cool to me because she gets to be the Sasuke of the group, that is, the frighteningly efficient, naturally talented fighter with a dark past, while Eren gets by on guts and Armin on intelligence. The women of the series fill all sorts of positions, from fighter to mad scientist to glutton to villain, and never seem to fall squarely into a cardboard-cutout anime girl trope. They also get to wear exactly the same military uniform as the men, so they’re never sexualized for the reader, and although they’re all in top military shape, they are portrayed with a variety of heights, builds, and body types. There’s even at least one lesbian character. The only real fail that I’ve gotta point out is that they milk the dead mom trope pretty hard to motivate Eren’s titan hatred.
On a more thematic level, I have also come to appreciate the brutal way the series portrays death and war, although at first I was a bit squeamish about it. War, especially against creatures much larger and more powerful than yourselves, is going to be gory, long-drawn, and filled with unjustifiably pointless deaths. The titans eat people, they’re stronger and faster than humans, they regenerate when wounded, and they can only be killed if the attacker hits one specific spot. With these odds, humans are bound to die in droves when fighting them, especially when going against them on their turf as the Scouting Corps does. People die in gruesome and terrible ways, and sometimes the battle is still lost, and sometimes the people who die don’t even get to die on-panel—we just find out later, and that underscores just how meaningless death in war can be.
I can’t say that I love it—this sort of ‘anyone can and will die at any time because that’s how war is’ ethos was part of why I disliked Mockingjay so much—but it’s different to see it in a popular shounen-geared manga and anime, I think. When it’s a running joke that, out of literally hundreds of characters and in over five hundred chapters, only like two people have ever died in Bleach, it’s—dare I say—refreshing to see a manga series that has a more realistic take on death. Even if, at the rate Attack on Titan kills characters, I’m pretty sure that humankind is gonna run out of people to be soldiers before they manage to regain anything.
All that said, if you don’t have a strong stomach for gore, this is not the series for you. People being eaten alive is not pretty to look at, and neither are the remains of people who have been eaten. There are also some brief visuals of suicide in at least one chapter, and a flashback that deals with sex trafficking, so if you find that sort of content triggering I’d be careful.
I still recommend checking out this series if you can stomach it—the anime is only twenty-five episodes, and the manga, which is still ongoing monthly, is only fifty chapters as of right now, so it isn’t too difficult to catch up.