Shonen stories like Dragonball, My Hero Academia, and the like can be fun, but it can be samey. Not every problem can be solved with a heavy punch, a power up, and “MY FRIENDS!”. Seinen manga are aimed towards teens and older readers, and often tell stories with more mature themes and content.
It can cover many genres too, like fantasy (Berserk), sci-fi (Ghost in the Shell), or mystery thrillers (Erased). However, just as how not every shonen manga gets an anime, some seinen series get left behind on paper too. Whatever the reason for it, here are a few popular entries that currently haven’t been adapted to animation.
Updated on February 6, 2023 by David Heath: There’s always a chance a previously unadapted seinen manga can make it into an anime. Inio Asano, famous for making many manga-only works, is due to get an anime based on his manga Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction by Production +h. Vagabond, one of the best manga without an anime, is also rumored to be due for an animated adaptation. Though without anything concrete to go on, it’s merely speculation.
Even if Vagabond, Oyasumi Punpun, or Billy Bat get adapted for screens, there are still plenty of seinen manga waiting for a studio’s attention. Thus, this article has been updated with a few more classics that would light up the schedules on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and other platforms.
11 Eden: It’s An Endless World!
Hiroki Endo’s sci-fi story ran in Monthly Afternoon from 1997 to 2008, and made it westwards via Dark Horse Comics. While fellow Monthly strips like Vinland Saga, Oh My Goddess! and even Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō got animated series and OVAs, Eden stayed in print and had to make do with critical acclaim from publications like Wizard magazine and Newtype USA.
That said, its premise fits modern times better than the 2000s. Eden takes place in a world that’s been ravaged by the Closure Virus. 15% of humanity was killed off, and many more were left disfigured. Elijah Ballard is one of the few who are immune to the virus, and he has to grow up in a post-apocalyptic world where he has to oppose the multinational Propator Foundation and join mercenaries to save his family.
Solanin ran for a year in Weekly Young Sunday in 2005, and follows two university graduates wondering what to do with their lives. Meiko works as an Office Lady to pay off rent, while Taneda provides illustrations for a press company. Tired of the drudge, they take a chance on Taneda’s band to break their routine and embark on a more exciting, unpredictable future…with disastrous results. Like most of Inio Asano’s work, it never got turned into an anime.
However, it did get turned into a live-action movie in 2010. It was the breakout film for director Takahiro Miki, who managed to capture the strip’s feelings of melancholy and frustration in convincing fashion. So, perhaps an anime version of Solanin would feel redundant by comparison. Miki also directed live-action versions of Ao Haru Ride, Love Me, Love Me Not and, curiously enough, Robert A. Heinlein’s sci-fi novel The Door into Summer.
9 Lone Wolf And Cub
Speaking of live-action adaptations, Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s classic about the samurai Ogami Ittō seeking vengeance on the Yagyū clan while looking after his son Daigorō received six movies. The first two of which were clipped together to produce 1980’s Shogun Assassin, which became one of the notorious video nasties that got censored on release for its gory violence. There were also numerous TV series and movies, a videogame called Samurai Assassin, and even a board game!
That’s putting aside its dormant Hollywood adaptation, and its influence on shows like The Mandalorian, the graphic novel Road to Perdition and its own live-action movie. Yet despite all that, Lone Wolf and Cub never became an anime. The closest it came to one were animated cutscenes produced for a pachinko game in 2012. Otherwise, it had been referenced and parodied in a broad range of series from the original Urusei Yatsura to Samurai Champloo.
8 Billy Bat
Running from 2008 to 2016 in Morning magazine, Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki’s Billy Bat is a neat historical mystery thriller about classic comic characters and their artists. Set in 1949, Japanese American comic artist Kevin Yamagata gets famous with a detective comic strip called ‘Billy Bat’. But he thinks he may have subconsciously copied Billy’s design from an image he saw in Japan. So, he returns to the country to officially seek permission to use the character.
Then things get complicated from there, as he ends up pulled into a web of intrigue involving murder, conspiracies, and a prophecy all linked together by this Billy Bat character. It may go back further, and hold more power, than anyone realizes. It’s a surreal premise, somewhat akin to Paranoia Agent with its blurring of fiction and reality. But it was enough for its 20 volumes to catch on with readers and earn multiple awards.
Created by Takehiko Inoue, REAL has been running in the pages of Weekly Young Jump for over 20 years now. It’s also a good benchmark to show what separates seinen from shonen. Shonen sports manga usually center on the action for its drama and thrills. Seinen manga are more about the characters than the fancy moves. In REAL’s case, it’s about how the three leads Nomiya, Togawa, and Takahashi, can live in a society that left them behind.
Takahashi was the captain of his basketball team until he was left paraplegic after an accident. Togawa was on the verge of becoming Japan’s fastest sprinter when he had to get his leg amputated. While Nomiya cares for a woman who was left disabled after an accident he feels he caused. They find a new direction in life with wheelchair basketball, though it’s not a smooth ride as their disabilities and traumas cause trouble they need to work around.
6 Our Dreams At Dusk
Yuki Kamatani’s coming-of-age manga spanned two magazines, Hibana and Manga One, from 2015 to 2018. It was highly regarded too, with Comic Book Resources calling it “beautiful, metaphorical art and a heartfelt story leaving a lasting impact”. While the founder of Yuricon Erica Friedman said it was “crucial for gay Japanese youth.” Yes, it’s about LGBTQ+ people and the issues they face.
It follows Tasuke Kaname, a teenager who gets outed when his high school classmates find gay adult content on his phone. Humiliated, he’s about to leap from the roof of his school when he sees someone jump from the window of a nearby building and come out unscathed. He goes there and discovers it’s a drop-in center for people to talk openly about their problems. He becomes a regular visitor, and meets other LGBTQ+ people in the process, gradually learning to accept himself and his sexuality.
If Our Dreams at Dusk is a little too sweet, this manga will give readers something with some edge. Kōji Mori’s Holyland ran in Young Animal, the same magazine that published Berserk, across the 2000s. Its lead character, Yū Kamishiro, is an outcast abused by his peers at school. Frustrated, he drops out and takes to the streets, where he feels more at home. There’s something about the lawless brutality that clicks with him.
He sharpens his fighting skills, particularly one boxing-style strike, and makes a name for himself as the ‘Thug Hunter’. As he gets stronger with each beaten competitor, he feels he’s getting close to his peak: his ‘Holy Land’. The series never got turned into an anime. Yet it did become a live-action TV drama…twice. Once in Japan for 13 episodes in 2005, then in Korea in 2012 for 4 episodes.
4 Oyasumi Punpun
Inio Asano is no stranger to dark and harrowing tales, like Nijigahara Holograph and A Girl on the Shore. His most popular strip, Oyasumi Punpun, is a slice-of-life drama about a boy called Punpun Onodera, his family, and his friends. They’re often drawn as cartoony birds to contrast with mature subjects like loneliness, depression, cults, and more. Needless to say, Punpun’s life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
What’s particularly harrowing is when Punpun tries to seek solace in ‘God’, who he sees as a photorealistic human’s head with an afro that encourages him to do bad things. How can Punpun come out of that well? Readers could find out in its 13 volumes via Viz Media, if they missed its original 2007-2013 run in Weekly Young Sunday and Weekly Big Comic Spirits.
3 I Am A Hero
Drama is all well and good, but how about a horror story? Kengo Hanazawa’s I Am a Hero is about Hideo Suzuki, a 35yr old manga assistant suffering from low self-esteem and hallucinations. He feels stuck in a rut with no place in the world, just as the world ends. Japan gets struck by a viral outbreak that turns people into homicidal cannibals. With only a shotgun in his hands, Hideo tries to escape Tokyo and the zombielike hordes.
He meets some uninfected people along the way and learns the hard way what it takes to survive. It’s kind of like The Walking Dead, but it goes further as the virus does more than turn people into zombies. The series ran from 2009 to 2017 in Big Comic Spirits, and also had 3 spin-offs set in Osaka, Ibaraki, and Nagasaki. None of which became an anime. However, the prime series did become a live-action film in 2016.
If REAL and seminal basketball manga Slam Dunk wasn’t enough, Takehiko Inoue also made his name with this historical epic. Vagabond is his manga adaptation of Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel Musashi, a fictionalized retelling of the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi’s life story. From his legendary battles against Baiken Shishido and Kojirō Sasaki among others, to his treks across Japan, it has more than enough sword swinging and beautiful art for everyone.
Unfortunately, it’s also incomplete. Inoue started the manga in 1999 in Morning magazine, then put it on hiatus in 2015. There’s currently no news on whether it’ll go back into production. It’s a shame, as it’s won multiple awards from the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize to the Best Writer/Artist at the Eisner Awards. There are some alternatives to look out for until it comes back (if it comes back). But Vagabond is a unique experience.
1 20th Century Boys
This list started with a manga by Naoki Urasawa, so it might as well end with one. His most famous work, 20th Century Boys, ran from 1999 to 2006 in Big Comic Spirits and got adapted into a trilogy of live-action films across 2008-2009. But it never got animated. It’s about a group of young boys in 1969 who play around together in their ‘secret base’. They literally symbolize their friendship with a logo, then write a little story called the ‘Book of Prophecy’ where they save the world in the future.
Then 30 years later Kenji, one of the boys, discovers a plot to spread a virus throughout city centers. He tries to stop it but is presumed dead when it gets released…only for a mysterious person called ‘Friend’ to distribute a vaccine for the disease through his political party. No one knows who he really is as he wears a face covering with the boys’ Friendship logo on it. Who is he? What does he and his party have to do with the boys and their ‘Book of Prophecy’? Find out in the English prints by Viz Media.