Legendary Manga Artist Kentaro Miura, Creator Of 'Berserk,' Has Died
Manga creators and fans across the globe have taken to social media to mourn the celebrated Japanese manga artist Kentaro Miura, whose aesthetic and commercial impact on the genre was substantial. His defining serial, the 30-year, 40-volume saga Berserk, is known for both its sophisticated artwork and a story that infuses sword fights and supernatural encounters with poignant emotionalism, knotty moral dilemmas and complex themes.
Miura's English-language publisher, Dark Horse, reports that he passed away on May 6 of an acute aortic dissection. He was 54.
"I went to open a copy of Berserk just now, and I pictured for a moment that every page was blank, to remind myself that's how each one of Berserk's thousands upon thousands of pages began," Dark Horse manga editor Carl Horn wrote in a remembrance released by the publisher last week.
"Miura ... fill[ed] those pages with an epic of boldness, elegance, horror, adventure, love, redemption, perseverance, friendship, humor — an epic of contradictions: beautiful, grotesque, whimsical, cosmic."
As CBR.com noted in 2019, Berserk's gritty tone is more reminiscent of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire than J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Though its protagonist, Guts, is a big guy with an even bigger sword – all too common a sight in manga aimed at a male readership – he's no mere jock. "Guts is a survivor of horrific sexual assault, [which] defines his early characterization more than anything else," points out Kotaku's Patrick Marlborough.
Berserk is also distinguished by the quality of Miura's pen-and-ink artwork, which is far more intricate and detailed than is typical for its genre. Manga are usually created through an assembly-line process, with a bevy of assistants filling in backgrounds and putting other finishing touches on the head mangaka's drawings. Though Miura employed several assistants at his production company, Studio Gaga, he drew most of Berserk himself. His style was distinguished by an almost obsessive use of minute crosshatching and other textural details. His diverse sources of inspiration included the Guin Saga, a bestselling Japanese fantasy series in continuous publication since 1979, as well as several Western influences: M.C. Escher, Gustave Doré, Hieronymus Bosch, and Disney and Paul Verhoeven films.
Born on July 11, 1966 to artist parents, Miura began drawing at age 10. While still a teenager, he won a New Artist Award from the leading manga magazine Weekly Shonen. He attended the art college of Nihon University in Tokyo and saw the first installment of Berserk appear in print shortly after he graduated in 1989. He would draw thousands of pages of the series over the course of his career.
At the time of his death, Miura enjoyed both bestselling status and a considerable critical reputation. Selling more than 50 million copies worldwide, Berserk inspired two TV series, a film trilogy and two video games. It also contributed to manga's growing popularity in the U.S. — Dark Horse reported in 2918 that Berserk was the top-selling series in the publisher's history, with nearly two million copies sold.
Miura also worked on a number of other projects throughout his career. His most recent creation, 2019's Duranki, features a genderless protagonist exploring a world inspired by ancient mythology. In 2019 he told Otaquest.com's Jacob Parker-Dalton that "he'd ... always been fascinated by the aesthetic of the myths of ancient Greece and Mesopotamia.. particularly when it comes to gender and body image." (As Parker-Dalton notes, Berserk features a genderless character, too: Guts' elf companion Puck.) Greek myth also served as the inspiration for Miura's 2013 miniseries Giganto Maxia. Early in his career Miura collaborated several times with Buronson, creator of the bestselling 1980s martial arts series Fist of the North Star. Contemporary mangaka who cite Miura as an influence include Attack on Titan's Hajime Isayama and Black Butler's Yana Toboso. His style is evident in video games such as Dark Souls and Final Fantasy XIV and in TV shows like Netflix's Castlevania. He received an Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize in 2002.
Miura's death leaves Berserk unfinished, adding to the anguish of fans who've followed the series for decades. Still, Dark Horse's Horn concluded his memorial on a resilient note that was welcome in the wake of a year of COVID deaths. "By the millions he touched lives, inspired lives — put life into people, sometimes when we truly needed it," Horn writes. "You who are his fans knew that already; some of Miura-sensei's life is in you now. You are already carrying the story forward."
Etelka Lehoczky has written about books for The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Review of Books and The New York Times. She tweets at @EtelkaL.