An attempt to explain my preference for “dark” themes in Anime and Manga

Disclaimer: There’s probably going to be some “graphic” images in this post. If that sort of stuff disgusts you, you should probably give this one a miss.

Potential spoiler alert: This post kind of, sort of, has some very vague spoilers for Berserk and Oyasumi Punpun. If you don’t want these Manga spoiled for you, you may want to avoid reading this.

Given how much I’ve spoken about it, whether it be in previous posts or during one of my random spiels on Twitter, and given some recent drama that came as a result of me sharing my opinion on this, I figured I’d finally tackle this topic in a post and attempt to explain my reasoning behind why I feel the way I do about it.

I like “dark” themes in Anime and Manga. I’d even go as far as saying that, especially in the case of Manga, I deliberately seek out stories that have a focus on such themes and series that many people would label as “edgy”.

I suppose I should start by explaining what I mean by “dark”. “Dark” is a very loose term that can mean a lot of things, and it’s ridiculously overused to the point that the word has begun to lose all meaning. But despite this, I feel that the term perfectly encapsulates what I’m about to describe, so I’m going to continue using it regardless of how much I dislike the term.

By “dark” themes I mean themes that would be likely be seen as “taboo”, unsettling and deeply disturbing to the average viewer. Kentaro Miura’s Berserk and Inio Asano’s Oyasumi Punpun are my two favourite examples of such stories, if you need some kind of reference.

Now, I can completely understand why people aren’t, or wouldn’t, be into series like this. I’m perfectly fine with someone being uncomfortable with the infamous Eclipse scene in Berserk, or the extremely graphic and emotionally traumatising suicide scene towards the end of Oyasumi Punpun. If something offends you, or makes you feel disgusted, then I completely understand why you feel that way.

But I don’t get offended or bothered by any of this stuff, and many of my favourite stories, including the two examples given above, incorporate these disturbing themes in their stories frequently, and use them as narrative devices constantly.

Why am I drawn to series with such a focus?

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Because I love the atmosphere that they create. Everything feels “off”, and nothing feels right with the world itself, even if the setting is something incredibly ordinary and mundane, like the town in Aku no Hana, which is simply an ordinary town with nothing even remotely remarkable about it whatsoever. It’s not some dystopian future or a world of oppression where peoples lives are made miserable, it’s just a normal, quiet town where people go about their everyday lives, just like us. Yet, the twisted themes of the narrative and the messed up mindsets of the series’ two main characters, make it feel like something is constantly amiss and make the entire setting feel way more miserable than that of any dystopia.

This also goes for series that take place in a world very different than our own. I strongly believe that Berserk’s dark fantasy setting is so terrifyingly memorable as a post-apocalyptic setting because of all the taboo and fucked up things we see happening in it constantly. It’s a world where people are constantly being brutally murdered and raped by man and monster alike, and I honestly feel that it’s a world that wouldn’t be anywhere near as captivating as it is if it didn’t portray itself in such a direct way.

And that’s just how these themes can affect the setting of a story, that’s not even getting into how such themes can relate to its cast of characters. Oyasumi Punpun would most definitely not be even remotely close to being as brutally depressing and feelsy as it is, if it didn’t throw all of these disturbing and chaotic themes together into Punpun’s life. Through experiencing these situations directly, firsthand, we understand why Pupun is so deeply distressed and why he makes the terrible decisions that he does in the latter acts of the story. We understand the pain he’s going through, and we sympathise with him, despite him turning out to be a pretty selfish and despicable individual in the end. If Oyasumi Punpun didn’t show us any of these things happening, the emotional connection to Punpun’s story wouldn’t be anywhere near as strong as it is.

Image result for oyasumi punpun manga sad

“Show don’t tell”, is often heralded as one of the best ways to portray something in a narrative, and I strongly believe that this applies to these kinds of themes especially. Yes, it can be fairly graphic, and yes, it can be very disturbing for the average viewer, but I really do believe that showing these things, as opposed to simply going “this happened”, can make them a very powerful narrative device that, under the correct circumstances, can greatly enhance and benefit the overall viewing/reading experience.

Finally, in a lot of stories, I simply find this “dark” focus incredibly interesting when it comes to the characters and whatever messed up situation they happen to be caught up in. In the cases of Oyasumi Punpun and Aku no Hana specficially, it allows me to vicariously live experiences that are incredibly relatable to me while also being the complete opposite of my current, incredibly happy and blissful real world circumstances. To be able to reflect upon such experiences, is just fascinating to me in a lot of ways. It’s a bit of a vague reason, and I can’t really explain it too well aside from that, but… Whatever.

Tanaka-kun-07-23
I tried…

My point is, it should be okay for me to like stories with these kinds of “dark” themes and not have a problem with them, or their inherently graphic nature. I’ve had people attack me, and I’ve literally lost friends in the blogging community, because I don’t have a problem with stories of this nature.

No, I don’t support these things. No, I’m not a terrible person for liking these fictional stories, because they’re just that. Fictional.

Like I said, I completely understand if someone is disturbed or offended by these “dark” themes. That’s totally fine. Not every series is for everyone, and not every experience is geared towards all audiences. This is why dropping things exists and why I heavily encourage doing so, despite never dropping things myself. We all have our own preferences, and we all have things that unsettle us, and you’re entitled to feel however you feel about a particular series or scene.

But I am also entitled to feel how I feel too. And this how I feel.

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How do you feel about these kinds of narratives? Do you feel the can enhance the narrative? Or do you feel the opposite? Let me know!

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26 thoughts on “An attempt to explain my preference for “dark” themes in Anime and Manga

  1. Great post Leth.

    First, thank you for bringing the term dark back. It had been somewhat maligned lately but I’ve always liked it.

    This probably doesn’t mean much from me as I have never hidden my gleeful embrace of some ultraviolent titles and general interest in stories and characters meant to be destabilizing. The original Berserk and Eva being among my all time favorite animes. Some people might argue that one of the functions of art is to shed light on uncomfortable realities. To be thought provoking even if it can occasionally be shocking or even disgusting.

    We all have subjects we are less open to seeing even in fictional form (I certainly have some) but those are personal preferences, I don’t think I have the right to impose them on others. And to actually judge someone on the very general notion of being able to seek out and enjoy more brutal storylines seems rather narrow minded. There are exceptions of course but in my personal experience, most of the gentler sweeter people I’ve known are drawn to gory stories, the accepting and altruistic ones to stories of abuse and discrimination and the grumpy, angrier/less patient ones to super cutesy slice of life…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m more than happy to bring the term back into the larger discussion, even though I’m not the biggest fan of it myself (for the same reasons as everyone else, but I also believe there’s no other way to define what I mean that doesn’t carry negative connotations, Eg – “edgy”).

      I’m kind of glad you really enjoy ultraviolence similar to the way I do. It’s refreshing to see someone, other than myself, enjoy such things without flinching or being angry at the level of violence being displayed. So thanks for that! Even the most gory and unsettling of stories can have something meaningful to say, or have a deeper message behind its bloodshed (such as Berserk and Eva, which are two brilliant examples).

      Of course I have some of my own too, but I’d never judge someone for liking the things I’m uncomfortable with, because at the end of the day, it’s an Anime. It’s not like it’s a real product where actual people were harmed or anything. I think it’s a case of the modern era being a lot more sensitive to things compared to how they used to be, but that’s a discussion I’d like to not need to elaborate on if possible (because I’ll probably dig a hole, and I cba haha).

      And I actually agree with you on that last point. My fiance is the same, very sweet and gentle, but loves her violent stories like Attack on Titan and Game of Thrones more than any others.

      Sorry for taking so long to respond, as you know from our chat, I’ve not been too active and have been very busy lately. But I finally found time to reply!

      Thank you so much for reading and for your lengthy comment. I really appreciate it, Irina!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad I’m not completely alone in my reasons! What are some of your favourite dark stories? I’m actually in need some news ones 😛

      Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been very busy recently and haven’t had time to reply to comments. Thank you so much for reading! I really appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I have indeed read Life and would most definitely consider it to be dark, since it focuses heavily on bullying and the depression that it can bring to an individual.

          It’s one of my Top 5 Manga actually, and it’s really something else, spoke to my own experiences in high school in many ways.

          You should definitely check out the Mangaka’s other works if you haven’t already. They’re also very good!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally relate to this…though I get scared as hell once anything malignant and supernatural gets involved. I used to fantasize a lot and have myself be the protagonist of my stories, and almost every single one of them ends in brutal gore and tragedy. Perhaps there’s something cathartic about dark things. People really dismiss this sort of enjoyment (?) too readily these days.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s very interesting how the adding supernatural elements can make something a lot more traumatising for you if the story is dark. I definitely think there’s a lot of catharsis to be found in tragic stories, and I feel they can often serve as a moral lesson to teach us the paths in life we should avoid taking ourselves to avoid a similar fate. That’s just my take on it however.

      People are definitely far too easily willing to pass judgement on enjoying such things. It’s a real shame.

      Thank you so much for reading and sorry for the late reply, I’ve been very busy lately!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well..I have never had a problem with dark themes in any way. In fact those are usually my favorite animes/tv shows/movies. People at times look ar me funny when I say I like stuff like that…but I never really let it bother me.
    I’m currently watching the remake of the Guyver anime series..and that one can certainly be classified as dark as well. Great post..really enjoyed reading this 😊😊

    Like

  4. Great post! For me dark stories are a way to experience the other, more depressing side of life that I hope I’ll never be forced to live through (or at least to that extent). It’s somehow very appealing to examine how people behave in hard situations because I think it’s the best way to learn more about human nature without having to force anyone in the real world to experience anything unpleasant.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s sad when people fail to embrace all that fiction has to offer. I’d say go ahead and love all the “darker,” grislier titles that anime has to offer, for unlike other media, anime does it particularly well. Personally, I find these kinds of anime to pick a part of my brain that doesn’t often get tickled (Madoka Magica, Higurashi, the shadier parts of the Fate franchise to name a few), and that’s fascinating for me!

    Like

  6. I think it’s really hard to really express why we might like something “dark/edgy” because there are a lot of stigmas attached to it. I feel like that’s true especially now. If you happen to enjoy something that has rape in it, oh you endorse rape! same with everything else and i don’t think that’s the case. there’s a difference between reality and fantasy. besides some stories have a point to why they are using all these themes and graphically. i haven’t read goodnight punpun yet (need to get a hold of a copy) but I browsed a bit of it online and there was something like domestic violence and sexuality and while uncomfortable those topics are real and need to be addressed somehow. also, i think it’s also because certain topics aren’t addressed that maybe we’re drawn to them? i know that’s one of the appeals to me. it’s something different and some creators are just very creative in talking about certain topics

    Great post! And as someone who also finds darker content fascinating, would it be okay to write up a post inspired by your post? (this one? sort of like a response post)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Expressing my love for these kinds of stories was a pretty big challenge for me, but I feel I managed it pretty well considering!

      It’s a shame that people are so quick to judge those who are into such shows as bad people simply for enjoying something.

      I also feel that many of these series do a good job at portraying these themes in a mature way, explaining why they’re so wrong and why we should avoid them in the real world (Punpun being a great example of how NOT to live your life and what decisions you SHOULD avoid making).

      The taboo nature definitely is part of the draw as well I think.

      Thank you! And of course. I’d be delighted to read a response post/inspired post! Go for it! I look forward to reading it!

      Like

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