Berserk is a cultural powerhouse, a brutal epic for the ages. The series is more than simply an edgy wandering warrior with a dreadfully massive sword slung to his back. It’s the definitive dark fantasy manga that’s influenced countless franchises including Final Fantasy, the Soulsborne games by FromSoftware, and other contemporary hits like Fullmetal Alchemist and Jujutsu Kaisen. But with Berserk having a sporadic release schedule, sometimes readers will want their fix or seek out something similar, and we’re here to help. Here are the best 12 manga to read if you like Berserk!
What is Berserk?
Without diving headlong into a summary of its 370+ published chapters and counting, Berserk is regarded as possibly the quintessential, definitive example of dark fantasy horror manga. It combines Shonen anime tropes in the characterization of its protagonist, Guts, with moral nuances and intensely mature themes of the demographic it’s intended for, called “Seinen.”
Seinen was a term originally meant to apply to manga marketed toward young adult men, but it has plenty of readers beyond that demographic. Seinen series typically dive more into existentialism and philosophical themes, along with unflinching displays of violence and trauma, than Shonen series such as One Piece. That’s not to say the Seinen series is better as a whole, but Berserk is better than most.
Berserk is a Seinen epic depicting the trials and tribulations of its protagonist, Guts. Guts’ story goes from seeking revenge on the brutal former friend who betrayed him, to protecting his last surviving loved ones, who are anchors for his soul and will to live. The betrayal in question is a particularly heinous one, resulting in a mass sacrifice in exchange for power, and the sexual assault of Guts’ lover, Casca.
Related: All Berserk Arcs in Order
In Berserk, Guts combats religious fanatics, demonic entities, and eldritch abominations, with humanity’s capacity for evil often taking center stage. As edgy as it is to even say, Berserk is not for the faint of heart, and that’s not just the Golden Age Arc we’re talking about.
12 Seinen or Similar Manga to Check Out Next if You Like Berserk
For readers seeing a similar experience between harrowing chapters of this seminal modern classic, it might be tough. Still, some stories come close in either matching the tone, period, or graphic content of this series.
Manga you should look into if you’re interested in Berserk should predominantly be looking for its dark fantasy or horror trappings, or exhibit similar characters with similar emotional journeys. But some Berserk fans are just looking for some bloody action, and don’t worry, we’ve got that covered too. Here is some great manga to read like Berserk!
While Vagabond can be compared to Berserk in terms of tone and content, it features a decidedly more real world depicted in its series. Instead of the fictitious quasi-European realm of Midland, Vagabond focuses on its protagonist Musashi Miyamoto as he travels across Feudal Japan. The series has incredible art and a nuanced portrayal of the Bushido principles.
It is also, just like Berserk, infuriatingly not done yet, with Vagabond on hiatus since 2015. But with a series as acclaimed as Vagabond, from a creator whose previous work includes Slam Dunk previously considered a mainstay in the old Shonen big trio, fans will be hard-pressed to find a more engaging samurai drama. Finally, Vagabond is considered to be among the Seinen “Big Three” along with Berserk, with the third to be discussed later.
2. Tokyo Ghoul
Tokyo Ghoul is an interesting addition to this list as it belongs here more based on being a Seinen series than strictly any similarities to Berserk. That being said, it does exhibit similar qualities, with the plot often stretching into outlandish territory and bearing the dark fantasy genre tag, but with a more modern setting.
The series depicts an alternate Tokyo with ghouls existing in the modern day, attempting to hide their traits to not be detected by humans. The protagonist, Ken Kaneki, is a human who is turned into a half-ghoul and is forced into complicated dynamics between the two groups, such as adjusting to the ghoulish diet of human flesh and being repulsed by something as simple as a hamburger.
Want the bleak landscape of Berserk but pushed more into a post-apocalyptic direction instead of strictly fantasy? Dorohedoro is an interesting one, with stronger science-fiction elements thrown into the mix. The protagonist is an amnesiac, reptilian-headed man named Caiman, who gains a reputation as a sorcerer-killer who is seeking out his prey to find the truth of his past.
It’s quite similar to Guts’ journey, considering he embarked on a similar quest to find apostles of the God Hand so he could track down Griffith. But Dorohedoro stands out on its own merits, having art with a distinctly rougher style than others on this list.
Akira is on this list not only as a Seinen manga but as a monolithic influence on pop culture that can easily rival Berserk. Instead of being an edgy and subversive fantasy series, Akira is an edgy and subversive sci-fi story and one of the earliest to embody the subgenre of cyberpunk. Akira is also credited along with Berserk as one of the biggest influences that helped make manga huge in the West, but it also has a distinctive additional impact.
The manga’s film adaptation is one of the greatest works of animation ever made into a feature film. It features dozens of iconic moments and cinematic hooks that people have copied ever since, not the least of which being the “Akira slide” which has been emulated by everything from Batman: The Animated Series, to Adventure Time, to Pokemon, and so many others. It’s regarded as distinctly influential on filmmaking as a whole, and the film only covers about the first half. So get reading!
5. Dai Dark
Dai Dark is a trickier comparison to Berserk as it’s marketed more toward Shonen readers than Seinen. However, despite the comedic elements tied into it, this series is relentlessly dark at the same time. The story is based thousands of years into the future with technology falling heavily into decline. Light is a precious resource in this series, while others thrive in the darkness.
You might also notice that Dai Dark has the same creator as Dorohedoro, Q Hayashida, which stands as a strong case for you liking one if you liked the other. The art in this series is distinctive and imaginative, and you’ll find yourself laughing out loud far more often than you might expect in a series featuring violent religious fanatics. While it’s certainly a more funny entry than the other manga like Berserk in this list, the concepts and visuals line up fairly well.
6. Record of Ragnarok
I wanted to personally include this recommendation because of how much fun the series is, while still embodying Seinen characteristics. Its heroes are distinctive and feature wildly varying moral compasses. The central plot is straightforward and has been since the start, with humanity clashing in a death battle tournament with the gods to determine their survival.
While it’s easy to compare the gratuitously violent moments to those in Berserk and call it a day, it’s better to consider the various stories of the combatants in Record of Ragnarok. Notable examples come to mind, like Jack the Ripper who receives an appropriately sinister backstory that’d be perfectly at home in a Berserk arc if it took place in the Victorian era. And yet he’s not the villain, as that’d be just a lazy villain origin story if done in an inferior series.
Every battle has a loaded conclusion. Tournament instigator and series protagonist Brunhilde mourns the dead and defeated from each side, and certain human winners are looked upon with contempt if they wind up defeating sympathetic gods in their fights. The fights are also incredible, and it’ll be electrifying to see more of them put in future episodes of the anime.
Entering once more into the sci-fi side of Seinen manga is Gantz. The series is fascinating, where characters who died trying to save somebody from a train accident wind up inserted into a game where they must hunt and kill aliens living on Earth. It has otherworldly elements, and great action, and is a thrilling read. But one interesting quality about this that connects to Berserk is one I’ve yet to mention previously.
Gantz, and other entries on this list, are also published by Dark Horse Manga in North America, with the key pattern here being just how many of their manga localizations are truly excellent. The point I’m trying to make here is, maybe check out Dark Horse for their manga, if you’re looking for quality, mature reads.
If you want a lesson in storytelling that accommodates a “less is more” approach when it comes to exposition, look no further than Blame! The series might be inaccessible to readers who need the plot spelled out to them, but that’s kind of the point. Despite the different genres, this manga embodies a bleak spirit like Berserk, selling us on it with its visual atmosphere and mood.
Killy is the series’ taciturn protagonist, which is not always easy to execute outside of video games, and a testament to how strongly the series renders a story that speaks a thousand words, even if not always out loud. It’s an insane iteration of the bleakest cyberpunk dystopia imaginable, in a megacity that encapsulates our solar system, which would make even Judge Dredd’s chin quiver.
9. Blade of the Immortal
Recommended personally by a friend to me, a manga reader who loves Berserk, Blade of the Immortal is an awesome addition to this list. It is also another Dark Horse manga, so…hint hint. The series is based in the Tokugawa Shogunate period in Japan but quickly reminds readers that its premise is not without fantastical elements. The protagonist, Manji, is almost completely immortal, and typically fatal wounds won’t put him down, with him often regenerating even after bullet wounds to the brain.
The series plays to this smartly, without having to resort to Shonen tropes despite the main character being an otherwise clear example of it. He acknowledges his swordplay is weaker because he is often not afraid to die in his confrontations. But when he gets into fights, he is capable of extraordinarily violent killer efficiency.
What’s also notable about the series is its fascinating casual language and approachability to modern mature readers, something it holds strongly in common with Berserk. It’s accessible, while also portraying taboo or unusual subjects, like the Asian roots of what would become misappropriated and branded the swastika used by the Nazis.
10. Golgo 13
Golgo 13 has a more storied legacy than perhaps any other entry on this list because this manga is very old. It’s been running for an astonishing 54+ years since 1968. The eponymous character and star of the series is an assassin whose identity is otherwise shrouded in mystery. He has taken on missions that have enraged entire nations’ governments and will kill anyone who threatens to blow his cover.
A tragic mutual connection between Golgo 13 and Berserk is also the fact that both series’ creators passed away in 2021, unable to see their beloved stories concluded. However, much like Berserk, the series still carries on, currently collected in a jaw-dropping 208 volumes.
Another long-running series, Kingdom has over 750 chapters and counting and is easily the most prolific recent series to feature on this list in terms of individual installments. It is the extremely high-quality story of Xin, a budding general during the Warring States period with the hopes of unifying China. It’s also published in Weekly Young Jump, the same publication that puts out Oshi no Ko, another incredible Seinen manga.
The series is extraordinary not only in its storytelling and visuals but even in fascinating elements like collaboration with other famous creators such as for “Social Kingdom”. This allowed some of the most famous manga creators in the world to contribute their vision in recreating a volume in the series, demonstrating remarkable care for the series while leaving their distinctive mark on it. But it falls short in many circles, just barely, from one key distinction to be discussed next.
12. Vinland Saga
Remember the Big Three I mentioned, referring to the most iconic trio of Seinen manga? Vinland Saga is the most commonly referenced third component, the other two being Vagabond and Berserk. Each of these three series was created years apart, yet showing remarkable influence from their predecessor. More importantly, none of them are over, at least not yet.
Vinland Saga retains that historically-influenced, Eurocentric setting while remaining distinctively a Japanese manga. Much like Berserk and Vagabond, readers feel connected to Thorfinn’s journey, as he ages and grows into his role as the protagonist. It’s naturally a fictionalized take on the story of real Icelandic explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni.
It feels incredibly grounded, as well, with the story beginning as a coming-of-age tale, turning into a revenge epic, and even more, with Thorfinn’s character being layered, complex, and engaging. What helps this series stay in the Big Three, however, is that it ties in with the Berserk and Vagabond manga in how they complement each other: a tormented medieval mercenary, a traveling samurai seeking power, and a Viking out for vengeance, with their stories seemingly indicating continuous character growth, almost as if they’re aging in real-time with their audiences a la Hellblazer.
There are lots of Seinen manga beyond these I could easily recommend if you love Berserk. Monster comes to mind, although it might be too modern and hit too close to home for people. Oshi no Ko is a Seinen drama but certainly with a different tone and setting from any of the aforementioned.
What we hope you take away from this is the importance of what makes these series great. They each have different hooks but remain relevant without feeling gimmicky. Berserk is a violent, blood-soaked epic, but it is also a powerful testament to struggles and triumphs of human will over seemingly insurmountable despair, and anything that comes close to that is worth your time.
- This article was updated on November 24th, 2023