Fangs out At Midnight: Anime and Manga’s Best Vampires
When the young adult romance book known as Twilight came out in 2005, no one could predict the cultural impact – both positive and negative – it would have on the world. Whilst the book was mostly received lukewarmly in reviews, it climbed to the top spot of the New York Best Time Sellers list and gained a wave of fans not just young adults, but adults as well. But it was in 2008, when the movie adaptation came out, that the impact of the series exploded and became impossible to ignore.
Whether you were Team Edward, Team Jacob, or Team Real-Vampires-Don’t-Sparkle, there’s no denying that its impact on the world brought along a new wave of interest in the vampire genre. From TV drama (e.g. True Blood and The Vampire Diaries), to movies (Daybreakers and Vampire Academy for instance) and of course, anime and manga (Vampire’s Portrait and Blood-C to name a few). The Twilight series eventually got its own manga version!
Vampires have been around for much longer than Twilight of course, so with a new novel from Stephenie Meyer coming out in August, Anime UK News would like to share their favourite from anime and manga. You can see our suggestions as a palate cleanser from the sparkling vampires, or as part of a fang-tastic binge after you’ve read Midnight Sun.
I got into vampires thanks to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I love my vampires to be ghastly and cool, with a mixture of romance and gothic brooding. So first I’d like to recommend the movie Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, which got a lovely Blu-ray release not too long ago. Its art style is enough to warrant a watch, but it’s based upon the best-selling series of the same name, and contains some incredibly gorgeously designed vampires with interesting ideas surrounding the main character and the world it inhabits. The first film, simply titled Vampire Hunter D, I remember watching and enjoying when I was younger, but sadly it’s no longer in print.
A vampire series I personally enjoy to this day is Vampire Knight; the original manga series is 19 volumes long, with an on-going spin-off (Vampire Knight: Memories) currently clocking in at three volumes so far. Admittedly, there are a lot of elements that are quite silly about the series, such as the goofy premise (vampires and humans attending the same school – NOTHING bad could possibly happen!) and the love triangle can drag in places, especially in the middle, but I re-read the first few volumes recently and it still holds up incredibly well. From the first panel you immediately get the gothic tone, the creepiness of the vampires, the struggles of the main characters – it feels very alive from the first page which is something hard to achieve when starting a new story. Plus, the art by Matsuri Hino, is just stunning; I purposely bought the special edition of the 19th volume because it came with an exclusive art book.
One last series I recommend is Dance in the Vampire Bund; the manga is on-going, and it’s a shame that the anime didn’t continue past the first season but I enjoyed the story and the main female vampire character is a force to be reckoned with, and we definitely could do with more females in the vampire genre.
The thing I find interesting about vampires in fiction is that there are so many different takes on them as supernatural creatures, ranging from classical Dracula-like representations to things a lot more friendly. With that in mind, I’ve picked out three recommendations that I think give a very wide view as to what vampires can do.
If it’s pure ultra-violence and absurdity that you want, the Hellsing franchise delivers all of that in spades, as it follows the vampire Alucard under the employ of Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, current leader of the Hellsing Organisation, which has been tasked to protect England against the hordes of supernatural creatures that plague the Earth. While I never hear much about the original anime series, the Hellsing Ultimate OVAs are loved by fans, and after finally getting round to watching them last year I can see why. The plot surrounding the revival of the Nazis is absurd but terrifically well executed, while the devil-may-care attitude that a lot of the characters have makes them a lot of fun to watch as they just lay into all kinds of ghouls and vampire zombies. Dark, bloody and violent, this is terrific to watch, although maybe not one for a younger or more squeamish audience.
Sitting more in the middle is the Monogatari series, with our beloved Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade offering a more typical bloodthirsty vampire image in her adult form while at the same time offering moe, doughnut-eating antics as the child-like Shinobu. While the Monogatari series as a whole gets to show various mythical creatures, Kizumonogatari does offer a really good vampire story, showing Kiss-shot as a vampire at both her strongest and weakest moments throughout the three films. Even though she is a vampire, it actually gives her a lot of humanity, as when she is hunted down and endangers Araragi she begins to feel that for the benefit of all it might be better if she had just died anyway. With a fantastic story, a great moral heart and some satisfying action sequences, Kizumonogatari doesn’t just stand up as one of the best entries in the franchise, but one of the best vampire stories in anime.
On the entire other end of the scale we have Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood, an adorable series about a girl who encounters a vampire in the woods one night, and not only befriends her, but moves into her home! Unlike my previous two picks, this is a very light-hearted and funny series that shows off some of the inconveniences around being a vampire while totally destroying their image as violent, bloodthirsty creatures. Sophie, the titular vampire, actually just wants to spend her time reading manga, while living off blood that she orders online. But when Akari moves in, that all goes out the window as she is dragged more into the human world, whether that’s stepping out to the shops with a parasol so she doesn’t get burned by the sunlight, or even turning up at Akari’s school. While it’s very similar to other comfy, moe anime in the story it tries to tell, putting a vampiric spin on things had this show leaving me with a good impression when it aired in 2018, giving us a cute and colourful cast of characters and lots of sweet and funny moments. If you want vampires without the gore and violence then this is a really good one to watch.
When it comes to vampire series, my favourite is undoubtedly Vampire Knight (in fact maybe that gave birth to my love for vampires in general!), but since that has already been given some love by Darkstorm I’m going to talk about a couple of my other favourites.
First up is on-going shonen series Seraph of the End. The story begins after an epidemic kills every adult on earth and vampires rise up and enslave what’s left of humanity. Protagonist Yuichiro is living with orphans, kids that he considers his family, but one day he loses everything when an escape from captivity goes horribly wrong. After this horrific experience, our hero joins the Japanese Imperial Demon Army to help defeat vampires and reclaim the world for humans.
Ultimately everyone believes the vampires to be evil, but as the story goes on it seems that they may not be the biggest threat facing humanity. In actuality, maybe they can help in the fight to reclaim it? Seraph of the End is a long-running series at 21 volumes and two seasons of anime to its name. There are a few spin-off light novels too, so it’s a big franchise to get into. If you like the story its trying to tell then the investment will be worth it though, and I think it does well to convey the traditional feeling of menace and fear we’re supposed to feel toward vampires.
If you’re looking for something with friendly vampires then I recommend Strike the Blood. The story here takes place on Itogami Island, a man-made landmass 300km from Tokyo where magical beings (vampires, spirits, etc.) can live in harmony. Our protagonist is Kojou Akatsuki who was once a regular high-school boy until he was suddenly turned into the Fourth Progenitor, an incredibly powerful vampire.
Kojou just wants to live a quiet life, but with the powers of the Fourth Progenitor he’s regularly targeted by people and organisations that want to use his powers for evil. Worse still, he’s followed everywhere by sword shaman Yukina, who has been sent by the anti-terrorism agency to keep an eye on Kojou and make sure he’s not a threat to humanity.
With news that the original light novels are soon to end at Volume 22, now is a good time to jump into this franchise. There are also manga and anime adaptions if light novels aren’t your thing!
Vampires (especially Western vampires of the ‘romantic’ kind as opposed to the Eastern hopping vampires, jiangshi, as often seen in Hong Kong movies) continue to fascinate Japanese mangaka and light novel authors. Shiki (2010) still remains for me one of the most chilling and affecting anime series to portray vampires. The underlying message, delivered in a stark and brutal fashion in the final episodes, is ‘Who are the real monsters: the humans or the vampires?’ It’s worth noting that the vampires here a European family who move into a remote Japanese village, bringing elegant Western ways and, of course, the curse of the undead. (This, of course, is ripe for interpretation!) Based on the 1998 novel by Fuyumi Ono (Ghost Hunt) and aided by distinctive character designs which you’ll either love or hate – and a superbly creepy score by Yasuharu Takanashi (Zombie Land Saga) Shiki is a vampire tale that will haunt you long after you’ve watched it.
Black Rose Alice (VIZ Media) is a deliciously perverted take on the European romantic vampire theme by award-winning mangaka Setona Mizushiro (The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese, Afterschool Nightmare). The manga went on hiatus after six volumes, but the mangaka has returned to it this year in an ongoing continuation called Black Rose Alice: D.C. al fine – an aptly musical title for a manga whose two main characters and fated lovers are an opera singer and a piano teacher.
‘Dimitri Lewandoski is a celebrated tenor in early 1900s Vienna. When he is killed in an accident, his corpse is colonized by the seeds of a vampire master. At first, Dimitri denies that anything has changed, but as the people around him start dying, he is forced to accept the ghastly truth. Flash-forward to 2008; In Tokyo, Azusa Kikukawa agrees to sacrifice herself as the next breeding ground for the vampire group in exchange for Dimitri healing her fatally wounded young boyfriend. But now that the deal is struck, Azusa finds herself in a strange house and a strange body, surrounded by the men she must choose from for her deadly embrace...’ (VIZ blurb)
Last – but by no means least – is Servamp from Seven Seas. The anime TV series ran for twelve episodes (there’s been a stage production in Japan as well) but the ongoing manga by Tanaka Strike is continuing the story (15 volumes +), an intriguing tale of seven quirky ‘sibling’ vampires named after the Seven Deadly Sins (the servant vampires of the title) and their human masters or ‘Eves’. High schooler Mahiru’s mundane life changes forever when he takes home what he thinks is a stray black kitten and names him ‘Kuro’. In giving him a name, he has unwittingly become the master of a listless, lazy Servamp (Sloth) who likes nothing better than to laze around in Mahiru’s apartment, eating snacks and playing games. Mahiru is unaware that he’s stumbled into a deadly and desperate fight between a secret agency called C3 and the Servamps. To complicate matters, an eighth Servamp called Tsubaki has also declared war on his seven ‘siblings’ and has assembled a powerful team of vampires to help him. Distinguished by attractive character designs and a slight BL tease (only a tease!) Servamp manages to combine comedy and action in equal measure – although the recent volumes have taken a much darker direction. Recommended as a very different take on the vampire theme.
What are your favourite vampire anime and manga series? Let us know in the comments!