AUKN Writers Celebrate Death Note’s 20th Anniversary

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‘The human whose name is written in this note shall die.’

On December 1st 2003, the first chapter of Death Note was released on Weekly Shonen Jump magazine in Japan, and the anime and manga world were never the same again. Although the first collected volume wasn’t released in English until October 2005, the early internet days were buzzing with this new, exciting manga, with a young audience already baked into the otaku community to devour this exciting story. Then when the anime debuted in October 2006, the popularity of the story exploded, not only being the gateway show for that generation of anime fans, but also breaking into the pop culture outside of the otaku sphere,  from multiple adaptions of the material (in Japan and US), to musical adaptations, and even a recent reference on The Simpsons. Then there’s the controversial side of its popularity, with several attempts to ban the material and imitations of the Death Note being used in real life.

Saying all this, there’s no denying that Death Note has been one of the most influential series of all time. With its 20th anniversary now here, the Anime UK News team look back on their memories of the series, and ask themselves, does the series still hold up to this day? Read our thoughts and make sure to share your Death Note stories in the forums! Or if you’ve yet to get into the series, the entire manga plus side material is still in print via VIZ Media and you can purchase the Blu-ray of the whole anime via Crunchyroll.

Ian Wolf

As referenced in the introduction to this article, Death Note is a series so well known that it has even made an appearance in arguably the most successful western animated series ever. In 2022, in that year’s edition of The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror”, the series was parodied in a short called “Death Tome”, filmed in an anime style with Lisa being cast as lead Light Yagami. You could argue that Light might also fit into the “Treehouse of Horror” in other ways. To reference “The Devil and Homer Simpson”, I would argue that if you were to create an anime “jury of the damned”, then Light would certainly be among those judging.*

Light Yagami is certainly one of the most intriguing and interesting anime and manga characters ever created. To quote an AUKN review I wrote covering the Blu-ray release of the anime back in December 2016 (which weirdly turned out to be quite the year for notable deaths): “there are so many ways that you could describe lead character Light Yagami: genius, ruthless, draconian, misguided, charismatic, megalomaniacal, psychopathic, influencer, passionate, deadly and godly. It is hard to think of another anime character so complex that they can be described in so many different ways.”

Light has certainly had an influence, both good and bad. On the good side, he and indeed the entire series were a gateway to other anime and manga series for those new to it back in the early 2000s, and continues to be so to this day, with the UK recently hosting a stage musical version of the story. On the downside, there is no denying that the story of a teenage boy trying to kill anyone he considers to be bad has led to disaster, with various real-life copycats, leading to kids in the USA being expelled from schools, and in the worst case an actual murder in Belgium, leading to three people receiving prison sentences of between 20-23 years.

But that is the weird thing about Light: people do like him, despite the fact he is someone who kills millions of people. Many readers identify with his draconian crusade. It is a testament to the brilliance of the writing that creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata are able to make someone so disturbing also appealing. It is engrossing, yet also creepy.

The best way I think I can sum up my feelings regarding this is that I have been in a long-term long-distance relationship with someone for many years, and if someone threatened them, then I would want to protect them. I gave a panel at an anime convention earlier this year mentioning this, and was ever-so-slightly freaked out when some people applauded this notion. However, my partner is part of a minority who are regularly targeted by the press, and if the Death Note really existed then I for one would rather get my hands on it and eliminate those who threaten the one I love, rather than let them get it and kill him, and by association me.

*In case anyone is wondering, my personal nominations for an “anime jury of the damned” would by Light Yagami, Ragyo Kiryuin from Kill la Kill, Dio Brando from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Seishiro Sakurazuka from Tokyo Babylon and X, Blackbeard the pirate from One Piece, Johan Liebert from Monster, and the starting line of the Kirisaki Daiichi High School basketball team from Kuroko’s Basketball.


I remember clearly when I first saw a copy of the first volume of Death Note manga in my local Waterstones. I was working in London, and my friend (who was in college and in their local anime club) had been hyping this series to me for months prior. It was the early days of the internet and so buzz about any series outside of a small niche of fans was considered super special. So, Death Note having a fanbase ready for the English translation of the first volume before it officially came out really was distinct. So, I bought the first volume, and to this day, I still think it’s one of the best debut volumes in manga. If you want to get someone into a new series, Death Note Volume 1 hits all the right buttons; it has a unique concept that gets straight to the point, but is not so bloated that it’s difficult to understand. It has a protagonist that drives the plot and constantly keeps the reader on their toes. The big reveals (L’s debut to Light) to the smaller unveils (the head of police being Light’s dad) are excellently built up. Plus, the volume ends in the most brilliant way; the bus hijacked looking like a random event, only to be a planned exactly as Light wanted, ending on a cliff-hanger where we wonder where Light will go from here.

The first half of the story is a page-turner in every volume, and whilst the second half of the story is still debated as to whether it’s bad or not, there are elements and characters that are not only worth discussing but are also enjoyable. (However I’m in the minority that doesn’t think it completely nose-dives in the second half, so make of that what you will.) The characters also command every page they’re on, whether you disagree with their ‘righteous’ ways or not. Light is one of my favourite protagonist to read, but I admit that I would hate him if he was a real person!

To this day, I think it definitely holds up; there’s a reason why there’s still so many video essays (I highly recommend Bennett the Sage’s essay) and adaptations (the musical only came to London this year) 20 years after its release; it’s a highly enjoyable, cat-and-mouse game with layered themes, highly entertaining characters, and fantastic art style. It’s basically Sherlock Holmes vs Moriarty if we instead followed Moriarty and he had the power of God on his side asking for apples, and stories like that have elements that can capture any generation of anime/manga fan. Despite its age, if you have yet to pick it up, I recommend you give it a go. Luckily it’s one of the few series that is readily available and therefore easy to get into, and unlike other anime properties, you’re not obliged to read or watch any further spin-off material or sequels to understand the main story; its neatly told in one whole package!


My relationship with Death Note is perhaps not too dissimilar to a lot of anime fans my age. Back when I was first getting into anime properly (in so far as knowing what it was and not just watching Pokémon and Cardcaptors on a weekend!) this series was among the first I watched alongside greats like Fullmetal Alchemist and Ouran High School Host Club. But while I still have a great fondness for those other series, Death Note is not a series I have gone out of my way to own or rewatch/reread in the years since.

Some of that is because I prefer Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s other work Bakuman a lot more and some of it is because I feel like Death Note is a series that should only be experienced once in a given form. Once you know the twists and turns you lose some of the enjoyment you had as a first-time viewer or reader. However, that hasn’t stopped me from checking out many of the other adaptations of the story and one of my longstanding favourites is the Japanese live-action drama adaptation in 2015. As dramas often do, quite a lot of the story got changed or shifted around but that made it refreshing in its own right as I watched Light and L get into a cat-and-mouse game anew. At one point this was available to watch on Crunchyroll, although it appears the license has expired since. It’s still available on Hulu in the US, so perhaps it’ll surface on Disney Plus in the future.

But for as much as I may not be a mega fan of Death Note, it does have a special place in my heart for showing me how good a villain vs ace detective story could be in manga/anime form. I have always been a big fan of crime dramas or detective stories, increasingly so when it becomes a cat-and-mouse game between the two and that is something Death Note excels at. It will always be the series I think of when experiencing something similar. And in fact if you reading this also like that side of the series then I highly recommend reading the Death Note: Another Note – The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases (available via VIZ  Media), which is a light novel written by Nisioisin (Monogatari, Pretty Boy Detective Club) and sees L working with the FBI to catch a serial killer. As a story contained in a single book, it really does capture some of the best of Death Note, particularly if you are a fan of L.

Cold Cobra

Death Note was one of those series I’d heard a lot about here and there but never fully looked into it or what it was about as it got released/aired. With no dedicated streaming service at the time, I was more picky with what I’d, um, “find” to watch online and that was very much based around more predictable affairs from Shonen Jump (ironically not knowing that Death Note was also a Jump property…) Fast forward to 2009 and I see the first DVD set in HMV and read the back and think to myself “oh yeah, I keep meaning to look into this. Screw it, sounds good, everyone says its good, I’ll give it a go”. That night one episode turned into several, which turned into several more the next morning, which is an odd time to watch several anime episodes for me, and before I knew it I’d gone through all eight episodes from the original release in less than 24 hours.

Tsugumi Ohba really nailed everything about this story, the characters are multi-layered and genuinely interesting, and world is serious but thanks to certain Shinigami and everyone’s favourite detective L it has lighter moments (no pun intended, I guess?) and the plot twists are something else when you’re experiencing them for the first time. The game of cat and mouse between L and our sort of protagonist-who’s-really-an-antagonist Light was and still is extremely engaging, a game of one one-upmanship between geniuses that mixes in the fantastical. Suffice it to say I immediately bought the next two DVD sets and then bought Volumes 4 and 5 as they released throughout the next year, thankfully avoiding spoilers beyond “the final third of the series is a major let-down”, which… well, its safe to say that the final third does bring about a quality dip, but I still really enjoy the anime’s ending sequence, if nothing else. Of course since then I brought and read the original manga series as well, with lovely art from Ohba complimenting his storytelling.

Since then we’ve had Japanese live action films that stick surprisingly close to the source material, with the exception of the aforementioned final third that it omits entirely, compilation films of the anime, more re-releases of the original manga and the anime series than you can shake a stick at and of course we’ve had a truly terrible Netflix live action film that failed to understand the simplest thing about the source material. Of course 20 years later this masterpiece of suspenseful writing is still getting adapted, including um… by Netflix again. Hmmm… Well, whatever happens to the Death Note name in live action it will never take away from the great manga and anime series that not only still hold up today but will no doubt continue to hold up for many more decades to come.


By day, I work in the television industry. By night, I'm a writer for Anime UK News. Twitter: @lilithdarkstorm

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Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and was also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. His debut book, CLAMPdown, about the manga collective CLAMP, is available now. Outside of anime, he is data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

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Cold Cobra

Having watched anime since it was airing late night on the Sci-Fi channel in the late 90s, I consider myself... someone who's watched a lot of anime, and then got hired to write reviews about them. Hooray!

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When she's not watching anime, reading manga or reviewing, Demelza can generally be found exploring some kind of fantasy world and chasing her dreams of being a hero.

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