Calling something adult manga or mature manga is a pretty broad church that can cover a lot of different genres, themes, topics, and stories. For that reason, this list is going to be exactly that: a broad church.
On this list of adult manga, you’re going to find stories of all different genres and styles. Manga targeted towards specific genders and sexualities, manga that speak to different experiences. Horror manga, action manga, romance manga. It’s all here.
Must-Read Adult Manga
Calling something adult or mature usually means that it contains themes and elements that aren’t appropriate for younger readers. This may mean the manga is too violent or explicitly sexual, or that it deals with heavy themes like suicide, addiction, or corruption.
There are so many ways to define adult manga, and that’s the reason why this list covers so many genres and styles. This is an attempt to look at the words “adult” and “mature” through a wide lens, and to encompass as many kinds of mature manga as possible.
Berserk by Kentaro Miura
Berserk feels like the most obvious adult manga to include on this list, so let’s start with it. Kentaro Miura’s Berserk is a manga that crosses genre lines; fantasy, action, and horror elements can all be found here. But however you slice it, Berserk is a very mature manga.
Berserk manages the remarkable feat of being bleak and dismal in its story beats, world-building, and character writing, while also often being thematically uplifting, sending messages of hope and comfort to its readers. This is a grimdark fantasy world full of eldritch nightmares and morally grey-to-black characters (protagonist Guts being the prime example of this).
Born of a dead woman hanged from a dead tree, and raised by the malicious leader of a mercenary group, Guts wields a sword that more closely resembles a slab of iron, and he is a near unstoppable swordsman. The world that Guts inhabits is cruel, unfair, brutal, and terrifying. Magic and monsters infect every corner of the land, and Miura’s art brings to visceral life the eldritch horrors of his own brilliantly creative mind.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata
I want to make it clear (especially as a queer writer myself) that this has not been included on this list of mature manga because it’s queer, but rather because it deals with adult themes of eating disorders, mental illness, self-abused, and — if you read the mangaka’s later works — alcoholism.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is a graphic memoir composed with raw and honest pain. It opens your eyes to an important yet painful reality in Japan, all through the use of dark humour, minimalist art, and queer honesty.
Read More: Essential Lesbian Novels
This adult manga tells the story of Kabi, a woman who decided against attending university, and spent her early twenties in a haze of depression, drifting through jobs at stores and bakeries and, when she finds the energy to do so, she writes manga.
Nagata begins with one eating disorder, and moves onto another. She loses her job, and finds another. She lives with her parents, and often fails to find the will to leave her bedroom. Eventually, she decides to hire a female escort and a room at a love hotel, in order to learn and understand all that she believes she has missed out on in her youth.
These desires and experiences which she has distorted into fear and anxiety in her mind. Like so much literature on mental health, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness hugely succeeds at making us feel far less alone in our strangeness. Because we’re not strange, we’re just people.
Sensor by Junji Ito
Of course, a horror manga was going to appear on a list of adult manga. And of course, no mangaka is as revered or accomplished in the realm of horror than Junji Ito. The question was this: which Junji Ito manga should be included on this list?
Sensor became the obvious choice due to its themes being arguably more mature than those found in most of his works. Sensor is a purely Lovecraftian work of fiction. It’s a story of cosmic horror; it touches on themes of paranoia and suicide. And at its heart is a cult.
There are countless teenagers out there who have read and adored Junji Ito’s manga, but the cult aspect of Sensor makes it a uniquely adult manga. In Sensor‘s first chapter, Kyoko Byakuya finds herself at the foot of Mount Sengoku, amidst the gentle falling of golden volcanic hair.
She meets a man who knows her name, and who invites her to his village. She learns about the Christian missionary Miguel, whom the villagers protected during Japan’s prosecution of Christians. After the shocking events of this chapter, Sensor shifts perspective to an unremarkable freelance reporter who is drawn to Byakuya’s story.
Through his eyes, we watch the rest of Sensor unfold, as cults and cosmic horrors rise to the surface. The volcano, the hair, the Christian missionary, the village — all of it twists and merges in unexpected ways.
Orange by Ichigo Takano
Orange is a masterpiece of a manga. It’s also one that’s popular with its teenage readership, and can definitely be enjoyed by readers under 18. That said, its topics and themes are heavy, and it should come with a trigger warning for mental illness and suicide.
Orange can be classified as a shoujo romance manga, but it is thematically larger than that. Orange tells the story of high-schooler Naho, her friendships, and the sacrifices she and her friends are willing to make to save a person they all love.
Orange takes place in Matsumoto, a small city in northern Nagano, and is largely set in the high school that Naho attends with her group of friends — Suwa, Azu, Hagita, and Chino. However, in the very first chapter, we are introduced to a new addition: a transfer student from Tokyo named Kakeru.
Before we meet Kakeru, the day begins with Naho receiving a letter from someone who claims to be her from ten years in the future. This future self tells Naho that, today, she will meet Kakeru. The letter also includes instructions on how to save Kakeru’s life, something that the Naho of the future failed to do, and has had to live with that regret ever since.
This is a powerful story that both tears at and warms the heart. It demonstrates the importance of human connection and compassion in the fight against mental illness.
Dick Fight Island by Reibun Ike
Dick Fight Island is an adult manga in every sense possible. This wonderful manga is erotic, horny, hilarious, explicit, and political. It’s also surprisingly sweet and wholesome. Reibun Ike’s Dick Fight Island is a BL manga about a fictional archipelago made up of eight islands. Every four years a tournament is held to determine the next king, and each island puts forth a male champion to fight.
Though “fight” might not be the correct term here. The tournament of Dick Fight Island is comprised of a series of one-on-one bouts, the goal of each being to make the opponent orgasm. Whoever orgasms first is the loser. For this reason, the men wear elaborate armour over their manhoods and must use their erotic skills and knowledge to get the upper hand and make their opponent climax.
This is a very gay, very camp, very funny BL manga. For all of its explicit sexual bouts, it is certainly an adult manga for mature readers. That said, it is also very warming and lovely. Dick Fight Island makes the case for settling political disputes with pleasure, rather than bloodshed; with love rather than propaganda. It celebrates intimacy and joy and aesthetics.
For this reason, a very funny and explicitly erotic manga also proves itself to be one of the most wholesome BL manga you’re likely to read.
To Strip the Flesh by Oto Toda
Translated by Emily Balistrieri
Oto Toda’s To Strip the Flesh is an adult manga that follows the personal journey of a young trans man, as well as that of his relationship to his father. Separated into two parts (both included in the To Strip the Flesh short story collection), this manga begins with Chiaki Ogawa, the son of a hunter, making a living by uploading his work process to YouTube.
His followers leave comments about Chiaki’s breasts and curves, both of which he is eager to be rid of, all while he is receiving pressure from his dying father to get married and be a blushing bride.
Chiaki’s intense gender dysphoria, the recurring dreams he has, and the journey he takes to become his true self, is all valuable reading for young queer readers, but it is also delivered in a raw and visceral way that is arguably better handled by mature audiences. As a trans reader and writer myself, I engaged strongly with the content and events of this adult manga, as will any genderqueer reader who stumbles upon it.
For cisgender readers, To Strip the Flesh offers a fantastically real window into the minds and experiences of those of us who have struggled with gender dysphoria.
Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida
Translated by AltJapan
Dorohedoro is another gnarly, gruesome, blood-soaked adult manga defined by its raw, visceral art, its dark comedy, and its bleak world. Set in a grimy post-apocalyptic future, the Dorohedoro manga shifts between two realms: a human city aptly named The Hole and a second world populated by sorcerers.
When Dorohedoro begins, we meet our main protagonist: a big human man with a lizard head known as Caiman. Caiman has amnesia and is invulnerable to the magic of sorcerers. He knows that he was experimented on by a sorcerer, but that’s all.
With no memory to rely on, Caiman is hunting down sorcerers in a desperate attempt to find the one who turned him into a big lizard man. He is aided in his hunt by Nikaido, a strong martial arts expert who also runs a restaurant.
Together, Caiman and Nikaido they will find the sorcerer who did this to him, as well as why they did it and why he is also impervious to their magic. Dorohedoro provides a lot of black comedy and irony to offset its violence and brutality. This feels necessary for the survival of the reader’s psyche at times, but it still comes off as jarring.
Q Hayashida clearly doesn’t care, though, and that’s one reason why she’s such a unique mangaka. There is no mangaka that can do what Hayashida does and deliver what she manages to deliver with Dorohedoro.
No Touching At All by Kou Yoneda
Translated by Jocelyne Allen
Kou Yoneda’s No Touching At All is a poignant and powerful BL manga. While many BL manga are sweet and wholesome, and others are smutty and explicit, No Touching At All is a mature manga that touches on difficult themes of trauma and shame.
The story begins with Shima, who is on his way to a new job. We quickly find out that he quit his last job because of the shame he felt when the man there who was dating him broke up with him – the reason being his own shame for dating and being attracted to a man.
As such, Shima has resolved himself to keep his distance from his new colleagues. However, his cigarette smoking boss, Togawa, who is apparently straight, can’t seem to leave him alone. Though Shima remains reserved, Togawa is unrelenting in his advances to understand what makes Shima tick.
Soon, their relationship develops into something only sexual (portrayed, but not explicitly so) — at least that is how it appears on the surface.
(This section originally appeared in our list of BL manga by Taylor Drew)
Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura
Vinland Saga is one of my personal all-time favourite manga. A brutal, gritty seinen manga; a staggering work of narrative strength; and an enormous historical epic. The complexity and nuance of its characters, the cruelty of its world, and the bloodshed on display make it a fantastic adult manga.
Inspired by real events and real people, Vinland Saga is a viking epic. And in true epic style, its narrative unfolds in unexpected ways. Heroes, villains, protagonists, and antagonists all overlap often, as Norse and Greek tales of old were wont to do. The Vinland Saga manga begins with a mercenary named Askeladd, our protagonist.
Then, in the blink of an eye, Askeladd is reframed as a villain and a young boy, one of Askeladd’s bloodthirsty mercenaries named Thorfinn, is our protagonist: a boy living in a quiet, remote Icelandic village with his family.
From here until Chapter 16, we see life through the eyes of young Thorfinn, though he is still not really our protagonist. For these fourteen chapters, our hero is Thorfinn’s father, Thors. After Chapter 16, Thorfinn finally takes centre stage, but the prologue is still not over; not until Chapter 54.
Seeing the Viking world of Western Europe and Scandinavia through the eyes of heroes, villains, and boys gives the place weight and dimension. This is not a world of heroes and villains; it is a world of people. It is a cold and difficult world, but also one of opportunity.
A Girl on the Shore by Inio Asano
Translated by Jocelyne Allen
While renowned mangaka Inio Asano is perhaps best known for his literary tearjerker Goodnight Punpun, his single-volume adult manga A Girl on the Shore is an easier introduction to his world, given its size.
On its surface, A Girl on the Shore seems like a simple enough story. An exploration of those awkward teenage years that are filled with angst, frustration, shame, and horniness. And it is all of that, but it’s also incredibly raw, visceral, and mature in its themes and story beats.
A Girl on the Shore follows the rocky, immature, sexually charged relationship of two Japanese middle-schoolers living in a sad, ugly nowhere town. Our protagonists are Koume and Isobe, neither yet sixteen years of age but both already chewing their nails in sexual anticipation.
Koume has briefly involved herself with the local cool guy, who quickly used her for fun and games. Meanwhile, Isobe is explicitly written as a lonely, isolated, awkward otaku loser; an incel in the making. Though also far from it given the nature of his and Koume’s relationship.
Their story begins with Isobe having admitted his feelings for Koume, and her brushing him off while still being comfortable enough to sleep with him. At the beginning, their relationship is defined by their sex, which is depicted with graphic intensity through Asano’s art.
While they have nothing in common and their attraction towards each other is lopsided, their sexual encounters happen often, even at school. Its explicit nature makes A Girl on the Shore an uncomfortable mature manga, but it succeeds in honestly depicting what it’s like to be a dramatic, sad, frightened, lonely, horny, confused teenager, taking risks and making mistakes.
Nana by Ai Yazawa
Translated by Koji Goto and Allison Wolfe
While the classic shoujo manga Nana isn’t explicitly mature in its themes and events, it is simply a manga that will be better enjoyed and appreciated by older readers. An adult manga in terms of its characters and events, rather than one that is explicit or dark.
Nana Komatsu was born in a small town which she describes as being neither a small village nor a bustling city. She is a middle child, neither rich nor poor. Entirely ordinary. And her older boyfriend is leaving her for Tokyo.
Nana Oosaki doesn’t remember her parents. She was raised by a sarcastic grandmother who worked her hard, and now she is the frontwoman of a punk band called BLAST. And her bassist boyfriend is leaving her for Tokyo. These two Nanas, when they each reach the age of 20, decide to move to Tokyo, one pursuing big dreams of a name in lights, the other looking for love.
They meet on a train and, against all odds, become friends first, then roommates. Nana is a dynamic and sweet slice of life manga, and a masterwork of the shoujo manga space. Essential reading for any fan of shoujo or slice of life manga.
Monster by Naoki Urasawa
Aside from Kentaro Miura’s Berserk and Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun, few manga jump to mind faster thanNaoki Urasawa’s Monster when thinking about adult manga. As a gritty crime drama and a psychological thriller, Monster is mature manga through and through. Our protagonist is a Japanese brain surgeon living in Düsseldorf, Germany.
When the story begins, Dr. Tenma, frustrated by the ethical behaviour of the hospital he works at, is given the decision to operate on the city’s mayor or on a boy named Johan, who has suffered a gunshot wound to the head. The boy, one of a pair of twins, survives, and the mayor dies. Shortly after, Tenma’s colleagues are killed and the twins kidnapped. Tenma is the prime suspect, but there is no evidence against him.
Nine years pass, and the boy that Tenma saved has grown up to be a serial killer. Tenma attempts to stop Johan from killing his patient and fails, but Johan says that he also cannot kill the doctor who saved him nine years ago.
Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue
Not to be confused with the Chinese sci-fi masterpiece Vagabonds, Takehiko Inoue is, like Vinland Saga, a monumental historical epic. Its creator is perhaps better well-known for creating the beloved shounen sports manga Slam Dunk, but Vagabond is a very different beast indeed.
Based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel Musashi, Vagabond is a slow-burn adult manga set during the 17th Century. We begin at the end of Japan’s Sengoku period, after the decisive Battle of Sekigahara (which led to the rise of the Tokugawa shogunate).
Two teenage boys who had fought for the losing side manage to survive the battle, and we start with them bruised but alive. After sheltering with a houseful of kind women and surviving an attack, the two separate and our protagonist, Takezō Shinmen decides to become a wandering vagabond.
After returning home, being branded a criminal, and surviving deadly pursuers, Takezō is renamed Musashi Miyamoto, and from here we follow his journey to become a legendary Japanese swordsman.