Beastars is translated from the Japanese by Tomoko Kimura and Annette Roman
The 2020 Netflix anime Beastars turned a lot of heads upon its release. Created by the animation studio Orange, Beastars stood out as being, arguably, the first great 3D animated anime series.
Beastars also utilised experimental voice recording and sound engineering, a stunning jazz soundtrack, a beautiful stop-motion OP, and complex philosophical debates wrapped up in a high school drama to set itself apart from the rest.
The Beastars anime, however, is based on a manga series of the same name, written and drawn by Paru Itagaki. And, whether or not you’ve seen the Netflix adaptation, here’s why you need to read Beastars.
What is the Beastars Manga About?
The Beastars manga is the first ongoing series created by mangaka Paru Itagaki, author of Beast Complex. It ran for four years, between 2016 and 2020. Now that it’s finished, you can read Beastars across 22 tankobon volumes.
Beastars is set in a fictionalised world populated by anthropomorphised animals. Their genus, size, and diet are all used to develop the world-building of the manga, and also as allegories for real-world social divides between race, class, gender, sexuality, and so on.
Our story begins at Cherryton Academy, a boarding school attended by a mix of herbivores and carnivores. Beastars has a large and diverse cast of characters, but the manga and anime’s main character is Legoshi, an enormous grey wolf.
Legoshi is a member of Cherryton Academy’s prestigious drama department, though at the start he is part of the crew, not the cast. Chapter One of Beastars opens with Legoshi’s friend and fellow drama club member, Tem the alpaca, being slaughtered in the drama studio.
Tem’s death sets in motion a murder mystery, as well as a political ripple effect that will echo through the school and the entire town, as divides between herbivores and carnivores widen. This opening should be reason enough to read Beastars.
This binary between herbivores and carnivores is explored in myriad clever ways as the Beastars manga and anime progress. The binary asks big questions about social roles, the class system, gender roles, biases and prejudices, sexism and racism, and even more besides.
Paru Itagaki has proven herself to be a sensitive, nuanced, and savvy writer of intimate character drama and big social discussions, all blended together so seamlessly as to be entirely distractionless.
As the Beastars manga escalates, questions about nature and nurture, instinct, fate, and societal pressures and expectations grow larger with the introduction of Haru, a white dwarf rabbit who proves herself to be one of the most complexly written female protagonists in manga.
Haru’s relationship to herself, to Legoshi, and to the manga’s supporting cast is a richly detailed and complex one. Characters as complicated and nuanced as Haru don’t come along everyday.
Beastars expertly blends genres, led at first by a murder-mystery setup by quickly broadening into a character drama with an extensive cast. Whether you chose to call this a high school drama, character drama, or political drama, you’d be right. Beastars is a lot, and it is brilliant.
Why Anime Fans Need to Read Beastars
There are a dozen elements to the Beastars anime that made it essential viewing upon its release. From the aforementioned sound recording and design to the experimental 3D animation and incredible voice acting.
The OP is one of the finest in recent memory, with jaw-dropping aesthetics, animation, music, and tone. The blend of lighting, colour effects, and sound engineering make for some of the most tense and nerve-biting scenes in anime.
The character design is stunning, the pacing tight, the cinematography brilliant. Beastars is a flawless anime, and all the mature philosophical elements that Paru Itagaki injected into the Beastars manga remain intact in the anime, too.
With all of that said, why should fans of the anime read Beastars?
Read more: Komi Can’t Communicate (Manga) Review!
The Art of the Beastars Manga
The most interesting and exciting distinction between the Beastars manga and anime is their art direction. It is undeniable that the aesthetics of the Beastars anime help it stand out, but the same can be true about the Beastars manga, too.
Often, when comparing a manga with its anime adaptation, the question of art and aesthetics is at the forefront. However, the debate almost always descends into a “which is better” argument.
My Hero Academia, for example, is often praised for being an anime that is animated beautifully while also capturing the style of the manga. The Promised Neverland anime, however, lacks a lot of the mood and detail captured by the manga’s stunning art.
When comparing the art of the Beastars manga and anime, however, everybody wins. These are two distinct art styles, both experimental and unique in their own way. They cannot be compared; instead, they can both be appreciated fully on their own merits.
If you loved — or, at least, appreciated — the art direction of the Beastars anime, you will also love and appreciate the art of the Beastars manga for the same reasons.
A quick flick through a volume of the Beastars manga makes clear why this is the case. Beastars doesn’t look like any other manga of its type. Drawn with this almost haphazard, scrawling style, the art of Beastars includes no straight lines and no subtleties.
Panels flit between empty white spaces populated with thinly-drawn lonely characters to densely-packed, thickly-drawn, heavily-shaded, busy and claustrophobic full-page spreads.
Paru Itagaki is a master of tone, using almost crass scribblings and angry linework to establish an emotional weight to every single page.
While this is a statement that’s difficult to qualify, and is more a sense of feeling, the art of Beastars more closely resembles modern Western comics than that of traditional Japanese manga. The cast being made up of anthropomorphised animals certainly helps, in that regard.
A lot of the differences between the Beastars manga and anime are minute and superficial, but the manga still manages to take its time a little more. Extra dialogue and small, quiet moments of reflection and introspection do a great job of fleshing out the world.
The simple truth here is that, for fans of the anime who read Beastars, you’ll be rewarded with a deeper pull into its world and the minds of its characters. Even the best screen adaptations of written mediums can’t always capture the quieter, more intimate details of story and character.
The uniqueness of the art also means that there is a distinction in world design between the Beastars manga and anime adaptation.
The design of spaces like the school and its drama studio, as well as public streets and even the night sky — these things feel more intimate and surreal in the manga. They have a dark cartoonish quality, almost reminiscent of that seen in the Soul Eater manga.
There’s an undeniable rawness to the art of the Beastars manga which does a great job of highlighting and emphasising the animalistic tendencies of its characters, Legoshi especially.
One final great reason to read Beastars, especially for fans who loved the anime, is that it’s finished! You can read the entire Beastars manga right now.
While the manga doesn’t have the colour, music, and sound design of the anime to raise its tension, that tension and tone is instead carried by the manga’s outstanding character design, especially in our cast’s faces and postures. Once again, Legoshi is the best example of this.
The Beastars manga is a triumph of world-building, a talented philosophical discussion of social groupings, biases and prejudices. It is a gorgeously-drawn, meticulously plotted, and intimately characterised drama.
Whether you’ve seen the anime or not, you owe it to yourself, as a manga fan, to read Beastars.