the Little Red Reviewer

20th Century Boys, volume 1, by Naoki Urasawa

Posted on: May 23, 2020


I talked briefly about this graphic novel the other day,  and now I’m gonna talk about it some more!  20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa was serialized between 1999 and 2006.  This is worth buying the omnibus editions, each one is around $18 and includes three-ish volumes.



think back to your childhood.  Did you and your friends have a secret hide out? maybe a treehouse, or behind a garden shed?  Did you come up with play acting adventures with your friends? Maybe one of you (or all of you!) were superheroes?


I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first I want to talk about the art style of 20th Century Boys.    Urasawa’s art style is fairly realistic,  and there is a ton of detail.  Much of the first volume takes place out doors,  there is just the right amount of detail (in my opinion) of the landscape – backyards, trees,  walking through a shopping district, etc.   There are tons of references to 60s and 70s rock music, and to world events that happened during that time.   I don’t know all the correct art terms, I just know that I like this style a lot!  With all the detail, you can reread over and over,  and you’ll always find something that you didn’t notice the last time.

here is a nice piece of full color art at the beginning of the first volume:



ok, back to what I started with:

sounds like you had a similar childhood to Kenji and his friends. In the late 1960s, their “hang out” was a spot in an empty field.   They made up stories, listened to rock music on a portable radio, dreamt of joining a rock band, and did all the normal silly things that 12 year olds do.  They even came up with a secret symbol:


I think readers of any age will enjoy 20th Century Boys, but I think readers of a certain age,  say, 40 years and older, will especially appreciate it.  Our childhood memories are fuzzy,  we know we hid in tree houses, or in alleyways, we know we made up stories with our friends, but it’s been enough years that we don’t remember the specifics.


In the first volume, most of the story line takes place in the late 90s.  Kenji is grown up and is managing his family’s convenience store. He’s still friends with Keroyon and few of his other childhood friends, but he’s completely lost touch with Donkey and Yukiji.  When Kenji learns that Donkey has committed suicide, he goes to the funeral in shock.  Why would happily married Donkey jump off a building to his death? And why did Donkey sent Kenji a letter right before he died?


A bunch of friends who are drawn back together after one of them kills themself, and they have to remember what they did as children?   This sounds like it could be a Stephen King novel, doesn’t it?


But the world doesn’t stop because some rando jumped off a building.  Thanks to the newspapers sold in Kenji’s store, we get a view of strange happenings in the world – religious cults,  unsolved disapearances, terrorism, mysterious diseases,  and even stranger,  more and more people are using the symbol that Kenji thought was their childhood secret.

I loved this story because of how much is going on, and how Urasawa does character building and world building through dialog and flashbacks.  Though Kenji’s flashbacks, we know why his family is so loyal to his sister, who has disappeared, leaving her daughter behind.  We see memories of childhood bullies,  and the one girl who was brave enough to stand up to them.   We see a police investigator who is trying to patch things up with his daughter, now that he’s ready to retire.  We even get the audience’s view of the strange cult,  the leader who is simply known as “the friend”.  Everyone needs a good friend on their side, right?


The mystery deepens when the guys remember that as children, they buried a time capsule under a tree.  They dig it up, and some of the items in the time capsule make them laugh, but something else in the time capsule is a good reason for everyone to start freaking out.


All the silly things they came up with when they were kids, did someone take this too seriously? Did someone in the group not realize that everyone else was play-acting?  They were kids, playing games, in a field.


How could their childhood games come to this?


As Kenji begins to remember more and more about their childhood games and made up stories,  he starts to sound like a prophet, because he “knows what comes next” in the story.


I got chills reading this.


there are more plot lines, that in the first volume, are barely introduced.  Seems like many of them start with a slow burn, only to explode when the time is right.  Something about robotics, something about one of Kenji’s delivery customer, a whole bunch of other stuff.


Great artwork,  great characters, a compelling storyline,  lots of well placed humor,  I can’t wait to read the next volume!


and just because, here’s some artwork from a later volume:


(Hey Andrea,  why aren’t you calling this a manga? that’s obviously what it is!   Why are you insisting on using the term “graphic novel”?  This is a manga!!!


Hey, that’s a great question, I’m so happy you asked!   In the ten+ years I’ve been talking about manga online, I’ve learned my readers are far more comfortable with the term “graphic novel”.  My readers tend to have neutral to positive reactions to the phrase graphic novel, and neutral to negative reactions to the term “manga”, for a variety of reasons.  I’m promoting stories I enjoy, using phrases my readers have show they are more comfortable with. )

4 Responses to "20th Century Boys, volume 1, by Naoki Urasawa"

I read Pluto Vol. 1 by Urusawa and liked it quite a lot. I will continue it at some point.

I had to smile at the question/distinction regarding word use, aka Mange versus Graphic Novel. I am quite happy to say that I like to read comics and Manga, but have come across people being uncomfortable with it and preferring the term graphic novel. It seems to be perceived as more worthy. People seem to think that reading comics is something for kids and an embarrassing pastime.


ooh, I’m not familiar with his Pluto series, what is the premise? yes, it so weird to me, to see the different expressions on people’s faces when I use the term comic vs graphic novel vs manga. I want more people to give this type of thing a chance, and if changing my terminology is all it takes. . .

Liked by 1 person

Here is my review for Pluto… It‘s about AI, with a superhero feel to it…

I always surprises me, how much of a stigma comics seem to carry with many people.

Liked by 1 person

Ok, I’m starting to see why this needs to get bumped up the list!! Sounds awesome! 😁

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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