The Black Swordsman walks the land, a brooding, blood-stained figure. His name is Guts, and wherever he goes, evil spirits from hell follow. Guts bears the cursed Brand of Sacrifice on the back of his neck, which attracts ghosts and demons hungry to devour him — but he is also one of the strongest men in the world and carries a very big sword. When the demons find him, their deaths aren't pretty.
Guts is a warrior haunted by his past, namely the tragedy that ended in the loss of his hand, his eye, and everyone he cared about. He is Walking the Earth seeking only one thing: revenge against Griffith, once his best friend, who treacherously sacrificed him and all their comrades to the demon gods known as the God Hand in order to be reborn as their fifth member. The world is crawling with Apostles, monstrous servants of the God Hand who gave up their humanity in exchange for power. By hunting these creatures, Guts hopes to pick up the trail of Griffith and make him pay.
If any human can take on these legions of hell, it's Guts. Born from the womb of a hanged woman and raised by a cruel mercenary as a Child Soldier, he has spent his whole life taking one level in badass after another in order to be tough enough to survive. He wears fearsome armor, has a cannon-equipped iron prosthetic where his left hand used to be, and carries the slab-like Dragonslayer sword on his back wherever he goes. Initially accompanied only by the diminutive elf Puck, who tries to act as a voice of conscience for the ruthless wanderer, he follows the God Hand while leaving a trail of enemy corpses in his wake.
Berserk (ベルセルク, Beruseruku) is an ongoing seinen manga series by Kentaro Miura set in a grim Medieval European Fantasy world. Beginning the action In Medias Res with the first three volumes establishing Guts, the setting, and the antagonists, the story then goes into a twelve-volumes-long flashback called the Golden Age arc which explains How We Got Here and reveals Guts' painful backstory. Guts survives an abuse-filled childhood by becoming a prodigious fighter and lives as a lone sell-sword, until he meets the charismatic mercenary leader Griffith and his undefeated Band of the Falcon. Griffith is a man with a dream of winning his own kingdom despite his common origins, and possesses an egg-shaped artifact called the Crimson Beherit, which he was told will grant its owner the world in exchange for his flesh and blood. Inducted into the Band by losing to Griffith in a duel, Guts finds himself for the first time surrounded by companions united by Griffith's dream and loyalty to each other, and grows to view Griffith with both friendship and admiration. By turning the tide of a hundred year war in favor of the Kingdom of Midland they become the most celebrated force in the land, but a falling out between Guts and Griffith plunges the latter into despair, setting off a chain of events that ultimately brings their friendship and the Band of the Falcon to a disastrous end.
Aside from Griffith, the Golden Age arc sets up the other major characters of the series: Casca, Griffith's serious and capable female second-in-command who evolves into Guts' Love Interest as their initially hostile relationship defrosts; Nosferatu Zodd, a demonic but honorable Blood Knight who cements the reality of demons to both Guts and Griffith; and the Skull Knight, an enigmatic rider in skeletal armor who opposes the Godhand and acts as Guts' Aloof Ally.
With the depressing conclusion of the Golden Age Arc, the series returns to the present day to show the deep-rooted effects of those events on Guts and the world at large. Guts is still pursing revenge against the Apostles with Puck in tow, but he has attracted the attention of a Knight Templar named Farnese who is determined to arrest him on behalf of the Church. Meanwhile, the God Hand is stirring up trouble all across the world. Pestilence and foreign invasion threaten the people of Midland, who cry out for a savior. It may be that the newly empowered Griffith intends to step in to fill this gap and work his nefarious designs. The biggest development by far, however, concerns Guts. Finding that his solitary vendetta has gotten him nowhere, Guts discovers that he has one last chance to save from the ashes something—someone—that he thought he'd lost forever. But this will be the most arduous journey yet, and he will need new friends and allies if he hopes to succeed. And even if his body can survive being pushed to the limit when every fight seems more impossible than the last, the blackness left on his soul from two years of seeking revenge is not about to let go of him so easily!
In serialization since 1990 with 38 volumes and counting, Berserk advertises itself as the "Number 1 Fantasy Comic" in Japan, and stands as the author's Magnum Opus. Miura incorporates story and visual elements from many different media into his epic manga, which was mainly inspired by Kaoru Kurimoto's ambitious and long-running Guin Saga fantasy series. He loved the classics of the shounen genre including Buronson's Fist of the North Star, as well as two of the most dark and violent works of Go Nagai, Devilman and Violence Jack. At the same time, he appreciated manga written for the Shōjo (Demographic) and their focus on character drama, and has called Berserk the result of his attempt to fuse the worlds of Fist of the North Star and Rose of Versailles. The latter is especially evident in his depiction of love and political intrigue in the court of Midland, and in the complicated triangular relationship between Guts, Griffith, and Casca. Lastly, Miura acknowledges the influence of action, horror, Sci-Fi, and fantasy films from Hollywood and from some of his favorite literature in creating the look and feel of the series. His creation broke new ground because of the unique way that he combined and developed upon these influences, and Berserk has been successful enough to leave its mark on a new generation of storytellers.
Because of its frequently disturbing and graphic content, which includes child abuse, torture, sexual violence, and copious amounts of gore, this manga is NOT safe for all audiences. It's certainly not recommended for the faint of heart—or stomach! However, for those who dare to take it on, there's a huge payoff in thrilling action and human drama as it explores the great problems of existence, such as revenge, fate, religion, morality, the causes of evil and suffering, the nature of an individual's hopes and dreams, and the various ways that people cope with living in a cruel world. The depth and atmosphere of the setting, the engrossing plot, the psychological complexity of the characters, and the virtuosity of Miura's art are all reasons that Berserk has attracted many loyal fans. Having said upfront that there's a lot of pain ahead, it would be just as wrong to misrepresent it as consisting of nothing but angst and gloom, since this series can sometimes offer inspiring examples of human resilience when you least expect it. It also contains a surprising amount of humor. The manga is published in Japan by Hakusensha and licensed in English by Dark Horse Comics. As of February 2016, it has 40 million volumes in print worldwide.
- Berserk (1997), the first adaptation the manga, is a twenty-five episode anime with animation production by Oriental Light and Magic that aired from October 7, 1997 to March 31, 1998. It covers the Golden Age Arc after starting off with a short prologue in the Black Swordsman Arc; the main differences are that Puck and the Skull Knight get Adapted Out, and the ending after the Eclipse leaves more questions unanswered than in the manga. Despite these changes and its Limited Animation, the way it managed to capture the characters and atmosphere of the manga has made it a classic for the fans.
- Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage, the first of two Hack and Slash licensed games developed by Yuke's which featured the first anime's voice actors. The original Japanese version titled Berserk Millennium Falcon Arc: Chapter of the Flowers of Oblivion came out on the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, while the English localization by Eidos Interactive re-titled Sword of the Berserk had its North American release in 2000. Sword of the Berserk is an Interquel utilizing an original scenario and characters created by Miura and set between volumes 22 and 23 of the manga.
- The Berserk TCG, a Japan-exclusive Collectible Card Game published by Konami in five volumes between 2003 and 2005. The goal of the game is to seize control of 3 of the 5 cities in the game including the capital city or to reduce the cards in your opponent's deck to 0.
- Berserk: Millennium Falcon Hen Seima Senki no Shō, the second Yuke's video game, came out on the Playstation 2 on October 7, 2004. Unlike Sword of the Berserk, it was only realeased in Japan and Korea with no English localization. It adapts volumes 22 to 27 of the manga, covering the titular Chapter of the Holy Demon War, but also adds an original sub-plot where a child-like Apostle named Charles forces Guts to confront and fight apparitions of his fallen comrades from the Band of the Falcon.
- Berserk: The Golden Age Arc is an anime film trilogy covering the Golden Age Arc, featuring animation production by Studio 4°C. The first, second, and third installments came out on February 4th, 2012; June 23rd, 2012; and February 1st, 2013, respectively. The films generate mixed opinions, as they were relatively lavish on the production side, but relied on Conspicuous CG to animate large battles, and significantly compressed the plot and character development in order to fit everything into three movies.
- Berserk (2016), the first anime sequel to the Golden Age Arc, is produced by LIDEN Films with animation production by studios GEMBA and Millepensee. The animation is mostly in 3D, with passages of 2D mixed in. The first 12 episode cour in the Summer 2016 Anime season combines a bit of the Black Swordsman Arc with the second and third chapters of the Conviction Arc, while the second season in Spring 2017 covers the Chapter of the Holy Demon War. It is available for viewing on Crunchyroll.
- Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, known in Japan as Beruseruku Musō (ベルセルク無双 ), is a Dynasty Warriors-style video game adaptation produced by Koei Tecmo and developed by Omega Force. It covers the story from the Golden Age Arc to the Millennium Falcon Arc, and—as in the main Dynasty Warriors series—players can choose one of several characters and fight against waves of enemies while completing mission objectives on a large battlefield. It was released in Japan on October 27, 2016, for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and the PlayStation Vita; It was released in North America and Europe on February 21 and February 24 of 2017, respectively, for the PlayStation 4, the PlayStation Vita, and the PC via Steam.
- The Berserk Official Guide Book, released in Japan in September 2016. An English version will be released in fall 2018.
- Berserk: The Flame Dragon Knight, a Light Novel by Makoto Fukaminote with illustrations by Miura which tells the backstory of the Apostle Grunbeld. It was released in Japan on June 23, 2017, and will be released in English by Dark Horse.
There are several other works apart from those already mentioned that may be of interest to those who like this franchise. One is Wolfsmund, penned by one of Miura's former assistants Mitsuhisa Kuji, a dark medieval story emphasizing history rather than fantasy. Another is Claymore, a story about half-demon female warriors who hunt shape-shifting monsters using giant swords. The video games Demon's Souls and Dark Souls also tend to enjoy overlap with Berserk in popularity, as they share a similarly grim and fatalistic fantasy atmosphere. For a short, action-packed demon-slaying story by Miura's friend Shizuya Wazarai with an art style similar to Berserk's early volumes, try Blaster Knuckle. See also Re:Zero, which in later arcs is being seen as the Berserk of Light Novels in terms of tone, themes and suffering. Alternatively, the Light Novel series The Rising of the Shield Hero has gained comparisons, as it bears similar themes and is fairly bleak, centering around a vengeful anti-hero protagonist in a dark fantasy world. And for Western works with similar themes and imagery, see A Song of Ice and Fire, Warhammer 40,000, and Event Horizon.
WARNING: Do not read the spoilers if you have only watched the anime or the movie trilogy, unless you are prepared to risk ruining your enjoyment of the manga; from here on out, spoilers will also include information about the latest releases. In addition, we cannot guarantee that all potential spoilers will be in spoiler tags. Read at your own risk.