We’ve all experienced the curious urge to consume depressing works that reflect the dark recesses of humanity and their experiences. Even for us manga enthusiasts, this holds true.
But I feel that not every manga with a “depressing” label accurately captures the emotional gut punch I particularly crave. A feeling of emptiness and hopelessness.
Take Homunculus for example – does it have an unsettling psychological premise? Yes. But did I find it truly depressing? Not quite.
While most recommendations left me with a melancholic sigh, the yearning for a truly hopeless pit to wallow in persisted.
So, in the spirit of shared suffering, I present you with a carefully curated selection of depressing manga that may leave you staring into the existential void.
Who said spirits can’t feel existential void?
Depressing manga recommendations for you to check out!
Before we start, I’d like to make something clear. MOST of the manga in this list don’t offer any sense of catharsis or an outlet for emotions, which makes them all too grim.
So, if that is something you’re looking forward to reading, then here are my depressing manga recommendations!
Consider it a gift for the fellow emotional masochists out there.
Author: Inio Asano
Inio Asano’s Downfall is a short manga with only 8 chapters. However, in that short span, it managed to leave me with a very uncomfortable yet hollow feeling.
The plot is essentially a bleak portrait of a manga artist named Fukuzawa. Struggling to find inspiration after his past success, Fukuzawa gets consumed by depression. With emotions of a failing marriage haunting him in the background, he spirals into self-destruction, seeking solace in fleeting relationships with prostitutes.
Reading Downfall is an uncomfortable, almost suffocating and saddening experience. Fukuzawa’s self-pity and lack of remorse make him a difficult protagonist to empathize with.
Downfall is not everyone’s cup of tea. You might like it or hate it depending on how you view the protagonist. The unflinching portrayal of Fukuzawa’s downfall leaves a lasting impression, with themes of artistic fragility along with the allure of self-destruction touched upon.
No, Asano doesn’t try to justify what Fukuzawa does, but still, the atmosphere till the end is quite bleak, making it enter this list of depressing manga I have read! Let me know your thoughts once you have read the ending!
14. Takopi’s Original Sin:
Author: Taizan 5
Takopi’s Original Sin was a short yet depressing read for me. It starts off in a deceptively cute manner – an adorable pink alien on a mission to spread happiness. But behind this whimsical premise lurks a story that can tear your heart to shreds.
Takopi’s mission takes him to Shizuka, a girl who I felt was the embodiment of depression. With unwavering optimism, Takopi decides to use his powers to try and rewrite her unhappy experiences.
However, each of Takopi’s attempts ends in tragedy, as the cute alien ends up discovering more about the person he wants to make happy.
Despite the premise, the character you’ll end up feeling bad for the most is Takopi, thanks to his sheer innocence and his flawed understanding of human beings’ happiness.
Takopi’s cuteness and his optimism acts as a foil to the overall tone of the story. As each of his failures strengthens the feeling of helplessness surrounding the situation, it only fires him up to try harder.
This manga can get pretty dark alright, dealing with sensitive themes like suicide, domestic abuse, and bullying. So yeah, definitely a depressing manga you should check out!
The title also has a deeper meaning, and it only becomes clear after a certain part of the story. Not gonna lie, but that part actually hit me hard.
13. Nijigahara Holograph:
Author: Inio Asano
Seen Mulholland Drive or Enemy? Do you remember how you felt after watching these flicks? Well, you are in for something similar once you are done reading Nijigahara Holograph.
Nijigahara Holograph is a short manga by Inio Asano with only 15 chapters (including the 2 prologue chapters). However, in those 15 chapters, Asano manages to weave an interconnected story spanning over 10 years, about the people who live in a city.
The crux of the story? Its complex themes, dream-like surrealism, and dark setting, all of which are somehow connected to the Nijigahara embarkment of the city and a girl who met with an accident.
As with every Asano manga, the story seems blunt at first, but it actually is quite complex and very deep. It took me a couple of reads to connect the dots. The whole story, especially the characters’ relation to each other is presented to readers like a huge jigsaw puzzle, which we eventually have to piece together.
Nijigahara Holograph expertly handles the themes it portrays. Traumatized adults, depressed students, loneliness, and messed up outlooks, the manga packs everything that could make a series depressing and dark.
The more you reread the series, the more you notice the unspeakable things hiding in the subtleties of Asano’s depictions.
But then, it’s not a reaction that I expect from everyone, because Asano has written this manga so fluidly that the interpretation of the themes and the characters’ motives, or even the roles they play in the larger picture is up to the reader.
Chuang-Tzu and his butterfly dream will be there in your mind for a long time after this. But then, this surely is a manga that you will end up reading more than once. Definitely give it a try!
12. Chi no Wadachi:
Author: Shuzo Oshimi
Chi No Wadachi is one of the most critically acclaimed works to come out of Shuzo Oshimi’s closet. This manga isn’t just depressing, it is also terror inducing at times.
The plot follows Seiichi Osabe, a seemingly ordinary boy ostracized by his classmates and trapped in a dysfunctional family dynamic. Seiichi remains oblivious to the fact that his helicopter mother is very controlling and emotionally abusive, until a certain incident makes him question her behavior.
The story only gets darker and more suffocating after this point!
Relationships in Chi no Wadachi are a minefield of manipulation and abuse. Using Sei’s gaslighting mother, Oshimi has crafted a harrowing narrative rooted in the human psyche, which is raw and realistic.
It would, however, be cruel to not point out that reading Chi No Wadachi is a unique experience. While it is a harrowing psychological horror at one point it ends up being a nail biting thriller at another.
The experiences that Sei goes through is no less dark than the other manga in this list and definitely makes it one of the most disturbing and depressing manga to read!
The artwork is great and the paneling makes this manga quite easy to read – two points that are always the highlight of an Oshimi work.
Author: Mohiro Kitoh
Torturing kids under the pretext of a grim game of despair making the story quite depressing and hard to read – that’ll be a perfect line to sum up Bokurano manga.
The narrative revolves around a group of high school students who stumble upon a mysterious website allowing the children to play heroes by defending the earth from enemies. However, their joy soon turns to horror as they discover the game’s true cost: their lives.
One by one, they are forced to pilot a giant robot and fight to the death, their every move dictated by a cruel and enigmatic entity. The battles become increasingly grotesque and disturbing, highlighting the utter futility of their struggle.
If it is a given that your life will end no matter what, and that all efforts you put in amount to nothing, how will that change your outlook? Would you still find any meaning in life? Bokurano is a manga which touches upon this theme quite well.
At one point I felt that the pattern of the story was repetitive, because essentially Bokurano strings together stories of each character, one after another.
But then, there is no denying the fact that whatever they experience is absolutely traumatic. The art adds to the depressing tone, and it is certainly a manga you should pick up if you don’t want to read something happy!
Author: Ching Nakamura
Gunjou, simply put, is a manga about two complex characters who are toxic for each other. The following scene should convey a good image about the raw and unflinching nature of the manga.
The story revolves around two unnamed women,(a blonde and a brunette), who are on the run after Blondie kills Brunette’s abusive husband at the latter’s request.
All I had to say was ‘I love you’, and she killed my piece of shit husband for me
Blonde does so because she loves Brunette a lot, however, the latter is straight and does not reciprocate her feelings. And so, their relationship is twisted and complicated, marked by dependence, obsession, and manipulation.
Keep no hope for romance or wholesome moments, instead treat this one as a purely psychological manga. Once you read it, I am pretty sure you’ll be torn between deciding whether the relationship between Brunette and Blonde was a tragic love story, or a toxic and destructive relationship.
It tackles many heavy themes, including domestic violence, sexual assault, trauma, and the complexities of love and desire. Definitely not a whimsical yuri romance!
The manga has a depressing vibe throughout, mostly because of the characters and their dark thoughts. The interactions between the characters seemed forced to me at the beginning. However, it got better as the plot progressed.
The artstyle too is pretty unique and stands out from the pack. However, I am pretty sure it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Gunjou is definitely not an easy read, but it is a powerful and thought-provoking story. It has a live action adaptation titled Ride or Die and is available to stream on Netflix.
Author: Minoru Furuya
Himizu follows Yuuichi Sumida who wants to lead a very normal life, a life in which he won’t stand out at all. But he realizes that it won’t be that easy for him because of his circumstances (bad and non-existent parents), and also because of the demons that lurk within him.
Fate? Destiny? Call it what you may. But everything seems to work against Sumida over the course of the manga’s 43 chapters.
The manga starts off in a rather light hearted way, with the cliched over-expressive reactions from characters eliciting a few good laughs. Shozo, for one, would make you feel you are reading an easy going slice of life manga.
But with each passing chapter, we stumble across something that is dark and from there it’s a slow spiral towards hopelessness. After chapter 10, events take a nosedive into depressing territories and there is no turning back from that point.
Like Nijigahara Holograph, Himizu too is deconstructing the human psyche, but within a social construct. It raises some profound questions, and is bound to make you feel hopeless and depressed for a while. I certainly felt so.
If you are looking for a dark and depressing manga, you should definitely give Himizu a try!
8. Bradherley’s Coach:
Author: Hiroaki Samura
How about a depressing manga from the same author who created Blade of the Immortal?
Bradherley’s Coach starts off with a depiction of some gruesome rape, and this forms the main theme and crux of the story. No, not in its graphic depiction, but the rape and abuse are present thematically like a guillotine hanging over the characters presented to us in the narrative.
The story follows girls from different orphanages who are selected by Bradherley, one of Europe’s leading aristocrats, to be a part of his prestigious opera troupe. He sends a coach to the orphanages of the girls who are selected in order to pick them up.
But, despite picking up a large number of girls from different orphanages, not everyone gets to be a part of his troupe, so what happens to the ones who are not selected. Or rather, what even is the selection criteria?
Like I said, the graphic depiction of abuse only lasts in the initial few chapters. What follows is a portrayal and exploration of the girls’ dreams and aspirations. And the author leaves it at the point where they get picked up by Bradherley’s coach.
It’s easy to decipher the cruel fate that awaits them after that, and that left me with a bad aftertaste.
Each chapter focuses on a different girl and her circumstance, and so for some it might be a bit hard to relate to them in that short span of time. That said, Samura does an amazing job in trying to portray the cruel underbelly of a world that will feed on the vulnerable.
This manga is not just depressing and dark, but also disturbing!
7. Boy’s Abyss:
Author: Ryo Minenami
Welcome to the town where every character just wants to commit suicide! Boy’s Abyss is a manga that is both depressing AND frustrating at the same time. If that interests you, then you’re in the right place!
The story is essentially about how our protagonist, Reiji Kurose, just wants to leave the gloomy countryside town he grew up in. However, he is never able to do so, especially because he is tied down by his connections to the place, especially his mother.
But it’s not just Reiji, each character in the manga carries a deep-seated pain, a personal abyss they desperately try to outrun, but fail to do so. And this cage they feel trapped, is perfectly personified by the town they live in, teeming with gossip, betrayals and some unspoken secrets.
Like Chi No Wadachi, the relationship between the characters is a minefield of abuse and manipulation.
Boys Abyss is sick, it is explicit, deeply twisted and morally ambiguous. The story will unfold in ways you don’t even expect it to, as we see Reiji and the others getting trapped again and again in the undercurrents of their past, pulling them into more despair.
However, the characters and the choices they make are sometimes so frustrating that you just feel like throwing away the book and keep wondering what could have been. Like I said, if you don’t mind it, then the manga is one hell of a depressing read!
6. Not Simple:
Author: Natsume Ono
Before you start reading this manga, I just wanna point out one thing – don’t let the art-style of Not Simple make you drop this series. Because if you are really looking for a messed up depressing manga, then this one definitely fits the bill.
In Not Simple, Natsume Ono managed to portray a tale that is steeped in fractured family ties. The relationship between the characters might come across as a bit not simple (heh) at first, but it gets easier to figure things out, as the story progresses.
The plot follows Ian, who is wandering from place to place in search of his sister. However, his chance encounter with Irene, who is looking to secretly run away with her boyfriend, does not end well for him. And that’s just the prologue.
From that point on, we see the story of Ian unraveling from the POV of a journalist Jim, who planned to make a novel out of it. It’s a narrative that piles on the tragedy and sadness with each passing chapter, especially when it comes to Ian and his family who abandoned him.
Peppered with triggering subjects, the manga is quite a heavy and distressing read.
Essentially, you’ll be reading the story of a man who was never able to catch a break his whole life. So if that is what you’re looking for, then definitely read Not Simple.
5. Bokutachi Ga Yarimashita (We Did It):
Author: Muneyuki Kaneshiro, Art: Hikaru Araki
Lemme start by saying this, Bokutachi ga Yarimashita is a manga that Hajime Isayama loved. Will that testament be enough to make you pick this one up? No?
The plot of the manga revolves around four friends who accidentally blow up the building of their rival school while in the process taking revenge on some delinquents who had bullied one of them. This incident leaves 10 students dead, and makes the four of them fugitives.
What follows is a dark and depressing tale, which focuses on the four of them trying to escape not just justice, but also the guilt and emotional turmoil in their mind, each in their own way.
It’s easy to understand why Isayama loved this one. Kaneshiro’s plot realistically and unflinchingly captures characters’ struggle with guilt, shame, and the profound sense of alienation they feel.
As they attempt to escape and have a shred of normalcy in their lives again, everything just keeps falling apart, leading all four of them, and especially Tobio, whose POV we are presented for most of the series, into a sad and hopeless spiral.
Despite the weird panels and the dark humor, the story has managed to portray the psychological trauma of its main characters quite well.
Bokutachi ga Yarimashita had a lasting impact, and left me with a lingering haunting feeling. Paisen needs more love is all I will say now!
4. A Cruel God Reigns
Author: Hagio Moto
Nope. Not a supernatural series.
A Cruel God Reigns, also known as Zankoku na Kami ga Shihai Suru, is a deeply depressing and dark manga, which deals with sexual abuse and the subsequent trauma a victim suffers.
The plot follows Jeremy, whose suicidal mother remarries after the death of her husband (his father). However, much to Jeremy’s shock, his step-father blackmails and sexually abuses him.
In order to make sure that his mother doesn’t kick the chair, Jeremy complies to his step-father’s wishes, all the while experiencing some deep trauma and setting him down on a very dark path – which eventually ends in him plotting his step-father’s death!
At certain points the manga became too hard for me to read. I persisted somehow.
The character interactions might seem a bit clunky ast first. But, Hagio Moto has done a grim and realistic portrayal of a boy’s descent into a world of isolation, fear, and self-loathing. IT WILL BREAK YOU!!
As Jeremy’s innocence is shattered and his world comes crashing down, Moto doesn’t offer any convenient escapes from the harsh reality of abuse. Instead, the focus remains on the boy’s internal struggle as he grapples with the trauma, which I have to say is quite expertly portrayed.
Definitely not a title for the faint hearted! And certainly a very grim title to pick up if you are looking for something depressing to read!
3. No Longer Human:
Author: Usamaru Furuya
No Longer Human does not need any particular introduction. It is one of Osamu Dazai’s most famous works. This manga is an adaptation of Dazai’s novel, but Furuya gives it a more modern twist to it.
It definitely doesn’t scale the same heights as Dazai’s literary marvel, however the dark and depressing nature of the story is not taken away at all in the manga adaptation, as it explores the protagonist Yozo Oba’s slow descent into an abyss of despair.
A hollow Oba is petrified of interacting with humans, and of the world in general itself. He deals with it by putting up a facade. However his flakey attempts soon get to him and his self-destructive tendencies only tend to push him further away from others.
It was sometimes hard to relate to Oba’s misanthropic, sexist and nihilistic way of life, however, I sure was left grappling with my own understanding of existence and purpose.
No Longer Human has a suffocating atmosphere, and a lack of catharsis or redemption adds to the bleakness of the story. You’ll slowly feel your insides going numb after reading Oba’s experiences!
It’s definitely one of the most depressing manga out there! If you really want to wallow in depression though, I’d suggest you pick-up the novel and read.
Note: The manga is read from left to right, and not in the traditional sense!
2. Fire Punch
Author: Tatsuki Fujimoto
Remember the above panel? It’s from Fire Punch, and that sad, pitiable face belongs to the manga’s protagonist, Agni. Isn’t that enough to convince you this is one of the most dark and depressing manga out there?
Fire Force is set in a dystopian world blanketed by ice. In this world, there exist superhumans who are called the blessed.
The plot follows Agni, who is blessed with the power of regeneration. They survive in a village resorting to cannibalism. However, when a group of people one day murder his sister, and set him on fire, he vows to take revenge on them.
The worst part? The flames that engulf him won’t go out until he dies. And a revenge filled Agni, would not give up on regenerating his body. So, fuelled by the pain and thirst to kill his sister’s murderer, Agni walks on.
The constant struggle for survival strips away any semblance of right or wrong, leaving only despair and the desperate clinging to fleeting hope.
Underneath its edgy shounen demeanor, Fire Punch is a metaphor.
It holds a mirror to violence, religion and even society as a whole. It breaks it all down, and makes us wonder what all of it really means. It is not depressing in a psychological ‘seinen’ sense. But the suffering of Agni, along with the hopelessness and cruelty of the world left me with a hole in my heart.
It is definitely one of the most depressing manga I have read, and I urge you to pick it up and read it if you haven’t already!
1. Oyasumi Punpun:
Author: Inio Asano
Oyasumi Punpun is one of the most critically acclaimed manga out there. It is the first title that comes to mind, along with Fire Punch & No Longer Human, when I think of suggesting a depressing manga.
The highlight of the story is definitely the main character, Punpun, who is depicted as a bird. The story follows him as he experiences the joys and sorrows of growing up.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not flowery or happy in any way. Punpun’s journey is quite convoluted. Inio Asano has laid it out in a very realistic and unflinching manner, and it manages to deliver quite a gut punch at times.
“Punpun was just fine again today!” THIS ONE QUOTE IS ENOUGH TO PULL ME BACK INTO THAT DESPAIR! And Aiko! WHO CAN FORGET AIKO?
Ahem, I need to gain back my composure for now.
It is hard to read Oyasumi Punpun and not feel existential dread or depression. I was left with a huge f*cking hole in my heart, and quite hopeless and emotionless when I finished the manga. And it’s all for our boy Punpun Onodera.
Goodnight Punpun deals with a lot of mature issues, mainly domestic violence, abuse, isolation, depression and even sex to a certain extent. And Asano has given ample time to develop all of these aspects of the story.
At no point will you feel the story was rushed. And seriously, there is no way the manga, especially the final arcs, will not crush at least one small part inside you. One of the most depressing manga out there? Yeah, this is the one!
What are your thoughts on the manga that I have recommended above? How many of them have you read?
Now, this is in no way an absolute or ultimate list. There are still a few titles including Watashitachi no Shiawase no Jikan, which I plan on reading and probably including in this in the future.
I would also like to know which manga you read made you the most depressed in the comments below! That way we can keep this interesting for others too! If you have any doubts regarding the suggestions, feel free to reach out to me on Reddit/Tumblr.