Review – Demon Slayer series

Tanjiro holds Nezuko while he brandishes a sword

Overview

Synopsis After his sister becomes a demon, Tanjiro travels historical Japan to find a cure for her condition, meeting a colorful cast of characters. These range from his low-ranking buddies to the creator of the Demon Slayer Corp. He also runs into more than his fair share of enemies, eventually deciding he must take down the original, the maker of all demons. The one who killed his family. Muzan Kibutsuji.

Author Koyoharu Gotouge

Artist Koyoharu Gotouge
Publisher Viz Media
Genre Shonen, Horror

Length 190 pages (average per volume)

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba has become overwhelmingly popular in the past couple years. The anime’s movie, Mugen Train, was a runaway success as the highest grossing movie of 2020 and the highest grossing anime film of all time. Now, in 2021, fans are eagerly awaiting the anime’s second season and the video game, The Hinokami Chronicles.

Those who have not dipped their toes into this franchise may wonder “why the hype?”…for there is hype. Demon Slayer is on the fast track to becoming a household name, like Naruto, My Hero Academia, or One Piece. Stores are stocked with merchandise featuring the adorable Nezuko and other colorful characters. T-shirts, keychains, manga, and more from the series can be found in superstores like Wal-Mart or Target.

Does the series deserve this hype? This reviewer watched the anime before moving on to the manga. In both cases, she fell in love with this title. Find out whether Demon Slayer is for you or whether it’s just another shonen knockoff.

Tiny Nezuko running

Content Guide

This guide covers content from all 23 volumes of the manga.

Violence: This is a horror-shonen series and does not shy away from violence and gore. Demons are shown eating people and licking their blood. They often murder entire families, and nothing is left to the reader’s imagination. Blood is copious, bones can be seen sticking through skin, and limbs are torn or blown off at regular intervals. Because demons can regenerate, they are often poked full of holes, stabbed, or blown apart before coming right back together. Decapitation is a recurring theme, as this is one of the only ways to kill a demon. When headless or hit by sunlight, these demons crumble to ash. Eyes occasionally fall out of sockets as their heads dissolve. The villainous creatures often break bones, squish heads, or otherwise incapacitate both heroes and innocent bystanders. Some enjoy torturing their own kind in addition to humanity. One demon scratches himself until he bleeds. Sound effect bubbles throughout the manga add to the atmosphere with crunching, munching, and squishing.

Scary Images: Demons are the main antagonists, though they are not what Christians typically consider demons. Their actions are more on par with vampires or zombies. Despite this, the demons can be scary-looking. Some have multiple eyes, many heads, or other disturbing features. All of them sport fangs designed to rip human flesh and a special ability known as their “Blood Demon Art.” One girl is kidnapped by demons from underneath her bed. Poison turns people into spiders with human faces. A demon is cut into pieces yet held together by solidified blood. Several demons become burned with pieces of their faces melting off.

Language: Frequent mild language, including a**, d***, b*****d, h***, and p****d.

Drug/Alcohol References: One character’s father is a drunk, though he repents of his drinking after a family tragedy. A main character utilizes poisons and medicines to get rid of demons and patch up heroes, respectively. Several characters, both good and bad, are poisoned by the opposing side.

Sexual Content: A male character mentions the “nice chests, great butts, and strong thighs” of their female friends. Another male character has three wives. One story arc revolves around the “entertainment district.” The male main characters dress as girls to go undercover in brothels, which are never referred to as “brothels” by name. Prostitution is never explicitly mentioned, but girls are sold to the owners of these establishments to become “courtesans.” A male character considers himself sexy. One boy becomes concerned a female character’s “boobs are about to fall out” of her revealing outfit.

Nudity: Female characters fight in kimonos, revealing their legs as they kick. Some women show cleavage. A female demon loses most of her clothing when she fights, leaving her with a swimsuit-like outfit. One girl stands up in a hot spring, revealing herself to be nude; her private areas are covered by her legs and thick braids. A male character leaps out of the hot spring, and his genitals are covered by a crow.

Other Negative Content: One character is a coward throughout the series, though he eventually becomes dependable when people need him. Many flashbacks of demons’ previous human lives and the demon slayers’ pre-slaying lives involve trauma, including child abuse, murder, and poverty. Poor people are sold into slavery. Some young women kidnap a slave girl to give her a better life. People commit suicide. A main character tries to force girls to marry him. This is done for comedic effect, and he never injures the girls. His actions are frowned upon by everyone and not held up as a standard.

Spiritual Content: As mentioned, the antagonists are known as demons. Breathing and meditation are used as proponents of incredible power. Some characters refer to themselves as gods, though their friends regard them as foolish. Reincarnation is implied at the end of the series. One demon is the leader of a cult known as Eternal Paradise Faith. When they are dying, many demons see flames around them as they reconnect with loved ones. Some of these loved ones opt to go to Hell with their relatives instead of continuing to Heaven.

Positive Content: The main character’s love for his sister creates the only demon who has never eaten human flesh. Their familial bond turns the tide of the never-ending war between humans and demons. Though most demon slayers act out of vengeance for murdered families, their ultimate goal is to protect others from sharing their loss. The main character (Tanjiro) pities demons as he slays them. He weeps for their lost humanity and shows compassion for them, even while he does his duty. At one point, a villain sees inside this boy’s soul and manages to steal some kindness for himself, turning him from a foe into an ally. People are never the same after they encounter Tanjiro, which can be a type of foreshadowing of how Christians should be changed after encountering the Lord.

Review

Four main characters of Demon Slayer in their vibrant, colorful action poses
Look at those beautiful colors!

Though each story arc in Demon Slayer could take up pages, the overarching plot will be best explained in a single review. I am attempting to avoid spoilers since this is a story readers will want to experience for themselves.

At first, I was not excited about this series. Tanjiro seemed like another crybaby trope with yet another unexplained special power (his sense of smell is so strong, he can sniff out emotions). Demon Slayer is definitely a shonen series and follows in the footsteps of its brothers Hunter x Hunter, Naruto, and so many more.

After I started watching the anime, though, I realized I liked how flashy everything is. The colors are vibrant. Action scenes are fluid. The breathing abilities have the look of old-school Japanese art. Nezuko and the others captured my imagination. How would all that translate into a black-and-white manga, though?

Minimalist Art Style

The action sequences in the Demon Slayer volumes are easy to follow. Perhaps this is because the art style is different from most manga. It takes a simpler, more minimalist approach to the characters and overall world. For example, the artist does not draw hair strand by strand. Instead, it is outlined, and other highlighted portions within that outline give the appearance of strands.

Shinobu's face
Best girl, the Insect Hashira Shinobu

This may seem lazy, but it separates the manga from the others I have read in previous months. It also allows the action scenes to stand on their own. Slashes of swords, punches, and other movements can be seen easily because readers’ eyes are not distracted by extraneous details. Some manga clutter the page with effects to the point that movement becomes indiscernible (see the review for Attack on Titan).

Speaking of details, one of my favorite parts of shonen manga are the comedic relief portions. Usually, this entails one character becoming chibi (a tiny, cute version) so the artist can fully express their emotions. Demon Slayer is no stranger to this technique, and the chibis are so adorable and rewarding. Nezuko, as an older girl who acts much younger than her age, is given many instances of dots for eyes and shrunken proportions. However, this adds to her endearing, child-like wonder.

Nezuko shrinks to avoid an attack by Kanao, Insect Hashira in training
Yes, Kanao, yes she did.
Enjoyable Female Characters

Aside from being adorable, Nezuko is an amazingly written character, as are all the women in this manga. While there are not many female Hashira (literally “Pillars”), the highest-ranking demon slayers, there is no shortage of strong female representation. Each Hashira member gets their own story arc and complicated backstory. Before Muzan is defeated, readers become intimately familiar with most, if not all, the Demon Slayer Corps’ best.

This intimacy includes Shinobu, the Insect Hashira. Shinobu is not strong enough to cut through a demon’s head, their only weak spot, so she develops a poison to kill them. Her estate serves as a hospital for demon slayers, and the party visits more than once. With each stopover, her loyal protégés (all young girls rescued from demons) rehabilitate and train Tanjiro and his friends. As they work on their skills, they learn more about the mysterious smiling Insect Hashira and her butterfly troop.

Though she is kind and dresses like a butterfly, Shinobu herself is never seen as weak. The other demon slayers are aware of her power and never question her role in the Hashira, even as a woman. Her abilities are shown as equal to those of her male counterparts, and new recruits are intimidated by her.

"The Hashira are the nine Demon Slayer Corps members with the highest level of swordmanship. Lower-ranked Corp members die incredibly quickly, but the Hashira are different. They provide stability to the Demon Slayer Corp."
Remember to read right to left.

Strong representation is a nice change of pace from typical shonen heroines, like Ochaco or Sakura, who seem to exist as motivation for the male protagonist or eye candy for the reader. Even Nezuko, the protagonist’s little sister, is not a damsel in distress. The whole point of the story is to save her humanity. Yet Nezuko never looks weaker than any of the boys in the party. In fact, as a demon, she has powers far beyond their own. She often needs saving from a high-level demon, but so do the others. Many times, she is the one saving the boys, instead of the other way around.

Demon Slayer was written by a woman. Most shonen is targeted at boys, employ male protagonists, and are written by men. The girl characters are shallow, usually sexualized (even the minors), and in need of constant rescue. By contrast, Demon Slayer shows a world where men and women are equal, maybe not in sheer strength, but in ability (Fullmetal Alchemist was also written by a woman and gave us the beauty of Winry the tinkerer, a STEM profession usually reserved for men).

Shonen Done Right

As previously mentioned, this story was not on my radar until my husband insisted we watch it. The Breathing Techniques seemed too similar to every other unexplainable shonen power, and the trio of boys against the world also struck too many chords I’ve heard before. I worried Nezuko would be another younger sister pushed to the side as a MacGuffin for the plot. However, Demon Slayer is put together well, and those fears were soon laid to rest.

Believing he can find a cure to turn Nezuko back into a human, Tanjiro trains to become a demon slayer. These men and women defend innocents by slaughtering demons with their special abilities, known as Breathing Techniques. These techniques are not unique to individuals, but there are a variety of them, meaning most slayers practice different ones. Tanjiro utilizes Water Breathing, his friend Zenitsu is a Thunder Breather, and their pal Inosuke developed Beast Breathing. For the most part, these techniques are used in swordplay, but they can develop along the lines of Naruto’s jutsu or MHA’s quirks.

Inosuke in a boar mask clings to the ceiling above everyone
Comedic moments starring Inosuke abound!

Demon slayers use breathing, but strong demons have their own special abilities. Besides continuous regeneration and healing, the villains have something known as Blood Demon Arts. Every demon’s art is unique to that individual demon, making it difficult for slayers to anticipate them. Some of these arts include the ability to warp space, fool perceptions, and explode their blood.

My resolve to read the manga came after my second watch of the Mugen Train movie. On the big screen, every animated effect came to life. I felt so much sympathy for the characters that I shed tears at times. Reading the books was even more of an experience, one I never felt I needed with MHA or Assassination Classroom.

Unlike other shonen series, I wanted to spend more time with characters I had grown to love. Every human or demon who graces the pages gets their own time to shine in the spotlight. While some have longer stories than others, each character is explored. Demons all have tragic pasts and reasons they have become who they are. The high-level demon slayers interact with one another, and the author develops relationships between them that readers can only glimpse through Tanjiro’s eyes.

Man in a mask wields two knives and two more stuck in a headband. The word DOOM is written above him.
Haganezuka is a minor recurring character, but even he gets a backstory and closure before the end.

Flashbacks do not take up the whole narrative. Most backstories are seen during fight scenes or when a demon lies defeated. None of them take up too much time, and all of them connect to the story in some way, even if that is just developing a sense of compassion in the reader.

The techniques themselves, while your typical shonen fare, are explained well. Readers can understand how breathing techniques developed and how they work. This is just a glimpse, however; it is not enough to slow down the story with a superfluous explanation. Exposition happens naturally, and readers discover the secrets of this universe along with the characters who live in it. Thus, explanations do not feel forced but are part of the natural dialogue.

Battles are over the top, involving protecting bystanders and teaming up with a variety of characters, mostly Hashira. Villains have their Demon Blood Arts, which makes every battle different. The strategies from one demon cannot be carried over to another, meaning Tanjiro and company must devise a strategy during each battle and not before. Suspense and tension work well here, as readers wonder what the party will do. Often, they seem to be up against a wall, and I was pleasantly surprised by the majority of ways the author saved her characters. Some scenarios seemed a bit unrealistic, but those were few and far between.

Strong Heart
Tanjiro crying about not being able to help someone
I won’t tell you what he’s crying about. No spoilers here.

Besides having a head for strategy, Tanjiro has a heart full of compassion. At first, other characters mock him for this, much like Izuku’s classmates did to him in MHA. While Izuku’s emotions become more fortified as the story progresses, Tanjiro owns his weakness and does not apologize for mercy.

Though he strives to help innocents by killing demons, Tanjiro never loses his heart for people. Whenever he defeats an enemy, he mourns for them. He can feel their pain, and he weeps for the person that demon used to be. The others used to mock him for this, but Tanjiro never stopped showing love to the enemy. The boy kills demons because he has to protect other humans; he does not shy away from his duty. However, unlike the others, he takes no pleasure in the slaying process.

*slight spoilers here* During one story arc, a villain manages to get inside Tanjiro’s subconscious, which is a beautiful, calm ocean. Tiny creatures made of the boy’s kindness guide the villain to a spot where he can kill Tanjiro in an instant. The kindness does not understand the enemy’s motives, only that he was searching for a place and they want to help. Instead of using the opportunity to kill Tanjiro, the villain steals a piece of Tanjiro’s kindness and becomes a better person. *end spoilers*

As Christians, we should strive to develop our compassion to the point where someone becomes a better person just by stealing some of our kindness. This does not mean we shy away from our duty or become weak. On the contrary, fighting the enemy with compassion in your heart is part of strength. The Bible tells us to love our enemy, and who are we to disagree with that?

Kanao watching tiny Nezuko get into her travel box
Conclusion

At first glance, Demon Slayer appears to be standard shonen fare, and to some extent, it is. In the parts where it shines, though, it shines brightly. Characters of all ages and genders are well-developed and complex. Fights scenes involve various abilities for both the demons and slayers, making them interesting and engaging. The overarching search for a cure keeps readers on their toes wondering what will happen. In short, Demon Slayer will capture your imagination and keep your attention until the very last page.

Positives

+ Lovable characters
+ Strong female representation
+ Adorable chibi expressions
+ Humor
+ Nezuko!

Negatives

- Plot and general setup feel like standard shonen fare
- A few characters could have used more time to develop
- Occasional fight ended too easily

The Bottom Line

Demon Slayer will capture your imagination and keep your attention until the very last page.

 

Story/Plot 7

Writing 10

Editing 9

Art 9

9

Courtney Floyd

Courtney has loved reading since she was a child. Kid's books, YA, memoirs, comics, graphic novels, manga, anything. She also loves bingeing anime, keeping up with her favorite shows (including Star Trek), and playing video games. She has a dog named Kora, but she prefers The Last Airbender.

Leave a Reply