When Viz announced that they would be bringing America its own version of the Japanese manga anthology “Shonen Jump” to America, many people wondered what series would be included. “Shaman King” made its premier in the third issue of “Shonen Jump,” and it was a strange title. Actually, after making it through more then 30 chapters of this series it's still a strange series. However it also happens to be a strangely good series too. The story opens with a boy named Manta trying to catch the last train home. Realizing that he needs to be at the train station soon, he decides to cut through the cemetery as a shortcut, and he see's something strange there. There's a boy sitting on a gravestone listening to music while looking at the stars.
This in itself isn't so strange, it's what happens AFTER this is established that's strange! The kid invites Manta to stay with him and his pals to stargaze with them...and by "them" he means a bunch of ghosts who “couldn't get into heaven.” Well the second Manta see's the ghosts he freaks out, and the next day at school he proceeds to tell all the kids what he saw. Of course no one believes him. However that same morning who should show up at school but the cemetery kid! Manta trys to tell everyone that he's the boy he saw at the cemetary, but the boy claims to have never seen Manta before in his life! Well Manta refuses to take THAT as an answer and be the laughing stock of the whole school, so after school Manta follows the cemetery kid around town...until the cemetery kids boring day of sitting in one place, whistling, and watching the birds gets to Manta and he accidently reveals that he's been following the kid!
The kid though is not mad. He tells Manta that his name is Yoh Asakura, and that he is a shaman. What's a shaman you ask? A shaman is a spiritual link between the ghost world and the real world, and Yoh can integrate ghosts into his body and use their special abilities however he chooses. Or so he says. That night on the way home from school Manta decides to cut through the cemetery again, however a man known as Ryo of The Wooden Sword and his gang are in the graveyard that night, and they think that Manta is messing up their “Happy Place” (Or something like that), and they decide to beat him up for it. Well the next day this doesn't sit well with Yoh, so Yoh grabs Manta and drags him back to the grave that night to teach Ryo and the bullies a lesson.
When the time comes to teach them a lesson, Yoh summons the ghost of the great warrior Amidamaru, a samurai who was known for the deaths of hundreds of people when he was alive. They integrate with each other so that Amidamaru can use his powers in the real world, Yoh teachs Ryo a lesson he'll never forget. After they beat Ryo, Amidamaru decides to become Yoh's partner, and the journey to be the Shaman King has begun...or something like that. Admittingly this isn't the best description of the story you're going to find, but this is a hard series to describe. Its about a boy who can control the powers of various different ghosts, and that's the easy way to describe it, but that description makes "Shaman King" sound like a copy of "Pokemon" with ghosts in it. And how do you make a story like this sound interesting when the whole concept sounds a lot like that of “Pokemon's?” Well I don't know. To some credit this starts out as an interesting series, but not a great one.
The humor is great and everything, but it definitely takes awhile for the story to pick up. The first book is pretty much the introduction, after that we have a couple books dedicated to introducing the characters, and then FINALLY the series gets around to just explaining what the main story is! So the pacing isn't that strong when it first starts, but it does get better. Something that should be mentioned about this series is the art. The art is...unique. I don't really know how else to say it, you have to see it to understand what I'm talking about, but the series definitely has a look all its own. The best way I can describe it is to say that it looks like graffiti artwork, and even that description doesn't say much.
But one thing that I can say about the art is that it lends itself to the humor and action perfectly, and despite a slow beginning you may find yourself sticking around with the series just because the art is so interesting. There really is nothing else like it. Plus the characters in this series are great. The characters all have feelings, people who seem to be a stereo-type characters later on prove to be a much deeper characters then you originally thought they were, and the series never actually does turn into a “Pokemon” clone since Yoh only has one ghost partner for the entire series. But alas, every comic that has this much style and flare usually has one major drawback, and in this book the drawback is strangely enough Yoh Asakura himself.
Its not that Yoh is a bad character by any means, he's just...boring. Yoh is a happy go lucky, always happy, kind and gentle guy who never really changes. His personality is rock solid, he walks through life without a care in the world, and like Jing, Yoh just doesn't sweat any situation much. And sadly Yoh is the person we'll end up spending the most time with since he's the one who's out to be the Shaman King. Now luckily the rest of the supporting cast IS interesting, and they help make their plights and situations interesting when Yoh's character fails to be interesting (Which is a lot since Yoh pretty much doesn't have a care in the world), so it was good that the author made everyone else interesting when the main character was not as it helps the series a lot to have a strong supporting cast (And the author at one point even admitted that Yoh was his least favorite character in this series).
Still, Yoh does bring the grade down a bit since it's a bit frustrating to have such a boring protagonist in a series that is otherwise really good. “Shaman King” is a strange series indeed. It picks up slow, has one of the weirdest (Yet most visually striking) art styles ever seen in a comic series, has a boring protagonist, has a wonderful supporting cast, and lots of humor! It's easy to recommend this series, just keep in mind it may take awhile for the story to pick up. And when it does pick up, you'll most likely be glad you roughed it out!