I’ve been reading a lot more manga as of late. While I dip my toes into several titles, I find it hard to follow them weekly. So many manga feels less “episodic” when read in a weekly format. It always feel more like I’m watching half of a complete episode. It’s a rare exception for a manga to grab my attention weekly and leave me wanting more, without feeling incomplete.
One of those rare exceptions is Boy’s Abyss.
What is Boy’s Abyss?
This review has major spoilers for the first 3 chapters of Boys Abyss, and spoiler-free panels from the rest of the manga.This review also has discussion of suicide and explicit sexual content (though I have censored them to keep it relatively SFW).
Reiji Kurose lives a difficult life. Along with his mother, Yuko, they provide for their senile grandmother and shut-in older brother, living in near constant poverty. Gen, his former childhood friend, bullies him relentlessly. He feels empty from the listless existence in this small town. His only respite is reading manga and watching idols with his only friend, Chako. One of his favorite idols is a beautiful up-and-comer, Nagi Aoe.
One faithful evening, on his way to the convenience store, he finds Nagi Aoe herself smoking behind it. Shocked, Reiji stares in disbelief. Nagi notices him and offers a cigarette. In a haze, he accepts.
They soon form a relationship. For the first time, Reiji is happy. They share in the sadness of the lives they lead. Reiji finds comfort in finding a person who listens. Not only that, but a beautiful idol he admires. During one of their meetings, on an emotional high, Nagi brings him down to earth with a few words.
With an unsettling smile, Nagi Aoe offers for them to commit suicide together. This offer sets the manga on a roller coaster of twisted relationships and dark secrets, with Reiji in the middle of it all.
Boy’s Abyss, or Shounen No Abyss, is an ongoing drama manga written by Ryo Minenami. You may be familiar with his work on Hatsukoi Zombie. For fans of that lighthearted romantic comedy, they may find themselves shocked at the much darker tone of Boy’s Abyss. The manga started in 2020 and currently has 69 chapters as of the writing of this review.
I don’t exaggerate when I say almost every chapter of Boy’s Abyss ends with a soap opera tier bombshell like the one above.
The Art of Abyss
Boy’s Abyss is one of the most beautiful manga I’ve read in recent memory. There is a melancholy feeling in the atmosphere of this small town.
If I were to describe the art in fewer words, my best bet would be “walking around the empty side of town at night”
There is a darkness to most panels that feel almost claustrophobic. Your eyes are naturally drawn to the only sources of light on the page. The lighting is often full of shadows. Serious scenes are rarely done in full light.
There is an underlying aura of unease in every interaction. A lot of panels drawn with a clear sense of intimacy to the character in focus.
This intimacy lets us feel how Reiji feels. His emotions are bottled up and from his perspective, Nagi is a goddess who brought him to light. Reiji doesn’t even notice the clear emptiness behind the Nagi’s eyes in his stupor. It’s unlikely the reader does too.
I could go on, but Ryo Minenami’s visual language speaks for itself.
Intimacy as a Narrative Tool
On the topic of intimacy, Boy’s Abyss uses another thing in its narrative to progress the plot.
Many will write off the use of sex in the narrative as cheap fanservice. However, in Boy’s Abyss, it is used as an integral part of exploring the characters psyche.
Intimacy and comfort in companionship is a constant theme in Boy’s Abyss. While yes, they are drawn in a way that is sexually arousing, it is never done for its own sake. There is always a narrative reason for these sex scenes to happen. Take for example, the very first of the manga, between Reiji and Nagi.
At first, Reiji is shown to be in a state of euphoria. There are flashes to when he first saw Nagi in an idol video, where he saw her as this unattainable beauty. Contrast with Nagi as she is now, naked and literally in his grasp.
This gap excites him, but it also lets the reader know how much Reiji admired her genuinely as an idol.
However, he is surprisingly not aroused.
Here, they stop to talk for a while. We learn a few more things about Nagi during this conversation. We learn that she is 20 years old, which makes her sexual encounter with the 16 year old Reiji even more questionable. Next, we learn that she does have a tendency to follow what is asked of her, to the point of being called thick-headed.
This casual conversation makes Reiji realize something. The idol, Nagi Aoe, is not some unattainable myth. Nagi Aoe is a person, flesh and blood, flaws and all.
This convinces Reiji to ask Nagi to drop the idol costume. He wants to see Nagi Aoe as she truly is. That quotation on “person” is important. It paints us the idea that Reiji has no idea what a “person” truly is.
What follows is one of my favorite panels in the entire manga.
Words are not needed, but I still want to gush over how thematically rich this page is. The literal breaking of Reiji’s own “fourth wall” with Nagi. There is no longer a gap between them. Reiji has let go of the idol persona and reaches out to Nagi herself. The use of a phone screen as a window is just brilliant use of the medium.
This is why the sex scenes in Boy’s Abyss are not just for fanservice. Sex is simply one of the many narrative tools Ryo uses to progress his characters. It plays into the core theme of intimacy and people’s need for validation. Their need for comfort. Their need for another human being.
Speaking of human beings, let’s talk about the rest of the characters.
Inhabitants of the Abyss
Throughout the series, we meet a lot of different characters besides Nagi and Reiji. They are all important in the plot in one way or another, but I’ll only talk about them briefly to minimize spoilers.
Chako is Reiji’s sole friend. Chako is my favorite character in the manga. That is mostly thanks to the fact that she’s one of the few plus-sized characters in any non-comedic media who aren’t just a gag character.
She is is intentionally designed to be on the chubby side, but that isn’t treated as a source of comedy. In fact, Ryo goes out of his way to make her just as attractive as the rest of the cast. Not only attractive, she is also a main part of the cast.
Her motivations contrast with Reiji’s listlessness. She feels the same anxiety as Reiji does of being in a small town. However, she is a lot more proactive. Chako is actively seeking for a way out of town.
Chako’s troubles are seemingly more mundane. It’s about her bristling against the future set out for her by the town. Many characters in the manga are attached to the town at the hip. Chako is the one who wants to leave it all behind. That optimism is challenged brutally though the course of the story.
Yuko is Reiji’s mother. She is a great beauty who has been marred by a hard life. Her eyes are tired and her posture is racked by a life of hard labor. The life she leads has clearly taken a toll on her.
She makes decisions for Reiji’s future without asking him how he feels. Her priority is stability and security in this small town.
That, is all you’re getting out of me about her. She’s a very fascinating character but her story is deeply tied to the town itself, and her obsession over it.
Asshole. This is the first word that comes to mind when I first saw Gen. Surrounded by bad company, he is shown bossing Reiji around. Reiji seems to be doing this out of some obligation. In the past, it’s revealed Gen used to be Reiji’s defender.
The unraveling of their former friendship is at the crux of Gen’s story in this manga.
Hahaha. No. Read the manga
Boy’s Abyss is a melodramatic and beautiful mess of emotions. I will admit that the writing may seem sloppy and edgy at times. However, Boy’s Abyss is an authentic experience, and you can tell the author puts his all into every page. If you’re looking for a gorgeously melancholic story full of twists and turns, Boy’s Abyss may be the manga for you.