When it comes to prolific anime, few can even approach the bar set by Berserk.
Created by Kento Miura, Berserk follows the story of a lone swordsman and mercenary, Guts, in an uber dark fantasy setting. When Guts is defeated by an elegant warrior named Griffith, he reluctantly befriends him and joins his Band of the Hawk. Thus begins a complex, sinister, and occasionally brutal story of betrayal and bloodshed.
Known for its insanely detailed art and as a critical inspiration for the Soulsborne games, Berserk ran for over 30 years as a manga, being adapted into two anime series and three movies while the original story continued to play out. Sadly, Miura passed away in March of 2021, but the series will still continue after a period of uncertainty. The profound legacy of Miura’s work lives on in those it has touched or inspired.
With the complexity and influence of Berserk being so profound, it’s easy for a newcomer to feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. That’s why we’ve crafted this handy beginner’s guide to Berserk, just for you.
Berserk Beginner’s Guide
What’s Berserk About?
Berserk follows the tragic, lonely life of Guts. A warrior born from a hanged corpse, Guts murdered his father before beginning his travels as a mercenary. After being bested by Griffith, he helps the white-haired warrior win a war for a medieval empire, but as Griffith’s ambition for power grows, the two find themselves at odds with one another.
As their friendship turns to animosity, sinister and mysterious dark forces begin to rally around them. While a skeletal warrior and a demonic visage offer cryptic warnings to Guts, and Griffith’s mind grows increasingly twisted by his desires, events are set in motion that will impact the state of their world forever.
The story evolves significantly past its original plot and setting, seeing many characters come and go as the tale continues. Many of them are viciously murdered during the “Eclipse,” a key moment that marks the dark tone of the series and the anything-goes nature of Miura’s storytelling style.
Who Created Berserk?
Berserk was created by Kento Miura, who designed the character of Guts when he was only 18. However, it wasn’t until a few years later in 1989 that Berserk would begin. Miura was inspired by the character of Mad Max, wishing to set a character “burning for revenge” in a dark and cruel world. The work was also inspired by Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and the Fist of the Northstar series.
Miura went on to become one of the most beloved mangakas in the history of the medium, regularly praised for his insanely detailed artwork. Unfortunately, Miura’s relentless, neverending pursuit of perfection and penchant for overworking himself eventually contributed to his death at only 54 from heart failure.
Who Are the Main Characters?
Naturally, the most crucial character in Berserk is Guts. He lives a solitary life by taking his rage out on the world with every battle he fights. Though Guts eventually finds a more meaningful purpose after joining a mercenary group and falling in love with one of its members, the tragedy that follows leaves the warrior more crestfallen than ever.
Casca is the sole female member of the mercenary band and initially despises Guts for becoming the favorite of its leader, Griffith. Though their rivalry inevitably turns into a romantic tryst, their relationship is doomed to pain and heartache due to external factors.
Meanwhile, Griffith is an elegant white-haired warrior who couldn’t be more different from Guts. He leads a mercenary band and forces Guts to join him after defeating him in combat. Regardless, the two form a mutual respect and even a close friendship, which belies their inevitable descent into the most bitter of enemies.
Where to Watch Berserk
Unfortunately, the highly revered original anime version of Berserk lives in a bizarre legal ownership landscape that sees it absent from any streaming services, including Crunchyroll and Funimation. It’s possible to watch it online here, but only with invasive ads occasionally accompanying it. You can also order the series in a physical format from places like Amazon.
Alternatively, you can watch the Golden Age trilogy of Berserk movies collected on Netflix. They retell the branch of the story from the 1997 arc, preparing you to watch the two seasons of the more modern Berserk anime. However, be warned that the anime series that follows is highly criticized for its digital animation style despite its faithful retelling of the following parts of the story.
Due to these criticisms, the anime only ran for two seasons, setting up the next arcs of Guts’ story, where he begins to find redemption, even as his bloody quest for vengeance continues.
Where Can You Read the Berserk Manga?
Due to the vast respect fans have for the detailed artwork of Berserk, there are several places online to read the series for free. However, if you’d prefer a physical version, manga collections can be purchased from Amazon, Indigo Books, or Dark Horse Comics. The original run of stories ran in Animal House/Young Animal magazine.
What Should I Try After Berserk?
The funny thing about Berserk is that, despite its distinct influences on manga and anime, there’s nothing quite like it. Notably, the Dark Souls/Soulsborne games and, by extension, many other souls-likes are heavily inspired by the series. Some of the dark medieval games that fit Berserk in tone and style include Blasphemous, Salt and Sanctuary, and Titan Souls.
If you’re looking for bloody, medieval dark fantasy in an anime series, particularly with the heavy and ominous tone of Berserk, Attack on Titan is an excellent place to start. Regularly praised for its brutal plot twists, frequent character deaths, and highly stylized violence, Attack on Titan is one of the most popular anime ever and, as such, is available across many digital services.
If you’re looking for something more viscerally akin to the heavy tone and ruthless world of Berserk, Goblin Slayer offers a similar tale. The series also features a tragic hero out for revenge who reluctantly joins a band of adventurers who help him to open up and find a reason to live beyond his penchant for violence and bloodshed.
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