Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is definitely a classic in the anime/manga industry, with countless shows referencing it. It’s also one of the few manga to reach into western culture, being enjoyed by plenty of people who are normally not into Japanese entertainment. It’s most certainly one of the most well-known manga ever created.
As you can expect from a manga that started in 1986 and is still going, it’s extremely long. However, each of the 8 parts is almost entirely self contained. This is a review of part 1.
A lot of people recommend skipping Part 1 when getting started with Jojo. I couldn’t disagree more! Not only is the plot for this part important in setting up the context for a good chunk of the series, but it also is very entertaining on its own.
Don’t read Part 1 of Jojo expecting masterful storytelling. It is, through and through, a battle shounen manga, and as such the focus is mostly on the fights. Very few battle manga do battles as creatively as Jojo manages to. Honestly speaking, I don’t really care about fights in manga, it’s not my favorite genre. However, this is one of the few exceptions.
The main character, Jonathan Joestar, faces a succession of enemies each with a unique power or ability. The fights are intelligently done. The victor is not decided by mere brute force, or who has the highest “power level” (sorry, Dragon Ball), but instead on who is able to most creatively counter his opponent’s skill. I say bravo! That is how you make a battle manga interesting.
The story itself leaves a bit to be desired, though. It’s a fairly cliche story about an ancient stone mask with a mysterious story behind it which unravels as it progresses. But Araki never manages to make it intriguing enough for the reader (or at least for me) to care, and truthfully, I think this manga should be read only for the battles. Luckily, Araki realized this too and focused on them.
With just 44 chapters, Part 1 is by far the shortest of the Jojo franchise. Honestly, this helps a lot, making it one of the best paced parts. This manga does not fall into the regular battle shounen trap of overextending: Every single fight is short and sweet, long enough to create hype, but there are no mind numbing 10 volume long fights like a lot of popular battle manga tend to do.
There are no unnecessary arcs, not too many info dumps, the main characters and their motivations are quickly presented and progressed. There are really not too many bad things to say about the pacing in this manga, in fact, it’s unnaturally good for a battle shounen.
Jojo’s art is truly iconic at this point. A lot of people can recognize the main characters of Jojo even without having read the manga. That doesn’t mean that it’s particularly good, though. There are many instances in this first part of poor quality facial expressions, or bad backgrounds, or just poor paneling in general. Furthermore, the art doesn’t feel “clean” at all, there are several panels in which it’s hard to make out exactly what’s going on.
What on earth are those lines in the top right? Why is his arm so wide?
Araki does improve his art throughout the years. If the art is the one thing putting you off from checking out this manga, try to endure it and read it anyway! It’s actually not so bad once you get used to it — the generally fast pace, interesting battles and intense characters definitely synergize well with the peculiar art.
If you really can’t stand the art to the point of being unable to bear 44 chapters, I recommend reading up on what happens from part 1 to 3, and going straight to part 4. There’s a noticeable improvement on the art style.
The characters of Phantom Blood are nothing special. The main character has no well-defined personality, he’s just “the good guy”, and in the same fashion, the main antagonist is just an evil person out to conquer the world. Nothing special about either of them.
The side cast is slightly better, with some interesting characters showing up along the way, such as the protagonist’s teacher, or some of the enemies he faces on his path to beat the final boss.
The characters might be filled with generic tropes, but that doesn’t mean they’re terrible. Their simplicity certainly gives the manga a certain charm, something that I personally think is quite unique to Jojo that maybe can only be understood by reading it.
The way the characters behave is amusing, but at the same time, it’s taken sort of seriously, so it doesn’t just become a comedy manga instead of a battle manga. It’s a very interesting thing. At some points, they even remind me of characters of a delinquent manga.
Phantom Blood is, more than anything, an introduction to the world of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and as such it’s definitely worth reading. Even if you don’t typically enjoy battle manga, it’s short enough to breeze through in a couple of hours, and it can be a very fun read if you don’t go in expecting a masterpiece (like some fans claim it to be).
Buy volume 1 here: