Eyeshield 21 is one of the best sports manga of all time. Very few manga in this genre manage to excel at so many different aspects at once. I’ve given a fairly general overview of this manga in the article linked above, but in this post I will go more in depth as to what makes Eyeshield 21 such an amazing title that everyone should read.
Kobayakawa Sena is a wimpy, weak high school student. It seems like his fate is to run errands for the school’s local delinquents (really weak ones, too, in comparison to the ones in this list) and to go unnoticed until his graduation. Sena does have a unique talent, though: He is unnaturally fast and agile.
The school’s American football club captain, Hiruma, notices this ability and recruits him for the team. By the way, in this world’s Japan, American football is the biggest sport around, with huge tournaments and strong teams already existing at the high school level. Sena starts playing for Hiruma’s team, the “Deimon Devil Bats”, under the secret identity of Eyeshield 21 so as not to get recruited by other teams. The manga follows the teams as they try to reach the Christmas Bowl (Superbowl equivalent).
The manga is filled with intense football matches (It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the rules at all, kind of like Mahjong for Akagi, you will still understand the plot), and brilliantly done characters that will teach you that perseverance usually matters more than talent, but that sometimes raw talent is overwhelming.
Plot & Pace: 8/10
The manga’s plot is very cliche for a shounen manga. The main group of protagonists strives to be the best American football team in Japan, and go through rivals and enemies and exciting matches in their goal to achieve that. As far as sports manga go, this is fairly average and brings nothing new to the table.
You don’t have to be creative to be good, though. The plot is advanced at a very well set pace, never dragging the matches out and always keeping them tense and exciting until the very end. The rivals get progressively stronger, but not in a ridiculous way. Every character has a special skill that makes the way they play football unique and spices things up from match to match.
The fact that the main character uses a secret identity when he plays allows for the manga to include some superhero-like stories, where he struggles to keep his real identity from leaking to his family and friends, who think he’s just the team’s secretary. If you like superhero stories, Eyeshield 21 includes stuff like that in the plot as well.
The mangaka did something else to keep it from being stale. Instead of Sena’s team being complete from the start, they progressively add members until completing the full roster, so every match is played out with a different strategy than before.
The plot does, however, get a bit wonky and rushed towards the end, as it usually happens with this type of manga, and it slows down after the first 200 chapters or so, which is why I gave it an 8/10 instead of a 10/10. The ending also leaves a little bit to be desired.
The manga is illustrated by Murata, now very well known for being the illustrator of the wildly popular One Punch Man, one of the best drawn manga ever.
It’s with this title that he started to really learn and improved his drawing skill. The first 50 chapters of so have mediocre art – not bad, but not amazing by any means. From that point on, though, it quickly becomes simply superb.
American football is a very explosive sport, in which each play lasts only a few seconds, but a large amount of complex tactical moves are made. As you can imagine, this is very difficult to draw properly. Murata’s use of space and his ability to make drawings feel dynamic really help build the tension for the matches.
It’s truly notable. I don’t know any other artist that can make you feel every aspect of such a dynamic scenario. Without Murata, this manga would probably not be even half of what it is, as the art is really one of the best things about it.
If you love beautiful art, well placed panels and good use of space, this manga will show you how the best in the industry right now does it.
The characters of Eyeshield 21 are what makes the manga. You have a huge main cast, the “Deimon Devil Bats”, all with unique personalities and playstyles. Hiruma, the team captain and quarterback, is a hilarious devilish schemer. Kurita, the main lineman (defender) is a fat guy that loves to eat and is incredibly strong, but very kind and peaceful. And there’s about 9 more main characters, including Sena, who all get their own backstories, personalities and development.
The supporting cast, consisting mainly of several recurring rivals, is also well constructed with background stories and development. Every single rival brings something new to the story – they’re not just a stronger version of a previous villain, like so many shounen manga do (looking at you, Dragonball).
The sports genre is perfect for a good coming of age story based on character development. Eyeshield 21 manages to focus on Sena’s growth as a human through playing American football without sacrificing the story’s action and fast pace. But the thing that truly sets Eyeshield 21 apart from every single other sport manga that I know of, is that every single character gets developed.
Yes, not a single member of the main character gets left behind. Everyone gets at least a few chapters dedicated to their story and to the reason why they play football. This is a huge reason why the manga is over 300 chapters long. It’s not drawn out matches, or boring flashbacks, or filler. It’s pure character development.
You can tell that this manga was not made exclusively for sales. It does follow some industry cliches known to sell copies, but there’s a really good story behind it all. You can tell that Inagaki Riichiro genuinely cares about the characters he forged, and that he put a lot of thought into every single character he made.
If this team of mangaka hadn’t spent hours upon hours talking about and deciding every single detail about each character’s appearance and personality, I’m positive that they couldn’t have designed a cast of around a hundred developed and appealing characters that you want to know more about. If that’s not passion, I don’t know what is.
Overall score: 9.125/10
A very high overall score for a sports manga. Probably one of the three that I think would make the 9/10+ cut, the other ones being Slam Dunk and Kokou no Hito.
This is a sports manga that’s not afraid of talking about genetic advantages in sports. Usually, some people see it as a little bit of a touchy subject, but Eyeshield 21 just does not care. The protagonists are faced with people who are simply more talented than them naturally, and they lose, and they accept it. This doesn’t mean, however, that they feel sorry about themselves. They try to be the best they can anyways.
Overall, it most certainly deserves a 9+ rating, and it should be a must-read for any manga fan.