Note: No major spoilers
Death Note is an intelligent and meticulously illustrated rollercoaster ride. With hardly a dull moment, it will keep you turning pages hours after you thought you would be doing something else. The artwork is superb, and while the author of the story, Ohba Tsugumi, is sometimes thought to be a bit too wordy, the story is complex enough to need all those words, even if you are in a bit of a hurry to turn the next page and find out what will happen. Suspenseful is the best word to describe this series, although it is actually not very action-packed. There is much thinking and strategizing, as well as wonderful sparring matches between the main characters. The characters themselves drive the story forward as well, and they are almost all formidable in some way.
Light Yagami, our antihero, is a high school student who has stumbled upon the power to kill in the form of a black notebook, which contains the words: “The human whose name is written in this note shall die.” He asserts that “There's something about the Death Note itself that makes humans want to try it out at least once,” but he does far more than that. With his newfound power he sets about to “Eliminate the vermin from the world,” even at the cost of his own mind and soul.
I despised Light Yagami in almost every way. I pity him only marginally because of his circumstances (had he not found the death note, I am pretty sure he would have lead a fairly normal life, though that's not to say he wasn't responsible for his actions when he found it), and although I held my breath many a time, waiting for and even almost subconsciously hoping for his escapes from various traps set for him, I was always hoping for his eventual capture and confinement, if not his demise. Arrogant, without a care for the lives of those who stand in his way, he only gets worse as he gets older. The second half of the series, which takes place a few years after the first, presents an even colder and more despicable characterization as with the misplaced power of a god, he seems less and less like a human being and more and more like something utterly inferior.
A mastermind known only as L is Light Yagami’s chief opponent. Quirky and highly unusual, his every move in both the investigation and in each scene is hugely entertaining and comical. His adamant declaration that “The good guys always win,” combined with his persistent investigation when he has a hunch and his keen eye for behavioral inconsistencies make him the perfect answer to Light’s intelligent scheming and dubious assessments of right and wrong. He is like some kind of funky Sherlock Holmes, and the way he respectfully attaches san or kun to everyone’s name puts me in mind of Lieutenant Columbo, who without fail addressed everyone (and most notably his suspects) as sir or ma’am.
Enter Near and Mello, two other odd individuals who are just as determined as L to apprehend the vigilante serial killer known as Kira.
Mello is somewhat less of a threat to Light as he too often allows his emotions to control him, and I mostly disliked him. He’s a bit creepy and definitely more ambiguous than L; his motive is not justice but the desire to defeat his rival, Near, and he even does some things that are as bad as what Light himself does. But I liked him a little better later on, and I think he was the human element that the series needed at that halfway point. While brilliant and idiosyncratic, he wasn’t so unbelievable as L or Near.
Near is much like L. Objective and queer, he quickly becomes more of a pain in Light’s side than the impassioned Mello and it is pretty mind-blowing to watch his investigation.
By the time you’ve read 12 volumes of this supernatural thriller, you almost believe that the battle between Light and his opponents will never end, and so it’s also a bit strange when it does. But the ending is pretty satisfying.
All in all, this series is close to perfect.
Death note is one of my #1 favourite manga of all time, so I'm serious when I take a half a mark away from this catagory. when shifting from the "L saga" I always felt like the story stumbled a bit, perhaps they were trying to elongate the story or bring in new readers, in serialized releases it's not unheard of.
If you've read bakuman you know the team has what it takes to transition seamlessly betweens story phases, so perhaps this was simply an early writing mistake. A lesson they clearly learned from!
Regardless the story as a whole takes you around twists, turns, corners and bends you would have never expected. A thriller, and a classic, that should be given as reading material in high schools in my honest opinion.
The art is fantastic all the way through, every angle and every detail is rendered as well as any human hand can. It's a masterpiece, plain and simple.
Every charachter stands out as a uniqe addition to the cast, You never feel like there are doubles visually and personality wise. Even the incidental charachters all seam to have unique faces and personalities. Death note sets the bar for character design, and it's only made that much more amazing by the fact that these characters all feel like they could exhist in the real world... maybe not Ryuk, but you catch my drift.
This may contain spoilers.
Before I begin, I would like to say that Death Note was the first manga I ever read. Subsequently, it was also my first anime, if one disregards the Pokemon and Tokyo Mew Mew I watched when I was younger. Therefore, I am probably not the best connoisseur.
Storyline: This was indeed impressive. I may not have read as much manga or seen as much anime as some people on here, but I've certainly heard of a lot. The only series even remotely similar to Death Note would be Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin), which is really entirely different. Death Note managed to create its own genre, and moreover, did it well. If you're looking for a completely unique manga to read, this should be on your list. Bear in mind, however, that it will keep you hooked. I, for one, did not take my eyes away from my iPad, aside from to sleep, until I had finished that damn anime. I was requesting the rest of the manga from the library as soon as possible afterwards. It will break you - not as much as Hunter x Hunter, from what I've heard, at least. However, it lacks humour completely. This fits with the plot, but after all, it first appeared in the same magazine One Piece appears in, did it not?
Art: This is one of the best manga I have read, art-wise. It's so much more realistic than a lot out there, and I believe that helps the reader become more attached to the characters, seeing as some of them were not as developed as they could have been in other aspects. As I said earlier, this was my first manga. My second (and all-time favourite) was Fullmetal Alchemist, and I remember being disappointed with the quality of FMA after the beautiful art Death Note has. Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata make a beautiful team.
Characters: Regrettably, some of the characters were not as well-developed as Ohba could have made them. I would say L, Mikami and Misa are the only characters that ever get a real backstory. Not even Light does, and he is the main character. All we got to know about his life before the Death Note is that he was an innocent top-grade student, and nothing else. Ohba said in 'How to Read' that for personal reasons, they dislike flashbacks. This is understandable, but it dragged the plot line down a bit. Near and Mello are similar. How did they end up in Wammy's House, one of, if not the most prestigious orphanage in the world? It really is quite a shame. Misa was intentionally created to be as hated as she is, so that worked. In all honesty, she really was too stupid to live; I'm surprised she lasted longer than Light. L, obviously, got fantastic development, and how he became L was revealed in the novels.
Overall: Brilliant manga. I would recommend this to anybody that likes horror/Sci-fi or are looking for something really unique. Be warned, however, that unless you're tough - like me, apparently, because I didn't cry - this manga will break you. I found the final scenes slightly cringy, personally, but don't skip them.
Great manga up untill L dies, after that the story and characters go downhill really fast. Lost interest completely.
Death Note manages to perfectly balance suspense and expectation into something that makes the reader unable to put it down. Loved the use of 2 page reveals and the overall art style was really good. I would definitely read this series again in a hearbeat.