Please note that this is my first ever manga review, so please treat this kindly.
"Elfen Lied" was one of those titles that I avoided like a hawk when I was just starting to find the gem that is the anime genre. I thought I didn't have the stomach for the notorious limb-flying and frequently naked female cast. I will admit that the darkness humanity can venture in and psychology that serves as the backbone of the manga truly got me intriguied. Since even the sound of spliced limbs and blood squirts can make me cringe, I decided to read the manga first though I watch more anime. When finished, I can say that it left wanting to see the anime adaptation and OVA; a comparision review may come in the future when I finish watching it. But first things first: the manga!
The manga starts off very slow, I didn't get hooked to read the rest at about chapter 30 or so. So whether you're still hooked up till that point is totally up to the reader. Reasons why I lost interest was that it was following the same trend: Lucy kills, Nyuu's touching of certain female parts that can't be described as either cute or perverse, Yuka calling Kouta a stupidhead and the constant losing Nyuu and reuniting her. The building cast (which is mostly female I might add) further adds wood to the fire, leaving the reader to wonder when on earth the plot is going to get underway. It also doesn't help that the art is below par. It's not the most gorgeous and is your traditional cutesy anime girls with a dash of blood sprays. I will say though that it does get better as the story goes on. Though if anyone is uncomfortable with seeing the female nude, (or even half-nude for that matter), then this manga is not for you because there is plenty of it and can even be a part of the major themes of the story. It's there that much. I also found to be plot holes and the happy ending just didn't feel right after finishing. With so much sadness, I thought the story would have ended better by staying in that mood. SPOILER: Not to mention bringing back some who died with NO explanation doesn't help.
However, if you want to delve into other aspects of the plot, there's plenty of themes. All of them deal with human morals, science, psychology (especially dissociative identity disorder for this was a major trait in the diclonus), biology, what makes innocence and the loss of it, youth, multiple thoughts on the act of killing, the ability to move on, apoycalpse and mankind as a race just to name the most prominent. Even physics get mentioned at certain points. All are intriguing and I wish that these were focused on more than the ups and downs of romance. Granted, love (in multiple relationships from friends, lovers, family and especially fathers and daughters) fits with the story, but I personally saw this as a forced drive to the story. I will also note that the manga also has very intense themes as well: human and animal cruelty, torture, experimentation, heartache, rape espicially with children, violence and gore. If any of these bother you, this may be another reason not to read this. After all, it's only in Japan for a very, very good reason. It's certainly one of the darkest manga I've read, no questions asked.
"Elfen Lied" is without a doubt a tradegy. Rin Okamoto holds no bars back in making all of his characters suffer in multiple ways. He is also the master of providing brief happy moments that are struck down by sadness also in various forms ranging from military attacks, the loss of dear ones, verbal and physical actions. He also loves teasing the viewer in that a certain event is going to happen , say a a character's death and suddenly a few pages go: nope not yet! Now for the characters: the cast is one that the majority will get killed off so take care of who you decide is your favorite or even choose to like. Since I haven't seen the anime, I'm not sure how their portrayals compare. Certain ones such as Lucy and Nana are so wonderfully developed and I applaud Okamoto for providing them in multiple scenarios and making them experience a grand range of emotions that made me a reader want them to finally have a place to call home and forget their sorrows and suffering. However, what made me give the character rating a low number is that with 107 chapters, not all the characters are given the same range of depth. In particular, some of the human characters (particularly the main crew of the Maple Inn) appeared to be very static and despite the trials they have to overcome to form their own definition of family, they just seemed the same throughout. I'm looking at you Yuka. Others seem like total clones of each other (Kurama's partner in the lab and the chief). While others seem a bit rushed in order for the reader to care for them before their inevitable death.
In short, "Elfen Lied" is one of those stories that's either going to turn you off or get you to continue to read it after the first brutal chapter. The story takes a while to find its footing and even when it does, it tends to trip on itself. The art isn't the greatest, but the emotions that certain cast members will go through may keep your atttention until the very end. Much like the ocean waves found throughout the story, "Elfen Lied" has ebbs and flows that help make it stand out in science fiction, psychological and apocalyptic storytelling. Giving it a try won't hurt, but you're not missing out.