Recommendation: “The Promised Neverland”, by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu

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Dark Fantasy / Thriller

It’s best to go into this story cold if you can, but I’ll give you the situation as our protagonists initially understand it: Grace Field House is home to 38 orphans, including our eleven-year-old protagonist, Emma. Their caretaker is kind and loves them, the estate is full of trees and flowers, and they want for nothing. It’s a good life, even accounting for peculiarities like the daily exams, the high stone wall that surrounds Grace Field, and the identification numbers on their necks…

If we can’t talk more about the story, however, it’s still possible to discuss themes. First and foremost, and what attracted many readers, is the plotting that various characters engage in. There are plans and counter-plans, and attempts to ferret information from other people without revealing even the search itself, and the first arc in particular is presented like a kind of puzzle. Additionally, it’s rare for characters to make poorly-considered decisions of the sort that would encourage you to yell at the page, which is really nice. The need to observe, analyze, and predict is emphasized repeatedly. 

As the story progresses, there emerges a second theme which I can only describe as universal salvation: Even under pressure from others, Emma refuses to accept a situation where anyone–friends, bystanders, or enemies–must suffer. The Promised Neverland is not so kind that she can keep to this principle without sacrificing something, and I worried for a long time that these dilemmas (and especially the times when she compromised her ethics) were intended to fuel “character growth” of the sort that involves Tough Men Making Tough Decisions, but the narrative has continued to endorse beliefs as being as desirable as they may be dangerous. I don’t expect Emma to succeed as completely as she hopes, and there will surely be heavy costs to pay (just as there have been already), but things have already ended up far better than they would have done if Emma had listened to more pragmatic people, and I don’t anticipate this changing in the future.

You can read the manga here, on Viz. The first three chapters are free, as are whatever the last three chapters happen to be when you’re reading this, and you can either get a $1.99/month subscription to read the rest or purchase them directly. There is also an anime adaptation which you can find here, on Crunchyroll. I don’t make any kind of affiliate compensation if you go to any of these places, but I do hate Amazon and that’s where you’re likely to go otherwise.

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