Death is a very complex thing to handle in fiction. Leaving aside that in real life it always catches us unprepared; in fiction, it’s the writer who decides who dies, when, and how. In fact, Western comic books have become infamous for their characters returning from death. There used to be a saying that no one ever died in comics, except for Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben. And if you don’t follow Western comic books, we can tell you that of that list, only one of them is still pushing daisies.
Manga is different. With very few exceptions in shounen, once a character dies, that’s it. We never see them again. And many of those deaths are completely unexpected to the readers, and to the characters inside those stories, becoming some of the most iconic scenes of their own mangas, even if the dead character is a secondary or even tertiary character with no importance in the actual plot.
With that in mind, here are the 10 most tragic deaths in manga of characters that do not come back later in the series, and who broke our hearts. Spoilers ahead, so proceed with care.
10. Chuck Culkin from Billy Bat
- Mangaka: Urasawa, Naoki (Story & Art), Nagasaki, Takahashi (Story)
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Historical, Supernatural, Police, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 20
- Published Date: 2008 - 2016
In the world of Billy Bat, Chuck Culkin’s story is pretty tragic. Despite the fact that his name is hailed all over the world as the “Creator” of Billy Bat, the face people see on their TVs as Chuck is not really him but an actor who pretty much stole Chuck’s life after convincing Chuck to steal Billy from his rightful creator, Chuck’s old friend and art partner Kevin Yamagata. Over the course of the story, Chuck lives in a gilded cage: A mansion paid for with the royalties from his version of Billy Bat, but that he can’t leave, nor let anyone see him as he keeps drawing for the company that made his name famous, and made the actor who portrays him one of the most powerful men in the world. But all Chuck wants is to make amends, to beg for forgiveness for the highest sin: stealing someone else’s idea. At the same time, Kevin has spent most of his life running from the conspiracy that wants him silenced.
Which makes it more heartbreaking when all of Chuck and Kevin’s allies manage to make a Skype call between the two of them when Chuck is on his deathbed due to old age. Kevin is not in a great shape either, having lost his hands years before, but as Chuck tries to apologize, Kevin is having none of it. Instead, he reminds his old friend about the days they spent in a small studio back in the forties, the last time they saw each other, writing comics for children. And he reminds Chuck of his greatest talent: his art. Just draw, Kevin says, as Chuck grabs a pen, crying at seeing his old teacher. Just draw.
There are no dry eyes as the scene ends, and this is why Chuck’s passing opens our list in the tenth place.
9. Ryouko Fueguchi from Tokyo Ghoul
- Mangaka: Ishida, Sui
- Genre: Action, Mystery, Drama, Horror, Supernatural, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 14
- Published Date: 2011 - 2014
Ghouls are very curious creatures: They look like humans most of the time, and can pretend to be human with some effort, however, they can only eat two things, Coffee and human meat. And coffee doesn’t do much to stop the hunger. Still, and while there are ghouls who enjoy the hunt and attack random humans, there are some ghouls who prefer to look for more humane sources of food: mostly victims of accidents or suicide. Ryouko Fueguchi is one of said ghouls, who doesn’t fight and tries to keep as low a profile as possible to protect her daughter, after the Ghoul Investigators killed her husband.
It is very ironic that the first Ghoul we met that has no interest in attacking people, nor in fighting, is the first one we see die. Sure, there had been a previous death, but as Rize was trying to eat Ken, our main character, it was easy to see Rize as a monster. All the other Ghouls also seem to revel a bit in their nature, so Ryouko, with her shy demeanor and her clear love for her daughter is the first true innocent ghoul we met. This makes her death even more heartbreaking, as we never see her attack anyone, not even in self defense, and her last words are literally for her daughter to live, as she’s beheaded by a cruel human.
Because of her senseless death –at least from our point of view- and because she was more human than many humans in the story, Ryouko earns the ninth place on our list.
8. Hiro from Koizora: Setsunai Koimonogatari
- Mangaka: Haneda, Ibuki (Art), Mika (Story)
- Genre: Drama, Romance, School, Shoujo, Slice of Life
- Volumes: 10
- Published Date: 2007- 2009
Mika and Hiro’s romance is the kind of romance that one knows has to have a happy ending. After all, no one can go through everything they lived together without getting a happy ending in a shoujo, right? From the day they met, Mika being a shy high school student and Hiro the classical delinquent, it seemed everything was against them, in particular Hiro’s ex-girlfriend who went as far as to organize for Mika to be gang-raped and later cause her to miscarry her and Hiro’s baby. And yet, Mika and Hiro stayed together. Sure, there was that time in which Hiro started acting like a jerk toward Mika, trying to get her to break up with him, but that also had a reason. He just didn’t want to hurt her more when she realized that he had cancer.
And this is where Koizora takes a left turn into tragedy. Because as much as Hiro and Mika keep making plans, and he starts his treatment, as much as we, as readers, want to believe that Hiro will make a surprise recovery, reality is very different. After a heartwarming conversation between them, he leaves for a routine check up. Unfortunately, the next day, Mika is told that he’s gone. The last image she saw of him in reality was him, smiling at her and promising to see her “tomorrow”.
Because of the suddenness of the death, despite the fact that we knew it was coming, and the realistic nature of Mika’s sadness after it, Hiro is the eighth choice on our list.
7. Jiraiya from Naruto
- Mangaka: Kishimoto, Masashi
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Martial Arts, Shounen, Super Power
- Volumes: 72
- Published Date: 1999 -2014
Among the many, many people that crossed Naruto’s life, Jiraiya was one of the most important. Although Naruto himself didn’t know it at first, the older Shinobi –one of the legendary Sannin- had been his father’s teacher, his godfather, and the one who gave him the name Naruto. He was also his teacher, and a great friend who trained and taught him some of the most powerful techniques the young ninja learned as he grew up. And yet, a lot of people considered him a joke, given his somewhat pervy personality and his apparent impossibility to take anything seriously, together with his huge ego as a writer.
And yet, when he faced the Six Pains, after he had been stabbed five times in the back, and his heart had stopped… Jiraiya found the will to survive. After being reminded of his greatest failures, and realizing that dying like that would make a horrible end to his story, he gets one more memory: The day when Minato and Kushina asked him to be Naruto’s godfather. And remembering Naruto and his unending will power gave him strength to get up, write one last message to his village so they could defeat Pain, and then die, satisfied that he had done something with his life.
As one of the very few permanent deaths in Naruto, Jiraiya’s final stand has the seventh place on our list.
6. Gesicht from Pluto
- Mangaka: Urasawa, Naoki (Story & Art), Tezuka, Osamu (Story)
- Genre: Action, Mystery, Mecha, Sci-fi, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 8
- Published Date: 2003 – 2009
Gesicht is one of the most famous detectives in Europol, mostly due to the fact that he is a human-looking robot considered one of the 10 strongest in the world. His body is made from a special alloy, Zeronium, and his hand can turn into a non-lethal gun. Other than that, he is a pretty normal cop. He lives with his wife, Helena, who is another robot, and works to keep the peace in his city. However, he has some regrets, mainly, that due to his work he has not much time to spend with Helena. He even promises himself he will take her on vacation as soon as he solves the latest case he has been assigned: A robot killing other robots and, perhaps, humans.
But as he unravels that mystery, at the same time that Atom prepares to fight with Pluto, he also starts discovering things about himself. He realizes that some of his memories are missing, in particular, when he and his wife managed to adopt a child robot that was mercilessly killed by anti-robot humans, or what he did to his murderer. Devastated by this, once he solves the mystery, he quits the force. And it is then when he finds a young robot he met once in Persia, one that reminds him of his child. And said robot, controlled by the villain, points the one weapon that can kill Geischt to his face.
Thanks to the masterful narrative of Naoki Urasawa, it’s impossible not to cry as Geischt falls. And because of this, it’s the sixth place on our list.
5. Fuuka from Fuuka
- Mangaka: Seo, Kouji
- Genre: Drama, Ecchi, Music, Romance, Shounen
- Volumes: 16
- Published Date: 2014 –ongoing
Fuuka Akitsuki is a very outgoing and strange girl. Daughter of two very talented athletes, she’s one of the very few girls in her school that doesn’t have a cellphone nor interest in getting one. One day, she crosses paths with Yuu Haruna, an introverted guy who spends far more time on Twitter than interacting with people in real life. Due to a misunderstanding, she breaks his cell phone thinking he was taking up-skirt pictures of her, but later on when they meet again at school, Yuu tries to defend her –from a situation that didn’t require defending- and soon they strike an unexpected friendship that even leads Yuu to join a band with Fuuka as the singer despite his shyness. It seems like a perfect love story, even in a shounen.
But on the day of their first paid gig, Fuuka doesn’t come in. Yuu has to sing in her place, and although the band is a success, the question about Fuuka’s whereabouts is not answered to the group. But we, the readers, already know what happened. When she was on the way to the gig, she stopped to pick up a cell phone strap that Yuu had given her, and unfortunately, that caused a truck to run her over. Just like that, she was gone.
Because this is such a sudden death, it more than earns the fifth place on our list.
4. Ayu from Ayu no Monogatari
- Mangaka: Yoshi (Story), Yoshii, Yuu (Art)
- Genre: Drama, Shoujo
- Volumes: 2
- Published Date: 2004 - 2004
Ayu is a very cynical young girl. As she prostitutes herself –and, occasionally her friend Reina- she is sure that life has no meaning, there’s no real reason to try and improve her life. She lives with her boyfriend/pimp Kenji, and sometimes goes to school, where she sees Reina, but she finds no happiness in either of those activities. She just lives day-by-day, existing, but not living. And that would be tragic enough, to see someone so young to be actively wishing to be dead because she finds no real purpose in life. However, it gets better, little by little. First she meets an old woman who takes her in. And then she gets a dog. And the son of the old woman is nice to her and they fall in love. Even when he’s in dire need of heart surgery, Ayu is determined to make the necessary money without going out with Johns.
But there’s no happy ending to her story. Not only does she fall back into selling herself –due, no less, to her beloved’s father-, but on Christmas, just as she has managed to get her dog Pao to send a message to her boyfriend and get one back, she has a slight cough and a fever. She thinks it’s just a cold, which means she just needs to rest a bit. But as she listens to her boyfriend’s message, she passes away. Because it was not a cold but AIDS symptoms. It’s a very dramatic scene, made even more dramatic as Pao, her dog, chooses to sleep in her arms when she is gone.
It may be a bit melodramatic, but because it comes just as Ayu had found a reason to live, it earns the fourth place on our list.
3. Aiko from Goodnight Pun Pun
- Mangaka: Asano, Inio
- Genre: Drama, Slice of Life, Psychological, Seinen
- Volumes: 13
- Published Date: 2007 – 2013
Aiko is destiny’s punching bag. From the moment she was born, she had the deck stacked against her. Her mother is part of the Pegasus Ensemble, a doomsday cult that is “fighting” against evil through music, and is very abusive against her as she grows up. Then, she becomes the obsession of Pun Pun, the main character whose face we never see, and while that seems to be a good thing at first, as they love each other and Pun Pun seems to want to free her from her abusive mother, things take a turn for the worst when Pun Pun kills her mother and they both run away to avoid him getting arrested. But Pun Pun soon becomes abusive as their options start running out.
It is obvious for the reader that, no matter how sweet Pun Pun and Aiko’s romance was originally; it’s no longer healthy. Aiko tries to bite Pun Pun’s finger off so hard that she loses a tooth, then tried to stab him in the forest and yet after that, they have sex. It seems to Pun Pun as if things can get better for both of them, as he and Aiko go to sleep in an abandoned shed, but when he wakes up he finds that she has hung herself.
Did she kill herself to escape Pun Pun? To stop being a burden to him? Or to just escape her life that seemed to be hopeless? We never know. But her death, as well as Pun Pun’s heartbreaking trip carrying her dead body in the highway, rank it number three on our list.
2. Nina Tucker from Full Metal Alchemist
- Mangaka: Arakawa, Hiromu
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Shounen, Military
- Volumes: 27
- Published Date: 2001 -2010
Nina Tucker is a lovely child that has managed to stay happy and cheerful despite her mother disappearing two years before we meet her. But she lives with her father, whom she adores, and her beloved pet dog Alexander, and gets to meet a lot of new people who will play with her whenever they come to ask her daddy about his alchemist research. In short, she is an adorable girl who deserves nothing but happiness. Ed and Al, the main characters, immediately become her friends, and think she’s lucky to have a dad who is so devoted to her, even if when they met Shou Tucker, he’s a bit preoccupied with his future grant review: Two years ago he created a speaking Chimera who later starved itself to death, and he hasn’t replicated the results yet.
Next time the Elrics come to visit the Tuckers, neither Nina nor Alexander are to be seen. However, Shou is. And he’s happy that he finally managed to create a new speaking chimera, so he’d keep his grant and position. The Chimera looks like a sad dog, with long hair and haunted eyes, and it only takes one word for the readers, and Edward, to figure out the unspeakable crime that Shou Tucker committed in the name of science. It’s just after the mad scientist’s arrest when we find the finality of his actions: Nina and Alexander are permanently fused, and in constant pain. Due to this, it is a relief for us, the readers, when Scar appears and puts the poor creature out of her misery.
Nina’s time in the story is very short, however, it’s the one death that haunts the Elric brothers even more than the death of their mother. The only other one that comes close is Maes Huges’ death. But as he was an adult who knew the danger of the world, and Nina was only a child, hers is the second death on our tragic list.
1. Portgas D Ace from One Piece
- Mangaka: Oda, Eiichiro
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shounen, Super Power
- Volumes: 84
- Published Date: 1997 – ongoing
Portgas D Ace is probably the second most important person in Luffy’s life. As his sworn brother, he had promised to never die, because he wanted to look out for his cry-baby brother forever. They were both raised in a bandit village, both wanting to become great pirates when they could join a crew. Being three years older, Ace left the village first when he was seventeen and joined the Spade Pirates, becoming their captain a year later after eating the Mera Mera no Mi that gave him flame powers. From then on, he lived many adventures, most of them as part of Whitebeard’s crew, until he takes on the mission to hunt Blackbeard to avenge a fallen comrade.
Unfortunately for Ace, Blackbeard happens to be too strong for him, and so he ends up a prisoner of the World Government, scheduled for execution. It is then when Luffy and many of his allies, as well as Whitebeard, appear to stop the execution. However, what should have been a joyful encounter turned sour when Admiral Akainu attacks Luffy. Ace, always the protective older brother, takes the hit for him. Even as Luffy cries and tells him to hold on, Ace says his goodbyes and dies smiling in his brother’s arms.
And because of the impact this death has on Luffy and all the people who knew him, Ace’s death is definitively the number one in our list.
When a character dies, you can’t tell any more stories with them and that can, under the wrong writers, be a waste of a great character. However, when you write a really good death, and said death keeps resonating within the other characters in the story, it resonates within the readers too. And then it becomes a great ending to a character, even if the character wasn’t that good to begin with.
Of course, we missed some tragic deaths. We didn’t include more than one from each series, and tried to remain within manga. But we still want to know, which is the manga death that still makes you tear up, even years after you read it? Let us know in the comments.