The Promised Neverland (2016 – )

Written by Kaiu Shirai and illustrated by Posuka Demizu, The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando) is a weekly manga series published by Shonen Jump. The series has climbed rapidly in the popularity rankings, and is now regarded as one of the most popular of the Weekly Shonen Jump mangas (Weekly Shonen Jump is the most popular and longest running manga magazines, and the order in which the different series are listed reflects the result of weekly popularity polls – the most popular manga goes on the cover, and the least popular manga is generally dropped). An animated series is due for release in January 2019, and is to be produced by CloverWorks.

The series largely focuses on Emma, Ray and Norman – three highly gifted 11 year old children. It opens with the three living in an orphanage where they are having a wonderful life, provided with considerable freedom while being watched over by Isabella, their caretaker. The only unusual elements (apart from how overbearingly cheerful everyone is), are the ID numbers tattooed on each child, and the daily tests which the children perform each week. They are nothing painful – just very, very advanced questions. It seems like an ideal life, and normally this would ring alarm bells. If so, such would be justified, as it doesn’t take long until we learn that it is not an ideal world, and that outside the walls of the orphanage is something very different to what we might expect. 

While I’m inclined to avoid spoilers, it is logical to assume that whatever fate awaits the children is something that they need to avoid, and accordingly a number of children escape from the orphanage. It is those children that we follow as they attempt to survive on their own, with limited guidance, and with the long-term goal of saving everyone in all the orphanages who are similarly trapped.

The series is well written and very well illustrated. But what caught my attention were the ethical themes explored in the series and the strength of the characterisation. To take the second of these first, characters in the series are complex, and while some are largely as they appear, others are delightfully complicated. Ray stands out in this regard, but all of the characters that we’ve explored so far are more than they first appear – often very much more. As to the themes, the series explores ethics related to food production, autonomy, and utilitarian sacrifices (in particular, is it right to sacrifice some of humanity in order to protect the rest), amongst many others. It doesn’t do so overtly, but the parallels are quite strong if you want to look for them, adding an unexpected depth.

Overall, this would serve as a good introduction to Japanese manga if you are comfortable with the darker themes. It is a strong series, and I’m very curious as to what it will be like as an animation. It is currently included in Viz Media’s English version of Weekly Shonen Jump.