“Berserk” is originally a manga series written and illustrated by the manga Kentaro Miura. It began its journey in 1989 and is a dark fantasy story that takes place during the Middle Ages. The plot revolves around the revenge journey of Guts, a warrior with one eye, a prosthetic hand, and a huge sword. He is dressed in black and fights against demons and monsters.
Over the years, manga has become one of the most popular and appreciated works in the medium. As of this writing, it is in first place in the ranking of the MyAnimeList website, and its influence is evident both inside and outside the medium. Among the works that drew inspiration from it are mangas such as Claymore and Shingeki no Kyojin, and even video games such as Dark Souls, Castlevania, and Devil May Cry.
In May 2021, the original creator, Kentaro Miura, passed away, leaving the fate of the manga, whose story has not yet come to an end, in question. In June 2022, it was announced that the manga would continue and pass into the hands of mangaka Koji Mori, a close friend of Miura’s with whom he consulted on the story over the years and who knows the details of the original vision.
The dark fantasy manga now has almost 400 chapters, including the prologue chapters (after which the numerical count starts from 1). It is divided into five arcs told chronologically, except for the Golden Age Arc (the second arc), which is all a flashback that takes place before the beginning of the plot:
Black Swordsman Arc (Chapters A-0H)
Golden Age Arc (Chapters 1-94)
Conviction Arc (Chapters 95-176)
Falcon of the Millennium Empire Arc (Chapters 177-307)
Fantasia Arc (Chapters 308-370)
Kenpuu Denki Berserk (Berserk 1997)
Golden Age Arc
The first Berserk TV series was released in 1997 and created by OLM Studio.
It has 25 chapters where the first is a kind of exposition and is based on a short part of the Black Swordsman arc that opens the manga. The remaining 24 episodes unfold the story of the Golden Age Arc from beginning to end.
Berserk: Ougon Jidai-hen
Golden Age Arc
In 2012, a remake of the Berserk series began, telling the story of the same arc covered by the anime series, only with more modern animation done by Studio 4°C and a new voice cast. This time, the story was spread over three films:
Haou no Tamago (The Egg of the King) – released in February 2012ed
Doldrey Kouryaku (The Battle for Doldrey) – released in June 2012
Kourin (The Advent) – released in February 2013
Despite the misleading title, it is not a remake, but rather a continuation series. Berserk released in 2016 works as a sequel to both the original series and the films. In the beginning, she fills in several gaps from the Black Swordsman Arc that were not shown in the previous adaptations and continues to the next arc in the story, the Conviction Arc, which she narrates in full.
The series was created by LIDENFILMS studio and has 12 episodes. Also includes the new voice cast from the films.
Berserk 2nd Season
Falcon of the Millennium Empire Arc
The second season of the new anime series from 2016.
The season came out in 2017, was produced by the same team and in the same studio, and is a direct continuation of the plot of its predecessor.
It also includes 12 episodes, covering most of the next arc in the story, the Falcom of the Millennium Empire Arc, but does not reach the end.
Berserk wATCH Order
I’ll actually start with the bottom line and approach the best way to experience the story in my opinion: despite the many adaptations that together cover most of the story so far, my recommendation is to experience “Berserk” through the Seinen manga. Many details in it were omitted in the transition to anime, even in adaptations that are considered good, either due to lack of time or because of content that is too graphic and does not translate well to the screen (a good opportunity to mention that if you suffer from stomach aches from watching brutal scenes and are sensitive to topics such as rape, this is probably not the series for you). There is no doubt that the manga does this amazing story the most justice, both in terms of pace and detail and in terms of impressive illustrations. Additionally, the modern adaptations in particular (the 2016-2017 series) are considered particularly bad (more on that later), and it is not clear if the anime is intended to continue from where it left off.
Since I am aware that not everyone likes to read manga (although I think it’s their loss), and since I do think it is better to watch the anime than to abandon the work altogether, I would like to answer some questions that may arise from the list of various adaptations above.
First of all, since the story is told chronologically and in the same order as the manga, there is not too much to worry about in terms of the order, and you can simply watch them in release order. This leaves us with the following questions:
What do we do about the first arc?
Although the anime skips the first arc in all its versions, it is not necessary to understand what happens in the second arc (the Golden Age Arc). I do think that it is better to experience the first arc first and that it gives a first impression and a better understanding of the nature of the story you are entering, but it is difficult to define it as a must.
If you want to continue beyond the Golden Age Arc, the new series does fill in gaps and introduce the characters and information left behind, so that even if you don’t fully experience the story of the short Black Swordsman Arc in the anime, you will be able to understand everything that happens further down the road. If it is important enough to you, it is always possible (and even desirable) to complete this arc in the manga.
Which version of the Golden Age to watch? The movies or the series?
There is no definitive answer to this issue and the decision mainly depends on you. Both projects tell the story from beginning to end and include the important details in it.
The deciding factor for many people will be the visuals: the films certainly look more modern and feature more impressive animation, but since these are also made with a lot of CGI (especially the first, it’s toned down and becomes more tolerable in the two that follow it) they can be off-putting. The animation of the old series is indeed outdated, but it is entirely 2D and includes lots of beautiful still images in brush colors as was customary back then.
In terms of dubbing (Japanese) – both are excellent. The films share the same voice actors as the sequel series, so it will be more natural to continue if you’ve seen them.
The great advantage of the series from 1997 that makes it superior in my eyes (besides its iconic OST) is that it is more detailed. She simply has more time to cover more events, even those that are less critical but still help shape the viewer’s perception of the characters. However, precisely when it comes to the ending, it is the movie trilogy that continues a little further and shows several additional scenes that are critical to the continuation and were not included in the old series.
Therefore, although it is perfectly possible to watch only the movies, if you intend to continue beyond the Golden Age and you do not want to give up the old series, one solution would be to watch the old series and then watch the end of the third movie. Another solution would be to watch both it and the movies because there is nothing lacking in both versions to enjoy.
When to watch Berserk’s first episode?
An issue that has become somewhat controversial is the first episode of the old anime from 1997. Since the Golden Age Arc is a flashback, the first episode associated with the Black Swordsman Arc actually takes place the latest in its timeline, after the 24 episodes that follow it, and thus to some extent spoilers The end. Because of this, you may hear people who recommend watching it only after you’ve finished the series or skipping it altogether.
If you want to be 100% spoiler-free this may be the right decision for you, but I don’t think it is particularly correct or critical. The first episode does spoiler Guts’ situation after the events of the Golden Age Arc, but as mentioned, it is part of the first arc of the manga, which presents the general concept of Berserk in the most faithful way to the new viewers and shows the direction of the entire series beyond one or another single arc.
It won’t tell you how things happened and what brought the characters to the situation they are in, so I wouldn’t worry too much about spoilers. This will only give you a better idea of the story you’re getting into and may on the way pique your curiosity to know about Guts’ past. If it wasn’t originally broken – I see no reason to try to fix it.
Should I skip the new adaptation?
The new adaptation of Berserk (referring to the series that started in 2016 and continued for a second season in 2017) is mostly considered as… how to put it mildly? shocking.
This is of course subjective because most of the criticism is directed less towards the story and more towards its animation method, full CGI (and at a much lower level than the movies), which you will have to decide for yourself how allergic you are to talk.
In terms of the plot itself, I personally did not watch this adaptation, so take it with limited liability, but yes, from a look at selected episodes, I noticed that quite a few details were skipped and the short number of episodes of each arc compared to the manga speaks for itself about the compression of the content.
I’m still in favor of watching a bad adaptation than not watching at all, but no one will blame you if you decide to skip the pleasure, mainly because it is not yet known if there will even be a sequel to justify it. It is still possible to enjoy the Golden Age Arc as a story in itself (even if it is difficult to think that you will not know what happens to the characters after these events) and a large part of the fandom did so years before it was decided to continue the project.