'Vagabond': An epic manga based on the life of a 17th-century samurai

by Kris Kosaka

Special To The Japan Times

Epic samurai manga “Vagabond,” first serialized in 1998, is an award-winning series created by author and illustrator Takehiko Inoue after his popular “Slam Dunk” manga. “Vagabond,” told across 37 volumes, is based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s 1935 historical novel “Musashi,” which is a popular account of 17th-century swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. But Inoue moves beyond that source material, adding in original subplots and vignettes.

Vagabond Vol.1, by Takehiko Inoue.
208 pages

A ruthless warrior who also sought spiritual enlightenment, Musashi was a man of action and wisdom — perhaps with an emphasis on action in this retelling. Inoue’s stark, gorgeous ink drawings are labeled “explicit” in the English editions, but the violence is only one aspect of this layered series. By following Musashi’s trajectory from solitary brute to thoughtful hermit, Inoue gets to the essence of this legendary warrior-monk. And the setting, feudal Japan, is revealed in painstaking detail through the samurai’s many travels.

“Vagabond” has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide and been translated into at least 12 languages. It has an army of global fans, who are still waiting for the series to resume and conclude after Inoue put the manga on hiatus several years ago due to his poor health. He has promised to return when he feels “inspired” again. In the meantime, pick up volume one of “Vagabond” and begin an exciting excursion into samurai-era Japan.

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