Yu-Gi-Oh! GX is something that many of you probably have seen in one way or another but did you know there was also was a Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga to it? Let’s dig a little deeper then!
Yuki Judai is a young and hot-blooded teenager with a passion for the world-renowned card game Magic & Wizards, a game enjoyed by so many it even has an entire school on a lone island dedicated to the art of mastering it – the Duel Academia. Duel Academia’s students are classified by their academic performance and duels into three houses – the bottom class Osiris Red, the mid-tier class Ra Yellow and those who reign supreme, Obelisk Blue. As a fresh new entree in the Osiris Red house, Judai’s youth is determined by his daily adventures with his friends but he will soon find out that the darkness that has once haunted his past is out to return and Magic & Wizards is not all fun and games.
What is the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga?
The Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga is an entirely original story and not a retelling of the anime. While it retains most albeit not all of its elements and characters, it differs drastically from the original product, delivering an entirely new, overarching story.
Needless to say, the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga also follows the events of the manga timeline, meaning that certain characters from the original manga are dead and stay dead and the game we’re playing here is not called “Duel Monsters” but “Magic & Wizards”, as some of you might have noticed already. Though they don’t bring that name up too often. If at all. I can’t remember. I suppose there is reason to assume that we wouldn’t want to confuse the audience with a very weird branding. To add to the confusion, while the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga tells its very own story, it kind of starts out in the middle of nowhere, effectively skipping Judai’s entrance duel and the character introductions so for those of you seeking to read this without having seen the anime’s first few episodes beforehand, this is not a comicalization that can stand on its own.
The Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga is co-written by the original creator Kazuki Takahashi himself as well as Naoyuki Kageyama, who was also tasked with providing the art as it was serialized V-Jump contrary to the original Yu-Gi-Oh!’s serialization in Weekly Shounen Jump. It is also actually rather obscure in the West. Which isn’t surprising, considering that Yu-Gi-Oh! enjoyed the peak of its popularity through the anime format with the Duel Monsters anime and people most probably just preferred to watch the GX anime and the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga lasted way longer than its animated counterpart, concluding in the same month the Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s anime finished in.
Not only does that mean that the GX manga was busy reinterpreting a property that had already been overtaken by the newest hot thing, it also had to struggle with giving you a reason to care about these characters whose story had already concluded in its original medium by the time the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga was only halfway through its plot. A monthly release schedule compared to the weekly episode format added insult to injury for a manga that never ran in regular Weekly Shounen Jump to begin with. And, last but not least, it was obligated to follow the format of the GX era ruleset and cardset, so when Synchros were released, this had none of them. As such, even a property as popular as GX can have a long-running manga rendition completely left by the wayside of the road, or at the very least it was so in the West. Much like Yu-Gi-Oh! R I suppose (whose artist then went on to create Cardfight Vanguard funnily). So all in all, this is a very odd comicalization.
But hey, odd is kinda my thing and my blog’s thing too so of course I bought it – in Japanese no less! Sadly though, since I bought the manga digitally on Bookwalker, I also didn’t get the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga cards – which is a shame, that would have been cool. Maybe you can get some through the English versions? Though I wouldn’t wanna buy these ones, they actually gave the characters dub names there. Disgusting and rephrehensible.
Now, as for the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga itself – is it a very good comicalization? It is not. The mediocrity of the GX anime aside, the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga doesn’t fare any better, albeit for very different reasons. However, it’s not without its merits. And since I have been sticking to this franchise for quite a while now, I feel like spreading my knowledge a bit – oh, and speaking of which, do you want to read more about the behind the scenes of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise? Then check out my translations for a Takahiro Kagami interview and one for the writers of Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters. Anyway, let’s move on!
What are the key differences between the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga and anime?
To understand what makes the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga better or worse than its anime counterpart, we must first address the core differences: First of all, most main characters are still left intact although several from the anime did not make the cut, most notably Hayato and Judai’s professor-turned-villain Daitoukouji. Instead, he’s replaced by Osiris Red’s female tutor and elderly sister figure to Judai, Midori Hibiki. This one is a bit of a standout character as she has a connection to Judai as well as the main plot, tries her hardest to shield him from evil and retrieve her brother from the grasps of darkness, not to mention she is also quite good at dueling as professors should be (contrary to what the GX anime has told us) and has the rare attributes of being female and an adult. She’s not great, mind you, but at least somewhere between functional and servicable and for this franchise’s spinoff works, that’s sadly the gold standard never to be reached again.
As it is befitting of a manga original story, the villain gallery is obviously a completely different one as Yu-Gi-Oh! plot is largely defined by its sets of villains to defeat. The Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga passes on Kagemarou, Saiou, Yubel and Darkness and instead brings us Tragoedia and his very own underlings from America’s Duel Academia counterpart, the elite students David Rabb and Reggie MacKenzie, returning alongside Duel Academia’s number one Ryou back from his trip over at America.
It becomes quite obvious very soon that neither of these have any good intentions and are out to hunt Judai’s Winged Kuriboh card for it’s unique in that it contains an actual duel spirit. However, much to their surprise, it’s not just Judai who has a duel spirit by his side – Manjoume does so too. Whereas anime Manjoume had the wacky Ojama trio however, the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga allocates the manga original Light and Darkness Dragon to him. As a duel tournament ensues to test the strength of both Academia’s students as well as David and Reggie, the two of them set out to rank top and fulfill their mission as they wreck havoc on Duel Academia’s grounds through Duels of Darkness.
I’m not sure what to make of the villain gallery here. I like their introduction and how the manga is keen on not reusing the anime’s bad guys. And David and Reggie can be quite fun, especially David with his haughty attitude. He also has an incredibly cool character design. Reggie meanwhile gets a surprisingly thorough presence in the story but unfortunately also a very half-assed and not very interesting one. I guess she does profit from being a female antagonist though, something Yu-Gi-Oh! is not known for. Once again, the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga treads some unconventional paths and while not too exciting in execution, I at least appreciate the more unorthodox concept.
This is something that perseveres throughout the entire Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga actually – it’s also tonally different from the anime. While it did retain the lighthearted setting and characters, it largely cuts the nonsense, so no dueling monkeys and other atrocities. Beyond character introductions at the start, the story isn’t episodic either. Everything is streamlined and has a purpose so it hardly resembles the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX you know and you certainly come to appreciate that at first, thinking to yourself what could have been – but it’s streamlined to the point where there is no room for the characters to breathe and all feels rather shallow.
I feel like Manjoume exemplifies this the best. Anime!Manjoume is a fan favorite for being the lovable underdog who went from being a stuck-up elitist asshole to just a half-elitist companion with some strong ambitions and core values but pretty much everyone agrees the anime way too often likes to take a dump on his competency and too frequently dismisses the cool underdog as a comedic loser character and kinda sorta demotes him as a rival even. The Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga does things differently – Manjoume is Judai’s rival, period. He is competent from the get-go. He is a serious duelist with a good track record, meaning to fight alongside his duel spirit to grow stronger. He also wins some duels you wouldn’t expect him to win and is tied into the main plot as a central figure while also being loosely affiliated with Judai’s backstory. Sounds great, eh? It’s just that, he doesn’t have much of a personality here so it’s hard to get excited.
Worse, Manjoume’s issues transcend his character and become representative of the entire manga. For instance, when Edo and the S3 transfer students make it into the manga, you’re supposed to be excited because you recognize them from the anime; not because they ever do anything outstanding or worthwhile in the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga. They really don’t. Character roles are shifted (though personalities mostly retained) but they don’t ever do anything outside of duels (not that “outside of duels” is a concept that exists in the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga) and lose all their buzz the moment they appear. So the problem with Manjoume plagues every single character here – just getting rid of the bad parts of the GX anime’s characterization unfortunately doesn’t make for good characters when there’s nothing else left.
Obviously, a new set of characters also brings along a new set of cards, unseen in the anime. But it’s not just the occasional Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga original characters who have different cards. Some have entirely different archetypes whereas others just have unique monsters to their archetypes. Asuka plays female ice monsters now and Misawa seems to be fond of youkai and such – whereas Judai still plays E-Heros but his anime deck only gets a flashback cameo and almost all of his cards are manga original. Same for Shou and Ryou (who has at least retained his Cyber Dragon).
Which brings me to the duels in general. Unfortunately, too many of the strategies consist of assembling a mass of monsters on the field to tribute summon them for a boss monster, many of them requiring three tributes even. A lot of these boss monsters turned out to be utterly weak even – like an 8 star one with an effect that it received 300 ATK per card in your spell/trap card zone. That is not a boss monster. That is rubbish. At one point there even was a four tributes-requiring monster with an effect of summoning two 2000 ATK tokens to your field. Why bother? Yet then there were spell and trap cards that let you switch your machine-type monster on the field with ANY in the graveyard and other such bogus and don’t even get me started on that one spell card that let both players draw three cards. T-H-R-E-E. What do we make of this hot mess?
What also pertains to the card battles in this franchise are duels with major stakes and the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga is no stranger to Games of Darkness. At this point, however, I must admit I have lost track of how these work and the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga is not helping. For starters, it just goes with the classic “players feel pain, also, their bodies dissolve according to their LP balance” shtick and doesn’t do anything other than that – which is bland. It’s also terribly inconsistent with it. In some duels, only some players lose their body parts for the entire duration of the duel. In others, none of them do. I mean, it’s a simple concept so why can’t the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga get it right?
Duels are also a lot shorter than their anime counterparts which has its upsides and downsides. On the upside, they are to the point and a lot of anime!GX’s duels just dragged on. You’re not wasting your time here. On the downside, however, not many of them are particularly memorable. Some for their outcomes certainly are as they are unique enough to pitch against the anime franchise and say “They really never do this aside from the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga“.
Granted, while a lot of the duels are predictable in terms of their outcomes, there is actually a surprising number of those that aren’t. Unfortunately, due to the entire manga being nothing but a sequence of duels with no room inbetween and characters suffering from a lack of characterization, it’s hard to care too much by the point the plot enters its final stage.
So let’s talk about the new set of supernatural boss monsters of the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga for a change – the Planet Series. Each planet gets a representative monster with a special effect. This is a take that I appreciated in concept a lot more than yet another generation of three legendary Gods and its Pokémon-esque bastardization of a concept that was cool precisely because it was iconic and not mass-produced. Sadly, however, since there are so many of them and they are just plain bad mostly, it’s easy to forget which character uses what planet card or what these cards do to begin with. That more or less defeats the purpose.
So once again, the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga makes some laudable attempts to distinguish itself by separating itself from the main weaknesses of the anime – but it doesn’t bring a lot to the table otherwise.
As you have noticed, that is the running theme of the manga here. Different but still not good. Unfortunately, I don’t think being unconventional on its own is much of a feat and the final duel location exemplifies that the best: A shed by the harbor. Yeah, I kid you not. I mean, it’s unconventional for sure but also anticlimactic. Which sums up this manga quite well if nothing else.
There are some points the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga has in common with the anime. For one, they both waste potential albeit for very different if not opposite reasons. The anime meandered around for more than half of its 180 episodes long run and turned out to be a wildly unfocused mess. The manga is very focused but loses characterization in the process and by the point you finish the penultimate volume it becomes blatantly obvious this will not finish on a properly paced note. I am positive this needed about four more volumes to cover the originally intended content and that is a blatant shame. Granted, it works out better than expected but the end result still leaves you hanging with most characters. On a hilarious sidenote however, remember the Ra Yellow head teacher from the anime whose entire point was that nobody knew who he was? He’s part of the manga! Not through an actual appearance but he does get name-dropped. Isn’t that nice, Kabayama?
Well, the same treatment as most of the characters unfortunately applies to the final villain as the plot of the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga alongside his backstory do tie in to Ancient Egypt and the Millennium Artifacts but only very thinly so. Even Yu-Gi-Oh! R’s villain did better. But it’s not like the anime ever had much of a good villain gallery either.
What else is there in terms of things the anime and manga have in common? Well, there is some nice pathos to the origin story of Winged Kuriboh in both versions. Yugi passing on the torch to the next generation in the anime through a modification of one of his most iconic legacy monsters was a nice touch. Kouyou being a world champion and teaching Judai the joy of dueling before losing his consciousness for a decade meanwhile gave Judai a not so iconic but still very somber backstory. It’s nice to see that Judai has some life and connections outside of being a duel machine at Duel Academia and that is the one time the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga brings along the human element and some kind of pathos into the game and I appreciated it very much. Kouyou isn’t around for long but he gives this manga a clear purpose, a start and an end point, a narrative bracket – something the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX anime barely ever had.
So, long story short, which is it? The Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga or the GX anime? At the end of the day, while both have their respective strengths and weaknesses, I’d like to say neither. Both are middling and, quite frankly, despite getting the occasional moment right, just not worth your time. This one just happens to be another rendition with a vastly different approach. But that is about the extent of it.
At the end of the day, the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga will remain a forgotten relic of the past of a far bigger franchise. For its deviations and relative obscurity, I suppose it’s worth a bit of recognition and quick glance – but there is no reason to dig any deeper.
Beyond the surface, there isn’t really all that much to be found. However, at the very least, an effort was made. That I can live with.
Final Verdict: Mediocre.