The Promised Neverland Is the Suspenseful, Well-Written Manga You’ve Been Looking For

Promotional header for the Promised Neverland, depicting the three main characters in white uniforms, neck tattoos barely visible above their collars.

Emma with main characters Norman (left) and Ray (right). Viz Media

The Promised Neverland. After deciding to read this manga because of a friend’s recommendation, I knew it would be good, but nothing could’ve prepared me for how good. The chapter one plot twist grabbed me by the throat and punched me in the gut. Almost every chapter since has been highly suspenseful; dialogue is full of tension and plot seems to execute flawlessly. Normally I’m not the type of person who enjoys thrillers, but it only took that one chapter for me to become fully invested in the story and characters. The Promised Neverland is just that good, and to preserve the reading experience of this manga, my review will reveal as little information as possible.

The Promised Neverland follows the story of main character Emma and her friends Norman and Ray. Chapter one presents them as happy orphans living with their “mom” and “siblings” at Grace Field Orphanage. As a reader, you immediately understand the scene being presented is deceptive, and your first clue is the narration. Emma talks about this perfect happy life in the past tense, as if her future self is somewhere far away recounting sunny days in a place she loved, which is shown below. The other hint is the numbers tattooed on the children’s necks. I had my guesses (which will not be shared here), but none were correct. As a reader, it made me feel helpless to see the façade of Emma’s perfect life, knowing any moment that façade would come crashing down. The way the text boxes are laid out over what’s being depicted intensifies this effect. There was no choice but to press forward and wait for the other shoe to drop. When the first chapter concluded, feeling both awed and disturbed, I immediately moved on to chapter two.

Panels from chapter one. Emma: "Delicious food. A warm bed. An all-white uniform. And . . . Our I.D. number on our neck. . . . Was normal to us. Everything here . . . I never doubted that . . . for ten years, this was our ordinary daily life."

The Promised Neverland chapter one, where Emma describes her perfect life. Viz Media

The manga goes out of its way to establish everyone living at the orphanage as smart, and the three main children as genius tacticians. They’re even tested daily to rate their intelligence level, which is revealed in chapter one. This premise is the perfect setup for a story where logic is highly valued and mind games abound. People have even hailed The Promised Neverland as “the new Death Note” because of how smartly it’s written.

The Promised Neverland does well avoiding the tropes which can be found in most other shōnen manga. Emma is bright-eyed, optimistic, and concerned about her family, but her highly logical outlook means she won’t act like other main heroes. These characters think before they act and carefully plan out their next moves. Emma has no catch phrases. Her uncanny intelligence aside, Emma seems more someone you’d meet in real life rather than a shōnen hero.

The manga also looks good, and its aesthetic can occasionally remind me of early Bleach panels. Whatever you may think of Tite Kubo’s story, the fact remains he was a master draftsman and the art was the strongest part of his manga. The Promised Neverland doesn’t look like it’s trying to copy Bleach, so I find the reminiscent flavor of Kubo’s artwork to be highly positive. To me, it shows that artist Posuka Demizu understands how to craft a story through the medium of manga.

The Promised Neverland also has the advantage of being completely different from what else appears alongside it in Weekly Shōnen Jump. The magazine boasts a couple of sports manga, traditional battle shōnen, gag manga, harem manga, and a smattering of others. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but nothing even comes close to giving off the same vibe as Neverland. I think this goes a long way to make the manga feel fresh because it isn’t trying to be like anything else. Emma is the magazine’s main female lead, and her presence makes me want to leap for joy. It’s not that I take issue with traditional shōnen heroes (truth is I adore them), but female characters are hard to come by in this genre, and often they are less dynamic than their male counterparts. Emma’s presence in the story isn’t defined by a role she must fulfill. She isn’t there for “fan service.” Emma is simply Emma, and the normality of her character isn’t something I take for granted.

Character writing in this manga is strong, and multiple viewpoints from both protagonists and antagonists give the reader a well-rounded experience. Author Kaiu Shirai is a master at using multiple viewpoints to create tension, rather than take away from it. Usually he waits until the motive of whatever character becomes clear to Emma before giving thought bubbles. I think this works incredibly well and can create some unexpected sympathy.

Color spread of Emma, Norman, and Ray, as well as the other children from The Promised Neverland

The Promised Neverland’s cast of strong characters help sell this fantastical story. Viz Media

There’s one more attribute The Promised Neverland has that must be addressed; it can both be binge read and read week-to week. This is due to the manga’s smart pacing, and isn’t an easy balance to execute. Every chapter gives a satisfying nugget or revelation for a weekly consumption, but doesn’t feel fast when read all at once. One evening, it captivated me so completely that I stayed up until two in the morning without noticing how much time had passed.

If you’ve never given manga a try, The Promised Neverland is great to start with. Every panel is laid out in a way that’s easy to read, and there’s just enough background to give you a sense of scope without overwhelming your eye. Viz has the first three chapters available to read for free, and I can guarantee you’ll only need one to get hooked. If you love manga or comics and have been looking for something unique to read, then this is it. The Promised Neverland delivers at every turn, and you’ll wonder why you hadn’t heard of it or read it sooner.

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