Shueisha’s Weekly Shounen Jump is defined by its battle manga; both of the mystical epic and tournament saga variety. But every now and then, something truly special would cut through the noise–a Death Note or The Promised Neverland, for example. In 2019, our MVP is Tatsuya Endo’s “Spy x Family”.
There is one thing we can all agree on: Every manga reader with good taste needs a waifu. More frankly, if the “r/manga” subreddit is anything to go by, what internet users go crazy for is a heartwarming, mutually supportive relationship between two characters. Unfortunately, it is as rare as a male protagonist who realizes that a girl loves him. With a handful of outliers like “Sweetness and Lightning”, “Bakaramon”, and “Yotsuba&!”, the adorableness of a child-rearing series is even less common. And, while we acknowledge the definite shift afoot in the shounen action manga arena towards greater character-driven works as the norm (rather than being exceptions), we still crave some good manga relationships.
In that scene, it’s no surprise Spy X Family manga books quickly became a phenomenon: The series is so determined to place itself at the crossroads of action and childcare that it’s literally in the title. And Tatsuya Endo doesn’t fall short on us: His story is a fortnightly balm to cure the hunger pangs of the manga reader starved of genuine pleasantness. For it absolutely whets the appetite.
Spy X Family Manga Books: A Summary
I’ve got to say, Tatsuya Endo really knows how to set the tone for the manga. On the very first page, we are presented with a scene of the three main characters having dinner. They seem like a normal, model family. As the narrator delivers a foreboding monologue about the secrets people keep to maintain that facade called “normal”, though, we turn the page to a splash illustration, revealing the dead bodies and defused bombs lying underneath the table. This theme and sense of humor never let up throughout the series, making it one of the year’s most enjoyable and unique reads.
So, picture this: You are someone who has absolutely zero knowledge about raising a child—or normal, healthy human relationships, for that matter. Then, you are forced to obtain a little girl and a wife in seven days, pretending like you three have been a real family for ages. Oh, and the child happens to be a telepath!
It’s exactly what Spy X Family’s protagonist has to deal with. Set in the Not Cold War Era in the countries that are Not West and East Germany, lies the city of Not Berlin called Berlint. In this city, tension is brewing. A dangerous politician named Donovan Desmond, along with his National Unity Party, is attempting to start a war between the two nations. The Not West Germany has to prevent this from happening. Lloy Folger (code name: Twilight), a top-notch spy, is summoned to stop the plan.
Twilight’s mission? To neutralize Donovan. The catch? Donovan only shows up at academy events his children attend. For Twilight to infiltrate the academy, his spy agency orders him to get married and have a child. That’s, of course, the most difficult thing he ever has to face.
In the world of manga and anime, it’s not usual to find one that’s set in the West. “Spy X Family” gives us a hilarious yet charming parody of post-war Berlin: Let alone the city names, the architecture and technology remind us of Central Europe in the 1950s. From the clothes to the cars, it’s such a beautiful world to dive into. Fans of spy fiction will be satisfied with the nod to the Cold War, with Twilight’s missions revolving around East and West “Berlint”. The comedy is on par with that other, much older Cold War-centric series “From Eroica With Love” (albeit without the homoromanticism), for those who remember its ill-fated English-language publication.
This is one of the things that draws readers to Tatsuya Endo’s iconic series. But that’s not everything. A unique setting alone cannot help the series win an Eisner Award and a Harvey Award within just three years of serialization. It cannot help Spy X Family reach the milestone of 18 million copies printed and sold in Japan. There has to be more to this massive hit.
Meet Loid’s Wonderful Family: Spy X Family’s Characters
“So what did Spy X Family do to become so popular? I think they were able to weave, really well, all the tropes that most people like. We have a badass assassin and a spy who happen to be wholesome parents and a cute kid with superpowers. Together, they create a happy family. The series really helps as a guide to the ‘perfect manga cast’ IMO. All the characters are so likable, and the dynamic between them is a joy to watch. ”
Redditor “the_one_and_only_OOF” just voiced out the biggest factor that makes the series soar: Its stars are special. Let’s admit it, the Spy X Family cast is one we’ve never seen in a shounen manga. Their personalities are wonderful, the “secrets” each of them keeps are intriguing, and the chemistry between them is absolutely enjoyable.
Don’t believe me? Here, I present to you the Forger family!
Loid Forger (Twilight)
Right off the bat, we are introduced to a spy known only as Twilight. His real name, as well as his background, are as clear as mud. Working as a secret agent, our protagonist is brilliant, capable, observant, and strong. What’s more, Twilight is indifferent and doesn’t look out for anyone but himself.
Mainstream enough, you think? We have seen other forms of media in which the main character has a clandestine occupation. Perhaps you are thinking, “We’ve got enough protagonists like this.” But manga lovers don’t share the same opinion. In Spy X Family’s first-anniversary poll result, put out by Weekly Shounen Jump, Twilight still ranked as the second-most popular character with 11,237 votes. Even on Reddit and Quora, you might still find countless users picking him as their favourite.
This is because his personality traits provide comical relief for the whole series uniquely and charmingly. You can see Twilight’s perfectionism as a spy when he struggles to keep everything running smoothly and protect his secret identity. Just as Redditor “Raymez” commented, this protagonist is the one with a huge mess in his mind: Family (more on that later!), planning the missions, dealing with fellow agents, and work (which, in this case, means “keeping world peace”).
That said, seeing Twilight try hard to fit into the roles of a perfect family man and a cold agent is distressing and hilarious at the same time. On each page, he has to take on a different role: You might see him as an awkward guy trying to ask a girl to go out with him in one second and a gentleman with a daddy vibe in the next. He suits everyone’s taste in a priceless sense, and it’s hard not to root for him.
Nonetheless, his cool and ruthless side is just a facade. Deep down, Twilight is a good person, despite his occupation. Having a tragic background, he chooses this path to make the world a better place. As the story progresses, our protagonist starts to become more human and connects with his true emotions.
All of that only happens after he receives a special mission that requires him to get married and have a child in 7 days. Twilight then adopts the fake name of “Loid Forger”, the fake occupation of a psychiatrist, and sets out to embark on this problematic task.
That’s where Anya comes along, a cute little girl with pink hair! Twilight adopts Anya because she seems brilliant and might be “useful” for his mission, but unbeknownst to him, she can read minds.
True hilarity begins here. Anya has known from the very start that her adoptive father is a spy and frequently reads his thoughts, which leads to endless misunderstandings and problems—a.k.a. humorous situations. Honestly, I think the telepathy ability is a huge reason Spy X Family makes such an appealing read. And to put the icing on the cake, Anya is a cinnamon roll. Not only does she say or do bizarre (and funny) things, she also adds a layer of cuteness to the manga. Between her shenanigans and sweet “familial” moments, this little girl will surely make you go “awwwww” nonstop.
But Anya isn’t just a moe blob: There is depth to her character— sometimes even too much for a six-year-old. Her telepathy seems like a metaphor for kids’ sensitivity to what goes on around them. This little girl reminds me of a stark truth: Kids can be more observant and perceptive than we may realize on a daily basis.
Yor Forger (Thorn Princess)
But wait, there’s more! As part of his mission, Twilight must also get himself a bride. Then, by some bizarre quirk of fate, he ends up getting Yor as his pretend wife.
Yor comes across as an aloof and socially-inept individual, interacting minimally with her coworkers and being rather straightforward. Due to her personality, her younger brother was worried that she would stay single forever and urged her to find a man. Thus, when Twilight asked her to pretend to be his spouse, she took the proposal and went along with it. Little does Twilight know that, under her shy attitude, Yor is secretly a contract killer. Yep, her codename is Thorn Princess, and, yep, she murders people for a living!
In the midst of combat, Yor’s personality changes completely: Let alone her striking character design as the Thorn Princess, she is just as smart and observant as Twilight, with incredible reflexes and physical ability. What sets her apart from other shounen heroines is that, in a complete idiosyncrasy, Yor is also extremely gullible. She is easily fooled by the ridiculous lies Twilight tells her to cover his true identity. Despite her intelligence and competence, Yor has a startling lack of common sense, as seen when she considers mass murder as a way of escaping embarrassing situations.
Personally, I think that’s what makes Yor fun to watch: She is a skilled assassin, but at the same time, she’s just a human. Due to her personality, Yor is mainly seen as a joke dispenser during the first half of Spy X Family, but we can sense something juicy in future arcs. There are a lot of mysteries about the Thorn Princess that haven’t been addressed, like the reason why she became a contract killer and the organization she is working for. Most importantly, fans of Spy X Family manga books are eager to see how the relationship between Twilight and Yor will turn out and how she will fulfil the role of Anya’s mother.
Why Should You Read Spy X Family Manga Books?
The Dynamic Between The Characters Is A Joy To Read
In the “Spy X Family Official Fanbook: EYES ONLY”, author Tatsuya Endo revealed no attachment to his current work’s characters. According to the author, his editor told him that “cool” characters like Twilight and “cute” characters like Anya are essential for the series’ popularity. Thus, Endo gave up on what he wanted to draw and drew what the world wanted to see.
Yet, as you previously saw, he managed to assemble a manga cast like no other. Twilight, Anya, and Yor – each of them are compelling in their own way. When placed together, though, they create a killer recipe for a chaotic dynamic. In the world of manga and anime, you can find all kinds of spies, assassins, and telepaths. But a dysfunctional family consisting of these three is pretty much unimaginable, especially when the world’s peace lies in the Forgers’ hands.
Each of them has their respective agenda and motivations: Twilight has to complete his mission, Yor needs the sham marriage to keep her assassin gig, and Anya just thinks it’s fun to have a spy and an assassin as parents. Despite having different goals, they join hands to protect the fake family and grow attached to each other in the process. It is equal parts comedic, heartwarming, and thrilling. Their struggle to get together and how the secret identities affect the mission remind us that maintaining and raising a family is indeed one of the world’s most challenging tasks.
Spy X Family Embraces It Ridiculous Set Up
Part of the series’ charm rests on how long everyone involved can keep up their act. They are all lying to each other. When will the truth be revealed? How are they going to react? And why on earth haven’t Twilight and Yor noticed that the people they live with are just suspicious? As long as these questions keep popping up, you won’t be able to stop reading.
Most of all, the author truly knows how to find humour in the collision between true identity and fake identity. Twilight might be an extremely capable agent, but none of his espionage training prepared him for fatherhood. Yor can slaughter multiple people without breaking a sweat, yet she doesn’t know how to navigate workplace petty gossip.
Ironically, Anya is the only one who knows what’s going on since she can read minds. But, of course, her understanding of it is limited since she is just a kid. With that, there are instances when Anya acts accordingly for the sake of the mission (even though her “help” tends to mess things up more than not. That doesn’t only give the series obvious entertainment value but also makes Anya more endearing and interesting as a character.
And if you think the main cast are the only characters with secrets (or hidden identities), think again! The journey ahead is still long, and plenty of mysteries are waiting for us to unravel.
A Welcome Change Of Pace
In recent years, some of the greatest series belong to the supernatural horror and fantasy genres. Just look at Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen for example: Both of them are filled with demons and epic fights. Even the upcoming Chainsaw Man follows a guy who makes a deal with the devil. While the premises lead to fascinating plotlines, readers need to slow down, too. Variety is the spice of life, as they say.
It would have been easy for Spy X Family to be as intense and dark. In fact, manga lovers wouldn’t expect a series about spies and assassins to be relaxing or wholesome. We often see the exact opposite. These occupations generally don’t attract sweet cinnamon rolls, but this series proves that anything is possible.
By putting together a spy, an assassin, and a telepath, Tatsuya Endo has brought to the table a unique concept, but at the same time, a rather risky one. Weaving these elements together could leave the work feeling strained and, hence, unbalanced. Fortunately, the author chooses to walk his own path: Instead of focusing too much on the action, he aims the episodic action toward strengthening the familial bonds. The plot of Spy X Family can transit smoothly from high-stakes, action-packed moments to serene at-home scenes of growth between our protagonists.
This allows the darker elements to fade into the background in favour of something more heartwarming. Just like Redditor “rynnikelddi” wrote, “you don’t have to worry about being overwhelmed”.
The variety of settings—home, school, office, street—also helps to keep the pacing and highlight the particular facets of this makeshift family. At first, I was concerned by the specific nature of Twilight’s mission: The restrictive limits of sending a child to school might stymie the plot. Nonetheless, Endo cleverly pivots the storyline, which allows all of his characters to take center stage. The series’ scope broadens, but the family unit remains intact, with each member having more of a spotlight.
An Outstanding Blend Of Drama, Action, And Comedy
The wholesome family drama doesn’t only keep the pace steady but also creates depth for the whole series, making readers emotionally invested. In Spy x Family, the key to drama is seen in Twilight and Yor’s backgrounds. Loid works as an agent because he doesn’t want other children to suffer from the tragic past he has gone through. Yor becomes a contract killer to raise her brother after their parents pass away. That’s why both of them strive to provide a normal childhood for Anya, even though Anya is not at all an average child.
Yes, that’s the main focus, but it doesn’t make Spy X Family less exciting than other action manga. Despite having a slice-of-life approach, every action scene shines brightly whenever it takes place.
This, in large part, is thanks to Spy X Family official art. When you first pick up some Spy X Family manga books, you might think Tatsuya Endo’s style is not unique. But, wait until you see the battle scenes!
It’s very tempting to say that Endo “animates” the action instead of drawing. He manages to infuse his work with a level of fluidity and motion that’s almost on par with the mastery Yusuke Murata reached in One Punch Man. As you go through the pages, you will find it effortless to convert each panel into a whole animation in your mind. There is a consistent sense of progression and movement that blurs the barrier between still drawings and fluid animation.
The result? Absolutely stunning battles! Whenever Yor cracks and moves to physically protect Anya or stop an assault; whenever Twilight infiltrates an area with an improvised Agent 47-esque disguise; whenever the family is in the midst of a fight, the action that follows is just astounding. Although Endo doesn’t focus too much on it, you will find yourself eager for the fight scenes so much that you can’t put down the book.
Last but not least, don’t forget the comedy element in Spy X Family. The protagonist trio is written with humour in mind from page 1: Their roles and distinct personalities mix into a perfect cocktail of comedy. Heartstring-pulling drama feeds into gut-aching humour, quickly followed by intense action. Tatsuya Endo juggles the 3 favorite genres to create a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and we can never get enough of it.
Is Spy X Family Anime Better Than Manga?
The Spy X Family anime was released back in November 2021, much to the amazement of manga fans. The hype is understandable: Readers have had a long and patient three-year wait for the adaptation to make it onto their screens.
Following the premiere of the show, numerous viewers have been sharing their opinions online. So, does the Spy X Family anime live up to the quality of the manga? Not the case, it seems.
Manga readers point out that the tone and energy haven’t quite carried over to the anime. “The energy isn’t exactly the same. I think part of that is the fact that the anime doesn’t seem to be going for a very zany visual style and some jokes that only work because they’re irreverent and fast-paced with hard cuts back to normalcy, which would become weird with the new tone if played exactly like the manga”, Redditor “Cyndrifst” explained.
Some internet users add that the anime adaptation doesn’t have the same vintage 1960s feel as Endo’s original work. According to Reddit user CendarVolht, she became less excited with the on-screen version of Spy X Family because “the animation doesn’t really fit the old school vibe”.
Spy X Family Opening By HIGE DANdism
What makes audiences disappointed the most, however, is how the adaptation cut off most action scenes. While not overly violent, the fans reported that the manga shied away from violence a lot less than the anime seems to be so far. Reddit user RiverRusher posted, “That proposal felt a bit too quick for me too and the fight scene prior also seemed more toned down and less intense than I expected.” That would be a shame, given that action scenes are one of Spy X Family’s strongest points.
Of course, the anime adaptation still manages to fulfil its role: Bringing our beloved characters to life. But if you want to enjoy this iconic series to the fullest, it would be best to grab some Spy X Family manga books and start embarking on the Forgers’ adventure!
Here It Comes, The New Golden Age Of Shounen Manga!
The most impressive thing about this new wave of Shounen manga is how genres are being blended, and boundaries are being pushed. We have witnessed the rise of Attack On Titan- a perfect blend of action and drama. We saw how Kaiu Shirai mixed horror, adventure, and sci-fi to make The Promised Neverland a phenomenon. Now, we have Spy X Family following in their footsteps.
There are only 6 Spy X Family manga books so far, and the journey has just barely begun. Yet, it is already proven that the series has what it takes to become iconic. It offers readers a perfectly blended antidote for apathy towards stale relationships and action, and we can barely wait for our fortnightly dosage. The euphoria you feel when reading this series could possibly kill you, but once you start, you will gladly embrace it.
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