If you’re done with action-adventure manga titles and want something more hard-hitting, you may want to consider exploring the survival genre. Here are our 15 must-read survival manga titles. Enjoy!
It’s common to see manga plotlines where characters get roped in a game of death. And for the readers’ entertainment, these characters experience endless despair, only to succeed in a sick twist of fate.
In Darwin’s Game, we see the protagonist Kaname Sudo accept an online invitation to play an app game, only for it to turn into something extremely real and dangerous, often leading to life and death fights.
They’re not entirely unassisted, though, as they get different powers that they can use to fight other people. The protagonist, with his power, is able to win every match so far and is determined to clear the game. He even plans to kill the one pulling the strings behind the scenes.
The first volume is available on Amazon, but unfortunately they only have the Japanese version. You can see the Japanese version here: Darwin’s Game
14. Humanity Has Declined (Romeo Tanaka, 2011 – 2012)
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, where there are hardly any humans left, this manga series follows the protagonist, a girl who serves as a mediator between her race and fairies. Since human civilization has regressed, the number of humans continues to decrease, so the fragile relationship with the fairies could be the only thing keeping them from disappearing.
The problem is, these fairies are mischievous and will often cause trouble to the protagonist. She’s the only person who knows how to create sweets, so this is what she’s using to appease and control the fairies.
It’s hard to make sense of the whole story with just a short description. Still, when you spend your time reading this title, you’ll understand the dynamics between the characters and how their interactions help keep the humans from completely getting wiped off the face of the planet. It is a struggle for survival, though we have the mediator and her sweets to be thankful for.
Check out the availability of volume 1 (Japanese edition) on Amazon here: The faded one humanity [Japanese Import]
13. Vinland Saga (Makoto Yukimura, 2005 – Present)
This manga takes a page off of history books, as it follows the lives of Vikings in Iceland. There’s betrayal, there’s conquest, and most of all, everyone’s skilled enough to fight and kill just about anyone. It’s a smorgasbord of survival elements, and you won’t get bored reading it, even knowing that it’s loosely based on historical characters and events.
You can find volume 1 on Amazon here: Vinland Saga 1
Many survival manga titles revolve around an alternate world, where characters are transported from the real world to a parallel or even a game world. That’s what happened with the characters in Alice in Borderland, where people are playing life-or-death games as if it were a normal thing to do.
Without delving much into the details, this manga is a game of wit and pure tenacity. It’s solving playing puzzles in escape rooms over and over again; only with this, once you get eliminated, you’re dead.
You can find the 18 volume set (Japanese edition only) on Amazon here: Alice in Borderland 18 Volume Set (今際の国のアリス コミック 全18巻完結セット) (少年サンデーコミックス)
11. Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers (Ishio Yamagata, 2012 – 2014)
Imagine getting chosen by the goddess to subdue the demon lord along with five other heroes, only to find yourself in a game of hide-and-seek when an extra hero turned up. Undoubtedly, one of you is a spy, and you have to prove to others that it’s not you.
What started as a promising adventure slash demon-slaying story became a mystery-solving survival game. One of you surely has bad intentions, and if you’re not careful, you could easily lose your life from any of these powerful individuals. And with the threat of the demon army invasion, your survival clock is already ticking.
Check out volume 1 here on Amazon: Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, Vol. 1 (manga)
Ousama or King’s Game is just what the title suggests: it’s a game where you follow a king’s command. For this manga title, though, the rules are more complicated than that.
Imagine playing this game with all your classmates and friends. Fun right? Well, tell that to the characters in the story. You see, an entire class of high school students starts receiving messages on their cellphones from a “King.”
At first, the messages are simple and easy to follow, but the commands get more difficult to follow as the story progresses. Some are borderline violent or criminal, and some will expose others’ secrets. If you don’t follow or fail to execute the command, the punishment is death.
You can check out volume 1 on Amazon here: King’s Game Vol. 1
9. Btooom! (Junya Inoue, 2009 – 2018)
Even before shooting games became accessible for many gamers, many are already open to the idea of fighting and killing one another online. It’s all fun and games until you wake up one day without any recollection of what happened before and that you’re trapped in a game-like setting where you need to kill actual enemies to survive.
For Btooom! though, you’re not merely trying to shoot enemies using guns. You’re trying to blast them to smithereens, thus the onomatopoeic title. It’s not your typical shooting/war games as you don’t need a steady aim or a high-caliber rifle. It’s more about strategy, figuring out where your enemies are hiding, and luring them to your bombing range. If that’s not ‘survival’ enough, I don’t know what is.
The first volume is available for purchase on Amazon here: BTOOOM!, Vol. 1
Imagine waking up in a world where every human on the planet was turned into stone after a mysterious catastrophic event. Would you roam aimlessly and try to live off the land like a prehistoric nomad? Or would you try to fast-track progress using your knowledge from the “modern world” of the past?
This manga tells us how a group of people tries to rebuild civilization through science and other modern world knowledge and advancement. It’s also a good thing that they discovered how to undo the petrification of others to add more survivors to their group. Of course, some want to keep the world petrified, and they possess the knowledge of turning people to stone, so it’s a constant push-and-pull between the two groups of people.
You can find the first volume of this series on Amazon here: Dr. STONE, Vol. 1
7. Girls’ Last Tour (Tsukumizu, 2014 – 2018)
Well, throughout the story, they’re the only characters we see, and aside from minor characters they meet along the way, the focus of the series is really on them. And their Kettenkrad, a half-track motorcycle that carries all their essentials and serves as their mobile home.
Most of the story shows the hardships of searching for food and supplies and surviving in general. They are tested by the weather, the terrain, and the environment, among others. It is a story of survival, told through the eyes of cute little girls.
You can see the first volume on Amazon here: Girls’ Last Tour, Vol. 1
6. Made in Abyss (Akihito Tsukushi, 2012 – Present)
And you’re not wrong–this title is full of survival elements, like getting lost in a strange place, exploring alone, with only a robot as your companion, and following the footsteps of your mother who sent you a message saying they’re waiting for you at the bottom of the abyss. In some places, that’s irresponsible parenthood. But in this story, it’s a recipe for adventure (or disaster, you never really know).
Made in Abyss is a total page-turner and will keep you glued in until you’re done with an arc. The characters are very likable, and their attitude towards exploration makes you want to root for them to succeed.
Check out the first volume here on Amazon: Made in Abyss Vol. 1
5. School-Live! (Norimitsu Kaihō, 2012 – 2019)
Like most of the survival titles in this list, School-Live follows a handful of high school girls as they spend their days at school as members of the School Living Club. Readers are initially shown their everyday activities, like attending classes, eating lunch together, cleaning up after school, and more.
But as the story unravels, we see that they’re not staying in school by choice–they’re holed up in there while the rest of the city is ravaged by a zombie apocalypse.
One of their classmates is stuck in a delusion that everything’s still normal, their classmates and teachers are all alive, and no flesh-eating monsters are roaming outside their premises.
Transitioning from the delusional classmate’s perspective to everyone else’s grim reality is a blast in terms of the survival element. It’s a unique take on the overused zombie genre, giving the readers a more intimate look at relationships between survivors and how they’re able to keep the “peace” and normalcy for a dear friend’s happiness.
You can find the first volume on Amazon: School-Live!, Vol. 1
4. Attack on Titan (Hajime Isayama, 2009 – 2021)
Attack on Titan may be a mainstream title, but it’s not fair to leave it out of this must-read survival manga list just because of its fame. It’s because the theme of this manga really fits the genre, especially with how well it was wrapped up just this year.
With life as we know it about to be wiped off the face of the planet, the will to survive of most of the characters must prevail to have a very contentious “happy” ending. We all know the story of how man-eating monsters have ravaged the lands, but the challenge was how mere human beings could survive with them around, let alone defeat every last one of them.
So if you still haven’t started reading Attack on Titan, now’s the perfect chance to start because the whole series has already wrapped up, and you can binge everything in one go (even if that’s not humanly possible).
Volumes #1-12 are available as a set on Amazon. You can check it out here: ATTACK ON TITAN BOOK SET ‘s 1-12
3. Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest (RoGa, 2016 – Present)
A bullied main character standing up to his tormentors is a common theme in manga. Arifureta takes it up a notch by making the bullied protagonist undergo a transformation that makes him quite overpowered.
Bullied because of his closeness with the class idol, the main character immediately got betrayed by one of his classmates when they were transported to a fantasy world. To make things worse, he didn’t get any useful magical powers, just the ability to use alchemy and transmute solid materials.
With a thick plot armor, he survives. He’s resolved to do whatever it takes to become stronger, including eating his enemies to acquire their power. What helped him fast-track his revenge was meeting and saving an imprisoned vampire, as well as other beautiful and powerful characters who made his ascent to power more bearable.
The main character’s willpower is his main asset, allowing him to survive and thrive, even when he started from the depths of a hellish dungeon.
You can find volume 1 on Amazon here: Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest (Manga) Vol. 1
2. The Rising of the Shield Hero (Aiya Kyū, 2014 – Present)
Summoned alongside the sword, spear, and bow heroes, the shield hero was shunned for his lack of offensive power. When they were choosing teammates, he was even seduced by the kingdom’s princess and was framed and stripped of all his belongings. He was banished with no supplies and assistance, so he has to start literally from the bottom to become the hero he was destined to be.
There’s nothing like a good revenge slash survival tale, and this manga serves that and more. The protagonist works hard, assembles his team (more like a harem of sorts) of strong, non-human slaves-turned-party members.
You can buy volume 1 of this series on Amazon here: The Rising of the Shield Hero Volume 01
1. Berserk (Kentaru Miura, 1989 – Present)
He’s out for revenge, he’s fighting against a very powerful enemy, and he’s trying to save loved ones. All the elements you want in a full-fledged survival title are in here.
Coincidentally, survival is probably Gut’s middle name. He’s been tortured mentally, physically, and emotionally, and he still hasn’t given up. Every place he goes to is always a new challenge, and he’s guaranteed to get hurt or lose a fight or two before figuring out how to pull out a win.
Check out volume 1 on Amazon here: Berserk, Vol. 1
That wraps up our list of 15 must-read survival manga titles. These are all nail-biting, page-turning stories of betrayal, revenge, adventure, and exploration. If you have more titles to recommend under this genre, feel free to chime in in the comments!