I finished reading Naoki Urasawa's MONSTER late last year. Was probably the only manga I was willing to buy new and at full-price. I've put off writing a "review" of it ever since.
Whenever I attempt to review this manga, I have to keep reeling myself in from gushing over it. Not sure that this will be any different, tho, if I feel it heading in that direction... I'll run for the exit as quick as possible.
Naoki Urasawa's MONSTER is an eighteen volume manga released over the past few years by Viz Media as part of their "Signature" imprint (The Signature imprint is now also home to two other Urasawa titles, PLUTO and 20TH CENTURY BOYS... both of which I have not yet read. The Signature line got a price-hike, and I'm still weathering a rather tumultuous financial storm). Urasawa was also (at least partly) responsible for the anime MASTER KEATON, which I'm waiting to show up used at the local Bookman's.
Getting it out of the way right here, I feel strongly that MONSTER is one of the finest stories to EVER be told in/with sequential art (I've been reading comics for about 25 years too). There's layer upon layer of story and characterization, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure that I have the writery ability or talent to sum up ANY of those layers with any kind of precision or brevity (this IS a nearly 3,000 page story after all). I'm definitely the wrong guy to be reviewing this. The characters, besides the main handful are changed out rather often to keep things fresh, and to provide new insight to the story at large. I've never seen a writer have the ability to introduce bit characters every so often, equip them with a FULL back story, and make me care about their well-being. Even the characters that were written to be irritating actually felt whole. By the end of their arc, you knew WHY they acted the way they did, and could either empathize or reaffirm your disinterest.
The MAIN storyline of MONSTER is that of Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a brilliant young Japanese brain surgeon working in Germany (this takes place right around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall). He is chief surgeon of his department, and engaged to the daughter of the hospital head. Very early on, a decision is made by his superiors that cost a man Tenma was operating on his life (Tenma is pulled off the operation to operate on a local Mayor). Wracked with guilt, he vows to himself never to let himself get pulled away from an operation again. Shortly afterwards, a young boy is rushed to his table with a bullet in his head. Tenma is once again pulled off the surgery to work on a higher profile patient. Tenma refuses, saving the boy's life.
The higher profile patient dies, and Tenma is run thru the wringer by his superiors, his fiancee leaves him, and he is quickly demoted. He sits at the side of the young boy's (who is still comatose) bed, and starts talking to the boy about his troubles. Over the next few days, everybody he had a problem with, was killed. Then, the boy disappears.
Those are the first few chapters, and I'm sure I didn't do them justice. From this point, we flash forward about a decade... and the boy who's life Tenma saved has become a "Monster", a serial killer with a small nearly cult-like following that helps him do his bidding. Tenma is a wanted man, for several murders and is on the run. He's also looking for the boy, now man (his name is Johan) to clear his name.
This is a "seinen" manga, meaning it's marketed for adults (it does feature several mature themes, nothing too outrageous tho). This is probably why it hasn't gotten the kind of lip service as the Death Note's and Bleach's that are marketed to teens-young adults. The fact that there's very little mature anime on TV anymore is probably the reason that this has not yet been licensed for DVD release in North America.
I'm sure I'd ventured into the gushing side above, but it's all good. I'm no professional manga-reviewer anyway. This manga is definitely worth your time, is easily found in bookstores, comic stores, online (they're super cheap at DCBS - Discount Comic Book Service), or for a try-out I'm sure you can procure a few of the chapter scans online all webcomiclike. Just remember, you read right to left.