Naruto meets the Ghostbusters (or D.Gray-man, whichever way your supernatural flag swings) meets Harry Potter is the way I would characterize this manga…though that is really underselling what it is.
Atsushi Okubo’s Soul Eater manga (which was adapted into a 52 episode anime, but that still only really covered half of the story) is about kids (who operate in pairs, technicians who wield their weapon-shifting partners) who are out to collect evil souls that are out in the world. They train at the academy, and once a weapon has collected 99 evil souls and 1 witch’s soul it turns into the ultimate weapon, a weapon strong enough and good enough to be wielded by the Grim Reaper himself.
The Grim Reaper who when you first meet, is pretty much the exact opposite of what you expect.
The story focuses on three pairs of technicians/weapons and their story as they learn about the dark beginnings of the school. Kind of standard stuff really, but the joy is the characters and the art. Each of the kids, from Maka to Soul Eater, to Death the Kidd, to his dad, are people you want to be on the page all the time, but alas, there is only so much space that can be occupied on the page. While there is an overall plot that the kids fall into, the manga tries to take time to focus on the other kids, and even some of the secondary characters, and the instructors as well. It really does give a strong Naruto vibe, but manages to avoid being a complete clone of it by sheer dint of storytelling style.
While Naruto focused on the backstory, the kids are fresh-faced and their whole adventure is discovering the backstory, which not everyone gets, and it feels far more fast-paced and more joyful than Kishimoto’s series (which was great, but there were times it went dark).
Don’t get me wrong, the revelations are haunting, and that final battle is epic, but tinged with sadness at the same time, but it is all worth it.
Then there’s the art, which is primarily this really nice cartoonish vibe, basically Warner Bros meets anime aesthetic, but then goes into full-on manga brutality when it needs to, especially with Black Star.
It is a quick series to read and while I was sad it ended, it ended in a mature manner, something I can appreciate, and made me feel that I grew up along with the kids as well.
(I also want to point out that this had one of the catchiest opening songs in recent memory, check it out!)