WARNING: The following contains spoilers through to Chapter #171 of Black Butler by Yana Toboso, available in English now from Yen Press.
Black Butler recently celebrated its 30th reprinting of the manga's first volume. This major milestone serves as a timely reminder of the cult series' continuing popularity -- even if it has fallen somewhat under the radar. Despite the lack of new anime episodes since 2014, fans who might have fallen off the series since then may be surprised to learn that the Black Butler manga is still ongoing after almost 15 years with seemingly no end in sight.
Though Black Butler started as a serialized narrative about Ciel Phantomhive's desire to exact revenge for his parents' death, that overarching plot has taken a backseat to case-by-case mystery arcs. Because of this, theoretically, the series could continue indefinitely until Yana Toboso decides to stop, which means we'll be reading about Ciel and his demon butler Sebastian for many years to come. But what makes Black Butler so beloved that it's still seeing so much success after more than a decade?
Why Black Butler Remains Popular
Black Butler is a strange little mix of gothic fantasy, dark comedy and a whodunnit mystery all rolled into one. Set in Victorian-era London, Toboso does a brilliant job of creating a deeply unsettling atmosphere in the storytelling and artwork. Violence and death are treated in a manner that's simultaneously blasé, humorous and serious.
There's something darkly charming about Ciel, the young, somewhat childish Earl who has a demon for a butler. Despite hungering for his master's soul, Sebastian devotes himself to play the part of the perfect butler to the fullest. Ironically enough, Sebastian is the least likely character to betray Ciel, mostly due to the terms of their contract making him physically unable to do so. This unlikely duo has learned how to work together, and they've become awfully popular with BL shippers.
What makes Black Butler so entertaining is how seamlessly it meshes humor with gore. The first episode of the anime perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the series. From Sebastian casually remarking that they'll be having a guest for dinner to the 'board game' Ciel plays against the guest and his final demise, Black Butler established itself as the dark comedy to watch out for in the late 2000s.
The Manga's Biggest Twist Changed Everything
Four years ago, Chapter 129 completely changed the future of the Black Butler manga with one major plot twist: the Ciel Phantomhive readers knew and loved was actually not Ciel. He's the younger twin brother of the real Ciel who got sacrificed in the ritual that summoned Sebastian. After three years, older Ciel is back as a Bizarre Doll, thanks to the Undertaker. Undertaker prides himself on creating a perfect Bizarre Doll since most of his creations are merely walking corpses and older Ciel has returned, more or less, to his former self. However, older Ciel is extremely weak and relies heavily on blood transfusions in order to go about his day.
Unfortunately, younger Ciel can't remain at the Phantomhive manor anymore since his older brother has framed him for the Sphere Music Hall crimes. But he has a plan: if he knows his brother as well as he thinks he does, older Ciel would have more facilities for blood transfusions. Once Ciel destroys them, he'll be able to go head-to-head with his brother and regain his rightful place as the Earl of Phantomhive. As of this writing, the Phantomhive household is currently teaming up with Lau and Ran-Mao. With one facility dismantled by Mey-Rin and Ran-Mao, Ciel is one step closer to facing off against his older brother.
One Hell of a Legacy
With all the new narrative avenues opened up by recent plot twists, it doesn't seem likely that the manga will end anytime soon. Even if the two Ciels battle it out to see which one remains, there's still the matter of the contract. Since the contract between Ciel and Sebastian details that it ends once Sebastian helps Ciel get his revenge, he still has to figure out who was the one behind his family's demise, which means we still have a lot of Black Butler ahead of us.
Black Butler's success over such a long period of time is truly a remarkable feat. The series isn't as popular now as it was when the anime was first airing, but the fandom is still going strong, and they'll be there for when Sebastian says his last "Yes, my lord."