Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead is a seinen horror-comedy manga by Haro Aso and Kotaro Takata that provides a fresh perspective on the zombie apocalypse genre. Even if you're sick and tired of zombies, this manga's intelligent character development and fun sense of humor might just win you over.
The opening pages place the reader inside the filthy apartment of a 24-year-old Japanese office-worker named Akira Tendo. From the first scene of him watching zombie movies at 4 a.m when he has to wake up for work in just a few hours, it's clear his life is a mess. What brought Akira to this low point in his life?
The manga answers this question with a flashback three years into the past. A bright-eyed younger Akira landed a new job fresh out of college, but his expectations were immediately dashed when he is faced with the grim reality of working for a "black corporation" (an exploitative company that violates labor laws). It's darkly comedic but still a rather depressing look into a serious social problem. Readers outside Japan might not be facing the exact same conditions, but abusive jobs are common enough around the world for this to be all too widely relatable.
Of course, this is a zombie apocalypse story, so naturally, the whole world starts going to hell. However, what makes Akira so unique as a protagonist in this destruction doesn't give him despair, but joy. Japan's thrown into chaos and society's collapsing, but now Akira doesn't have to work. He can finally make up for the years stolen from him by his crappy job. It's time for him to start adding and crossing off items on his bucket list.
Despite Akira's gleeful ignorance and the positive idea of making up for lost time, the manga still maintains the look and feel of a grim zombie story. A lot of the backgrounds have an intense saturated look to them, while characters have sharp, bold designs that offer effective contrasts in each panel. Takata's artwork makes extensive use of scratchy or grainy overlays that aid in making the zombie-infested world look authentic. Everyday settings like offices and Akira's small apartment are simple, but the zombies are appropriately terrifying.
As for the living characters, Takata does a great job in the early pages of drawing the exhausted expressions of Akira and his co-workers. The art conveying the notion that these people are practically zombies themselves, pulling constant overnighters to meet the rigorous demands of their job. All the human characters have distinctive designs, though some get a bit overtly fan service-y.
Zom 100's twist on well-worn tropes is a welcome deviation from the dark, depressing tone that other zombie media like The Walking Dead excel at, and should appeal to fans of "zom-coms" like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. The world might be bleak, but there's plenty of laughs to be had. Whether or not this tonal balance stays consistent in future volumes remains to be seen, but for now, it's fun to follow Akira as he tackles his post-apocalypse bucket list.