Many Shonen Jump-published manga go on to become massive global success stories. For every Dragon Ball, One Piece, Naruto and Bleach, however, there are just as many books that fall in through the cracks.
Some of these fail to catch too many eyes due to their questionable quality, but others are simply hidden gems that never get the credit they deserve. One manga in the latter category is Tegami Bachi, a 2006 series from Hiroyuki Asada. Featuring a well-developed world and cast, as well as a premise and art style that stood out from the crowd, Tegami Bachi had what it took to become a major hit. Here's what the series is about, why it's so good and where it can be enjoyed.
The Story of Tegami Bachi
The setting of the series is AmberGround, trapped in an eternal nighttime that's only tempered with an artificial sun. A common job in this universe is that of a Letter Bee, or delivery courier. This is the only way in which those in this semi-dystopian society can mass communicate, making the role incredibly important. The protagonist is Lag Seeing, a young man who's recently become a Letter Bee. Plaguing him and others in the role are the monstrous Gaichuu, who attack Letter Bees and eat the "hearts" that their letters contain.
Pretty much everything and everyone has these amorphous hearts, which are tied to human connection, emotion and hope. They're also used to create Shindan bullets, which are the only things that can kill the Gaichuu. Lag later learns that his idol and hero, Gauche Suede, has disappeared. Meanwhile, an uprising begins to foment that turns the general population against Letter Bees. Lag discovers Gauche's whereabouts and the threat coming to his town, with the truth threatening the very existence of AmberGround and its artificial sun.
What Makes Tegami Bachi So Good
One of the biggest draws for the series is how distinct it is from other shonen manga, particularly of its era. Though it definitely fits in a bit more with today's horror and adventure series, shonen in the late 2000s and early 2010s were dominated by more battle-oriented books. Instead, Tegami Bachi was a distinctly macabre series, focusing less on fights and more on developing its unique world. The fact that said world clearly isn't our own but also lacks overused tropes such as samurai, martial artists or ninja only makes it all the more refreshing. Moreover, the concepts it does feature are typically developed enough to be interesting beyond mere novelty.
Lag is also unique in how, despite some of his own secret abilities, he's a far weaker and less obviously heroic character than one would expect to headline a shonen manga. This characterization makes him an even better protagonist when the roles are reversed between him and Gauche. The series also has several other characters with unique personas and even more memorable names. More so than possibly even JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and Death Note, Tegami Bachi features names that make the characters instantly memorable -- if only for how ridiculous the monikers are. Examples of this include Zazie, Lloyd Largo and the motorcycle-riding Jiggy Pepper.
The series also has a strong sense of foreboding mystery, enhancing the spooky, horror-tinged atmosphere. Bolstering this is the fact that several elements in the series, from basic ideas like Hearts to character motivations, are not automatically made clear. The art and character designs also fit this grisly and not quite pristine tone, with the art sporting extreme contrasts between light and dark in the shading and the characters resembling those from a Western, or another such bygone era.
Where to Read Tegami Bachi
Tegami Bachi was originally published in Monthly Shonen Jump from 2006 to 2007 before being transferred to Jump Square, where it ran from 2007 to 2015. The English-language license was acquired by Viz Media, who published the series in Western markets through the Shonen Jump magazine. After 2010, the series was instead collected in 20 tankobon volumes. These volumes can currently be purchased through Amazon, Books-a-Million and Barnes and Noble. It can also be accessed through the Shonen Jump app.