If you've ever been a fan of monster-collecting franchises (Pokémon, Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Monster Rancher, whatever a Beyblade is supposed to be), you've undoubtedly had conversations about what they'd be like if they were a little darker, a little more grown-up. This kind of complaint can seem annoying at first because stuff like Pokémon is escapism; I want to see Ash Ketchum and Pikachu exploring and catching Pokémon — I don't want to know what Ash's second divorce is like.
That said, if the idea of a more "mature" version of these series makes you curious, then I'm happy to inform you that these more adult versions already exist for Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! in the form of manga. But a grittier world isn't all you get in these series. You also get loads and loads of outright horror.
Because, on manga pages, these aren't just stories about young kids and their colorful monsters; these are stories of mutilation and torture and psychological torment. You still gotta catch ‘em all, though.
So, I've decided to explore the five most horrifying elements of these stories you'll find while leafing through the pages of and experiencing Pokemon Adventures and Yu-Gi-Oh!. And, yes, "experience" is the right word. "Reading" doesn't begin to describe the nightmare that these books can become.
The kindest character in Pokémon will use your PTSD against you
In Pokémon Adventures, you learn pretty quickly that trainers are also in danger of being harmed during Pokémon battles. In the anime, the trainers just usually stand around pointing fingers, and in the game, I assume I'm just eating a sandwich off to the side while my army of beasts decimates all who oppose me. But in the manga, the protagonist Red is constantly one second away from being impaled or roasted alive by rivals' Pokémon. As it turns out, laser-shooting demons don't necessarily control their attacks as much as they let it all out and hope their opponents are somewhere in the surrounding area.
It happens so much that everyone just kind of accepts it, but that doesn't make it okay for you to use Pokémon to ignite someone's PTSD. During the Pokémon League finals, Green, the female protagonist of the manga, goes up against the mysterious Dr. O, who is obviously Professor Oak with a sash tied loosely around his head. In fact, the most surprising thing about the reveal that O is Oak is the fact that Oak is jacked. When that dude isn't in the lab, he apparently spends all of his time bench pressing all of Pallet Town, because he's one of the few people in the manga to develop muscle tone — and he developed it in spades.
During the manga's battle, Oak has his Spearow fly close to Green because he knows that, when Green was a child, a large bird Pokémon attacked her. So she developed a lifelong fear of flying Pokémon. In this manga, the same guy who asks you, "Are you a boy or a girl?" at the beginning of the games and can't even remember his grandson's name is willing to play intense mind games and arouse past psychological traumas in order to prove a point. And that point is "Don't steal." Green stole a Pokémon from Oak, so, to teach her a lesson, he re-subjects her to the most mentally damaging moment of her life.
Every character in Yu-Gi-Oh! is absolutely evil
Remember how in the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime, Yugi starts off with a close group of friends that all want nothing more than to watch him play card games for hours? It's a pretty perfect scenario, if you ask me. I would love to have three people follow me around all day saying, "Good job! You're such a genius!" whenever I beat a new Fire Emblem level.
Yeah, it's not that way in the manga at all.
Yugi has one friend, a girl named Anzu, who only seems to enjoy Yugi's company sarcastically, and the two guys that accompany him in the anime begin their manga stories as awful bullies. The first time you see them, they're stealing something from Yugi. And a few chapters later, Yugi defends their bullying with, "They were teaching me how to be a man!" C'mon, Yugi. Seriously?
And that's about as good of a character arc as you're gonna get in the early Yu-Gi-Oh! manga because everyone else is so ridiculously terrible that they have no room left for any other personality traits. The school hall monitor is nine feet tall and beats up Yugi's bullies. He tries to get Yugi to pay him for the "service," and then beats up Yugi when he doesn't pay. In the very next chapter, a TV director that looks like an Evil Alternate Universe Kevin Smith hires someone to beat up Yugi and then beats up Yugi's friend Jonouchi himself. Most of the school curriculum is devoted to finding ways to kick the sh*t out of Yugi between classes.
And so it goes on like this until Seto Kaiba is introduced and the series focuses on something other than punching the lead character over and over again. But all of these bad guys don't get off scot-free. Because Yugi can be equally vicious.
Yu-Gi-Oh's games often end with eternal suffering
The American version of the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime makes it clear that the card game is the number one obsession of everyone in the world. People can't get through a conversation about the weather without at least one offer to duel. And that's why the manga might be jarring for first-time readers, as, in the beginning, no one really talks about the card game that made the franchise famous. Instead, the only games are "Shadow Games," which are basically just Dark Yugi (Yugi's taller, supposedly Egyptian alternate personality) finding excuses to punish bad people in ironic ways.
Remember that giant hall monitor that I talked about in the last entry? Dark Yugi challenges him to a game where you put a stack of money on your hand and stab the stack as hard as you can with a knife. You obviously want to stab pretty hard, as you get all the money that you stab, but you don't want to stab so hard that you cut into your own hand. The hall monitor, ignoring the obvious solution of just beating up Yugi again, agrees to play. He then tries to stab Yugi, and Yugi subjects him to an illusion where the hall monitor thinks that he's surrounded by money, but is actually just playing in the garbage. We have no idea how long this illusion is supposed to last, so until he shows up again, we just kind of assume that he starved to death next to that trash can.
The TV director? Yugi blinds him...
The murderer? Yugi burns him alive in front of dozens of people...
Some jerk at school? Yugi drives him insane after forcing him to listen to his own thundering heartbeat forever.
The weirdest part is that it's not like Dark Yugi is some kind of wish fulfillment fantasy for Yugi. Yugi's main reaction to any kind of problem is "That's not nice!" So Dark Yugi ends up being like some people are when they drink a certain kind of alcohol: "Don't give me tequila. I become a different person when I have tequila." Except, in the case of Yu-Gi-Oh!, that different person is a vengeful psychopath. I vote that we change Dark Yugi's name to Tequila Yugi from now on.
There's an insane amount of violence
You ever wanted to see what a Pokémon looks like when it's been cut in half? No? TOO BAD. POKEMON ADVENTURES MANGA TO THE RESCUE! (?)
Pokémon Adventures is both a fun narrative that takes place in the Pokémon world and an unsettling dissection of the Pokémon anatomy. And by that, I mean that there are a few actual dissections, like when Red and Blue go into Pokémon Tower and tear their way through some Pokémon corpses.
The game is all like, "In Pokémon Tower, my beloved Pokémon's spirits are resting peacefully." But then the manga bursts through the wall like the Kool-Aid man and screams, "NO THEY'RE NOT. THEY'RE UNDEAD AS HELL. CHECK IT."
There's even a Mewtwo arc in which we see that, due to the scientist Blaine using his own DNA to help create Mewtwo, he's now got a mutated arm that looks to be dripping everywhere.
A big part of the Pokémon Adventures manga is illustrating things that are only hinted at in the games. For instance, Mewtwo is still a genetic experiment in the game and anime, but we never get all of the grimy details about how Mewtwo was created. The manga shows us that, at one point, he was half-completed (read: half gross goop). I'm not sure how cloning works exactly in real life, but I'm curious to see if there is a stage where most of the cloned creature is just a puddle.
Yu-Gi-Oh! also has some ridiculous gore, with the best of it coming from Maximillian Pegasus having his Millennium eye ripped out of his head. This, of course, kills him because, as the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga has shown us so far, it takes no prisoners. Nothing happens to a bad guy unless it's the absolute worst thing that could happen to them.
Pokémon can watch you while you take a dump
Even people in the Pokémon world need to use the bathroom, and their Pokémon are forced to see them do it every time.
Early in the manga, we see that Pokémon can see out of their Pokeballs, which means they know everything their trainer has ever done. Every crap, every swear, ever intimate moment, those Pokémon have seen it all.
They are always watching and always judging.
So if the Pokémon ever try to take over, it's not because they're reclaiming their natural place in the ecosystem. It's because they were tired of watching you in the bathroom.