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Review: Cirque du Freak: The Manga, Vol. 1

Okay, I confess! There are some popular teen fiction series that I have not read. Shocking, but true. Many times it’s not that I’ve been avoiding them because I don’t want to read them, but more because I don’t need to read them. The teens have already read them, so I need to know what they might like to read next. And that’s the rational I’m going to use when I tell you that I haven’t read any of the books in Darren Shan’s popular Cirque du Freak series. So when Yen Press sent me a copy of the manga adaptation, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was at that time that a coworker mentioned that her daughter, a high school senior, had just finished devouring the entire novel series. So I decided to review the manga without having read the novels and let Kendall review the manga as compared to the novels.

Cirque du Freak: the manga, vol. 1
Story by Darren Shan; Manga by Takahiro Arai
Rated: "T" Teen for Language and Violence; ages 13+
Yen Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-7595-3041-6
208 pages, $10.99

Snow’s review:
Darren’s love of spiders and his best friend Steve’s love of monsters will ultimately be their undoing. When they get a hold of a mysterious flyer advertising a "Cirque du Freak," a freak show, both boys are determined to go. But sneaking out to see the show turns out to be the least dangerous part of their adventure. Soon they are caught up in a shadowy world of mysterious creatures, confused by what is right and what is evil, trapped with no way out!

The first thing that struck me about this was how young Darren and Steve are drawn. Of course they are supposed to be grade schoolers, but I was still surprised and wondered if their young looking faces would turn off potential readers. Soon, though, I was caught up in the horrors and the grotesqueness of the story and the art began to appeal to me more and more. Close-ups of giant spiders and of bodies twisting dramatically to display the tormented emotions inside, all fit perfectly with the dark story. There was also just a touch of cartoonish black humor to the artwork, reminiscent of the popular manga series Soul Eater (also from Yen Press).

But the story was obviously just a first part. The manga is strong and holds together well, but even with that it still felt like it was just set up for the later volumes. I do think that the ending will compel readers to seek out the second volume. There are a lot of emotions at work in this title, which adds a nice touch of introspection to the horror. Foreshadowing is laid on with a light touch, just enough to be evident to close readers, but not so much as to be overly obvious. Middle schools that have readers who loved the novel series or who are looking for more horror comics would do well to consider this title.

Kendall’s review:
After reading the graphic novel Cirque du Freak, I discovered that the book is much more fitting for children on an elementary or middle school level. The story is engaging and keeps readers begging for more, yet the fact that there are images makes readers my age (18) not use their imagination. But the artwork pushes the minds of younger kids and helps them visualize the story and its many twists. The actual book on so many levels is better than the graphic novel but I did like the graphic novel. The art is detailed adn expressive and helps you understand the story better. The art is graphic, but on a G-rated level, which is good for all viewers. I recommend fans of the book read the graphic novel to stretch their limits and gain a better understanding of what the book is really about.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Yen Press.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.


  1. Esther Keller says:

    I like the addition of Kendall’s review, especially since it’s been so long since I read the first Cirque Du Freak (in prose). I have to agree that this was just a set up for later volumes. The beginning started out too slow and fortunately, picked up in the end.

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