One Piece, Naruto, Dragonball, One Punch Man, and Hunter X Hunter… Some of the most popular manga series out there focus on characters with the strongest battle power, but Naruto fighting in Nine-Tails mode or Luffy’s King Kong Gun attacks aren’t the only moments that can awe readers. Sometimes, Japanese manga can also showcase epic fights through wits alone!
On this list, we’ve rounded up some manga series with such battles, featuring main characters with unbelievable intellect! Check them out below:
1. Death Note
Death Note features one of the biggest battles of wits in manga and anime history. It tells the story of the righteous high school student Light Yagami who picks up a notebook that can kill a person just by writing down his or her name on its page. When Light uses this power to rid the world of criminals, a high-profile detective only known as L challenges him on a battle of wits where the loser will either be captured or killed.
What makes this manga a must-read is that it doesn’t focus on one genius character but two, who are both playing an elaborate game of chess. When you think that Light has the advantage, L makes his equally-brilliant counters and vice versa.
2. Detective Conan / Case Closed
Detective Conan has been around since 1996 and until now, the boy detective is still solving cases. The story revolves around the brilliant high schooler Shinichi Kudo who helps investigators solve cases with his promising deduction skills. When he crosses paths with a criminal group called the Black Organization, its members made him drink a capsule that was supposed to kill him, but instead, it turned the teenage detective into a young boy. Adopting the name Conan Edogawa, he tracks down the Black Organization to find a cure, while solving other cases along the way.
Its whodunnit aspect might be formulaic, but Detective Conan continues to tell interesting and dramatic stories through its two decades of existence. Plus, it tirelessly pumps out brilliant ways on how the culprits commit and conceal their crime, highlighting Conan’s deduction skills even more when he gets to figure out how they did it.
3. Dr. Stone
Now here’s a genius protagonist on a scientific aspect. In Dr. Stone, a strange phenomenon occurred where people from all over Earth have been petrified. Thousands of years later, the genius high school student Senku awakens to find that the progress of civilization had been eroded by time. With the help of his friend Taiju, Senku begins to rebuild civilization with tools from the Stone Age, while trying to find out the truth behind their mysterious petrification.
This manga offers an entertaining read incorporated with fun scientific facts and interesting experiments. But that’s not all, it also presents a conflict between two ideologies that we can expect to collide if our civilization is ever faced with the same dilemma– the idea that the strongest must rule, and the belief that science and our intellect must still be superior.
4. Liar Game
Liar Game features yet another genius main character, Shinichi Akiyama, and thrusts him into a game that’s all about lying and deception. The story begins with the honest lady Nao Kanzaki who is forced to join the titular tournament, Liar Game. The contest is comprised of games where the winner can win millions, while the losers will be left with huge amounts of debt. When Nao is deceived by a former teacher into giving her starting money, Nao seeks the help of the conman Akiyama who, not only helps her retrieve it but also joins her in her quest to surpass the games and get back at its organizers.
While Shinichi outsmarting everyone– including his most formidable of opponents– can already make up for an impressive manga, Nao’s naive but righteous personality adds a layer of genius to Akiyama. The conman only cares about securing victory, but Nao pushes him to also make decisions for the greater good.
5. Phi Brain
Kaito is a high school freshman who claims that there is no puzzle he cannot solve. When an unsolvable puzzle surfaces near his school, Kaito and his friend Nonoha try to solve it. But as it turns out, it’s one of the Philosopher’s Puzzles– puzzles that are designed to kill if unsolved. With the help of the mystical Orpheus Ring that attached itself to Kaito, he is able to solve the deadly, unsolvable puzzle in the nick of time. After that, Kaito becomes a candidate of the Phi Brain, tasked to solve the puzzles created by the mysterious organization called Puzzle of God (POG).
What makes this manga more than just brainteasers and solutions is that it turns the already challenging puzzles into unsolvable ones, and with Kaito and his Orpheus Ring, he can still solve it using unconventional and unexpected solutions!
6. The Promised Neverland
The Promised Neverland is a fantasy thriller that revolves around the three orphans Emma, Norman, and Ray. The three are seemingly living a perfect life at the Grace Field House with the caretaker they call Mama, and the other children they consider as siblings. But one fateful night, Emma and Norman discover that Mama is actually raising them as livestock for flesh-eating monsters, and because of their high intellect, the three are the Grace Field House’s most prized produce. They would then make plans to escape and save the other children, but Mama seems to always have the upper hand.
The protagonists of this series are undoubtedly smart, but it also focuses on their survival under the bizarre circumstances of their situation. The three must first outwit their caretaker who, throughout their life seemed like a caring mother, but is actually a cunning conspirator underneath, while figuring out the clues left behind by the mysterious book author William Minerva who might hold the key to their survival.
7. Code Geass
In an alternate timeline, the Holy Britannian Empire is one of the world’s superpowers. After the murder of its Empress, the Emperor sends his own son and daughter to Japan as political pawns, giving its authorities a false sense of security. After the Emperor conquers Japan, Lelouch vows to destroy Britannia as revenge against his father who he believes had failed them when their mother died. To complete his quest, Lelouch also utilizes the powerful Geass which allows him to manipulate anyone who looks into his eyes.
Lelouch is another genius in the manga and anime world. The Geass that grants him the Power of Absolute Obedience may be a powerful weapon, but it’s really the brainpower of Lelouch that propels him to always be ahead of his enemies.
8. Tomodachi Game
Tomodachi Game is quite similar to Liar Game and Phi Brain, but this psychological thriller also has a dark take on its characters’ morality. The series begins with the high school student Yuuichi who has always worked hard for his money but has always stayed positive thanks to his circle of friends. But right after the money of the class for a school trip went missing, Yuuichi and his friends were tricked into joining a “friendship game” in order to pay the debt of one of them. But the games that were meant to test their trust with each other would slowly unravel a string of secrets and betrayals among them.
This series begins as a typical manga with the survival games concept, but as the reader delves deeper into Yuuichi’s puzzling predicaments, the story becomes darker and smarter, just like its protagonist. As more bonds get broken and Yuuichi is pushed into a corner, he slowly bares the mad genius within him.
9. Golgo 13
Light Yagami uses his cunning to effectively kill with the Death Note, but this man does not need godlike powers to kill and not be caught. Golgo 13 centers on the eponymous hitman whose real identity is unknown. As an assassin for hire, the cold and calculating killer accepts jobs from different people and organizations, as long as it pays. The series takes the readers to Golgo’s various hits, where he would often pull tricks to deceive the police and his victims.
Unlike most of the titles in this list, Golgo 13 is for mature audiences and presents a darker and more serious read for those curious enough to dive in. As a protagonist, Golgo is an undeniable genius when it comes to doing his job. As for his morals, Golgo is obviously not a hero, but considering that most of his targets have done unspeakable evil, some readers might deem him the necessary evil in every story that the manga showcases.
10. Black Jack
Being a doctor requires great intellect, but Black Jack is more than just a doctor– he can cure ailments and injuries that other professionals might deem hopeless. While he appears grotesque to some people because of a large patch of mismatched skin on his face, Dr. Black Jack uses his unparalleled talent and knowledge in medicine to do good deeds, although they also entail enormous fees.
Black Jack is created by Osamu Tezuka, best known for his iconic manga Astroboy. Like Detective Conan, the series is episodic, featuring different stories that will always require the doctor’s services. What makes this series a must-read is that besides the dilemma brought by his patients’ ailments, Dr. Black Jack also finds himself conflicted by his own morals and the rules other people enforce upon him, and so his genius is not only showcased through his hand and scalpel but also by how he is able to deal with the tricky situations he often finds himself in.
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