Manga ‘The Promised Neverland’ Ends on High Note with Exhibition

©Kaiu Shirai, Posuka Demizu/Shueisha
Mom Isabella, center, takes a nap with Emma, Norman and Ray when they were very young. Isabella becomes the children’s enemy, but her love is genuine.

Children defying fate and fighting to break free from a world ruled by demons are the heroes of the adventure fantasy manga “Yakusoku no Neverland” (The Promised Neverland). An exhibition commemorating the work’s completion is currently underway at the Tokyo City View observation deck of the Roppongi Hills complex in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

The manga affectionately nicknamed “Yaku-Neba” gained much popularity during its serialization in Weekly Shonen Jump, a manga magazine published by Shueisha Inc. from 2016 to 2020, and won the 63rd Shogakukan Manga Award in the boys’ manga category. Publication of the manga in book form, 20 volumes in all, has reached more than 25 million copies worldwide, including ebooks.

The manga was created by Kaiu Shirai, who conceived the story, and Posuka Demizu, who provided the art. Shirai debuted as a manga author in 2015 and started working with Demizu in 2016. Demizu is a manga artist and is also a popular artist on the social media network pixiv for sharing art.

The Yomiuri Shimbun recently interviewed them on their thoughts behind “Yaku-Neba.”

■ A secret world of children

©Kaiu Shirai, Posuka Demizu/Shueisha
From left: Norman, Emma and Ray play a board game in the cover illustration for one of the final installments of “The Promised Neverland.”

The beauty of this manga’s art is demonstrated by the fact that you never get tired of looking at the pictures.

Take an illustration of the three protagonists, Emma, Ray and Norman, playing a chess-like game, for example. The pieces on the game board are characters from the manga, and all the other props scattered around have meaning. You can even read the words written on a musical score.

“I really love a secret world shared only by children,” Demizu said. “[This illustration is] not so much about my own experience but my yearnings. I crammed the universe of this work into a single illustration.”

“Posuka’s art is so heartwarming and beautiful in itself, and it’s really fun to find all the little details one by one,” Shirai said. “The sense of a sleepover [in this illustration] reminds me of my childhood days.”

■ Happy pictures

The story shuttles quickly back and forth between “heaven” and “hell” like a rollercoaster ride. An orphanage filled with love turns out to be a human farm growing food for demons. Having discovered this truth, Emma and other children deceive their watcher Mom and run away. They then try to find how they can all survive in the outside world of demons.

“This is a serious story, but I asked Posuka to draw many happy pictures as well,” Shirai said. “Since Weekly Shonen Jump goes on sale every Monday, I didn’t want to make readers depressed at the beginning of the week.”

“All those picture ideas would never have come to me without Kaiu’s views of the universe [in the story],” Demizu said. “Emma and her friends are all smart kids, so I thought hard about how to express their cleverness. Also, I mixed into the pictures the feel of picture books I loved as a child. I drew little characters doing various things or scenes of them dining together at a table because I liked it.”

At the root of the manga are scary fairy tales, such as some of the Grimm stories and odd Japanese folk tales, according to Shirai.

“When I was little, I read ‘Chumon no Oi Ryoriten’ (The Restaurant of Many Orders) by Kenji Miyazawa and had a dream about being eaten alive. That kind of memory might have had some influence [on the story],” Shirai said.

■ An ideal friend

©Kaiu Shirai, Posuka Demizu/Shueisha
A demon girl named Mujika, left, and Emma play with birds, a symbol of hope in the story. Their encounter changes the world in the manga.

The society of the demons, who feed on human brains and acquire their intellect, is in fact a mirror image of human society. Some humans reluctantly become demons’ minions in order to survive. Emma realizes this and decides to choose a harder path of aiming at coexistence.

“Let’s live together.” This wish of Emma’s extends even to demons. I didn’t think about the story development in detail at first, but from the beginning of the magazine run, I was wondering if there was any way not to kill demons or if it’s OK to exterminate those who eat us when we also live by taking other lives. I had a premonition that the story would come to that question sooner or later,” Shirai said. “I was worried that Emma might be a character who was a little difficult to understand. It’s largely thanks to the power of Posuka’s art that the story could have a grand finale.”

“Hey, no way,” Demizu said. “Emma is a good kid, the one I want to become friends with most. Norman and Ray, too, have both good points and dangerous points in their personalities. These three are very well-balanced as a family, and that’s the world according to Kaiu. I’d be happy if readers also want to become friends with Emma and her friends.”

■ The Promised Neverland Special Exhibition

This exhibition commemorates the completion of the manga and features more than 150 exhibits, including dramatic and artistic illustrations and materials related to the setting of the story. It’s like a secret art museum for “Yaku-Neba” fans.

Exhibition period: Through Jan. 11

Venue: Tokyo City View observation deck at Roppongi Hills in Minato Ward, Tokyo

Admission (including entry to observation deck): ¥2,000 for adults, ¥1,200 for university and high school students, ¥600 for children from age 4 to junior high school students. Tickets must be booked in advance.

Organizer: Tokyo City View

Sponsors: Kyodo Printing Co., Line Ticket

Produced by: Yakusoku no Neverland exhibition production committee

Visit or call (03) 6406-6652 for the latest information as the event period may change due to COVID-19.