Series Name: History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi (Shijou Saikyou no Deshi Kenichi) - 史上最強の弟子ケンイチ
Year of Serialization: 2002
Author(s): Matsuena Syun
Artist(s): Matsuena Syun
Genre(s): Martial Arts, Action, Comedy, Romance, Harem, Ecchi, School Life, Shounen
Current Status: Ongoing
Moment of Reviewing: 574th chapter
Other Formats: Anime (50 episodes)
Kenichi Shirahama is a typical just below average 16 year old high school student. His physical abilities are below average, his school results are below average, his looks are average, he has no particular talents and, as you can guess, he has no friends with the final result him being bullied all the time. However now that he has entered a new school, Shirahama is determined to change all that, but it already goes wrong the very first day of the new year. He arrives late because he accidentally got KO'd by a new transfer student named Miu Furinji. Strangely enough she still arrived on time. To become stronger Kenichi also entered the school's Karate club, but he soon realizes that the senior member simply use the juniors as slaves and punching bags. To make matters worse some of his older bullies also entered the same school. Kenichi losing all hope then sees the girl Miu again standing up against some Yakuza hoodlums who were harassing an elderly man. Terrified Kenichi wants to run away, but on the other hand he doesn't want Miu to get hurt. On the spur of the moment he attacks the Yakuza, but with little success. Annoyed the Yakuza launch an attack of their own, however in a matter of seconds Miu beats them all. Apparently Miu's grandfather is one of the strongest persons in the world and has got a dojo called Ryozanpaku where several other martial artists live, each of them a master in a specific martial art. Kenichi then had to choice to remain bullied for the rest of his life or to 'be thrown into the abyss of masterhood', meaning there is no turning back. To stand up for himself and to protect the ones he cares about, Kenichi reluctantly takes the latter choice, but because of his complete lack of talent, he has to make up for it with endless torturous training. What follows is a story about how Kenichi falls deeper and deeper into the world of martial arts, struggling to remain living, to change himself and to win Miu's affection.
HSDK is one of the series I have been reading the longest and still despite it having nearly 600 chapters, it's the type of series that has been stuck in an endless limbo. It's too large to be considered an unknown series, however it never reached the caliber and status of a series like Naruto or One Piece either. In comparison I started reading HSDK quite a while before I started reading Fairy Tail, which was at the time an unknown series. But while Fairy Tail by now gets mentioned in the same breath as OP and Naruto, HSDK never reached that point. One of the reasons is probably the limited amount of episodes the anime has and that the anime isn't that recent either. Another explanation is that the amount of anticipation you get for the new chapter after reading the latest release is quite limited. Personally I don't find that a bad thing as it's less stressful. I follow the series weekly, but it always comes shortly after Fairy Tail. All my attention always goes towards FT and as a result I regularly forget HSDK will follow shortly. It's entertaining enough to follow, but doesn't get enough to you to have your mind wonder about it for an entire week. Just like how wednesday means the releases of OP, Bleach and Naruto, friday means to me the releases of FT, HSDK and The Breaker: New Waves. For many people HSDK is probably the type of series you can read once, let the chapters pile up for a while and then read the entire series again.
HSDK is a typical, almost stereotypical, shounen manga. The male protagonist is a 'loser' with no talent, but due to hard work and an extremely naive personality he sways many of his opponents, which then become his friends, and gets likewise the attention of several girls while often not being aware of it. It's not really a surprise that Kenichi eventually becomes really strong, however he never loses his cowardly nature. He avoids fights when he can and it often takes a while before he gets warmed up in a fight. He is the eternal underdog. But as is customary for a shounen character, he gets a boost whenever his friends are in danger. This makes you instantly think of characters like Naruto or Natsu Dragneel, though you shouldn't compare them too much with each other as they are still very different. HSDK also edges on the 'fantasy' genre because the physical feats many characters accomplish are beyond the scope of regular humans, however it isn't of the caliber either that it's incomprehensible.
Potentially another reason as why this manga never was able to really break through, might be the plot. For the longest time it seemed to be going nowhere in particular. Long arcs got followed up by short arcs that don't seem to be that much relevant. When you have read the entire series though there is some kind of a larger underlying plot, but it's not that easily noticeable when you read it for the first time. Towards the end also all the used techs don't get explained very well anymore. While at the start they still bothered giving some kind of reasoning behind the workings of specific techs, currently it's more like a spam fast of flashy and powerful techs. Visually very strong, but plotwise it doesn't really carry much weight.
Artwise it's a series that's drawn with a lot of dynamics. There's a strong emphasis on the movements of the characters and considering there are a lot of fights, these dynamics are very prominent. Often they take up entire pages. Putting that aside there's also quite a large amount of fanservice present >.> If you thought FT was bad in that regard, well HSDK is ten times worse. Of course this depends on whether you like fanservice or not, it doesn't really bother me though. The way how Syun draws the eyebrows of many characters might be one of the most 'personal' characteristics of the artwork. You also know it's going to be messy when characters start shooting 'lasers' from their eyes.
Overall it's a very entertaining series with lots of action, fanservice and running gags for comedic relief. HSDK doesn't have the most high-quality plot and character development, but overall it's enjoyable to read and visually very attractive. For people who like the martial arts - genre this series is definitely a must and for the people who are occasionally bored and want to read a new manga, you might want to consider reading this one. I reckon HSDK is also running towards its end. It's not something that will come to pass in the next coming weeks, however you feel it's reaching a climax.
- Reviewed by Caliburn