Death Note (デスノート, Desu Nōto) is a manga series created by writer Tsugumi Ohba and illustrator Takeshi Obata. The series centers around a high school student who discovers a supernatural notebook that allows him to kill anyone by writing the victim's name while picturing their face. The plot follows his attempt to create and lead a world cleansed of evil using the book, and the complex conflict between himself and those assailing him that results.
- For a list of manga chapters, see List of Death Note chapters.
Death Note was first serialized by Shueisha in the Japanese manga magazine Weekly Shonen Jump from December 2003 to May 2006, with 108 chapters in total. The series has been published in its entirety in twelve volumes in Japan. Later, a thirteenth volume titled Death Note 13: How to Read was released, helping to elucidate some mysteries left at the end of the manga, such as the destiny of some of the characters. Death Note was licensed for North American publication by Viz Media, and the first English-language volume was released on October 4, 2005. Two other adaptions, the Black and White editions and the Death Note Gold editions (for Italy only) were also published. The manga has since been published in several different languages including English, German, Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish. Viz has released all twelve volumes of Death Note in English, as well as the How To Read 13 supplement.
To date, Death Note has sold around twenty million copies in Japan and was nominated for Best Manga at the 2006 American Anime Awards.
In January 2008, the booklet L FILE No. 15 was published with two additional one-shot chapters: L: The Wammy's House and L: One Day. L: The Wammy's House begins when Watari first brings L to the orphanage as a child, and L: One Day is about L as an adult.
In February 2008, a one-shot epilogue chapter was published in Weekly Shounen Jump. Set two years after the manga's epilogue, it sees the introduction of a new Kira and the reactions of the main characters in response to the copycat's appearance.
Development and creation
Ohba said that he decided to create a suspense series because he did not feel that he could have created a "normal fight-style" series and that the genre had few suspense series. Ohba said that he did not derive the Death Note concept from any single source. He said that one day he thought of a concept involving Shinigami and "specific rules."
After publication of the pilot chapter Ohba said that he did not expect for the series to be approved as a serialized comic as he thought it did not "fit with Jump." Ohba said that when he learned Death Note received approval and that Obata would create the artwork he couldn't even believe it. Due to positive reactions to the series Death Note became a serialized manga series.
Ohba created "thumbnails," consisting of dialog, panel layout, and basic drawings, to be sent to Obata; the editor reviewed the thumbnails and sent them to Obata with the script set in stone and the panel layout "mostly done." Obata determined the expressions and "camera angles" and created the final artwork. According to Ohba he concentrated on the "tempo" and the amount of dialog; he added that he had difficulty in keeping the text from being too long. Ohba said that he tried to make the story concise and did not want too much text as he believed that "reading too much exposition" would be "tiring" and that it would negatively affect the atmosphere and "air of suspense". Ohba set the basic characteristics of his characters while he allowed for Obata to influence the actual character designs. According to Ohba he did not derive the actual plot idea from one particular source. Regarding the backgrounds and props Ohba said that he put descriptions such as "abandoned building" and let Obata wield most of the creative power regarding the backgrounds and props.
Ohba said that when he decided on the plot he internally visualized the panels while "rolling around in bed," drinking tea, or walking around his house; Ohba said that he needed to feel relaxed while visualizing the panels. After that he drew the panels on white paper in a "very simple manner." The writer added that on many occasions the draft consisted of too many pages and he had to write drafts two or three times to find the desired "tempo" and "flow" for the chapter. Ohba added that he liked to read the previous two or four chapters very carefully to ensure consistency in the story.
Ohba said that his general weekly schedule consisted of five days to create and think about the creation and then use one day pencil and insert dialog into the rough drafts; according to Ohba, after this point he faxed the drafts to the editor. Obata also described his weekly schedule. He said that he usually took one day with the thumbnails, layout, and pencils and one day with additional penciling and inking. His assistants usually worked for four days and Obata used one day to add "final touches." Obata said that sometimes he took an extra day or two to color pages and that this "messed with the schedule." Ohba said that on some occasions he took three or four days to create a chapter while on other occasions he took a month to create a chapter. Obata said that his schedule remained consistent except when he had to create color pages.
Ohba and Obata rarely met in person during the creation of the serialized manga—they met with their editor, instead. The first time they met in person was at an editorial party in January 2004. Obata said that, despite the intrigue, he did not ask his editor about Ohba's plot developments as he anticipated the new thumbnails every week. The two did not discuss the final chapters with one another and they continued to talk with the editor. Ohba said that when he asked the editor if Obata had said anything about the story and plot the editor responded "No, nothing".
Ohba said that the series ended more or less in the manner that he intended for it to end; Ohba considered the idea of L defeating Light Yagami with Light dying; he instead chose to use the "Yellow Box warehouse" ending. According to Ohba he had the details set from the beginning. Ohba wanted an ongoing plot line instead of an episodic series because Death Note was serialized and that Ohba wanted a series focused on a cast with a series of events triggered by the Death Note. Ohba used the Internet for research and did not go on any research trips.
Death Note 13: How to Read states that the humorous aspects of Death Note originated from Ohba's enjoyment of comedy.
General creative process
For each chapter the creative process began with Ohba and moved to Obata; both authors took advice from the editor.
Ohba began each segment by creating a rough draft; he said that his main weakness was including too much information in each panel. Once each draft "goes through a few rounds" and the elements "are decided on" Ohba split the panels and "solidified" dialog, monologues, and everything else. Ohba included "specific art" in thumbnails if he believed it was needed. Obata took the thumbnails and edited "camera angles" and expressions exhibited by characters. Obata used the thumbnails as models for his final panels. When Obata decided on the content he began drawing. At this point in many cases Obata determined designs of newly introduced characters and items. After that the editor takes the pages and lettering, special effects, and other type are inserted into the pages; at that point the final drafts are finished.
Intent with the series
Ohba said that he did not have a theme that he wished to express throughout the series. Ohba said that if he had to choose one, he would select "Humans will all eventually die and never come back to life, so let's give it our all while we're alive." He said that he did not intend for Death Note to push an ideology or make a statement about good and evil. Ohba said that Near's statement in Volume 12 about deciding right and wrong is closest to his own personal belief. Ohba said that he understands how debate can form from the story; he also said that since the answers to the questions raised become "ideological" and that he believes this development would be "dangerous" and not "interesting in a manga." Ohba decided not to include this aspect in Death Note.
As a response to the interview question "So the series is meant to be all about enjoying the plot twists and psychological warfare?" Ohba responded by saying that the statement is the reason why he was "very happy" to place the story in Weekly Shonen Jump. He said that, because Death Note is aimed at "the young" the reader can "push back ideology" and focus on "pure entertainment." Ohba said that if he aimed the series at an older audience he would expect "more debate over the issues" and therefore he believed that the story would have had to develop in that direction. How to Read 13 states that debate about good and evil "sometimes" appears in the series and that the "answer" to the debate is left for the reader to decide.
Ohba responded to the question "If you had to say what the most important thing in Death Note is, what would it be?" by answering "The human whose name is written in this note shall die." while Obata responded by answering "Impossible to say."
Light Yagami is an extremely intelligent young man who resents the crime and corruption in the world. His life undergoes a drastic change in the year 2003, when he discovers a mysterious notebook, known as the "Death Note", lying on the ground. The Death Note's instructions claim that if a human's name is written within it, that person shall die. Light is initially skeptical of the notebook's authenticity, but after experimenting with it, Light realizes that the Death Note is real. After meeting with the previous owner of the Death Note, a Shinigami named Ryuk, Light seeks to become "the God of the New World" by passing his judgment on those he deems to be evil or who get in his way.
Soon, the number of inexplicable deaths of reported criminals catches the attention of the International Police Organization and a mysterious detective known only as "L". L quickly learns that the murderer, dubbed by the public as Kira, is located in Japan. L also concludes that Kira can kill people without laying a finger on them. Light realizes that L will be his greatest nemesis, and a game of psychological "cat and mouse" between the two begins.
The protagonist of Death Note, Light is an extremely intelligent but bored 17-year old student. When he finds the Death Note, dropped in the human world by Shinigami named Ryuk, he decides to use it to kill all criminals and earns the title Kira. His ultimate goal is to cleanse the world of evil to create a utopia and then reign over this new world as its god.
L is one of the main antagonists of the series. He is the world's best detective, tasked with tracking down and arresting Kira. As such, he is Light's arch-enemy. His disheveled appearance masks his great powers of deduction and insight. L has many quirks, such as sitting in an odd manner, snacking on sweets constantly, and holding objects in a peculiar manner. He often takes drastic strategies to confuse and force the hand of his opponents. On several occasions he has willingly disclosed several of his weaknesses to Kira at the risk of his own life in the hopes that he would lure him into a trap.
A girl with an immense crush on Kira, Misa is a popular idol in Japan. She is immature and tends to refer to herself in the third person in an attempt to be cute. Misa is completely devoted to Light, and she once said that she loved him at first sight. Light, however, only views her as an asset to his plans because of her Death Note and her Shinigami Eyes (which she obtained at the cost of half of her remaining life span, twice). Misa devotes herself to Light because he killed her parents' murderer after several trials had failed to convict him.
Mello is an orphan who grew up at the Wammy's House shelter for gifted children. Like Near, Mello was one of the candidates to become L's successor. Similar to L's fondness for sweets, he is often seen eating bars of chocolate. Although Mello is very intelligent, he often lets his emotions get the better of him. He also appears to be less secluded in terms of his friends and hobbies, and seems to be fond of biking. After leaving the orphanage, Mello joined the mafia and joined the race to bring down Kira.
Near was a primary candidate to become L's successor and refers to himself N during the course of his investigations. He shares a number of similarities with L. Much like how L plays with things such as sugar cubes and forks, Near is frequently shown playing with toys or his hair. Near also sits in an unusual manner similar to L, but with some slight differences. He offered to join forces with Mello to fight Kira, but Mello turned him down. Near then gained the support of the Government of the United States and formed the Special Provision for Kira.
Mikami is selected as the fourth Kira by Light, after Light decides that it is too dangerous for the Death Note to be near Misa or himself, since he and Misa are currently under surveillance by Aizawa and Mogi. A prosecuting attorney and adamant supporter of Kira, Mikami shares many of the same ideals, thoughts, and priorities as Kira, and is ecstatic when he discovers that Kira, his God, has chosen him, proving that God is on his side and watching. He is completely devoted and loyal to Kira, believing that divine justice must be brought down upon the people. Little is known about his personal life; he appears to have no hobbies or anything else of the sort. He chants "delete" with each name he writes down in the Death Note due to events in his past when he thought God was "deleting" the evil people in his life. He, like Misa, has made the exchange of half his remaining years for Shinigami eyes.
A Shinigami who dropped a Death Note into the human world, which Light would pick up. Acting out of pure boredom, Ryuk begins the story of Death Note on a whim. Ryuk is not Light's ally, and in fact declares in their first meeting that someday he (Ryuk) would write Light's name into his own Death Note. Ryuk often refuses to aid Light and instead enjoys watching him struggle for his goals. He acts for his own interests and entertainment, and often fails to tell Light key details about the Death Note. However, Ryuk will aid Light if it serves his own goals, such as providing amusement or obtaining apples, without which he suffers a form of withdrawal symptoms.
A female Shinigami who first gives Misa her Death Note and trades her for the Shinigami eyes. Similar to Ryuk, Rem possesses two Death Notes; however, she purposely gives one of them to Misa Amane. Rem inherited her second Death Note from Gelus, another Shinigami who died when he saved Misa's life, and thought it only right to pass it on to Misa. Rem eventually inherits Gelus's love for Misa as well and is prompt to defend Misa even at the cost of her life. Rem shows this when she states that she will kill Light if Misa dies before her time.
The original Death Note Manga Pilot published in Weekly Shonen Jump 2003 #36 included a rule stating that if the owner of the death note uses the Death Eraser to erase names in the Death Note, the victims come back to life if they have not been cremated. How to Read describes the pilot chapter as "more horror-based" and stated that it differed a lot from the Death Note series.
Several Death Note Yonkoma (four-panel comics) appeared in Akamaru Jump. The yonkoma were written to be humorous.
The Akamaru Jump issues that printed the comics include 2004 Spring, 2004 Summer, 2005 Winter, and 2005 Spring. In addition Weekly Shonen Jump Gag Special 2005 included some Death Note yonkoma in a Jump Heroes Super 4-Panel Competition. How to Read 13 reprinted all of the yonkoma serialized in Akamaru Jump and the Weekly Shonen Jump Gag Special 2005.
People's Republic of China
Some schools in Shenyang, People's Republic of China, have banned the manga after some of their students started to tease friends and teachers by altering a notebook to resemble a Death Note and writing their names in it. The newspaper Shenyang Night Report called Death Note "poison, creating wicked hearts." One major Chinese newspaper felt that the ban is an overreaction and is inappropriate.
Beijing also has a ban on "horror stories" around schools to protect the "physical and mental health" of students, which includes local adaptations of Death Note. China itself is likewise trying to weed out pirated copies of the books and television series, as well other Japanese horror magazines, where no legal publication house prints it. Wang Song of the National Anti-piracy and Anti-pornography Working Committee has said that the series "misleads innocent children and distorts their mind and spirit."
On September 28, 2007, two notes stating "Watashi wa Kira dess" (a more phonetic spelling of 私はキラです or "Watashi wa Kira desu," meaning "I am Kira" in Japanese) were found near the unidentified remains of a Caucasian male. Nothing was found on or near the victim besides these two notes. Belgian police are investigating the matter further. 
A senior at the Franklin Military Academy in Richmond, Virginia, was suspended after being caught possessing a replica Death Note notebook with the names of fellow students.
In South Carolina in 2008, school officials seized a Death Note notebook from a Hartsville Middle School student. District officials link the notebook to the anime/manga. The notebook listed seven students' names. The school plans a disciplinary hearing and has contacted the seven students' parents. The principal, Chris Roger, sent letters to all the students' parents saying, "Regardless of the origin of the book, we take the situation very seriously. The safety of our school family is always our top priority. We treat situations like this the same as if a student called in a bomb threat or brought a weapon to school. While there may not be any serious intent to do anyone harm, we cannot and will not take that chance with our students. We will take all steps necessary to ensure our students' well-being."
In Gadsden, Alabama, two 12-year-old sixth grade boys were arrested for possessions of Death Notes. It listed names of several staff members and fellow students. According to Etowah County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Lanny Handy, the notebook was found the previous afternoon by a staffer. The students were suspended from the county's schools. The students, their parents, and school officials met with Handy and a junior probation officer.
Reception to the series
Critical and audience reception
Death Note has been overwhelmingly praised, and it continues to be cited as one of the best manga series ever created. The twelve manga volumes have over 30 million copies in circulation.
Douglas Wolk of Salon Magazine said that a rumor circulated stating that the creators intended to create Death Note to last half as long as its actual run; according to Wolk the rumor stated that Ohba and Obata had been persuaded to lengthen the storyline when Death Note's popularity increased. In addition he said that fans wrote "thousands" of Death Note fan fiction stories and posted them on the Internet.
Ohba and Obata's reactions to the reception
Ohba said that since Obata drew the artwork he would take the blame if the series did not sell well, so he wanted the series to sell well. Ohba said the aspect of writing Death Note that "shocked" him was that the series generated more popularity than he anticipated. Obata said that he also felt shocked and elated by the success of the series. Obata added that the editor believed that it would have a "so-so" reception because "people have varied tastes." Ohba said that the editor chose not to add advertising notices like "Now on sale, super popular!!" to chapter cover pages because the editor believed that the words "super popular" did not fit with the "feel" of Death Note. Ohba said that "I guess Death Note was meant to be solemnly popular."
Ohba said that he believes that Death Note appeals to readers because of Obata's "realistic art" and because the story is a sort "not usually seen in Jump." Obata responded to the same question by saying that Death Note "didn't seem like a typical Jump manga—although it actually was, really." The two also said that they felt "very happy" while seeing Death Note adapted to video games, films, anime, novels, and other mediums.
Ohba said that he did not have a lot of awareness about the debate surrounding Death Note. He says that he remembered seeing a magazine article about the series and that the article was "too difficult for me to understand [laughs]." Ohba added that the creators did not intend for Death Note to be "such a noble piece of work." Obata added that "some people may have been taking the series a little too seriously." Obata recalled a television critic discussing the series and said that the broadcast was "so complicated I didn't understand [laughs]." The two reiterated that the "deep philosophical themes" such as debates about whether Light is good or evil, "life and death," and the "merits of our Internet society" differed from the intention to entertain.
Many users on the internet discussed future plot twists. Ohba said that he heard that this occurred but he had "no time" to see it. In addition he did not want the discussion to affect him and that he chose not to view the discussions. Ohba and Obata said that they felt glad that internet users discussed Death Note.
The Death Note manga series has had multiple adaptations and spin-off stories.
- Anime series
- Death Note (2006-2007)
- Death Note Relight 1: Visions of a God (2007)
- Death Note Relight 2: L's Successors (2008)
- Live-action film series
- Death Note (2006)
- Death Note: The Last Name (2006)
- L: Change the WorLd (2008)
- Death Note: New Generation (2016) - Mini-series
- Death Note: Light Up the NEW World (2016)
- Live-action adaptations
- Death Note: The Musical (2015, 2017)
- Death Note (2015) - Television drama series
- Death Note (2017) - Netflix's American film
- Sound of Death Note (2006) - Film soundtrack
- Sound of Death Note the Last name (2006) - Film soundtrack
- Death Note Original Soundtrack I (2006) - Anime soundtrack
- Death Note Original Soundtrack II (2007) - Anime soundtrack
- Death Note Original Soundtrack III (2007) - Anime soundtrack
- Sound of L Change the WorLd (2008) - Film soundtrack
- Death Note: The Musical (2015) - Musical soundtrack
- Death Note: Light Up the NEW World Original Soundtrack (2016) - Film soundtrack
- Video games
- Death Note: Kira Game (2007)
- Death Note: Successors to L (2007)
- L the ProLogue to Death Note: Spiraling Trap (2008)
- Official site: j-deathnote.com (Japanese)
- Official site: deathnote.viz.com (English, North America)
- Official site: deathnote.com.au (English, Australia and New Zealand)