Vagabond Review

Vagabond Review

Vagabond manga cover art

The Last of the Big Three Seinen Manga*

Vagabond (バガボンド) is one of the big three seinen manga series alongside Berserk and Vinland Saga. It’s the 3rd highest-ranked manga of all time and the 15th most popular. So, as you can imagine, it’s kind of a good series.

Now, I’ve already read Berserk and I’ve watched both seasons of the Vinland Saga anime. That left Vagabond as the last of the big three for me to experience. And, it definitely holds up. It deserves its spot up there with those two series.

If I had to compare it to one, though, I’d say it’s far more like Vinland Saga than Berserk. I’ll be going into why that is later on in this review. But, for now, just know that the themes and general storyline are closer to Vinland Saga.

Miyamoto Musashi training from the manga series Vagabond
Miyamoto Musashi training

What’s Vagabond about? Berserk is a dark fantasy about a medieval warrior. Vinland Saga is about Vikings. And, Vagabond is about samurai. This likely plays into why I liked Vagabond as much as I did. Samurai are cool. I love samurai series like Samurai Champloo, Blade of the Immortal, and Sword of the Stranger.

The main story of Vagabond follows Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous samurai. It starts with Musashi, then known as Takezou, heading to the Battle of Sekigahara. He and his childhood friend Matahachi Honiden went there to try to make names for themselves. But, they got to the battlefield too late, with the battle having already concluded.

From there, the rest of the story chronicles Musashi’s drive to fight stronger and stronger opponents. His ultimate goal is to prove to the world that he’s “The strongest under the heavens.” But, what does being the strongest actually mean to Musashi? That’s something he’ll have to find out for himself through his battles.

Stories of Three Swordsmen

Musashi isn’t the only swordsman Vagabond follows. But, he is the protagonist. So, let’s start with him. As I’ve already mentioned, Musashi’s story is mostly about his quest to become stronger. And, the way you prove that you’re becoming stronger as a samurai is by defeating other samurai.

A good portion of this manga is just Musashi getting into duel after duel. However, after meeting a few samurai from the older generation, he begins to question his path. He knows he wants to be the strongest. But, is the path he’s going down the right way to get there? Is killing the same as strength?

The second main character of the series is Matahachi. After traveling to Sekigahara with Musashi, Matahachi decides not to return to their village. He abandons his fiancée and begins living the life of a “ronin.”

Sasaki Kojirou from the manga series Vagabond
Sasaki Kojirou

Matahachi isn’t actually a ronin samurai like Musashi is, though. He’s a coward who tries to avoid fighting at all costs. But, he acts like he’s important, carrying the traditional two swords of a samurai and even taking the name of another prominent samurai. Ultimately, Matahachi is the foil character to Musashi. They’re opposites in pretty much every way.

The third and final of the main swordsmen is Sasaki Kojirou. He’s the swordsman whose name Matahachi takes. And, after meeting the real Kojirou, Matahachi sticks to him like a leech. You see, Kojirou is an actual swordsman, like Musashi. In fact, he’s considered one of the only swordsmen on Musashi’s level.

With that said, Kojirou and Musashi are pretty different. Yes, they both want to fight strong opponents. But, their reason for doing so isn’t the same. Kojirou enjoys the fight. Not in a twisted way, but in a childlike one. He thinks duels are fun.

What Does it Mean to Be Strong?

Alright, so let’s get into how Vagabond is similar to Vinland Saga. If you’ve seen or read Vinland Saga, you’ll know that it’s actually an anti-war series. It has a lot of violence, especially at the start. But, that’s all to set up the real message of the story.

Vagabond is the same way. A much higher percentage of the series is dedicated to Musashi fighting. However, he ultimately reaches a similar conclusion as Thorfinn. Thorfinn’s conclusion of pacifism is more extreme, though. Musashi doesn’t go that far.

What Musashi eventually realizes is that your life is the most important thing you have. Once you die, it’s all over. Now, he doesn’t necessarily care about losing his own life. But, he sees a lot of other samurai throwing away theirs for nothing.

Miyamoto Musashi coming to terms with his life from the manga series Vagabond
Miyamoto Musashi coming to terms with his life

Over time, Musashi makes a name for himself. And when that happens, up-and-coming samurai want to duel him so they can defeat and usurp him. Anyone who can kill the famed Miyamoto Musashi is going to go down in history. The only problem is that the vast majority of these challengers stand no chance.

Musashi doesn’t want to kill these men. He knows that if they fight him, they’re going to die. And, so, he tries to give them every opportunity to leave. Musashi starts drawing a circle on the ground around him. He tells the challengers that if they enter the circle, he’ll kill them. But, if they turn around and leave, he won’t chase them down.

Of course, none of the challengers heed Musashi’s warning. This leads to their deaths. And, it leads to Musashi having to kill people who had their whole lives ahead of them. Some of them even had families to return to.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I gave Vagabond a 9/10. The start of the series is pretty slow — maybe the first 50 chapters. Like, there’s a lot of action. But, the story doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere that early on. Musashi’s character growth doesn’t kick in until later, which is when it gets really good.

Also, Vagabond has been on indefinite hiatus since 2015. If you’re looking forward to a conclusion to this story, there isn’t one. There might never be one if Takehiko Inoue never feels like returning to the series. But, even so, I’d recommend it if you like Berserk and/or Vinland Saga.

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Finally, I’d like to thank Roman and JasonHK for supporting at the Heika tier this month. To learn more about the perks of supporting this blog, check out

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