What it’s about: A talented young brain surgeon named Tenma with a bright future ahead of him is forced to make a decision on who to save: the mayor of the town, with political connections to the hospital director, or a young child caught up in a grisly murder. His decision has wide-ranging implications, as people around Tenma begin dying off and he’s forced to come to terms with the consequences of his choice.
Why you should watch it: Monster is, perhaps, the most suspenseful anime produced in the last decade. It’s a thoroughly mature psychological thriller, a cat-and-mouse game between one man seeking redemption and another well past hope of it. It’s an incredibly ambitious project, to the point where I’m surprised that it received a full adaptation. Every one of the major actors that are closest to Tenma’s quest are given their own character arcs, their own goals and motivations, and an intricate web of connections to the spider-like antagonist is steadily built up. Much attention lavished on psychology and atmosphere.
Caveats: The show is long, at 70-something episodes, and isn’t afraid to spend its time exploring tangents and branches away from the main trunk of the plot before returning to it down the road. Even as the tensions build, it remains quite a slow burner of a show – it’s never going to be described as a “roller-coaster”.
Themes: The nature of evil (nurture/nature) and the possibility (or impossibility) of redemption. The show is essentially an anime version of Frankenstein (the Mary Shelley novel, not the Hammer Horror movie or its derivatives), so it also follows a lot of the same themes found there.
Similar works: As mentioned above, Frankenstein. Sticking with the Western canon, there’s a lot of similarities to the classic TV series The Fugitive, too.