20th Century Boys is a 22 volume psychological thriller manga written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa (my all-time favorite thriller mangaka), published by Big Comic Spirits in 1999, later inspiring a live action trilogy of movie adaptations directed by Yukuhiko Tsutumi and produced in 2008 and 2009. The first half of the plot is set in 1990 and follows Kenji Endo, a working class japanese grocery store manager, living with his niece Kanna and his mother a mundane life with ordinary concerns and basically nothing special, always reminiscing about his high school dreams of becoming a rock star he had to give up to support his family, getting occasional flashbacks about his childhood gang of friends back in the late 1960s and 1970s.
The trouble is ignited the moment when mysterious misevents start happening at the same time a new cult has emerged led by a masked unknown individual calling himself Friend, what really bothered Kenji is the fact that the mask Friend wore had a comical symbol Kenji and his friends came up with as kids in the fashion of a justice hero role model every kid would want to follow. As the killings and disappearances become more and more frequent, Kenji struggles to remember his childhood memories concerning the symbol, by desperately trying to refresh his as well as his friends’ memories during a former high school reunion and afterwards staying in touch with some of them who will in consequence adopt his investigation and help him.
The friends that eventually answer Kenji’s call and join his pursuit are, the shy middle class worker Yoshitsune, obese idol manager Maruo, Kenji’s tomboyish childhood crush Yukiji, badass no-fear Choji Ochiai, a.k.a Otcho, Kenji’s rival Fukubei, introvert Sadakiyo who wasn’t part of the original gang back in 1969 and last but not least, Shimon Masaaki, a.k.a Mon-Chan, ex-rugby player in Germany and currently businessman. The Friend keeps joining more and more people to his cause as disasters keep mysteriously striking without a pattern, he accomplishes psycho telekinesis feats on live TV charming people everywhere and self-proclaims a spiritual guru and saver of mankind while plotting something ominous on a global scale. Kenji and the gang focus on learning the Friend’s connection to them and the misevents occurring haphazardly in the goal of unmasking him, taking all kinds of risks and unfolding key information about his plans.
The second half of the plot picks up 14 years later with teenage Kanna Endo, Kenji’s niece as main character, now a student and part-time worker, accompanying her goofy friend Kyoko, she finds herself immersed in her uncle’s quest. What happened to Kenji? To Kanna? To the gang? I’ll leave it to you to discover along with the classic rock n’ roll references. All in all, this is one breathtaking excellent psychological thriller, you’ll find the plot very entangled and mind-blowing, revealing unexpected events and surprising you whenever you let your guard down, if you ask me, this is one of the greatest thriller mangas ever written or illustrated.