I’m not a person who’s good at picking favorites, but if you ask me what my favorite manga is then I will answer “Holyland” without hesitation. (Then proceed to list all of the other manga that come in close because I’m so bad at picking favorites.) While it fits its genre well, with lots of drama about gang violence, martial arts, and streefighting, it’s thought provoking in a lot of ways.
Kamashiro Yuu isn’t a happy-go-lucky protagonist or a protagonist looking for power. He’s a confused high school boy. He’s a victim of bullying and struggles with depression and feelings of inadequacy. He’s a boy without a place, and when he finally finds one he’s constantly forced to fight to stay in it. It’s a coming of age story about personal growth - becoming a better you and moving past your confusion.
Two of my favorite manga of all time are Shamo and Holyland. The interesting thing about reading both of them is the completely different characterization of the protagonists. Narushima Ryo and Kamashiro Yuu are in surprisingly similar positions at the beginning of their stories. Both spend a lot of time studying and struggle with the pressure of their family’s expectations and their feelings of inadequacy. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the two teenagers developed strikingly different coping mechanisms. Kamashiro internalized his feelings, blaming himself for what he perceives as a cowardly reaction to bullying and the pity of others, and going so far as to contemplate suicide. In sharp contrast to this, Narushima believed the pressure he felt was fully to be blamed on his parents and that he would be saved from his own destruction only by escaping them.
Both boys are driven to martial arts as a means of self-defense. Both boys begin to pursue the self-actualizing feeling that one can gain from a fight. Ultimately, Shamo quickly takes a much darker turn than Holyland, which has a greater focus on personal growth and interdependence, but the two stories continue to have similarities throughout.