Grappler Baki, known as Baki the Grappler in North America, is a manga series written and illustrated by Keisuke Itagaki. It was originally serialized in Weekly Shōnen Champion from 1991 to 1999 and collected into 42 tankōbon volumes by Akita Shoten. The story follows teenager Baki Hanma as he trains and tests his fighting skills against a variety of different opponents in deadly, no rules hand-to-hand combat.
The series was followed by three sequels in the same magazine; Baki, which was serialized from 1999 to 2005 and collected into 31 volumes, Baki Hanma, which was serialized from 2005 to 2012 and collected into 37 volumes, and Baki-Dou, which was serialized from 2014 to 2018 and collected into 22 volumes. A fifth series, also named Baki Dou but with Baki’s name written in katakana instead of kanji, began on October 4, 2018.
A 45-minute original video animation (OVA) was released in 1994. A 24-episode anime aired on TV Tokyo between January 8 and June 25, 2001, and was quickly followed by a second 24-episode series from July 22 to December 24, 2001. An Original net animation (ONA) was released on Netflix between June 25 and September 24, 2018, followed by a second season that was released on June 4, 2020. The third season is scheduled for 2021. The OVA was the first to be licensed and released in North America, in 1998 by Central Park Media, followed by the original manga series in 2002 by Gutsoon! Entertainment (incomplete), and finally both anime series in 2005 by Funimation Entertainment. Media Do International began releasing the second manga series digitally in August 2018. As of 2018, the first four Baki series had over 75 million copies in circulation.
- Grappler Baki ― Original series, serialized in Weekly Shōnen Champion from 1991 to 1999. Collected into 42 volumes, that encompasses The Champion, the Kid, and the Maximum Tournament sagas. From 2007-2008 it was collected into 24 deluxe edition volumes.
- This series was licensed for a North American release by Gutsoon! Entertainment, who retitled it Baki the Grappler. They published the first 46 chapters in their English-language manga anthology magazine Raijin Comics. The magazine’s first issue was released on December 18, 2002, but in July 2004 it was discontinued. 4 collected volumes were planned but it is unknown if they were released.
- Baki ― Second series, also serialized in Weekly Shōnen Champion from 1999 to November 24, 2005. Collected into 31 volumes, and encompasses The Prisoners, the Chinese Challenge, and the Alai Jr. sagas.
- This series is licensed for English release by Media Do International, who released it digitally between August 2018 and August 2019. The company stated a future print release is possible and that they are interested in the original manga as well.
- Baki Hanma ― Third series, again serialized in Weekly Shōnen Champion, began on December 1, 2005 and ended on August 16, 2012. Collected into 37 volumes, and encompasses the Oliva’s Fortress, The Prehistoric Menace, Retsu Kaiou’s Boxing, and the final confrontation of Yujiro and Baki.
- Baki-Dou ― Fourth series, serialized in Weekly Shōnen Champion from March 20, 2014 to April 5, 2018. It features Miyamoto Musashi who is challenged by various Baki characters after being revived into modern-day age. Collected into 22 volumes.
- Baki Dou― Fifth series, began serialization in Weekly Shōnen Champion on October 4, 2018. It has the same name as the fourth, but with Baki’s name written in katakana instead of kanji. It features Nomi no Sukune. Collected into five volumes.
- Grappler Baki Gaiden – Set immediately after the Maximum Tournament, it depicts a wrestling match between Antonio Igari and Mount Toba. Published in one volume in 1999.
- Baki: Tokubetsuhen Saga – Side story that develops at the same time as volume 15 of the second manga. One volume published in 2002.
- Baki Gaiden: Scarface – Spinoff series, written and illustrated by Yukinao Yamauchi, depicting Kaoru Hanayama’s yakuza adventures. Ran from March 2005 to December 2007 in Champion Red, then from July 2009 in Weekly Shōnen Champion. Collected into 8 volumes.
- Baki Hanma 10.5 Gaiden: Pickle – Set after volume 10 of the third manga, it introduces Pickle. Published in one volume in 2008.
- Baki Gaiden: Gaia – Spinoff series, written and illustrated by Hitoshi Tomizawa, starring Gaia. Published in Weekly Shōnen Champion in 2009.
- Baki Domoe – Comedic spinoff, written and illustrated by Naoki Saito. Originally launched digitally on Weekly Shōnen Champion The Web in 2010, then serialized irregularly in Weekly Shōnen Champion and finally Bessatsu Shōnen Champion until October 2014. Collected into 3 volumes.
- Baki Gaiden: Kizuzura – Spinoff series, written and illustrated by Yukio Yamauchi, based on Kaoru Hanayama’s adventures in high school. Began in Bessatsu Shōnen Champion in July 2012. Collected into 3 volumes.
- Baki Gaiden: Kenjin– Spinoff series, written and illustrated by Kengou Miyatani, representing and describing Doppo’s adventures. Began in Champion Red in June 2013. Collected into one volume.
- Yuenchi: Baki Gaiden – A collection of tales that happen within the Baki world, written by author Baku Yumemakura, who includes characters from his own Garōden and Shishi no Mon novels, and illustrated by Keisuke Itagaki. Published in Weekly Shōnen Champion since in 2018.
- Baki: Revenge Tokyo is a special spin-off consisting of five chapters, each about one of the death row prisoners from “Most Evil Death Row Convicts” arc, that have been added to the Baki’s New Edition in 2018.
- Baki Gaiden: Retsu Kaioh Isekai Tensei Shitemo Ikkō Kamawan! – Spinoff series, illustrated by Eiji Murai and crediting Itagaki and Sai Ihara with the original story. An isekai series depicting Retsu Kaioh reincarnated into another world. It will begin in the November 6, 2020 issue of Monthly Shōnen Champion.
- Grappler Baki: Red Dragon Side, Grappler Side – Compendium of the characters and events in the world of Grappler Baki, covers until volume 23 of the second saga.
- Grappler Baki: Blue Tiger Side, Fighting Side – Compendium of every battle fought and its results in the world of Grappler Baki, also covers until volume 23 of the second saga.
As of 2018, the first four Baki series had over 75 million collected volumes in circulation. The Baki Gaiden: Scarface spin-off series had 3.5 million copies in print as of February 2019.
Allen Divers and Jason Thompson, both writing for Anime News Network, briefly described the series as “very compelling” and a “demented fighting manga”, respectively.
Anime News Network had four different writers review the first volume of the second manga series. Faye Hopper scored it the highest, four out of five, and wrote that she was captivated the entire read with its appeal lying in “its absurdity held up by its absolutely incredible artistry.” Amy McNulty gave it a 2.5 rating and also praised Itagaki’s art, but felt the character designs were not particularly memorable. She also wrote that the volume “succeeds in identifying the stakes, but it completely fails in anchoring the reader with characters to care about.” Rebecca Silverman and Teresa Navarro both gave it a 2 and noted its status as a “set-up book,” with each new character introduced in the same manner. Both Hopper and Silverman said that Baki reminded them of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
Reviewing the first 24 episodes of the 2001 anime, Mark Thomas of Mania Entertainment gave it a B− rating, stating that fans of shōnen and fight series would enjoy it, but others should look elsewhere. He felt it had plenty of good, realistic fight scenes, but fell short on the story. Explaining that despite a lot of story arcs, it ultimately feels like a setup for the second season. Thomas gave the same rating to the final 24 episodes, and “mildly recommended” the series. While he started to enjoy this set more thanks to its more action focus, he stated that not showing Baki’s final fight with Yujiro, which was built up the entire show, really ruined it for him.
The 2012 comedy film Graffreeter Toki is based on the March 2011 play of the same name, which in turn was inspired by Grappler Baki.
Baki Hanma is raised by his wealthy mother, Emi Akezawa, who also funds his training in the hopes that he can be a powerful warrior like his father, Yujiro Hanma. Around the start of the series, Baki outgrows traditional training and heads out to follow the path of his ruthless father’s training and meets many powerful fighters along the way. Eventually, Baki fights his father and is beaten without a challenge.
After being beaten, Baki travels around the world continuing his training. Years down the road he finds an underground fighting arena where he fights some of the most powerful fighters of various styles of martial arts. It is here he truly begins to hone his martial arts skills.