In honor of Nintendo’s massive E3 announcements regarding Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (including that of a certain winged villain), let’s take a closer look at one of the gaming giant’s hidden gems: the Metroid manga universe!
For those not familiar with the Metroid video game franchise, the series follows protagonist Samus Aran, an ex-soldier turned interstellar bounty hunter. With her signature power suit, she fights on behalf of the Galactic Federation against the Space Pirates, a force bent on creating weapons out of mysterious organisms called “Metroids.” Along the way, she battles countless enemies, the most notorious being Ridley, Kraid, and the infamous Mother Brain.
Metroid made its manga debut in 1986, the same release year as the original game. It was produced by Wanpakku Comics (わんぱっくコミックス), a children’s manga publisher famous for its “Winning Technique Perfect Version” (必勝テクニック完ペキ版) collection, a series of stories and strategy guides based on Famicom games.
As a 195-page game guide and comic combo, this Metroid manga took liberties when it came to its tone. Writer and artist Minazuki Yuu kept things upbeat compared to the source material’s dark, isolating atmosphere. Instead of the sleek sprite found in-game, Samus is drawn as a chibi-like figure with bulging eyes and stocky limbs. Between the cartoony antics and visual gags were detailed illustrations of the actual game maps, enemy factoids, and other useful instructions to aid players in their quest.
For added interest, Minazuki Yuu throws in references to Nintendo’s other 1980s flagship series. In one scene, Samus passes time traveling between planets by playing The Legend of Zelda. In another, she mistakes an alien nest for a warp pipe from Super Mario Bros.
The 1986 manga also teased the idea that Samus was a man; the first chapter opened with a helmeted Samus posing with two adoring girls in bikinis. (You’ve probably seen this panel making the rounds on social media lately.) This characterization choice was another ruse to mask the game’s secret reveal. In an interview with Akinori Sao, Metroid developers Yoshio Sakamoto and Hiroji Kiyotake discussed how they wanted to surprise players who cleared the game in record times.
Depending on how fast they beat the game, players unlock a specific ending scene. Originally, the good endings were to simply depict Samus without a helmet, as players never saw who exactly was underneath the suit. According to Sakamoto, someone on the production staff took the idea a step further, saying it “would be a shocker if Samus turned out to be a woman!” As such, Samus’s real identity—a woman!—is revealed if players beat the game within three to five hours. Keeping playtime under three hours unlocks a sprite of Samus donning her iconic Justin Bailey leotard.
Of course, you’d never know this if you stuck to reading the goofy Wanpakku game guide.
Famitsu Comix (1989) and Shounen Oh! (1994)
Samus’s next manga appearance, though brief, came in March 1989. Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu, known then as Famicom Tsushin (ファミコン通信), published a parody manga under their Famitsu Comix line called The Shape of Happiness (幸せの形). It was a compilation of shorts that riffed on many video games from the era, Metroid included. The stories were written and illustrated by Tamakichi Sakura, the artist who’d later draw the Super Mario Adventures comics featured in North America’s Nintendo Power.
The 1989 Metroid spoof consists of three comic shorts, each two pages long, that loosely (read: hardly) follow the 1986 game. Like her depiction in the Wanpakku strategy guide, this version of Samus, never shown without the Power Suit, cracks jokes and causes chaos on her mission to defeat Mother Brain.
At one point, Samus stops to check a map written by Famitsu’s famous game guide author Gascon Kanaya when she gets lost. This gag plays out to the end, when instead of facing Mother Brain, Samus goes head to head, literally, with Gascon himself. He tells Samus he can’t let the author draw what happens beyond that point, and insists that she, and the reader, play the game themselves to see what comes next.
In 1994, another series of Metroid parody manga were released alongside the launch of Super Metroid for the Super Famicom system. Printed under the Shonen Oh Game Comics label, these were a trio of 4-koma manga inspired by the new game and written by three separate mangaka. The first set, Round and Round (まるまるとまるまる), was drawn by Matsumoto Hidetaka. Next up was Oh! Metroid (Oh! メトロイド♡) penned by Hikka Ichiro. Finally there was Find the Baby (ベイビーを捜す) by Kan Sonsa.
By this point, since fans already figured out Samus’s real identity, the Shonen Oh 4-koma manga weren’t afraid to show Samus as a woman, albeit one with a distinct 90s manga flair. She’s got big eyes, feathered hair, and cuteness abound, even as she blasts aliens away with her arm cannon.
Samus & Joey (2002) and Metroid EX (2004)
The Metroid manga universe held onto its lighthearted feel until Comic BomBom (コミックボンボン), Kodansha’s now-defunct children’s monthly manga magazine, launched an action series called Samus & Joey in December 2002.
Created by Idzuki Kooji, who also worked on a Megaman manga spinoff, Samus & Joey (サムス＆ジョイ) was the first Metroid manga to feature an original storyline separate from the game’s canon. On the planet Liberty, a young boy named Joey dreams of becoming a strong man like his late father. When a new band of Space Pirates raid his village, Joey tries to defend his home, but is ultimately saved by the legendary Samus Aran. In awe, Joey begs for Samus to take him under her wing, to which she eventually accepts.
The first tankobon of Samus & Joey also included the Rebirth of Samus oneshot, a tie-in to the 2003 game, Metroid Fusion. The short manga is purely promotional, as it highlights the first few scenes of the game.
Comic BomBom followed up Samus & Joey with a 2004 sequel, Metroid EX: Samus & Joey. Unlike the original series, the sequel was printed only in the magazine and never got an official tankobon release, making it an especially rare read. Joey and Samus are back, this time fighting against a new enemy, a Ridley-esque creature named Greed. Using the Dominion Device, Greed steals all of Samus’s upgrades and hands them out to his fighting force, the Deadly Six Stars. It’s up to Samus and Joey to team up yet again and defeat Greed.
While Samus & Joey felt more exciting than its gag manga predecessors, it was still a manga for children. To cater to a more mature crowd, artist and writer duo Kenji Ishikawa and Kouji Tazawa produced Metroid in the November 2003 issue of Monthly Magazine Z (月刊マガジンZ), a discontinued seinen anthology.
Ishikawa and Tazawa’s Metroid manga served as the official canon prequel to Metroid: Zero Mission, the 2004 Game Boy Advance title. It tells the canonical backstory of Samus Aran, starting from her childhood up until her attack on the planet Zebes from Zero Mission. Readers learn of her real relationship with members of the Chozo, an ancient alien species. After her parents are killed during a Space Pirate raid on her home planet, Samus is taken in by Chozo elders, who infuse her with Chozo DNA and train her to become a formidable warrior.
Other characters make notable appearances in the 2003 manga. Once he orders the attack on K-2L, Ridley descends to the planet and meets a young Samus face-to-face. He considers killing her, but doesn’t follow through after the pirate’s mission is compromised. Later on, the two cross paths again during a confrontation on Zebes.
Adam Malkovich, who Samus previously mentioned in Metroid Fusion cutscenes, also plays a small part in the 2003 manga. He works within the Galactic Federation Police and was Samus’s commanding officer during her stint with the force. The manga presents a clearer picture of their relationship, but fans wouldn’t learn much about him until Metroid: Other M.
Kodansha hosted an interactive e-manga edition of the first two Metroid chapters on its website. The e-manga featured colored artwork, sound effects, and animated panels as users navigated each frame.
Metroid Prime: Episode of Aether (2005)
Metroid’s last manga entry popped up in Comic BomBom’s July 2005 issue. Metroid Prime: Episode of Aether was written by Matsumoto Hisashi and retold the events of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, the latest video game installment in the franchise.
Samus arrives at the planet Aether, home to a Galactic Federation military base camp, but when she reaches the surface, she discovers a massacre. A quick search of the premises uncovers a new danger, a mysterious black fog that causes the native alien species to grow in power. It’s up to Samus and a band of survivors to defeat the threat before it spreads to the far reaches of space.
Even though the manga only ran for seven chapters, Episode of Aether managed to condense its plot down to a pretty engaging story, thanks to Hisashi’s dynamic artwork and fast-paced writing.
See You Next Mission
Although it’s been quiet on the manga front, the Metroid series itself shows no signs of slowing down. Here’s hoping that sometime in the future, we’ll be able to join Samus on another manga mission. Until then, please check out the original manga releases and support everyone’s favorite bounty hunter!
This post originally appeared on Hakutaku.