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Cirque du Freak Volume 1

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Cirque du Freak Volume 1 by Darren Shan and Takahiro Arai from Yen Press

Cirque du Freak Volume 1

© 2006 Darren Shan, Takahiro Arai

The Bottom Line

Darren and Steve are best friends who share a fascination with monsters. Then a visit to an unusual circus forces them to make heart-wrenching choices that change their lives in strange and frightening ways.

Adapted from the bestselling young adult novels of Darren Shan, the manga version of Cirque du Freak takes readers on a wild ride filled with drama, action and vampires too. Shan masterfully weaves a web of horror, and Arai translates Shan's verbose prose into a fast-paced, albeit sometimes over-the-top shonen story that will enthrall teens and older readers alike.

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  • A dark and thrilling fable filled with surreal twists and dire consequences
  • Adapts Shan's tale into a shonen manga that will appeal to fans old and new
  • Features interesting and sympathetic characters and hints of more to come
  • Character designs of the 'freaks' are whimsical yet nightmarish in a Tim Burton way


  • Includes some scenes of graphic violence and gore that might disturb sensitive readers
  • Full of over-the-top, hyper-emotional scenes that sometimes are a bit much
  • Arai's art has several awkwardly-drawn moments that distract from the story


  • Original Title: Daren Shan (Japan)
  • Author: Darren Shan
    Artist: Takahiro Arai
  • Publishers:
  • ISBN: 978-0759530416
  • Cover Price: $10.99 US / $11.99 CANADA
  • Age Rating: T – Teens Age 13+ for violence and some disturbing gore
    More about content ratings.
  • Manga Genres:
  • US Publication Date: June 2009
    Japan Publication Date: November 2006
  • Book Description: 208 pages, black and white illustrations

Guide Review - Cirque du Freak Volume 1

Like many young boys, Darren and Steve are fascinated by monsters and creepy creatures. While they both enjoy safe, middle-class lives, the two boys crave a taste of a world of darkness and danger that they've only seen in horror movies. Their wishes come true when the bizarre Cirque du Freak comes to town. After viewing the show, Darren and Steve are plunged into a macabre world where their choices have life-changing (and life-threatening) consequences.

Unlike Twilight, Vampire Knight or similar blood-sucking stories, Cirque du Freak is a teen horror tale that will enthrall both male and female readers, because it removes tragic romance from the equation and ramps up the horror instead. The tragedy here is not of star-crossed lovers, but of two boys who make unfortunate choices that may lead them to lose all that they hold dear, including their friendship.

Cirque du Freak is another manga / young adult novel crossover; but compared to similar efforts, this cross-cultural collaboration between an English author and a Japanese manga artist seamlessly brings together the best of both worlds. From page one, Shan introduces an array of fascinating characters, and keeps things moving along at a brisk pace with plot twists that keep readers guessing.

Arai takes Shan's story and embellishes it with lots of dramatic, action-packed scenes filled with over-the-top emotions. His character designs are suitably elastic, fantastic and surreal for this story about a macabre freak show. Arai is a relatively new manga-ka, but he has translated Shan's sometimes over-expository prose into compelling visuals that capture the spirit and the surprises of the original tale.

Overall, Cirque du Freak is dark, nightmarish fable that's also a crackling good read. It's sure to hook in teen horror fans who will be left counting the days until the next volume.

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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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