Fun fact on this one, while I reviewed both anime seasons a while back, I actually completed the manga before watching the shows. It just so happened that writing those reviews was a bit quicker than writing the review for the manga. In general the anime reviews can be easier sometimes but I would say it’s case by case. At the time of this writing it’s completely balanced with 5 manga and 5 anime left to review with this one out of the way. It’s kind of cool how that ended up working out. A lot of my pros and cons for the manga are similar to the anime so lets dive right in.
The story mainly revolves around 2 cells, a white blood cell and a red blood cell. Red is always getting lost around the body as she tries to deliver nutrients. Meanwhile white blood cell’s job is to go around destroying viruses and any harmful bacteria. He may seem like a very intense guy whose only thoughts are of murdering his prey but he’s a nice guy once you get to know him. The two cells hit it off as good friends and the manga follows their adventures. I would say the manga is 90% slice of life with the occasional big plot threads like when the cancer cell shows up. To date I do think it’s fitting that the cancer cell would end up being the big threat here because that is typically known as the most dangerous disease out there.
A slice of life title like this is really carried by the characters and setting. For me this is where the series is a little weaker than it could have been otherwise. For example, the characters live inside of the human body because that’s the entire premise of the series. It’s not like they could just leave it at any point, that wouldn’t really make sense. So logically they have to always be in the same kind of areas but it isn’t a very visually interesting setting. It all looks a bit bland and personally I would have liked a little more variety. Maybe make it so that some parts of the body actually do look like cities and such. It may not have been super scientific but it’s not like the series takes no liberties so this definitely could have worked.
Then for the characters, I’ll get into them more in detail in a minute. The cast is good but there aren’t a lot of exceptional characters here. Also, they just aren’t as funny as some other slice of life casts. The series is part comedic but I wouldn’t say it ever gets as funny as some of the top titles like Nisekoi or Kaguya Sama. It’s not boring or anything but these are the things that keep it from taking the jump to the next level. Cells at Work! is a good title, it’s just not a great one.
Neutrophil is definitely one of the best characters and someone who always dominates the scene that he is in. He’s really got a very focused approach towards tackling any issue and I can definitely appreciate that. The cancer cell tries to have a philosophical debate with him but Neutrophil is really built to destroy his enemies and so he can’t do that. I thought it was an interesting approach to have him be so by the books that he can’t see the gray area. Everything is black and white to him because that’s how he is designed. The very world of Cells at Work is interesting in that way because there are a lot of implications in having each cell be sentient and I would say say that the series handles them well. It’s not a constant theme and don’t mistake this for being a deep series but at least you get an inkling of how this would play out.
Then you have Red who is always fun. She doesn’t really get any big action scenes since she can’t fight but she is always striving to be better. By the end of the series she may still get lost but not as much as she once did. Red also has several scenes where she is really able to prove herself and stay strong even when everyone around her is giving up. She has a lot of determination and you definitely want to see that in the main heroine.
Another big character is Killer T and he’s fun enough. The guy definitely loves to battle but he isn’t quite as smart or nuanced as Neutrophil. The guy also doesn’t seem as strong if you ask me. He’s not as quick to Neutrohpil could probably outmaneuver him. Killer T has a decent backstory and gets a bigger role as the series progressed. It was good to have another fighter to help Neutrophil out against the enemies so his presence was certainly appreciated.
Macrophage is a helpful character. She may not appear to be too deadly at first glance but she can certainly fight with the best of them. Then you have Helper T who is more of a support role. Apparently he can fight based on his flashback but just doesn’t do that nowadays. With how the cell system works, you just have to stay in your lane at all times even if you have the ability to help. So sadly we never get to see him do much.
Regulatory T actually does get a role but unfortunately it’s a bad one. She ends up betraying the heroes to help out the cancer cell which was a really bad move. She may mean well but if following the rules means betraying your friends then it’s time to go off script a bit. The fact that she didn’t do this is ultimately what got her into a really big mess here.
Eosinophil was one of the better characters though. She could fight really well but her weakness is that it depends on the opponent so she did get mocked a lot initially. It’s got to be tough to only be able to fight against some opponents but she makes the most of her opportunities and gets a good win at the end of the day. She should only get more powerful as she goes on.
Memory Cell is one of the more annoying cells. The guy’s whole purpose here is to use memories from previous attacks to let the others know how to fight the opponents and what the best course of action is. Unfortunately he tends to forget this when it counts which is really not a good look. You’re counting on him to do something but he almost never lives up to his role. Considering that this is literally his only task, it is a really bad look for him.
Basophil is a very mysterious cell who is always talking in riddles. I think this does have some potential of course but ultimately it just doesn’t work out. Mainly the issue is because his words don’t actually amount to much. If you really pay attention to what he’s saying, it’s usually abstract things without a real meaning behind it. I like technobabble and ancient prophecy type speeches as long as there is a point but if it’s just the character trying to show off to an extent then it doesn’t work. Trying to sound smart and actually saying something which is smart are two very different things.
Then there is the normal cell and he just wants to have a good purpose. Right now the only thing that he has to do is make more clones of him. It’s a rather boring job and there just isn’t much to keep him occupied. I do sympathize but it gets to be a bit much when he’s getting in the way of the other heroes and actually teaming up with a villain at one point. Each job there is very necessary to keeping the body operational so messing around for no good reason is not a good excuse at all. It takes away from his sympathy points.
There are other supporting characters as well since there are tons of different blood types in the body. You’ve got the red blood cells in training called the platelets and then some more obscure types. You’ll probably have a hard time remembering all of the names but the series certainly doesn’t skimp out on the details. If there is a blood cell then you can bet that it’s in here somewhere.
As for the villains, most of them are rather nameless. You do have the coronavirus, flu, and a bunch of bacteria but for the most part they just get a quick appearance before being shredded. The Cancer Cell is the only exception to this. He’s a very smart cell who tries to think outside of the framework. It makes him an interesting villain because he’s someone who brings up a lot of valid points. Why does he have to be destroyed just for existing? After all, he didn’t choose to be born a cancer cell and it’s an interesting dynamic because this is a perfect example of what I was talking about earlier with the implications of each cell being alive.
A cancer cell by definition has to be destroyed even if he wasn’t doing anything. It’s not like the heroes can just spare him because as long as he’s alive then the system won’t work. In almost any other series you could see him being the sympathetic hero with that case or more of a moral discussion but Neutrophil has to end him because he recognizes that there is no way around this. It’s one of the most interesting parts of the manga even if they aren’t able to delve into this too much. It’s just nice food for thought.
I thought he made for an excellent antagonist and someone who couldn’t be brushed aside so easily. His abilities were also handy, he fought like a symbiote with how he could stretch his arms and turn them into shapes. That’s not something you could see a lot of other characters do. This title also didn’t have too many prolonged fights like this so it was definitely cool to see. You’ll certainly be satisfied with the fight as a whole.
In general I would also say that the artwork here was solid. It may not be amazing or anything but you can certainly follow the action without getting lost at any point. It’s easy to read through the pages and get to the end so I have no complaints here. The characters also have very different designs so you aren’t likely to mix them up. I still thought at first that each chapter would have a different white blood cell and red blood cell since there are billions or trillions of them running around and looking the same. Would have made sense in a way because the odds of the two cells meeting each other again seems slim at best. I assume it didn’t happen because the author would either have to think of an excuse to have them get along each time or just drop the dynamic entirely which would have made for a very different series. Ultimately this was the only way to keep their bond all the way through.
Another plus for the series is definitely that you may be able to learn a thing or two as you read through it. The series does use the science name for each of the cells and so you may learn some things about the body. Biology was definitely never my thing so I can’t say that I remember too much of the science but it’s a nice element to throw in there. It certainly doesn’t hurt anything.
In general it’s not like the manga makes any big mistakes either. It’s biggest weakness to me is that you never get super invested. It’s a fun read but I wouldn’t exactly call it a page turner. The characters just don’t have enough energy to really keep every moment dynamic and since the series is more of a slice of life style, the characters are needed to kick things up a notch. It’s still fun but you are less likely to re read the adventure. I think that’s the biggest difference between a 6 like this and a higher 7.
Overall, Cells at Work! is a very unique manga. I wouldn’t say this is a premise that most people would think of right off the bat. Usually dealing with the body like this could be a recipe for disaster as it could get a bit gross but this series never takes it like that. The areas also don’t look like parts of the body which I think is a good thing. I still would have liked more variety in the corridors but this’ll get the job done. If you’re looking for a manga to spend some time on, this will still get the job done. At less than 10 volumes it makes for a quick read.