For the 2009 film, see Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant. For the novel in the Darren Shan series, see Cirque du Freak.

Cirque du Freak (ダレン・シャン Daren Shan?, lit. "Darren Shan"), known as The Saga of Darren Shan in the United Kingdom, is a manga series illustrated by mangaka Takahiro Arai and based on the book series, The Saga of Darren Shan, by author Darren Shan. Arai won a contest in which the winning mangaka would be allowed to draw the series in a manga medium. He also allowed his brother to design a scene, a few characters, and some backgrounds. The series was published in the magazine Shōnen Sunday from 2006 to 2009, and a total of 12 volumes were released in Japan by Shogakukan.

Cirque du Freak was licensed for release in North America by Yen Press and in the United Kingdom by HarperCollins. Yen Press was able to acquire the license because of their sister company, Little, Brown and Company, which publishes the original novels. The Yen Press edition also contained an excerpt from the original book series. Cirque du Freak was also licensed in France by Pika Édition and in Taiwan by Sharp Point Press. The series has received relatively positive reviews from Western critics, with praise about its tone and story. The art and character designs were commended by critics, though noted as being awkward and over-the-top at times.

Cirque du Freak follows the story of Darren Shan, a young boy turned into a half-vampire. He joins Cirque du Freak with his guardian, Larten Crepsley, who had turned him into a half-vampire. They share an uneasy relationship, often becoming confused about each others feelings and concerns, and Darren disliking Crepsley for taking away his human life. Steve Leonard, Darren's best friend while he was human, feels betrayed by Darren becoming a half-vampire and decides to become a vampire hunter in order to kill him.


After attending a showing of a freak show known as "Cirque du Freak", a boy named Darren Shan feels inclined to steal a large tarantula from the spider-tamer and revealed vampire, Larten Crepsley. He learns how to control her through telepathy, but while practicing with his best friend, Steve Leonard, the spider is startled and bites Steve's neck. Though the bite doesn't kill him, Steve is left paralyzed and Darren seeks out Crepsely for an antidote. Crepsley agrees to give it to him, on the condition that Darren becomes a vampire; Darren accepts, and is turned into a half-vampire, and Steve is healed. Immediately after, Darren flees from Crepsley, afraid to lose his lifestyle, friends, and family. However, Darren soon realizes that he cannot handle his new strength and thirst for blood, and returns to Crepsley. They stage Darren's death, but before departing from the town, Darren encounters Steve, who vows to become a strong vampire hunter and kill him, feeling betrayed.

Despite needing human blood, Darren only drinks animal blood, and hates Crespley for changing him. He also feels alone, having no family or friends; he tries to blend in with other children, but his lack of control with his strength caused another boy to become injured. He confides to Crepsley about his situation and Crepsley decides to bring him to Cirque du Freak, knowing that Darren would be able to have friends and be himself when surrounded by other strange beings.


Darren Shan
Darren Shan (ダレン・シャン Daren Shan?) is a young boy with an interest and love for spiders. Darren was drawn to the Cirque du Freak show because of the spider tamer, and was deeply amazing at the performance; enough so that he stole the spider. He is content living with his family, but decides to become a half-vampire and join Larten Crepsley to save the life of his friend, as he felt it was his responsibility. Even after Steve vowes to kill him one day after becoming a strong vampire hunter, Darren doesn't tell Crepsley about the threat in order to keep Steve safe, believing that he is still his best friend.
Steve Leonard
Steve Leonard (スティーブ・レナード Sutību Renādo?) is Darren's best friend who has a deep interest in vampires. He discovered that Larten was a vampire, and begged him to turn him into one. Larten tests his blood, and tells him that the blood is "bad", and that Steve is wicked and evil. Steve the first to realize that Darren is no longer human, and leaves to become a strong vampire hunter able to kill Darren. Steve has remarked that his father no longer lives with him and that he feels his mother doesn't love him; he had felt that Darren was the only person he would truly miss if he had become a vampire.
Larten Crepsley
Larten Crepsley (ラーテン・クレプスリー Rāten Kurepusurī?) is a vampire who works as a spider-tamer at Cirque du Freak and Darren's guardian. He sees great potential in Darren and bloods him so that he can train him. Though Crepsley has acted cold towards Darren and tests him under a guise of friendliness, he also shows concern for him and regrets changing him after seeing Darren's unhappiness. It was his idea to bring Darren to the Cirque, as well, to try and better Darren's situation. Despite being a vampire, Crepsley believes that they are not monsters until they kill humans, and refuses to turn someone who is evil into a vampire.


The manga series was based on a series of 12 books by author Darren Shan.[1][2] Arai received a call from his editor in 2006, and was informed about a contest in which an artist would make a manga rendition of Cirque du Freak.[3] Shan would act as the "final judge", who decided out of the applicants who would be chosen.[3] Arai "drew up a chapter or two", and in April 2006, he was accepted as the contest winner.[3] Arai used a "touch" of his brother's version in a scene where Darren catches Cirque du Freak tickets. His brother also designed backgrounds and the characters Hans Hands, Alexander Ribs, and Gertha Teeth.[3] Arai mentions that during the production of volume two was when he "truly learned the difference in depiction between a novel and a manga."[4] He noted that manga "has a tendency" to be more "straightforward than a novel", due to its use of art.[4] Altogether, Arai felt that depction was "very fun", but still an "exasperating process".[4] Cirque du Freak was serialized weekly as well, so Arai had "to cram a hook and climax into an eighteen-page every single week". In order "to make the story fit", Arai was forced to remove scenes.[4] Arai expressed that he would have liked to have spent more time on the Trials of Death and the Festival of the Undead during volume five, but was forced to condense the original novel to fit into one volume of manga.[5]

To create background art, Arai gathered references from photographs taken during his childhood in Scotland. In addition, Darren's house is based off of his Scotland home.[6]


Cirque du Freak is a manga series illustrated by Takahiro Arai and based on The Saga of Darren Shan, a book series by Darren Shan.[2] It originally ran in the Japanese magazine Shōnen Sunday from August 2006[7] to February 2009[8] and the first volume was released on November 17, 2006 by Shogakukan under the title Darren Shan.[9] In total, 12 volumes have been released in Japan, with the final volume having been published on April 17, 2009.[10] At the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con International, Yen Press announced that they had acquired rights to translate and publish the series in English.[11] The first three volumes were set to be released to coincide with the film Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant.[12] It was Yen Press' first title from Shogakukan, a "feat" in that Shogakukan is a co-owner of another manga publisher in North America, Viz Media.[12] Little, Brown and Company, a sister company to Yen Press, helped Yen Press obtain the license because it publishes the original novel series.[12]

Yen Press' edition of the first volume was released on June 9, 2009 in North America under the name Cirque du Freak[13] and contained an excerpt from the book series in the back of the volume.[14] Cirque du Freak was licensed for release in the United Kingdom by HarperCollins under their HarperCollin's Children's Books imprint.[15] HarperCollins released the first volume on May 28, 2009, with the series entitled as The Saga of Darren Shan.[15] Cirque du Freak was also licensed and released in France by Pika Édition[16] and in Taiwan by Sharp Point Press.[17]


The first volume of Cirque du Freak was listed on the American Library Association's "2010 Great Graphic Novels for Teens", a list compiling graphic novels that "meet the criteria of both good quality literature and appealing reading for teens".[18]

Cirque du Freak has received relatively positive reviews from Western critics. Cirque du Freak was listed by GraphicNovelReporter as a top pick in graphic novels for the summer of 2008.[19] In GraphicNovelReporter's John Hogan's review for the first volume, Arai's art was praised, with Hogan noting that he did "a superb job of creating a manga that feels like a healthy mix of styles, both American and Japanese."[20] Writing for School Library Journal, Snow Wildsmith reviewed the first volume positively, noting the emotion and introspection present in it, but commented that though its "strong and holds together well", it "felt like it was just set up for the later volumes."[21]

PopCulture Shock's Grant Goodman graded the first volume with an "A", calling the character designs "strange-but-lovely" and that pace of the "second half", which "rushes forward at a breakneck pace", causes "Darren Shan’s tale [to be] a standout title among the glut of standard shonen manga."[22] The second volume was reviewed by Goodman in July 27, 2009's "Manga Minis" review segment. Goodman also rated the volume with an "A" and commended the pacing, as well as saying that the darkness allowed for it to be "accessible to an older audience".[23] Deb Aoki, writing for the website, rated the first volume with 3 and a half stars out of 5, commending its character designs, appeal to fans, and story. However, she also noted that the gore "might disturb sensitive readers", and pointed out some scenes as being too "over-the-top" emotionally and that the art was prone to "awkwardly-drawn moments" that distract readers.[24] Manga Life's Joy Kim criticized that the first volume was "extremely predictable" and the art as "occasionally awkward", but felt it was "a good alternative" to shōjo series focusing on vampires "with the emotional maturity and tortured love lives of emo high school students".[25]

Grant Goodman rated the fifth volume with an "A", concluding that it is "brimming with action, mystery, and betrayal—all of which add up to a [sic] create a manga you do not want to miss."[26]


  1. Shan, Darren. "The Saga of Darren Shan - Books 1 to 12". Retrieved August 31, 2009. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "CIRQUE DU FREAK, THE MANGA story by Darren Shan, art by Takahiro Arai". Yen Press. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Script error
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Script error
  5. Script error
  6. Script error
  7. Script error
  8. Script error
  9. Script error
  10. Script error
  11. "Yen Adds Cirque du Freak, Oninagi, GA, Ichiroh! Manga". Anime News Network. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Aoki, Deb. "Comic-Con '08: Yen Press Adds Cirque du Freak, More 4-Panel Manga". Retrieved August 31, 2009. 
  13. "Cirque Du Freak: The Manga, Vol. 1 (Paperback)". Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  14. Script error
  15. 15.0 15.1 "Cirque Du Freak [Manga Edition]". HarperCollins. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  16. Script error
  17. Script error
  18. "2010 Great Graphic Novels for Teens". American Library Association. Retrieved June 21, 2010. 
  20. Hogan, John. "Cirque du Freak". GraphicNovelReporter. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  21. Wildsmith, Snow. "Review: Cirque du Freak: The Manga, Vol. 1". School Library Journal. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  22. Goodman, Grant. "Cirque du Freak, Vol. 1". PopCulture Shock. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  23. Goodman, Grant. "Manga Minis, 7/27/09". PopCulture Shock. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  24. Aoki, Deb. "Cirque du Freak Volume 1". Retrieved August 19, 2009. 
  25. Kim, Joy. "Cirque du Freak v1". Manga Life. Retrieved February 26, 2010. 
  26. Goodman, Grant. "Manga Minis, 4/12/10". PopCulture Shock. Retrieved June 21, 2010. 

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