In this day and age, manga is a huge source of entertainment worldwide and is read by millions of people. One such extremely popular manga is Kazuki Takahashi's Yu-Gi-Oh! Yu-Gi-Oh! was created in 1996 and, for more than 25 years, has remained a worldwide cultural phenomenon, spawning anime series, video games, promotions, spinoffs, and most importantly, the trading card game by Konami. However, what most people don't know is that Takahashi san originally wrote his magnum opus as a horror manga with elements of games thrown into the mix so that 11-year-olds reading the manga wouldn't be traumatized or too scared. So how exactly did a horrifying manga about the spirit of an Egyptian pharaoh judging evil transform into the trading card franchise that your's truly, and millions of others, know and love today?
Let's first start with the basic premise of the original manga's first 60 chapters. The main character is a timid and nerdy young teenage Japanese boy named Yugi Muto, who is bullied pretty often and is obsessed with puzzles and games. One day, he is given an ancient nigh-unsolvable puzzle called the Millenium Puzzle by his grandfather and eventually solves it, not knowing that within the puzzle contained the spirit of an unnamed ancient Egyptian pharaoh. In these first 59 chapters, stories typically involved Yugi confronting various nefarious people, whether it be bullies, creeps, abusive teachers, or general miscreants. When these antagonists go too far with their wrongdoings, the pharaoh's spirit completely possesses Yugi's body and subjects them to a sadistic Shadow Game, sometimes in the form of an everyday game such as playing cards. The thing that made these Shadow Games horrifying is how Yami Yugi (pharaoh-possessed Yugi) subjects the loser to a dark punishment called the "penalty game" with judgments such as being maimed by fire or knives or driving the antagonist to insanity after the game is finished. One such example of such brutal consequences occurs in chapter 3, where Yugi challenges a wannabe rockstar bully to a Shadow Game. The first one to make enough to trigger a noise-sensitive toy loses. When the bully loses, his punishment is the sound of his heart beating thuds louder and louder until he is eventually driven to insanity. This alone is so disturbing that it is hard to believe this was marketed towards children. I can talk about many other instances where the original manga was much too horrifying, but now it's time to discuss how this horror story turned into a worldwide monster game franchise.
When chapter 60 came about, the readers were introduced to a parody of Magic the Gathering called Magic and Wizards, which would eventually be more well-known as Duel Monsters in the future. The game within the manga involved players summoning monsters and casting magic spells to defeat their opponents. The game also went as far as to summon manifestations of the monsters from inside the card and show them battling each other. The game and story of the chapter became so popular with readers that Takahashi san completely changed the main premise of the manga after the reception. The manga then got a complete reboot with the card game as the main focus, with the horror factors only being a minor and recurring theme. The series had finally found something that worked, and it would bring in thousands, maybe millions of fans. The manga then reached such high levels of popularity that it pushed a couple of companies to market off the success and make a physical version of the Duel Monsters card game that put Yu-Gi-Oh! on the map. Bandai tried first in 1998, but the game was a failure with barebones rules and overall not appealing gameplay. In 1999, Konami gave it a shot and, to make a long story short, created a masterpiece of a game. What Bandai did wrong, Konami fixed with rules that tried its best to follow the limitations of Duel Monsters that the manga established and followed the basic structure that other card games like Magic the Gathering set to make good gameplay. The number of unique cards were so numerous that players also had the option of trading with each other to build up their decks and strategies, hence the term "trading card game." In 2002, the card game made its way to America and, in the years to come, would expand to many countries across the globe, such as South Korea, China, Germany, Italy, France, Taiwan, Australia, and Brazil. In the present day, Yu-Gi-Oh! has 12,456 unique cards, new card types, and rules to expand its gameplay, and has spanned into other forms of media such as video games and spinoffs.
It's interesting to see how a multi-media franchise like Yu-Gi-Oh! started off with humble beginnings and a more common genre like horror. Not many people are aware of this backstory, but it is, nonetheless, fascinating how anything can evolve into what it is today. I seriously doubt that Yu-Gi-Oh! will fade into obscurity soon, and I hope that the game will continue to entertain and influence generations of players for many years to come.