D.Gray-Man follows a 15-year-old clown hobo named Allen who is also Jesus. He finds a home in the pseudo-19th century Vatican and travels the world as an Exorcist—destroying akuma, getting Innocence and swindling people at poker. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Puppety abominations created by the Millennium Earl, the Big Bad of the series. They are made by convincing a grieving person whose loved one has died to wish them back to life, at which point the dead soul is bound to the Earl's will. His will involves making the new akuma kill the person who called it back and then wearing their skin to become a mindless killing machine.
Yeah, it's that kind of series. For kids?
The weapon bestowed by god that Exorcists, the Main Characters, use to destroy akuma and free their souls. Can be kind of a bitch. Despite multiple Exorcists losing their Innocence over the span of the series, not one of them ever gets laid.
The Black Order:
Where the Exorcists hang out and get their missions, as well as the site of many a terrible, terrible experiment. The higher ups are total dicks, complete with Vatican Hitler.
The Millenium Earl's family and main antagonists, descended from exactly where you would think in a faux-biblical manga (faux in that it sways wildly between super intense biblical references and straight up did not do the research). Characterized by gray skin, yellow eyes, stigmata on their foreheads, sexy evil, and bad touch. A lot of bad touch. Following the last great hiatus, the Noah are all well into stripper territory.
Oh yeah, and the Earl has horns. Spoiler alert.
Proof that there is no god.
The forever-fifteen protagonist with a backstory so goddamn depressing you will have to watch a constant stream of baby animal videos for at least 8 hours after hearing it just to feel something again. Allen was sold to the circus as a child due to his deformed arm, where he was abused and at least once shoved into a lion cage. No, it gets better. His surrogate father was a clown.
Also that clown (Mana) died and Allen turned him into an akuma, prompting Mana to curse his eye before Allen had to kill him. It still gets better. Better than clown zombies who curse people. Allen was then taken in by an abusive manwhore of an Exorcist, who after instilling in him a Pavlovian fear of alcohol and vaginas as well as turning him into a poker junkie, eventually hit him over the head with a hammer and abandoned him. Also, it turns out that Allen is the host for the 14th Noah, enemy of the Order AND other Noah, who was clown-dad's brother and clown-dad might have been insane and never loved Allen in the first place. God. Damn.
An insane clown that takes in underage boys? Now that's just silly.
Also he was named after a dog. True story.
Here. Watch this a few times, then continue.
The token chick. Fulfilling both the fanservice and badass requirements, she is actually the manliest of the bunch. Due to traits like "being a strong, capable character" and "having a vagina," she is largely reviled by the fanbase. Oh, and for those of you with a glimmer of hope remaining, you should know that Allen's backstory is not the most angsty. They're all kind of like that.
Lenalee's parents were killed by akuma when she was bitty, leaving her brother to raise her. You might be noticing a pattern with absent parents in this series. Keep an eye on that pattern, because it is not going anywhere. She is kidnapped by the Order due to being compatible with Innocence and spends a few wrist-slitting years there, until her brother works his way through the ranks so that they can be trapped there together. Aw. So then Lenalee puts on a smiling face to hide her trauma and continues to work as a soldier for the Order, basing her entire world around the people that she cares about and wanting to protect them. This is a bad decision, because every single character in this series dies at least once.
No negative effect on her whatsoever.
As an aside: despite her skirt eventually transforming into a ruffled belt, it took nearly 200 damn chapters to get anything approaching a pantyshot.
FINALLY. ... Lenalee? You okay?
Kanda is your typical jackass character. For most of the series we had no idea why, but following a convoluted and supremely bizarre (even by DGM standards) story arc, we have discovered that like every other character, he has emotional baggage like whoa. Basically, he is some sort of zombie freak created in a lab using the brain of another Exorcist who died, and he hallucinates FLOOOOWEEEEERS.
A lot. Also, proof of the infamous hiatuses.
Despite the flower thing, he kicks a lot of ass and is one of the fan-favorites, likely due to his wonderful personality. And, you know, he's purty. Also there's something about his... kind of gay... kind of pedo... bordering on necrophilia boygirlfriend. There is not enough time for us to focus on it here, but... yeah. That happens.
We would show you his face, but his ass honestly gets a lot more panel time. No, we will not take the time to back that up with an ass montage. You're welcome.
Lavi was taken in as a youngun' by Bookman, an abusive old man who took him around the world recording wars and other atrocities committed by humans. This led bitty Lavi to hate humans. As a Bookman in training, he is meant to stay detached from humanity and only record things without getting personally invested; as part of that, he has changed his persona while working in different places almost 50 times. However, as one might expect, he gets a little too attached to the Lavi one and starts caring about the other three, giving him all sorts of mental anguish that never comes back to haunt any of them.
D. Gray-Man is actually the toned down, less fucking insane version of the premise. Look up 'Zone' some time.
The manga starts out as a series of fetch quests following this basic equation:
1) Go looking for Innocence
2) Find strange phenomenon
3) Fight akuma and/or Noah
4) People die. A lot. Torture happens if a Noah is around
5) Get Innocence, possibly a new teammate
7) Return to Order to spend the next few weeks recovering from wounds and mental trauma
This formula gets changed up after the Exorcists get put into groups to protect the Generals, super-awesome old people Exorcists. Since magnificent bastard and child abuse extraordinaire General Cross is missing, presumably off snorting cocaine off a hooker's ass in some far off land, the plot becomes Where In The World Is Cross Sandiego for a while, which quickly spirals into DEATH ANGST DEATH ANGST GRAPHIC DEATH ANGST.
No worries, he gets better.
After recovering from that bit of mass genocide, the characters make it to Japan, which has become completely overrun by akuma and the site of actual mass genocide. Literally everyone is dead. But let's not linger too long on that, time for Allen to make his dynamic entrance!
Millions upon millions of innocent people are dead.
So they meet up with the group that the other main character is in. With one man down (Lenalee's Innocence was essentially destroyed in a battle far too epic to be accurately described here) and basically everyone injured, they embark on the next phase of the series: Boss-Battle-Palooza. Never-ending one-on-one, Exorcist vs. Noah action. This naturally culminates in every character dying.
They get better. It's actually one of the best scenes in the entire series and less cop-outish than you might expect.
Also we learn that there is totally a traitor Noah living inside of Allen, and he plays bitching piano solos. So after they all get back to the Order, much rejoicing is had! Until it is attacked by a Noah. Many die. A level four akuma is created, so terrifying that Allen vomits at the very sight of its twisted soul- but Lenalee gets her boots back and kicks some major ass, so it's all good.
Worth the casualties.
This is wisely where the anime stopped. What follows is an arc about the Order being haunted by the ghost of possibly hundreds of children who were killed by the Order in failed experiments ending with every current member being infected by a zombie virus (played for laughs, naturally). Next is a fetch quest that gains them a new Exorcist who happens to be eight years old (no one seems to take issue with this, good to know they all learned something from that last arc), and then... things... get... weird.
This is basically all that you need to know.
It is a given in most anime that all of your favorite characters will die. In DGM, so will every single other character. If you are thinking "that's how all shonen series work!" then you are highly underestimating the true body count.
DGM is responsible for 80% of all manga extra deaths. Does that sound high? Remember that Japan is just fucking gone. Remember that no one in this series has parents. Remember that every akuma involves at least 2 people dying to even exist. Every level two has killed multiple people. Akuma evolve up to level four, which involves multiple level threes fusing, all of which killed hundreds- you get the idea.
Mining coal in an underwater volcano surrounded by megasharks and octopi is a safer job than any career in the DGM universe.
And oh, we aren't kidding about the angst/death/body horror. Sometimes when the stars align, they are all combined into one story arc.
Oh, that's sweet. Maybe this will be nice-
Jesus. This was the first main arc. Where did that baby porcupine clip go?