Ode to Kirihito is a long manga by Osamu Tezuka, the "godfather of Japanese manga comics". Like many other manga, it was originally presented in serial format. Osamu Tezuka is most famous for the cheerful, child-oriented Astroboy, but Ode to Kirihito is a dark, adult work.
The story follows the eponymous Kirihito, who is investigating a strange condition called "Monmow Disease", where the patient's anatomy transforms into a canine form. The disease is obviously disfiguring, and also deadly, as the skeletal deformities kill the sufferer. Kirihito, as a young medical doctor, sets out to investigate the condition. His boss insists that the disease is infectious, while Kirihito believes, and finds evidence that it is caused by adulterants in the water of the small village the condition is endemic to. Kirihito quickly catches the disease, and the struggle for understanding the disease becomes very personal. Many problems present themselves once he becomes a dog man, and in true manga fashion he spends the book getting into one crisis after another as he meets cruel and kind people.
Like many manga, the plot structure is episodic, and some of the episodes and characters may have only been inserted to stretch the serial to the complete number of episodes. As Kirihito's research and troubles send him to Taiwan, Syria and South Africa, many characters and subplots are introduced, some of whom have a greater bearing on the story, and some of whom are perhaps connected thematically, through showing human fault or grace. How the reader feels about this narrative structure determines whether this is a problem or not. Readers who like the serial form of storytelling well probably think that Tezuka does it well. Along with the wandering nature of the story, it also incorporates much symbolism, some of which tends to wander itself. The basic theme is people's choice (or lack thereof) with regards to their bestial nature, and an additional level of symbolism is given by the interposition of various Christian elements. Whether this is done effectively is a matter of taste.
The art is also well done. I have to admit that most of my exposure to manga has been through popular, youth oriented titles such as Ranma 1/2, and Oh! My Goddess. In comparison to those, the art is much more subdued. Although marginally a science fiction story, the art is much more realistic in subject and execution than the big eyed girls with magical swords that are more familiar in manga today. Given the great length of the story (over 800 pages), managing to put emotion and tension into every page is quite an accomplishment.
I would definitely recommend this to any manga fan who is looking for a more serious work, or for anyone who doubts that manga can be serious. The only major problem I had with it was the sometimes meandering nature of the narrative, but it would make no sense to fault a work on holding to the conventions of its genre.