Naoki Urasawa is regarded as one of the premier manga creators, and 20th Century Boys is one of his crowning works. It has won multiple accolades, including the 2001 Kodansha Manga Award, an Excellence Prize at the 2002 Japan Media Arts Festival, and the 2003 Shogakukan Manga Award.
This volume introduces the story in twin narratives. In 1969 a group of boys create a club, complete with a hideout in a field and a secret symbol to help them identify membership. 30 years later, this symbol resurfaces as part of a secret society headed by a mysterious figure only known as "The Friend." This group seems to be involved in shady dealings, murdering rivals, and manipulating social control. Also, they seem to be bent on destroying the world with a giant destructive robot reminiscent of Gigantor. A friend's suicide leads failed-rocker-turned-convenience-store-owner Kenji Endō to try piecing together what's going on in the present with his hazy memories of the past.
The story and art both contain clues to the mystery, and Urasawa spins a compelling story that bears (even requires) rereading because of its nuances. The title of the series comes from a famous single by the glam rock band T. Rex, and there are many references to rock music and the popular culture of the times.
In Japan, this series was hugely popular, and it has spawned a trilogy of ambitious live action movies. The movies deviate from the books in some ways; still, some may wish to avoid the trailer because of spoilers. US reviewers have been very positive about the book. Lee Newman praises it, stating that "Urasawa has converted this conservative American fanboy" to manga. Greg McElhatton is impressed by the level of detail in Urasawa's story and art.
20th Century Boys is published in the US by VIZ Media. 13 of the intended 22 volumes have been published. The series was delayed until his other series Monster and Pluto were completed, and the remaining volumes are again being released periodically.