Since I already did GTO: Shonan 14 Days as a Manga of the Month it is only natural that I recommend GTO: The Early Years as the companion piece. Shonan Junai Gumi is where Eikichi Onizuka’s adventure started. I always had a vague feeling there was a longer story that occurred before GTO when I first read the series. Characters make quick reference to old stories and grudges. Characters would pop on to the scene with minimal introduction. Ryuji Danma and Onziuka seemed to have had a tremendous amount of back story. But I did not think much about it and just assumed Tohru Fujisawa liked it hint at a greater story than he was telling. But when I learned that GTO was a sequel to an equally long manga called Shonan Junai Gumi it all made sense. So I was thrilled when Tokopop started releasing the original series and crushed when they closed up shop leaving the manga unfinished. Thankfully Vertical has licensed recused this series and is putting their own signature polish of the title.
Back before he was the greatest teacher in Japan Eikichi Onizuka was just a teenager with his friend Ryuji Danma and they both had a dream. To finally lose their virginity. It just so happens these two goofy teens are also the toughest delinquents in all of Japan. So the Oni-Baku has to fight all stripes of insane thugs, miscreants, yankees, criminals, and psychopaths to keep their reputation while trying to find love (or at least satisfy their lust) with some lucky ladies. They build quite a gang for themselves in the process.
It is great to get the end of the beginning of the Onizuka legacy when it seemed like this part of the story would not see a full licensed release in the US. While this part of the story is a bit cruder than later parts of Onizuka’s story it also has its own energy that is not present in the later iterations as well. The art and story telling is a bit less refined but I feel the humor is a bit ruder, the action a bit wilder, and the stakes a bit higher. As Tohru Fujisawa goes on in his career his work gets much more refined but he loses a bit of spontaneity in the process. This is the raw and uncut Onizuka. I would like to see this do well because then Vertical can go back and redo the old Tokoyopop versions of GTO: The Early Years and maybe even GTO itself. If you want more Onizuka there is the new Ino-Head Gargoyle that continues the GTO legacy with Saejima Toshiyuki who has been with the GTO franchise since Shonan Junai Gumi as well.