Once upon a time Eren and Levi were the same person, and the best defense against the Titans was…a bunch of trees?!?

Publisher Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump is the perennial best-seller among manga anthologies in Japan, being the serialized home of such iconic series as One Piece, Dragon Ball, Naruto, Bleach, and Death Note. But there’s one extremely noticeable absence in the Shonen Jump hit parade, and that’s Attack on Titan.

Creator Hajime Isayama isn’t to blame for that, though, since he did pitch the smash hit series to Shonen Jump, only to receive a lukewarm response and take his work to rival Kodansha, who was enthusiastic enough to start serializing it in its Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. Now Kodansha is giving everyone a chance to experience the prototype-version of Attack on Titan, titled Humanity vs. Titans, through its Magazine Debut website. Isayama’s 65-page self-contained tale, which he wrote and illustrated at the age of 19, can be read in its entirety and contains some interesting differences from what Attack on Titan would eventually become, as well as a few plot points that survived and even a possible hint at how the series could end.

One of the biggest differences is that Humanity vs. Titans lays out the Titans origins right from the start, saying that they were created by a group of religious fanatics in order to protect nature from the devastating effects of human society. The titans were designed to kill as many humans as possible, and in the hundred years they’ve been around when the story takes place, they’ve wiped out 80 percent of the species. This reverence for nature even influences the setting, as instead of living in cities surrounded by protective brick walls, the remaining humans in Humanity vs. Titans live at the center of a ring of towering trees, as the Titans refuse to destroy plant life.

▼ In the world of Humanity vs. Titans, this would make a great bunker.

The Titans in Humanity vs. Titans share the final version’s taste for human flesh and regenerative properties, but instead of having a uniform weak spot at the base of their necks, each has a central nucleus located somewhere in their body that must be crushed in order to kill the beast.

As for the human cast, Humanity vs. Titans’s male lead, Murakumo, seems to have more in common with Attack on Titan fan favorite Levi, as he’s a cool, capable warrior, and also the only human to have ever survived a fight with a Titan. He does share Attack on Titan protagonist Eren’s ability to shift into a Titan, though, as well as his backstory of having a parent (actually both parents in Murakumo’s case) been eaten by Titans.

There’s also an early version of female lead Mikasa, although here she’s named Tsubaki, and instead of being a full-fledged soldier herself, she’s a civilian who’s begging Murakumo, who she calls “Master,” to teach her to fight, so that she can avenge her parents, who were also eaten by Titans.

Sadly, that’s a wish she never gets granted, since at the end of Humanity vs. Titans’s one and only chapter, Murakumo sacrifices himself in order to protect the town from a rampaging Titan, in keeping with his declaration that unlike Tsubaki, he’s not fighting for revenge, but for the sake of his friends who’re still among the living. The story comes to a close with Tsubaki practicing her sword technique in front of Murakumo’s grave, which could be a sign that the ending for Attack on Titan that Isayama has in his head is one characterized more by catharsis than triumph (or maybe he just needed a compact story with a strong emotional ending while he was shopping the concept around).

Magazine Debut even includes part of the feedback Isayama was given by the publication’s editors:

“We think that if you hold on to your desire to convey your story to an audience, and to have them read it, that you can become a professional manga artist.”

Thirteen years later, Isayama isn’t just any manga pro, but on of the most successful in the industry, and if you want to get a look at how it all started, Humanity vs. Titans can be found here.

Source: Magazine Debut via Jin
Top image: Magazine Debut
Insert images: Pakutaso