Attack On Titan's Isayama Used MMA Fighters As Inspiration For The Titans

When Japanese manga-ka Hajime Isayama first wrote and illustrated "Attack on Titan" for serialized monthly publication in Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine, he had no idea that it would go on to become an international mega-hit. Basing the manga storyline on a one-shot prototype he had written when he was 19, Isayama spent years fleshing out the dangerous, combat-prone world of "Attack on Titan," where massive, man-eating beasts named Titans terrorize and devour humans. Isayama took inspiration for these giant humanoid antagonists from various sources — some aspects were a natural evolution of his pre-school sketches, while others were inspired by contemporary serialized manga, including Tsutomu Nihei's "Knights of Sidonia." However, in a 2014 interview with culture magazine Brutus, Isayama clarified that his Titans were based on MMA-themed magazines, along with several real-life WWE and UFC fighters, and mixed-martial artists.

As Isayama's Titans stand out due to their massive, rugged appearance and enhanced physicality, it makes sense for the manga-ka to base core Titan fight techniques on MMA fighters or professional wrestlers. In "Attack on Titan," the towering humanoid beings not only boast incredible strength but also display perfect control over their movements, their Achilles Heel being the nape of their necks, as it the only spot immune to regeneration. While Isayama's world and the Titans that inhabit it take on a more mystical, near-dystopian tint, his grounded inspirations for some of the most interesting characters in the manga series warrant closer artistic scrutiny and dissection. Let us dive into these inspirations now, shall we?

Connections between manga art and MMA

In a 2016 interview with Gong Kakutogi magazine, Hajime Isayama spoke at length about the connections between etching manga panels and MMA, where both art forms require mastery over specific skill sets for the best results. While MMA requires controlled strength and muscle coordination, manga illustration demands consistent form and creative ingenuity, and Isayama seems riveted by these conceptual overlaps.

It is interesting to note that Isayama's protagonists are always etched to embody strong, muscular physical forms, which he claims stemmed from an acute awareness of his smaller, delicate form as a kid, as his formative experiences included participating in weighted-envelope throwing contests. The manga-ka is refreshingly candid about his motivations behind making "weaker" characters transform into powerful entities with time, as it fulfills the fantasy of embodying a kind of strength he can only dream of. This sentiment is reflected in Eren's arc, where he goes from a semi-skilled military recruit hell-bent on revenge to a one of the most strongest Titans on the verge of losing his humanity. This aspect makes Eren's turn more compelling, as a taste of power has urged him to a point of no return.

Speaking of wielding unimaginable strength, one has to look no further than the Beast Titan, which had several animal-like characteristics (depending on the human) and unique abilities such as hardening its nape to avoid death and withstanding incredible damage. Isayama cited MMA artist Alistair Overeem as his inspiration for the Beast Titan, explaining that his "intimidating physique" served as a blueprint for the formidable Titan in question. In order to exaggerate the monstrous nature of the Titan, Isayama added apes, crocodiles, and elks to cement the otherworldly existence of this particular Subject of Ymir, who also possessed the terrifying ability to create Titans.

Basing Titans on WWE and UFC fighters

A chunk of Hajime Isayama's Gong interview is about the manga-ka discussing his interest in and fascination with MMA, and this is where he states that WWE superstar Brock Lesnar was the blueprint for the Armored Titan, whose defining feature was the plated armor that protected its massive body. On closer inspection, the Armored Titan does look a lot like Lesnar, both in terms of physique and facial similarities. Similarly, the beast's ability to break the most durable vertical maneuvering equipment and withstand physical attacks might be a homage to Lesnar's skilled abilities as a professional wrestler.

When it comes to Eren's Attack Titan form, which is more cerebral among the Nine Titans, the beast's design and fighting style was inspired by the Japanese UFC fighter, Yushin Okami. Okami's lean, ripped physique is replicated in the physical attributes of Eren's Attack Titan, who sported a highly muscular build while being 15 meters tall. Isayama obviously added some embellishments to help the Attack Titan fit seamlessly into his world, such as its fleshless jaws and the ability to show incomplete visions of the past and the future to its users, which act as catalysts in the quest for uncovering the truth about Titans.

Although Isayama's Titans are generally perceived as massive, unappealing beasts, the manga-ka designed them with art styles that were "idiosyncratic to [him] in its ugliness." These monstrous-looking beings highlight Isayama's greatest strengths as an artist and a writer, as the presence of the Titans is integral to "Attack on Titan" and its epic saga of boundless personal transformation and prophecies that alter the course of the future as we know it.