The Death Note manga pilot is a one-shot chapter that preceded the Death Note manga series. It is not part of the manga series continuity.
The pilot chapter was published in the Weekly Shonen Jump Issue No.36, 2003. It did well enough that the story was picked up for serialization, leading to the first chapter of the manga series being published four months later in Weekly Shonen Jump Issue No.01, 2004.
It differs from the manga series in that the Death Note includes a rule stating that if the owner of the notebook uses the Death Eraser to erase names in the Death Note, the victims come back to life if they have not been cremated.
The original Death Note pilot manga chapter stated that "names have been changed to protect the innocent," meaning that the real names of many of the characters are not stated. The chapter starred Taro Kagami, a 13-year old boy and student at OOMiddle School. Taro finds a Death Note; not knowing the English word for "death" but knowing the English word for "note," he assumes the book is a blank diary and takes it to replace a diary he previously lost. He then writes in the book complaining about students bullying him. He later meets Ryuk and erases the names of the students to revive them. The students and two policemen die as the police question the students. Taro finds that another boy, Miura, killed them and is killing criminals around the world. Taro prevents Miura from writing Taro's name in the book. The two erase the names of victims and confess their crimes. To prove the note is real, Taro allows for Miura to write Taro's name in the book and to die momentarily. Once Taro is revived, the police let them go and burn the book held by Miura. Seven years later, Taro and Ryuk read a magazine speculating about a rumor about a "Death Note".
Taro, at the age of thirteen, finds a Death Note, only to confuse it for being a diary, because he recognizes only the English word for "note". Treating the notebook like a journal, Taro inadvertently kills A-rou Suzuki and B-rou Tanaka, two classmates that have bullied him, by heart attack.
After hearing about the death of his classmates, only to be subsequently bullied again, Taro searches up the word "death" in the dictionary, and learns the true meaning of the "Death Note". In disbelief, he continues to write in the Death Note, incidentally writing the names of his new bullies. The next day at school, he finds out the bullies are dead. He runs home to hide the notebook, only to meet its original owner Ryuk who, similar to the mainstream manga, dropped it out of boredom. Ryuk explains the function of the Death Note and how it is certainly no ordinary notebook. Shortly after, two detectives show up at Taro's house asking questions, but Ryuk suggests that Taro memorize the name on their badges and to kill the two.
The following night, Taro has nightmares of the bullies he accidentally killed. In response, Ryuk gives Taro the Death Eraser, an eraser that can revive those killed by the Death Note. Taro brings Suzuki and Tanaka back to life, and they all return to school.
At school, the same two detectives from the previous night question the resurrected boys about how they died and came back to life. However, Suzuki, Tanaka, three other bullies, and the two officers all die of heart attacks. This causes the school to be temporarily shut down.
Days later, Taro finds out that Ryuk dropped his other Death Note. Taro finds his classmate Miura, who had also been bullied. Apparently, Miura found the other Death Note and killed them all. Miura attempts to kill Taro and then tries to commit suicide by writing his own name, but Taro stops him. He erases the names and visits the two officers, whom were just revived by the eraser. Taro and Miura tell the officers about the Death Note and prove its effect when Taro voluntarily offers to be temporarily killed by it. Miura then apologizes for trying to kill Taro and reasons he was in desperation.
Miura's notebook is confiscated and burned; its existence is hidden away from the general public. However, Taro never reveals the existence of his Death Note and keeps it.
The last scene presents the Death Note seven years later as a cultural phenomenon, with its actual existence still in dispute. Ryuk is last seen with an older, 20-year-old Taro mocking a Death Note survey.
The Death Note process began when Tsugumi Ohba brought thumbnails for two concept ideas to Shueisha; Ohba said that the Death Note pilot, one of the concepts, became "received well" by editors and attained "positive" reactions by readers.
Ohba described keeping the story of the pilot to one chapter as "very difficult" and he said that he remembered taking "more than a month" to begin writing the chapter. Ohba added that the story had to revive the killed characters with the Death Eraser and that he "didn't really care" for that plot device.
Takeshi Obata said that he really wanted to draw the story after he heard of a "horror story featuring Shinigami." According to Obata, when he first received the rough draft created by Ohba he "didn't really get it" at first and that he wanted to work on the work due to the presence of Shinigami and that the work "was dark." He also said that he wondered about the progression of the plot as he read the thumbnails and if Jump readers would enjoy reading the comic. Obata said that while there is little action and that the main character doesn't really drive the plot he enjoyed the atmosphere of the story. Obata stated that he drew the pilot chapter "in a way that would appeal to me."
Ohba brought the rough draft of the pilot chapter to the editorial department. Obata came into the picture at a later point to create the artwork. Ohba and Obata did not meet in person while creating the pilot chapter. Ohba said that the editor told him that Ohba did not need to meet with Obata to discuss the pilot; Ohba said "I think it worked out alright."