I love all sorts of comics, but I’d be lying if I said the types of comics I read are evenly distributed. In other words, I read a lot of manga. A lot. Simply due to its accessibility, I suppose.
Reading manga is often a hit-or-miss occupation, though. I’ve read some incredible manga. I’ve read some god-awful manga. I’ve read some manga in-between.
What I’d like to share are the manga that I actually liked. There’s a great deal of them, though, so I arranged them by category. And of course, taste is subjective, so these are only comics I think are particularly good– perhaps not everyone will like them.
There are tons and tons of shōnen (少年) manga, or manga for young boys. It’s to be expected– judging from the success of Shōnen Jump and its manga (such as One Piece, Bleach, and Naruto) internationally, shōnen manga possess a huge demographic for authors to tap into. Though technically for “boys,” older audiences, and girls, enjoy these manga as well.
Here’s a couple I happen to like:
Yankee-kun to Megane-chan
Popular in Japan, this manga follows the exploits of an ex-delinquent, Hana Adachi, as she decides to become a normal high school student with the help of current delinquent Shinagawa Daichi. It feels like the good ol’ shōnen manga formula: school life, delinquents fighting, a school council– except its great humor and hilarious cast makes it much more.
A manga about a baby-faced cop who works to help delinquent children. The protagonist, Shibata Taketora, will seem clumsy and naive at first– but there’s a whole lot of bad ass underneath that childish exterior. Somehow I was charmed by the art and story in this manga.
The World God Only Knows
The premise of this manga sounds idiotic: it’s about a kid obsessed with dating simulation games, Keima Katsuragi. He is coerced into a contract with a devil, who tells him that runaway spirits have hidden themselves in girls’ hearts. In order to release them, Keima must use his talents in the real world and get these girls to fall in love with him. Sounds stupid? It’s not. The first several chapters are simply amusing as we laugh at Keima’s antics– but midway through the series, it picks up and begins developing a plot of its own. The World God Only Knows has become wildly popular in Japan– perhaps because of its wry sense of humor and unabashed parodying of clichéd romance tropes.
I’m a girl too, yeah. I admit that I’ve read a shameful amount of shōjo (少女) manga, or manga for girls. Expect fluffy romances, hot guys, and flowery panels filled with tearful girls. A lot of shōjo manga drives me nuts– more often than not, the protagonist is some airheaded, ditzy, weak-willed girl. Once in a while, though, you’ll hit one that’s genuinely cute. Here’s a pair I happen to like:
What do you get when you put a whole bunch of good-looking boys in an all-male boarding school? All sorts of yaoi and shōnen-ai, or… Men’s Kou. This manga follows a bunch of friends living in an all-boy’s school, all of whom are unsurprisingly frustrated by the lack of girls. It starts out clichéd, but turns out surprisingly grounded and charming. One story in particular really grabbed me– but I’ll spoil nothing. Men’s Kou has potential, though perhaps it’s not perfect.
Honey and Clover
A slice-of-life manga, Honey and Clover depicts the lives of five friends studying at an art college in Tokyo. It follows them as they experience love, heartbreak, and the age-old question of trying to find out what to do with their lives. The friendship between the cast is both hilarious and touching. Honey and Clover won the Kodansha Manga Award in 2003.
Simply manga categorized as more mature, seinen (青年漫画) manga are aimed at older males and josei (女性漫画) manga are aimed at older women. Readers range from teens to the middle-aged, and seinen and josei manga cover a wide spectrum of topics, styles, and themes. This makes them hard to categorize– so what I put here is simply manga with more explicit content.
In a distant land, children are raised from birth to resist poisons– to the extent that the poisons penetrate their bodies so much that even a touch can bring instant death. These “Poison Princesses” are sent to various empires as an assassination tool. Lycoris, one such poison princess, struggles to unravel the mysteries beneath the strange kingdom she is sent to. The manga may seem a little confusing the first read-through, but it only makes you want to figure out the mysteries even more.
A surrealist manga by the acclaimed Inio Asano, Oyasumi Punpun follows the life of a normal kid depicted as a cartoony little bird. It shows the down-and-gritty realities of life as Punpun copes with his dysfunctional family, unrequited love, and becoming an adult. Oyasumi Punpun is both bizarre and realistic, introducing some of the most believable characters I have ever met, and a degree of darkness and cynicism I’ve never seen in a slice-of-life manga. The art, as in any of Asano’s work, is absolutely incredible.
Fran Madaraki is a surgeon of prodigious talent: she can save the dying, put human heads on animal bodies, give her patients superhuman strength… any change you desire, she can perform. But the results of these surgeries usually backfire– especially since Fran rarely thinks about the consequences. Franken Fran is disgusting, horrifying, revolting– for the weak of stomach, avoid this one. Those who do read it, however, will find it chock full of enough black humor and irony to balance the bloody content.
Specialty manga are manga that center around a particular, very specific topic. Yakitate!! Japan, for instance, is a manga entirely about people baking bread. Kami no Shizuku is about wine-tasting. A popular one, Hikaru no Go, is about kids playing the Japanese game of go. Naturally, though, you can find rich plots and character development in these manga as well.
Bartender is about Ryu Sasakura, a genius bartender who is aiming to reach the “Glass of God.” This manga lacks a continuous plot; rather, it is divided into one-or-two chapter arcs about each customer Sasakura serves. Each has their own problem, and, with the guidance of the protagonist’s drinks, can usually decide on a course of action. The stories are gentle and touching, nothing intense– suitable for a manga about a soul-soothing bartender. It also makes me wish I was 21, so I could go out and try all these cocktails.
Team Medical Dragon
Another manga about a genius surgeon, except this one focuses on the Japanese medical system. It follows Dr. Asada Ryutaro and his medical team as they struggle to save lives within a maze of medical malpractice, power politics, and corruption. The team aims for the top to try to reform the failing healthcare system. While sometimes the manga comes off as unrealistic, it is nonetheless an interesting account of modern healthcare issues. There’s some sexual content and nudity in this one, though– be warned!
Bambino! is not only about cooking, it’s about Italian cooking. Follow Ban Shogo, a feisty young man working in an Italian restaurant in Tokyo. The manga focuses on his character development as he goes from dishwasher to full-fledged chef. Ban’s drive and stubbornness make the story, and the lavishly illustrated pasta makes me hungry, to boot.
A rising genre lately seems to be “webtoons,” or Korean webcomics. While these technically aren’t “manga” (manga implies Japanese origin) some webtoons are extremely high-quality and definitely worth a read. Warning: Webtoons, as they are read online, take advantage of the “infinite canvas”— in other words, they’re not formatted page-by-page but instead in one long infinitely-scrolling comic. If you can get over the vertigo, you’ll find some awesome stuff.
Melo Holic starts out as the seeming love story of a cynical teacher with the ability to read minds. It quickly turns into a mystery/suspense toon, though, leaving you hanging on the edge. It’s already been completed, so you’ll be able to read it in one go.
I’ve read a lot of comics, but this one definitely ranks among the best I’ve ever read. KissWood is about an old man living in a concrete city, until a fire engulfs his house and throws him into a coma. He finds himself transported to an alternate universe where trees dominate the landscape, a seeming utopia at first. As he tries to find a way back home, however, he begins to discover the cruel realities beneath his new world. The plot is fascinating, unpredictable, and well-thought-out, and the characters are memorable and unique. The art, too, is gorgeously rendered– the color definitely makes all the difference. If you read any of the comics in this post, I’d say go for this one. But perhaps that’s just me.
Pardon the particularly long rant! I just really like manga. Sadly, this could be even longer– there are just too many great comics in the world!