Callum Waterhouse ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
We know that breaking into manga can be a bit intimidating. We have reached the age where even your average corner bookstore will carry entire shelves of collected manga titles. For those who have neither the time, nor the money to go buy all sixty-nine volumes of Bleach, just knowing where to start is a challenge.
With that in mind, here is a list of some of the best titles that are currently available in English from a wide swath of genres. So no matter if you’re a would-be manga reader looking for someplace to start or a longtime fan looking for something new, chances are there will be something on this list for you.
1. Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
No beating around the bush. This list is starting out with the crème de la crème. Katsuhiro Otomo’s sci-fi epic Akira was first published in 1982, and it is still one of the best manga out there. Set in a post-Nuclear war Tokyo, Akira follows teenager Shotaro Kaneda after he becomes entangled in a web of government conspiracies and superhuman experiments, turning from a rising member of the city’s street gangs to a man simply trying to stay alive This is the title that got an entire generation hooked on manga.
2. Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa
Barefoot Gen deserves to be put on the same pedestal as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. This graphic semi-autobiography follows a loosely fictionalized version of Nakazawa’s family starting from the hellish final days of World War II, through the bombing of Hiroshima–which is featured prominently in one of the early volumes–to the brutal years of rebuilding. It is an impressive story about the horrors of war and the triumph of the human spirit.
3. Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
Hardcore manga fans will tell you that Fullmetal Alchemist is the be-all, end-all of Japanese comics and it is hard to argue with them. After a failed alchemy experiment cost one brother his arm and reduces the other to nothing more than a spirit in a magical suit of armor, Edward and Alphonse Elric set out to find the Philosopher’s Stone and heal their bodies. With great action, laugh-out-loud comedy and heart-rending drama, Hiromu Arakawa manages the almost impossible task of making a comic with something for everyone.
4. Nana by Ai Yazawa
If you thought that Shojo manga was mostly just cutesy romance full of female characters who cannot get by without a man, well, you would be right on the money. But that only makes breakaway titles like Nana all the more special. Nana is the story of a free-spirited, small town girl named Nana who suddenly finds herself sharing an apartment with a tomboyish rock singer–who is also named Nana. Finding a series where the girls actually seem to be having more fun is a breath of fresh air.
5. Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba
What would happen if a regular human being were given the power of God? Is it possible to root for a protagonist while simultaneously despising everything he does? Death Note answers the second question with a resounding yes and the first question with a slow-burning story. In Death Note, brilliant but bored teenager Light Yagami suddenly comes into possession of a notebook that allows him to kill anyone, anywhere, by merely writing down their name. Light decides he should use this notebook to rid the world of evil people–and then things start to get messy.
6. Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue
The samurai and sandal genre does not get any better than this. Takehiko Inoue’s heavily fictionalized biopic of Japanese pop culture icon Miyamoto Musashi is full of long speeches, epic duels and high drama. Featuring artwork that you could hang in a museum, Vagabond is like a samurai movie that never ends.
7. The Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezu
There is the kind of horror that merely frightens and then there is the kind of horror that makes you lie awake at three o’clock in the morning with cold sweats. The Drifting Classroom is decidedly the latter kind. The basic premise is like a twist on Lord of the Flies, but instead of stranding erstwhile children on an island, they become trapped in a Lovecraftian otherworld. Read this with the lights on.
8. Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka
A list of great manga series would be naked without an entry from the so-called “Godfather” of Manga, Osamu Tezuka. Did you ever wish that House felt a bet more like an episode of 24? That is roughly what you get in this series about a morally questionable doctor to the downtrodden and his quest to do whatever it takes to help his patients. Tezuka’s visual style often gives the false impression that these are the happenings of a children’s story, but make no mistake, Black Jack can be brutal when it wants to be. The story is not so much about medicine as it is about doing your best in an uncaring, unrelenting world.
9. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko
The Gundam franchise is often cited as the Star Trek of Japan and there is no better starting point than Yashuhiko’s recent reboot/retelling of the original series. Set during the early years of an intergalactic war between the Earth Federation and a group of independence seeking space colonists, Origin is Giant Mech action distilled into its rawest, most impactful form.
10. 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa
Giant robots and psychic powers are all well and good, but sometimes you just want to settle into a good, old-fashioned mystery. Well, mysteries do not get much better than the tale of Kenji Endō’s quest to investigate the death of his childhood friend. Playing out over three generations, Naoki Urasawa manages the great juggling act of creating a story truly epic in scale while being deeply personal in characterization. This story will require a little investment on the reader’s part, but those who are willing to stick with the labyrinthine plot will be awed when the puzzle pieces finally start to come together.