Do you read manga? I haven’t jumped in all the way yet, though I have a great list of recommendations from a couple of readers. (Thank you both!) However I’ve randomly come across quite a few manga that I’ve loved, so here’s a roundup for y’all.
I don’t think I’ve ever written a comics post before that’s so heavy on stories about guys! That’s not the typical manga stereotype, is it?
A Distant Neighborhood by Jiro Taniguchi, reversed for Western reading order by Frédéric Boilet working with Taniguchi, translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian
Nakahara Hiroshi, in his 40s, wakes up to find himself on the wrong train. Instead of heading home to his wife and daughters, he’s on his way to the neighborhood where he grew up, and where his mother is buried. Something happens in the cemetery as he’s visiting her grave. When he regains consciousness, he’s in the past, in his 14 year old body, but with all of his adult memories intact. He has no idea how it happened or how to return to his current life. All he can do is set about trying to live in his own past.
Then he realizes exactly when he is, and the heartbreaking event that will soon follow. Hiroshi is increasingly frantic as he realizes what’s coming for his family. Can he change it? I was unprepared for the emotional wallop of this story. It’s superbly well-written and drawn.
Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura, first volume translated by Stephen Paul.
The first book of this series really got to me. Initially, I wasn’t sure about the premise: a child named Thorfinn raised by the rival Viking tribe that murdered his father, always working towards his goal of killing their leader. At over 450 pages, and it’s just the first book of an incredibly long series. Was I really in the mood for 3200+ pages of guys fighting?
I didn’t realize was that Yukimura would first delve deep into Thorfinn’s past with his family, making me love them, and especially making me love his father. I read the second half of the book trying to will Thorfinn’s past to change as I watched his father’s death come closer. Surely if I just gripped the book harder, his father could be saved! Sadly, of course, no. Any frustration I had with young, hotheaded Thorfinn evaporated the moment his father fell, and I realized I was now stuck reading the next bazillion pages because I really cared about what happens to this kid.
Now I’m three books in, and there are at least seven, and I’m addicted because of the personalities and political drama and conspiracy. That’s how they get ya! The good news is that I kept track, and it only takes me a little over an hour to read each volume. C-Man goes slower because he’s more into all the military details of various battles.
I’ll be adding this to my post rounding up epic comics about legends and myths, because it’s a perfect fit over there too.
A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima, translated by Steven LeCroy.
After-school specials about bullying have nothing on this book. The depth of understanding this author has for the main characters and her skillful writing about them are both just outstanding.
It follows Shoya, a middle-school boy, who spends his days goofing off and looking for entertainment. He’s not particularly smart, interesting, studious, or popular, but he has some friends, and a good mother. When a deaf girl named Shoko transfers into his class at school, he sees the new and different an an opportunity for entertainment. Amid impatience from the teacher and growing resentment from classmates who feel Shoko’s needs are a burden, Shoya embarks on a long-term group bullying campaign against the girl that includes, among other things, destruction of multiple hearing aids.
When Shoko’s family finally publicly complains while removing her from the school, the class turns on Shoya instead. He’s made the scapegoat for everyone’s participation in Shoko’s ostracism, in a turnaround that effectively ruins his school life for the next six years.
Watching Shoya lead the torment Shoko is painful. It’s clear he has absolutely no empathy. It’s terrifying. But the giant lie created by the teacher and other students, that Shoya was the only one responsible for hurting her, was even more chilling. No one will take any responsibility for their own actions. Shoya ends up completely socially isolated and even contemplates suicide.
If this was just a book about horrible people doing horrible things to each other, I wouldn’t be recommending you start reading this series. It’s what happens at the end of this first volume that’s important. Shoya meets Shoko again, and feels a spark that he may be able to atone for his behavior. The rest of the series will explore how that goes, and I can’t wait to read it.
I’ll definitely be recommending this in my comics for kids list, in the older kid / young adult age range.
Master Keaton co-created and with art by Naoki Urasawa, story by Hokusei Katsushika and Takashi Nagasaki. Translation and English adaptation by Pookie Rolf, lettering by Steve Dutro.
I knew I needed to do a manga roundup post when I realized I hadn’t yet blogged about Master Keaton before. How is this possible? I buy it as it comes out! Five volumes so far! C-Man laughingly calls the main character my boyfriend.
Taichi Hiraga-Keaton wants to be an archaeologist. Since that hasn’t worked out full time, he takes side jobs as an insurance investigator on suspicious cases. He seems like a gentle, affable fellow, and he is. But he’s also a former member of the British Army’s SAS special forces. The Master Keaton series tells various tales about his cases, adventures, and family stories about his relationships with his teenage daughter and elderly father.
What I love about this series is that while Taichi is smart, skilled, and deadly, there is absolutely no machismo about him. He’s refreshingly different from the stereotypical action hero. And he’s just so nerdy and passionate about archaeology! You just want to make him a cup of tea (his mom’s British, after all) and help him brush up his cover letter applying for another teaching position.
Azumanga Daioh by Kiyohiko Azuma. Translated by Kaoru Bertrand, Amy Forsyth, Javier Lopes, Ai Takai, and Jack Wiedrick.
I recommended this previously for older kids and young adults, but C-Man and I loved it for years before our kiddo ever pulled it off the shelf. It covers several terms in a Japanese girls’ high school. What struck me the most was that each of the characters has such a distinct personality. It’s almost as if teenage girls are unique and individual human beings. Who knew? (That was sarcasm, by the way.) C-Man feels like this is the Japanese equivalent of Peanuts comic strips, delivering the same wit in bite-sized chunks. I think it’s a little zanier, especially because there are adults in the Azumanga Daioh world and the main one is a hilarious hot mess.
What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga. Translated by Maya Bosewood.
I recommended this in my post about GLBTQ + comics, but I’m pulling it in here too because I’ve read more volumes since then and I’m still enjoying it.
Shiro is a lawyer who spends his nights cooking gourmet multi-course meals at home. He shares the meals, and his home, with his boyfriend Kenji – though Shiro isn’t out as gay at work. This is a “slice of life” comic, bouncing around between different happenings in Shiro and Kenji’s lives, past and present. Foodies will love the in-depth step-by-step recipes and Shiro’s explanations of why he prepares the food as he does. The rest of us can skim those parts and get to the next “adventure” as Shiro stays closeted at work, Kenji doesn’t, ex-partners pop up, legal cases arise, and grocery prices are tracked very closely. (If there was extreme couponing in Japan, Shiro might do it.) I’m looking forward to working my way through the rest of the series.
(Also in that GLBTQ + graphic novels post, and then again in a YA comics and graphic novels post, is the manga Wandering Son. I’m not going to reprint my review of it again here for a third time, because that starts to get silly, but check it out if you haven’t yet!)
Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura. Translation of Volume 1 by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith, lettering by Wayne Truman.
I recommended this in my post rounding up epic comics about legends and myths, back at volume 29. This series ended with its 31st volume, which was 100% satisfying. While it was coming out, they could not get books out quickly enough for me. A ronin warrior in feudal Japan is full of magic worms that make him immortal. A girl whose family was murdered by a rival sword school wants vengeance against the killers. That’s how it started. By the time it was over, there had been so many factions, so many characters, so many alliances made and broken, it was like an extremely gory soap opera.
I don’t even like the art much, though I respect it, and I was still 100% hooked. (I will admit to flipping through some fight scenes until someone walks or crawls or is dragged away.) The end of each book was painful knowing I’d have to wait to find out what happened next. One of my favorite things about the series is the multiple strong, complex, interesting female characters who are all very different from each other. They all get beat up, cut up, held prisoner, and various other calamities – but so does just about every male character.
However, serious trigger warning for this series for multiple sexual assaults (not just happening to women). I didn’t feel they were all gratuitous, but the behavior of one character in particular went way past my personal line by about book 25. Lucky for me he eventually did die. If you have any triggers around this issue, just skip this whole series!
What’s on my list to try next: Book 2 of Nana by Ai Yazawa (I need another volume to decide how I feel about it), Girl Friends by Milk Morinaga, Ore Monogatari!! a.k.a. My Love Story!! by Kazune Kawahara, and Milkyway Hitchiking by Sirial.
Have any other manga recommendations for me? Find something on my list you want to read?Let me know in the comments – and thanks for sharing this post on social media or with friends, so more people can find these great books!