Sunday, 15 December 2013

Top Fifteen of Manga: 2013

Obviously I am restricted only to things that I’ve personally read, which on that grand scale of things isn’t all that much, so please take my top 15 as one opinion of many (for example this year was a quiet one for shojo at my end), and of course feel free to recommend your own. :-)  The traditional top ten has been upgraded to 15 as there were a lot of interesting titles this year.  I also wanted to keep the variety up.  As a personal set rule I’m only considering titles which have been physically published in English this year – no ebook shenanigans here.

Yotsuba&! 12 – We only get one volume of this series a year, but it’s always worth the wait.  The everyday tales of a five-years-old as she experiences new things in each chapter is told with a gentle ease.  It’s a happy little manga with appealing, and undeniably quirky, characters and outstanding background artwork.

Crayon Shinchan 4 – Underdog publisher One Peace has somehow managed to release more Shinchan than anyone else.  It does recycle the defunct CMX’s translations, so it remains to be seen if more of the naughty 5-year-old’s adventures will arrive or not.  Compare this one to Yotsuba if you’re feeling brave.  While you’re distracted by one optimistic portrayal of a growing child, the other has snuck off to gleefully strain out a turd into your bath.

Unico – It’s hard to imagine this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned Osamu Tezuka’s work on this blog, particularly as I’m quite a big fan.  Even if one of his titles isn’t particularly successful, Tezuka’s comics are continually inventive have a lot for your brain to work with.  Unico stands out of this year’s crop for not only being printed in full colour, but of its life starting out as a kickstarter project.  DMP since went on to fund even more titles, and eventually acquired the God of Manga’s entire output.  It remains to be seen what else will be translated and the format/s in which they will reach us.

The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame – Strictly an adult title this one, and anyone familiar with the term ‘bara’ will automatically know what to expect from this book.  This volume’s existence makes it unique in English-speaking territories, which alone makes it worthy of note.  To be honest I’d only really recommend it to already interested parties, but those wanting more extreme titles in their manga collection, or just to widen its general variety, they will definitely find something new here.

Bakuman 18-20 – The end of the manga-making series.  Comics about making comics aren’t all that unusual, but for the action-centric land of Shonen Jump it did a lot to make a couple of guys sitting at their desks seem really involved and exciting.  Additional fun can be had under the consideration that Bakuman’s creators toy with parodying themselves, decrying their own creative inefficiencies and dictating the manner of its own editorial progression by bringing it up throughout the main story.  Lots of fun, just please don’t take it as a work of non-fiction.

Attack on Titan 4-9 – This was already turning a lot of heads last year, but once the anime launched this year Attack on Titan’s popularity exploded.  It’s sat consistently at the top of sales charts both in the west and in Japan, so it’s just as well it’s not a bad read at all with overwrought drama to accompany its brutal violence.  Volume 9 pushed the series beyond the scope of the anime, so now is a good time to jump on in.

Gundam: The Origin 1-4 – I’ve tried and failed more than once, but I’m just not that big of a Gundam fan.  Despite that this manga is still a good pick as it chronicles the original series well and is showcased in slick hardbacks.  The paper quality is good and coloured artwork is peppered throughout.  Some of the best production values you’ll see in a manga.  Ever.

Genshiken Season Two 2-3 – The second generation of the Genshiken club is well underway as the male otaku graduate and make way for the fujoshi.  Maybe it’s all one big comment on the changing landscape of fandom, so it will be interesting to see what kinds of people join the club in future.  For now though Genshiken is a friendly manga of well-written dialogue that pulls you into what is perhaps the most down-to-earth representation of otaku life in comic form.

The Last of the Mohicans – Outside of Osamu Tezuka, it’s quite rare that we get to see a manga from before the 1970s.  This offering from 1953 is an interesting look at a manga that absorbed American influences before reworking it for Japanese audiences.  Though obviously for children at the time, I can’t help but think the English version is only really aimed at adult audiences, which is a bit of a shame and possibly missing a trick.  A curiosity piece to be sure and hopefully will get more people interested in older works.

Helter Skelter – Liliko does everything she can to stay relevant in the cutthroat world of modelling.  Helter Skelter is an uncompromising rock ‘n’ roll ride where superficial beauty is countered with aggressive insecurity.  We don’t get as many josei titles over here as I’d like, and books like this are the reason I want more.

Doroheodoro 9-11 - We’re really getting into personal favourite territory now… it’s an opinion blog though, so it’s allowed!  Dorohedoro continues on its path – a path to which no one seems to know the destination.  This bothers some readers, but honestly I love it.  Dorohedoro depicts a very strange and dark world, but is grounded by an oddball cast who bicker their way through mushroom spells and casual occurrences of violent death.  The colour pages ended way back in volume 3, but otherwise full respect to Viz Media for sticking with this one.

Slam Dunk 26-31 – The final volumes of a genuine manga classic.  Not only did you learn to care about the characters, but also basketball.  The western manga market traditionally regards sports titles as a doomed prospect, but this one bucked the trend.  I’m going to miss it.

I’ll Give it My All… Tomorrow 5 – The chronicling the life of a middle-aged man in a dead end job while trying to make it as a manga artist.  It inevitably goes to some pretty dark places and to be honest it really had the potential to make me die inside depending on how the ending played out.  Luckily the finale was sane, realistic and not the end of the world, with a message that even if you aren’t 100% successful in life you can still made a positive impact on the people around you.  This book was one of my favourite single volumes of manga from this year.

Natsume’s Book of Friends 13-14 – Natsume is a boy with the ability to see yokai and other spirits, so he isolates himself so as not to endanger his loved ones.  Accompanied by the grouchy Nyanko-sensei, the two form a pact and defend the powerful Book of Friends.  This is an inhibited manga of fragile emotions which has no real aims other than to overcome loneliness.  Consistently wonderful.

Real 12 – I’m a big fan of Slam Dunk, but I consider Takehiko Inoue’s current manga on wheelchair basketball to be the superior work.  Its atypical subject matter is handled honestly and not without a certain amount of wit.  Each character holds their own as they each confront their own personal development, able-bodied or otherwise.  Volume 12 is just another chunk of the ongoing story really, but as a whole piece of work it is to me a near-unrivalled work of brilliance.

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