My goal for 2018 was to read more manga and boy have I. Capsule reviews of classics, neo-classics, and ongoing titles I have enjoyed for the equally curious.
with Satsuki Sato, Ran Atsumori, Buuko
translation John Werry
lettering Annaliese Christman
A few years ago, aliens invaded Tokyo. Well, they showed up, and they send down saucers from time to time, but they’re not much good at conquering- just crashing into shit. The end of the world never came, and now Kadode and Ontan have to try to get into college. This manga isn’t about sci fi so much as urban ennui. It’s got great, realistic, quirky, funny characters. The artwork is dense, countering cityscapes and bedroom clutter with cute, simplified people. Simple looks for complex individuals, some surprisingly heartfelt, some totally creepy. This is a book about a bunch of kids who would rather play video games than worry about their future. Relatable content.
translation Dana Lewis
lettering Susie Lee, Betty Dong
Some real David Lynch stuff, right here. Mikura runs a delivery service with her grandpa to all the islands southeast of Japan, that is, until peepaw kicks. Mikura discovers his secret diaries, his lifelong obsession, and a package she is supposed to deliver to a moving island that probably doesn’t exist. This is a quiet book, where small town folks go back on their tall tales and the tall tales end up being true anyway. Obsessive behavior, cartography, mystery, an indoor-outdoor cat. The world is rustic and well constructed, the characters are beguiling and hidden from the reader. Reminds me of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
translation Adrienne Beck
lettering Lys Blakeslee
It took me a couple volumes to really fall for this series. The concept is cool, the world is absolutely top notch (and what kept me in it), the lead characters mostly leave me cold. A walled, medieval kingdom keeps the demon plague out. To touch a demon is to become one. Shiva is the only person to be touched and not turned. Teacher is the only demon to turn and not forget. The kingdom inside wants to use Shiva to bring about their prophecy. The kingdom outside wants to put her in the hole in the lake. The demons, totally black, heads like animal skulls, the not-dogs and alligator birds, an occult counterpoint to the ghostly archers and shrouded corpses of humanity’s last vestiges. The dialog is a muck to wade through, but the mystery more than makes up for it, and the series has real potential.
translation Jocelyne Allen
lettering Karis Page
The only way for Kabi Nagata to get out from under is to tell her story. Her crippling depression and anxiety. Her total lack of romance, eros, life. What she does enjoy is making manga. And so it all comes together in a no holds barred self-exposé. About sex. A sexposé. It is a blunt yet tender telling of how it feels to suffer, what it is to identify ones desires and act on them. Courageous and incredibly incredibly relatable for a life experience dramatically unlike mine.
translation Gerard Jones, Matt Thorn
lettering Deron Bennett
Out of everything I’ve read this year, Ranma 1/2 is far and away my favorite. I ripped through the first six volumes in less than a month. It is witty, it is smart, it’s a martial arts romance of gender bending comedy madness. Ranma is betrothed to Akane to bring together their two dads’ vision of a dojo dynasty. The first problem is they don’t like each other. The second problem is Ranma is under a curse that turns him into a girl all the time. The third problem is they do like each other, but can’t admit it, and fate throws a million things (suitors, mostly) in their way. Rumiko Takahashi has a multitude of genius ways to force the cast into awkward and hilarious romantic triangles. People turn into pigs, cats, pandas. There’s martial arts figure skating, martial arts gymnasts, martial arts tea service, martial arts melon splitting, hellish matchmaking, trigger point therapy, a bunch of kissing, a metric ton of irony and just as much rivalry. The artwork is clear and silly and lively and frequently incredibly cute. I just can’t say enough positive stuff about Ranma 1/2. It is a legendary series that deserves all the hype and praise it has received.
translation Zack Davisson
Kitaro was the first book I read to kick things off this year, and it was perfect for me. Kind of silly, kind of childish, kind of serious, kind of detailed. The simple and complex bump right up against each other as a one eyed monster kid detective keeps the rest of the spirit world in check. The conflicts are light and engrossing, the characters are unique, and it is über-Japanese. The Birth of Kiitaro and The Great Tanuki War were both excellent.
translation Maya Rosewood
A bit of Shakespeare and a hearty dollop of Disney. This late 50s manga from the creator of Astro Boy is about a prince and princess- the prince is kidnapped as a baby and the princess has to pose as him and herself so the kingdom isn’t thrown into chaos. The look is very much Snow White, Bambi, etc. and the story is just as straightforward. Some intrigue, some magic, a ton of romani, this one is a good read. The politics are there, kind of, but mostly it’s just fun.
translation Zack Davisson
You might know Kon from his mind-bending anime: Perfect Blue and Paprika. His manga is also a world fracturing work of meta-fiction. An overworked mangaka is pulled into the world of his comic, disrupts the lives of the characters he created, escapes with them into the real world- where they discover back issues of the series- and is drawn back in between the pages and panels to shatter everything. It’s a chase story, Chikara Nagai trying to get his characters to rejoin the story before the plot collapses, and the Masque, a psychic cult killer antagonist to the manga’s heroine Satoko, pursuing Nagai, Satoko, and crew to end their lives. The background art falls to pieces as everyone goes off map. The extras become unfinished sketches. The characters intrude on their own pasts through cracked glass pages and mirrored panels with storytelling flair that rivals the meta-paragon of the Western comics industry, Watchmen. This one-and-done book comes right behind Ranma 1/2 in best things I’ve read in my manga pursuit so far. Psychedelic, satirical, dead serious, superbly illustrated, perfect comic.
translation Leslie Swan
This manga is gloriously absurd. I will admit to giving this a shot because it smashed my nostalgia button like a POW block, but it was so much better, weirder, and dumber than I expected. You know the drill: Bowser and fam kidnap the Princess, Mario and fam have to rescue her. Gag laden, dialog heavy, irreverent, unconventional. A bit like Evan Dorkin, looks like it’s for kids, maybe is for kids, not for kids. What it is is fun. A satisfying light read that is as engrossing as it is goofy.