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Comics Poll. List. Thing.

If you’re a regular reader of comics blogs, I’m sure you’ve heard the news!

According to a consensus of 0.000003 % of the world’s population (no, really, I looked it up) these 115 titles are the best (or perhaps most universally favored) comics. That’s 211 of the 6,954,167,299 estimated people in the world, who of course don’t actually even agree with each other, since no single comic received more than 50 votes. Whether any one person who voted has read every comic that was nominated between all 211 people (or even every single comic in the top 115) let alone every comic ever published in the world is anyone’s guess, but I’m going to go with “probably not.”

So what we really have here is an extremely tiny subset of the world’s population reporting that, of the comics they’ve read, these are the ones that no more than a quarter of them agree might be the best.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to ridicule this process, by any means. I am one of the 0.000003 %, after all! I’m just offering my perspective, and perhaps some insight on why I don’t personally place a lot of value on lists like these, at least as a tool for evaluating art. Lists like these can be interesting and even revealing (I think this one is both), but ultimately they tell us more about the people who voted than they do about whatever it is that’s being voted on. And though I’m all for creating opportunities for people to discuss their favorite or most admired comics, I will say outright that I don’t believe that it is actually possible to determine the 10 (or 100 or 1000) best comics, or the best anything that must be subject to human opinion alone. There are no scientific benchmarks by which to measure creative work—no speed tests to run or performance goals to reach. Just as each person who creates comics brings his or her individual passions and values to the work, each person who considers comics does the same, which is why even among a minuscule 211 people, no more than 50 can agree on the relative value of a single work, or probably even what “value” means in the first place.

So, let’s clarify again. What this poll represents is an extremely tiny subset of the world’s population reporting that, of the comics they’ve read, these are the ones that no more than a quarter of them agree might be the best, based on their individual backgrounds, values, artistic sensibilities, ages, genders, philosophical mindsets, and personal standards for the medium.

Personally, I think this is great. For me, this lack of agreement is meaningful in itself, and goes a long way towards illustrating why I think art, in all its forms, is so valuable in the first place. But it also illustrates why I value individual opinion more than group consensus, both personally and as a tool for posterity, as difficult as those may be to retain over time. While it’s interesting to note the results of a poll like this, and I’ll probably take a look at a few of the recommended works I’ve missed, as a whole, I can’t help feeling that this list has very little to do with me. That’s not a reflection on this list (I’m quite enjoying the discussion around this list), but rather on all lists of this kind. Because when it comes to art, in the end, I’m interested in pursuing the threads most meaningful to me, which I’m more likely to discover with the help of like-minded individuals than I am through majority opinion, even when that majority consists of only fifty or so people.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that my real interest in this poll is in the individual results, which have begun to be published today! Check out the first group of individual lists at the Hooded Utilitarian here—a group which, thanks to the power of alphabetical order, happens to include mine.

Given my relatively narrow background in comics (almost exclusively manga & manhwa, and even then just what I’ve been able to read over the course of a few years), it would have been ludicrous for me to attempt a list of “best” comics, so I went for “favorite” (as allowed by the poll’s rules). And since “favorite” is an incredibly fluid thing with me, based on an ever-shifting multitude of factors, I must also qualify this as “favorites in the moment.”

Here was my list (including attached notes):

A fairly arbitrary list of ten of my favorite comics, subject to change at any particular moment, and in no particular order:

Hikaru no Go by Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata
Please Save My Earth by Saki Hiwatari
Banana Fish by Akimi Yoshida
Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa
Flower of Life by Fumi Yoshinaga
Ode to Kirihito by Osamu Tezuka
Wild Adapter by Kazuya Minekura
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
Tokyo Babylon by CLAMP
Maison Ikkoku by Rumiko Takahashi

With one major exception, I restricted this list to completed series (or, at least, completed in Japan, and very nearly completed here).

I might also note that, with one and a half exceptions, my choices were all created by women. Make of that what you will. Possible twinge of regret: not including Bloom County.

Whatever you think about “best of” polls, comics, or any of this at all, the conversation is lively at The Hooded Utilitarian, so do check it out! And keep an eye out at HU over the next week or so, for more essays (look, Shaenon Garrity’s posted one about female cartoonists just today!) and individual results!

Edited to add: In the event anyone’s interested, here’s where I talk (sometimes with others) about some of the comics on my list: Hikaru no Go, Please Save My Earth, Banana Fish, Paradise Kiss, Flower of Life, Ode to Kirihito, Wild Adapter, Fullmetal Alchemist, Tokyo Babylon. It’s interesting to note that the one series on the list I’ve never written anything substantial about (Maison Ikkoku) is the only one that made the top 115. I guess I’d better fix that!

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  1. I feel like automatic disagreement comes with any and all lists created by a lot of people, whatever it may be. With like, personal top 10s, I find everyone usually goes “well that’s just them personally” and they usually take no ill will. So yeah, I definitely am expecting most people who read the overall 115 list to complain to no end, but the link to the individual top 10 is actually more than useful, I feel like it’s showing individual tastes and a larger variety more (as well as seeing lists lean towards one type of genre or style).

    That said, your top 10 list is freakishly like mine, I think half of your 10 are also in my ten (the ones that are for sure are Banana Fish, Hikaru no Go, Maison Ikkoku, and Please Save My Earth. As hard as it is to pick just one Yoshinaga title, I usually do pick Flower of Life, and ditto for Osamu Tezuka, I frequently do pick Ode to Kirihito). I really do find that women write the best shonen series somehow, I haven’t yet finished FMA so I’m undecided on if that’ll go to the top 10 yet (I’m about halfway through it, despite having up to volume 25 on my shelf, I hear it’s wiser to wait until I have 26 and 27). Not sure what else would go in my top 10 since you pretty much listed my top 5, but I’m sure Firefighter Daigo would be in at least one of the available spots.

    Ooh! A vote for Hanshin-Half-god! That is, without a doubt, the best 15 page comic I have ever read, and I mean nothing against its length, it’s a fantastic story regardless of length, I just didn’t expect to see it on a top 10, but it does deserve to be there!

    • Yeah, I think as soon as you claim to have a consensus, it takes on a perceived level of importance that invites criticism, definitely. I’m really glad that HU has chosen to release the individual lists, because that’s something I find more useful, personally.

  2. I don’t think I could come up with a top ten! Too many good manga to choose from.

    I like a lot in yours, though, even though I’m not sure any would make my own top ten if I had to make one (maybe PSME or FMA). I’m surprised you didn’t choose Nana. Is that because it’s unfinished, or do you really like Paradise Kiss better?

    • The first thing. :) I decided to consider only finished series (and Wild Adapter, which I figured was as finished as it ever would be—though of course now it appears that may not be true!) honestly just to make the choosing a little bit easier. It was so difficult to pick only ten, but with ongoing (especially ongoing in English) series out of the way, that eliminated at least some of the possibilities.


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