It’s that time of year again, when manga bloggers all over scramble to pick the best manga of the year! Though I’ve already weighed in on this year’s best BL manga and even made a Pick of the Year, over the next few days I’ll share a few Top Five lists, broken down into several categories.
Before I begin, let me remind you that when I say “best,” I mean “favorite,” so do with that as you will.
Top Five New Print Manga
GTO: 14 Days in Shonan | by Tohru Fujisawa | Vertical, Inc. – This surprise favorite snuck up on me out of nowhere, essentially sweeping me off my feet, as did its protagonist. From my review of vols. 1-2: “What I found pretty spectacular about 14 Days in Shonan, is that it features a main character who spends a lot of time telling other people just how much of a badass he is, while actually being a badass. Usually, if a character has to tell me how great he is, that’s a sure sign that I won’t think he’s great at all—but in this case, Eikichi is exactly what he says he is, and I find myself with absolutely no doubt at all that he’ll be able to do absolutely anything he says he can, including winning over all the teens at the White Swan Children’s Home, while also possibly saving the world. And perhaps curing cancer. Can you tell I liked him?” The series is complete in Japan totaling nine volumes. Vertical has released up through volume six this year.
Soulless: The Manga | by Gail Carriger and Rem | Yen Press – As someone who has been generally lukewarm on manga-style adaptations of western novels, this adaptation took me completely by surprise. From my review of volume one: “…when I read Kate’s review of REM’s new adaptation of Gail Carriger’s Soulless, I thought suddenly that it would be a great choice to read alongside Twilight. Both are OEL adaptations of popular novels, and both revolve around a heroine who lives in a world alongside vampires and werewolves. Unlike Twilight, I had very little knowledge of the details of Soulless, and though I expected I might like it more than Twilight, I was not really prepared for how much more.” And like it, I did, and continued to do. “Fast-paced, compelling, and oddly beguiling, Soulless continues to be my favorite of Yen Press’ growing catalogue of adaptations. Highly recommended.”
Sakuran: Blossoms Wild | by Moyoco Anno | Vertical, Inc. – One comment I made during our discussion of Sakuran for Off the Shelf, was that it was something I appreciated as a critic, though it lacked personal resonance for me as a reader. Over time, however, I’ve had to reconsider that statement, as Sakuran remains one of those rare books that has remained strongly in my mind ever since its first read. It’s this kind of deeper, delayed appreciate that has earned it a place in my list of favorites for the year. Also from my review, regarding the author’s artwork: “I was really impressed by Anno’s ability to visually portray both Kiyoha’s spite and her vulnerability, which is not a combination that always translates well to the page … One thing Anno has accomplished, perhaps specifically by writing Sakuran as a collection of story snapshots rather than a long narrative, is that the moments she’s chosen to highlight are genuinely memorable, and that goes for individual images as well.” Given my experience, perhaps “memorable” was an understatement.
A Devil and Her Love Song | by Miyoshi Tomori | VIZ Media – Even my favorite modern shoujo series can tend to blend together over the course of a year, but this year’s batch had one real standout, A Devil and Her Love Song. From my review of volume two: It’s refreshing to read a modern shoujo manga in which everyone is truly, deeply flawed, and no amount of “doing their best” can fix it. Even better, mangaka Miyoshi Tomori manages to do this while deftly avoiding both the syrup and cynicism that alternately pervade stories about high school “mean girls.” Happily, too, Tomori’s supporting characters continue to be just as interesting as her lead, including passive classmate Tomoyo, whose emerging backbone offers the promise of some awesome female friendship—one of my very favorite elements in shoujo manga. Definitely recommended.” That recommendation stands strong, even after six volumes, and we can look forward to seven more.
Blood Lad | by Yuuki Kodama | Yen Press – Perhaps no new favorite of the year could have been as unexpected as Blood Lad. With its boobalicious artwork and vampire-based premise, it seemed an unlikely candidate, but proved to be delightful in numerous ways. From my video review: “… it’s really funny, it had me laughing out loud within the first few pages and it continued to make me laugh as it went on… and it has a lot of real tension, too. I’m always happy when a series is able to surprise me, and this one did. So it was a great find for me this week.” As Ed Chavez described it on Twitter, “It’s like if Peepo Choo and Blue Exorcist hung out.” Yes, that. This is one of those series that could easily fall into nearly every trap of its genre (and even the medium as a whole), but actually manages to avoid them all. It’s unexpectedly fresh, funny, and it has me thoroughly intrigued.
Top Five New Digital-Only Manga
Pride | by Yukari Ichijo | JManga/Shueisha – This josei series about two aspiring young opera singers is exactly the kind of thing I wish we could see in print over here and probably never will. So THANK YOU, JMANGA. Female rivalries in manga are often unbearably catty and rife with misogyny, but Yukari Ichijo manages to write one that is both bitter and real. From my review: “What works particularly well about all this is that Ichijo manages to make both characters pretty much equal parts sympathetic and maddening. And while Shio ends up tipping the scale in likability, it’s impossible not to sympathize with Moe’s deep need to escape from her truly icky origins. By the end of volume two, I found myself rooting for both of them, despite their genuinely ugly rivalry.” Honestly, though, it’s the areas where the two leads overlap, rather than where they conflict, that really makes the story work. It’s both awesome and addictive.
Dousei Ai | by Setona Mizushiro | JManga/Libre Publishing – There’s a reason why I named JManga as my Pick of the Year, and no small part of that is Dousei Ai. Like Pride, this epic BL series from the author of After School Nightmare is both exactly what I want from its genre and exactly what’s missing from most of what we see in print. From my review: “This is no casual one-shot or simplistic BL romance. Setona Mizushiro has carefully crafted a complex emotional drama with some of the best-written characterization I’ve ever seen in this genre and a long game that is pretty obviously going to offer up significant payoff for the reader. I mean, going into this it’s clear that we’re in for a killer of a ride, along the lines of something like Sooyeon Won’s manhwa epic Let Dai, only better—much, much better.”
Hyakusho Kizoku | by Hiromu Arakawa | JManga/Shinshokan – This autobiographical manga from Fullmetal Alchemist author Hiromu Arakawa about growing up on her family’s dairy farm may not sound like much, but this understated single volume is one of the most delightful manga I read this year. From my review: “Though, on the surface, Hyakusho Kizoku may seem to share little in common with a fantasy epic like Fullmetal Alchemist, fans of FMA will quickly recognize Arakawa’s easy sense of humor, as well as her ability to create compelling, recognizable characters with just a few deft strokes … And though her humor is a highlight, it’s not the only way in which Arakawa shows off her strengths. One particularly haunting lesson about the fate of a sick, newborn calf had me tearing up as I read—a feat achieved mainly through just a few poignant strokes of Arakawa’s pen, as she drew her own mournful, childish face and that of the unsuspecting calf.”
You & Tonight | by Keiko Kinoshita | Digital Manga Guild – Though only the first volume of this quiet series has been published in English so far, it still stands out in my mind not only as one of my favorite BL manga of the year, but one of my favorite manga, period. From my review: “I’ve developed a bit of a love affair with Keiko Kinoshita’s work as of late, and this series has only deepened my feelings. Written in the same vein as her earlier two-volume series Kiss Blue, You and Tonight is a thoughtful, quiet manga about the delicate balance between love and friendship, and how two lifelong friends deal with the complications that arise when that balance is disturbed. Also like Kiss Blue, You and Tonight lets its characters process this sloooowly, which is one of the things that makes Kinoshita’s romance work so well. She isn’t afraid to let her characters wallow in uncertainty, and she certainly takes her time, but there’s never a sense that the story is dragging. On the contrary, there is tension in each moment, even the quietest ones.”
Sweet Blue Flowers | by Takako Shimura | JManga/Ohta Publishing – Apparently I’ve developed a love affair with Takako Shimura as well, as this is just the first of her series that will appear on this year’s list. I first heard of this title by way of Katherine Hanson‘s yuri panel at an obscure college convention here in western Massachusetts, and I’ve been dying to read it ever since. Thanks, JManga, for making it possible! From my review: “Like Shimura’s earlier series, Wandering Son, Sweet Blue Flowers is a quiet, emotionally complex story that addresses its characters’ sexuality, burgeoning sense of self, and considerable teen angst with thoughtfulness and real gravity, while also carefully providing them with a support system that keeps their sense of fear and isolation from overtaking the narrative. Manga fans who long for teen-oriented series’ depicting fantastic female friendships will find everything they’re looking for in this series, along with so much more.”
Continue to Part 2 for MJ’s “Top Five Continuing Series” and “Top Five Concluding Series”!
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