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Pick of the Year – 2013

MELINDA: 2013 was a pretty dramatic year for manga in many ways, both good and bad. I can’t help but feel pangs of sadness and regret when I look back at last year’s column, in which I named now-defunct digital publisher JManga as my Pick of the Year. Their titles dominated both my BL and digital “best of” lists as well.

heartofthomasDespite that tragedy, I gaze fondly back at 2013, as the year that brought me new favorites like Knights of Sidonia and Sunny. When thinking about my final Pick this year, however, I guess I’ve little choice but to sound like a broken record, because for me, there can be no other than Moto Hagio’s The Heart of Thomas. When Michelle and I discussed this book back in January, I wrote:

“In case it isn’t obvious to anyone reading this, I loved this manga with my whole heart. And I’ll admit that’s not exactly what I expected. I expected to find it visually beautiful and worthy as a classic, but I also expected it to be very dated and I thought the story might not appeal to my tastes as a modern fan. Instead, I found it to be both beautiful and emotionally resonant to an extent I’ve rarely experienced—especially in BL manga. This is a book I’d wholeheartedly recommend to any comics fan, without reservation. It’s an absolute treasure.”

We were working from digital review copies at the time, and though I’d clearly fallen in love, it wasn’t until my own print copy finally shipped later that month that I realized just how much of a treasure this book truly is. It is glorious to behold. As the year passed, nothing else has come close.

gundamoriginSEAN: There was a lot of great manga released in 2013, even if you just stick with titles that began this year. My mind keeps drifting over to one title in particular, and that’s the deluxe hardcover release of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin from Vertical. Leaving aside the fact that it looks expensive and fantastic with lovely paper and color and everything, it’s a terrific story. Gundam wouldn’t be what it is today without that original story, and reading about the slow maturation (very slow at times) of Amuro Ray, the increasing leadership abilities of Bright Noah, and the political backstabbing of everyone on the Zeon side (but particularly Char Aznable) is as addicting as anything.

With 4 hardcover volumes out so far this year and more on the way, this has to be the Pick of the Year for me.

knights1MICHELLE: I am finding this profoundly difficult. I picked Taiyo Matsumoto’s Sunny for our gift-giving edition last week, so I obviously love it a great deal and think it’s something every manga fan should check out. But if we’re talking about the new-for-2013 manga that pushes my personal buttons the most, it would have to be Tsutomu Nihei’s Knights of Sidonia. Quite simply, I love everything about it, especially Nihei’s art and how the interior nooks and crannies of Sidonia are depicted. It’s also the most accessible of his works that I’ve read, with an endearing cast thrown into a desperate, seemingly impossible conflict.

I very much want to read more Sunny, but I’m kind of desperate to read more Knights of Sidonia, and so it gets the edge and becomes my official Pick of the Year.

seiichi-hayashi-gold-pollen-and-other-stories-3ASH: Oh, this really is difficult! I always have a hard time choosing bests or favorites, but I did recently manage to write about some of the manga from the last year that were particularly notable for me. As for my selection for Pick of the Year, I’m actually going to cheat a little and choose the publisher PictureBox. Sadly, PictureBox will not be releasing any new titles, but I was greatly impressed and intrigued by all of the manga it published in 2013.

PictureBox was taking manga publishing in some very exciting directions. The releases were high-quality, too. I was especially interested in the two series helmed and edited by Ryan Holmberg: Ten-Cent Manga (which brought us The Last of the Mohicans by Shigeru Sugiura and The Mysterious Undergound Men by Osamu Tezuka) and Masters of Alternative Manga (which brought us Gold Pollen and Other Stories, an anthology of short manga by Seiichi Hayashi). Plus, PictureBox actually had the guts to release The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: The Master of Gay Erotic Manga. So, while PictureBox may not be releasing any more manga, I’m very grateful for the risks it took in 2013.

ANNA: I’m relieved that Sean picked Gundam: The Origin because that gives me room to pick something else. And I’m happy that Ash decided to cheat a little, because I’m going to do that too!

My pick of the year isn’t a manga volume or series, but a genre. I want to highlight josei manga! Just when I was about to give up hope of seeing much more josei manga published in English, 2013 ended up being a great year for manga targeted at older female readers. Viz Media had the commercial but incredibly addictive Midnight Secretary and Happy Marriage, Vertical highlighted more challenging and edgy fare by translating works of Kyoko Okazaki, and Digital Manga Publishing released a ton of Harlequin manga on This makes me a very happy reader! I hope for more josei in 2014.

Readers, what manga made your year?

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  1. For me it had to be No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! As it’s the antithesis of so many “High School series,” along with a refreshingly honest look at a deeply troubled main character who you alternatively want to comfort and cringe at her own missteps and dilusions because they often times are so much who you were or in some cases still are.

  2. I kind of feel that 2013 was not the greatest year for new manga series. There were excellent volumes of continuing series (Otomen, Natsume’s Book of
    , Oresama Teacher, Kamisama Kiss, the Loveless license rescue), and final volumes of some great series (The Tyrant Falls in Love, The Story of Saiunkoku, I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow). Heart of Thomas stands out as the best one-volume release, but I’m going to cheat a bit and nominate Genshiken Nidaime as the best new English-language series of 2013 (even though the first volume came out in late 2012).

    I like the variety of girl-geek types (even within the restricted landscape of fujoshi), and I really like Hato, both because cute crossdressing guys are awesome and more are always welcome, and as a nuanced attempt to write a character who dresses like a woman but identifies as a man. A lot of people complain about Hato on the grounds that he isn’t a realistic depiction of a trans woman, but I don’t see any evidence he was ever supposed to be that; Genshiken has always been squarely about otaku, and Hato is both an example of the current otaku fad for fictional “otokonoko” (a pun for “male girls”, roughly) and a fairly realistic (as far as I can tell at this distance) depiction of the kind of men who are drawn to the otokonoko crossdressing subculture in real life. I have a big essay on Hato that I have to get off my brain some time; he’s a really interesting character both as a person and as a reflection of genderbending in current male-oriented otaku culture.

    I also want to give a Special Prize for Girl-Pandering to Dictatorial Grimoire, and specifically to evil!genderflipped!male-stripper!Snow White and his man-bustier. I can’t say it’s good, exactly, but I am glad to live in a world where stuff like that exists. :D

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