Once again, it’s the time of year when manga bloggers throw in their suggestions for the Great Manga Gift Guide. Daniella Orihuela-Gruber is keeping this year’s archive at All About Manga. (Check out David Welsh’s Manga Curmudgeon for links to last year’s guides.)
Since Manga Bookshelf’s guide last year drew from manga and manhwa in general published up to that point, this year’s guide acts as an appendix, focusing on comics that debuted in 2010 only.
Shall we begin?
Short and Sweet
For something easy on the pocketbook (and easy to wrap), take a look at these manga, complete in one volume.
|Not Love But Delicious Foods (Make Me So Happy!) | Yen Press – This single-volume manga from creator Fumi Yoshinaga is a joy for foodies and manga fans alike. From my review, “There isn’t a real story to this manga, just a series of episodes moving from restaurant to restaurant, but what makes each chapter come together is a strong feeling of intimacy with the characters and the author’s characteristic banter. Humorous dialogue is Yoshinaga’s specialty, and she uses it to great advantage in this book, stringing together descriptions of complicated dishes in the most natural way possible.”|
|Ristorante Paradiso | Viz Media – From Natsume Ono, this single volume manga has spawned a currently-running sequel series, Gente, but the original stands beautifully on its own. From my review, “The story begins with conflict–a young woman, Nicoletta, seeks out her mother (who abandoned her for love) with the intention of outing her as a divorcée to her current husband. But things immediately become more complicated as she finds herself torn between resentment over her mom’s happiness and a desire to be a part of the life her mom has built for herself … It’s a fairly quiet story about a bunch of people just being people, for better or worse.”|
I Enjoy Being a Girl
If you’re looking for a series aimed at teen girls, here are a couple of strong choices, each with a very different feel.
|The Story of Saiunkoku | Viz Media – This historical manga features beautiful costumes and scenery, a smart female lead, and plenty of royal intrigue to make its period setting come alive for teen readers. From my review, “…the series’ execution is thoughtful and unexpectedly nuanced. And though the story first seems to be crafted out of the same, tired tropes … each of these standard elements–the happy-go-lucky heroine, the over-the-top humor, the contrived matchmaking–becomes fresh and even insightful in Sai Yukino’s hands … Nobody is perfect, and since flawed characters are generally the most compelling in any story, this makes for a very rich experience overall.”|
|Seiho Boys’ High School! | Viz Media – This humorous tale of teenaged boys in a secluded all-boys high school leaves behind the romantic ideals of most shoujo manga in favor of comedy and an unexpectedly frank look at the minds and lives of its subjects. From my review, “… reading the second volume actually sold me on the series to an extent I could not possibly have expected. The crude humor is still there, but what turns the series around is that it *finally* focuses on its lead, Maki, giving him a rich, poignant backstory that really takes the story to the next level … one of the most realistic depictions of teenaged boys I’ve seen in shoujo manga.”|
For a racier and/or more sophisticated read, here are some options certainly not exclusive to the ladies.
|Bunny Drop | Yen Press – For female readers, it’s often entertaining to explore what men experience when thrust into roles generally allotted to women. Bunny Drop does this better than most, even portraying its male lead in a genuinely warm light. From my review, “Daikichi, is a 30-something bachelor whose recently deceased grandfather has left behind a 6-year-old love child, Rin, previously unknown to the rest of the family … In an impetuous fit of frustration, he declares that he’ll take care of Rin himself … This might sound dull, but it’s really, really not. It’s moving and funny and honestly compelling.”|
|There’s Something About Sunyool | NETCOMICS – One of the few recent NETCOMICS’ series for adult women to actually make it to print, Sunyool brings together melodrama, smart humor, and a strong female lead. From David Welsh’s review, “The title of Youngran Lee’s There’s Something About Sunyool is accurate, though it takes a while to figure out what that something is and if you’d like to see more of it. By the time I’d finished the first volume, she had gone from blandly quirky to confidently madcap, and I was very much in her corner … I’m looking forward to seeing her refuse to suffer new fools and roll with life’s nastier punches as the series progresses.”|
These stories are from artists who weave tales of great beauty–mysterious, melancholy, and each stunning in its own way.
|House of Five Leaves | Viz Media – Though it might seem strange to describe a story about a misplaced samurai and a group of criminals with terms like “uncommon beauty,” the quiet melancholy of this series brings to mind words just like that. From my review, “Akitsu is drawn to Yaichi’s personal qualities–the same ones he most painfully lacks–but his illusions are shattered when he discovers that Yaichi’s line of business is a sort of twisted vigilante kidnapping racket …The story moves quite slowly, but that’s really not the point. It’s all about this strange, vulnerable man, and whether he can truly discover family in a bunch of morally ambiguous outlaws.”|
|A Drunken Dream and Other Stories | Fantagraphics – This collection of short stories spanning the career of shoujo pioneer Moto Hagio offers a poignant look into the author’s mind, both as a young artist and an established creator, focusing especially on themes of family and personal identity. From Erica Friedman’s review, “Moto Hagio is a woman, who draws stories for girls. She is a Master of her Craft. She is a groundbreaker in her field. A Drunken Dream is a must-read for any serious student of manga. While you’re getting a copy, buy one for a niece or friend – and don’t tell them it’s ‘important.’ This way they’ll be free to just enjoy it, tropes and all.”|
Spirits, superstitions, and a herd of deadly unicorns? Here are two series both weird and wonderful.
|Demon Sacred | TOKYOPOP – For fans of cracktastic shoujo fantasy, TOKYOPOP’s got your number this year with this tale of demons, deadly unicorns, and hot young men. From my review, “Itsuki is a deft storyteller with the soul of a dreamy-eyed teen, and despite the story’s complicated plot and abundance of characters, the narrative is so strong, it’s not confusing in the least. Everything about this manga is perfectly crafted to appeal to its core demographic of teen girls, but sophisticated enough to grab the attention of those of us who are only teens at heart. I honestly can’t wait to read more.”|
|Natsume’s Book of Friends | Viz Media – Debuting in January, this quiet series took the manga blogging world by storm as one of the biggest surprises of this year. From my review of volume one, “This story is a pleasant surprise on all counts–art, characterization, storytelling … It possesses a sort of xxxHolic meets Mushishi vibe … which is not to suggest that it lacks its own unique charms. This volume is charming from start to finish, thanks to Takashi (whose good heart shines even as he faces rejection from family and peers) and the spirits he meets along the way, ranging from downright adorable to genuinely frightening.”|
Sci-Fi on the Side
If sci-fi is the way to go, Vertical’s got you covered this year.
|Twin Spica | Vertical, Inc. – Easily earning my vote for best new series this year, Twin Spica follows the adolescence of Asumi, an aspiring young astronaut in a time of recovery for Japan’s space program. From my review of volume one, “Though this series finished its run … just last year, its simple artwork and wistful tone make its first volume read like an instant classic. Even the volume’s cover art … evokes feelings of nostalgia. Also, though the story’s foundation is set firmly in hard sci-fi, it is its heroine’s poignant and occasionally whimsical inner life that really defines its voice. Asumi provides the heart of this story, and it is a strange and wonderful heart indeed.”|
|7 Billion Needles | Vertical, Inc. – This story, about an isolated young girl whose body becomes host to an alien entity, is psychologically-driven sci-fi of the very best kind. From my Pick of the Week, “Inspired by Hal Clement’s 1950s sci-fi novel, Needle, but set firmly in the present, this volume feels nostalgic and contemporary all at once … And though the premise is perhaps not quite original, as with most manga, the plot here is somewhat beside the point. The real story driving this volume is Hikaru’s own personal journey and the beginnings of her tenuous connection to the other seven billion people with whom she shares the planet.”|
For the Young & Young at Heart
Here are some great choices that easily appeal to young and old alike.
|Chi’s Sweet Home | Vertical, Inc. – Cute and simple enough for younger readers, but written originally for adults, Chi’s Sweet Home is the ultimate holiday gift this year, guaranteed to please nearly anyone. From my review of the early volumes, “Chi’s Sweet Home is the family-friendly manga we’ve all be waiting for. Its tiny feline protagonist is uniquely poised to appeal to readers of all ages, and even very young readers will find its image-heavy narrative easy to follow. Kanata’s simple, expressive art tells her story so clearly, it’s a series most of us could probably follow even if Vertical had printed it in the original Japanese.”|
|One Fine Day | Yen Press One of the few new manhwa series to debut this year, One Fine Day is filled with glorious whimsy, charming artwork, magic, and sweet scenes of home life between protagonist No-Ah and his furry “children.” From my review, “Perhaps the series’ most consistently delightful aspect, however, is its artwork. Alternating between crude sketches and elaborate fancies, Sirial’s drawings overflow with warmth and whimsy, matching the story’s tone perfectly. From No-Ah’s comically unmanageable hair to Rang’s footie pajamas, everything that could be labeled as “cute” is also an essential tool for expression, contradicting the series’ haphazard feel.”|
Bang For Your Buck
For a whole lot of manga in just one or two volumes, here are gifts that come complete without breaking the bank!
|Tenken | One Peace Books – This surreal fantasy, complete in one oversized volume, has an atypical look that may appeal to non-manga fans. Though it can be challenging to follow, the rewards are clear. From Julie Opipari, “I loved the brooding atmosphere of this post-apocalyptic tale … maybe it’s meant to be like a dream, one that fades and blurs after waking. One aspect of this story is crystal clear, and that is the compelling elegance of the visually arresting art. I am looking forward to more by Yumiko Shirai. Like Saki,her artwork shines with brilliance that can’t be ignored.”|
|Chobits Omnibus | Dark Horse Manga – This bulky, two-volume reissue of the entire series is a treat for CLAMP fans old and new. With a spiffy new translation and gorgeous color pages, these oversized volumes reflect the quality manga fans have come to expect from Dark Horse. From astronerdboy, “Considering the Japanese love of androids and 2-D characters, CLAMP’s work here lays out the groundwork that questions the very notions of love and whether or not a person having a relationship with a machine in human form is acceptable … Along the way, CLAMP picks up a lot of fun, sweetness, interesting characters, and a genuine mystery over Chi.”|
Boys Who Love Boys
If your loved one’s a fan of boy on boy action, perhaps one of these?
|Calling | BLU – Strong BL one-shots are difficult to find. Most try to accomplish to much (or too little), and few are able to create a believable relationship in just a few chapters. Fortunately, Calling strikes the balance. From my review, “Calling is a surprisingly sweet story about two lonely young men discovering love for the first time. Even the story’s obvious cliches are handled with nuance and care … If Calling is more warm than it is profound, that’s really not something to complain about. It’s the story’s focus on small moments that make it work so well in just a single volume. In a sea of disappointing BL one-shots, Calling is a welcome oasis indeed.”|
|Seven Days | Juné – Though the premise of this (yet incomplete) short series appears cringe-worthy, its execution is anything but. From my review, “There are a lot of layers to this odd little story, and though it’s unclear at this point how anything might be resolved … writer Venio Tachibana provides more than enough reason for us to want to find out. And though that reason includes school club drama, at least two love triangles, one wonderfully tough female character, and, of course, attractive archery uniforms, it’s still the story’s idiosyncratic leads who steal the show with a mountain of mixed signals, persistent defensiveness, and awkward moments of affection.”|
For more ideas, try last year’s guide. Happy Shopping!