I like getting lost in a long, twisty story as much as the next person, but I often lose interest in a manga around the five- or ten-volume mark. As a service to other people afflicted with Manga ADHD, therefore, I’ve compiled a list of seven shorter series that enjoy pride of place on my shelves.
There were a few ground rules that guided my list-making. First, the series needed to be complete in five volumes or fewer. Second, every volume of the series needed to be readily available through a major retailer like Amazon. Third, the list needed to be diverse, covering a range of genres and demographics. Had I expanded the list to include out-of-print favorites — Antique Bakery, Apocalypse Meow, Club 9, Domu: A Child’s Dream, The Name of the Flower, Planetes — it would have been an unwieldy beast, and one sure to disappoint: why recommend a book that’s selling for $100 on eBay?
So without further ado… here are seven short series worth adding to your manga bookshelf.
A DISTANT NEIGHBORHOOD
JIRO TANIGUCHI • FANFARE/PONENT MON • 2 VOLUMES
A Distant Neighborhood is a wry, wistful take on a tried-and-true premise: a salaryman is transported back in time to his high school days, and must decide whether to act on his knowledge of the past or let events unfold as they did before. We’ve seen this story many times at the multiplex — Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married — but Taniguchi doesn’t play the set-up for laughs; rather, he uses Hiroshi’s predicament to underscore the challenges of family life and the awkwardness of adolescence. (Hiroshi is the same chronological age as his parents, giving him special insight into the vicissitudes of marriage, as well as the confidence to cope with teenage tribulations.) Easily one of the most emotional, most intimate stories Taniguchi’s ever told. (A Distant Neighborhood was one of my picks for Best Manga of 2009; click here for the full list.)
ICHIGENME… THE FIRST CLASS IS CIVIL LAW
FUMI YOSHINAGA • DMP • 2 VOLUMES
One of the things that distinguishes Fumi Yoshinaga’s work from that of other yaoi artists is her love of dialogue. In works like Antique Bakery and Solfege, she reminds us that conversation can be an aphrodisiac, especially when two people are analyzing a favorite book or confessing a mutually-shared passion for art, cooking, or manga. True to form, the sexiest scenes in Ichigenme: The First Class Is Civil Law are conversations between law professors and their students. We feel the erotic charge of more experienced scholars engaging their proteges in intense debates over legal procedure and philosophy, even when the topics themselves are rather dry. Not that Yoshinaga skimps on the smut: there’s plenty of bedroom action as the carefree Tohdou helps his uptight, closeted classmate Tamiya explore his sexuality, but the series’ best moments are fully clothed. An entertaining manga that gets better with each reading. (Reviewed at PopCultureShock on 3/14/08.)
ODE TO KIRIHITO
OSAMU TEZUKA • VERTICAL, INC. • 2 VOLUMES
While investigating an outbreak of a mysterious disease, an earnest young doctor contracts it himself, becoming a hideous dog-man who craves raw meat. Kirihito’s search for the cause — and the cure — is the backbone of this globe-trotting adventure, but Kirihito’s quest to reclaim his humanity is its heart and soul; his travels bring him into contact with hustlers, racists, and superstitious villagers, each of whom greets him with a mixture of suspicion and fear. As its dog-man premise suggests, Ode to Kirihito is Tezuka at his bat-shit craziest: in one storyline, for example, Kirihito befriends a nymphomaniac circus performer who transforms herself into human tempura. But for all its over-the-top characters and plot developments (see “nympho human tempura,” above), Ode to Kirihito is one of Tezuka’s most moving stories, a thoughtful meditation on the the fluid boundaries between man and animal, sanity and insanity, good and evil. (Reviewed at The Manga Critic on 4/7/10.)
THE SECRET NOTES OF LADY KANOKO
RIRIKO TSUJITA • TOKYOPOP • 3 VOLUMES
Kanoko, the sardonic heroine of The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko, is a student of human behavior, gleefully filling her notebooks with detailed observations about her classmates. Though Kanoko would like nothing more than to remain on the sidelines, she frequently becomes embroiled in her peers’ problems; they value her independent perspective, as Kanoko isn’t the least bit interested in dating, running for student council, or currying favor with the alpha clique. Kanoko’s sharp tongue and cool demeanor might make her the mean-girl villain in another shojo manga, but Ririko Tsujita embraces her heroine’s prickly, opinionated nature and makes it fundamental to Kanoko’s appeal. The perfect antidote to shojo stories about timid good girls and boy-crazy spazzes. UPDATE 4/16/11: TOKYOPOP announced that it would be shutting down its US publishing operations on May 31, 2011. Unfortunately, that means that Lady Kanoko will likely remain incomplete at two volumes. The stories are largely self-contained, so it is still possible to enjoy Lady Kanoko without reading the last volume.
7 BILLION NEEDLES
NOBUAKI TADANO • VERTICAL, INC. • 4 VOLUMES
Nobuaki Tadano gives Hal Clement’s Needle a manga makeover, moving the action from a remote island in the South Seas to Japan, and replacing Clement’s wholesome, Hardy Boy protagonist with a sullen teenage girl who’s none too pleased to discover that an alien bounty hunter has taken control of her body. The decision to make Hikaru a troubled loner with a difficult past is a stroke of genius; her social isolation proves almost as formidable an obstacle for her to overcome as the monster that she and Horizon (as the bounty hunter is known) are pursuing. Her personal struggles also add a level of raw, emotional authenticity to the story — something that was largely absent from the fascinating, though clinically detached, original. Oh, and the monster? It’s a doozy. (7 Billion Needles was one of my picks for Best Teen-Friendly Comic of 2010; see Good Comics for Kids for the full list. Volumes one and two were reviewed at The Manga Critic on 11/21/10; volume three was reviewed on 2/17/11. The fourth and final volume will arrive in stores on April 26, 2011.)
KEIKO TAKEMIYA • VERTICAL, INC. • 3 VOLUMES
If Richard Wagner wrote space operas, he might have composed something like Keiko Takemiya’s To Terra, an inter-generational drama about a race of telepathic mutants who’ve been exiled from their home world. Under the leadership of the charismatic Jomy Marcus Shin, the Mu embark on a grueling voyage back to Terra to be reunited with their human creators. Their principle foe: an evil supercomputer named Mother. Takemiya’s richly detailed artwork makes To Terra an almost cinematic experience, suggestive of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. But don’t be fooled by those blinking computers and blazing starships: To Terra is an unabashedly Romantic saga about two ubermensch locked in a struggle of cosmic proportions. No doubt Richard would approve. (To Terra was one of my picks for Best Manga of 2007; read the full list at PopCultureShock. For more information on To Terra‘s history, click here.)
TOTO! THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURE
YUKO OSADA • DEL REY • 5 VOLUMES
Shonen series often run to 10, 20, or 40 volumes, but Toto! The Wonderful Adventure proves that good stories come in shorter packages, too. Yuko Osada brazenly steals ideas from dozens of other sources — Castle in the Sky, One Piece, Last Exile, The Wizard of Oz — to produce a boisterous, fast-paced story about a tyro explorer who crosses paths with sky pirates, military warlords, and a high-kicking senjutsu expert named Dorothy. Though the jokes are hit-or-miss, Toto! boasts crisp artwork, strong female characters, and an infectious sense of bonhomie among the series’ protagonists; Kakashi and his traveling companions are impossible to dislike. (Reviewed at The Manga Critic on 9/16/10.)
CAT-EYED BOY (Kazuo Umezu • VIZ • 2 volumes): Readers looking for an introduction to Kazuo Umezu’s work could do a lot worse than this two-volume collection of stories about a strange little boy who’s half-human, half-demon. Umezu gives free reign to his imagination, conjuring some of the most bizarre monsters in the J-horror canon. The results aren’t always as shocking as they might be, but Cat-Eyed Boy is by turns funny, scary, and sad. (Reviewed at The Manga Critic on 10/3/10.)
LADY SNOWBLOOD (Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kimimura • Dark Horse • 4 volumes): Now that everyone’s forgotten Kill Bill, the epic mess “inspired” by Kazuo Koike’s Lady Snowblood, it’s possible to read this series for what it is: a deliciously trashy story about a beautiful assassin who manipulates, cajoles, seduces, and stabs her way through Meiji-era Japan. Expect copious nudity, buckets of blood, and fight scenes so outrageous they have to be seen to be believed.
ONE POUND GOSPEL (Rumiko Takahashi • VIZ • 4 volumes): In this charming sports comedy, a struggling boxer is torn between his love for food and his love for a pretty young nun who wants him to lay down his fork, lose some weight, and win a few matches. The series is a little episodic (Takahashi published new chapters sporadically), but the dialogue and slapstick humor have a characteristically Takahashian zing.
For additional suggestions, see:
- 5 Underrated Shojo Manga, which includes Setona Mizushiro’s X-Day;
- My 10 Favorite CMX Titles, which includes such short series as Astral Project, Chikyu Misaki, Kiichi and the Magic Books, The Name of the Flower, and Presents. Note that many of these series are out of print and may be hard to find through retailers like Amazon;
- My 10 Favorite Spooky Manga, which includes such short series as Dororo, Gyo, Mail, and School Zone.
LG saysFebruary 23, 2011 at 8:54 pm
The only one of these I’ve ever even had in my hands before was One Pound Gospel – other than that, I’ve never heard of or read most of these. Again, I’ve got another list of manga to hunt down and try out. :D
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 23, 2011 at 9:19 pm
Glad I was able to point you to some new series! I’ll be curious to know if any of these recommendations work for you.
Sarah saysFebruary 23, 2011 at 9:11 pm
Thanks for the recommendations! I think I’ll be trying Ichigenme…I’m already following Lady Kanoko, and I love it.
It’s a shame Paradise Kiss is out of print, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a perfectly-sized series. Exactly long enough, not so short that it feels like it was suddenly cut short without resolution.
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 23, 2011 at 9:23 pm
Agreed about Paradise Kiss: it’s the perfect length, and it’s one of the only manga I can name that holds up to repeated readings. I sold my very battered set in the hopes of finding more pristine copies — I’m not normally fussy about the condition of my books, but it seemed only right that the books look ship-shape.
And I’m delighted to see that word about Lady Kanoko is spreading. I wish Tokyopop had sent me a review copy in December when it was first released — it would have made my Best of 2010 list for certain!
CJ saysFebruary 23, 2011 at 10:52 pm
A Distant Neighborhood-got it
Ichigenme-will get it, my Fumi Yoshinaga shrine needs it. When I get more monies in my paypal I will, since I wiped out what was in it with getting that last volume of Firefighter Daigo rather expensively
Ode to Kirihito-got it
7 Billion Needles-hmmm, still not 100% convinced
Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko—maybe someday? I’ll check the library first
To Terra-got it, and the anime
For my 5 volumes and under series, I’d go with: anything else by Fumi Yoshinaga (except Ooku which is longer than 5 volumes), any other of the short Tezuka series Vertical put out, Planetes, Kurogane (the Del Rey title, not Kurogane Peacemaker), Mermaid Saga, Club 9, Uzumaki, Bakegyamon (for kids manga), and Mushishi (since I only bothered to buy the last 5 volumes due to having the anime).
But yeah, good lists of stuff that’s easy to buy that is still available is always good with me!
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 8:46 am
Couldn’t argue with any of your choices, CJ, and several of them have appeared on other lists I’ve composed for the site! I’d almost forgotten about Kurogane, but that’s another good short series, especially for folks who like Kei Toume. Thanks for the reminder!
David Welsh saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 7:01 am
Terrific list, Kate! And while you already recognized Yoshinaga and Tezuka, there are two I can’t resist mentioning:
Dororo by Tezuka, three volumes, Vertical: Tragically truncated adventure that’s both insane and sad about a guy who’s trying to find his missing body parts and his bratty thief companion.
Flower of Life by Yoshinaga, four volumes, Digital Manga: Simply the best high-school story ever, with the greatest school festival ever committed to paper.
Melinda Beasi saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 8:45 am
I definitely concur with David, though I feel compelled to point out this very sad truth… volume four of Flower of Life seems to be out of print!
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 8:51 am
…which is the only reason it isn’t on my list! I adore Flower of Life, but that final volume is commanding seriously high prices on Amazon and eBay. DMP, bring this sucker back!
And yes, Dororo is an excellent suggestion! I’ve talked about it before, but it’s always good to keep reminding people about it. Dororo is a great introduction to Tezuka’s style and storytelling. Plus sake-breathing shark monsters!
Aaron saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 9:25 am
I have to throw my vote in for Honey and Clover and Sand Chroncles becuse it’s hard (for me)to find good Josei that dosent come off as vapid wish fufilment (well that and Hagumi is super Moe) and this sereis comes off as more relistic than a title like Happy Mania wich strieks me as insulting. (IMO)
and Sand Chroncles becuese it actually grows from being a well written if somewhat melodramatic Shojo manga in to a really uniuqe Josei manga on the perials of first love and comeing to terms with the past. I also have to throw in Sundome a sereis I orginally said I would never read but after haveing read the first four volumes through twice the interplay between the charcters is really well done (even if Kurumi does look a little like Kafuka from Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei their’s a sereis I’ll never look at the same LOL)
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 9:49 am
I’d have cheerfully added Honey and Clover and Sand Chronicles to the list if they were five volumes long and not ten — both are great series. I’m re-reading Sand Chronicles right now, and am delighted at just how well it holds up to a second reading.
Sundome, though… that’s one title I just couldn’t enjoy, though I’d be willing to concede that it’s more realistic than a lot of manga about teenagers coping with hormones!
Aaron saysFebruary 25, 2011 at 10:39 am
I dont know maybe it’s the hopeless romantic in me but I found Hideo’s devotion to Kurumi kind of sweet kind of like behind all the S&M was a guy really falling in love for the first ime with all the good and the bad that comes with that but that’s just me Cao.
Jade Harris saysFebruary 28, 2011 at 3:16 pm
On the other hand, I think some of that devotion is stopping him from really understanding her.
Noura saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 11:12 am
Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ichigenme – First Class is Civil Law is a good one. I would also like to suggest:
Chicago by Yumi Tamura (2 volumes): By the creator of BASARA. It wasn’t by any means as good as BASARA but I enjoyed it a lot. The only thing is that it didn’t feel like it finished by the ending of volume 2 and that there should be more. A good one to add to your collection.
I Shall Never Return by Kazuna Uchida (5 volumes): A BL classic that will move you. I see it as a must have for any BL fan but not for those who are looking only for the sex. It has a great story that goes beyond just the physical attraction between the two main characters. I definitely love how deep the story is.
Mad Love Chase by Kazusa Takashima (5 volumes): Ok, this might not appeal to everyone but it is an enjoyable shoujo that has some subtle hints of BL. The creator is known for her BL works but this one is a shoujo and a good one at that. I enjoyed it from start to finish. I especially liked the friendship between two of the main characters.
S by Saki Aida (4 volumes): A BL novel and a very good one too. You can’t help but fall in love with the two main characters. A good addition for any BL fan.
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 11:20 am
Thanks for shoring up the list with more yaoi/BL suggestions, Noura! I haven’t read any of your recommended titles, but you’ve piqued my interest with I Shall Never Return and Mad Love Chase.
Oliver saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 11:37 am
You spelled Kanoko “Kanako” in your review. Kanako is actually the protagonist of another T-pop series “Maria Holic”. :)
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 3:43 pm
Where would I be without proofreaders? Can I pay you in manga? ;)
Oliver saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 10:54 pm
Yes. I’ll give you my volume 19 of Eyeshield 21 for your Volumes 26-56 of One Piece. How does that sound? I know that your thinking I’m a giver, but show your appreciation with 30 volumes of manga! :)
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 25, 2011 at 10:04 am
If you’re trawling for a manga sugar mama, you’ve come to the wrong place, I’m afraid! You need to find a manga-loving patroness with deeper pockets.
badzphoto saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm
Imadoki (5 volumes completed) by Yuu Watase. It’s interesting and the heroine is totally different from Miaka :)
Kiichi and the magic book (5 volumes completed) by Taka Amano – published by cmx so I’m not sure if it’s oop!
Love Roma (5 volumes completed) by Minoru Toyoda – very good story, I like the characters a lot.
Forest of Gray City (manhwa, 2 volumes completed) rescued by Yen Press. I like it a lot.
Narration of love at 17 (manhwa 4 completed) by Kyeong-Ok Kang – one of my favorite series.
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 24, 2011 at 3:42 pm
Can’t argue with any of those choices; Forest of Gray City, Narration of Love at 17, and Kiichi and the Magic Books are all awesome series!
Jade saysFebruary 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm
Mail would be a good fit for this list. I don’t think it’s too hard to find.
Love Roma isn’t too many volumes either. I picked up a volume a few months ago and tore through the rest.
Katherine Dacey saysFebruary 27, 2011 at 12:35 am
I’ve mentioned Mail before (link above), but I agree: it’s an awesome series and still relatively easy to find on Amazon. (I don’t know about comic shop availability; mine stocks it, but they have an unusually good supply of manga.) I started Love Roma ages ago, liked it, but never finished it. It’s on my ever-growing list of series to revisit!
Jade Harris saysFebruary 28, 2011 at 3:21 pm
Huh, it’s only five or six volumes too. You really ought to finish it one of these days.
Mail has that Dark Horse publishing behind it that I think helps keep it available. I don’t think there’s too much of the Dark Horse manga catalog that’s all that hard to find.
Grant saysMarch 1, 2011 at 8:19 pm
I’ve been looking for a good, short series to pick up. 7 Billion Needles volume 1 is on the way and I’m very curious to see how the story unfolds. I’ve had One Pound Gospel on a shelf for a year now and somehow forgot about it. I think it’s time to correct that. (My exposure to Takahashi’s work is rather limited—I read the first volume of Ranma as part of a Feminist Voices in Fantasy/Sci-Fi course in college).
Noura saysMarch 21, 2011 at 7:57 am
Just reread Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ichigenme… The First Class is Civil Law yesterday and I have to say that it is one of the mangaka’s bests. The main characters are likable and funny too. I am planning on getting Flower of Life and Antique Bakery too.
Katherine Dacey saysMarch 21, 2011 at 10:25 am
Ichigenme is one of those rare manga that actually improves with each reading, isn’t it? I’d liked it OK the first time I read it, then fell head-over-heels for it on my second pass.
Noura saysMarch 29, 2011 at 1:12 am
Just started reading Fumi Yoshinaga’s Flower of Life and I have to say that I am already hooked. It sure is a great addition to my collection. Love the characters and the story is well developed too. I tend to love Yoshinaga’s non-BL works more. I am glad I got this series. Next on my list is Antique Bakery.
Katherine Dacey saysMarch 29, 2011 at 9:16 pm
I’m so glad to hear you’re enjoying Flower of Life — that’s my all-time favorite Fumi Yoshinaga title, and one of the few manga that has ever made me laugh until tears were rolling down my cheeks. (Two words: cultural festival!) I generally prefer Yoshinaga’s non-BL work, too; All My Darling Daughters, Ooku, and Not Love But Delicious Foods are in my top-five list, with Antique Bakery filling the fifth slot.
Noura saysMarch 30, 2011 at 12:31 am
I am almost nearing the end as I am just left with volume 4 to read and will do so tomorrow. I am totally in love with Flower of Life. The characters are awesome and sure are hilarious. Saito-sensei sure makes me crack up. It is funny how she is always mistaken for an effeminate gay man. Honestly, I thought so too at first. Each of the characters has his/her own unique side.
I loved Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters much more than I did Not love but delicious foods. As for Ooku, I haven’t read beyond volume 1 and I will get the rest eventually.
Aine saysOctober 17, 2011 at 5:10 am
Wow, thanks for recommending To Terra. I came across this article just as I was bemoaning the lack of space opera manga, at least that I’ve been able to find.
Katherine Dacey saysOctober 17, 2011 at 8:08 am
You’re welcome! If you enjoy To Terra, you might also look for Andromeda Stories, another space opera by Keiko Takemiya. It’s also published by Vertical, and is still in print.
StarSpica saysAugust 4, 2015 at 7:10 am
Aw, man, I haven’t read any of these! ^^;; They all sound like things i might like to read, especially Ichigenme: The First Class is Civil Law, as I am a fan of Fumi Yoshinaga, I’m not really a BL fan for various reasons, the main one being the amount of non-con, but I love what I’ve read of her stuff, Antique Bakery is one of my favourite series and I’m so glad I own all of it (complete with scratch and sniff covers!), and Ooku: The Inner Chambers seemed really interesting from the first volume, I plan to buy all of the rest soon. I wish I could get Flower of Life but the fourth volume is ridiculously expensive. I haven’t completed a huge number of series, but some that are fairly close to 5 volumes or less that I would recommend are:
Kiichi and the Magic Books (5 volumes, complete) – I completely agree with you about this one! The first volume is a bit on the typical shonen adventure side (watch Kiichi rescue these adorable children from a vicious dog! Watch Kiichi rescue this adorable dog from some vicious children! :D Joking but it is that kind of thing somewhat) but get past that and the rest of it is a deeply rewarding experience. Also a great title for younger readers. Gorgeous art too.
The Key to the Kingdom (6 volumes, complete) – Fantastic historical fantasy shoujo from CMX that has surprisingly old school art for a title released in the 2000s and features some effectively eerie, otherworldly moments.
Only the Ring Finger Knows (Single volume, complete) – BL, I read it years ago but seem to remember it being pretty decent.
King of Thorn (6 volumes, complete) – Some people don’t like the ending to this but I really enjoyed the whole thing, fantastic art, moving emotional sacrifices, psychological angle, interesting mystery, it’s a very good action thriller title.
All You Need is Kill (2 volumes or one omnibus, complete) – I wouldn’t usually bother with a manga based on a novel/light novel (or a manga based on an anime for that matter), especially when the source material is officially available in English (I also own the novel released under Viz’s Haikasoru imprint, I haven’t read it yet though) but they clearly put a lot of effort into this, Takeshi Obata’s artwork is as masterful as always and the writing is entertaining and holds one’s interest. Feels like a damn good blockbuster movie, I’m not surprised it got adapted to the screen. The novel looks to have more complex and realistic dialogue with more swearing and sexual references, and I look forward to reading it, but I wouldn’t write this adaptation off, it stands on it’s own two feet.
There are some other shorter series I own that I keep meaning to get around to reading, hopefully I’ll finish some of them and then get back to you :) I’m currently reading Limit by Keiko Suenobu and finding it utterly gripping. so that will probably go on my recs list when I’ve finished it.