Recommend some Manga for a Noob
January 21, 2010 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Help me get into Manga. In the last few years I have gotten into comics when previously they had been lost on me, now that I am comfortable with the American form I want to try some Manga but I have no idea where to start. See inside for a list of things I have read and enjoyed that might inform your suggestions.

Probably my top two favorite works so far have been Brooklyn Dreams and Transmetropolitan. I also loved Watchmen (but I don't know how helpful that data-point is considering that just about everyone I've talked to has loved Watchmen), The Walking Dead, and Freakangels (the new reason I can't wait for Fridays.) I've read all of Fables but that didn't really grab me the way the other things I've listed did. I've tried both 100 Bullets and DMZ but I don't think that crime or war comics are really my cup of tea. I've been disappointed every time I've tried any of the mainstream superhero titles (Superman, Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, et al) mainly because I feel that I don't have enough of a background in their in-universe histories to catch all the references.

If I had to try to put a name to the commonalities that the titles I enjoy share I would say it is strong characterizations, effective world-building, and a willingness to explore ideas.

So I hope that from all that mess someone can suggest a few Manga titles that are good for a beginner and maybe offer some basic tips on how to approach the form.
posted by Bango Skank to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I am big into manga. I think that one of the best manga being published today in terms of characterization and world building is Urasawa's 20th Century Boys. It is great if you enjoy intelligent science fiction. It is somewhat difficult to describe because the narrative is complex and has many layers. A group of friends who used to play together have all grown up, but they see events taking place that mirror a story/game they played with as kids. Someone is making their childhood fantasy a reality, possibly creating a dystopic future for the world.
posted by gnat at 12:58 PM on January 21, 2010

I'd definitely recommend Lone Wolf and Cub as very good as well as a good starting point.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:01 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh! One good site to check out if you are interested in manga is Viz's online magazine Sigikki. There are sample chapters you can preview for free. Some of my favorite titles there are Children of the Sea (a group of friends investigate mysterious animal disappearances in the ocean), Afterschool Charisma (a normal boy attends a school filled with teenage clones of famous people from history - Clone Hitler, Clone Freud, Clone Marie Curie), and House of Five Leaves (an idiosyncratic Ronin inadvertantly becomes caught up in a criminal conspiracy). All of these series have wildly different art styles and storytelling techniques, so they might serve as a good introduction to manga.
posted by gnat at 1:05 PM on January 21, 2010

I don't know anything about manga. But I enjoy autobiographical/realistic graphic novels. So I recommend Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life. A worthy read in and of itself, it'll also fill in some blanks about the history of manga, as told from an insider's perspective.

But if you didn't like 100 Bullets you may be beyond help. I mean, jeez. Really? 100 Bullets was fucking great.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:08 PM on January 21, 2010

2nding 20th century boys. i also loved the author's works Pluto and Monster. also love musashi. but i'm not sure if these titles are available in english, as i read them in japanese.
posted by raw sugar at 1:09 PM on January 21, 2010

I've read a lot of manga, and Fullmetal Alchemist is my favorite manga of all time

(of all time!)

Some of the best character development, great complex plot, good artistic style
posted by chalbe at 1:10 PM on January 21, 2010

I really enjoyed reading Death Note (intriguing story, gorgeous art), but be warned that the series is LONG.

xxHolic is good too (it's made by CLAMP).

I'm about to start reading Blade of the Immortal as I've heard it's amazing ("a unique, expertly paced manga series that mixes Edo-era samurai grudge matches with anachronistic punk attitudes and mannerisms").
posted by lhall at 1:23 PM on January 21, 2010

Legalities aside.
posted by jstarlee at 1:25 PM on January 21, 2010

Battle Angel Alita

Looking for that, I see that they did a sequel series. I can't say anything about that. Yet.
posted by cmoj at 1:30 PM on January 21, 2010

If you read xxxHolic, you need to also read Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle. The link between the two series isn't very strong at first, but in later volumes, the link is VERY strong, and you sort of need one to know what is going on in the other.

That said, both are VERY good, quite possibly some of the best that CLAMP has ever produced.

Other manga that I have enjoyed that may fit your criteria:

Black Jack - old but good. Should be fairly easy to find in English, legally.
Gunnm (Battle Angel Alita) - Really amazing and great series, but ends in a really weird way. Is continued, with the proper ending, in Battle Angel Alita: Last Order.
Cat Shit One (Apocalypse Meow) - REALLY AMAZING story.
Claymore - one of the best series I have ever read. The anime is also VERY good but ends too suddenly.
Gin Tama - I haven't read this yet, but it has been getting rave reviews in my manga reading circles.
posted by strixus at 1:40 PM on January 21, 2010

Regardless of individual tastes I would recommend any manga reader check out Azumanga Daioh, which is one of the most flat out enjoyable things I have ever read. It's quite easy to dip into, as it uses mostly uses simple four panel gag strips, and you can get the whole series in one giant omnibus.
posted by fearthehat at 1:43 PM on January 21, 2010

Lone Wolf and Cub and Monster, as recommended by shakespeherian and raw sugar above, are excellent; the former is gritty historical action and the latter is a sort of psychological thriller with a doctor as the main character, a bit like House meets The Silence of the Lambs.

If you like horror at all, you should read Uzumaki. Any of Hideshi Hino's work is also good, but perhaps not the best starting place if you're just getting into manga.

And last but certainly not least, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind can't be recommended highly enough!
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:45 PM on January 21, 2010

Sorry, that should be "as it mostly uses simple four panel gag strips".
posted by fearthehat at 1:47 PM on January 21, 2010

Oh, you also asked for some basic tips to approach the form. I have two:

First, keep your critical faculties intact. A lot of people, when they start getting into anime or manga, are completely indiscriminate about it. As with anything else, a lot of manga is crap. By asking for recommendations, you're already ahead of the game on that one. But if you get into a manga and decide you're not that into it, just give it away; don't feel like you have to go out and read all 30 volumes or whatever.

Second, take your time. It's easy to read through a volume of manga in a hurry, but it's more rewarding if you go slow, look at each panel, take in the art and the action as well as the dialogue.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:53 PM on January 21, 2010

No love for Katsuhiro Otomo here?
posted by Artw at 2:09 PM on January 21, 2010

Speaking as someone who's not generally into manga, I really enjoyed Kazuo Umezu's "The Drifting Classroom", though I read it in French as "L'École Emportée" so I can't vouch for the text per se. It's about a school that gets transported to a remote desert and the reactions of the children therein (I won't say more so as not to spoil it). It does get a bit repetitive, as it's a long series, but I found it mostly very well-done. I think part of the sell for me was that as it's from the 70s, the art seems to predate (or at least ignores) the 'manga'-style drawing that usually turns me off.
posted by threeants at 2:21 PM on January 21, 2010

Uzumaki is great, but there's no consistent worldbuilding and virtually zero character development. I'd suggest Pluto and Death Note (I haven't read much of either, but reviewers seem to like them).
posted by martinrebas at 2:26 PM on January 21, 2010

Mahou Sensei Negima is generally thought of as one of the very best, at least as it is now. But the early part of the series is quite a lot different.

There's history behind that. The mangaka previously did "Love Hina", which was a fan-service harem comedy. The magazine wanted it to run forever, but he got sick of it and ended it anyway. So for his next project, they told him to do the same thing again. He didn't want to, but money talks.

So at the beginning he made it seem a lot like a harem comedy. The fundamental story is that Negi is 10 years old. He just graduated from magician school in Wales, and the next thing he has to do before becoming qualified as a full-fledged mage is to spend time in the mundane world. So he gets sent to a very fancy all-girls school in Japan to be an English teacher. All his students are in middle school and are several years older than he is. A lot of them are cute. Some of them get crushes on him.

And there's a housing shortage on campus, so that head of the academy makes him share a room with Nodoka and Asuna, two of his students. Some nights, when he's kind of groggy, he crawls in bed with Asuna and she wakes in the morning to find that they've been cuddling all night. Then she beats him up. (It turns out there's a legitimate reason why it's only Asuna he's drawn to in this way. It's very surprising, and it isn't sexual.)

Sounds stupid, doesn't it? What Akamatsu really wanted to do was action-adventure. Initially he did harem comedy things because the magazine insisted, but over the first couple of years he started moving it in the direction of action-adventure. The audience loved it, and he did more of it. Now it's firmly in the action-adventure genre, and ratings are higher than ever before, so the magazine is fine with it.

The action-adventure part of the series really begins with the Evangeline arc, and he hits the afterburners with the School Festival arc (i.e. the Chao arc). Now, the series is in the Magical World arc. And pretty much all remaining aspects of the harem comedy genre are gone.

But the first fifteen or twenty chapters are radically different from the rest of the series. You probably won't like them, and Akamatsu didn't like doing them. I didn't like the early part of the series, either, but I'm hooked on it now.

[There were two anime series, but neither of them follows the manga very closely. The first one was terrible, with crummy animation and lousy characterization. The animators created their own last story and it doesn't fit Akamatsu's canon at all. Fans generally think the first series stinks.

The second series was done by Shinbo (a legendary animation directory who is eccentric, and also a workaholic). With Akamatsu's permission and a fair amount of guidance, Shinbo completely reconsidered the series, changing lots of stuff. He used the Evangeline arc to begin with, and then created the entire rest of the story himself. He also completely redesigned the Pactio system. I really liked the second series, but it's even less canon than the first one.

Since then there have been several OVAs. The first two OVAs more or less followed the TV series'. The third and fourth OVAs are firmly based on the manga. The third OVA is based on the period after the end of the School Festival arc, before the Magical World arc begins. The fourth OVA is based on the early part of the Magical World arc.]
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:50 PM on January 21, 2010

I also enjoyed Death Note - and ARMS.
posted by gomichild at 3:15 PM on January 21, 2010

Based on your preferences, another vote for Full Metal Alchemist, Akira, and Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I personally also love One Piece, but it might be too kid-oriented for your taste.

Also, someone mentioned Black Jack above, but if by that she meant the one by Osamu Tezuka (there's another more recent series by another author, called Black Jack ni Yoroshiku, also about a doctor. This newer series is actually quite good, too, but I don't know if it's been translated into English), you can't go wrong with most of Tezuka's works. He's considered the "Father" or even "god" of Japanese manga, and although his artwork might seem somewhat outdated, he is definitely worth a read. Aside from Black Jack, I would recommend Phoenix (Hi no Tori) for someone who's never read his works.

I personally thought 20th Century Boys was meh, like most of Urasawa's other works except Pluto (which is a reinterpretation of a classic manga by Tezuka) and Master Keaton, but it's really popular here and has been made into a three-part live-action movie even, so YMMV. Same for Vagabond, though I highly recommend Inoue's other huge hit manga Slam Dunk.
posted by misozaki at 4:34 PM on January 21, 2010

Oops; Negi's roommates are Asuna and Konoka, not Asuna and Nodoka.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:35 PM on January 21, 2010

I meant the OLD Black Jack series. The new one is good, but nothing beats the old Black Jack manga for quality, story, and world development.

The series is really amazing, and yes, it is REALLY hard to go wrong with anything Osamu Tezuka wrote. And if you're into his work, try Buddha some time for something really amazing and not very frequently read in the west.
posted by strixus at 5:00 PM on January 21, 2010

Oh, and Gin Tama is very... erratic. Depending on the week, it can be hilarious, stupid, moving, thrilling, vulgar, exciting, dirty, then back to hilarious again, without any kind of continuation. I personally find the rollercoaster ride pretty amusing, and kids seem to love it, but it's not what the OP's looking for, I think. Please don't ask me why I know all this.
posted by misozaki at 5:31 PM on January 21, 2010

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks so much for all the great suggestions, please keep them coming.

Bitter Old Punk: I only read the first trade and it didn't really seem any better, or even different from any other crime/noir comic I've read. It came so highly reccomended I was expecting something more. Plus the art was kind of meh IMO. I have been told that it gets better as it progresses but I haven't gone back to it yet.

Choclate Pickle: so where should I start? At the begining? Jump in at the start of one of the suggested arcs? If so what chapter/volume?
posted by Bango Skank at 5:58 PM on January 21, 2010

Chapter 18 is about where the Evangeline arc begins. (It kind of fades in.) That's the point where Akamatsu began to change the series. But the transition from harem comedy to action-adventure was subtle and took a long time.

Oh, and you do know, don't you, that mangas are read right-to-left? If there are panels next to one another, the right one is earlier...
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:46 PM on January 21, 2010

H2 by Adachi Mitsuru. The story revolves around kids on a high school baseball team. Nothing magical or superheroic, just the trials and tribulations of growing up. And none of the overwrought drama that usually accompanies high school stories. Adachi's drawing style is clean, subtle. He did a few other series in this high school sports vein, but I like H2 best.

I second the recommendations for Blade of the Immortal, Death Note, Slam Dunk and Vagabond. Nodame Cantabile is also really good -- it's about a really bizarre girl in music school.
posted by emeiji at 10:23 PM on January 21, 2010

If you don't mind something created by an American, try "A Miracle of Science". It's a good story -- and it's finished.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:47 PM on January 21, 2010

I know this isn't quite what you're asking, but both OneManga and MangaFox are great online sources of Manga.
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 7:14 AM on January 22, 2010

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