Manga recommendations, please!
February 19, 2019 7:13 AM   Subscribe

I want to become more familiar with manga. Where do I start? There is so much out there and it’s overwhelming (but in a good way!). What are the must-reads to give me a good overview of this genre? Assume that I am starting from square one with no previous exposure/knowledge.
posted by bookmammal to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
(my manga and anime recommendations mostly come from following comic artist and writer Faith Erin Hicks)
20th Century Boys
Lone Wolf and Cub
Fullmetal Alchemist
posted by jillithd at 7:18 AM on February 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Azumanga Daioh is a hilarious and at times surreal exploration of life through the eyes of middle school girls and their teachers. The anime is very good too.

I think it’s a good way to get breadth, very different from the shonen jump type stuff that is easiest for non-Japanese folks to find.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:48 AM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Blade of the Immortal is set in Japan during the mid-Tokugawa Shogunate period. It is known for its use of modern language in dialogue.

Of interest: To preserve the integrity of his art, Samura requested that the publisher of the licensed English translation, Dark Horse Comics, not "flip" the manga (that is, reverse the pages as if in a mirror). At the time the English translation began its publication in individual monthly issues (1996), flipping was an almost universal practice for translated manga. Instead, Blade of the Immortal was modified for Western readers by the unusual method of cutting up the panels and rearranging them on the page in order to have the action flow from left to right.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:40 AM on February 19, 2019

I would second 20th Century Boys as one of the most brilliant, amazing things I've ever read (regardless of medium). It does help to have a passing acquaintance with the 'mecha' trope (as that's one of the plot points), but mine is very minimal (mostly friends who watched it, catching bits at parties, etc.) and that was fine.

Other than that: I would recommend manga also based on your existing literary interests. I'm really interested in history and gender, so I enjoyed Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, though I've only read the first couple of volumes.

Are you already a comics reader? That might change your experience. As someone who came to comics/graphic novels in adulthood, I had to learn to 'read' them (how to parse the combination of image and text fluently). That said, manga would probably be a good place to start: they are usually black & white and have less detail in a given image than a lot of Western comics.
posted by jb at 9:15 AM on February 19, 2019

I had read arty western style graphic novels (for example Persepolis, Maus, and the like) but had never picked up a straight up Japanese style manga when I read one of the books in Shigeru Mizuki's Showa series on a whim. It wasn't even the first one in the series, just whatever one happened to be around me at the time. There's a bit of a learning curve to the sequence of the panels and turning the pages "backwards", but otherwise it reads basically like any western style comic book.

On the other hand, I think Showa doesn't have a lot of the genre conventions of manga. It's a memoir in sequential art form that is Japanese and thus formatted and printed in the manga style. It's not going to clue you in on WTF Yaoi is.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 9:17 AM on February 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's called a genre but that's kind of like saying American movies or French books are a genre: there are a lot of different genres contained within it, and you might like some and dislike others. So it's a bit hard to give recommendations that will necessarily speak to your taste.

That said, you might enjoy looking through Shaenon Garrity's Overlooked Manga Festival for a sampling of various different genres and styles. (Nothing too new, because she ended it about ten years ago.)
posted by trig at 9:18 AM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

(Also, if you like Ghibli movies you might like the Miyazaki's Nausicaa, which is beautiful.)
posted by trig at 9:24 AM on February 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you like dark fantasy/verging on horror, Mushishi is pretty good. I just went through a brutal culling of books and I think that's the only (read) manga that survived. Ooku has an intriguing premise but didn't really seem to be taking it anywhere several volumes in.
posted by praemunire at 9:54 AM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seconding Fullmetal Alchemist.

Yotsuba is a feel good slice-of-life comic about a wacky child and her family and friends. It's ridiculously charming.

Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream is an amazing collection of short stories from a legendary woman manga artist. If you like weird, emotionally powerful genre fiction you'll probably like it.
posted by toastedcheese at 10:39 AM on February 19, 2019

There is a ton of variety in manga. What kind of books do you typically like to read? I guarantee there are many manga that will map onto your preferred book types.

Here's a list of a ton of manga sorted by type. Some of them are essentially trigger warnings for the content, some will allow you to find manga about a specific topic.

So, like, if you want to read a manga about badminton with a girl protagonist, or an adventure manga with vampires, you can find it here. Manga get really specific wrt focus. Poke around on the site, you'll see what I mean.
posted by ananci at 10:42 AM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

One Piece is the most popular manga of all time. My kids are currently watching its anime even though its probably a couple of years too old for them. While I don't necessarily recommend reading all 800+ issues the first couple of hundred are a blast.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:06 PM on February 19, 2019

Seconding that manga is a vast field of different genres. Here are some of my favorites

Slice of life:
Aria (fantasy/sci fi)
Flying Witch (fantasy)
Silver Spoon (comedy, romance)

Food & cooking:
Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma (adventure, comedy)
What did you eat yesterday? (slice of life)
Yakitate!! Japan (comedy)
Oishinbo (comedy)
Antique Bakery (comedy, shonen-ai (boy love))

My Brother's Husband (drama)
The Bride was a Boy (nonfiction/memoir)
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (nonfiction/memoir; I did not like the sequel, however)
seconding Ooku
posted by carrioncomfort at 1:25 PM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

In a typical manga-reading site genres are listed at the side of the front page and you just select genres to filter (unless you're going to buy a physical book in which case, you're a good person, ignore the last sentence). I like Manga Kakalot because a whole chapter displays on one page and you just scroll down, but other sites (such as Manga Fox) display one page at a time.

Here's a quick primer on some of the genres. Some that aren't mentioned:

. Cooking - classics include Shougeki no Soma and Yakitate Japan!. Usually involves over the top baking/cooking and reactions to how delicious it is. Sometimes in the genre you get a cute short romance about a girl who has a crush on a dude working at a cafe. There's also a sub-genre here of people just going around Japan eating at delicious restaurants, the most famous manga probably being Kodoku no Gourmet (can't find a link to it or think of any others though). An ongoing one I'm enjoying right now is Dungeon Meshi- a comedy-fantasy manga about a group of dungeon-raiders making cuisine from dungeon creatures. It's pretty silly.
. Doujinshi - manga riffing off existing series, mostly by fans
. Gender bender - Usually more about cross-dressing or accidental body-switching than serious thoughts of gender and identity. Mostly boy-reincarnates-into-body-of-girl (usually in an MMORPG), somehow-body-switched, girl-dresses-up-as-guy-to-fulfil-dream-of-doing-sport-at-a-school/competitively, girl-in-vague-historical-time-dresses-as-boy-to-go-and-do-things.
. One shot - story told in one chapter.
. Manhua - Chinese manga. Usually shoujo and involves romance.
. Manhwa - Korean manga (can be book or webtoon style). The Bride of the Water God is a classic (it's shoujo romance, beautiful art, story's a bit slow though)
. Webtoons- korean digital art online comic

Shoujo, Josei, Shounen, and Seinen refer to the audience it's intended for- young girls, women, young boys, men respectively. It's why you'll see a series about school girls launching a band (K-On!) labelled 'seinen', though it's not often explicitly labelled the other way (the Prince of Tennis anime is definitely shoujo but is labelled shounen) because presumably girls would watch a series labelled for dudes but not the other way round. Shounen and seinen often have sexist/misogynistic elements, shounen anime more so than other combinations, though their manga counterparts are often fine. Shoujo and josei are safer but are usually romance (these can actually often be pretty sexist also but depending on how you feel about internalised sexism you might be fine with them). Shoujo usually involves romance, magic, or school life (Princess Tutu, Ouran High School Host Club, Card Captor Sakura, Sailor Moon, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Nana are classics). Josei is often older women romance, usually more sexually explicit. Shounen series are probably the most famous ones and you've probably seen them before (Naruto, Bleach, Attack on Titan, One Piece, etc). Seinen involves more self-insert romance fantasies, sexually explicit stuff, historical stuff, gore and violence (Akira is a classic. Note misogyny).

Note that 'Mature' and 'Adult' usually just means more gore and sexually explicit material, and doesn't necessarily reflect if a series is in any way more sophisticated.

xxxHOLiC (supernatural, comedy, drama, mystery, Japanese folklore) is phenomenal, and dovetails with CLAMP's other work Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (fantasy, drama, dimension hopping). I'd probably go in this order: xxxHOLiC, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, xxxHOLiC Rei, Tsubasa World Chronicle. CLAMP is an all women manga group and really all their stuff is pretty good and devoid of misogyny.

Mushishi has already been recc'd above, but some others with a similar mood and pace include: Haibane Renmei is a quiet slice-of-life mystery about a girl who falls into a world where she grows a halo and wings and lives among a couple others who came to the place in a similar way. Natsume Yuujinchou is about a high school boy who makes friends with Japanese monsters. All three of these have anime counterparts that are equally good or better than the manga.

I adore Claymore but it's fairly gory and brutal, though incredibly for a seinen series never veers into misogyny (there is some gratuitous nudity but it doesn't feel gross or overdone, the clothing design involves short skirts but again, doesn't feel gross), and could in a lot of respects be classed feminist. Cast of dozens of badass women each with distinct personalities slaying monsters and unravelling the reasons behind their world and their existence.

And nthing Yotsubato!, which manages to be cute, charming and laugh-out-loud but never twee. Five y.o. Yostuba and her single-dad who does good parenting moves into a new neighbourhood and they make friends with their new neighbours and she gets into shenanigans.

Here's a quick primer on some visual symbols you'll see.

The direction your eyes should go (and if you're reading a paper book, the direction to flip) is usually right to left. If it's a western artist drawing in the style of a manga it might go left to right, but that's rare and also you'll probably figure it out pretty soon.
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were at 9:19 PM on February 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun) - Extremely meta shojo comedy, genderflipping common shojo tropes.
Ouran Koukou Host Club - Slightly dated but classic shojo comedy. Even more meta than Nozaki.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime Shojo medieval romance. Sweet and simple, influenced by the Japanese love of Ann of Green Gables.
Mahoutsukai no Yome - Josei sub-urban fantasy. Beauty and the Beast as told by Neil Gaiman.
Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii - Josei comedy romance. Geeks don't stop being geeks when they grow up and get a day job.
Working!! - Super fluffy workplace comedy. Protagonist is surprisingly sympathetic despite being almost, but not quite, a pervert.
Horimiya - Straight shojo highschool romance. Unlikely couple are cute.
Skip Beat! - Classic millennium-era shojo romance drama. Girl makes it in showbiz, slightly hampered by being unable to satisfyingly DTMFA.
Boku no Hero Academia - Modern shonen action, influenced by western superhero comics. Protagonist overshadowed by awesome cast.
One Punch Man - Modern seinen comedy action, based on a webcomic. Protagonist is hilariously OP. Manga artist is a master of his art.
Noragami - Shonen/shojo action. Inventive Japanese mythical urban fantasy.
ReLIFE - Seinen drama. Re-examining the high school genre from the eyes of a thirty something audience.
posted by Eleven at 5:54 AM on February 20, 2019

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