Strong Eastern/Western Graphic Novel dramas?
May 19, 2008 8:03 AM   Subscribe

MangaFilter: I'm just finishing the Lone Wolf and Cub series, and read the Akira mangas two years ago. I've really enjoyed the mix of action and relatively good writing in both of them. What should I read next?

I'm considering other work by the same authors, Lady Snowblood, etc. I'm really interested in finding another untapped vein of talent in the graphic novel/drama field. I've read Watchmen, Sin City, 300, so I'm open to either Eastern or Western stuff, but my preference would be another Japanese series, that's been translated to English.
posted by bullitt 5 to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Dark Horse did a translation of Otomo's Domu which is worth reading.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:25 AM on May 19, 2008

Heh. I always recommend Full-Metal Alchemist. I myself have only seen the full Anime, and I'm told the manga is vastly different (in a good way). The writing is absolutely superb and the plot is a lot more... well, deep, than a lot of mainstream animes. (Think: Naruto, One Piece, Shaman King, etc... *shudders*) What I really really appreciated was that the writers set out with a goal to deliver a message, and actually STOPPED after the message was delivered. Man. The anime only spans 51 episodes, but every single episode is gripping and advances the plot somehow. Very little filler. Plus, like I mentioned, it explores some fairly dark themes.

I know DeathNote gets touted around a fair bit. The manga is definitely better than the anime, but in both cases it kind of drops off in quality after MAJOR! PLOT! TWIST.

HunterXHunter is good in terms of that action/drama/writing thing, but it falls prey to the curse of popular manga/anime - since everything is published in installments, the more installments you write, the more you make. And it goes on forever like that.

Well-written action manga don't seem to go mainstream as much. No rabid fangirls, etc. IF you're interested in other genres, I've got a slew of recommendation for that.
posted by Phire at 8:32 AM on May 19, 2008

If you're open to western comics, read Y: The Last Man. I can say, without reservation or exaggeration, it's one of the best comic series I've read in years. The final trade is almost out, so by the time you're there, you won't even have to wait.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:48 AM on May 19, 2008

If you liked Lone Wolf and Cub, you might like Vagabond, which has a more realistic/drama feel to it with action. Takehiko Inoue (he also did the classic basketball teen drama comic series "Slam Dunk." I don't know if if sports is your thing and it's not as heavy as Vagabond, but it has that whole high school sports movie drama feel with intense game sequences filled with drama. If you don't want the high school drama feel and a bit less slapstick, one of his follow up basketball comic Real (I don't know if they have the English translations for the latter though...maybe find fan translations?) is a bit more serious. While I wasn't as huge of a Slam Dunk fan as my other friends were, is a fantastic artist and does a good job of doing a frenetic, more-realistic-looking-than-other-manga, style of drawing. Especially in Vagabond, the artwork is gorgeous and you'll want to photocopy certain panels and make posters out of them.

Another more psychological drama/thriller comic series I enjoyed was Monster by Naoki Urusawa. Being framed for a crime? Chasing a psychopath/sociopath all over Eastern Europe? Eugenics experiment plot in orphanages? Exciting stuff. I also liked Naoki Urusawa's Master Keaton. It's not as high-tension of a drama as Monster. It's more chock full of slice-of-life drama thanks to Keaton being an insurance investigator, but you get action here and there thanks to the fact that the main character is a former member of the SAS and that some cases are not as simple as they seem on the outside. Keaton also has an interest in archeology so sometimes you get some detours with that. He's kind of like if you took a chunk of Sherlock Holmes, mixed him with a sprinkling of Bond, but gave him an average Joe demeanor of someone who just happens to have skillsets to get him out of tight spots but doesn't make a big deal about it. I'm also a fan of Naoki Urusawa's minimalist artwork that still manages to be filled with character. Also have a look at 20th Century Boys (English translation coming soon according to wikipedia).

One summer in high school I remember that the Korean translations couldn't come out fast enough for MPD Psycho. I actually felt like the series started falling apart near the end, but it was a gory serial killer chase comic that I particularly devoured. I don't think they sell the English translation, but I do remember reading fan translations of this in English when I got nostalgic for it last year. Or you could just buy the Takashi Miike TV series version (saw the DVDs at Virgin Megastore here in New York a while back, I imagine you could find them online then...though I can't vouch for how good the live action version is not having seen it).

And that same summer I was reading Dragonhead like it was going out of style. It's post-apocalyptic Lost, meets The Road, meets Lord of the Flies. Again, I thought the tail-end of the series kind of fell apart, but as you read about the high school kids who survived making their way across a devastated Japan, it was pretty gripping stuff.
posted by kkokkodalk at 8:53 AM on May 19, 2008

Not a reading suggestion, but you owe it to yourself to rent the Lone Wolf and Cub series on DVD, a fabulous set of movies made in the early seventies--the heyday of violent action thrillers in Japan.

Six of the movies are available on Netflix. If possible, read the reviews and rent in sequence. You won't regret it.
posted by Gordion Knott at 8:53 AM on May 19, 2008

The creators of LW&C did another series called Path of the Assassin, which I've found to be great.

Like LW&C, Assassin has some excellent action sequences. But it also features excellent character development (something that I thought LW&C lacked), and a compelling (and somewhat accurate) historical backdrop.

Dark Horse is currently releasing this series in the US. Looks like they have 3 more books to go. So you may want to wait until the entire series is available in English, probably by the end of the year.
posted by iwhitney at 9:02 AM on May 19, 2008

In the tradition of 'uber-deadly swordsman wanders countryside with young charge, episodically getting embroiled in fantastic fight sequences' there's Blade of the Immortal, which sort of loses its plot after Book 12 or so, but still has great moments strewn throughout.

Also, a classic mixture of gangster shoot 'em up and political machination would be Sanctuary -- this also dovetails nicely with the relatively recent trend about the Yakuza on MeFi from (last week?)
posted by bl1nk at 9:11 AM on May 19, 2008

Seconding Monster. I have the first few volumes of the manga (and watched the entire anime adaptation). I think the entire series has been translated and published here by this point. I've also heard very good things about 20th Century Boys, so that's one to keep an eye out for when it comes stateside. Naoki Urasawa's fantastic.
posted by Kosh at 9:13 AM on May 19, 2008

As far as action-packed samurai stories go, Usagi Yojimbo is deceptively good -- really gripping, amazingly well-paced, just a hell of a lot more Western-cartoony in style. I think it gets overlooked more than it should because the drawing's more like a mural in a nursery and less like Squinty Gritty Serious Men, but I find it amazingly compelling. I know the volume Grasscutter won a couple of awards, so you might try that out to see how you like it.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:15 AM on May 19, 2008

I'll second Domu. It's more focused than Akira and the art is better.

Vagabond is pretty nice. 20th century boys is really great up until the last two volumes or so. The ending is just a giant Fuck It! from the author so don't go near it if you have problems with those things.

Noone has mentioned Berserk yet but I guess it's because there is to much action/violence in it. Basic story is still pretty good though.

There are some really fucked up dramas/satires made by people like Toyokazu Matsunaga and Naoki Yamamoto that I would check out if I were you.
posted by uandt at 10:09 AM on May 19, 2008

LW&C is awesome.

I don't have too many manga recommendations, though I'm looking forward to reading Path of the Assassin, and you may like the earlier Samurai Executioner series by Koike and Kojima, though I didn't find it to be as strong or polished as LW&C.

I did very much enjoy Wanted by Mark Millar, and also the Hunter Rose Grendel stuff by Matt Wagner and friends.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:28 AM on May 19, 2008

Eden seems very good, and has been highly recommeneded, if you can do the backwards-reading thing. Personally I can;t, so gave up on it part way through.

For western stuff this might be a good place to start, though assorted MeFites disagree.
posted by Artw at 11:09 AM on May 19, 2008

Its wastern, but anything Mike Mignola has ever touched is bound to be awesome.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:55 PM on May 19, 2008

You might like Osamu Tezuka's Ode to Kirihito. At 900 ish pages it'll certainly keep you occupied for a while, it's my "book for traveling" so I'm only a couple of hundred pages in but it is quite engrossing.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:31 PM on May 19, 2008

The three that I'm reading right now are Shaman Warrior, Blade of the Immortal, and Gantz. All of them are really well done and have interesting stories to them. Shaman Warrior is a Korean Manga and has really great artwork. Blade has beautiful artwork but can be a bit gory as the plot revolves a swordsman with limbs that often get severed and reattached. Gantz is intruiging and well done, but has quite a bit of fan service. The author manages to fit quite a bit of Blood, gore, and sex into the storyline.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:18 PM on May 19, 2008

Seconding 20th Century Boy and Vagabond. Probably the best ongoing mainstream series these days.
I'm also a big fan of The World is Mine, but it's not for everyone. It's a very nihilistc manga about two serial killers and a giant bear-like monster that wreak havoc on japanese society.
There's a very good review here. I don't know if it has been officially translated in english but i know there's fan translation project going on.
posted by SageLeVoid at 8:44 PM on May 19, 2008

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