Last month, I did a list of my ten favorite indie comic books of all time, and I really wrestled with something as I made the list…
“Should I include manga series in this?”
Ultimately, I decided against it. For me–and this is weird–for me, manga and comics are different. It’s hard to say exactly why. As immature or whatever as it may be, COMIC BOOKS will always be, to me, superheroes first and foremost.
When I’m reading a comic book, whether it is independent, Marvel, or DC, I want it to be about superheroes. I’m not saying it has to be kids’ stuff, because you can tell great Capes stories across all age ranges. But when I read a comic that isn’t bombastic superhero action, I always think… “aren’t there other genres for this?”
With manga however, I’m much more accepting of stories that are coming of age or slice of life. Why? I don’t know. I just am. Probably because the first series I ever read were comedy books, and that’s what the neuropathway I created was trained to like.
Are there are a lot of action-packed manga on this list? Yes, there definitely are. But I also really enjoy series that are funnier and about much lower stakes. For me, manga is where anything goes. It’s the same tree as comic books, but a distant branch.
Well, on my tree anyway.
You figure out your own trees.
10. Komi Can’t Communicate
Within the last year, I decided I needed to increase my manga bubble a bit.
Admittedly, I am a very basic bro when it comes to anime and manga. I’m not even going to pretend to have some deep knowledge on hundreds of series. I’ve read several series, and some I had a fleeting love for, while others I really attached to.
So last year, I thought “Let’s just buy a bunch of crap and see what sticks”.
While not the only book from that batch I liked (I also enjoyed The Promised Neverland a great deal and thought Spy X Family would be worth following up on one day), Komi Can’t Communicate was the easy winner (yes, even over the acclaimed FMA).
The series is about a group of high schoolers, but it’s centered around Komi who has crippling social anxiety. She is befriended by Tadano when he discovered she isn’t just cold and aloof, and from there high school zaniness ensues as Tadano helps her try to make 100 friends.
The series is funny and adorable, and I quite enjoy everything going on. It reminds me of another book I love, but I’ll get into that much later…
The #9 spot came down to two choices for me: Yu-Gi-Oh! or Pokémon, but ultimately, it was an easy call for one reason: I like the anime of both, but I’ve never really gotten into Pokémon as a manga.
Yu-Gi-Oh as a manga is nuts, at least, the first run of it is. It’s barely about the card game at all; I think that appears in one volume, and it barely resembles at all what we’ve come to know as Yu-Gi-Oh. The overall tone of the first series is much darker and more malicious. The games involved are wild, and the story of Yugi making friends and coming to terms with the spirit of the Millennium Puzzle is engaging.
And then the series basically restarts as what we know as Yu-Gi-Oh, and it still works because the card game is fun as hell to play or watch. AND we got the famous Abridged Series on YouTube out of it, and my wife and I still quote that to this day.
8. Death Note
The cat and mouse in this book is tremendous. It has some of the most pulse-pounding moments I’ve ever read.
Boy, I wish this could be higher, but I can’t ever quite wrap my head around how weak the back half of this series is compared to the first half. It starts so strong and is so intense for the first 6 volumes, but then it changes up the formula and just feels like it lost the magic.
That said, even at its worst, it’s still GOOD. It’s just comparing a good story to what had previously been a downright fascinating tale. I’m not saying “read the first six volumes and then assume that’s how it ends”. But… it almost could have ended there and been fine.
7. Love Hina
This was the first manga I ever read. It sat on a shelf right next to the cash register at the book store I worked at in college, and it had such pretty cover art with gorgeous animated women.
Make no mistake, Love Hina is a fan service series. It’s all about the dorky loser main character being surrounded by beautiful girls, constantly in states on near-undress, that all eventually fall for him. It’s not wrapped in tact anymore than the girls are regularly wrapped in clothes.
Still… there is some heart here. The characters all get to be fully fleshed out by the series’ end, and they feel like living, breathing people. There are a lot of funny moments, too.
There’s just also a lot of Keitaro slipping face first into their laps.
6. Black Cat
This is probably the most straight-up “comic booky” of every series on this list. And that is no doubt why it brings me such happiness. It’s the comfort food manga for superhero fans.
Unlike a lot of Shonen Jump action series, Black Cat gets in, tells its story in 20 volumes, and gets out. It doesn’t last for-god-damn-ever like One Piece or Naruto or Bleach. You aren’t investing half of the rest of your existence to this series.
And I really like the story! It’s full of villains with imaginative powers! Heroes with charming personalities! Shadowy organizations that can’t be trusted! Bombastic weapons! It’s just so loud and peddle-to-the-medal for its 20 volume duration. And Eve is one of the most developed and cheerable characters in a short series.
Hilariously, you can look at this and Death Note–both by Shonen Jump–and see one really fun difference. The Death Note anime is basically just the manga as a cartoon, word for word. The Black Cat anime is a huge departure from the manga, basically telling the whole story in a completely different way. I wonder who makes those decisions.
5. The Vision of Escaflowne
Oh my god is this series marvelous. The music. The animation. The settings. It’s breathtaking.
The closest I have yet come to a “People In Giant Robot Suits Fighting Each Other” series I ever got into, I was a big fan of Escaflowne when I first watched it. The story of a girl who can predict the future and is transported to a fantasy world just hidden from Earth’s view.
You just have to watch this one. It’s marvelous.
And the villain behind everything is Isaac Newton, though that is never OUTRIGHT stated, and I get a kick out of that.
4. Ace Attorney
There was a period of time where I loved Phoenix Wright more than anything else in the entertainment stratosphere.
And to this day, if asked to name my top video game franchises, only Pokémon beats out Ace Attorney. I devoured the first several games in this series, from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney through Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. I fell off a bit after Apollo Justice admittedly, but I figure I can always play those games if I want to go back to them.
I’m somewhat less well-versed with the manga and anime than I am the games, but I’ve digested some of them. It embraces everything the initial games gave us: colorful characters, whacky scenarios, big personalities, and intriguing cases.
3. Rurouni Kenshin
I always get uncomfortable talking about this series because the creator was somewhat recently found out to be into underage porn.
But I read these books before I knew that, and I was blown away by the historical context and the action. The art is glorious.
Look, I liked this book. I STILL like this book, and I feel really shitty for that. I won’t buy anything else this pervert makes, but… I’ll still read RK over and over and enjoy it.
2. Dragon Ball
Despite being most known as The Loud, Dumb Action Series With People Charging For Episodes At A Time And Firing Big Blasts At Each Other, the history of Dragon Ball is pretty fantastic. It starts off as a goofy fantasy series more interested in getting laughs than having big action set pieces.
But fluidly and naturally, the tone shifts, and the book gets more and more dire as the threats loom larger.
And then, it starts going backwards a bit until it finds the perfect balance of silly humor and big action. That’s why my favorite arc is the Buu Saga. It retains the earth-shattering explosions and fights of Dragon Ball Z, but it brings back the goofy soul of Dragon Ball. It’s the best of both worlds!
Tell me you don’t think the Frieza Saga could have used Gotenks or Hercule letting some air out of the balloon now and again. You can’t.
1. Azumanga Daoih
I’ve read Azumanga Daioh countless times.
And I laugh
It’s that funny. I know every gag and joke and bit that’s coming, but it’s all so well executed that they get me anyway.
It’s criminally short as a series (just four volumes) and translates into a truly bizarre anime that just revels in its own weirdness. But I simply cherish it. If you’ve never read this book, I implore you to seek it out.
It’s why I have a soft spot for Komi Can’t Communicate. This tale of a group of high school friends coming together and being there for each other and occasionally threatening their teacher with a knife.
Damn, I’m REALLY backed up on Komi Can’t Communicate and The Promised Neverland; I bought several volumes of both a few months back and haven’t gotten through them yet. I really have to work on that, but I have such a hard time finding moments to read.
Trying to watch 300+ movies a year will do that.
Next year I should set my sights on reading manga. That feels expensive! Maybe I’ll just watch things free on Crunchyroll instead.
Until next time… take care!