Best Manga of 2016

A few months ago I was invited to Anime Fan Fest to be on a panel along with Jason Thompson and Daryl Surat to champion my choices for best (and worst) manga of the past year. Just recently this same panel has been held at SDCC and it reminded me that I never got around to posting my list. So here is my selections of what I personally recommend should be read from among the countless domestic releases in the past year. I’m leaving out my votes for worst manga since I’m not here to yuck anyone’s yum, I just had to give some titles for the sake of discussion at the panel. You can read Jason and Daryl’s submissions for the panel’s list here.

Best New Manga (YA)

Yowamushi Pedal — Triumphantly heralding the return of sports manga in English! I love artist Watanabe’s flow and sense of speed, and while his characters may look rough in the beginning for those used to the anime’s style, their designs quickly catch up.

My Hero Academia — After watching episode one of the newly released anime I immediately jumped to read every English volume available. Themed after Western superhero stories and comic books, this series has a distinctly different flavor than One-Punch Man. And I never thought All Might would become my favorite character.

A Silent Voice — Emotionally draining but so worth the read. About a deaf girl and her bully.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride — I love Kore Yamazaki’s take on fairy stories and magic. And a mysterious skull-headed fae magician is oddly appealing.

Best New Manga (Adult)

Goodnight Punpun — Much anticipated by me! I love the style of all the background characters when compared to how Punpun and his family is portrayed as crudely drawn little bird people. Yet all their problems are just as real.

Princess Jellyfish — Also highly anticipated by me. Artist Akiko Higashimura is a personal hero of mine. It’s so great to see Kodansha taking a chance on manga aimed at older women (josei).

Monster — Naoki Urasawa’s long out of print masterpiece. It’s back in larger deluxe omnibuses and I can finally begin its mysterious journey.

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun — I put this in the Adults section because I feel like there’s a lot of humor to Nozaki that I can only appreciate now that I’m older, especially a lot of the stuff revolving around the working adults the main characters interact with.

Gangsta — A violent mob assassin story but written and drawn by a woman for a change. Kohske’s rich artwork makes the topic all the more appealing to me.

Most Looking Forward To (these are both out now)

Haikyu!! — More sports manga please! I never knew I cared about volleyball until Haikyu came around.

Fruits Basket — And a rescue! Extremely out of print (I would see $24 used volumes and never #1) and something I missed out on in my old shoujo days, I’ve been wanting to experience this one for a while.

Unlicensed Dream Manga

Kakukaku Shikajika — Higashimura’s autobiographical manga! Tells the story of her getting her start in art in a rural costal town with a strange painting teacher. Very emotional.

My Brother’s Husband — Gengoroh Tagame’s general work! It’s a story about a man and his daughter, and his deceased twin brother’s Canadian husband who comes to live with them.

Manga — Themes of bullying

Paste recently had me write an article about two manga I’ve been enjoying lately, A Silent Voice and Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto. Both touch on topics of bullying but with different approaches. Both are also award-winning series written and drawn by women.

A Silent Voice really sticks with you, following the story of a reformed bully trying to fix the damage he’s caused. While the first two volumes are available bundled in both print and digital, Crunchyroll Manga has translated chapters much farther. I’m still trying to catch up to the latest and am finding it to be quite the trip down the road to reconciliation.

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto is available in print only and I was so excited when I first heard it announced for localization by Seven Seas. It’s one of those works you never expect to come out in the West, you hear of its accolades and it winning fan-favorite polls but it seems too Japanese for any tight-budgeted publishers to risk it. I was often laughing out loud while reading it so I’m so thankful it got a release and I could convince my thankful friends to give it a shot too.

Manga — Wandering Son

I found myself in Harvard Square today, and on a whim I dropped into local comic book shop The Million Year Picnic. The store sometimes has older, out-of-print books I happen to be looking for. Instead I saw something I’ve had on my wishlist for some time but never committed to: Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son.

I’ve admired Fantagraphics’ beautiful hardcover printings of Wandering Son for a while now but never committed to buying a copy—today the mood took me. I think it’s because lately I’ve seen an increasing amount of manga artist Shimura Takako’s work via her beautiful Tumblr and through popularity of current-running anime Aldnoah.Zero, which she did character designs for (she has lots of “fan” art of the show on her Tumblr as well).

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Wandering Son follows the story of two transgender youth and them coming to terms with Japanese society’s expectations while growing up. This series has been recommended to me by a couple of my trans friends and the back cover copy states, “written and illustrated by Shimura Takako, acclaimed for her sensitive take on LGBT topics,” so I’m pretty excited to continue reading. It’s rare to find works dealing with such topics that don’t devolve into tropes.

Wandering Son also happens to have an anime adaptation, which you can stream from Crunchyroll.

Manga — Monster volume 1 (signature edition)

I had been told for a while now by many artist friends that I needed to read Naoki Urasawa’s Monster. And I now know that I wasn’t being lied to.

Unfortunately the series had been painfully out of print for a long while. At local comic book stores I’d find random copies of volume 8s and  volume 12s but never a coveted volume 1. And Urasawa has seemed rather averse to digital reproduction, so starting up Monster was out of reach for all but persistent fans.

But VIZ Media just this week released the first volume of a Signature Edition run of Monster, featuring a 2-in-1 printing with larger than normal paper size and some color pages. This might have wisely been in anticipation of the potential Guillermo Del Toro co-written HBO pilot of Monster that was mentioned last year. But no matter how it came about I’m just glad it exists and I can finally see what everyone was talking about. And it is really, really good.

My only exposure to Urasawa prior to this had been reading through the entirety of Pluto, his officially sanctioned gritty re-telling of Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy. I don’t have much background with nor nostalgic memories of the original Astroboy but Pluto left a big impact on me. I loved Urasawa’s diverse-looking worldly characters and how he peeled away interesting mysteries through his meticulous storytelling. And those same skills are spotlighted in Pluto’s predecessor, Monster. Even when you know what ultimate twist is coming, simply from reading any synopsis, the presentation is still exciting and surprising. And Urasawa is a master of drawing subtle facial expressions, which contrast well with his simply designed and well-paced panel layouts.

Everyone was right, I can’t recommend this manga enough. I’m really eager for volume 2.