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.

Spring Update!

Recently relocating to New York City has turned me into a travel hermit. With enough events locally to keep me busy every month I balk at the idea of flying across the country to wear myself down during my habitual San Francisco GDC excursion.

Trains and busses are tolerable. So this past weekend I was back in Boston for the first time since moving away in November, exploring my old stomping grounds in a new light and attending PAX East!

Saturday morning I burst awake and rushed to the convention center at the last minute to make it to the FFXIV panel. I have unexpectedly found myself caring quite a bit about this game, now that I have become invested in level-capped content. Present for the talk were the Japanese producer Naoki Yoshida (aka Yoshi-P, the man who saved FFXIV) and lead localization guru Michael Christopher Koji-Fox. It’s been rare for developers to leave Japan to personally present at conventions like PAX, but lately it is becoming more common at professional events like GDC. Yoshi-P’s team takes a lot of its cues from Western MMO development so they endeavor to make themselves available to feedback like Blizzard and Arenanet do. I was lucky enough to be able to ask my question from the audience about chocobos being summonable while queued for duty finder dungeons (currently a technical limitation due to the way companions work but being worked on!) and after the panel Yoshi-P agreed to a selfie.

I mostly made the trip to help my friend Christine Love at her booth for her upcoming game, Ladykiller in a Bind. I performed the same role at PAX West in Seattle last year. It’s extremely fun to meet and chat with the folks curious about her game, then coax them to give the discrete show floor demo a try. A majority of comers had never played any of Christine’s prior works nor had even heard of visual novels!

That evening was the staple Foreplay: Romance in Games panel. While I wasn’t on it this year my good friend Arden Ripley was for the first time. I was right up front being loud and supportive, much like Arden had been when I was on the panel the year prior. The entire room was bawdy and riotous, especially Judy Tyrer, who had worked on Second Life and now was a founder of the Jane Austen MMO, Ever Jane. She brought up great anecdotes about regency courtship rituals and penis-through-walls incidents. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Now I’m back in Brooklyn and planning my next excursions. This coming Sunday I’ll be moderating a panel at IndieCade East called From Sequential to Interactive: Comic Artists and Visual Novels. Joining me will be Kasey Van Hise, creator and writer for Hustle Cat and Mia Schwartz, artist for We Know The Devil. I will be offering my expertise in game jam organization and freelance writing advocation for visual novels.

Then in May I’ll be attending Anime Fan Fest in New Jersey. I’ve been invited to be on the Best and Worst Manga of 2016 panel, along with Daryl Surat and Jason Thompson. I’m curious to see how our tastes align and if I can convince people to try some of the manga I’m a big fan of. After the panel I’ll be sure to post my list here!

New job

It’s already been two weeks and I’m feeling settled into my new habits in Brooklyn—so that means I’m feeling up for blogging again!

Two otome games have been released in English since I last wrote and I’m enjoying my time playing through Code: Realize on my Vita, with Norn9 to eventually follow. In-between that I’m developing an addiction to Nintendo’s newly released Yo-Kai Watch, which is basically a Pokemon-like developed by LEVEL–5. I wrote about their prior release Fantasy Life here, which Yo-Kai Watch feels very similar to.

And if you’re curious about what I’m now doing in New York you can play the game I’m currently working on, Two Dots. It’s a really charming puzzler for mobile and the team I’m with is extremely talented! I also now work dangerously close to Kinokuniya, Book-Off, and the Nintendo Store in downtown Manhattan….

New York New York

I’ve been quiet here lately because just recently I accepted a new job in New York City and I’ve been scrambling to coordinate a long-distance move this past month. It’s very exciting but doesn’t leave me much spare energy for blogging! I’m hoping after November I’ll be settled.

Meanwhile you can read a transcript of a candid discussion between Mattie Brice and I about our personal engagement with fandom over the years. It was a really fun talk with more entries to come as we get deeper in our drinks.

Manga — Gengoroh Tagame TCAF panel transcript!

(it’s probably safe to assume most of these links are pretty NSFW)

In Toronto a couple of months ago I had the privilege of attending a panel featuring the world-renowned gay comic artist Gengoroh Tagame. Japanese manga artists don’t often tour worldwide so being able to see them in person is a rare alignment of the stars depending on what festivals you’re able to attend that given year (I still remember being devastated at missing out on Naoko Takeuchi visiting SDCC in 1998).

The panel also featured Tagame’s long-time translator and localizer, Anne Ishii, and her collaborator at MASSIVE, Graham Kolbeins. Additionally there was Leyla Aker there, SVP of Publishing at Viz, able to offer insight into the other side of the coin, BL (yaoi) manga (Viz owns the imprint SuBLime).

What followed was an insightful look at Tagame’s artistic history and the changes that took place in the gay manga publishing space over the past couple of decades in Japan. As a historian and a critic Tagame is very thoughtful about his art and hearing his lived experiences and take-aways was fascinating.

I highly recommend reading the entire transcript of the panel, thanks to Deb Aoki!

Tagame also shared some of his evolving thoughts on genre boundaries and the controversial term “bara”:

“When I look at gay art in comics as a critic, I get really anxious about that division precisely because the simplistic way of dividing it is that BL represents more romance, narratives, thinner body types, more effeminate characters. And then so-called “gay manga” would be just more diesel, big guys and more hardcore sex, etc.

But what happens when the creator is a woman doing more hardcore work? Is that considered gay? Is it BL just because she’s female? Is it about the audience, or is it about the creators? So those are definitely things I think about a lot as a critic.

Furthermore, going back to the gender of creators, that’s problematic as well because sometimes BL creators– and I’m speaking just from personal acquaintance with some of these creators– may be biologically female or identify on the page as heterosexual women, but sometimes they’re actually lesbian or transgender.”

“I mentioned in the Massive anthology that I actually personally hate the description “bara” comics, because it’s inaccurate and a false representation, but I’m thinking now based on all the issues I’ve just delineated that “bara” could actually be a very convenient term to describe the situation, or the style.

The reason I hated the description “bara comics” is because the one thing I wanted in the 21st century for people to stop appropriating this terrible word in association with gay men. I don’t want there to be any link between this derogatory term with the gay community. But, seeing it used as a way to describe just the content makes it apparent that it’s very convenient for talking about art that is linked by characters that are muscle-y, huge, and hairy, versus more feminine theme of willowy, romantic figures. That’s a delineation that I can appreciate, I think now, the more I think about it– “bara” could potentially emancipate the content from its creators.”

Read the rest of the transcript here!

You can also read more interviews with Tagame and other gay manga artists in Massive: Gay Japanese Manga And The Men Who Make It.

TCAF Trip Report!

Last Friday morning I boarded a propeller-driven puddle jumper from Boston’s Logan airport and then one complimentary glass of wine later I was in Toronto. This would be my second visit to the city and my second TCAF. After landing I felt it was already a much better experience because my new phone plan allowed for unlimited, albeit slow, data roaming services, so I was able to better navigate the city’s public transportation system by myself without feeling a constant, desperate, anxious tether to Starbucks’ free wifi.

Fresh off the plane I headed uptown to have lunch with my friend Miguel, who runs the Comics vs Games event that happens in tandem with TCAF weekend activities. I would be giving a microtalk during a session later that weekend so it was a good time to discuss expectations. Then he showed me to a bunch of nearby comic book stores and to the world-famous The Beguiling. It was an amazing shop that I wished I had more time to poke around in. There I found an incredibly out-of-print copy of The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, which I snagged with the hopes of getting it signed by The Master himself while he was attending TCAF.

That evening I got to go to a mixer put on by Toronto’s local Japan Foundation and there I briefly met Ken Niimura. I had bought his amazing collection Henshin a couple of days prior and was loving it but wasn’t able to lug it up to Canada to get signed. Later that night my friends and I went to Momofuku, where I had the most decadent Korean fried chicken I have ever eaten, capped off by a dessert of yummy Cereal Milk ice cream with corn flakes on top.

Saturday morning and afternoon was frantic. I scurried into where the artists were selling and grabbed a couple of items, particularly a book from Leslie Hung’s table, before heading over to the Aya Kanno spotlight. She spoke of her start as a manga artist and how originally she was more interested in shounen (boy’s) manga but after a bad experience working with a particular editor she decided to go into shoujo (girl’s) instead.

Immediately after that was the Gengoroh Tagame panel. This session was absolutely amazing! They even had a member from Viz Media’s SuBLime imprint present to provide insight into Western perceptions of geikomi compared to BL/yaoi and publishing realities involved. Tagame even talked about when getting his start initially submitting his works to BL magazines like June because outlets for comics aimed at gay men didn’t exist yet. It was a super fascinating discussion that the wonderful people at Massive recorded, so I hope that becomes available online at some point.

Later I waited in line to get my copy of Requiem of the Rose King signed by Aya Kanno, then waited in a different line to get my Passion collection signed by Gengoroh Tagame. That man is so sweet and bright! He even was taking pictures with guests upon request, which is quite uncommon for manga authors.

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Then I synced up with my friends Christine and Sophia to head down to the Bit Bazaar, which is sort of a game demo exhibit and crafts fair at Toronto’s Bento Miso coworking space. It ended up being a bit too hot and crowded for me to stick around too long but I got to say hi to some pals and bought a cute zine from Kelly K’s table. Then I scurried off to the Queer Mixer and saw some great micro-interviews on stage with a lot of amazing looking artists I was unfamiliar with before.

Sunday was pretty chill for the most part but I was stressed about getting my Comics vs Games talk right. You really can’t underestimate timed microtalks! We were going off the GDC model where it’s 20 slides with each one being displayed for 16 seconds before automatically proceeding. You have to practice and time your words! And of course when you’re actually doing the talk it goes all off script. Hopefully a recording will be posted soon!

And at the end of my section, which was about dating sims and development tools, I announced that in June I’ll be running a dating sim game jam! You can visit the International Love Ultimatum #iluJam Tumblr here where all the announcements and useful posts will be made.

If you ever find yourself able to make it to Toronto for TCAF I highly recommend it! It’s one of my favorite conferences I’ve attended and definitely the top comics one. Admission is totally free too so you can spend all your money a the artists’ tables instead! And Toronto is a great city.

TCAF and Comics vs Games!

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is coming this weekend! I’ll be flying up to Toronto this Friday to attend. I went last year for the first time ever and it was absolutely amazing, especially going to the sessions with est em speaking. TCAF really goes the extra length to invite Japanese manga artist which is rather uncommon for North American comics conventions.

This year in attendance will be Aya Kanno (Otomen, Blank Slate) and I’m excited to try and get my new copy of Requiem of the Rose King signed, a recently released manga of hers that I really enjoyed.

Also there is Gengoroh Tagame in attendance as well! I won’t be able to drag my large copy of Massive to be signed but it’s been announced that he’ll be releasing a new book at TCAF anyways! (NSFW)

And then there’s Gurihiru, the Japanese artist duo behind the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics! These folks are in addition to the many other North American artists I’m excited to shuffle up to the tables of and buy their books.

On Saturday, May 9th the local Bento Miso coworking space in Toronto is holding their Bit Bazaar, where you can go play games and buy special game goods from local crafty folk!

TCAF also hosts the Comics vs Games exhibit! Many new and interesting games will be available to try out within the library itself.

I’ll be giving a microtalk on dating sims during the Comics vs Games speaking slot between 2PM – 3PM on Sunday, May 10th! So if you’re around the area come check it out! Attendance to TCAF, Comics vs Games, and Bit Bazaar is all free.