Manga Before Flowers
Those who follow the U.S. manga industry probably already know that May was a terrible month (big lay-offs, one manga imprint shut down, and one company pretty much gone).
Yes, today marks my two year anniversary writing for Comics Should Be Good. Instead of highlighting a few of my favorite posts that I’ve written since I started blogging here, I decided to tell the story of how I got here in the first place.
In Monster, Naoki Urasawa asks “is killing someone ever justified?” I don’t mind the asking of the question, but the qualified answer that is given kind of bothers me. The reason the answer is “qualified” is because the test-case appears to be the saintly Dr. Tenma’s quest to end the life of the titular monster. Today I discuss the manga’s attempts to humanize Tenma and why that attempt only undermines the creator’s ability to do justice to his own answer to the question.
Please note that this isn’t a review of Monster but a spoiler-filled discussion of the first seven volumes. You probably shouldn’t read this unless you’ve read these volumes or seen the first 30 or so episodes of the anime. (Also, I haven’t yet read beyond vol 7 so I would appreciate if posters also refrain from spoiling me for further developments).
This column is an attempt to address the fact that I often use manga vocabulary I don’t always explain when I write reviews or talk about manga in this forum. I assume (probably quite incorrectly) that if you are reading my posts you already know the terms I use most frequently. But recent comments from our wonderful new columnist Kelly Thompson made me think that I should probably explain myself a little.
The following is a list of words I often use — in the future I’m thinking about creating a list of words from anime / manga culture I don’t tend to use and explain why.
End of semester madness and holiday travel kept me from regular updates on the blog but I can’t let the whole of 2009 go without some commentary. So you all get a list of manga released in 2009 that meant something to me. It isn’t quite a “best of” list, nor it is exactly a “favorites” list either. It’s a little more complicated than that but I find that this format better reflects my experience of manga in the past year.
Although I feel I can’t do a top ten list of manga from 2009 until I read a few things (GoGo Monster and Red Snow are the titles that spring to my mind instantly), the truth is even if I read those books my top three will probably remain the same — Ooku: The Inner Chambers, 20th Century Boys and Pluto (and I’m pretty much boring even myself at this point).
Anyway, instead of offering my own list this weekend I thought I would direct everyone to a few excellent “best of” manga lists that are well worth checking out.
Alex Scales has an interesting challenge for me — he asked, “What are some manga you would recommend to fans of the Vertigo line of comics?”
When I think of Vertigo I immediately think of titles with excellent plot “hooks” that first catch the reader’s attention and dynamic storytelling which keeps it. I think of titles that often go over well with indie-comic book lovers even if they are released by a very mainstream entertainment company. In other words, I think of titles which clearly come out of mass culture, but also maintain a strong sense of individuality.
I conferred with Michelle Smith to come up with a list of 10 shojo manga (& manhwa) we felt were currently flying under the radar. Some are my personal favorites, some are Michelle’s, and some are simply well regarded by manga bloggers whose opinion we both trust and respect.
Feel free to chime with any shojo titles you feel deserve a little extra attention!
Rin wrote the following, “I like josei / shojo series that are not too romantic or smutty, my two favourites are Honey and Clover and NANA.”
I could not have asked for a request more up my alley. I’m not recommending Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss because I assume everyone who reads NANA has also read that. On the other hand, I still want to mention the title because Paradise Kiss remains my absolute ideal of a series that nicely bridges the world of shojo and the world of josei.
And so I take this opportunity to recommend three titles that also function as excellent transitions from shojo to josei.
Eric Rupe gave me the following three key words: “Sci-Fi. Fantasy. Cyberpunk.” He also wrote “My favorite comic writer is Grant Morrison so anything similar to his work is also something I’d be interested in.”
I thought I should mention there are really two “go to” titles that everyone would think of first when trying to match up the categories of “cyberpunk” and “manga” — Akira and Ghost in the Shell (both of which are now being re-issued by Kondansha Comics in the U.S.). But because these are the obvious titles, I’d thought I ‘d recommend two titles slightly off the beaten path for Eric.
Joe gave me three words, “Giant Robots. Adventure. Optimism.” It’s actually the word “Optimism” that makes this one a challenge (you can find plenty of depressing stories about giant robots but optimistic ones? Not so easy).
In the end, I went to Jason Thompson’s wonderful Manga: The Complete Guide for inspiration — although I’m familiar with each of the anime franchises these manga are based on, I should note that I have not read these titles. However, each was given at least 2.5 to 3.5 stars out of a total of four stars in Thompson’s guide book which is good enough for me.
Finally, I want to thank Michelle Smith (see her helpful manga reviews here) for literally being a resource (she’s practically a database of manga titles unto herself) I’ve been drawing on as I continue to work on these specialized manga recommendation posts. Don’t blame her, though, for some of my more crack-ish choices. She’s just been kind enough to come along for the ride and volunteer a number of very helpful suggestions.
Matthew E. (who might hate me just a little) wrote, “Well, my favourite comic book is Legion of Super-Heroes. I like stuff that suggests that some intelligence went into its creation. I like baseball. I like Arthuriana. I like stuff that’s funny.”
Because Matthew gave no indication that he’s read any manga at all I decided to offer recommendations of fairly well known titles to help him get his feet “wet” with stories I feel are very friendly to the American comic book reader.
Today I offer personalized recommendations for Dan Felty who gave me three key words: “Thoughtful. Existential. Humorous.”
Am I up to the challenge?
Today, I get to recommend some of my favorite shojo titles to JimYung, who wrote that “I enjoy Love.Com and High School Debut. I feel like they’re just the right mix of romantic comedy but I’m not looking for something like Love Hina.”
Step up for your personalized manga recommendations, JimYung!
A few things — no single manga is going to perfectly fit some of the great requests I’ve received in the last post, but I’m going to do my best to give people a few options that might work for them! Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts if you think I’ve missed a good title.
Today I offer three series for Nitz the Bloody.