There are a lot of manga series about assassins. Kazuo Koike has penned several, in fact, including Sanctuary, Crying Freeman, and Lone Wolf and Cub, one of the more famous series. But there are many titles with assassins in them, a few that deal with killers of men, and a handful with an assassin character, who may be serious or a joke. Sometimes the assassins are somehow benevolent, sometimes they’re disturbed individuals, and sometimes they’re just professionals. But here are three series, all of them quite good, that deal with three different types of assassins.
Zombies aren’t quite in season, but it can be interesting to look at them anyway. Also uninteresting, as the theme is becoming a bit tired, but it’s a good idea that can be approached from many different directions. There’s a metric ton of manga that use zombies as a theme, from Is This a Zombie? to Zombie-Loan, High School of the Dead to Evil’s Return. Talking about three is only scratching the surface, but here are three that use the zombie in three different ways.
While I have none myself, pets are near and dear to many people. It follows that there are many series about keeping pets, and manga is no exception. There are whole magazines dedicated to the genre of pet comics in Japan, but only a few series have been translated into English over the years. Honestly, I did try to come up with series with more unusual animals… the heroine of Wild Act keeps flying squirrels that help her commit thefts, for instance, and Io Sakisaka has a strange habit of relating stories about her chinchilla giving birth in the author’s notes of Strobe Edge. But pets aren’t really the focus of those, and this week, I’m looking at a few series that are specifically about cats and dogs.
For the record, Guru Guru Pon-chan is the best series I can think of about keeping a pet, but it’s so unbelievably weird and uncomfortable that I’m saving it for another day. Do look it up though, if you’re curious.
While I do enjoy a good post-Apocalypse setting, there’s very little that can compare to a good disaster story, showing us the apocalypse itself rather than the way society copes with it. Surprisingly, this is a less common type of story than I initially thought, but I enjoy it immensely when I can lay hands on it. Any type of disaster can work, and I find that the weirder it is, the better. I’ve covered Lives in a different article, which isn’t a series that most people would want to read, but it does have a strange disaster afoot. The three below were some of the only other series I could come up with, but two of the three come highly recommended.
One of the best things about reading a lot of manga is being able to trace the lineage of certain types of plots and characters back through the years. Popular series can be massively influential, and I’ve talked about this before regarding One Piece and some of the modern series it influenced. You can play this game with a lot of series, but one of my absolute favorites is Fist of the North Star. Fist of the North Star itself is an awesome, testosterone-laden series that’s very much worth reading, but one of the best things about it is how influential it is. It has plenty of the usual knock-off series and pale imitations, most of which we did not see in English (mostly because Fist of the North Star predates most English translated manga by about 15 years). It inspired series and creators that used the best parts to create their own amazing and, in turn, very influential series.
I try not to cover the same series twice, but I feel like if I’m going to discuss the influence of Fist of the North Star, I might as well bring out the best that topic has to offer. I’ll talk about the plots and the finer points of two of these series at a later date, and the third is something I’ve already discussed, but is worth revisiting in this context.
Whenever I open a book by Usamaru Furuya, it’s tough to tell what I’m going to see. Furuya studied fine art in college, and went on to draw 4-panel strips (a work called Palepoli) for underground magazine Garo without knowing much at all about comics. The results have to be seen to be believed. He’s an artistic chameleon, mimicking every style from Botticelli to Osamu Tezuka, with creepy photorealistic portraits of Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta thrown in for good measure. Palepoli’s strips are full of violent, sexual, and absurdist humor, with commentary on both Japanese and American pop culture mixed through the whole book. We’ve only seen a handful of strips from Palepoli in English (in Secret Comics Japan), but his other work can be just as artistically interesting. His habit of changing styles and mimicking the work of others is something you don’t often see in manga. He can also change story styles abruptly, from a tween coming-of-age story to a dark adaptation of Dazai’s No Longer Human. The three works I mention below were all released in 2011 (a good year for Furuya fans!), but you might also look into Short Cuts, a 2-volume series of 4-panel gag strips, mostly about teenage girls.
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Diary and biography comics exist all over the world, and Japan is no exception. The most common form we see for manga in English are the short comics that appear in the margins and afterwords of many romance and action series. But there are real manga biographies, some of which I’ve already touched on. A Drifting Life and Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths are two of the better, more literary ones the deal with specific subjects, but there are a handful of others available. The three below are all fairly different and very eccentric, and worth a look even for those that aren’t normally into autobiographies.
Say what you will about meta entertainment, but I’ve always had a soft spot for it. There’s something exciting to me about reading a behind-the-scenes look, especially one that was made for the sake of entertainment. There are many manga series about making manga, and they run the range from awful to amazing, nonfiction to “fictionalized” accounts. I’ve already touched on Bakuman, which is a surprisingly exciting series that puts Shounen Jump manga under a microscope. There’s a handful of others, but here’s three more of the best, in my opinion.
This week, I thought I’d take the aural route and focus on series that have something to do with music and bands. Once again, there are many manga series in English that touch on this, everything from Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad to Sensual Phrase, Gravitation to Dragon Voice. There’s so many that this will probably be a topic I revisit later, but I’ll cover three of my favorites right now. And when I say favorites, I mean it. I love all three of these dearly, and at least two of them are essential reading. Happily, all the volumes of all three are still in print, so they should also be fairly easy to get.
Another topic that has been surprisingly well-covered in English-translated manga is the medical field. I was somewhat surprised by how many series I could come up with that deal with doctors or forensics in some capacity. They cover various other topics, and are of varying quality, but here’s three that cover three different branches of medicine with a flair for the soapy and dramatic, and for two out of three, accuracy as well.
Admittedly, I’m not much of a gourmand. I like to not be hungry, and I like eating delicious food, and that’s the extent of my interest in consumables. There are several legitimate “foodie” manga series, believe it or not, including Drops of God (which covers wine extensively), Oishinbo (which is about high end Japanese cuisine), and Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! (a kind of charming Tokyo restaurant guide in manga form by the ever-popular Fumi Yoshinaga). These have somewhat limited appeal if you have no interest in food, and when I read a manga, I like to be entertained. And as I’ve mentioned before, I am very entertained by series that go to any sort of extreme. So today, we’ll be looking at extreme food manga. Check out the others I mentioned here if you are looking for a more grounded, nonfiction-type experience. But the three below are a lot of fun.
And next week, I promise I’ll go back to taking about manga that people might actually want to read.
World War II is the topic up for discussion this week, and there are many fine manga on this culturally touchy subject. We have very few available in English, one of which I’ve already talked about (Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, by Shigeru Mizuki). The three here take three completely different narrative approaches. One is set during the bombing of Hiroshima and deals with the direct aftermath, another is a slice-of-life story about the consequences of the bombing in everyday life set sometime after, and the third is an Inglorious Basterds-style action story, and one of my all-time favorites.
In my mind, a truly bad comic is boring, middle-of-the-road, and completely unremarkable in every way. It’s the series that gives me no reason whatsoever to read it. But in terms of what most people would consider “bad,” a series that is so full of crazy ideas (possibly in poor taste) that a normal reader would turn away in disgust, I’m all over that. They tend to be very entertaining for at least for a volume or two. There’s a special kind of “bad” series in manga that I haven’t had the pleasure of running across anywhere else yet, and I want to talk about that this week. It’s important to remember that all of these series are very serious, and none of the stories are meant to be at all comedic.
Unfortunately, the US comic market doesn’t support translations of material like this anymore, so all of these are technically out of print. But I’ve seen volumes of almost all of them languishing on the shelves of comic stores within the past year, and none of them are valuable in online marketplaces because nobody wants them. Actually, all but Offered are available new at at least two online retailers I checked. They are easy to get ahold of.
This being Valentine’s Day, I could only talk about manga with a focus on relationships. Specifically, I’m looking at one volume that’s a bit twisted, one that’s bittersweet, and one that’s just all kinds of awesome. All of them are single-volume works, so there’s a little anti-Valentine’s Day lack of commitment wrapped up in here, too.
This week, I thought I’d take a look at the artist Taiyo Matsumoto. Matsumoto has only 4 works available in English, and the last new work was released over three years ago. But he’s quite an extraordinary artist. His art is heavily influenced by European comics, something you don’t often see among the manga artists available in English, and he uses intricate detail combined with an extremely fluid and heavily fantastic style. His backgrounds in particular are highly original and detailed. His stories are equally fantastic, and the ones available in English range from gritty crime to post-apocalyptic conflict. His series also tend to get released in very nice-looking graphic novel collections
In addition to the three I mention below, there are also 2 volumes of a series called No. 5 available, and a series called Sunny will be appearing in May.