I’ve always been amused by the lack of short story anthologies available in English for manga. There’s a good reason for it. The short story anthology graphic novel isn’t really a done thing in Japan, primarily because all manga is released serially in themed anthologies, and on any given week you can pick up hundreds of different ones with both chapters and short stories in any genre you want. About the only type we see in English, aside from the infamous Four Shoujo Stories (a very rare and “unauthorized” graphic novel collection), are underground short story anthologies. They appear very rarely, but are a fantastic place to see several artists and stories that usually don’t appear anywhere else. Also, plenty of gross-out stuff. Here are the four big ones I can think of off the top of my head, and all are worth checking out for at least a story or two.
I’ve looked at two great horror artists already this month, Kazuo Umezu and Hideshi Hino. Both have had at least one must-read story translated into English (Drifting Classroom for Umezu, Panorama of Hell for Hino), and both are quite famous and worth exploring for different reasons. But for my money, you won’t find another horror mangaka as consistently good as Junji Ito. When he’s good, he’s terrifying. And even his most mediocre stories are still pretty great reads. Sadly, we haven’t seen a new Junji Ito work in English since 2006, but we were very lucky before that. Two of his series are must-reads, and the other two series I’m going to talk about are story collections.
I know it can be tedious to read through all the Halloween-themed articles that happen in October, and I’m going to be doing a series of them. But I dearly love horror manga, and it’s unfortunately something that had its heyday some years ago in English. So for the next couple weeks, I’ll be doing artist spotlights for a few of the classic horror manga artists that are available in English, most of whom haven’t seen a new work translated into English in years.
I’ve always liked the concept of “love gone wrong,” since it can imply anything from a simple messy and dramatic breakup to something like a kingdom-destroying war. Below I present to you three romance manga (which all happen to be for the teenage boy demographic in Japan) that offer… three somewhat difficult relationships. To put it mildly.
While many manga series (and other comics, and novels, and movies…) take place after some apocalypse or other, series that are actually about an apocalypse are much rarer, comparatively speaking. There’s plenty of stuff that deals with zombie apocalypse, but unspecified military, social, or freak occurrence apocalypses always make for interesting reads, espeically when a group of characters is trying to prepare for or prevent it.
One of my absolute favorite types of manga story are the ones that use heroes. It’s hard to use that as a category, as there are many different types of hero series. There’s the serious types that are one-man shows like Ultraman – Kikaider Code 02 by Shotaro Ishinomori and MD Geist by Koichi Ohata, for instance (these are called tokusatsu, which is technically an umbrella term, but it’s close enough). Sometimes the series try to be as much like an American superhero as possible, or actually are about one – Batman: Child of Dreams by Kia Asamiya, or Zetman by Masakasu Katsura (pictured above). Sometimes they come in the form of a man and his robot – The Big O by Hitoshi Ariga, or Heroman by our own Stan Lee. But for whatever reason, more often than not they are comedies that poke fun at the inherent ridiculousness of people in special outfits beating up outrageous monsters or other people in costumes. It’s really hard to make bad jokes about that, so these series are usually awesome. Unfortunately, they never do well in English, and not very many have been translated. Here are a few worth checking out, though.
As I’ve written previously, what defines an audience for a manga is what magazine a series originally ran in, and this week, I’m taking a look at three series that ran in magazines for women. I’ve actually covered several very good women’s (or josei) series on here already – Utsubora and Ooku, as recent examples (though Ooku ran in a men’s magazine, it’s drawn by a well-loved josei artist, so it mostly counts). Subject matter can vary widely. There are stories about the ever-popular Office Lady, career-seeking college students, young women who have lost their way in life, sci-fi themed stories about life, some noir-ish thrillers, or straight-up smutty romance (in your choice of sexuality). Not many have been translated into English, but these works always have a mature flavor, and can usually appeal to a very broad audience.
For lack of a better term, this is the fringe edition. All three titles for this week deal with conspiracies and new age topics. Notably, most of these themes are western in origin, so it can be fun to take a look at a manga version of… say, out of place artifacts, or UFO conspiracy theory. All three of these are also older titles, and most flew under the radar, so it’s worth taking a second look.
It’s fair to say that I use these topics to tie three unrelated series together for no real reason. I enjoy this format, because it gives me a chance to take the good with the bad, and to force myself to dredge up series I may have read eight years ago and completely forgotten. This topic is particularly arbitrary, and is broad enough to use again. But for now, here’s a look at three real people depicted fictitiously in manga. Unfortunately, I have no American Presidents for you (I was initially going for a more general bio-manga theme). I couldn’t think of any series where a real President was a primary character. Golgo 13 and Adolf, which I’ve already talked about, have Presidents in bit parts. There is Eagle, about a fictitious Japanese-American President running against fictitious Al Gore, but I haven’t read it, and it would feel unfair to summarize such an ambitious work in one paragraph with no personal knowledge. But here’s three I have read, one from ancient Japan and two from late 19th century Europe.
The romantic comedy genre is one that’s plagued with stereotypes, both on the male and female side. Admittedly, the genres do everything they can to conjure and keep those stereotypes in place, and it’s not often you hear of a series in this genre that trailblazes. But they can still be satisfying reads, and if the characters are good, sometimes that’s all I need to keep coming back. I find it interesting that this genre exists for both men/boys and women/girls, and that the series are very different beasts depending on who their aimed at (also, that there’s not really an equivalent for the male-type story in English, possibly because English-speaking audiences are less inclined to portray the dirty minds of teenage boys, which makes love stories for that age group more appealing for girls). There’s all sorts of commentary that can be offered on the subject of gender differences in the genre, but unfortunately it’s outside the scope of this column. The earnest quality and slightly naughty nature of the male-themed romantic comedy is the subject for tonight. I’ve got one classic, one pillar of the genre, and one terrible imitator for you today.
I’ve never been a big fan of the “mecha” series, unfortunately. In general, the complicated politics and focus on technology and combat aren’t of interest to me, though there are several very well done series. But I’ve dabbled in it off and on over the years, both intentionally and accidentally, and there’s a fair bit in the genre for everybody. The three below are more character-focused, and two are series that may fly under the radar, for mecha at least. Two of them are also among the most popular manga/anime series from the 90s.
There’s a genre one sees quite a bit of in manga that seem to appear rarely elsewhere – the magic shop story. These are usually very similar, with a proprietor or a set of characters that runs a shop full of magical items that are vended to unsuspecting patrons, often with ironic results. It’s a good framing device for series of unconnected short stories, usually horror-themed, and a kind of analogue to the horror collections that used to appear often among US comics. The US horror collections and these “magic shop” series are quite different, however. I’m going to cover the most popular “magic shop” series in this column, but there are so many that the topic will come up at least one more time. Also interesting is that the “flavor” of the series is often determined by the shop owner and characters – there is always an overarching plot and direction for the series, and all three of these are radically different, despite being horror-flavored collections of short stories united with a framing device.
Sometimes, it’s good to look at a topic that is only a topic by happenstance. These series have nothing in common aside from the fact they share names with locations. Often, they have nothing to do with those places. That doesn’t make them any less fun to read.
Enjoy the cover of Animerica Extra, one of the handful of dead English manga anthologies. Animerica Extra was always my favorite. None of the others ever had Yumi Tamura covers.
Between 1990 and 1991, Viz experimented with a graphic novel line called the Viz Spectrum imprint. Graphic novel lines were an oddity at the time, but this one’s also an anomaly among modern graphic novel lines as well. Viz was publishing more mature titles at the time. Their three launch titles from 1988 were all men’s titles in sci-fi and historical genres, and there were also contemporary action series that came later. The Spectrum books are of a similarly mature flavor, though in genres that we don’t often see translated today. These books are also all 70 pages, or two comic issues. The graphic novels themselves are oversized deluxe editions, still paperback, but with a lot more effort going into the presentation (vellum pages, vinyl covers, some foil embossing, et cetera). Each volume also contains an interesting essay in the back related to the content or artist. The books are pretty solid, and the line is obscure enough that it’s worth visiting.
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.