I have a reader who asks me all the time for manga recommendations, which is hard to do on the spot. I don’t know why I find it so hard, though, since I read so much darned manga. Besides, I’ve given recommendations before.
In lieu of my recent nerdy adventures, though, I think it’s time for another I-read-too-much-manga-and-must-regurgitate-it-on-my-website- post. Therefore, here are some series that I’ve been enjoying recently. Take it as you will!
Seinen (青年漫画) manga are aimed at an older male audience; however, readers can range all the way down to the early teens. Seinen manga is a very broad category and can cover a wide range of topics, as do the three series I’ve listed below:
Shingeki no Kyojin
One hundred years ago, mysterious giants known as “titans” appeared and proceeded to devour humans for no apparent reason. Now, in this post-apocalyptic world, those who remained have retreated into a giant fortress with several layers of protective walls. At the beginning of the story,the outermost wall breaks. The protagonist Eren Jaeger and his sister Mikasa Ackerman soon find their home destroyed, their mother dead, and the city consumed by fear. Years later, they join the military, hoping to get revenge on the titans.
This manga is action-packed and very violent (there are humans getting eaten alive, after all) and the psychological aspect is no less brutal: the protagonists are constantly kept on the brink of despair as their friends and family die. It doesn’t help that the titans are pretty terrifying. Still, the cliffhanger chapters and the mysteries of the titans will have me coming back. Shingeki no Kyojin (進撃の巨人, literally Advancing Giants) won the 2011 Kodansha Manga Award and has quickly gained popularity in Japan.
Edit: Ok, so apparently Attack on Titan actually counts as a shōnen series. I guess I can see it. It’s still pretty dark and gruesome, though!
Brothers Mutta and Hibito Nanba saw a UFO together in the summer of 2006. Ever since then, they dreamed of becoming astronauts and flying to the moon.
Years later, only Hibito has achieved the dream: he is preparing to become the first Japanese to make a lunar landing. Mutta, despite being the older brother, has pursued a more conventional career as an engineer. Mutta’s life seems cursed by bad luck, though– despite being the older brother, he has fallen behind Hibito and is later fired from his job. Mutta takes the opportunity to apply for the JAXA astronaut training program in the hopes of catching up to his little brother.
Uchuu Kyoudai (宇宙兄弟, literally Space Brothers) has risen in popularity due to its story and character development. (Seriously, Nanba Mutta, despite being an average joe, is such a boss.) The training Mutta and his compatriots go through is always interesting and every character is full of humanizing quirks. It’s definitely a worthwhile read!
Here’s an older one: Guts, also known as the Black Swordsman, is traveling a medieval Europe-inspired world seeking revenge on a group called the God Hand. His journey isn’t easy, though– he is plagued by monsters that attack him every night, monsters that have also ravaged towns and have sent people into poverty. On the way, he inadvertently rescues an elf called Puck, who decides to follow Guts and learn his story.
The beginning of this manga is a little slow, but as I learned more about Guts’ past I was inevitably sucked into the story. Berserk is dark and dramatic and its characters are flawed and imperfect. And it’s all of these things that have made me so emotionally invested in this series. I mean, Guts is the perfect Byronic hero. You can’t help but cheer him on.
I should warn you, though: Berserk is pretty violent. If you don’t want to see intestines and blood flying around, this probably isn’t for you.
Shōnen manga is technically manga aimed at a young male audience, but over the years has developed its own set of typical themes and tropes. As a result, a lot of shōnen manga nowadays feel tired and repetitive. Even so, Weekly Shōnen Jump remains Japan’s most popular manga magazine and is enjoyed by people of all genders and all ages. Here’s three Jump series running right now that I happen to like:
One day, a mysterious octopus-like creature blows up the moon and tells the government that the world is next. However, he will give mankind a chance: for the next year, he will become the teacher of class 3-E at Kunugigaoka Junior High School, and during that time, anyone is free to try to kill him. Ansatsu Kyōshitsu (暗殺教室, literally Assassination Classroom) follows the day-to-day events of the students of 3-E, as they learn both regular subjects and the art of assassination. While the students’ various assassination attempts are always entertaining, watching the characters grow and develop is what really makes this series for me.
Binbō-gami ga! (貧乏神が! literally, This God of Poverty!) details the life of Ichiko Sakura, a high school girl blessed with an irregular amount of “fortune energy.” As a result, she is good-looking, talented at everything, and very, very self-centered. Momiji, a misfortune god, is sent to Earth to restore balance in the world by stealing Ichiko’s fortune energy. Watching the hilarious relationship between Momiji and Ichiko, as well as Ichiko’s development from a bratty teen to an emphatic human being, makes this series great.
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic
In an Old World fantasy setting, a series of mysterious buildings known as “Dungeons” have sprung up around the world. Within these Dungeons are fatal traps and monsters, but any individual who defeats these dangers can come into the possession of a powerful Djinn. This series follows Aladdin, a young boy who has become friends with a Djinn and who holds an untapped talent for magic. While this series plays with the same shōnen tropes (elemental magic, friendship, battles, and the like) somehow it executes them in a new enough way to keep the story interesting.
Cooking is a common topic in manga, going so far as to specialize in bread-making, curry, pastries, or even wine-tasting. One of the most popular manga running in Jump today, Toriko, is a combination of super-manly fighting and cooking. (An unlikely combo, but it pulls it off!) My standard for cooking manga is that it has to make me hungry when I read it– and here are two that do the trick:
Nobunaga no Chef
Nobunaga no Chef (信長のシェフ, literally Nobunaga’s Chef) follows Ken, a modern chef who is mysteriously transported to 16th-century Japan. To top it off, he has amnesia. After being taken in by a kind stranger, word of Ken’s novel and delicious cooking spreads to Oda Nobunaga himself. Ken is forced to become Nobunaga’s personal chef and becomes entangled in the history of feudal Japan. I’m no Japanese history buff, but the dishes alone are already enough to make this series great.
Shokugeki no Soma
Yukihira Soma has worked in his family’s restaurant all of his life and dreams of becoming a greater chef than his father. When he graduates middle school, however, his father promptly flies off to France and sends Soma to an elite culinary academy. There, Soma must use his Japanese-style cooking knowledge to battle it out in a school where only 10% of the students graduate!
I should warn you, though: while this series is awesome, it also has some of the most ridiculous ecchi I’ve ever seen. Like, every time somebody eats something, they always have a reaction that looks kind of like this:
…and that’s one of the tamer ones. Still, this manga is always a good time. And it never fails to make me want to go back to Japan and eat some goshdarned hamburger and rice, darnit.
Not really a genre as much as it is a category, webtoons refers to the increasingly popular Korean online comics. Many of the big ones are hosted on Naver Comics, where amateur writers are encouraged to submit their original work. Popular authors can rise in the ranks and become a regular, professional paid artist. I love webtoons– I find that they are often beautifully drawn and touch unusual themes not covered by typical serialized fare. Here’s three that I really like:
Yoon Ai has been abandoned by her parents and struggles to feed her and her sister every day. She is weighed down with the pressures of the harsh Korean school system, and dreams of the day she can become an adult and lift herself out of poverty. Then, one day, she meets a magician living in an abandoned amusement park. The magician, seemingly immune to the harsh realities of life, asks Yoon Ai: Do you believe in magic?
In the beginning, she replies no. By the end, I was a wholehearted believer.
This comic is sometimes slow and surreal, but touches on topics– like the pressures of school, the expectations of adulthood, and coming-of-age in a seemingly flat, gray world– that really resonated with me when I read it. Maybe I’m at that age.
“I Am Unhappy” is a game show searching for the unhappiest human on earth! Whoever wins this knockout survival game will be granted a wish from God!
Lee Hyun, a miserable, silent high school student, wins the show. He wishes for the world to end. Good going, guys. Whose idea was this?
God agrees to grant his wish, but under the condition that the world will end gradually, over the next 100 days. Lee Hyun is allowed to change his mind, but only once. God then appoints Oh Duk Hee, an eccentric cartoonist and one of the happiest people on earth, to make Lee Hyun happy again.
The style of this comic is bright and cartoony and the humor is often light and absurd. This blends well with the comic’s darker story, as Oh Duk Hee and her helpers delve deeper into Lee Hyun’s past and find out how to save the world.
Tower of God
There exists a tower with hundreds of floors. It is believed that everything can be found at the top of the tower– however, no one has reached the top yet. To climb from floor to floor, people must participate in various tests– tests that are often violent or fatal.
Baam is a boy who grew up in a dark room all his life, save one girl: Rachel, his one and only friend. When Rachel enters the tower, Baam follows and begins the climb to find her. On the way, he makes friends, meets allies, and discovers his natural aptitude for battle.
I admit, it took me a while to get into this one. The floor exams are often convoluted and there’s a lot of fighting. However, the plot begins to twist and turn, and now I’m totally invested in the story, characters, and the mysteries of the tower. Seriously, I need to know what happens next!
From what I’ve seen, Tower of God is one of the more popular webtoons around today. And for a reason!
Honorable mention: Anime
I’ll typically read the manga if I can, but watching can be fun too! Here’s two anime series that have been recently popular that I’ve really enjoyed:
Sword Art Online
In 2022, mankind has finally invented the technology for virtual reality, and Sword Art Online becomes the world’s first virtual reality MMO. The game is released to 10,000 excited players, who all log on to experience the digital world of Aincrad. Soon, however, they find that they are unable to log out.
As it turns out, the creator of the game has trapped them all within SAO. In addition, if the player should die in-game, they will also be killed in the real world. How to escape? Only when a player has managed to climb up all 100 floors of Aincrad, and effectively clear the game, will the players be released.
The first half of this anime is really, really good. The second half doesn’t quite match up. I should also mention that SAO originated as a series of light novels. The anime came second, and then the manga. Don’t read the manga like I did– it’s pretty awful!
Tiger and Bunny
45 years ago, people suddenly started to gain superpowers. Some of these people, known as “NEXTs,” became superheroes. In Sternbild City, the most popular heroes work for sponsor companies and are broadcast on Hero TV. Veteran hero Kotetsu Kaburagi is notorious for breaking the rules and causing massive destruction in his attempts to save people. After being cut from his sponsorship, he is assigned a partner in the hopes of revitalizing his popularity. However, this partner, Barnaby Brooks Jr., is very much a by-the-book kind of guy. Kotetsu and Barnaby quickly butt heads as they fight crime and unravel the mysteries of Barnaby’s past.
I love this series. I really do. The dynamic between Kotetsu and Barnaby is the best. The action-packed, suspenseful story made me marathon this one until I was done. It’s a fresh take on the superhero genre, one that I think really works!
That’s that. Do I read too much manga? Ohhh yes.
Thoughts? Opinions? Most importantly, suggestions? If you have any of those, let me know in the comments below!