I’ll take any excuse to dress up in costume and ride on a boat.

Last weekend, I went on a cosplay cruise.

That’s exactly what it sounds like. A boat full of costumed otaku, doing whatever it is otaku do. It was being hosted by Boston’s local anime store, Anime Zakka, who kindly reduced the price for us.

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What a deal! Dozens of the most hardcore anime dorks in the same boat? That had to be a good time!

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I really wanted to go, but I really didn’t want to go alone. Luckily, my friends were interested in coming as well.

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Alright, I may have pestered a couple of my friends into going. Hey, that cruise was a great bargain. And the more, the merrier! Thus, last weekend, my friends and I woke up bright and early Sunday morning to get ready for the cruise.

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The cruise was taking off from the Boston Harbor, which meant that we had a nice, long ride on the subway to get there.

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We arrived at the port.

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We had indeed gone the right way.

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A Madoka crossplay from Madoka Magica.

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A police Stocking from Panty and Stocking!

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Anime Zakka had rented out the entire lower deck for the cruise. Although the deck has a capacity of 200+ people, they restricted the event to 100 tickets to avoid overcrowding. My friends and I got our own table.

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As promised, there was food…

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Cosplay…

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Aladdin from Magi.

Hatsune Miku.

Hatsune Miku.

…and a cruise in the Boston Harbor.

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That wasn’t all, though. There was a Yankee Swap, where people bring in anime-themed gifts and exchange them anonymously between attendees. There were no guidelines on the event page, so I wasn’t sure what to buy. I went with a keychain of one of my favorite characters.

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What I didn’t know was that people would be going all out. 

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Though I wasn’t the only person to bring in a small gift, I ended up feeling pretty guilty at the end.

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Also unexpected were the people on the boat. The nerds might have occupied the entire bottom deck, but the upper two decks were taken by perfectly ordinary people who just wanted to enjoy a cruise on this lovely day. Little did they know that they would be interrupted.

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But, the most unexpected of all?

How normal it all felt.

I always go to conventions and enjoy them. Yet somewhere, at the back of my mind, I’d feel ashamed. Every judgmental onlooker gave me a twinge of shame. I really am a dork. People think we’re such losers. 

It’s true. People do think we’re such losers.

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But, that day, there was no embarrassment.

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On the contrary, I felt pretty alright.

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I mean, who cares? Really, we were just a bunch of friends enjoying the beautiful weather. In costume.

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SO FIERCE, RIGHT?

On that day, I cosplayed and didn’t feel like a freak. I felt like it’s OK to like what I like. I was on a boat and having a great time, just like any other person. Just because I like anime doesn’t mean that I should feel less about myself. Just because I like comics and cosplay doesn’t mean that I have to be a socially awkward, stereotypical dork.

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Though I can see where the stereotype comes from.

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I guess I’m an awkward turtle after all.

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But even awkward encounters can lead to great things.

My friends and I with Haruka Nanase from Free!

My friends and I with Haruka Nanase from Free!

Anime Zakka, if you ever host another cruise: I will be there.

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You should also read these manga

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

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!

Uchuu Kyoudai

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!

Berserk

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

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:

Assassination Classroom

 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!

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

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.

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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. 

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Webtoons

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:

Annarasumanara

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.

Nowhere Boy

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“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!

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And so.

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!

You should read these manga

I love all sorts of comics, but I’d be lying if I said the types of comics I read are evenly distributed. In other words, I read a lot of manga. A lot. Simply due to its accessibility, I suppose.

Reading manga is often a hit-or-miss occupation, though. I’ve read some incredible manga. I’ve read some god-awful manga. I’ve read some manga in-between.

What I’d like to share are the manga that I actually liked. There’s a great deal of them, though, so I arranged them by category. And of course, taste is subjective, so these are only comics I think are particularly good– perhaps not everyone will like them.

Shōnen manga

There are tons and tons of shōnen (少年) manga, or manga for young boys. It’s to be expected– judging from the success of Shōnen Jump and its manga (such as One Piece, Bleach, and Naruto) internationally, shōnen manga possess a huge demographic for authors to tap into. Though technically for “boys,” older audiences, and girls, enjoy these manga as well.

Here’s a couple I happen to like:

Yankee-kun to Megane-chan

Popular in Japan, this manga follows the exploits of an ex-delinquent, Hana Adachi, as she decides to become a normal high school student with the help of current delinquent Shinagawa Daichi. It feels like the good ol’ shōnen manga formula: school life, delinquents fighting, a school council– except its great humor and hilarious cast makes it much more.

Shibatora

A manga about a baby-faced cop who works to help delinquent children. The protagonist, Shibata Taketora, will seem clumsy and naive at first– but there’s a whole lot of bad ass underneath that childish exterior. Somehow I was charmed by the art and story in this manga.

The World God Only Knows

The premise of this manga sounds idiotic: it’s about a kid obsessed with dating simulation games, Keima Katsuragi. He is coerced into a contract with a devil, who tells him that runaway spirits have hidden themselves in girls’ hearts. In order to release them, Keima must use his talents in the real world and get these girls to fall in love with him. Sounds stupid? It’s not. The first several chapters are simply amusing as we laugh at Keima’s antics– but midway through the series, it picks up and begins developing a plot of its own. The World God Only Knows has become wildly popular in Japan– perhaps because of its wry sense of humor and unabashed parodying of clichéd romance tropes.

Shōjo manga

I’m a girl too, yeah. I admit that I’ve read a shameful amount of shōjo (少女) manga, or manga for girls. Expect fluffy romances, hot guys, and flowery panels filled with tearful girls. A lot of shōjo manga drives me nuts– more often than not, the protagonist is some airheaded, ditzy, weak-willed girl. Once in a while, though, you’ll hit one that’s genuinely cute. Here’s a pair I happen to like:

Men’s Kou

What do you get when you put a whole bunch of good-looking boys in an all-male boarding school? All sorts of yaoi and shōnen-ai, or… Men’s Kou. This manga follows a bunch of friends living in an all-boy’s school, all of whom are unsurprisingly frustrated by the lack of girls. It starts out clichéd, but turns out surprisingly grounded and charming. One story in particular really grabbed me– but I’ll spoil nothing. Men’s Kou has potential, though perhaps it’s not perfect.

Honey and Clover

A slice-of-life manga, Honey and Clover depicts the lives of five friends studying at an art college in Tokyo. It follows them as they experience love, heartbreak, and the age-old question of trying to find out what to do with their lives. The friendship between the cast is both hilarious and touching. Honey and Clover won the Kodansha Manga Award in 2003.

Seinen/Josei manga

Simply manga categorized as more mature, seinen (青年漫画) manga are aimed at older males and josei (女性漫画) manga are aimed at older women. Readers range from teens to the middle-aged, and seinen and josei manga cover a wide spectrum of topics, styles, and themes. This makes them hard to categorize– so what I put here is simply manga with more explicit content.

Dokuhime

In a distant land, children are raised from birth to resist poisons– to the extent that the poisons penetrate their bodies so much that even a touch can bring instant death. These “Poison Princesses” are sent to various empires as an assassination tool. Lycoris, one such poison princess, struggles to unravel the mysteries beneath the strange kingdom she is sent to. The manga may seem a little confusing the first read-through, but it only makes you want to figure out the mysteries even more.

Oyasumi Punpun

A surrealist manga by the acclaimed Inio Asano, Oyasumi Punpun follows the life of a normal kid depicted as a cartoony little bird. It shows the down-and-gritty realities of life as Punpun copes with his dysfunctional family, unrequited love, and becoming an adult. Oyasumi Punpun is both bizarre and realistic, introducing some of the most believable characters I have ever met, and a degree of darkness and cynicism I’ve never seen in a slice-of-life manga. The art, as in any of Asano’s work, is absolutely incredible.

Franken Fran

Fran Madaraki is a surgeon of prodigious talent: she can save the dying, put human heads on animal bodies, give her patients superhuman strength… any change you desire, she can perform. But the results of these surgeries usually backfire– especially since Fran rarely thinks about the consequences. Franken Fran is disgusting, horrifying, revolting– for the weak of stomach, avoid this one. Those who do read it, however, will find it chock full of enough black humor and irony to balance the bloody content.

Specialty manga

Specialty manga are manga that center around a particular, very specific topic. Yakitate!! Japan, for instance, is a manga entirely about people baking bread. Kami no Shizuku is about wine-tasting. A popular one, Hikaru no Go, is about kids playing the Japanese game of go. Naturally, though, you can find rich plots and character development in these manga as well.

Bartender

Bartender is about Ryu Sasakura, a genius bartender who is aiming to reach the “Glass of God.” This manga lacks a continuous plot; rather, it is divided into one-or-two chapter arcs about each customer Sasakura serves. Each has their own problem, and, with the guidance of the protagonist’s drinks, can usually decide on a course of action. The stories are gentle and touching, nothing intense– suitable for a manga about a soul-soothing bartender. It also makes me wish I was 21, so I could go out and try all these cocktails.

Team Medical Dragon

Another manga about a genius surgeon, except this one focuses on the Japanese medical system. It follows Dr. Asada Ryutaro and his medical team as they struggle to save lives within a maze of medical malpractice, power politics, and corruption. The team aims for the top to try to reform the failing healthcare system. While sometimes the manga comes off as unrealistic, it is nonetheless an interesting account of modern healthcare issues. There’s some sexual content and nudity in this one, though– be warned!

Bambino!

Bambino! is not only about cooking, it’s about Italian cooking. Follow Ban Shogo, a feisty young man working in an Italian restaurant in Tokyo. The manga focuses on his character development as he goes from dishwasher to full-fledged chef. Ban’s drive and stubbornness make the story, and the lavishly illustrated pasta makes me hungry, to boot.

Webtoons

A rising genre lately seems to be “webtoons,” or Korean webcomics. While these technically aren’t “manga” (manga implies Japanese origin) some webtoons are extremely high-quality and definitely worth a read. Warning: Webtoons, as they are read online, take advantage of the “infinite canvas”— in other words, they’re not formatted page-by-page but instead in one long infinitely-scrolling comic. If you can get over the vertigo, you’ll find some awesome stuff.

Melo Holic

Melo Holic starts out as the seeming love story of a cynical teacher with the ability to read minds. It quickly turns into a mystery/suspense toon, though, leaving you hanging on the edge. It’s already been completed, so you’ll be able to read it in one go.

KissWood

I’ve read a lot of comics, but this one definitely ranks among the best I’ve ever read. KissWood is about an old man living in a concrete city, until a fire engulfs his house and throws him into a coma. He finds himself transported to an alternate universe where trees dominate the landscape, a seeming utopia at first. As he tries to find a way back home, however, he begins to discover the cruel realities beneath his new world. The plot is fascinating, unpredictable, and well-thought-out, and the characters are memorable and unique. The art, too, is gorgeously rendered– the color definitely makes all the difference. If you read any of the comics in this post, I’d say go for this one. But perhaps that’s just me.

Pardon the particularly long rant! I just really like manga. Sadly, this could be even longer– there are just too many great comics in the world!