The new year means a fresh start, and January brings a handful of promising new series to the manga scene, and introduces new characters and new twists to some old favorites. Black Butler gets even darker, My Hero Academia: Vigilantes gets even funnier, and One-Punch Man keeps doing what it does best—delivering the action alongside the laughs. New series launching this month include street-fighting cats, a girl who must work in a yokai inn, and a new sports manga about competitive diving. Jump in: the water’s fine!
My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, Vol. 3, by Hideyuku Furuhashi and Betten Court
This volume starts out on a philosophical bent, as Koichi’s senpai Makoto tutors him on the sociology of heroes and asks the key question: what distinguishes heroes from villains? It turns out that Makoto is doing some research on this herself. Then, the handsome but shallow Captain Courage—the number one superhero in America—comes on the scene, sporting glinting white teeth and towing a quintet of cheerleaders, and tells Koichi that this hero stuff should be left to the professionals. Completing Koichi’s misery, his mother comes to visit and doesn’t spare the critiques. With its uncluttered and fluid art, crazy villains, and over-the-top situations, My Hero Academia: Vigilantes continues to be a great spinoff, and a great series on its own merits.
One-Punch Man, Vol. 15, by ONE and Yusuke Murata
With the martial arts tournament behind him and the Monster Association invasion quelled (at least for now), Saitama complains that he is bored. Of course, that’s why he became a superhero to begin with, but now he is finding the whole thing meaningless. King (who is sort of an accidental superhero with no real superpowers) tries to be helpful, but none of his suggestions seem to be work for Saitama. Meanwhile, Garo, the hero hunter, gets clobbered by another deadpan superhero, Watchdog Man (that’s him on the cover), and then pushes his luck by trying to take on King, interrupting the chat with Saitama—but not for long. This volume continues the mix of fast-paced, high-pitched action and goofy humor that has drawn so many fans to the series. Collectors take note: the B&N edition of this volume exclusively includes a fold-out poster featuring OPM man taking a, er, break from punching monsters.
For the Kid I Saw in My Dream, Vol. 1, by Kei Sanbe
Kei Sanbe, the author of the time-travel mystery Erased, is back with another story of murder and family, but the focus this time is on revenge for a killing, not the prevention of one. Senri Nakajou was just a young child when he witnessed the murder of his entire family, and the desire for revenge consumes his adult life—to the point where he is willing to get his hands dirty to raise the money necessary to carry it out. Sanbe is a superb storyteller, with an eye for subtle details and a fresh, open style that makes his work easy to read, even for those who only pick up the occasional manga.
Kakuriyo Bed and Breakfast for Spirits, Vol. 1, by Waco Ioka, Midori Yuma, and Laruha
This is a familiar story done well: Aoi Tsubaki is a teenage girl who was raised by her grandfather. After his death, she is snatched away to the land of the yokai (also known as ayakashi, or spirits), learning that her grandfather could travel between worlds. While on a trip there, he ran up a huge bill at a yokai-run inn and tried to dodge it. To pay the debt, he promised his granddaughter’s hand in marriage to the Odanna, the master of the inn. Aoi wants nothing to do with this, but she has little chance of getting back to the human world, so she makes a deal: she will not marry the Odanna, but she will work off her grandfather’s debt. That’s easier said than done, as the yokai despise her and would rather devour her than hire her to work for them, but by the end of this volume, she has begun to make a bit of progress.
Dragon Quest Monsters+, Col. 1, by Mine Yoshizaki
First there was Dragon Quest, a video game in which the players went on quests and fought battles, and then there was Dragon Quest Monsters (once known as Dragon Warrior Monsters), a spinoff in which the characters didn’t fight their own battles but trained monsters to fight for them, and now there is Dragon Quest Monsters+, a manga about a boy named Kleo who gets whisked off to a strange land to become a monster master. If this all sounds a bit like Pokémon, well, it’s definitely pitched at the same youthful audience, with cute, rounded characters, lots of exaggerated emotions and double-takes, and an array of monsters of all shapes, sizes, and degrees of fierceness. Despite all that, this manga actually has a very different look, delivering the same sort of entertainment in a new way. It’s not deep, but it’s a lot of fun.
Dive!!, Vol. 1, by Eto Mori
Things are looking grim for the Mizuki Diving Club: after a string of mediocre performances, their sponsors are ready to walk away, leaving the team with no financial support. Their only hope lies in a new coach—and the determination of the lead character, Tomoki. Oh, and a long-shot attempt to qualify for the Olympics in just one year. More than just a sports manga, Dive!! started out as a quartet of novels that were then adapted into not one but two manga series, a theatrical film, and an anime—all of which suggests there’s a lot of story there.
Nyankees, Vol. 1, by Atsushi Okada
The title of this series is a portmanteau of “nyan,” the Japanese equivalent of “meow,” and “yankees,” slang for street gangs, who generally appear in manga as juvenile delinquents with a sense of style. Put those two words together and you have … scary-looking guys who brawl a lot and are sometimes depicted as human and sometimes as cats. They aren’t cat-boys—as you can see from the cover, the humans look very human and the cats look very feline—and yet somehow, it’s very clear who is who no matter what form they are in. Okada has managed to combine seinen street-fighting action with well-drawn cats, and if you are a fan of either, this series is well worth a look.
Wandering Island, Vol. 2, by Kenji Tsurata
When I picked the first volume of this series as one of the best manga of 2016, I noted that the author seemed to be working at a slow pace, and the second volume wasn’t even out in Japan yet. Two-and-a-half years later, it’s finally here, and it starts with a rather anticlimactic solution to the mystery posed in the first volume, as young aviatrix Mikura lands her plane on the elusive Electric Island. She can’t find the person she came to deliver a package to, and the residents mostly stay out of sight. When they do appear, most of them are hostile, and just tell her to go away. She sticks around, partly because her plane is damaged and partly because she’s still trying to solve the mystery of the island, which truly does appear to be moving. As in the first volume, Tsurata’s art is superb. Here he focuses on the deserted streets of the island, as Mikura wanders around in a bikini, passing row after row of vaguely European-looking buildings and occasionally spotting another person in the distance. Although she has found the island, she hasn’t really found any answers… yet. Let’s hope they arrive sooner than 2021.
Blue Exorcist, Vol. 21, by Kazue Kato
As this volume opens, demons are openly attacking all over the world, and the Japanese prime minister himself addresses the country, revealing what the government had tried to keep quiet, that demons do exist. A gunshot interrupts the press conference, taking Mephisto out of action for a while. Yukio appears to be the shooter, but something just ain’t right there. Meanwhile, up in the Arctic, all hell starts to break loose—literally.
Black Butler, Vol. 27, by Yana Toboso
In volume 26 of Black Butler, released last August, Earl Ciel Phantomhive and his butler Sebastian returned from one of their adventures to find a bloody scene of carnage in Ciel’s townhouse—and a message that evoked the past. This volume goes more deeply into Ciel’s earlier life, as well as the devil’s bargain he has struck with Sebastian, the protector to whom he must someday surrender his soul.
What new manga is on your list this month?