A trip to the manga aisle of Barnes & Noble will confirm: manga is incredibly popular with young adult readers. But finding age-appropriate series for that tween-or-younger sibling can be a challenge—especially for parents unfamiliar with the art style. Happily, American publishers have lately been bringing out more manga aimed squarely at the middle-grade crowd. These titles are good for readers who are 8 and up, with engaging, fast-moving plots featuring magical adventures or super-cute people and animals.
We highlighted some favorites last year, but if you’re looking for fresh manga for a voracious younger reader, here are some newer titles worth a look. (And one to look forward to: The My Little Pony manga will be out next summer!)
Zo Zo Zombie, Vol. 1, by Yasunari Nagatoshi
Fifth-grader Isamu is walking through the park when he sees a zombie sleeping in a sandbox. He’s terrified as the creature slowly rises… then takes off its feet to shake out the sand. That first encounter sets the tone for this goofy monster manga, in which Zombie Boy finds a new way to astonish Isamu on just about every page, whether it’s making a jacket out of his own boogers, pulling out his stomach to remove a postcard he swallowed, or letting his lower body go off on its own to pee while he’s sleeping. With its short chapters and slapstick humor, this book is the next best thing to watching the anime. It’s full of fart jokes, detachable body parts, and in general, the sort of gross-out body humor that delights second-graders (and horrifies their parents). Dave Scheidt’s Wrapped Up,a hilarious all-ages comic (not manga) about a mummy family, would be a great companion volume (and it’s much, much less gross).
Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! by Ryo Takamisaki
There are a million Pokémon books out there, which can be a problem if you’re trying to buy one for a gift. This is a good first Poké-manga, as it tells the story of how Ash and Pikachu first met and introduces the other characters and Pokémon one at a time. The basic plot is that Ash and Pikachu are journeying to see the Ho-Oh, a legendary Pokémon who lives at the end of the rainbow. Along the way they have a series of adventures, hunting and capturing various Pokémon and meeting other trainers as well. The ending is weirdly anticlimactic, but this manga is charming anyway, and there are some genuinely poignant moments as well as some good messages about friendship and respect.
Little Witch Academia, Vol. 1, by Yoh Yoshinari, Keisuke Sato, and TRIGGER
Atsuko Kagari, known as Akko, has wanted to be a witch ever since she was transfixed by an encounter with the witch Shiny Chariot. Thus it is that she ends up as the only student at the elite Luna Nova Witchcraft Academy that doesn’t have any magical powers. While some of the other students are mean to her, she makes friends and not only works hard but ends up with a magical artifact that is a game-changer. Of course, someone is watching over it all and keeping an eye on Akko. It’s a nice mix of Harry Potter touches and the standard shoujo manga tale of a girl who is struggling to do her best at an elite school filled with snobs, plus enough original elements to make it interesting. This series is adapted from the anime of the same name.
The Boy and the Beast, Vol. 4, by Mamoru Hosoda and Renji Asai
This is the final volume of the manga adaptation of Hosoda’s animated film, so be warned that it does not stand on its own. On the other hand, the four-volume series would be a great choice for a kid who either loves the film or just loves a good story. Kyuta, the hero, has been living his life in two worlds, the ordinary human world and the world of the beasts, where he has been the disciple of an unruly bear named Kumatetsu. As he grows and matures, he has to choose which one he will live in, and in this fourth volume, he makes some important choices as well. With strong characters and clear, easy-to-follow artwork, this is a great choice for middle-grade readers.
Yotsuba, Vol. 14, by Kiyohiko Azuma
Azuma tells the story of the super-cute 5-year-old Yotsuba as a series of short stories, more or less independent of one another, so this volume stands nicely on its own, despite being the 14th in the series. Kids can jump right in and enjoy the adorableness of Yotsuba doing yoga, making bead necklaces, and dressing up as a princess. In the last three chapters, Yotsuba and her father travel to Tokyo, where she is enthralled by Harajuku, saves the earth from an alien invasion, and has lunch in a fancy restaurant. While Yotsuba’s naivete and full-on enthusiasm for everything she sees are the real draw of this series, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in Azuma’s depictions of Tokyo scenes.
What manga do you recommend for the under-12 set?