The Best New Manga of April 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

This month’s new manga releases include a Japanese spin on American superheroes and a beautifully drawn manga by a Japanese artist whose repertoire includes work for Marvel and DC. Plus yokai, robots, more horror from Junji Ito, a new volume of Attack on Titan, and a new series about awkward teens talking about sex. Let it rain—we’ve got plenty to read!

Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 1, by Kamome Shirahama
This magic-school manga is beautifully drawn in a style reminiscent of early 20th-century European and American children’s books—think Andrew Lang’s fairy books, but with the humor and energy of manga. Shirahama, who frequently does cover art for DC and Marvel comics, seamlessly blends a clear, detailed, quasi-Art Nouveau style with lively manga tropes to create a book that adults will love for the look and children will read for the story—which is actually pretty good, too, although it breaks no new ground. Coco, the lead character, helps her widowed mother run a dry-goods shop. One day, when messing around with a book of magic, she accidentally turns her mother and her home to stone. By happy coincidence, there’s a powerful witch nearby, and he shares a secret with Coco: although most people believe that only someone who is born with special powers can do magic, in fact, anyone can do it with the proper training. He takes Coco to his special school so she can learn magic and undo the spell she unwittingly cast on her mother. Shirahama fills her tale with wondrous magical objects and sets Coco up against a bully in this first volume, but she also clues us in that there’s more going on than just a simple school story. A great pick for Harry Potter fans, manga readers who like really good art, or just about anybody, really.

Batman and the Justice League, Vol. 2, by Shiori Teshirogi
And now for something completely different: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the Justice League get the manga treatment. In volume 1, we met a youngster named Rui who had just arrived in Gotham City searching for his parents, missing after an accident. The cops gave Rui a Gotham City welcome by beating him up, robbing him, and attempting to kill him, before Batman swooped in to save the day. That was just the beginning of this complex story, which features manga versions of classic DC superheroes and villains, some startlingly off-model. In volume 2, the villains come forward with their dastardly plan. This manga delivers the same sort of pulpy fun as old superhero comics and new superhero movies, with a minimum of angst and plenty of action.

Mega Man Mastermix, Vol. 1, by Hitoshi Ariga
Mega Man started out as a video game and then became a manga, anime, and an American comic (published by Archie Comics). This collection brings back classic stories created by Hitoshi Ariga and originally published in English as Mega Man Megamix, but in a larger format (7” x 10”) and in full color. This first volume includes the origin story of Mega Man, originally a lab assistant named Rock who allowed robot scientist Dr. Light to transform him into a fighting robot to protect the world from other fighting robots under the control of the evil robot scientist Dr. Wily. Really, it’s just good, clean robot-fighting fun in a new, colorful package.

Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection, by Junji Ito
Junji Ito’s particular brand of horror, which involves twisting some aspect of everyday life into madness, works particularly well in short stories, and recently, Viz has been serving them up in nice, big hardcover volumes. This latest collection weighs in at over 400 pages and collects 13 stories featuring seemingly ordinary people trapped on the up escalator to crazytown.

My Hero Academia, Vol. 18,by Kohei Horikoshi
My Hero Academia Vigilantes, Vol. 4, by Hideyuki Furuhashi and Betten Court
My Hero Academia School Briefs, Vol. 1, by Anri Yoshi
April is a triple-threat month for fans of My Hero Academia, with three new volumes to look forward to. In vol. 18 of My Hero Academia, the epic battles continue, with Midoriya straining to match the power of Overhaul and getting some help from his friends. In vol. 4 of My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, which features a team whose quirks fall short of superhero standards, Knuckleduster is tracking down the source of a sinister drug while Pop Step organizes the entertainment for a department store opening. And we’re back to the main cast in the first volume of My Hero Academia School Briefs, a prose story about the antics inside UA, the school for superheroes. The story starts with the students’ parents being held in a cage over a pit of flames—but this is My Hero, so we know things won’t go too far (although the adults might think twice about coming back to Parents Day next year).

Kitaro’s Yokai Battles, by Shigeru Mizuki
Shigeru Mizuki’s yokai boy Kitaro finds himself in a pickle—literally—when his former friend Nezumi Otoko sells him out, steals his horse, and gets involved in a shady pickled-daikon scheme. That’s just the first of seven self-contained stories in this volume, which includes fights with giant wigs, a mud monster, and other assorted yokai. These stories date from the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Kitaro was at the height of his popularity in Japan, starring in an anime and several different manga series. Translator Zack Davisson pulls it all together with historical notes about the manga in the front and a guide to the featured yokai in the back. This manga is billed as “kid-friendly,” and it is, but it’s also a bit dark and has a lot to offer adult readers too.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season, Vol. 1, by Mari Okada and Nao Emoto
This one’s a little… different. It’s about high school kids and sex. They’re not having sex; it’s still a big mystery to them. But they can’t seem to stop thinking and talking and wondering about it. The lead characters are the five members of the literary club, although in this first volume the focus stays firmly on two: Uptight Rina Sozenaki, who can’t bear to even think about it but can’t avoid the topic, and everygirl Kazusa Onodera, who can’t think of her childhood friend Izumi that way until (spoiler alert!) she walks in on him when he’s masturbating. Despite all the blushing and sweating and near misses and weird euphemisms, this isn’t one of those awful leering walking-the-edge-of-porn manga. It’s a brutally honest look at the awkwardness of teens, and because of that, it’s probably a better read for those of us who are thankfully done with adolescence than those who are still going through it.

Attack on Titan, Vol. 27, by Hajime Isayama
Zeke has been smuggled back to Paradis Island, and now the powerful weapon is in place, but it won’t necessarily deter an all-out war. Attack on Titan has moved pretty far away from the original premise but continues to deliver plenty of action alongside a story of politics, struggle, and conquest.

What new manga is on your spring reading list?

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Find Your New Favorite Manga: 12 Series to Pick Up During Our B2G1 Free Viz Sale

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Viz is the largest publisher of manga in North America, and with not one but two Japanese publishers as parent companies, it has a huge inventory of manga to draw from. While it’s the home of classic series you’ve definitely heard of (Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach) and today’s bestselling franchises (Tokyo Ghoul, One-Punch Man, and especially My Hero Academia), Viz publishes a wide range of series spanning every manga subgenre.

Here’s a look at some of of our less well-known favorites, all of which deserve a wider audience—and all of them are included in our Viz Manga Buy 2, Get the 3rd Free promotion, running from now through the end of April (details here). By all means, stock up on My Hero and complete your One Piece collection… and then search out a new favorite series!

Real, by Takehiko Inoue
Real is set in the world of wheelchair basketball and follows three young men facing different challenges. Tomomi Nomiya is a former basketball fan who caused a motorcycle accident that left a girl paralyzed from the waist down. He was not left with a physical disability, but his guilt weighed on him so heavily that he dropped out of school. Kiyohiko Togawa was a promising sprinter until he lost one of his legs to bone cancer. Hisanobu Takahashi was the prince of his school, gifted with athletic and academic ability and a charming way with the ladies, but a traffic accident left him not only paralyzed but in constant pain. Inoue, the creator of the basketball manga Slam Dunk and the samurai manga Vagabond, creates a more grown-up version of sports manga with Real, and his art, as always, is top-notch. The series is incomplete, and the stretches between volumes are pretty long, but the good news is that there are 14 volumes out already, so there’s plenty of story to enjoy.

Ran and the Gray World, by Aki Irie
Ran is a little kid, but when she puts on her mother’s magic sneakers, she becomes a beautiful adult woman with magic powers. Unfortunately for Ran and her long-suffering brother, Jin—but fortunately for the readers—Ran can’t control those magic powers very well, so she gets into a lot of scrapes. What’s more, she may look like an adult, but she’s still a kid and that’s how she acts, even around other adults. Ran’s mother is a powerful sorceress who spends most of her time away from the family but drops in from time to time to wreak havoc. This all makes for a good story and some fun slapstick comedy, but what really elevates this manga is Irie’s artwork. It’s clear from the covers alone that Irie knows how to compose a page, and her draftsmanship is amazing—which we get to see, as she fills the panels with birds, flowers, household clutter, festivals, all beautifully drawn. Viz gives this manga the special treatment, with a larger trim size and a deluxe cover with French flaps,

Behind the Scenes!, by Bisco Hatori
Behind the Scenes is a shoujo manga that focuses as much on friendship as romance, and the setting is pretty cool, too. College student Ranmaru, a shy guy from the country, is sitting on a park bench by himself when he is run over by a horde of zombies. The zombies are the work of the Art Squad, which produces props, costumes, and scenery for the college’s student filmmakers. Ranmaru is quickly drawn into the club, finding a warm reception in a group of creative and sometimes oddball fellow students. What’s more, he turns out to have valuable talents of his own to offer. Hatori is also the creator of Ouran High School Host Club, and she has a deft hand with the art and a light touch with the story. The series will wrap up with volume 7 in August.

Assassination Classroom, by Yusei Matsui
Sure, this series is popular in the U.S., but not popular enough, so we’re including it here. A strange, octopus-like creature has destroyed part of the moon and plans to destroy the earth in one year—but he wants to spend that intervening year teaching high school. In keeping with the logic of shonen manga, the authorities go along with this and assign him to Class 3-E, which is deliberately designed to be a dead end for students who don’t do well in academics or life. The students are tasked with assassinating him, with a little help from the grown-ups; just to be on the safe side, the weapons they use are harmless to ordinary humans and can only work on their teacher. For his part, Koro Sensei, as the students call him, has all kinds of superpowers that make him hard to kill, plus he’s a really good teacher who uses the students’ assassination attempts to teach them important lessons. The whole thing is both a sendup of shonen manga, exaggerating and undercutting many of the standard clichés, and a really good shonen manga that quickens your heartbeat and pulls at your heartstrings at the same time.

Golden Kamuy, by Satoru Noda
A tale of war veteran searching for gold in the frozen North, Golden Kamuy sounds like something from Jack London, but it’s very Japanese. The North in this case is the northern island of Hokkaido, and the soldier is Saichi Sugimoto, who earned the nickname “Immortal” in the Russo-Japanese War because he seemed to be impossible to kill. Hoping to strike it rich so he can help the widow of his best friend get needed surgery, he heads to Hokkaido and soon gets wind of a hidden cache of gold that can only be found with a treasure map that was tattooed on the skins of a group of prisoners, who have all escaped from their confinement. Sugimoto has to track them down one by one, but he would have ended up as a bear’s dinner in the first volume if not for Asirpa, a young woman who is a member of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. She saves his life, and the two team up, both for survival and to find the treasure. This story is grisly in places but beautifully drawn and filled with interesting bits of Ainu lore.

Nana, by Ai Yazawa
A compellingly readable story about young women navigating love and life in the big city, Nana has been on hiatus in Japan for 10 years, but there are 21 volumes to enjoy. Nana Komatsu is a naïve romantic from a happy home who follows her heart to Tokyo because her boyfriend has moved there; predictably, this does not end well. Nana Osaki comes from a rougher background—she was abandoned by her mother and expelled from high school—and she is the vocalist of an up-and-coming punk band. Despite, or perhaps because of, their contrasting personalities, they end up becoming close friends, and the story chronicles their romantic and musical ups and downs. It’s an intense roller-coaster ride of a story, with perfect pacing and expressive artwork, and it deserves to be regarded as a modern classic.

Shiver, by Junji Ito
Ito’s talent for evoking the uncanny really shines in short stories, such as the ones in this collection. His stories are rooted in everyday things turned inside out: Balloons, marionettes, a vinyl record, all are vessels for the terrifying and the unspeakable. While some of the stories work better than others, this volume is enhanced by Ito’s commentary on each one. Those who hunger for more can check out Fragments of Horror or his long-form works Gyo, Uzumaki, and, most recently, his own take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Deadman Wonderland, by Jinsei Kataoka and Kazuma Kondou
Deadman Wonderland is a prison that’s also a theme park—one set up not for the enjoyment of its inmates but the general public, who get to watch the prisoners compete in potentially lethal games. The games are creatively sadistic, but the alternative, for the prisoners, is certain death. Teenager Ganta Igarashii is sent there, a death sentence hanging over his head, after his entire class is found slaughtered and he can’t prove he didn’t do it. Once behind bars, he gets help from a strange girl who seems to drop in out of nowhere, and he sets out on a quest to find the mysterious “Red Man” and clear his name. That’s all just in the first volume—the story gets even more twisted from there. Deadman Wonderland was originally published by Tokyopop and was later picked up by Viz; the series is 13 volumes long.

Saturn Apartments, by Hisei Iwaoka
The human race has left the earth and resettled in a ring-shaped colony that orbits 35 kilometers above the surface of the planet. The Saturn Apartments are literally stratified: Those with the most money live on the upper floor, where they are exposed to health-giving sunlight, while the lower regions are the dark, chaotic home of the lower classes. The middle stratum is used for schools and agriculture. Mitsu is a window cleaner, so he and his co-workers are among the few who can travel between levels, and they are keen observers of the human drama behind the glass. Mitsu is young, having recently inherited the job from his father, who has mysteriously disappeared, and part of the story is his quest to figure out what exactly happened. Iwaoka has an incredible sense of space, and her renderings of the maze of the lower level contrast nicely with the huge, empty, sunlit spaces above. The series is seven volumes long.

Dr. Stone, by Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi
Dr. Stoneis sort of a high-concept shonen manga: Two teenage boys have to re-create all of modern technology from scratch, after they and the rest of the world were turned to stone for over 3,000 years. It still follows the Shonen Jump formula, with the everyman protagonist, Taiju, who was about to confess his love to a pretty girl when both of them suddenly became statues, and the super-smart guy (de rigeur in survival manga), Senku, who is kluging things like gunpowder and an anti-petrification solution from bits and pieces of the natural world. As more people emerge from their stone cases, conflicts arise (DUH!), and soon there’s a super-cool professional fighter to provide some menace, and of course the girl is revived as well—but romance has to go on the back burner for the moment. Dr. Stonecombines shonen action and comedy with some pretty clever McGyvering and a few actual science facts, making it a nice read for those who like a little something extra with their manga.

That Blue Sky Feeling, by Okura and Coma Hashii
That Blue Sky Feeling feels a bit like a shoujo romance, the one with the closed-off dude who is aloof towards everybody and the transfer student who tries to get through to him. The difference here is not just that both are male but that they, and their friends, act a lot more like ordinary high schoolers than most manga characters. Noshiro is a big, friendly guy who has moved schools several times and has learned to adjust to new places. Sanada, a fellow student in his new school, keeps to himself, and everyone acts very awkward about that. At first, Noshiro thinks he’s being bullied, and when he finds out that there’s a rumor that Sanada is gay, he is indignant. When he finds out the rumor is true, he is confused but still determined to be friends with Sanada. Sometimes he says the wrong thing, even hurtful things, but by the end of the first volume he and Sanada are starting to figure things out, with a little help from Sanada’s older, wiser, and not at all creepy ex-boyfriend. This manga started out as a self-published webcomic, and it has a heartfelt feeling to it as well as a good sense of how high schoolers really talk and think.

Dead Dead Demon’s Dedededestruction, by Inio Asano
The aliens have invaded Tokyo, but it turns out they are sort of loser aliens: The invasion was stopped with a special new weapon, provided by the Americans, and now the mother ship hangs listlessly over the city, blocking the sunlight but otherwise causing little harm. Occasionally a smaller saucer emerges, but they are so slow and weak that one was brought down by a kid throwing a rock. While the aliens no longer seem to present an immediate danger, politicians and industrialists have seized on their presence to promote their own agenda, while the rest of the population is simply uneasy. Asano’s story starts with a pair of high school girls; one lost her father in the invasion and is in the process of losing her mother to the subsequent paranoia, while the other is a junior philosopher who is fascinated by the whole phenomenon. Together they follow the news in a desultory sort of way, goof around with their friends, and play video games late into the night. As the series goes on, the cast expands and a plot begins to emerge, but Asano is taking his time, building up a fascinating picture of a dystopian world, as seen through the perceptive and ever-critical eyes of teenage girls. Asano uses a lot of photo reference, building up complicated, cluttered pages and then plopping weirdly cartoonish figures into them—most of the side characters look more like blow-up dolls than real people—adding to the sense that ordinary reality and the unthinkable are coexisting side by side.

Shop the Viz Manga Buy 2 Get the 3rd Free Sale, now through April 29.

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The Best New Manga of February 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

February is nasty, brutish, and short—in other words, a good month to stay indoors and read manga. This month’s new releases will make the gray days fly by, from the return of Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, to a spinoff of Kakegurui: Compulsive Gambler, and a new manga about girls and magical bears. Read on for our picks of the month’s best new manga.

Urusei Yatsura, Vol. 1, by Rumiko Takahashi
Viz brings back a classic in double-volume omnibus format. Urusei Yatsura is a fast-moving gag comic about a hapless teenage boy who is constantly pestered by space aliens, most of them beautiful women. Ataru Moroboshi is just an ordinary schlub, but for some reason when space aliens threaten to take over the earth, they hang the whole thing on a game of tag between Moriboshi and Lum, a voluptuous, bikini-clad space princess. Moriboshi’s troubles don’t end there, though, as Lum decides she wants to marry him, much to the dismay of his long-suffering girlfriend Shinobu. To make matters even worse, Moriboshi’s friends form a Lum fan club and follow him everywhere, as does a Buddhist monk who keeps telling Moriboshi he has an inauspicious face. The story is episodic, with a new set of troubles besetting Moriboshi in every chapter. All the girls are beautiful, all the boys are doofuses, and the art is straightforward and easy to follow. The series first ran in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s, and Viz published nine volumes in the 1990s under the title Lum and The Return of Lum. Takahashi was inducted into the Eisner Awards Hall of Fame last year and awarded the Grand Prix at the Angouleme International Comics Festival last month.

Kakegurui Twin, Vol. 1, by Homura Kawamoto and Kei Saiki
This manga is a spinoff of Kakegurui: Compulsive Gambler, the compulsively readable series about a school where gambling is more important than stupid stuff like grades. Kakegurui Twin is set in the same school a year earlier, and it focuses on Mary Saotome, who also appears in the main series. Mary comes to Hyakkaou Private Academy as a scholarship student, so she doesn’t have the wherewithal to pay the school “taxes,” let alone indulge in high-stakes gambling. Turns out an acquaintance from middle school, Tsuzura, is also at Hyakkaou and, having lost big, is now a “housepet,” required to act as a slave to another student. Disgusted by this, Mary sets out to win enough money to free Tsuzura and secure her own position. With the same writer but a different artist, this book offers many of the same pleasures of the original—complex games and cheats, over-the-top characters, high drama—as viewed through the lens of a different character with different motivations.

Shut-in Shoutarou Kominami Takes On the World, by Dan Ichikawa
Hopelessly shy 22-year-old shut-in Shoutarou is forced to leave his home and to go to the employment agency after his mother announces she will stop sending him money. At the agency, he bumps into a young woman who is looking for a man who is “Shlocken”—shy, lonely, and chicken. Shoutarou fits the description nicely, and she brings him back to her co-worker, who wants to study a Shlocken man. Shoutarou thinks he’s a psychologist writing a self-help book, but he’s actually a gag manga writer, and the tasks he has for Shoutarou are not therapeutic, they are situations that will make him uncomfortable—and hopefully end in hilarity.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Elma’s Office Lady Diary, Vol. 1, bycoolkyousinnjya and Ayami Kazama
In the original series, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, a powerful dragon, Tohru, becomes the maid to an ordinary woman. This spin-off focuses on another character, Elma, a water dragon who takes on human form in order to bring Tohru back. She ends up as an office lady, making copies and doing odd jobs (although she’s supposed to be a software engineer trainee). This is a 4-panel gag manga, with plenty of jokes about Elma’s love of sweets and the mismatch between a dragon’s life and the workplace. Although there are references to the original, this series works pretty well on its own.

Yuri Bear Storm, Vol. 1, by Kunihiko Ikuhara and Akiko Morishima
This is a quirky take on the schoolgirl yuri (lesbian romance) genre. Kureha is quiet and almost invisible to her classmates until a new student, Ginko, goes out of her way to make friends with her. Their friendship quickly blossoms, but Kureha keeps having these weird dreams about Ginko and magical bears. Ginko insists she’s not a bear, but when Kureha’s new roommate arrives in bear cosplay costume, insisting she is Ginko’s ex, things start to get really weird. Morishima’s art is clear and uncluttered, even when the story is a bit convoluted. The manga is an adaptation of the anime Yurikuma Arashi, but the two have different storylines.

Fairy Tale Battle Royale, Vol. 2, by Soraho Ina
Aoba is a schoolgirl who was bullied until the day she found a magic contract that granted her one wish. She wished that everyone would be friends with her, and now they are, which is a little weird. Even weirder is the fact that she turned into Alice in Wonderland and was transported to a strange land where she is stalked by zombie-like versions of fairy tale characters. She meets Noah, who is in a similar situation, and together they have to figure out the rules of the strange fairytale land. This is a very readable new series that puts some original twists on the fairy tale horror genre. The action flows naturally, the lead characters are likable, and Ina springs plenty of surprises as Aoba and Noah move between their everyday lives and the strange land of zombie fairy tale characters.

My Solo Exchange Diary, Vol. 2,by Nagata Kabi
After struggling with loneliness and depression, Nagata Kabi hired an escort service so she could have sex for the first time. Her manga about what happened, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, became a huge success, both in Japan, where it was first published as a webcomic on the online art site Pixiv, and in the U.S. My Solo Exchange Diary picks up her life story from there, as she tries to strike out on her own, still struggling with depression, loneliness, and her relationship with her family. Kabi has a light, cartoony style that keeps these diary comics (actually letters to herself) from getting too heavy, even when she is talking about serious problems.

My Hero Academia, Vol. 17, by Kohei Horikoshi
The battle with the Hassaikai gang continues in this volume, as Midoriya and his friends go head to head to rescue the little girl, Eri. As always, the bizarre quirks of the characters make this an interesting spin on the standard action manga, and as the fight rages on, we learn a bit more about Eri and why she is important. Even 17 volumes in, Horikoshi keeps the story fresh and entertaining.

What new manga are you reading in February?

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Our Favorite Manga of 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

December brings shorter days, endless Christmas songs, and a strong urge to compile best-of-the-year lists. This was a good year for manga, with strong showings by blockbuster ongoing series and the launch of some intriguing new ones. Here’s a look at some of the manga we thought were the cream of the 2018 crop.

Best New Series

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, by Hideyuki Furuhashi and Betten Court
This spinoff of the mega-popular school-for-superheroes manga My Hero Academia may actually be more entertaining than the original—which is saying a lot. This one is about a trio of would-be superheroes who didn’t make the cut. Koichi has a quirk—a mildly useful superpower—but as he’s not hero material, he’s not supposed to use it. When he dons his Nice Guy suit, though, he does good deeds—picks up dropped phones, gives directions, takes out the recycling. Pop Step, another outlaw, uses her quirk to draw crowds to her idol-ish act; her scanty costume doesn’t hurt. And Knuckleduster: Janitor of the Fist takes out a different kind of trash—he’s looking for users of a new drug, Trigger, that amps up people’s quirks, allowing them to become supervillains. While some of the characters of the original series drop in from time to time, Vigilantes is really a whole new story set in the world of the original, exploiting a different set of possibilities, and completely enjoyable on its own. The creators add some notes about character development, and they make a number of allusions to American superheroes, which adds to the richness of this story.

Ran and the Gray World, by Aki Irie
Ran is a little girl who wants to be a sorceress, like her mother. Unlike other manga girls, she doesn’t need to go to a special school to learn magic powers—all she has to do is put on her magic sneakers. When she does, though, she also transforms into an adult—a beautiful woman, natch—but she’s still mentally a kid. Knowing the perils this will expose her to, her father and brother try to keep her away from the shoes, but she outsmarts them every time. Irie’s clear-lined art beautifully depicts the chaos of Ran’s world, and her elongated characters are reminiscent of Natsume Ono. Viz has made a good choice in giving this first volume the deluxe treatment, with a larger trim size than usual and a heavy cover with French flaps. It really shows off the distinctive art, and makes the book feel special.

Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection, by Junji Ito
This pairing makes a lot of sense: Ito is a master of stories where ordinary things turn horrific and then spiral out of control, and that’s exactly what happens in Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein. Ito’s adaptation is faithful to the original; the opening scenes are fairly deadpan, but when it comes to depicting the monster and its destruction, the manga-ka is in his element. This manga pulls out the stitches on the layers of clichés that have accumulated around this story over the years, taking it straight back to its roots.

RWBY: Official Manga Anthology, by various
“Various” is a good description of the creators of this anthology: each volume centers on a single character from the title quartet—Ruby Rose, Weiss Schnee, Blake Belladonna, and Yang Xiao Long—and shows her in a variety of settings and situations, from baking cookies at home to fighting the darkest of monsters. Because the characters are so different, we learn details of their backstory and the quirks of their personalities, all in a series of short pieces. These books are a great companion to the hit animated series.

Ibitsu, by Haruto Ryo
This manga, complete in one volume, starts with an urban legend about a girl who lurks near a garbage drop, dressed in tattered Gothic Lolita clothing and holding an equally beat-up stuffed rabbit. If you’re thinking “Nothing good can come from an encounter with her,” well, you’ve obviously read horror manga before. Kazuki finds outas much when he runs into her and makes the mistake of answering her question, “Do you have a little sister?” Soon he is being stalked by the mysterious girl, who lets herself into his apartment and starts rearranging things, then attacks his sister and the rest of his family and their friends, chasing them down and killing them in grotesque ways. This is a straight-up horror story with enough variation in characters and situations to keep it interesting, even as you know that whatever comes next isn’t going to be pretty.

Dementia 21, by Kago
Kago is a master of surrealistic horror, and this collection of short stories about a home health aid caring for patients with dementia allows him to show off his chops, as he creates a series of demented situations for the cheerful but hapless aide Yukie. Dentures that have a mind of their own, an addled woman causes people to snap out of existence when she forgets them, aging superheroes in diapers reprise their great battles, and a strange highway has different lanes for the dying and the dead… Each story goes barreling off in a different direction and doesn’t stop until it reaches the most absurd possible conclusion. There’s plenty of body horror in here, and it’s not for the squeamish, but Kago’s crisp, realistic style gives it an antiseptic feeling as well—which makes it all the more powerful when everything disintegrates.

Dr. Stone, by Riichiro Inagaki and Boichi
You’d think that after all these years, the Shonen Jump people would run out of ideas for new series. Nope! This one is strangely original, yet it fits the template nicely: seems the entire world was turned to stone for 3,700 years, and a handful of survivors must recreate all of human civilization from shells, rocks, and bits of flora and fauna. Since this is a Shonen Jump manga, all the survivors (so far at least) are teenagers, and one of them is a pretty, bashful girl. That’s Yuzuriha. The others are a Senku, a science genius; Tsukasa, a powerful but amoral fighter; and Taiju, a regular guy with more brawn than brains and zero killer instinct. Since he cracked his stone shell, Senku has been devising ways to create everything needed to restore civilization, from the liquid that dissolves the stone to gunpowder—a necessity given Tsukasa’s violent tendencies. It’s a MacGyveresque survival story with a touch of Battle Royale, more than a little goofiness, and a sprinkling of fun science facts—how to make gunpowder, anyone?

Again!!, by Mitsurou Kubo
If you could do high school all over again, what would you do differently? For Kinichiro, the answer is “join the ouendan club.” Ouendan is a very particular type of cheerleading, different from the regular sort (with whom, in this series, the ouendan club is in competition). On his first day of school, Kinichiro was weirdly drawn to the captain of the squad—who was also its only member—but he never followed up. On graduation day, a fall down a flight of stairs sends him and a female classmate four years into the past, he this second time around he decides to get involved with the ouendan club and its odd captain. He could hardly do worse than he did before, as on his first try he graduated with no friends and no accomplishments to speak of. But the opposite is true of his companion on this trip back to the past, who is having a much harder time of it. The ouendan club puts an interesting spin on this time-travel high-school romance, written by one of the co-creators of the anime Yuri on Ice.

That Blue Sky Feeling, by Okura and Coma Hashii
This manga, which started out as a webcomic, is a refreshing break from the standard cliches of high school romance, particularly gay high school romance. Noshiro is the new kid in the class, and he quickly finds a crowd of his own, but he is fascinated by the loner Sanada. Sanada, for his part, doesn’t seem to be anxious to connect with anyone other than his sole female friend. When Noshiro learns that Sanada is being shunned because he is gay, his sense of fair play takes over and he insists on reaching out to the boy, refusing to be deterred by his standoffishness. By the end of the first double-size volume, the reader is a little ahead of Noshiro in realizing what is really going on—but that’s part of what makes this story feel so grounded and down to earth. For once, a high school romance in which the characters act like real people.

Hakumei & Mikochi: Tiny Little Life in the Woods, by Takuto Kishiki
This is a manga about two tiny little women who live in the woods, just as it says on the cover, although their tininess isn’t always obvious. Their cuteness is, however, always on full display. Rotund and adorable, they go about their business in this slice-of-tiny-life manga, riding beetles to get around, cooking up things from herbs and mushrooms, and meeting up with friends to have tiny little adventures. Kishiki’s art is both cute and super detailed, which is not an easy look to pull off. It works here: this series is delightful both visually and as a fun, relaxing read.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls, by Akiko Higashimura
This is a smart comedy about a single woman who is worried her chances at marriage are dwindling, even though she’s not so sure that’s what she wants anyway. When career woman Rinko goes out drinking with her two best friends to celebrate her 33rd birthday, the food on her plate starts talking to her, questioning all her life choices so far. Not only does Rinko have to debate with a liver steak and a piece of cod milt, but she and her friends also get a scolding from a guy at the bar. Soon her world starts to fall apart, as she loses a scriptwriting gig thanks to that outspoken bar patron (who turns out to be a model) and the guy she thinks is going to propose asks out her barely-legal assistant instead. Fed up with it all, she decides she will get married by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020. That may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it’s a very entertaining disaster, especially when the talking bar snacks get into the act.

The Bride Was a Boy, by Chii
This charming single-volume manga, done in a loose, diary-comic style, is a memoir of the author’s romance and marriage. It’s also a cheery account of transgender life and the complications that come not only with being transgender but with going through the transition. It’s very down-to-earth, as Chii explains the practical aspects, including some legal matters that are specific to Japan, and it also reads nicely as a breezy, fun romance.

Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction, by Inio Asano
Aliens invade Tokyo but are beaten back by the local defense forces. That’s not what this manga is about, though—by the time we meet high-schoolers Koyama Kadode and Nakagawa Oran, the invasion is three years in the past, and while the spaceship continues to hover over the city, as the story opens, the aliens themselves are nowhere to be seen. This sense of heaviness and anticipation pervades the two girls’ worlds; Kadode’s father disappeared during the invasion, and her mother is barely coping, while Oran is fascinated by conspiracy theories she finds online. The two girls go about what passes for everyday life, playing video games and texting each other, but this is Asano, so there’s a lot more going on as well, including Kadode’s attraction to her teacher and a lot of political-military stuff that shows up on the news although the girls mostly ignore it. Asano regards this as lighter than his other manga (Goodnight PunPun, solanin) , which isn’t saying a lot, but it’s definitely interesting to see him take his considerable talents in a new direction.

City, by Keiichi Arawi
Arawi, the creator of the surreal school comedy nichijou,brings his talents to a slightly more structured story about slightly older characters. City follows Midori, a broke college student, through the streets of a large city where she has one encounter after another with friends, her landlady, the local policeman…This series has a similar vibe to nichijou, with short scenes, goofy characters, slapstick humor, and plenty of non sequiturs, but it feels a bit more like a traditional narrative, albeit one that is still shooting off in eight different directions at once.

Silver Spoon, by Hiromu Arakawa
If you were asked how Arakawa would follow up her legendary shonen fantasy Fullmetal Alchemist, how many of you would have guessed “a comedy about animal husbandry”? Unexpected or no, this series is undeniably charming, a slice-of-rural-life tale follows high school student Yuugo Hachiken, who escapes from his overbearing father by enrolling in an agricultural school in Hokkaido. Of course, it’s not what he expects at all, and there’s plenty of humor to be found whenever a city boy winds up in the country. Brainy Yuugo quickly learns farming is about a lot more than book smarts, and his stiff demeanor soon begins to crumble under the onslaught of his charming classmates, all of whom are more attuned to agricultural life than he is (and herein is revealed the series’ shonen DNA). In the end, just as Fullmetal Alchemist was about growing up more than it was alchemy, Silver Spoon is about more than just cows and pigs—it’s the story of a young man coming into his own.

The Best Ongoing Series

The Promised Neverland, by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu
The orphans who live at Grace Field House are a happy lot, well fed and cheerful, and headed to good homes: almost all of them are adopted out by the time they turn 11. Or so they think: In fact, the orphans are being fattened up to be fed to monsters on the outside. Emma and Norman, two of the older children, discover what is happening and enlist their super-brainy friend Ray to help them plot an escape. It’s not easy, with the seemingly benign “Mom” (and later, a less pleasant “Sister”) looking over them and an elaborate security system keeping them penned on the farm. They have to outwit their captors and get away before they are “adopted”—and Emma insists they rescue all the children, even the youngest, something the others don’t believe they can do. This story has all kinds of tension coming from all different directions: some allies are untrustworthy, some seeming successes are really double-crosses, and danger lurks around every corner. It’s a smart, suspenseful, beautifully drawn dark-fantasy manga, and one of the most addictive series running.

My Hero Academia, by Kohei Horikoshi
My Hero Academia is a superhero story set in a world where almost everyone has a weird, limited superpower, called a quirk, and the most powerful and best known superheroes are celebrities. Izuku Midoriya is one of the few born without a quirk, but what he lacks in talent, he makes up for in earnestness and studiousness, and in the first volume a washed-up superhero, All Might, bestows his own power on the young man, which gets him into the prestigious Hero Academy, a school for superheroes. The students don’t spend much time on lessons, because there’s always some villain crashing in or a practical exam cooked up by the bizarre faculty, and in addition, there’s the competition between Midoriya and his longtime nemesis and bully, Katsuki Bakugo. My Hero Academia combines the earnestness of superhero comics with the core elements of shonen manga—a plucky hero, quirky side characters, plenty of battles, and a dash of fanservice. What really makes the story a delight, though, is Horikoshi’s endlessly inventive imagination, as he populates the story with scores of odd-looking characters with abilities that really are more “quirks” than superpowers.

Tokyo Ghoul: re, by Sui Ishida
Tokyo Ghoul: re picks up its story directly from Tokyo Ghoul, and it’s almost impossible to describe it without spoiling the original series. Suffice it to say we are back in the world of ghouls and ghoul hunters, where the lines between humans and ghouls are sometimes blurred. This series follows a team of ghoul investigators who receive organ implants from ghouls in order to gain some of their powers without losing their humanity. Together they hunt the most notorious ghouls and try to tear down the ghouls’ organizations, but the past starts to catch up with them. Like the original Tokyo Ghoul, this series is filled with dark secrets, bloody battles, and unforgettable characters.

One Punch Man, by ONE and Yusuke Murata
One Punch Man should have been a one-joke manga, a spoof about a blasé superhero who is so strong he can dispatch any enemy with a single punch, which makes his life boring. The fact that ONE and Murata have been able to spin it out into so many volumes, and keep it entertaining, is a testament to their creative skills. Like My Hero Academia, it is filled with goofy superheroes and grotesque villains, as well as plenty of fighting, all done with tongue firmly in cheek. You get the feeling that both creators sit down and just dream up as many crazy characters as they can, then figure out a plot to set them all in motion at once. It’s funny, it’s full of action, and it never gets old.

The Golden Kamuy, by Satoru Noda
Although it’s set in the northern region of Hokkaido, not the Yukon, this series has a Jack London feel to it. Saichi Sugimoto, who earned the nickname “The Immortal” during the Russo-Japanese War, heads north to prospect for gold, hoping to accumulate enough wealth to pay for medical treatment for his best friend’s widow. When a fellow prospector tells him of a hidden treasure, the game is afoot. The first complication is that the only map to the treasure is tattooed on the skins of a group of escaped prisoners, so Sugimoto must track them down one by one. The other complication is that despite his battle skills, he’s not really equipped to deal with the rigors of the Hokkaido wilderness. Fortunately, he meets Asirpa, one of the indigenous Ainu people of the region, and with that, this becomes a buddy story of sorts, as the grizzled soldier and the young native girl go after the human puzzle pieces, one at a time, while battling the others who are running after the treasure as well. Gory, action-packed, and beautifully drawn, this series is filled with intriguing details of Ainu life as well as quiet moments and suspenseful battles. Jack London would have loved it!

Delicious in Dungeon, by Ryoko Kui
When a foodie manga meets a dungeon-fantasy manga, you get Delicious in Dungeon,a series about a group of adventurers who run out of food so they start eating the monsters they are slaying. But how will Laois and his team know what’s edible and what to cook? Other adventurers contribute their knowledge, and a fair amount of experimentation goes on as well. Kui leavens the story with quite a bit of humor, and like Astra: Lost in Space, this series is filled with critters and plants that are familiar enough to be plausible but different enough to look weird—and a little unsettling. And lest you worry the dish will get stale after a few volumes, it’s also worth mentioning: there’s a compelling ongoing narrative here, too: not just about the strange secrets of the dungeon, but in the relationships between the lovable cast of misfits at its center.

Behind the Scenes, by Bisco Hatori
Hatori, the creator of Ouran High School Host Club and Millennium Snow, mixes up some standard manga tropes with a gang of creative characters in this story about a college student who joins the Art Squad, the crew that creates props, costumes, and settings for film students. It’s a bit like Paradise Kiss, with a fairly normal character finding not only self-confidence but a sense of belonging among a group of crazy creative people. Ranmaru, the lead character of Behind the Scenes, comes from a fishing town and doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, but it turns out that he has some unique skills that are valuable to the Art Squad. Of course, the Art Squad has some strong personalities as well, and Hatori makes the most of the many opportunities it offers for conflict and drama. This manga is not too demanding on the brain, but it’s a lot of fun to read.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, by Akira Himekawa
The two-woman team that goes by Akira Himekawa has been drawing manga based on The Legend of Zelda games for years, but this series breaks new ground for them: It’s darker and more nuanced than their earlier work. While it follows the basic plot of the game of the same name, this series stands well on its own and is worth reading not just for the story but also for the characters and settings, as they bring the elements of the game to life. (Want to know more? Check out my interview with Akira Himekawa.)

Astra Lost in Space, by Kento Shinohara
The first rule of manga is that all school trips go awry. This one goes spectacularly awry, as a group of high school students go to space camp and end up on a deserted spaceship millions of miles from home. With no communications system and limited supplies, their only option is to hopscotch from planet to planet to collect food and water on their way back to earth. Each member of the group has a unique skill set that they need to survive—one is good at identifying flora and fauna, one has a good memory, etc.—but there’s also plenty of tension, especially after it becomes clear that at least part of their situation was no accident. This is a classic setup, enlivened by a varied cast of characters and the author’s talent for creating alien flora and fauna that are familiar and weird looking at the same time. The art is clear and uncluttered, making this an especially good read for newcomers to manga.

Descending Stories, by Haruko Kumota
A story about storytellers sounds kind of meta, but this series really is a great soap opera set in the world of rakugo, traditional Japanese storytelling. At the beginning of the series, the lead character has just been released from prison, and he goes straight to the home of the rakugo master Yakumo Yurakutei VIII, begging to be his disciple. At first no one takes the young man seriously—they nickname him Yotaro, or fool—but he sticks with it, and Yakumo becomes fonder of him he introduces him gradually not only to the world of rakugo but also to the stories of his own past, including the mysterious death of his best friend and strongest rival, the storyteller Sukeroku. The third member of Yakumo’s household is Konatsu, Sukeroku’s daughter, who blames Yakumo for her father’s death and resents his insistence that rakugo is a male-only art. As the series goes on, more characters are introduced and the focus shifts back and forth between the stories and the real world. Complete in 10 volumes, this is an enthralling and memorable series.

Erased, by Kei Sanbei
At 29, Satoru Fujinuma is frustrated with his lack of success as a manga creator. He delivers pizza to make ends meet, and he doesn’t have much of a life outside of that job and his manga. Then, out of the blue, he starts moving backwards in time just a few minutes, and continues doing so until he spots what’s wrong and prevents a disaster. Then, when his mother is murdered—and he is blamed—he skips all the way back to his childhood, and he knows that he will have to stop the murder of a schoolmate and track down her killer in order to save not only his mother but also the innocent man who faces execution for the crime. Sanbei plunges us into both of Fujinuma’s worlds, his childhood and the present day of the story, with plenty of key details and realistic characters, and the resolution of the story includes a very clever twist.

To Your Eternity, by Yoshitoki Oima
Another unexpected followup to a hit series, Oima’s first major work in the wake of A Silent Voice couldn’t be more different in tone or subject matter. To Your Eternity is an apocalyptic science fantasy of sorts about a strange lifeform that begins its existence as an orb that can take on any shape, but seems to be compelled to continually evolve into ever more complex living things. It goes quickly from a rock, to moss, to a wolf, which becomes the companion of a boy living alone in a frozen wilderness. When the boy dies, it takes on his shape—but it must continue to travel, to evolve, and to die and be reborn in order to gain human qualities (both good and bad). The next phase of its journey brings it to a village where a young girl is about to be sacrificed to the local god—and for the first time, we see a flicker of humanity. A Silent Voice, was ultimately a story about bullying and forgiveness; this series has a very different setting, but the same skillful depiction of human society and emotions. With beautiful art and an ever-expanding premise, it’s definitely a keeper—the central character’s resilience in the face of the worst humanity can throw at it is oddly admirable, even when you aren’t sure the world it inhabits is worth the trouble.

What new or ongoing manga did you love most in 2018?

The post Our Favorite Manga of 2018 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

23 Pop Culture Things We’re Thankful for This Year


Even in a year as bad as 2018, there are things to be thankful for. Things that keep us going every day, and bring us joy and hope and prove that no matter how rough things get, there are still weird, wonderful pockets of pop culture that we can be appreciative of.

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