I’ve kind of strayed from superhero comics lately.
As much as I love them, I don’t find them to be satisfying reads at the moment. Hopefully I’ll go back to them one day, but I will never stop reading comics! So recently, I have been shifting my attention towards manga. Manga is something I’ve had a strange relationship with over the years. It’s a very overwhelming and intimidating genre – there is so much of it, and it’s hard to know where to start. Also, there is the general perception that manga isn’t as good as mainstream American comics – that the art is very samey, and that the characters aren’t very ‘deep’. Well, having read quite a bit of it recently, I’ve found that that’s not the case at all – the art is often very beautiful and intricate, and the characters are often breathtakingly human and surprisingly ‘real’. In fact, I think many manga characters are more fully realised than most DC/Marvel characters at the moment.So anyway, if you are new to manga, here are my recommendations of some of the best.
My experience of Akira (in fact, the first manga I ever read) was quite odd! I started reading it and really wasn’t that bothered… And then suddenly – probably in the middle of Book Two, it just grabbed me, and after that, I was hurtling through the pages. In fact, that’s a sign of the best manga, that you simply cannot stop reading it, you can’t put it down, and you feel almost guilty for speeding through a page that must have taken days to create. But this is the joy of manga – that one 20-page chapter could include just one breath-taking fight scene.
To me, the Akira manga seems much better than the Akira movie – the movie was good but only tells a fraction of the story in the manga.
One of the good things about Death Note is that it only consists of 12 volumes (instead of dozens of volumes which take over your house, like a lot of other manga!). It’s the story of a teenager who comes into possession of a demon’s notebook – and whoever’s name he writes in the book, dies! The teenager starts to get carried away with it all, and it’s up to detective L – one of the best ever manga characters – to stop him. This is an amazing, intricate, psychological supernatural crime drama – it’ll keep you turning the pages!
This is so much fun. It’s about groups of different people who die and then are transported to the Gantz Room – a mysterious room in Tokyo with a huge ball in it containing an alien (?) man? The ‘recruits’ are then sent on missions to kill specific aliens – and it often helps if they wear their cosplay-style Gantz suits which give them special abilities (if they forget to wear them, it often doesn’t work out very well for them…). So think of ‘boss battles’ in a computer game, and that’s pretty much what we have here. If they defeat the alien and survive, they are then sent back to their old lives – until the next battle!
Gantz is great because it’s so innovative and unpredictable – it’s simple but clever. Members of the cast die frequently (and sometimes very brutally and violently), and you never know who or what they’re going to face next! It would make a great live-action TV series – come on, Beeb!
20th Century Boys
This is just incredible. It’s about a group of grown-up school-friends and one of their old school-chums has become an evil cult leader who plans to take over the world (actually, my description makes it sound rubbish – it’s good, honestly!). The story leaps all over the place, from character to character, and into flashbacks too. The mysteries are piled on and it’s impossible to stop reading it.
This story is an incredible achievement – it’s unbelievably epic, and the art is stunningly accomplished.Also recommended, by the same creator, is Pluto. It’s only 8 volumes long, but it’s a masterpiece. It actually tells a ‘modern day’ version of an old Astro Boy cartoon, which may sound odd, but it’s one of the most compelling, dramatic, exciting and emotional manga of all time.
This is my current favourite! It’s by the creators of Death Note, but it’s completely different. It follows the lives of two schoolkids who want to become successful manga creators – and they start to achieve their dream! It then follows their story, and the stories of the other manga creators they work alongside.This is an odd manga, because there is no real ‘action’ in it, but it’s still really compelling. You fall in love with each character, and it’s full of fun, comedy, romance and drama. Occasionally, it does get a bit wordy or tends to go round in circles, but the character moments really make up for that. The best thing about Bakuman, though, is that it is really inspirational – every time I read it, I just want to make more comics! Any comic creator should check this book out.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no expert on manga – all I’m doing is recommending things I’ve enjoyed myself – and there are probably plenty more series out there that I could have also mentioned.
Before I go, I will mention just three more:
One Piece: I’m just starting to get into this, but all my friends are hooked. This book sells in the milions, which is incredible – and it’s nice to know – with a lot of comic sales falling – that people will still buy comic books!
Naruto: everyone knows Naruto, and it’s nice to have a book that younger readers can enjoy too. I have only just started reading this, but it looks pretty epic.
Vagabond: a sprawling epic about a warrior. What I really like about this is the artwork, which has a more back-to-basics illustrative quality about it. Beautiful.
Grab your copy of Spandex here and watch out for our interview and review soon