So, I like Manga. That’s not something that I might have said only a few years ago, simply because I hadn’t read anything that really grabbed me; there was nothing that pulled me away from North American comics, or so I thought. Then I started digging around and chatting with fellow All-Comic contributor Nick Rowe—who has some big-time Manga knowledge— and I started to dive into the vast pool that is Manga.
Below you’ll find the top ten books that I personally recommend to anybody that’s interested in trying their hand at Manga. The first few volumes you read will be a little challenging on the brain because you do read it “backwards” compared to the N.A. comics, but push through it. It’s more than worth it.
10. All You Need Is Kill
This is a quick, two volume manga that will give you an introduction to a series without having to be tied down to a twenty+ volume series. All You Need Is Kill written by Ryosuke Takeuchi and illustrated by Takeshi Obata (Death Note, Bakuman) is the manga series—based on the light novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka—that Edge of Tomorrow, with Tom Cruise, is based off of. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t compare them, but just based on the title change it’s probably pretty safe to say that the manga is going to be better.
Being only two volumes, this is a quick pick-up at relatively little cost that has a small taste of the kinds of things you might find in manga. Obviously, there are tons of variations and genres available, but, again, this is just a taste. It’s like Groundhog Day to insane extremes, plus if you follow this list it gives you a nice sample of some of the insane art that Takeshi Obata is capable of.
9. Dragon Ball Z
Come on, it’s Dragon Ball Z. It’s rare to find someone who hasn’t watched this anime, so I feel it’s a great way to get into manga by reading the volumes that inspired such a huge franchise. Dragon Ball Z ran from late 1984 to mid-1995 in Weekly Shonen Jump—a magazine that features various chapters of different series each week in Japan. There’s an English version as well, currently available on Comixology—and if you’re already a fan of the anime there’s not a whole lot that’s left to explain to you. Dragon Ball Z is amazing, plainly put, and since you already know the stories and the characters what better way is there to check out some manga than revisiting those characters and stories you’ve come to love.
You can pick these up in individual volumes, in the VIZ Media 3-in-1 editions or the large, full color editions. Personal preference is the 3-in-1, more bang for the buck and being black and white, with the odd color page, is more in line with how the manga was originally created.
8. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin
Mobile Suit Gundam probably sounds familiar to you, so this might be another series that grabs you simply based on a previous love of Gundam Wing, or even a half-assed knowledge of that anime. The Origin is published by Vertical and comes in amazingly beautiful, hardcover editions. Written and illustrated by Yoshikazu Yashuiko, The Origin is a retelling of the 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam anime. It starts off a little slow, but picks up speed as we get to see more of what these Gundam units can do. So far (and yeah, I’m not finished it yet) it’s been surprisingly good and you absolutely can’t go wrong picking this one up.
This might be one of the more popular manga series ever, and it’s fair to assume to most people have probably heard of it or seen images of Naruto the character at some point. Naruto is a ninja-centric manga and it ran from 1999 to 2014 and covers 72 volumes. I know what you’re saying, though: It’s a huge freaking series and who wants to jump into something like that?! Well, with Naruto and other series of its size at least you know that you can read it at your own pace. Based on sales and everything else, it’s highly unlikely it’s going to go out of print any time soon, and since there are no more new chapters coming you don’t have to worry about trying to catch up to the series and then pick it up with Jump, for example.
I think the first chapter or two of Naruto starts off rather slow, but push through it. Some very interesting characters are coming and, worst case, if you get bored a few volumes in you can stop and probably sell the copies (assuming you didn’t wreck them by reading them) on eBay and still make back some money. It’s that popular.
6. Assassination Classroom
This is a strange one, to say the least. Assassination Classroom follows an alien with all kinds of crazy speed and tricks who will destroy the Earth unless he can be killed before that time. His suggestion is to let him teach a class at a junior high school and let the students try to kill him in the process—the government has put up 10 Billion Yen to whoever can kill him. He teaches them regular courses as well as assassination skills and it’s… well, it’s just a crazy series.
This crazy, octopus-like teacher who can travel at Mach 20 against a bunch of kids who are at the bottom of their school sounds like something stupid, right? Well, it’s not. It sounds very manga/anime friendly too, right? It’s really a good example of some of the crazier stories you can find in manga without scaring the reader off. It’s definitely a story you need to come to with an open mind, but trust me it’s worth it in the end.
5. One-Punch Man
This is where the list gets a little shaky simply because any of these next five series, frankly, could be sitting at the number one spot. But, for arguments sake, let’s just go with this. One-Punch Man was created by ONE as a webcomic, for fun (when you read the series that will be funny) and eventually it was picked up and the art was updated by Yusuke Murata for publication. A lot of people are talking about this series right now, particularly because the anime is doing so well in Japan and the NA markets, and for good reason.
One-Punch Man pokes fun at, and pays homage to, a lot of the stereotypes with battle manga series, like Dragon Ball Z, but it does it in a fresh, exciting way. Gone are the pages and pages of speedy battles that seem to last volume after volume in favor of a hero who is so unbelievably strong that, you guessed it, he can finish any opponent with just one punch. It’s an amazing series, with fantastic art and it’s absolutely a must for anybody that wants to check out battle manga but may be a little tarnished at the thought of long, dragged out battles (a la Dragon Ball Z anime). It’s available digitally on ComiXology or physically and there’s currently ten volumes.
Now Bakuman is something else. So far, there’s been a lot of battle manga–it’s popular and when done right it’s awesome–but Bakuman is more of a story manga. It centers on two high school students that desperately want to create a manga and have it become popular and eventually become an anime. The reason, aside that it’s become an obsession, is a little silly–the artist and a girl promise to marry each other when their ‘dreams come true”–and at times that part of the story can get to be a little much, but after a few volumes of it, it kind of just blends into the story and it becomes a break before they get back to work or back into the thick of it. Bakuman is great; there’s highs and lows, great art, fantastic character work, and it’s extremely interesting to catch a glimpse into the world of being a professional manga creator.
That’s the biggest draw, of course, and both Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata absolutely nail it. They also manage a few great cliff hangers in between volumes that will make you pull out your hair until you can find out what happens. Bastards. Bakuman is twenty volumes, and there’s a great box set for it that will save you money if you want to just dive right in. If you curious about the industry in Japan and want to experience some awesome manga than look no further than Bakuman.
3. Death Note
Maybe it’s just the mark of good creators, but Ohba and Obata are back on this list with Death Note. Ho-ly is this an insane series (and anime, if interested. Still read the manga though.) Running from 2003 to 2006, this series spawned twelve volumes and if the first couple are any indication, buckle up for a wild ride. Death Note is about a boy who finds a book that a death god dropped. He then can write down names of people in the book and no matter what, they will die. He can choose to write down how and when, or just write the name down and the person will drop of a heart attack.
What makes it so good, aside from the fantastic character designs and overall look and feel, is the battle between the main character and the people that are after him for taking the law, so to speak, into his own hands. The back and forth is intense and how he manages to wiggle his way out of his situations is always interesting. It’s a battle of wits, mixed with gods of death and it couldn’t be any cooler. Death Note sits at number three for a reason. Pick this up in single editions or the special “black” editions that include two volumes in one and look very sexy on your shelf.
2. Vinland Saga
From creator Makoto Yukimura, Vinland Saga is a Viking manga to end all manga. Its out, in english, from Kodansha and is one of the craziest things you’ll get to experience. The art is bananas, for real, and aside from the usual manga embellishments, it actually has some historical information. Yukimura and his assistants have so much speed and movement during their fight scenes I don’t even think this needs an anime (though it would be nice and I would totally be into that). There’s just something about the way he expresses how these characters move that makes the story flow like silk.
It’s Vikings, the art is some of the best around, and the story is enthralling, so obviously I like i,t but I’m going to really push this book on you now because it’s in danger of having the special hardcover omnibus editions cancelled from Kodansha. Sales are low, for some insane reason, and this books needs to stay alive. Makoto Yukimura is a fantastic creator and this book more than deserves to be published in English so go out and buy it! Right now. Then you can come back and find out what number one is. Just leave this page open, I’ll be here when you come back.
This is it. This eight volume series absolutely blew me away. After reading the first two volumes in one sitting, I immediately went back to the comic shop and picked up a few more. Pluto takes the classic Tezuka story “The Greatest Robot on Earth”, aka Astro Boy, and he takes it to a whole new level. Naomi Urasawa pays the utmost respect to the king of manga with this story and more than solidifies his place amongst some of the best creators today. Urasawa’s art his heartbreakingly awesome. That is to say, it’s phenomenally executed and the expressions he can do with just a few lines can express even the subtlest emotion. Theres one moment in particular, over a robot dog, that just tugs on the heart strings with one simple panel and it’s utterly amazing.
I can’t say that, so far, too many artists in manga have been able to convey such massive amount of emotion while still having fast, exciting battles and one hell of a story. Here, whether or not it’s based on Tezuka’s original story, Urasawa is untouchable. Even with all the stellar books on this list, and the ones that will get honourable mention after, Pluto stands out as the best series I’ve read so far. It’s just the right length and has a little bit of something for everybody. If you ignore a lot of my suggestions here, do not ignore this one.
Okay, there it is. Your guide to ten series that can get you hooked on manga if you’ve never ventured down that road before. Is there a lot of battle manga here? Sure, but there’s some series that will absolutely surprise you here. For our honourable mention, absolutely check out Biomega, Deadman Wonderland, Platinum End, Attack on Titan, Toriko, Bleach, Ajin: Demi Human and more. Hey, if you’re even remotely interested in a book, pick it up. Most single volumes are inexpensive, considering what you get.