A lot of you most likely read comic books, and plenty of you love watching anime. But how many of you read manga?
If you do? Good for you. You’ll probably hate this list with a passion. If you don’t? Then here’s where I think you should start.
Naoki Urusawa Really, you can’t go wrong reading anything by Naoki Urusawa. Anime fans may have watched Monster, a cracking series focused on a sociopathic genius set in Germany. 20th Century Boys, probably Urusawa’s most famous work, was made into a movie series in Japan.
But my favourite Urusawa manga is Pluto. At the very least it’s his most sustained, consistent work.
It’s also a great entry point, being that it’s essentially a modern reworking of Tezuka’s Astro Boy. It’s truly phenomenal. In this version, Astro Boy himself is merely a bit player, the focus is on another robot – a police detective investigating the murder of other world famous robots. It has a unique sci-fi noir feel. Think Blade Runner, think Minority Report.
It’s brilliantly written, fully realized. It’s a genius angle on an already existing story and a great entry point for folks not used to reading manga.
Takehiko Inoue Takehiko Inoue is most famous for Slam Dunk – the shonen sports manga focused on basketball. That’s a phenomenal series, but Vagabond is his greatest work.
If you’re the kind of person who marvels over art, Vagabond is unmissable. It’s probably the most beautiful manga ever created. The style is… it’s unique, grounded, miraculous really.
Vagabond is a retelling of the Miyamoto Musashi story, a real life martial artist. It plays around with the details, but for me, it’s the most definitive version of a story that’s been retold endlessly.
The series is ongoing, which can always be a bummer, since Inoue is known for taking his time with these things, but seriously – this is a work of art. On every possible level.
Taiyō Matsumoto Yes, it’s a manga about Ping Pong. Yes, that’s weird. But oh my god. You’re gonna want to read this.
Ping Pong is about Ping Pong, but it’s really not. The strange scratchy art style sketches out a story that’s really about two adolescent friends struggling with the burden of talent and the fear of losing.
And the way the story twists and turns? It’s really unique among sports manga in that it’s really not predictable. It’s not the HARD WORK PREVAILS OVER ALL message seen in most shonen manga, it’s far more complicated than that. I think that’s what I love most about it. Ping Pong subverts all those tropes and is worth reading for that alone.
Inio Asano Okay, I came this close to recommending Oyasumi Punpun, Asano’s latest work, over Solanin, but I didn’t. Because for first time readers, Punpun is just super weird, super dark and almost impenetrable. I just want to say – if you read Solanin, and you like it? You have to check out Oyasumi Punpun.
But Solanin is just a better entry point.
Solanin tells the story of a group of recent university graduates, struggling with real life, struggling with money. Just struggling. I don’t want to say too much about it, but Solanin is very real. It’s a story you’re going to relate to.
It’s also relatively short. If you want to read manga, but have been turned off by the Dragonballs and Narutos of the world, this is a good place to start.
Then you can go and read Oyasumi Punpun.
Taiyō Matsumoto Sanctuary is pretty old. It ran from 1990-1995. As such it has a really unique art style that, in my opinion, really helps it stand out. It feels like it’s from a different time, with different ideas.
It also plays host to one of the most intriguing high concepts in any manga ever: two young, fiercely intelligent immigrant friends make a pact. One joins the Yakuza, the other gets into politics. Neither will rest until they are at the top of their field. Together they will transform Japan.
The end result is a cross between The Departed and Suits. But Sanctuary essentially outperforms both of them. It’s brilliantly paced, smart, and has a truly unique look to it. Sanctuary feels adult. You’ll need to suspend your disbelief at the rapid rise of these two individuals, but that’s just part of how cool this whole story is.
Hajime No Ippo
George Morikawa Outside of Slam Dunk, Hajime No Ippo might be my favourite sports manga of all time.
We follow Ippo, a diminutive, bullied son of a fisherman as he goes from wimp to world class boxer. It’s truly incredible, combining visceral fight scenes, with truly hilarious moments.
For me, the best part of Hajime No Ippo is the pacing and drama of the boxing itself. The author Morikawa has a great ability to surprise readers, integrating an encyclopedic knowledge of boxing with a gift for subverting expectations.
Be aware: Hajime No Ippo is long. Super long. The manga started in 1989 and it’s still fucking going.
Takehiko Inoue I've been trying to go for one manga per author, but I'd be doing you all a disservice if I didn't recommend REAL by Takehiko Inoue.
REAL is like an adult version of Inoue's hit manga Slam Dunk. Like that, REAL is a basketball manga, but shifts its focus to the world of wheelchair basketball. It's brilliant really. It's a sports manga, technically, but moves into slice-of-life drama throughout. It's beautifully drawn, both in terms of the art itself and the main characters. It can be heartbreaking. Above all it's real.
Tsugumi Ohba You've probably heard of Death Note. You've probably watched Death Note. Bakuman is by the same folks that created Death Note under the pen name Tsugumi Ohba.
It's a super meta story about two teenage boys trying to become mangaka — comic book artists essentially — and its genius is in the way their story reflects the type of manga they're writing in the story itself. When they try and write a battle manga, Bakuman becomes a battle manga. If they write a romance, Bakuman subtle becomes a romance manga. It's super slick.
But Bakuman is also really funny. The characters are brilliant, and evolve in unique ways throughout. It's not perfect, but it's clever and a lot of fun.
That's my list. What's yours? Any recommendations? Any glaring omissions? Let us know in the comments below.