I don’t really have to reiterate how unfortunate the NY Times Graphic Novel Gift Guide was, or express the manga community’s collective disdain of the A.V. Club’s greatest graphic novels list. This is Thanksgiving Season in the USA, so it’s more appropriate to get ready for the biggest selling weekend all year; Black Friday (or as I like to call it, “Black Sabbath”). To celebrate consumerism and the upcoming celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, or whatever else you folks out there want to celebrate, I’ve put together a pick list of some of the great manga that’s available to purchase for your friends with “otaku fever.”
This year, I wanted to try and do a “themes” list. So, there aren’t any suggestions for best shojo or best shonen this year, but rather, suggestions for foodies or horror buffs and other categories.
Please note that my list is inclusive of all series, books, and other media currently in and out of print – I did not want to limit myself to this year’s releases. Also know that this list represents my opinion, and not the golden guide to purchasing this season.
For The Guys and Gals in Tights Fan
You’ve got someone on your list who loves the superhero crowd, but hasn’t gotten into manga yet. Get them jump-started on your favorite breed of comics with these releases.
#1) Akira, Vol. 1; Kodansha Comics: MSRP $24.95 – The comic that turned into the anime that almost literally spawned the anime movement in the US, Akira is a gritty surrealist action manga that has recently been republished by the US wing of Kodansha International, Kodansha Comics.
Akira has enough action and drama to keep you enthralled. This series is a great introduction to the genre for anyone who likes the spandex nation.
#2) Ghost in the Shell, Vol. 1; Kodansha Comics: MSRP $26.99 – The comic that inspired the critically acclaimed, mind-bending anime that blends dystopian future, technology, crime, and politics into a stellar action series.
#3) Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1; Dark Horse Comics: MSRP $9.95 - Masterfully crafted, this series features a ronin samurai and his child who carries a sign: “Son for Hire, Sword for Hire.” This epic Japanese action history is a great read, and great for someone who likes the superhero business.
#4) Gantz, Vol. 1; Dark Horse Comics: MSRP $12.95 – This dark and hyperviolent manga deals with violence, death, and sexuality, and is a bridge for the spandex crowd to the world of seinen manga.
For the Independent Soul
These stories are a bit different from your average manga, and definitely capture that “indie” feel. If you’re looking for something just a bit different than what’s out there right now, then start here.
#1) Solanin; Viz Media Signature Line: MSRP $17.99 – A beautifully illustrated, slice-of-life comic that explores growing up and becoming a part of society, or, rather, what happens when you can’t be a part of society.
#2) A Drifting Life; Drawn & Quarterly: MSRP $29.95 -The manga-style autobiography of one of the most influential manga writers, Yoshihiro Tatsumi. The man revolutionized manga in the 1950s by developing the gekiga style of manga – blunt, sometimes traumatic slice-of-life stories that explored the real lives of Japanese citizens after WWII, and the dark underbelly of the booming industrial power that it would become.
#3) Me and the Devil Blues, Vol. 1; Del Rey: MSRP $19.95 – A folktale that bucks the norms of manga and delivers an excellent take on the life of musician Robert Johnson, who overnight became one of the most profound and talented blues guitarists in the 1930′s. An excellent read for blues fans, and for anyone who wants to see a glimpse into the American South in the Great Depression.
These stories have instantly captured the hearts of the manga community. From prestigious writers and artists like Naoki Urasawa, Jiro Taniguchi, and the supergroup CLAMP, these manga have hit the “must read” list for many manga enthusiasts.
#1) Pluto Vol. 1; Viz Media Sig IKKI: MSRP $12.99 – Naoki Urasawa’s re-envisioning of Astro Boy has made a real splash in the US manga market. Insightful, suspenseful, and dramatic, Pluto is the series of 2009.
#2) A Distant Neighborhood Vol. 1; Ponent Mon: MSRP $23.00 – The story of an everyman who steps back in time to relive his childhood with full knowledge of his future by the amazing Jiro Taniguchi.
#3) Clover Omnibus; Dark Horse Comics: MSRP $19.95 – The manga supergroup CLAMP has done plenty of different series, but Clover is probably their most experimental. Dark Horse made this stunning dystopian retro-mechanical masterpiece available in the early spring of 2009, but now’s a great chance to get a copy.
The last group might have been “instant classics,” but these are the actual classics. Word of caution: some of these titles may be hard to find. All are worth your time.
#1) Ode to Kirihito; Vertical Publishing: MSRP $24.95 – Tezuka is the “God of Manga” for a reason, and Ode to Kirihito is an epic adventure that combines medical drama with a powerful examination of racism, guilt, and forgiveness.
#2) Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President, Vol. 1; Viz Media: When I said some of these might be hard to find, this was the series I had in mind. This political drama is one of Viz Media‘s first projects, and it’s an excellent comic. You can find some of the volumes at places like Robert’s Corner Anime Store, and on eBay.
#3) Apollo’s Song; Vertical Publishing: MSRP $19.95 – Another Tezuka masterwork, Apollo’s Song examines the human condition and the power of love. Excellent production values make this a great bookshelf feature.
#4) To Terra, Vol. 1; Vertical Publishing: MSRP $13.95 – Author Takemiya is one of the original female “49ers” and her work is classic and powerful. Vertical presents one of her greatest series, To Terra in this expertly produced, brilliant ride through the stars.
Everyone loves food, and manga readers are no exception. Get your foodies these comics about food this holiday season.
#1) Yakitate!! Japan, Vol. 1; Viz Media: MSRP $9.99 – This goofy bread-based manga bakes food trivia and baking tips along with over-the-top humor and zany characters into a loaf of devourable comedy.
#2) Oshinbo: Vegetables a la Carte; Viz Media: MSRP $12.99 – Oshinbo is a foodie’s dream – it features Japanese cuisine and tells a story of a writer and his quest to create the ultimate menu. The original manga has been running since 1983, and these ala carte versions show off some of the many episodes of this amazing food manga.
#3) The Antique Bakery, Vol. 1; Digital Manga Publishing: MSRP $12.95 – Featuring some of the best looking sweets ever illustrated, Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery is part (gay) love triangle, part baking manga.
They’re called the funny pages for a reason, and manga proves time and again that it can be just as funny as, well “The Funnies” with these releases.
#1) Crayon Shin-Chan, Vol. 1; CMX Manga: MSRP $7.99 – Imagine a sort of South Park-infused Dennis the Menace, and you kinda get the feel for Crayon Shin-Chan. Bro-humor abounds in this classic humor series.
#2) Yotsuba&!, Vol. 1; Yen Press: MSRP $10.99 – Rediscover the world with a green-haired, four year old with more energy than the Energizer bunny. Yen Press’ recently rereleased the entire series, with brand new translations. The entire series makes a great gift!
#3) Ouran High School Host Club, Vol. 1; Viz Media: MSRP $8.99 – When a poor girl gets mistaken for a guy in one of her private school’s super elite clubs, hilarity ensues.
#4) Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking, Vol. 1; Del Rey Manga: MSRP $10.99 – Satire is just as powerful a comedic form as slapstic, and Sayonara has it in spades.
You know the type – fans of The Ring and Saw can like comic books too. Here are a few manga to tide them over until Saw 57.
#1) MPD Psycho, Vol. 1; Dark Horse Manga: MSRP $10.95 – When a serial killer finds “something special” about a seemingly innocent police detective, he is pushed into a chaotic and evil storm. Less shocking than disturbing, MPD Psycho is the Silence of the Lambs of manga.
#2) The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 1; Dark Horse Manga: MSRP $10.95 – Dark humor abounds as a group of 5 students and a hand-puppet take on the requests of the dead.
#3) Uzumaki, Vol. 1; Viz Media: MSRP $9.99 – One of the most unsettling manga series in print, Uzumaki
takes a bizarre concept and turns it into the backdrop of a series of increasingly dark vignettes.
These comics make excellent gifts for your sports fan who’s in the off-season.
#1) Eyeshield 21, Vol. 1; Viz Media: MSRP $7.99 – Football (the American version) isn’t all that big in Japan, but this manga is what got Japanese youth interested in playing. It’s reached 28 translated volumes already!
#2) My Heavenly Hockey Club, Vol. 1; Del Rey manga: MSRP $10.95 – Hana love eating and sleeping, but somehow gets convinced to join the all-guys hockey team with the promise of hotel resorts and good food. When she can’t play, she gets replaced by a bear? You’ve gotta read it to believe it.
#3) Ninja Baseball Kyuma, Vol. 1; Udon Entertainment: MSRP $7.99 – A comedy of misunderstanding, a young ninja in training is convinced to join the local youth baseball league, but doesn’t understand that baseball isn’t a battlefield! Great for younger kids.
Alright, there’s the list. Now get out there and get shopping! Happy Thanksgiving, USA folk. I’ll be back next week with some musings on the SIG IKKI website.