Manga is the Japanese word for comics, and it encompasses all comics made in Japan, spanning every genre. Unlike comics in the United States that tend to feature superheroes in world-saving mode, manga covers just about every genre — and in Japan people of all ages read comics.
A few things to know before you start reading manga:
Manga is available in every genre, so you’re sure to find a manga that aligns with your favorite genres of fiction, including action, adventure, business and commerce, comedy, detective, drama, historical, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and fantasy, erotica, sports and games… anything you can think of.
Manga is a really fun way to understand more about Japan and the Japanese culture. Because the sujects of manga are so far-ranging, you get a peek at everyday life, as well as dramatic stories. Japanese artists are so skilled at immersing you in a world that can feel very different from our lives in the West.
Manga is read from right to left. So when you pick up a book of manga to read, the spine will be on the right, and yes, it feels a little strange at first. You also read the panels inside from right to left, top to bottom.
Finally, this video from the British Museum is a fascinating look at manga as an art form:
Manga was my introduction to the world of comics, and continues to be the home of my favorite stories. Here are five titles that I recommend as a good place to start if you’ve never read any manga before. If you’re a manga fan, share some of your favorite titles in the comments!
For those who like mystery and sci fi, 20th Century Boys may be for you. It’s the story of Kenji Endo who reunites with his childhood friends to stop a dangerous cult from destroying the world. Although, that’s a simple way to look at everything that happens.
It’s 22 volumes of story, but don’t let that scare you off. It reads fluidly, and Urusawa’s art is nothing short of revelatory.
This was one of the first series I ever read. It’s the story of Ranma Saotome, a boy who turns into a girl whenever cold water is poured on him. And hot water turns him back.
There’s also a giant panda, who is Ranma’s Dad. It’s a whole thing.
The point being, this is a hilarious, innovative, and romantic series. It holds a very special place in my heart.
OK! My list is very biased, but… This is my favorite manga of all time, and I’m putting it on here just because I love it and I want you to love it to.
The author Yoshihiro Togashi is crazy (in a very good way) and so talented. To begin with, Hunter x Hunter is about the Hunter Exam: a life-threateningly challenging test that people take to become a Hunter. Enter Gon, our plucky protagonist who is very talented with a fishing pole. He goes off to take the test, and stories ensue.
I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a blast. The characters in this series are some of my lifetime favorites.
I can’t make a manga list without Tezuka. Though there are aspects to his work that make me say YIKES, he is a vital a part of manga history as is possible. Buddha is his eight-book series that is vaguely about the history of Buddhism, but mostly it’s an excuse for him to tell a sweeping story with all his usual trappings: adventure, suffering, and a little romance.
His work is darker than the others I’ve recommended, and that’s probably why I like it so much. Tezuka is famous for Astroboy, but I would send you to Buddha first. I think this series really takes you into his mind and heart, and even though it’s not perfect, it’s a fascinating place to go.
This series stands apart from the others, mostly because Matsumoto’s style is much more loose and evocative than standard manga.
Sunny follows a group of kids in a children’s home, and I can promise ALL THE FEELS with this one. Matsumoto has truly mastered the art of capturing the loneliness and rampart imagination of childhood. Also, I really wish I could draw like he does.
Top image courtesy of Ned Snowman.
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