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Ten English-translated Manga to Recommend to the Graphic Novel Connoisseur 
21st-Oct-2005 08:25 pm
Here is a list to give to the reader of graphic novel literature a la Maus or Persepolis who has not yet experienced manga or has not been able to separate the gems from the junk. (Alas, what is popular is not necessarily what is good, and American publishers are generally only interested in the former, so pickings are rather slim.)

A, A' by HAGIO, Moto - A minor sci-fi work from one of the greatest Japanese manga artists.

Banana Fish by YOSHIDA, Akimi - Consistently ranked the best manga title ever by readers. A gang/Mafia thriller.

Death Note by OHBA, Tsugumi and OBATA, Takeshi - Surprisingly good, especially the first story arc.

Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga by AIHARA, Koji and TAKEKUMA, Kentaro - Everything you ever wanted (or didn't want, as the case may be) to know about manga...played for laughs.

Nodame Cantabile by NINOMIYA, Tomoko - An eccentric romantic comedy.

Phoenix by TEZUKA, Osamu - The God of Manga's magnum opus.

Planetes by YUKIMURA, Makoto - A sci-fi story that takes itself quite seriously. Not bad.

Secret Comics Japan by various - A glimpse into the world of avant-garde manga publishing.

Short Cuts by FURUYA, Usamaru - Clever, hilarious, and technically-perfect even when there's no deep message.

Tramps Like Us by OGAWA, Yayoi - Addresses feminist and post-feminist concerns of contemporary Japanese women.

22nd-Oct-2005 04:09 am (UTC)

Planetes I raved about before (anime then the manga which I read in both English and French (bought the latter)).

Tramps like us (Kimi wo Pet -- Au pied, cheri) I'm presently reading the first volume (in French) and quite enjoying.

Finaly... Banana Fish I'm waiting for the first 3 volumes in English. I was not able to see a copy of the French one before ordering and the color of the paper scared me :P

The others I don't know...
22nd-Oct-2005 11:37 am (UTC)
I personally don't like Planetes very much, but I was trying to generate a list of manga for the non-manga comic book reader. It's very difficult...there really isn't that much of quality available in English. Most of it is just stuff that's been done millions of times before.
22nd-Oct-2005 01:14 pm (UTC)
I like Planetes because it's different. It does not feel like a recipe like too many other manga seems to be... so we have sci-fi without the annoying robots or the sounds of battle in space *retch* and they are regular Joe people doing a not very glamourous job but it gets to be for us because of the location.
24th-Oct-2005 04:53 pm (UTC)
Interesting list. Phoenix is one of my favorites and most of the rest are on my want-to-read list. (I'm unfamiliar with Nodame Cantabile, but it's very much on my radar now.)

I'm not sure if I agree about the inclusion of Banana Fish, though. I enjoyed it quite a bit when it was flipped (I've found myself a bit frozen between picking up where the flipped editions left off or having an unflipped collection) but I wonder if readers unfamiliar with Japanese culture would be turned off by the sexuality of the title (the casual attitude to child molestation, the androgyny themes and the non-relationship of Ash and Eiji).

It's a good title, but I wonder if someone uninitiated to manga would have a problem. It was the first manga series I picked up (back in the days when it was the only title that bordered on boys love) but I've become more hesitant after a friend had a bad reaction to my Tuxedo Gin recommendation.
24th-Oct-2005 05:52 pm (UTC)
Gotta remember that I'm recommending books that would appeal to the mature, highbrow literary segment, which is damn difficult to do in the first place because the English pickings are so slim. (Great things to read in Japanese? Well, the sky's the limit!) These are NOT recommendations going out to people who read superhero comics or even independent press comics; that's a totally different niche.

I recommend Banana Fish widely; it's one of the few shoujo manga that had a large and unashamed (read: non-otaku) male readership (in spite of the homoerotic themes), and, as I said, it is consistently ranked as the single best manga of all time. Quite frankly, there's nothing else like it around, and some of the other titles I've recommended have strong sexual content as well, so...
24th-Oct-2005 06:20 pm (UTC)
It's good to hear you've had success in recommending Banana Fish. I've avoided recommending that title for the sexual themes, but your experience encourages me to recommend it. Upon reflection, I think it's the only manga I've successfully recommended, but that was to a woman who I expected wouldn't have a big problem with the sexual themes (or rather the perceptions of sexuality that show up in Banana Fish).

Generally, I find cultural differences the biggest challenge in introducing manga. One friend thought Tuxedo Gin bordered on bestiality themes, another found Uzumaki too weird to be scary, the friend to whom I recommended Fake couldn't get over trying to figure out how to label Dee and Ryo (mostly having a hard time accepting Ryo as a twentysomething virgin).
15th-Nov-2005 03:24 pm (UTC)
Hmmm, thinking this over a bit I remembered a title I'd bring up... for the purposes of this list what do you think of Hikaru No Go? Nothing on the list strikes me as something that would fit an "all-ages" category, what would you recommend to someone who enjoys GNs like Owly, Electric Girl or Amy Unbound?
15th-Nov-2005 03:45 pm (UTC)
Hikago is a formulaic shounen manga of which they are literally thousands of examples. If you want to recommend something for the younger set, pretty much any Shounen Jump title would do. I did not generate this list on the basis of what is popular--it's on the basis of what is actually GOOD, and those two categories don't overlap all that much. It was also written with the assumption that the readers would be adults and most likely academics.
15th-Nov-2005 07:13 pm (UTC)
I guess my question is if there are manga titles you would recommend that are aimed at children but are also enjoyed by adults as being an intelligent read.

I'm starting to wonder, that perhaps this is another point where the two markets don't meet, like with romance comics aimed at older teens? In the American comics scene, any all-ages comic that's not tied to a licensed property is coming from a small publisher, who usually has to appeal to a smarter, more demanding audience. Thus any graphic novel aimed at children has to appeal to adults first, since there are too many hurdles for a child to discover these titles on their own. I mentioned Owly earlier, it comes from the publisher of Blankets and The Mirror of Love; it had to appeal to that audience before it could draw customers who don't usually consider Top Shelf's catalog. I was wondering if there was manga that captured that sort of dynamic.

Hikaru came to mind for me because some of the graphic novel enthusiasts I know (who's taste range from Optic Nerve to the Legion of Super-Heroes) have taken a liking to that series. (I wonder if some of the enjoyment may be a matter of getting a cultural education, as much of what is depicted in the first two volumes is foreign and unknown even to Americans familiar with Japanese pop culture.) I'm not sure if it really fits the niche I'm wondering about, but it's the closest my mind could remember.
30th-Nov-2005 02:07 am (UTC) - Good list... but
I'm late to this entry--a manga friend sent me the link just the other day.

Great list overall. I'm a manga fan who leans predominently towards shoujo, and usuallys houjo aimed at the older age groups (ie something from Hana to Yume or Cookie magazines and not Nakayoshi or Ribon magazines). It still amazes me when I go into a comic store at the shear volume of titles out there--I can remember as a teen when I'd buy any manga title that was remotely shoujo no matter what the interest just cuz there was so little--now there's an endless list of titles, and unfortunatley more and more that seem virtually interchangeable.

A Prime is a title I've given to a number of my friends (mainly peopel I knew appreciated comics but hadn't read too much manga) and they all loved. It's great but it is unfortunate that it's the only translated work by any of the "'49ers"--the first great group of shoujo female manga-ka--and it's not even one of the more important or famous works by the great Moto Hagio. With the diversity of all the manga titles being done now I'm still pretty shocked that Hagio (the shoujo equivalent to Tezuka if you ask me) is still virtually ignored here--besides the out of print edition of They Were 11 in Four Shojo Stories too. Either a classic like Poh Family, or a controversial more recent title like Cruel God Reigns would be most welcome.

Also great to see Banana Fish on the list. Again, this is a title I've lent out to many people I knew who liked comics but hadn't read much manga and, even more so than A Prime, everyone loved it. About the sexuality issue--most of the guys I know who've read it are gay or at least pretty sexually open so that never played a part--but I don't think it would with most openminded readers.

Like one poster said here the switch in format caused me to pause for a bit (I've decided I'll buy up the non flipped editions of volumes I already have later when I have more cash and just focus on the new volumes) but I was quite worried that it would be dropped--so am pleased it's still around. For all its fame in Japan and as a title, I virtually *never* see it mentioned among manga/anime fans online or in person, or see it refered to on sites--I think maybe the unshoujo look to the art sorta has it trapped between audiences here and many people would love it if they just gave it a chance.

As for other potential titles... I'm surrpised Nausicaa isn't on your list. it's a bit of a cliche to list it among the best but... it is. And I think it reads particularly well for graphic novel fans with little experience with manga as Miyazaki's manga style is closer to US comics than most (dense art with lots of text per page, etc)

Back to shoujo--I'd put Please Save My Earth somewhere there too. I just finished volume 13 (it's long at 21 volumes--and still being translated) and my mind's blown away by the layers and complexities to this series, while still keeping close to some shoujo conventions. Probably my favorite currently being translated title (and another that, perhaps cuz of the retro art, seems to be unfairly ignored by most new manga fans).
30th-Nov-2005 02:09 am (UTC) - Part two... :P

Reading the discussion, I'd like to give a vote to Ai Yazawa's Nana. I've been following the Japanese volumes so am quite a bit further than the Viz translation and I think it's pretty great. It *is* quintessential, popular, older girl college aimed shoujo--but Ai has a way with character and mixing humour and pathos that I think most of her contemporaries in very mains tream shoujo manga are lacking. Even back in the 90s with her Ribon stories (like the great Gokinjo Monogatari) she had a maturity and sophistication to her work lacking in most of the other titles aimed at the same audience (Marmalade Boy and the like). Maybe it's not on the ten greatest list but it has a lot to recommend it and is certainly more than "thelma and Louise redux" 9acutally Id on't even really see the similarity...). Paradise Kiss which she wrote concurrently with Nana is also a favorite of mine and might go over better with some audiences being a bit more detached and self deprecating (even post modern in some ways) than the pretty straightforward Nana.

I'm almost done ;) Howabout the 6 collected volumes by TokyoPop of Erica Sakurazawa's works? I think these are classified firmly as josei. I don't find much discussion fo them online but when I do people either love them as much as I do, or find them "boring" (despite being filled with booze and sex... ah well :P ). I wish they had been a bigger success as TokyoPop hasn't published anythign similar since--I found them really haunting and introspective and pretty great--in some ways reminding me of the fiction of Banana Yoshimoto.

Similar but not quite as good are the short stories of Keiko Nishi that Viz translated with Matt Thorn back when they made their first attempts at shoujo with A Prime. I think it's still in print and I've re-read them a number of times--some of the stories are better than others (Four Shojo Stories contained two more) but they have a beautiful haunting quality as well.

ANyway thanks again for the great list--already a few titles I was on the verge of buying (Cantabile) but now will try for sure.

Eric Henwood-Greer
30th-Nov-2005 04:10 am (UTC) - Re: Part two... :P
I've read all the the titles that you've mentioned. (And more. Lots more. Easily over 10,000 volumes of manga over the years. *dies* ) Listing is of course subjective; I don't particularly care for Nausicaa, for example, and think that in some respects Miyazaki is overrated. Ditto for those Sakurazawa Erica books. I did not include Please Save My Earth because it is a typical Hana to Yume title that uses an outlandish, ridiculous premise as staging for a large cast of characters and their myriad interactions. (A newer permutation of this that you're probably familiar with is Fruits Basket.) Paradise Kiss is also standard shoujo manga plotting--the only thing unusual about it, really, is Yazawa's artstyle.

Love Songs is among the weakest of Nishi Keiko's work, and I could not in good conscience recommend it. As for Four Shojo Stories, well, I would have put that one on the list (specifically for the Sato Shio story)...but it is permanently out-of-print due to copyright/contract violation, and there's no point in recommending something that is difficult to find.

I find it quite amusing that people are concerned that either A) Certain titles are too old and will therefore be unappealing and B) That certain subject matter will offend "inncoent" eyes. I generated this list for the academic type who reads Maus, not for the superhero comic book fanboy. People like this understand that age does not devalue a text out of hand and likewise are tolerant of controversial subject matter. The list would be different if the audience in question were different.
30th-Nov-2005 05:23 am (UTC) - Re: Part two... :P
I agree with your last comment--I never even thought people would feel Banana Fish would connect pedophilia and homosexuality necesarily until I read this list. It does make me curious which titles you'd put on a reverse list--graphic novels to recommend to "the academic type" who only read manga.

Just a small rant of defence on my part--Nausicaa as a manga is slightly overated I agree, though I think it would be a good crossover title. I am a big Miyazaki fan but I prefer his anime style to the denseness of his manga.

As for Please Save My Earth though--to even compare it to Fruits Basket stikes me as pretty outlandish :P In tone, style, scope, and I dare say execution it's light years away and I wouldn't even put them in the same shelf. The darkness and philosophical questions raised especially in later volumes, as well as the Rashoman style of storytelling (in terms of POV etc) are unrivaled in translated manga IMHO.

Sakurazawa's books are minor I admit and people either seem to like them or not--I wouldn't call them overated though as the view seems to be either quite mixed on them or, with most English speaking fans anyway they're simply barely known. I admit though I know nothing, and haven't been able to find much more info, of Nishi's works so have no context to put them in.

Yazawa is certainly no Hagio, but I think her work in terms of characters and plot, not just style, are above average with similar manga. One example is a friend of mine who grew up in Japan told me her mother and a group fo other parents at her junior high didn't allow them to read Gokinjo Monogatari because of its "school isn't necesarily the best place for everyone", and non conformist attitude.

You're right that the age of material shouldn't matter to the audience you intended the list for--but I still bet it would matter to some. In my experience, unexperienced manga readers who are established graphic novel fans are funny with manga art--they see onew dewey eye with flowers in the background, one 70s frilly pose, etc and form an instant impression.

30th-Nov-2005 05:41 am (UTC) - Re: Part two... :P
As for Please Save My Earth though--to even compare it to Fruits Basket stikes me as pretty outlandish :P In tone, style, scope, and I dare say execution it's light years away and I wouldn't even put them in the same shelf.

Ah, but the Japanese do! Literally. Titles with the same imprint are always shelved together and generally share the same editorial policy. Perhaps it takes a long view to see how, in fundamental ways, they are similar to each other. After awhile, it feels like the same thing over and over and over again. I suppose I should take the time to point out that Please Save My Earth operates on a very offensive basic conceit--the girl is destined to end up with the reincarnation of the man who raped her. At least in Banana Fish, Ash doesn't go off into the sunset with Dino!

I am a big Miyazaki fan but I prefer his anime style to the denseness of his manga.

That he retains so much artistic control over his work is to be commended, but that's the very reason why he's so overrated! So much of anime and manga is a collaborative effort in Japan; for a single man to do so much just by itself is remarkable, audacious, in Japanese eyes. But for me, as a Westerner, I'm less impressed by that fact in itself, and can't help but note that his animation is uneven in quality, particularly from a plotting standpoint.

Sakurazawa's books are minor I admit and people either seem to like them or not--I wouldn't call them overated though as the view seems to be either quite mixed on them

Sorry. I'm thinking about in Japan, again.

One example is a friend of mine who grew up in Japan told me her mother and a group fo other parents at her junior high didn't allow them to read Gokinjo Monogatari because of its "school isn't necesarily the best place for everyone", and non conformist attitude.

*laughs* Half the population of shoujo manga hates school. I suspect that those parents in question were just strict in general...or perhaps were especially turned off by Yazawa's more "mature," punk stylings.

It does make me curious which titles you'd put on a reverse list--graphic novels to recommend to "the academic type" who only read manga.

I don't think my experience with American graphic novels is wide enough. I know what the experts all love, but I've not read much beyond that.

In my experience, unexperienced manga readers who are established graphic novel fans are funny with manga art--they see onew dewey eye with flowers in the background, one 70s frilly pose, etc and form an instant impression.

*laughs*Which is a part of the reason I put Short Cuts on the list. Dunno if you've read that one, but it looks with a very critical (and sarcastic) eye upon Japan's obsession with the pubescent girl.
30th-Nov-2005 06:07 am (UTC) - Re: Part two... :P
Fair replies--and I enjoy reading your thoughts.

About PSME I think we're gonna have to agree to disagree (although it bears pointing out that a discussion of Fruits Basket wouldn't go into such controversies). I don't think that "You're destined to fall back in love with your rapist thru the generations" is one of the themes of PSME and I think it deals with the subject much more seriously and with much more depth than that--and that's one thign I love about the manga. Rape is an extremely sensitive issue to me for a variety of reasons I won't get into but I don't think PSME advocates, or makes light of it (if anything though perhaps they don't deal with the subject as much as they should as other themes are more important--redemption in general, if we ARE bound to destiny, etc). I think it's great. You don't :P I'll get over that--I promise...

Miyazaki--I do think he's falling into auteur syndrome. (is there such a thing?) For a long time I actually prefered Takahata's films at Ghibli to Miyazaki's (although I'm aware of some of the feminist controversy against Only Yesterday which, despite that, remains a favorite of mine). But I've started to like Miyazaki more and more the more I do accept his faults if that makes sense. there was an analysis on him recently, dealing with Howl's Moving Castle that basicallys aid at this point in Miya's career, if you're not already familiar with his past films and his themes, the way millions of Japanese are, elements of his new films will be all but incomprehensible--and odd as it sounds i think that's true. but a part of me loves them more for that. I get what you mean about overated, etc, but again at heart I just don't agree--even if a part of me does.

Interesting about the collaborative element though. A friendof mine mentioned how she prefers manga to anime because it's more an individual's work--an anime takes a huge staff and is more often than not closely adapted from a pre existing manga or novel (you're right that Miyazaki is a rarity with this--he even often redoes and designs the actual animation frames, still). Her rationale was that manga was more true to the one vision--although I think there's some truth to this I think there's an argument often for the value of a collaboration as well--and of course very few mainstream manga are the work of one individual--often having to go by a board of editors before being approved even to begin, and being done with assistants, etc. I guess for me it depend son the indivudal work which I rpefer--though her other point that shoujo anime is never truly authentic because very few women are involved in the major roles at animation unliek manga holds more weight I think for me (though I do subscribe to the belief that, if done right, a man can write from a woman's perspective the same way someone of different sexualy orientation or race can write from another...)

Oy I'm just going in circles here aren't I. Sorry--long day of essays and studying.

I'm not as big a fan of Yazawa as I am of Hiwatari but her work--like I said even her work aimed at the Ribon ages does hold this massive appeal to me that very few other works of such mainstream popularity in those genres do and I think it definetly is due to more than just the art. Again--for me.

I've been able to find very little on Sakurazawa so had no idea how big she is in Japan or not--I'll do another search tonght as I'm curious. I know manya people find those kinds of stories too slight--my comparison to Banana Yoshimoto (who a great many people I knwo also find overated) may be apt there--I like both. This disucssion has also made me wanna look into Nishi's other manga more.

And read Short Cuts which I actually ahven't even looked into...

About graphic novels--I've not read many either, just stuff friends have lent me (which are pretty standard, some Alan Moore, a bunch of Sandman collections, Blankets, some Quebecois and other French stuff which is easy to find in Montreal here, Maus, How Loathsome, etc...) I sorta wish there was a list/site with a good guide for manga fans looking to get into graphic novels...


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