The Favorites Alphabet: B

Welcome to another installment of the Favorites Alphabet, where the Manga Bookshelf battle robot gingerly approaches our meticulously organized collections to pick a favorite manga title from each letter of the alphabet, whenever possible. We’re trying to stick with books that have been licensed and published in English, but we recognize that the alphabet is long, so we’re keeping a little wiggle room in reserve. And sometimes you can’t pick just one.

“B” is for…

Banana Fish | By Akimi Yoshida | VIZ Media — Given my frequent posts on the subject, this choice likely comes as no surprise. Yet even after all that verbiage, I think I’ve talked very little about one of the main reasons I so love this series. Yes, it’s got fast-paced action, well-developed characters, and an almost-BL vibe to die for, and watching Yoshida’s artistry develop over the course of 19 volumes is truly a pleasure. But one of the series’ greatest draws for me is very simply its sincerity. I recently described another manga as reading like “a bad teen-penned novel,” and while Banana Fish shares some of the same over-the-top sentimentality and naive fancy that tends to characterize stories written by teens, like S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Banana Fish reads like a great one. Yoshida offers up genuine intrigue and compelling action sequences, but her most winning quality as a writer is how sincerely she loves her characters, even when she’s putting them through hell.  This is a series I’ve read and re-read, and will likely read many times more before my eyes finally give out on me. Melodrama and all, it’s one of my favorite manga of all time. – Melinda Beasi

Basara | By Yumi Tamura | VIZ Media — I hardly know where to start in extolling the virtues of Basara, Yumi Tamura’s epic 27-volume shôjo manga about a girl named Sarasa who assumes the identity of her twin brother Tatara (the so-called “child of destiny”) after his death and leads her people in revolt against a tyrannical king. Sarasa is highly competent and inspires the admiration and loyalty of people from all walks of life, but Tamura never lets us forget that this strong leader is also just a girl who experiences feelings she doesn’t understand and who denies herself a lot in order to be who the people need her to be. Just thinking about the reveal that it’s actually Sarasa who’s been the “child of destiny” all along literally gives me goosebumps. I’d urge everyone to read Basara, even though some volumes are notoriously hard to come by. It really is worth the effort. — Michelle Smith

Black Blizzard | By Yoshihiro Tatsumi | Drawn & Quarterly — I’ve found most of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work too bleak, too macho, or too bleakly macho to appeal to my own sensibilities, but Black Blizzard is a notable exception. Dating from the late 1950s, it’s thoroughly enjoyable pulp: a young murder suspect and a jaded criminal escape from custody into a raging snowstorm, police hot (cold?) on their heels. The story’s weaknesses are easy to catalog: the plot developments can be seen coming from a mile away, the characters are little more than types, and the ending is too compressed to be truly satisfactory. Black Blizzard leaves a fresh impression nonetheless, thanks to Tatsumi’s rough, energetic artwork; with all the slashing lines and images of trains in motion, you’d be forgiven for thinking that an Italian futurist had taken a stab at writing a comic book. — Kate Dacey

Black Jack | Osamu Tezuka | Vertical, Inc. — Part House MD, part globe-trotting adventure, Black Jack is easily Osamu Tezuka’s most accessible work. The stories often flirt with the outrageous: Black Jack performs a brain transplant, treats an extraterrestrial, and operates on himself while fending off dingoes in the outback. Yet the human dimensions of every story are never overwhelmed by the questionable medical diagnoses; at their best, the stories are parables about the importance of humility, responsibility, patience, and loyalty, using illness and injury to show us the best — and worst — of human nature. (Also: to show us that Black Jack is a complete bad-ass with a scalpel.) The series’ popularity meant that Tezuka cranked out more Black Jack tales than he probably should have (see “treats an extraterrestrial,” above), but even the weakest entries in the collection are still a lot of fun. — Kate Dacey

Black Jack | Osamu Tezuka | Vertical, Inc. — I’m going to second Kate’s endorsement of Black Jack for a very specific, possibly irrational reason. Sometimes a title becomes a favorite simply by virtue of the presence of a supporting character. In the case of this series, that character is Pinoko. She’s surly old Black Jack’s adorable kid assistant, except she’s actually a parasitic tumor that gestated for years in her twin sister’s abdomen until the good-bad doctor cut her out and gave her a twee little plastic body and took her in as his ward. Pinoko is wrong on every conceivable level – an 18-year-old woman with no meaningful life experience trapped in the body of an artificial child. On some subliminal level, I think every adorable kid sidekick is creepy, but Tezuka just goes there, and Pinoko’s every appearance is an unsettling, mildly heartbreaking, inappropriately funny treat. There are certainly Tezuka titles I like better than Black Jack, but there’s probably no Tezuka character who haunts me quite like Pinoko. – David Welsh

Bleach | By Tite Kubo | VIZ Media In general, I enjoy talking about manga because I love it. I love finding underrated series I can promote the hell out of, I love reading the romantic ups and downs of a couple that grow and learn at a snail’s pace because it’s funnier that way, and I enjoy watching big guys hit each other. But sometimes you get obsessed with manga that you like… and hate as well.  It can be so good…  and so frustrating. No title currently being released over here does this to me more than Bleach, the second of Viz’s ‘Big Three’ Shonen Jump titles. Bleach has a fantastic cast of characters… who it abandons for years at a time to focus on other new characters. It has emotional resonance… which can sometimes get incredibly ham-fisted.  And while some manga work better in weekly installments, or in volumes, Bleach is one that works best by reading 5 volumes at a time then ignoring it for 6 months. Oh, and the shipping. God, the shipping. Love it or hate it, folks can’t stop talking about Bleach. Which, honestly, is even more valuable in a manga than a title that’s merely liked by everyone. — Sean Gaffney

What starts with “B” in your Favorites Alphabet?