Welcome to the Favorites Alphabet, where the Manga Bookshelf battle robot gaze upon our respective manga collections to pick a favorite title from each letter of the alphabet, whenever possible and ever fearful of the mournful bitterness of the runners up. 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.
“F” is for…
Firefighter! Daigo of Company M | By Masahito Soda | Viz – On one level, Firefighter! is meat-and-potatoes shônen: it’s got a young, brash lead who wants to be the best at what he does; a rival who excels at pushing the hero’s buttons; and a sexy big sister character whom the hero adores. On another level, however, Firefighter! is a classic procedural, showing us how firemen practice their trade, interact at the house, and respond to conditions at every fire. The series definitely cants more towards shonen tournament manga than procedural; as Jason Thompson observed in Manga: The Complete Guide, Daigo’s company fights more dangerous fires in a week than most firemen will see in an entire career. Still, the series’ brisk pacing and sense of dramatic urgency make it one of the most entertaining titles in VIZ’s vast shônen library, even when the story strains credulity. -Katherine Dacey
Flower of Life | By Fumi Yoshinaga | Digital Manga Publishing – Although it works perfectly well as the amusing story of a forthright (perhaps overly so) teen named Harutaro who has just returned to school after a bout with leukemia, Flower of Life also offers many subtle meditations and musings on the nature of friendship. Seamlessly woven into stories in which a memorable cast of characters enlivens even the most tired manga clichés (school cultural festival, anyone?), these themes imbue the work with insight and depth, just as one would expect from Fumi Yoshinaga. On top of all this goodness, you’ve got Harutaro’s personal journey, where he discovers both an abiding love for manga and the ability to lie. This extraordinary series is not one to be missed. – Michelle Smith
Fruits Basket | By Natsuki Takaya | Tokyopop – This was a tough letter, especially with Fullmetal Alchemist just sitting there, but once again I went with the obvious pick. Fruits Basket was something I discussed with my friends constantly while it was still coming out, and remains a beloved favorite. Tohru’s struggles – first to try to bond with the Sohmas, then to try to break their curse, then to resolve her feelings towards Kyo, all wrapped up in a surprisingly deep cover of guilt and self-hatred – are fascinating to watch, and it helps that the side characters are just as fascinating if not more so. And so much of Fruits Basket is about forgiveness – something the readers sometimes had a lot more trouble with than the characters, especially when it came to Akito. But in the end, as a manly male who will also happily read First President of Japan and other manly titles, Fruits Basket is my pick as it’s made me cry more than any other manga. – Sean Gaffney
Fullmetal Alchemist | By Hiromu Arakawa | VIZ – Though I’ve often credited Hikaru no Go with getting me into manga, it was Fullmetal Alchemist that guaranteed I’d stay. With its deeply relatable characters, impressively tight plot, and clean, well-paced storytelling, Fullmetal Alchemist proved to me that my new love for the medium was much more than a fling. Alternately heartbreaking and jubilant without ever feeling strained, Fullmetal Alchemist is a deceptively smooth read, even in its most emotionally and visually-packed moments. I often feel like a broken record when I sing this series’ praises. But the truth is, I just never stop being wowed by Arakawa’s discipline and skill. She makes epic look easy. – Melinda Beasi
Future Lovers | By Saika Kunieda | Deux Press – All of the letters in this alphabet have posed a certain degree of difficulty, but “F” is a positive bloodbath. After serious consideration, I’ve decided to go with the fact that this two-volume series offers something very unique: it’s the gayest yaoi I’ve ever read. In a lot of comics in this category, you’re as likely to encounter issues of sexual orientation as you are concepts of particle physics, so some recognizable context is always welcome. In the case of Future Lovers, that context is layered over a wonderful, messy, evolving romance between two very likable, believable characters. Beyond the tricky issue of their feelings for each other, stalwart Kento and cynical Akira deal with the way their relationship will fall out at work (they teach at the same school) and with their families (particularly Kento’s traditional – but very funny – grandparents). It’s real-world romance, and it just plain works on every level. – David Welsh
What starts with “F” in your Favorites Alphabet?