The Favorites Alphabet: I

Welcome to another installment of The Favorites Alphabet, where the Manga Bookshelf battle robot pick a favorite title from each letter of the alphabet. 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.

“I” is for…

Ichigenme… The First Class is Civil Law | By Fumi Yoshinaga | 801 Media – There are some pretty terrific manga that begin with the letter “I,” but as a devoted fan of Fumi Yoshinaga, it’s impossible to pass up an opportunity to talk about Ichigenme, which has the distinction of being not only my favorite of Yoshinaga’s BL works, but one of my very favorite BL series of all time. In terms of my personal taste in the genre, Ichigenme has everything going for it. It’s a character-driven romance between smart, idiosyncratic adults, set in a competitive, career-minded environment that includes smart, idiosyncratic women and gay men who are actually gay. It also features quite a number of genuinely erotic, emotionally affecting sex scenes that actually move the story forward rather than getting in its way. I could go on and on about this two-volume series (and have), but instead I’ll just urge people to read it, especially those who think they don’t like BL. This is what good adult romance should look like. Melinda Beasi

I Hate You More Than Anyone! | Banri Hidaka | CMX – Yes, once again I’m picking a series that never finished in North America due to the company closing down.  But I can’t help it.  Intellectually I know this series is flawed – the early volumes have very sketchy art, the plot meanders, the emphasis on cartoon violence has disturbed some – but in the end, it doesn’t matter.  The characters in IHYMTA are hilarious, likeable, and magnificently talkative.  The series is filled with more dialogue than any other shoujo series I’ve seen, as everyone needs to give Kazuha Akiyoshi advice, or listen to her freak out about the latest crisis.  The title, of course, ceases to be true fairly quickly – it’s no spoiler that the series ends with a wedding – but that’s OK too.  This series for me is a tribute to the best and worst of Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume magazine – its high-spirited, tomboy-ish heroines, its silly love stories, and its fly-by-night plot resolution.  And Japan clearly agrees with me – the Akiyoshi family appeared in V.B. Rose as well, and Hidaka-san’s new series running today deals with their offspring.  Clearly folks cannot get enough of this family and their adventures.  (I just wish the companies would stop folding before they finish!) Sean Gaffney

Imadoki! Nowadays |Yuu Watase | Viz – All Yuu Watase manga are not created equal, but when I like one, I tend to really, really like it. That’s the case with this super-charming series about a country girl who enrolls at a snooty school in the big city. If you’re experiencing uncomfortable flashbacks to Tammy and the Bachelor, you aren’t far off. Like the titular hick played by Debbie Reynolds in that film, homespun Tanpopo upsets the elitist apple cart and falls in love with the cutest, snootiest boy in town. The difference is that Imadoki! is genuinely funny and surprising. Tanpopo is utterly sincere and completely indefatigable in her effort to make friends, and she does it on her own terms. The romance is sweet, the supporting cast is uniformly great, and there’s even an adorable pet fox to raise the cuteness level just that much higher. This book offers a fine blend of warm fuzzies and snarky chuckles. – David Welsh

InuYasha | By Rumiko Takahashi | Viz – Few manga have gone through as many English-language editions as InuYasha, which began its life as a floppy in 1997 and is now enjoying new life as a digital download. Easy as it may be to dismiss InuYasha as second-rate Takahashi, the series’ longevity is no fluke: InuYasha is Rumiko Takahashi’s most accessible story, a rollicking shônen adventure that incorporates elements of folklore, fantasy, and flat-out horror, as well as generous helpings of humor and romance. InuYasha also boasts some of Takahashi’s most appealing characters, from Sango, the tenacious demon-slayer, to Sesshomaru, whose chilling indifference to others makes him a more terrifying figure than the malicious Naraku. Great artwork and imaginatively staged combat help bring the story to life, and carry it through its more repetitive moments. – Katherine Dacey

Itazura Na Kiss | By Kaoru Tada | DMP – Because I can rest assured that my other “I” favorite, InuYasha, is in Kate’s capable hands, I can devote my pick to the shoujo classic Itazura Na Kiss, being released in deliciously chunky two-in-one volumes by Digital Manga Publishing. Some of its plot points might seem cliché—a ditzy heroine in love with a brilliant and aloof guy, circumstances that force them to live together, etc.—but then you realize that it’s Itazura that most of those other series are copying! Lamentably unfinished due to the mangaka’s untimely accidental death, the series is sheer pleasure to read, with a storytelling style and large cast of eccentrics that reminds me more of the seinen Maison Ikkoku than anything you’d find in the Shojo Beat lineup, for example. Goofy, addictive, and satisfying, I love this series and am extremely grateful to DMP for licensing it. Michelle Smith

What starts with “I” in your favorites alphabet?


The Favorites Alphabet: spooky supplement

We interrupt your regularly scheduled, letter-by-letter installment of The Favorites Alphabet in honor of the horror-tinged Manga Moveable Feast! This week, the Manga Bookshelf Battle Robot retreated to the dank catacombs of our secret base to conjure the spirits of our favorite spooky manga! Read on… if you dare!

 “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” | By Junji Ito | VIZ Media – I haven’t read much horror manga. In fact, aside from the delightfully bizarre Tokyo Zombie and one volume (so far) of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, my experience is limited to the works of Junji Ito. While Gyo and Uzumaki certainly deliver weird and disturbing tales, it’s “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” a short story that appeared in Gyo’s second volume, that I find most memorable.  In it, an earthquake has revealed a rock formation riddled with human-shaped holes that go farther back into the rock than researchers are able to measure. People flock to the site, drawn to holes that seem to be custom-made for them. Those who enter the holes are committed to moving forward with some profoundly jibbly-inducing results. Just thinking about it is kind of giving me a wiggins. Look for images from this one in this weekend’s Let’s Get Visual column! – Michelle Smith

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service | By Eiji Ōtsuka and Housui Yamazaki | Dark Horse – Despite my ongoing reviews of Higurashi: When They Cry, I’m not really a big reader of horror manga, tending to find it too scary. Which says more about me than about the genre. However, I picked up Volume 1 of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service for its unusual cover, as well as the fact that it was translated and edited by Carl Horn. Imagine my surprise when I got one of the funniest, most satiric, and, yes, scariest manga coming out here. For our heroes, dealing with corpses isn’t like searching for mysteries a la Scooby Doo – it’s a job, and they are usually trying desperately to get paid. It just so happens that their various skills go really well with solving problems involving dead bodies. Nestled in among the sarcastic dialogue and long pointed looks at Japanese politics and society is some really creepy imagery – watch out for the chapter with the birds, or the one with the ears. – Sean Gaffney

Parasyte | By Hitoshi Iwaaki | Del Rey – There are just so many reasons this eight-volume series is awesome, not least of which is Iwaaki’s facility with really gruesome and surprising bits of violence. It’s an invasive-species nightmare scenario featuring bizarre space spores taking over indigenous creatures (mostly human) and turning them into ravenous, shape-shifting, and dangerously intelligent predators. Fortunately, one of the parasites doesn’t quite make it to its host’s brain, turning average teen Shinichi Izumi into humanity’s best protector, and his right hand into a formidable defensive weapon, not to mention an adorable and insightful pet! Iwaaki jumbles a lot of elements together – coming-of-age drama, violent suspense, evolutionary theory, family tragedy, and boy-and-his-dog sentiment. The beauty part is that Iwaaki jumbles it all well, making for one of the most beginning-to-end satisfying tales you’re likely to find on the manga shelves. Originally published by Tokyopop, Del Rey picked up this out-of-print gem and did a bang-up job repackaging it. – David Welsh

School Zone | By Kanako Inuki | Dark Horse – In this odd, hallucinatory, and sometimes very funny series, a group of students summon the ghosts of people who died on school grounds, unleashing the spirits’ wrath on their unsuspecting classmates. School Zone is as much a meditation on childhood fears of being ridiculed or ostracized as it is a traditional ghost story; time and again, the students’ own response to the ghosts is often more horrific than the ghosts’ behavior. Inuki’s artwork isn’t as gory or imaginative as some of her peers’, though she demonstrates a genuine flair for comically gruesome thrills: one girl is dragged into a toilet, for example, while another is attacked by a scaly, long-armed creature that lives in the infirmary. Where Inuki really shines, however, is in her ability to capture the primal terror that a dark, empty building can inspire in the most rational person. Even when the story takes one its many silly detours — and yes, there are many WTF?! moments in School Zone — Inuki makes us feel her characters’ vulnerability as they explore the school grounds after hours. – Katherine Dacey

Tokyo Babylon | By CLAMP | TOKYOPOP – When David suggested that we all pick favorite horror manga for this week, at first I thought I didn’t have any. Though horror movies were a favorite genre once upon a time, that preference never really transferred to print for me, or at least I didn’t think it had. Then I realized that some of my most beloved occult-themed comics fall closer to the horror mark than I thought. My favorite of these (and indeed, one of my favorite comics of all time) is CLAMP’s 20-year-old series, Tokyo Babylon.  Complete in just seven volumes, it’s a decidedly immature work, featuring uneven storytelling, outrageous outfits, and one of the strangest, most over-the-top examples of BL-leaning shôjo I’ve seen to date. On the other hand, not only does it finally rip our hearts out with the precision of a serial killer, but it scares the bejeezus out of us all along the way. This is a dark, cruel little series, that takes real joy in its emotional shock value, and its occult setting provides ample opportunity for that quality. Not that I’m complaining. When I look at the images I chose for my review of the series , I can see that I picked out several of those that had creeped me out the most. For genuine scares and emotional brutality all wrapped up in one delicious “classic” shôjo package, you can’t beat Tokyo Babylon– Melinda Beasi

What are your favorite horror stories?


The Favorites Alphabet: H

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. 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.

“H” is for…

Here Is Greenwood | Yukie Nasu | Viz Media – Again, I could pick any number of ‘H’ titles – Hayate the Combat Butler, High School Girls, Higurashi – but I have a soft spot in my heart for Greenwood, which was first seen in North America in the mid-1990s as an anime. Viz brought over the 9 volume manga in 2004, and to be honest it did not sell well. This is a shame, as it’s part of that classic genre of shôjo manga – BL tease. There are many people (including myself) who may read Greenwood for Hasukawa, and seeing him struggle with his temper and with the hijinks that surround him at the Greenwood dorms. Seeing him eventually win the heart of the girl he’s trying to win is a highlight of the entire run. But if I were honest, I’d admit that 98% of all Greenwood fans read it to see Mitsuru and Shinobu not be lovers at each other. The two best friends complement each other perfectly, and even the Japanese audience demanded, at the end, that Nasu show the two of them kissing. (She did not comply.) This may not have sold well here, but those female fans who had the anime be one of their gateways into BL fandom should try the manga – it’s better, and gives them even more ammo. – Sean Gaffney

High School Debut | Kazune Kawahara | VIZ Media – On the surface, this is just another shôjo high school romance. There’s the earnest heroine, Haruna, who’s got a tremendous heart and athletic ability, and the more stoic boy, Yoh, whom she taps to be her dating coach. What’s different is that they fall in love within the first few volumes and spend the rest of the time working out what it means to be a couple. I love that Yoh admires Haruna for all of her terrific qualities, and I love that Haruna trusts Yoh and truly wants what’s best for him. Although the story itself may not be new, I adore the characters so much that when the final volume came around, I was tempted to write a review consisting entirely of hearts and sniffles. I’ve loaned this series out a couple of times already and know that I will be rereading it often. – Michelle Smith

Hikaru no Go | By Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata | Viz Media – Oh, what to say about Hikaru no Go that I haven’t already said? Hikaru no Go was my first exposure to manga, and managed in one two-day whirlwind read to win me over to a medium (comics) I had previously sworn I could never, ever love. In a very real way, Manga Bookshelf exists because of Hikaru no Go. It is an epic, deeply compelling, emotionally resonant sort-of-sports manga, with some of my favorite artwork in in the medium overall. And though I later realized that the sense of non-ironic optimism that (in part) drew me to the series originally is a trait common to the genre, there is something unique about this quality as it inhabits Hikaru no Go.  It is elegant in its innocence, and in its sadness too. And though I’ve read many more moving and complex manga since, nothing can ever replace Hikago in my heart. It is that special. – Melinda Beasi

Hotel Harbour View | By Jiro Taniguchi | Viz Media – This slim volume explores terrain familiar to anyone who’s watched Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, or Stray Dog: it’s a world of gangsters, molls, and taciturn killers. Though the stories unfold in present-day Shanghai and Paris (or what was the present day when Taniguchi wrote it), the mood is decidedly retro: the characters speak in a highly self-conscious, stylized language borrowed from the silver screen; they wear hats, waist-cinching dresses, and formidable shoulder pads; and they die dramatic deaths. If the prevailing sensibility is mid-century noir, the artwork owes a debt to John Woo and the Hong Kong action films of the late 1980s and early 1990s, with balletic gun fights and artfully composed kill shots. Much as I love titles like Zoo in Winter and A Distant Neighborhood, Hotel Harbour View may be my favorite Taniguchi title. – Katherine Dacey

House of Five Leaves | By Natsume Ono | Viz Media – It frankly seems wrong that we’ve gone this far in The Favorites Alphabet without me having a chance to mention Ono’s work, but it’s nice that I can start with what I think is her very best licensed series. This tale of an out-of-work samurai who falls in with a motley gang of generally benevolent kidnappers falls right in my tonal sweet spot – casual, character driven, but packed with surprising and potent emotional highlights that seem to creep up on the reader. The look of the series is essential to its success, and it’s easily Ono’s most stylish, gorgeous work. There’s a wonderfully concise quality to her illustrations here. She manages to convey a great deal with the tiniest modulations in facial expression, framed as they are by her languid, graceful staging. House of Five Leaves represents everything I like about Ono’s work, and it features those qualities at their very best. – David Welsh

What starts with “H” in your favorites alphabet?

The Favorites Alphabet: G

Welcome to the Favorites Alphabet, where the Manga Bookshelf battle robot gaze upon our respective manga collections to pick a favorite title (or “titles,” if we really can’t pick just one) from each letter of the alphabet. 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.

“G” is for…

GALS! | Mihona Fujii | CMX – At first glance, this tale of the loves of three “ko-gals” in the streets of downtown Shibuya may seem like nothing but a frothy yet shallow examination of clothes, guys and the longest legs you’ve seen this side of Revolutionary Girl Utena. But if you look deeper, you find a fantastic look at the head of a teenage girl determined to have as much fun as she can in her high school years without making sacrifices to her reputation or cutting corners. Ran Kotobuki is the child of a long line of police officers, and even though she insists she won’t follow in their footsteps, her sense of justice drives her to ensure that Shibuya is a safe haven. Ran’s enthusiasm is infectious, even if it’s often over the top, and the series is a fantastic one for young girls who want to live life to the fullest while still searching for a purpose in that life. (No surprises, Ran ends the series deciding to be a police officer.) – Sean Gaffney

Gatcha Gacha | Yutaka Tachibana | TOKYOPOP – I fell in love with this title from the moment it came out, mostly thanks to the interplay between its four leads. Supposedly a simple shôjo story of a girl who always tends to fall for bad boys and her unlikely friendship with a strong yet damaged classmate, Gatcha Gacha ends up being anything but simple, as you struggle to figure out which lies Motoko is telling are pure fiction and which are merely the truth; who’s still in love with whom; and of course whose attempted relationship will be the most twisted and horrible. Those hoping for typical shôjo romance will likely find this wanting, but for addictive crack with a kudzu plot, kickass heroines, and some great, snappy dialogue, it can’t be beat. – Sean Gaffney

Genshiken | By Kio Shimoku |  Del Rey – The beauty of Genshiken is that the protagonists – a group of college-aged otaku who are members of possibly the least active club in all of manga – are neither repulsive nor saintly. It isn’t about the triumph of the underdog, and it isn’t about the ridicule of the socially maladroit. It’s about people finding their niche and living their lives on a very believable scale. It’s still funny, because Shimoku is honest enough to recognize that his cast’s individual obsessions can reach ridiculous levels. But that’s what otaku are about, and Shimoku doesn’t need to push anything to the point of being grotesque. He gives the reader permission to both like his characters and snicker at their weirder extremes, but the sum effect is fondness. The series also has one of the most restrained renderings of perverse, unlikely, perhaps partially requited love between two people who are simply not meant to be together that I’ve ever seen. And I have no resistance to that. – David Welsh

GoGo Monster | Taiyo Matsumoto | VIZ Media – Every elementary school has a kid like Yuki, a smart, odd student who says things that unsettle classmates and teachers alike. In Yuki’s case, it’s the matter-of-fact way he reports seeing monsters that leads to his social isolation. Newcomer Makoto doesn’t share Yuki’s vision, but he admires Yuki’s nonchalant attitude, and struggles mightily to understand what makes his friend tick. It’s to Taiyo Matsumoto’s credit that we’re never entirely sure what aspects of the story are intended to be real, and which ones might be unfolding in the characters’ heads; Yuki’s monsters remain largely unseen, though their presence is felt throughout the story. Matsumoto’s stark, primitive style suits the material perfectly, inoculating Gogo Monster against the sentimentality that imaginary friends and childhood fears inspire in so many authors. – Katherine Dacey

Gon | Masashi Tanaka | CMX, Kodansha – Ken Haley, my former PopCultureShock colleague, once likened Gon to Dennis the Menace, and I think the comparison is apt. Look past Gon’s teeth and claws, and you’ll see a pint-sized terror who, like Hank Ketcham’s famous creation, loves disrupting the natural order. Of course, Gon’s mischief is of a very different sort than Dennis’, as it involves swimming with sharks, stealing honey from a hive, and eating psychedelic mushrooms (to name just a few of Gon’s wordless exploits). No matter: the results are just as predictable, ruffling feathers (literally) and causing destruction. Masashi Tanaka’s intricate pen-and-ink illustrations make this far-fetched conceit work, infusing the stories with humor and pathos in equal measure. – Katherine Dacey

Goong: The Royal Palace | By Park SoHee | Yen Press – Though there are many fine manga beginning with the letter “G,” here my heart belongs completely to the Korean manhwa, Goong. Set in an alternate version of modern-day Korea with a monarchy still in place, Goong is a teen soap opera to die for, filled with compelling characters, emotionally-charged banter, royal politics, and pretty, pretty costumes. More than all of this, however, and despite a boatload of political machinations and misunderstandings, it features a romantic couple that is truly hindered by nothing more than themselves, and this is my very favorite kind of romance. It’s deliciously complicated, surprisingly funny, and really, truly addictive. I absolutely adore Goong. – Melinda Beasi

Goong: The Royal Palace | By Park SoHee | Yen Press – It’s something of a common theme in sunjeong manhwa to depict a romance between a spunky, common girl and an aloof, rich jerk. The jerk will, of course, be surprised that the girl dares to criticize him, but eventually come to realize that she understands him better than anyone else.  I’ve read that story in various permutations several times now, but it’s at its most compelling in the pages of Goong, in which a regular girl named Chae-Kyung learns that she is engaged to the crown prince of Korea thanks to a pact made between their grandfathers. Neither is happy about the situation at first, and there is lots of bickering, but there are also moments of true connection between them that show their promise as a couple. Throw in some rivals, some political intrigue, and some truly unfortunate comic relief in the form of a pervy eunuch, and you’ve got the ingredients for major soapy goodness!  Bonus points to Yen Press for switching to a two-in-one omnibus format for the series. – Michelle Smith

What starts with “G” in your favorites alphabet?


The Favorites Alphabet: F

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?

The Favorites Alphabet: E

Welcome to another installment of the Favorites Alphabet, where the Manga Bookshelf battle robot cast our loving gaze upon the titles in our respective collections to pick the manga title (or… ahem… titles) from each letter of the alphabet that stands (or… ahem… stand) above the rest, 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.

“E” is for…

Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President | By Kaiji Kawaguchi | VIZ – As we prepare for another presidential election cycle, I find myself wishing, once again, that fictional New York Senator Kenneth Yamaoka would finally run for office. Yamaoka is, of course, the hero of Kaiji Kawaguchi’s Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President, and, unlike most American politicians, Yamaoka is unapologetically liberal, thoroughly persuasive on controversial issues, and seemingly atheist. It’s a swell fantasy for older readers like me, who feel a twinge of nostalgia for the days when a presidential candidate could actually use the “L” word (that’s “liberal,” kids, for those of you who’ve only heard it used in a pejorative fashion) without embarrassment. At the same time, however, it’s a great, pulpy manly-man manga in which an ambitious character uses wit and integrity to defeat his rivals. Eagle is long out of print, but well worth the time and effort to track down. – Katherine Dacey

Emma | By Kaoru Mori | Published by CMX Okay, okay, I sometimes pick titles that are out of print, but come on. How can I not include Mori’s beautifully subdued tale of a maid who falls in love well out of her class? For those who are just discovering her work through A Bride’s Story (Yen Press), this is the series where many English-language readers discovered Mori’s ability to turn tiny, mundane moments into arias of subtle emotion. To be honest, the plot here is secondary to the meticulous slices of period life that Mori serves up. Of course, those slices would probably have less impact without the acute observations about social constraints, not just between domestics and their employers but between old money and new and country and city and British and everyone else. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Mori does the hands-down funniest, most witheringly self-deprecating autobiographical strips I’ve ever seen in the back of a Japanese comic. – David Welsh

ES: Eternal Sabbath | By Fuyumi Soryo | Published by Del Rey I have a particular fondness for creators who defy categorical constraints, so when I learned that shôjo manga-ka Fuyumi Soryo had done a sci-fi series for Kodansha’s Morning and that Del Rey was publishing it, I had to read it. I find that this partiality to fence hoppers is almost always rewarding, and that’s certainly the case with ES. It’s about a hot clone with amazing psychic powers who casts off the shackles of his scientist overlords to go see what life is like in the real world. His primary prism in that effort is a brilliant but emotionally remote scientist who senses something unusual in her new acquaintance but can’t quite figure out what it is. At least she can’t until a second, much less benevolent clone surfaces and starts exacting horrible and violent revenge on humanity. ES offers a great combination of thoughtful romance, scientific philosophy, and creepy horror. What more could you want? – David Welsh

Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga | By Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma | VIZ – Profane, raunchy, and thoroughly on the mark, this blistering satire pokes fun at every conceivable niche of mangadom, from ladies’ comics to salaryman manga. Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma gleefully skewer narrative cliches and overused tropes, all while offering solid (if sarcastically delivered) advice on how to produce a commercially successful manga. The highpoint (lowpoint?) of volume one is a table comparing sex scenes in different genres, with helpful suggestions for choosing appropriate sound effects. Yes, it’s rude, but it’s also a virtuoso display of artistic skill; Aihara and Takekuma are equally adept at drawing for mature female audiences and hormonal teenage boys. – Katherine Dacey

Excel Saga | By Rikdo Koshi | VIZ – Oh come on, you can’t pretend to be surprised that this is my pick. My pet series for the last 8 years, ever since Viz started to publish it in North America, Excel Saga has had a rough ride ever since folks realized that the anime it was based off of was telling the truth – Rikdo was giving permission for the anime to do whatever it wanted, while he made the manga into his own thing. After readers realized it wasn’t simply the anime on the page, sales dropped sharply – this is why Volumes 7 and 8 are so hard to find today. But the hardcore fans who stayed with it were rewarded with a satire of sentai shows and the collapse of the economic bubble, and characters who were no less insane than their anime counterparts. They get a deeper backstory, though, and there are touching and dramatic moments sprinkled through this comedic story. Carl Horn’s translation is also a classic example of a loose adaptation that’s handled correctly – it’s not word for word from the Japanese, but conveys the same spirit. And his end notes are the best in the business, bar none. There are only 5 volumes to go till its conclusion now, so maybe Viz can speed it up a bit from its one-per-year schedule – but if not, it makes a rare but delightful treat. – Sean Gaffney

Eyeshield 21 | By Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murata| VIZ Media – As mentioned back on letter C, I love sports manga, even when it’s kind of juvenile like Eyeshield 21. But even though the overuse of bathroom humor makes me sigh heavily, there are still many reasons to recommend Eyeshield 21. For one, it’s delightfully over-the-top, with the (possibly literally) demonic Hiruma, captain of the Deimon Devil Bats football team, doing everything possible to ensure the success of his team, including and not limited to blackmail. Secondly, it’s got some wonderful characters. My personal favorite is Komusubi, a small but fierce defensive lineman who looks like a muppet, but I also have a soft spot for “the Hah?! Brothers,” who started off as juvenile delinquents but have begun to experience what it’s like to actually be good at something and receive positive feedback for it. Growth like that will get me every time. – Michelle Smith

What starts with “E” in your favorites alphabet?


The Favorites Alphabet: D

Welcome to another installment of the Favorites Alphabet, where the Manga Bookshelf battle robot ruthlessly assess the titles in our respective collections to pick the manga title from each letter of the alphabet that makes us feel all floaty, 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.

“D” is for…

Dominion | By Masamune Shirow | Published by Dark Horse Appleseed is the most ambitious, and Ghost in the Shell the most popular, but I have to admit that I find Dominion and its alternate universe sequel Dominion Conflict One to be my favorite Shirow manga, and one I keep going back and rereading.  It’s the funniest of his works, particularly Conflict, and the Puma Sisters were a major influence on “catgirls” in the Western fandom.  The environmental message is also strongest in these works, with the plotting devoted to ecoterrorism, and set in a future so miserable that if you go out without an oxygen mask, you die.  Most of all, though, Dominion revels in its property damage, and it may rival the Dirty Pair in sheer amount of destruction seen in a series.  Leona is a hothead who does not know the meaning of the words “Stand down”, and in Conflict, where her love interest and morality chain Al is missing, she’s even worse.  Dominion is just sheer fun, and a title I hope that Shirow eventually returns and wraps up some day.  – Sean Gaffney

Dororo | By Osamu Tezuka | Published by Vertical, Inc. – I could very easily have given this slot to Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Fantagraphics), but if I’m going to be completely honest, the title for this letter that I can read over and over again and take near-complete delight in is this truncated bit of action-fantasy lunacy from Tezuka. It’s about a guy whose greedy father sold all of his body parts to demons to get power, and now the kid has to use his prosthetic body and mad swordsman skills to go get his limbs and organs back. He’s also got a spunky kid thief tagging along, as one does in these circumstances. I could have read about a dozen volumes of this story, but there are unfortunately only three, probably because Tezuka was always doing a million things at once and one must prioritize. It’s hardly Tezuka’s most ambitious work, but, for my money, it’s a prime rendering of his defining qualities: passionate social critique and eye-popping entertainment. – David Welsh

Dororo | By Osamu Tezuka | Published by Vertical, Inc. – Once upon a time, when I was a brand new reader of manga, I was terrified of Osamu Tezuka. I found his status as a master so intimidating, I was actually afraid to read his work lest I be forced to face my own incompetency as a reader. Then, in a moment of madness, I bought Dororo, and less than a chapter in, I realized what it actually meant to be a master. Not only were my fears unfounded—Dororo was a truly thrilling and emotionally affecting manga—but it was Tezuka’s mastery of the craft that made the work so accessible, even today.  Dororo may not be my very favorite of Tezuka’s works, but it will always be special. – Melinda Beasi

DVD | By Kye Young Chon | Published by DramaQueen – Even though DramaQueen has only managed to release two of DVD’s eight volumes so far, I’ve seen enough to deem this my favorite manga/manhwa starting with the letter “D.”  When Ddam’s boyfriend dumps her, sick of her quirky attributes like the ability to see illusions, her suicidal plans are thwarted by a bizarre pair of fellows, boob fetishist Venu and punk DD, who proceed to attempt to cheer her up in their own inept way. The story is playfully told, with various amusing excursions, and the mystery of Ddam’s gradually solidifying illusions is tantalizing. I continue to buy DramaQueen’s new releases, in hopes that this will help fund more DVD, but really, I am not very hopeful. Thankfully, TOKYOPOP Germany finished the series, so there’s always the Google Translate route. – Michelle Smith

What starts with “D” in your favorites alphabet?

The Favorites Alphabet: C

Welcome to another installment of the Favorites Alphabet, where the Manga Bookshelf battle robot sift through our towering stacks of dog-eared paperbacks 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.

“C” is for…

City Hunter | By Tsukasa Hojo | Gutsoon — One of the saddest parts of the collapse of Raijin Comics and Gutsoon for me was the loss of one of my favorite Shônen Jump titles, City Hunter, which ran in Shueisha’s flagship magazine from 1985 – 1991. A classic action comedy, it focuses on “sweeper” Ryo Saeba, a handsome gun-for-hire who lives in Shinjuku and acts as a private detective for people (invariably young ladies) who need his services, assisted by his spunky young partner Kaori, who is also his love interest. They aren’t together, though, because Ryo is a complete and utter horndog – he will try to sex up any pretty girl he sees (which are many – Hojo draws beautiful women) and his huge erections are not only a running gag, but almost omnipresent – the term “mokkori” is used by City Hunter fans like “baka” or “hai” by other Japanese anime fans, referring to Ryo’s visible manhood (as well as his term for girl hunting). As for Kaori, her anger at Ryo’s antics, short tomboyish persona and use of huge mallets to flatten Ryo into the ground may sound familiar to some fans of Ranma 1/2 – the series ran in rival magazines. The combination of comedy, action and romance was a huge hit in Japan, but less so here, and no one has been able to restart the series. I believe that Hojo has the rights himself. As he’s currently with Shinchosha, perhaps we could ask them if they want to try it as a JManga title? Or even the semi-sequel, Angel Heart? — Sean Gaffney

Club 9 | By Makoto Kobayashi | Dark Horse — If you told me that one of my favorite manga would focus on a country girl-cum-hostess, my inner feminist would have scoffed at you: how could I possibly enjoy a series that celebrated one of the seamier aspects of Japanese business culture? Yet Club 9 is totally, thoroughly winsome, even if it isn’t very progressive. The story focuses on Haruo, a teenager who leaves her backwoods town to attend college in the big city. Through a series of improbable circumstances, she lands a job at a hostess club, disarming salarymen, tycoons, and manga-ka with her direct, down-home manner. Haruo’s innocence is the source of many comic misunderstandings, but Makoto Kobayashi never makes his heroine the butt of cruel jokes; Haruo always gets the last laugh, no matter how outrageous the circumstances. Fabulous caricatures and an imaginative re-write are the frosting on this very tasty cake. – Kate Dacey

Cross Game | By Mitsuru Adachi | Viz Media – I really love sports manga. I love it when it’s kind of juvenile (Eyeshield 21) and I love it when it’s kind of ridiculous (The Prince of Tennis), but mostly I love it when it’s kind of bittersweet, which is where Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game comes in. The depiction of the baseball games themselves are a lot of fun, but there is also strong character drama, as lead characters Ko Kitamura and Aoba Tsukushima, united in tragedy by the loss of Aoba’s sister some years ago, butt heads due to their similar personalities but gradually grow closer as they mature and develop a greater appreciation of the other’s worth. Reading this series always makes me sniffle (in a good way), and I am grateful that VIZ has licensed it. Not so grateful that I won’t take this opportunity to beg for more Adachi, however. Might I suggest Rough? — Michelle Smith

Cross Game | By Mitsuru Adachi | Viz Media — There’s a Japanese phrase, mono no aware, that I suspect I probably overuse to the point that I end up sounding pretentious. I actually don’t care, because that phrase, which is often translated as “the pity of things,” frequently pops to mind when I’m really, really loving a given manga. It may seem unlikely to link that phrase, defining a wistful awareness that everything ends eventually, to Adachi’s baseball comedy, but Adachi is about as good at embodying this haunting, preemptive kind of nostalgia as just about any of his peers. So, yes, Cross Game is hilarious, and, yes, it’s about baseball, but it’s also about youth in all of its awful glory, from the off-the-diamond losses you never quite figure out how to endure to the grand possibilities the future presents, even though they scare you a little because you’re not sure you’ll be able to realize them. And there’s a really cute cat. I don’t know what else you could reasonably expect. – David Welsh

Crown of Love | Yun Kouga | Viz Media — Unlike the first two letters we’ve explored here, “C” is a tough one for me. While there are a number of “C” manga I’m very fond of (Cardcaptor Sakura, Chi’s Sweet Home, and Children of the Sea all spring immediately to mind), I don’t have a deeply personal favorite—that kind of manga that just really gets me regardless of its more objectively-measurable qualities.  Except that I totally do. I don’t generally believe in “guilty pleasures” (why feel guilty over taking pleasure in storytelling?), but if I did, this would be at the top of the list. It’s a twisted josei love story that isn’t afraid to explore the possibility that its male protagonist may be genuinely creepy—made even more twisted by the fact that he’s got nothing on the people around him. Though its final chapters are a bit too romantic to suit the story as a whole, at four volumes total, it’s an addictive whirlwind of a series. And sometimes, honestly, that’s “favorite” enough for me. – Melinda Beasi

What starts with “C” in your favorites alphabet?


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?


The Favorites Alphabet: A

Welcome to the first installment of the Favorites Alphabet, where the Manga Bookshelf battle robot glances through our respective libraries 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.

“A” is for…

After School Nightmare | By Setona Mizushiro | Go!Comi — Gender-bending is not unusual in manga, but actual exploration of gender is, and that’s just one of several refreshing aspects of this unfortunately out-of-print manga. It’s also a story about teenagers that uses school-mandated shared nightmares as a way of forcing students to display and face their own worst fears right in front of each other. Is it creepy? Yes. It also serves as a pretty accurate metaphor for my own thankfully-distant teenage hell, and I expect I’m not alone there. Though the series’ dream setting places it soundly in the realm of the surreal, that doesn’t make it any less resonant. After all, where do our own fears feel more real than in our fevered dreams? For more about this series from smarter writers than I, look to Jason Thompson  and (of course) David Welsh. – Melinda Beasi

Antique Bakery | By Fumi Yoshinaga | Digital Manga Publishing — Ostensibly a slice-of-life tale about four men working together in a bakery, Antique Bakery offers more dramatic surprises than one might expect. Early on, charismatic gay pastry chef Ono and cluelessly lovable Chikage emerge as favorites, but as we learn more about the bakery’s proprietor, Tachibana, the more fascinating he becomes. An ordeal suffered in his past has profoundly informed the man he is in the present, and when readers realize the truth of what’s been going on all along, Yoshinaga’s mastery suddenly becomes even more apparent. Yes, there are lighthearted moments in this series. Yes, there is a fun cast of characters who grow and change from working together. But most of all, there is Tachibana’s unforgettable story. – Michelle Smith

Apocalypse Meow | By Motofumi Kobayashi | ADV Manga — Apocalypse Meow does for the Vietnam War what Maus does for World War II, using animal surrogates to re-enact period conflict. In this case, rabbits stand in for American soldiers, and cats stand in for the Vietnamese, while the Chinese (pandas) and Russians (bears) observe from the sidelines. Author Motofumi Kobayashi is clearly a military enthusiast: every volume is studded with sidebars describing combat tactics and weaponry, as well as lovingly drawn maps of troop movement. Yet Kobayashi doesn’t lose sight of the human cost of war; watching a trio of bunnies caught in a brutal fire fight makes the horror of combat fresh and unsettling, especially for readers who have been desensitized to the conflict through years of watching movies and documentaries about Vietnam. The series is long out of print, but enterprising (and patient) readers can find inexpensive copies on eBay. – Katherine Dacey

Aria (and its prequel Aqua) | By Kozue Amano | ADV Manga/Tokyopop — A cynical person might say that what Aria really shows is that slice-of-life, look at the scenery manga with no moe schoolgirls in it will die a financial death here in North America.  But what we saw of this series just made me love it all the more.  For a science-fiction utopia fantasy world, Aria is so relaxed and sedate.  It’s not afraid to devote 30 pages to simply walking to a store in the rain, or visiting a friend.  And as the series goes on, the cast of characters that form the core group grow and change, some more startlingly than others.  It’s a classic example of the sort of series you read and feel a smile on your face and a warmth in your heart.  It ran for a total of 14 volumes between both series in Japan, of which 8 saw publication here (both of Aqua and 6 of Aria’s 12).  Sadly, if you want more, I suspect you’ll have to learn Japanese.  It’s now failed to sell with two different North American publishers, and its Japanese company, Mag Garden, is the *only* major manga publisher with no digital initiative – even Square Enix is striking out on its own, separate from JManga.  It’s a shame, as I’d love everyone to see the end of this. – Sean Gaffney

Astral Project | By Garon Tsuchiya and Syuji Takeya | CMX — Being able to describe this series as “a slice-of-life supernatural mystery” makes me enormously pleased, even though it isn’t by any means comprehensive. A young man’s sister has committed suicide, and he tries to make sense of her death. Along the way, he learns to project his spirit out of his body and encounters other astral travelers who change his perspective on life. Beyond his emotional trauma, we also learn of a decidedly odd government conspiracy that gives Tsuchiya a platform for all kinds of extremely pointed satire aimed at contemporary culture. Astral Project is really, really odd, though it’s ultimately very involving and likeable. It’s further proof that Enterbrain’s Comic Beam publishes some of the most unusual, interesting comics Japan has to offer. It may be difficult to find copies of this four-volume series, as CMX didn’t exactly flood the market with copies the first time, but it’s worth the hunt. – David Welsh

What starts with “A” in your Favorites Alphabet?