So, I had someone ask me the other day what some good manga would be for them to start out with, so they could get a sense of what manga is and start a manga discussion group.
Here are some thoughts on that topic – first, good manga for the noob.
1. Hikaru No Go – A nice series, with simple and straightforward layouts. It hasn’t been flipped, so you have to learn how to read it in reverse. This is the case with most manga nowadays, so you’ll have to develop that skill regardless – that’s where the simple layout comes in handy. The characters and storyline are easy to access, and the sports-theme, with our hero facing a succession of contests against friend and foe, is easy to invest in.
2. Azumanga Daioh! – Often, this one is more like a comic strip than a manga, but there are stories, themes, and situations that carry through. Very funny reading, following the day-to-day lives of several high school girls and their teacher, a woman barely mature enough to distinguish herself from her students. Each of the students is unique in their own way, and readers will likely latch on to one or two that they identify with most. You still have to train yourself to read in reverse, but it’s not as hard here – everything is laid out like a comic strip, with four frames stacked on top of each other. Start at the top and read down, then move to the next column, etc.
3. Barefoot Gen – This one is a real departure from what you might think of as “manga.” Barefoot Gen was written by a survivor of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, and centers around the life of a six-year old boy. The series begins with the story of Gen’s life leading up to and including the day the bomb is dropped. There are four volumes in the series, continuing the story through the aftermath and the life that followed for Gen. The English translated volumes have been flipped, meaning you read them in our Western orientation. This makes them easier to read in one way, but the books are tough to read in another way – the story is devastating.
Once you’ve introduced yourself to both the style and the spectrum of manga, it’s time to look at some of the popular series, and also to examine ‘shojo’ and ‘shonen’ style manga.
1. Bleach, by Tite Kubo – A popular series that will run to over 30 volumes, Bleach has been a big hit in both Japan and the US. The anime version of the manga is shown on “adult swim” on the cartoon network, which has helped drive interest in the manga amongst teens. Bleach is a ‘shonen’ manga, meaning that it’s target audience is boys, but the series will appeal to both boys and girls, as well as adults. The story follows the character of Ichigo Kurosaki, a 15 year old boy who has always been able to see ghosts. He has a fateful encounter with a “soul reaper” – a person/entity that protects the world from bad ghosts, called “Hollows” – that imbues him with the powers of a Soul Reaper. Now he must use these powers to help ghosts, destroy hollows, and protect people, and at the same time try to maintain his normal high-school life.
2. Naruto, by Masashi Kishimoto – Another shonen manga experiencing tremendous popularity, Naruto follows the exploits of a hyperactive ninja-in-training, Naruto. Naruto has the spirit of the nine-tailed-fox inside of him, giving him extra powers. The manga series is very popular, as is the corresponding anime series. Naruto is very popular with boys and girls alike.
3. Kare Kano, by Masami Tsuda – This is a very popular romance series, and a ‘shojo’ manga. An alternate title for Kare Kano is “His and Her Circumstances.” The series generally follows the lives of two high school students, Yukino (a girl) and Soichiro (a boy). Yukino is pretty, smart, and popular, and wants to keep it that way. Soichiro is handsome, smart and popular, and seems to pull it off with less effort than Yukino. This begins a great rivalry between the two that blooms into romance over time. Every once in a while, one of the manga volumes will have an extra story in it dealing with the trials and tribulations of other students at the school as they find love in unlikely places.
4. Vampire Knight, by Matsuri Hino. This is a shojo manga, rated for Older Teens. In Vampire Knight, there is a school, “The Cross Academy,” that has a day class and a night class. The day class is all human, and the night class is all vampires. The school was founded to help vampires and humans live in peace with each other. Most humans don’t know that vampires exist, so there’s a lot of sneaking around and trying to figure out what’s going on, and because the vampires are all so beautiful, all the day class students want to know more about the night class students. The main character is Yuki, the adopted daughter of the headmaster of Cross Academy. She knows the secret of the night class, and is in love with one of the vampires there. The series is full of danger and romance and so forth.
That’s about all I’ll say on this topic right now. I’ll probably weigh in on manga topics again in the future, though.