Also, this week I'm interrupting the usual Overlooked Manga action to bring you the first Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event!
With so much manga out there, how can any non-obsessed person find the most excellent stuff to read? That's the question plaguing our nation's nerds. Today, I offer two fine sources for manga recommendations: Japanese manga fans, and American manga editors. Actually, it was going to be just the editors, but then the Japan Media Arts Festival did a big tenth-anniversary poll of fans' all-time favorite manga that I just had to include. Their top ten:
1. Slam Dunk
2. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
3. Dragon Ball
4. Fullmetal Alchemist
7. Black Jack
8. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
10. Death Note
Two things immediately stand out about this list. First, almost all of these manga are available in official English translation. For old-timey nerds like myself, who grew up with about five translated manga to choose from, this is astonishing. Only a few of these titles aren't readily available at your local Borders. The classic basketball manga Slam Dunk was briefly published by the now-defunct Raijin Comics and is now hard to find. Doraemon, a robot cat from the future who enjoys a level of popularity in Japan roughly equivalent to Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse, has yet to make it to America. Only two volumes of Black Jack were published by Viz, and they're out of print, but track them down if it's humanly possible, because they're awesome.
The other notable thing about this list is that it's dominated by shonen manga. Apparently, the Japan Media Arts Festival is a total sausage fest. For a shojo-tastic alternative, let's check out the "Fifty Best Manga" poll conducted by the Japanese magazine Comic Link in 1998. Female fans stuffed the ballot boxes for this one, voting their girly favorites into the top slots. The Comic Link top ten:
1. Banana Fish
2. Black Jack
4. Glass Mask
5. The Rose of Versailles
7. The Poe Family
9. Heaven's Son in the Land of the Rising Sun
Most of these have yet to be published in English, mainly because no one except CMX wants to take a chance on older shojo manga. (Oh, and Vertical, which is about to earn my eternal devotion by putting out Toward the Terra.) Black Jack, Phoenix, and Doraemon made both lists, suggesting that they are, in fact, the world's awesomest manga.
Okay, so that's what Japanese fans think you should be reading. To get another perspective, I asked some American manga editors, brave men and women who spend their days ensconced in manga, to list their top picks. Check it out...
Jason Thompson is a freelance editor for Viz. He's also an amazing cartoonist in his own right; you should read his comic The Stiff, currently available but on hiatus while Jason works on a Secret Manga Project.
Jason's top ten manga published in English:
1. Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba (story) and Takeshi Obata (art)
2. Please Save My Earth by Saki Hiwatari (DAAAMN she's good!)
3. Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga
4. Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka (I wish it was ALL translated, not just two puny volumes)
(Note from Shaenon: I apologize for assaulting your delicate senses with what may be the two greatest pages in the history of comics, in which Black Jack OPERATES ON HIS OWN INTESTINES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK WHILE SURROUNDED BY RAVENOUS DINGOES. It had to be done.)
4. Cromartie High School by Eiji Nonaka
5. Iron Wok Jan by Shinji Saijyo (GOD I LOVE THIS MANGA SO MUCH!!! SHONEN CHAMPION RULES!!!)
6. Sugar Sugar Rune by Moyoco Anno (really, everything by Moyoco Anno)
7. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki
8. Maison Ikkoku by Rumiko Takahashi
9. The Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezu
10. Devilman by Go Nagai
Jason's top ten manga not yet published in English:
1. The Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda (even though a single volume was translated around 1981, it's basically not available)
2. The Left Hand of God, The Right Hand of the Devil (also Fourteen), both by Kazuo Umezu
3. anything by Daijiro Moroboshi, a particularly weird horror artist
4. more manga by Mami Itoh, who's just a good figure artist
5. Bronze Zetsuai 1989 (the manga that restarted the Boys' Love phenomenon, for good or ill)
6. Yagami-kun no Katei no Jijou, a.k.a. Affairs of the House of Yagami (the "boy in love with his mother" manga by Kei Kusunoki)
7. just for nostalgia, I'll say... all of Masahiko Nakahira's untranslated Street Fighter-related manga. I used to think he was a really great action-scene artist.
8. also just for dumb nostalgia... I'd like to read Kentaro Yano's no doubt crappy 5-volume Cthulhu Mythos RPG manga.
9. The Song of the Wind and Trees
10. Kamui Den by Sampei Shirato... I want to see what all the fuss is about.
Alexis Kirsch is an editor at Tokyopop.
Alexis's top ten manga published in English:
1. Hikaru no Go: Brilliant on so many levels.
2. Death Note: Very hard to not put this at #1.
3. Dragonball/Dragonball Z: All-time classic. Loved it since I was young.
4. Naruto: Love them ninja!
5. Beck: Great manga about music.
6. Fruits Basket: Everyone loves it.
7. Mitsukazu Mihara books (Doll, Embalmer, Haunted House, RIP, etc): These are all amazing!
8. Berserk: Gory but a goodie.
9. SGT. Frog: Side-splitting funny.
10. GetBackers: Very entertaining.
Bonus: Five New Manga to Keep an Eye On!
1. Blood Sucker: This series is amazing. I read through the first 8 books and was blown away. If you are a fan of Berserk, grab this now!
2. Vamprie Doll: This book is hilarious!
3. Welcome to the NHK: Wacky/crazy fun.
4. Yakitate Japan: Bread-making battles! Great comedy.
5. Junjo Romatica: Check it out if you like boys' love.
1. Rokudenashi Blues: Viz, license this!!!
2. King of Thorn
3. Say Hello to Black Jack
(Note from Shaenon: This is not Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack, but a more recent series by artist Shuho Sato.)
Dr. Narfelopigus III is the pseudonym of a manga editor who wishes to remain anonymous.
Dr. N's top manga:
1. One Pound Gospel
Old-school Rumiko Takahashi in her prime. My favorite manga by her. The story of a young nun who is falling for a boxer. The boxer is up and coming but can't keep his weight down due to his love of food. Although he has talent, he ends up losing matches and can't seem to live up to his potential. This is where the good-hearted nun comes in as she tries to keep him in line and in the process starts to fall in love, which of course is forbidden for a nun.
Now this may sound like the setup for a bad European art film wrought with much strife and internal conflict, but it's Takahashi so the laughs are plenty, and she really shows off her comedic strengths in this impossible-to-find out-of-print and unfinished manga. Viz published three volumes many years ago for the outrageous price of $15.95!!! Ha Ha! You think manga's breaking your bank now, just be glad you're not from the old school, baby! When manga was always 16 smackers! (of course there were like 3-5 volumes that came out a month worth buying compared to the bazillion being published now).
I did hear a rumor that Takahashi is wrapping it up in Japan so keep your fingers crossed. (All six of you who read the first three, that is.)
2. Jo Jo's Bizarre Adventure
This is truly a spectacular piece of work that demands reading. Each page is an insane work of art. Highly stylized characters with greatly exaggerated features wearing the latest crazybutt fashions, each with their own very unique super powers, fight to stop a powerful vampire named Dio in a story that takes them all around the Middle East fighting other super-powered characters. This manga is NUTZ! Super bloody, hella funny, highly imaginative, and never boring! This is truly manga on a whole different level.
3. Dragon Head
Hey what do you know? Tokyopop is capable of publishing something that doesn't suck ass! Unlike 85% of their current crap pile, Dragon Head has real merit. The story of three kids (and possibly something else) who survive a train accident and are buried deep underground. Everybody else on the train dies, leaving them to fend for themselves. Two of them are kind of coping and one boy, of course, goes crazy! But where the manga truly hooks ya is the mystery surrounding the wreck and the down-to-life details often overlooked by most disaster stories. Why did they wreck, how come no one is looking for them, and why is it getting hotter and hotter when they are far underground? Plus the gruesome details like running out of food, where to go the bathroom and the stench of the slowly decomposing passengers (most of whom were their friends and teachers). All of this is wrapped up in a dark, rough, spooky art style, making the package complete. This manga truly stands out in a world of generic titles.
You fools! Buy this book! You are an idiot if you can't dig a manga like this. It has all the right things going for it! Great art which is very unique as well. It can be said that Naoki Urasawa draws in a mature style. And he is a master of drawing old people! He has a thing for strangely shaped noses and offset eyes, the kinds of flaws that human faces take on over time. Aside from all that, the story is a real page turner, filled with intrigue, twists, conflict, and psychic powers! Yes, psychic powers! It's manga, so it's gotta have some kind of wacky shit going on, right? Luckily, these powers are treated intelligently, like everything else in the story, and seem very believable. Good stuff.
5. Flame of Recca
Now, see, here's the part where everybody's gonna go "NANI?!" Believe it or not, FoR is actually a kick-ass manga. Cool characters, great art, interesting story, and awesome battles. Plus it has one of the longest, fiercest, tournaments ever drawn! It lasts like 6-7 full volumes! Lots of great battles in which the victor isn't always who you'd expect. I personally like tourny manga (manga that are known to have lengthy tournaments in them, like Dragonball Z, YuYu Hakusho, even Naruto for that matter), and this is one of the best. In fact, I have a saying about FoR: "If you don't like Flame of Recca, you do not truly understand manga." It's a good manga; if you can't see that you just don't get the medium. (This saying has been known to irritate others from time to time. Use it at your own risk.)
Now it just makes me sad to think that this manga isn't doing better than Naruto. It should; it's a far better title in just about every way. That's not to say the big "N" isn't good, in fact it's great, but it is not a true masterpiece. Vagabond is a testament to the manga medium and should be studied closely by anyone who calls themselves an otaku. It's definitely not for kids, as it is a gritty tale of a wandering swordsman in ancient Japan who fights to see how powerful he can become. The story encompasses him and his childhood friend from their humble beginnings to his rise to the status of a legendary swordsmen as his friend falls into the life of a liar and a criminal. Both their paths slowly lead back to what will be a very interesting reunion. And all this comes in what I consider the best-drawn manga currently on the market. This is simply a beautiful series and should not be missed.
Okay, that's it for this week. Next week: more lists, including my own Top Ten Manga Published in English, Like, Ever. Thanks, Jason, Alexis, and Dr. N!