Behind the cut: the stunning conclusion to the first Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event!
In the last two installments of Overlooked Manga Festival, here and here, I asked American manga editors for their top manga picks. Today: the final list!
Lillian Diaz-Przybyl is an editor at Tokyopop whose credits include Saiyuki, Loveless, and a whole bunch of OEL manga, including Dramacon and Fool's Gold.
Top Ten Overlooked Manga (Translated):
1. Dragon Voice, by Yuriko Nishiyama
I have an inordinate fondness for this title, which I had the pleasure of editing for a while. Nishiyama is better known for her shonen basketball series, Harlem Beat (later known as Rebound), and she shows her shonen sports manga chops in this series as well, but featuring a Japanese boy band. The dance scenes are brilliant and the writing is (I think) intentionally hilarious. The homoeroticism may or may not be intentional. All of the over-the-top goodness you expect from shonen series, but with even shinier costumes.
2. Hikaru no Go, by Obata and Hotta
I have to second Alexis on this one. I first read this in Japanese while I was studying abroad in Tokyo, and I couldn't put it down. Who'd have thought a ghost and a board game could be so entertaining?! Deserves to be as famous and popular here as it was overseas.
3. Tramps Like Us (aka. Kimi wa Pet), by Yayoi Ogawa
One of TOKYOPOP's forays into the world of josei manga, this series is funny, smart and beautiful, and it's got a great take on the trials of being a modern woman, torn between love and career.
4. Shout Out Loud, by Satosumi Takaguchi.
While not quite as pitch-perfect as the great Fumi Yoshinaga (I'm specifically not including her on this list because I think Antique Bakery has done a pretty good job of making a name for itself, and therefore doesn't qualify as "overlooked"--still a "must read," though!), Takaguchi is equally prolific in Japan, and is just as smart and subtle a writer. Each time I read through this series I pick up something new and interesting that Takaguchi is going for. The silly premise of voice actors in love hides a complicated story of father/son relationships, and what it really means to open yourself up to another person.
5. Off*Beat, by Jen Quick
Not from Japan, but still totally worth a read. I've got a lot of artists who I work with these days, but Jen continues to surprise me with how smart and understated her writing is. The story of a bored boy in Queens who starts stalking his across-the-street neighbor, Off*Beat has garnered a few devoted fans, but not a lot of widespread acclaim, even though I think it's one of the best books I have the pleasure to work on.
6. Hands Off, by Kasane Katsumoto
I'm kind of astonished that this hasn't picked up more of a following. I heard about it from Lianne Sentar's website before I started at TP, and I've edited 7 out of the 8 volumes, and loved every page of it. There are some devoted readers out there, but I suspect that the initial "danger of the week" nature of the first few volumes put off most of the audience, which is a shame, because this story of three teenaged boys with psychic powers just gets better as you go along. There are soooooo many clichés in shojo manga, but this series dodges them all and has a truly original and exciting story to tell. The author doesn't go the easy shonen-ai route, in spite of three cute male leads, and the female characters are actually compelling, smart and likeable, which is, ironically, unusual for a mainstream shojo series. And there's cool psychic powers! And teenaged angst!
7. Gatcha Gacha (the TOKYOPOP version--not to be confused with DelRey's Gatcha Gatcha, which is a dumb but funny fanservice extravaganza), by Yutaka Tachibana
This is a relatively new series that deserves a closer look. The art is up there with Hot Gimmick in terms of cute guys and girls and the story is a little smarter than your average shojo. Yuri's unlucky in love, and she's out to snag herself a steady boyfriend, which doesn't seem like the most unique premise in the world, but the rest of the cast of characters and the little asides the author throws in, and the subtle moments of characterizations, are good stuff.
8. xxxHolic, CLAMP
This only barely makes it into the "overlooked" category, but I think it deserve to be here, since after some initial fanfare, I feel like this has been mostly overshadowed by its more accessible sibling, Tsubasa. xxxHolic took me almost five volumes to really get into--the ghost-seeing/problem-solving/wish-granti
9. Yakitate Japan
A manga about baking bread. The puns are ridiculous and the buns will make your mouth water. (God, that was terrible. I'm sorry.)
10. Chikyuu Misaki, Yuji Iwahara
Girl goes to frozen town in northern Japan, discovers adorable prehistoric creature that can turn into an adorable little boy. Cute with an odd dash of fanservice and violence, I was hooked on this from the second I picked it up at my local public library. Not the most profound thing in the world, but highly entertaining. If you want more depth, try Iwahara's (currently unlicensed) other series, King of Thorn.
Top Five Untranslated Manga:
1. Ouoku, by Fumi Yoshinaga
A josei-ish title from Hakusensha, about an alternate world where a plague kills off most of the men in Japan, leaving a woman to rule as shogun. The traditional harem, the Ouoku, is now made up of 3000 (supposedly--actually it's more like 500) of the most beautiful men in Japan. The series is basically a compilation of the stories of the harem, with the first volume being somewhat sequential (although switching viewpoints occasionally), and the chapters that will comprise the second volume skipping backwards in time to the founding of the harem. The shogun in volume 1 is a particularly great character, who finds the whole harem thing to be foolish and wasteful.
2. Zankoku na Kami ga Shihai Suru (After us, a Savage God), by Moto Hagio
Man. I started buying this in bunko form, so it's only 10 volumes instead of 14 or whatever, and it's amazing. I'd buy two volumes, and then go back to Kinokuniya the next day for more. The story tells of a sexually abused young man, his tenuous grip on sanity, and the gradual process of healing. For every step forward, there are two steps back for Jeremy, and the awkward love of his abuser's son hurts as much as it helps. The story is intense, brutal, beautiful, and masterfully told.
3. Yamada Taro Monogatari, by Ai Morinaga
A few of her series have been brought over here, but they haven't seemed to garner much attention. My belief is that people just don't quite get her social satire. Manga is generally so earnest a medium that Morinaga's quirky storytelling gets lost unless you're really paying attention. Everyone thinks Yamada Taro is the charming, brilliant heir to a rich family, but he's actually dirt poor, and constantly scraping and saving to keep his seven younger siblings fed and clothed. The joke is that the deception is entirely accidental. Taro doesn't care what people think, but his classmates misinterpret his every gesture and create their own, completely false image of him. You'd think that the "perfect poor boy" joke would get old over 14 volumes, but the author keeps things fresh and hilarious. I have a photocopy of a two-page spread from volume 3 hanging above my desk, and it inspires me on days when I'm feeling down. It's the face Taro makes when a friend throws a leftover pizza into the garbage. We've all had days like that.
4. Homunculus, by Hideo Yamamoto
An I-banker gives up on the corporate life, and starts living as a homeless person. He runs into a quack doctor who convinces him to undergo a trepanning experiment and have a hole drilled in the front of his skull. It literally changes the way he sees the world, and he begins to have bizarre visions of other people and the city around him. The art is amazing and the story is hard to put down.
5. 20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa
Technically licensed by VIZ, but not yet released, so I'm counting it here. The creator of Monster does himself one better. Things have gotten a bit confused in the most recent volumes (haven't read the end yet), but the first 20 or so had me hooked, and hooked hard. I lost a lot of sleep to this one.
Thanks, Lillian! Next week: an entirely different special feature! And more manga, most likely.