Classic Manga YOU Should Read, Part 3

The end.

Two words utterly harmless apart, but when together they oftentimes fill people with dread. "The end" of a relationship. "The end" of a really great job. "The end" of your favourite TV series.

But why don't we re-invent "the End"? Allow it to harken back to days when it wrapped up fantastical storylines, instead of a finality that struck fear into people's hearts? Personally, when I reach the end of things that I like – especially comic books and manga – I feel fulfilled, like I just ate a very good meal. I allow the words to be an opportunity to more things ahead.

Why am I talking about endings? Because this is the final chapter of my three part "Classic Manga YOU Should Read" series. Now now, don't cry, little one. If you manage to read all of this manga in the next month I will be truly impressed. Take notes, empty your pockets, and devour some truly great Japanese comic books… and I'll be back with more recommendations soon enough, don't worry. Without dread in your heart, read on for my final five classic manga choices.


Fist of the North Star by Buronson (writer) and Tetsuo Hara (Illustrator)
Original Run: 1983 – 1988

Shonen Jump is a long running manga magazine that is often a jumping off point for very popular series. It is geared towards young boys and many titles are made popular from it: it's even been translated into english and is an incredibly popular publication in the western world, as well. Fist of the North Star was one of the manga that got its start from Shonen Jump, spanning 245 chapters before its run was over.

Fist of the North Star is good gory fun. It is set on a post apocalyptic nuclear world where there is a clearly defined line between "baddies" and "goodies". It centers around a warrior named Kenshiro, who knows an incredibly effective martial arts style that allows him to target the pressure points on the human body, which usually results in a typical over the top violent death. Usually manga this long end up dragging, but Fist of the North Star is an entertaining read through all 27 volumes, with strong character development and a satisfying storyline.




Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka
Original run: 1973-1983 

I've already included Astro Boy in a previous "Classic Manga YOU Should Read" installment, but it's hard to excape Tezuka's incredible influence over manga. Black Jack is a medical manga – which is not a very often explored genre. In typical Tezuka style the "episodes" are generally self contained: 20 pages or so of individual stories with reoccuring characters.

Interestingly enough, Tezuka was a physician himself, so there are some very accurate and detailed medical excursions in the manga. However, while the main character is a surgeon, he's a super human, therefore allowing him to operate in extreme conditions: like in a pitch black room, or even on himself. Black Jack is a jaunting, fun read, with the morals of Aesop's Fables thrown in and the incredibly unmistakable art style of Osamu Tezuka making it lovely to look at.



Candy Candy by Kyoko Mizuki (writer) and Yumiko Igarashi (Illustrator)
Original Run: 1975-1979 

I've heard from a couple of people wondering why I wasn't including shoujo manga on this list. To be honest, though I read a LOT of shoujo manga I wasn't quite aware which ones were considered "classic", so I had to spend a couple of weeks doing research and perusing my shelves. I was actually surprised at how many of my selections were "classic" or "retro" shoujo manga – a lot of in translates so well even today that even though the art style seemed different to me it didn't even really occur to me that they were older. So on this list I'm including two fantastic classic shoujo manga: Candy Candy and The Rose of Versailles (below).

Candy Candy has everything one could want in a retro shoujo manga: girls with sparkly eyes, pretty dresses, convuluted love stories, and whimsical artwork. A common theme in older shoujo manga was that the heroine grew up in a fantastic or exotic location: usually, in America. Candy Candy is so exception, as the main character is raised in an orphanage in Lake Michigan and even attends school in London. It's described as a "slice of life" story and involves many different memorable characters and the notable love triangle that so many shoujo have. It's a bit of a Cinderella story, as the main character raises from the ashes of a painful childhood to a wonderful adult life.



Cyborg 009 by Shotaro Ishinomori
Original Run: 1964 – 1981

 If you're a fan of Tezuka, you're probably already geared to like Cyborg 009. Ishinomori was incredibly influenced by him and was a giant fan, so you can definitely see the elements of Tezuka's work in this manga. However, it stands alone as a brilliant masterpiece and holds its own in the history of manga.

Cyborg 009 is a story of good vs evil, and the perseverence of the human spirit. Nine normal human beings are captured by an evil organization, then then turns them into superhuman cyborgs. However, the cyborgs rebel and attempt to take down the corportation that did this to them. It's a beautiful read, with lush, rich artwork and memorable characters. Add this selection to your shelves.




The Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda
Original run: 1972-1973 

It only seemed fitting that I end this three part series on classic manga with one of my FAVOURITE classic manga. The Rose of Versailles is one of those books that I constantly pick up just to flip through, lovingly fondling the dog eared pages and admiring the incredibly beautiful artwork. It was one of the first "gender bending" manga that are so popular today, featuring a young woman raised in France as a man so she could become her father's successor in the palace guards. It also holds some controversy for the bisexual or "yuri" (lesbian) undertones, due to the main character's intense and close relationship with another woman.

The Rose of Versailles also boasts the Historical manga genre, and even has characters like Marie Antoinette show up in it every so often. I have read this book many, many times. It is riveting, you identify with the characters, the drama is poignant, and the artwork is beautiful and timeless.


So there you have it. Don't be sad this is the end of my Classic Manga series: you have a lot of reading to do.



Molly McIsaac dances to the music in her head and wears hats with unicorn horns on them. She likes watermelon, cute things, and of course, comic books. Read about her misadventures on twitter.


  1. I forgot all about Cyborg 009; I love that one.

  2. I’ve never even heard of Cyborg 009 – thanks for giving me something new to check out!

  3. Three great installments – thanks Molly!

    I’d recommend the Black Jack anime to anyone btw – it’s one of my favourite anime movies. 

  4. I cried a lot with Candy Candy

  5. I love Candy Candy the anime, I watched it as a little kid in Nicaragua! I have sadly never read the manga 🙁 How many books is it?

  6. First of. I’m very proud of the Final Countdown reference in the article description. Not sure who did it (I would assume Molly) but it is awesome. lol 

    Also, I remember watching the show of Cyborg 009. I think I might have to check out the Manga. Great article!  

  7. Word of caution: Beware the Fist of the North Star anime. It strays into some really freaky tentacle hentai territory.

    Black Jack is probably Tezuka’s best long-form story. It’s large, but so, so satisfying. For more medical thriller manga, check out Urasawa’s Monster. I might be something like what Pluto is to Astroboy, an update that rivals the original, but in a different.


  8. Interesting article, Molly, but I think you should have defined your ground rules for inclusion, and also added notes to each entry to tell folks who published it or where to find it (you can’t assume everyone can read Japanese and/or has access to a Japanese bookstore).

    That said, I had made myself a similar list over a year ago.  My ground rules were that the manga had to be translated into English and published in the USA within the last 25 years. Here’s the list I came up with:

    1.    2001 Nights (Viz)
    2.    Akira (Epic/Marvel, Dark Horse)
    3.    AstroBoy [Tetsuwan Atomu] {by Osamu Tezuka} (Dark Horse)
    4.    Barefoot Gen (New Society Publishers, Last Gasp)
    5.    Bat-Manga! {by Jiro Kuwata} (Pantheon Books)
    6.    Bio-Booster Armor Guyver (Viz)
    7.    Cobra – Space Adventure (Eclipse/Viz)
    8.    Crying Freeman (Viz, Dark Horse)
    9.    Cyborg 009 {by Shotaro Ishinomori} (TokyoPop)
    10.    Fist of the North Star (Eclipse/Viz, Raijin)
    11.    Ghost in the Shell (Dark Horse)
    12.    Golgo 13 (Viz)
    13.    Kikaider 02 {by Shotaro Ishinomori & Memu} (CMX)
    14.    Lone Wolf & Cub (First Comics, Dark Horse)
    15.    Mai the Psychic Girl (Eclipse/Viz)
    16.    Midnight Eye [Goku] (Viz, ComicsONE)
    17.    Planetes (TokyoPop)
    18.    Sanctuary (Viz)
    19.    Speed Racer [Mach Go-Go-Go] {by Tatsuo Yoshida} (NOW, Wildstorm, Digital Manga)
    20.    Ultraman Classic: Battle of the Ultra Brothers (Viz)

    Now, I’ll grant you that list would be a lot tighter if I pared it down from 20 to 15 or 10, plus I created it as a “Favorite Classic Manga” list, rather than a “BEST Classic Manga” list. Also, the list is alphabetical, rather than ranked.

  9. Stop using pictures from the anime-versions when you’re writing about manga.  Also, it would be interesting to know if the manga in question is available in english…