Strangely enough, the holidays are fast approaching us and 2010 is coming to its wintery close. The year, personally, has absolutely flown by for me, full of comic book conventions, endless articles, and a plethora of memorable things and digested media. In my typical fashion I had a voracious appetite for all things comic book and manga related this year, and spent every plane ride or late night with ink on my fingers or a dog eared cover in my hands.
But not everyone is as lucky as me in terms of endless free time to devour reading material. Not to fear, the holidays are here! A wonderful time for students and an excuse to read comics in front of your parents when you’re home for break, the end of the year is when I have always seemed to get most of my reading done. And with the inevitable end of the year, “the best of” lists are bound to be cropping up. So allow me to beat the rush and simultaneously give you some manga to take home for the Holidays, shall I?
2010 was a particularly strong year for manga, as is every year with increasing ferocity since manga was released into the United States. It lines the shelves at any major chain bookstore and it’s not uncommon to see people you would not suspect clutching a graphic novel on the train or the park bench. As pop culture makes comics and manga more culturally “acceptable”, and the dire economy forces people to escape into imagination and dream worlds, comics and manga are having a hay day.
Due to this, I had a lot of manga to choose from… so without further ado, here are my choices to bring home to meet the family.
My picks for The Best Manga of 2010:
I’m sure at this point most people have heard of Death Note, the psychological and supernatural thriller that took the anime and manga world by storm. Well, earlier this year creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s much anticipated new series Bakuman began running in monthly manga magazine. However, it was a far cry from Death Note, which certainly threw me off a bit. But it does possess the excellent character development that so popularised Death Note in the first place. It’s the story of two friends who want to become “manga-ka”, or professional manga artists. It’s full of emotional trials and tribulations and also accurately portrays the struggles of breaking into the industry, which is even more hardcore than the American comic book industry. It’s certainly worth a read for an excellent story and great characterization.
The Strange Tale of Panorama Island
As with American comics, a lot of manga have a very definitive “style” of artwork that has only recently begun to be challenged. I am a fan of the off kilter, a bit strange art styles, and one of my all time favourite artists and creators is Suehiro Maruo. His style is grotesquely beautiful, with the influence of art nouveau combined with dark , traditional Asian art undertones. His stories are oftentimes so twisted that they are not translated to English, so when I heard that The Strange Tale of Panorama Island was to be released I was chomping at the bit to get my grimy mits on it. If anyone follows my articles with any sort of regularity you’ll be aware that I am a huge connoisseur of anything bizarre and off the beaten path, and this particular manga did not fail to disappoint me. It’s the twisted tale of a man who resembles a deceased heir to a fortune; he digs up the real heir’s body and “comes back from the dead”, successfully convincing everyone that he is, in fact, the heir. It’s a decadent tale of deceit with the noteworthy bizarre undertones that all of Suehiro’s manga boasts.
NOTE: The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, which was originally set to be released in November of 2010, has been pushed back to Spring 2011.
Chi’s Sweet Home
In a drastic contrast from the above manga, Chi’s Sweet Home is perhaps one of the most sickly sweet things to spring into existence this year. It’s a manga about a kitty… and who doesn’t LOVE kitties? With a very basic premise (Chi the kitty finally finds a family, but the family’s apartment doesn’t allow cats – oh no!) and adorable, simple artwork, Chi’s Sweet Home is a wonderful all ages fluff piece that I find myself reading whenever I need a bit of cheering up.
Arisa is a brand new shoujo release that I just barely picked up and read last week. Initially, I was expecting a sickly sweet, fluffy read but was quickly sucked into a tale of teenage angst and suicide. It’s the story of twin sisters who are drastically different: one is the fiery redhead with a foul temper and the other is the most popular girl in school. But when the “popular twin” attempts suicide, her sister switches places with her and attends her high school in disguise in an attempt to find our her sister’s secrets. There’s only one volume so far, but I’m intrigued already. Pair a dark story with adorable artwork and you have a surefire way to hook me.
My Girlfriend’s a Geek
This title is probably one of my favourites that I have read this year. As a female self proclaimed geek, I was really interested to see how this portrayed women geeks… and it absolutely delighted me. It’s a story based off of posts on a Japanese forum, from a boy who has the gender reversal of being the one outgeeked by his girlfriend. She is incredibly into anime and manga and measures her geek girth against his constantly. It’s a light hearted and amusing read that challenges gender roles.
A surprisingly mature excursion from most manga, Ristorante Paradiso is a grown up drama with a beautifully stylized art style. With a storyline that makes most soap operas seem tame and a refreshing westernized tone, if you’re looking for something akin to “indie” comics look no further than this beautiful title.
If you like dark, gory, and psychological sci-fi than you should definitely pick up Deadman Wonderland. Set in a future where Tokyo is under the sea, it revolves around the story of Ganta, a young boy who is blamed for the slaughter of an entire classroom of his peers. He is thus vanquished to “Deadman Wonderland”, which is not only a prison but also a tourist attraction.
2010 was truly an exemplary year for manga releases, and I am excited to see what 2011 has in store. Publishers seem to be realizing that consumers are looking for unique stories and art styles instead of the same old run of the mill cookie cutter titles that are so abundant in Asian countries. I hope this trend continues and that we will continue to be delighted by fresh new stories.