Ever since manga hit Westernized comics consumers about a decade ago, our Eastern comics cousin has all but exploded into its own sub culture of intense appreciators and casual readers. It is expansive and accessible, with a little something for everyone – it’s no wonder it’s become so popular. And with its popularity, talented Western artists took inspiration from the pages of the graphic novels they loved so much. They channeled the big eyed, overly emoted art style. Publishers like the now defunct Tokyopop encouraged young American manga-ka with contests like “rising stars of Manga”. And finally Western artists broke through: and their manga was published alongside the Japanese greats.
A lot of American manga is very hit or miss, but there’s definitely some really, really good titles out there. Below I’ve compiled a list of these titles that you should definitely pick up.
Re:Play by Christy Lijewski
Imagine those kids you see lurking around Hot Topic in the mall. Imagine their band if they were obsessed with Japanese culture. Now put that into a manga, and you have the general idea of what Re:Play is. It’s about a hard rock band who are very fashion forward (seriously, the outfits are all really fun to look at). There are lots of relationship politics and silliness, but it’s a fun read and you really find yourself growing attached to the characters as the story progresses.
Hollow Fields by Madeleine Rosca
I LOVE. THIS BOOK. It’s like Harry Potter had a love child with steampunk and adorable manga. Nine year old Lucy Snow, the main character, is quietly on her way to elementary school one day when she somehow finds herself enrolled in Miss Weaver’s Academy for the Scientifically Gifted and Ethically Unfettered—also known as Hollow Fields. There are classes like live taxidermy, combining two animals to make a new one… all with a sinster, shadowy macabre undertone. It’s charmingly written, and the story is absolutely addicting.
Japan Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures in Japan by Aimee Major Steinberger
This is a really neat manga. It’s actually Steinberger’s travel journal from her trip to Japan – in manga form! As a tall girl who has also walked the streets of Japan, I really related to some of the humor… but it’s a great read for anyone with a love of other cultures and traveling. Join her as she visits restaurants, the famous fashionable Harajuku district in Tokyo, maid cafes, toy stores, hot springs, beautiful shrines… it’s like a tourist guide with the added bonus of having a linear story and adorable art.
Madame Xanadu by Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder Hadley
Yes, yes, you see the name Matt Wagner and you are suddenly at arms, wondering “why on earth did she put this on a MANGA list?” But while he may have written this incredible graphic novel, Amy Reeder Hadley is known for her more manga esque style. A lot of the pacing and character development is reminiscent to manga for me… and it’s REALLY GOOD, so why not put it on this list? Who says that the big two can’t also publish manga? (Just look at that ridiculous Runaways manga that Marvel put out a few years ago…) Madame Xanadu explores this character’s rich past, unraveling her incredible history from medieval times to now. Oh, and Sandman is in it. You should probably go get this book.
Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova
For anyone who has ever attended an anime convention (or most any geek convention), this manga is for you. It’s the story of a manga artist who attends a con and falls for a mysterious cosplayer. There’s all sorts of weird, shoujo obstacles (do I love him? Do I love HIM?), but it’s all set on a very relateable backdrop: the pure insanity of conventions. I absolutely loved this series: it felt like I was reading the manga version of my life at conventions. Chmakova has obviously been to enough to really know how to translate the undeniable energy of fandoms onto the page – and it makes for a great read.