You all have probably worried that I’ve disappeared off the face of the earth. Alas! I have just been distracted by my birthday and (American) Thanksgiving.
In fact, I thought I might use this space to help myself prep for a class I will be guest lecturing at on Wednesday (Nov. 28) night at the College of St. Katherine’s here in Saint Paul, MN.
I’m going to be talking to a bunch of library science students (aka future librarians) about manga.
In fact, I just wrote up a list of definitions for the instructor–everything from mangaka to yaoi, and now I’m going to make an annotated list of (my) recommended titles. So, y’all might as well enjoy the fruits of my labor as well.
I would also love to hear from my readers about what YOU would recommend to librarians. Please drop me a suggestion in the comments! Even if I don’t get them in time for Wednesday’s class, I can always ask my library to buy them–and, if I haven’t read them, I will review them here!
RECOMMENDED MANGA TITLES (in no particular order)
Libraries are pretty good at stocking the ‘hot new’ shōnen titles. My favorites in this publishing category include.
Bleach by Tite Kubo
I mean, who would I be if I didn’t list Bleach as one of my favorite shōnen manga, am I right? My only caveat is quit before the final chapter. It screeches to a halt much like Naruto for the same reasons (publisher pulled the plug.)
Why I like Bleach in a nutshell: the cast of characters is diverse af.
The story follows Ichigo Kurosaki, a high schooler who can see ghosts. The story quickly picks up steam, however, when Ichigo enters the spirit would in order to rescue a friend.
Blue Exorcist by Kazue Kat
I’ll admit that initially bounced out of Blue Exorcist, but I’ve really grown to love this one.
The story follows Rin and Yukio Okumura, twin brothers, who are literally Satan-spawn. However, Rin joins a group of exorcism students to fight demons… and therein lies the conflict/complications.
Why do I like it? It’s harder to quantify than Bleach, but what I love about Blue Exorcist is ‘shōnen-ness,’ maybe? There’s a lot of persevering for FRIENDSHIP and BEING A TEAM, in a way that I find super-duper compelling–which is maybe ironic because all this ‘boy-ness’ is actually written by a woman.
Haikyu!! by Haruichi Furudate
Speaking of that undefinable ‘shōnen-ness’ that I love, Haikyu!! is so shōnen to almost be a parody of shōnen, yet I lap up its cheesy goodness without irony.
This story can be summed up the easiest, however: Shōyō Hinata wants to become good at volleyball and learns that part of what that means is that he must become a team player.
Hinata is life, okay? Everything about his manically enthusiastic self is who I am at my core, except 150% more athletic. And add the rest of the team and all the other characters… yep. This is one of my favorites of the year.
Another sports manga that I loved, but which don’t see as often at libraries would be Yowamushi Pedal by Wataru Watanabe about a high school bicycling club.
A more unusual shōnen manga that I really enjoyed this year was The Girl From the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún by Nagabe.
Also, I’d love to see more libraries carrying Barakamon by Satsuki Yoshino, a story about a big-city calligrapher who is forced to relocate to a small island after an altercation with a calligraphy contest judge. This is a very sweet and heartwarming slice-of-life shōnen title in the flavor of Yatsuba&!.
I don’t read much in this category, so these ‘recommendations” are more of the variety of “hey, if you’re wondering what shōjo is like, these are the ones that other people say are must-reads and/or ‘the classics.'”
Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya, which I have never read, so I have to crib this description: “Through a series of wacky circumstances, schoolgirl Tohru Honda takes up residence at the swank residence of the very wealthy, but very cursed Sohma family. Their magical burden? They turn into Chinese zodiac animals whenever they’re hugged by a member of the opposite sex.”
Skip Beat! by Yoshiki Nakamura–another one I have never cracked, but which is apparently about, “Plain Jane Kyoko Mogami moves to Tokyo with her childhood friend (and lifelong crush) Sho Fuwa, who is pursuing his dream of becoming a rock star. To support Sho, Kyoko quits school and works at several part-time jobs. But her illusions of romance are shattered when she discovers that Sho sees her only as a servant, not a girlfriend. Now burning with anger, Kyoko vows to get her revenge. Her plan? To enter the world of show business and become an even bigger star than Sho.”
Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori is a classic, which I tried to watch as an anime and bounced out of. This is the story of Haruhi Fujioka, who is a scholarship student at a prodigious high school, who ends up in a kind of cross-dressing indentured servitude to a ‘host club’ inside the high school. Of Hatori-sensei’s work, I like Behind the Scenes!! better. I actually managed a couple of volumes of that.
Descending Stories Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū by Haruko Kumota. Wikipeida encapsulates the plot this way: “A man is released from prison and becomes the apprentice of a famous rakugo performer. The story focuses on the backstories of the performers and their struggle to gain popularity”
This is fascinating for what you learn about rakugo, as an art form, and the character’s stories are super compelling, IMHO.
Kids on the Slope by Kodama Yuki
A boy discovers jazz and life gets complicated. I kind of love/hated this due to the ending (and the fact that this was the first josei title I was ever exposed to and I was not prepared for Real Life ™ to intrude.)
This is a complex story about social-economic class and classism, racism, Catholics (a religious minority) in Japan, and all sorts of complicated, grown-up stuff. The anime is beautiful and well worth a watch as well.
For humorous josei, a person could try Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura and Love is Hard for Otaku by Fujita (originally a web manga) both of which are essentially the same story: nerds finding love.
Mushi-shi by Yuki Urushibara. The anime is amazing and I have to confess to not having read the manga, but based on the anime alone this is got to be worthwhile.
How do I describe this? It’s about our wandering hero, Ginko, who acts an intermediary between humans and supernatural beings the ‘mushi.’ The stories have a lush, otherworldly, folk tale feel to them that I have never experienced anywhere else.
The anime is gorgeous, as well. Well worth a watch.
Wonder Cat Kyuu-chan by Nitori Sasami surprises me by falling into this category. It’s a 4-koma about picking up a stray cat and completely mundane adventures that are had.
Laid-Back Camp by Afro. A story about going camping in Japan. Also, there’s a kind of introvert-meets-extrovert friendship stuff going on, but really, it’s about good spots to go to (complete with actual maps on how to get there, if you go,) and buying camping equipment.
Ugh, I need to go to bed. I will add some yaoi, yuri, and bars to this list, maybe in a second installment.