A very good guide to manga
Editor’s note: Last month, Anannya shared an excellent list of Indian graphic novels (you can check it out here). This month, Aarthi and Nirmal have put together their definitive list of manga to add to your TBR pile. Happy reading:)
Written by: Aarthi Ramnath and Nirmal Bhansali, news editors
In a world of DC and Marvel comics, Manga (translation: ‘whimsical pictures’) i.e. comics originating in Japan are becoming increasingly popular worldwide as collectible items. On average, the industry generates over $5 billion in revenue with millions of copies translated, licensed and distributed across the globe. FYI: most popular anime are adaptations of manga of the same name and an author/illustrator is called mangaka.
Printed in only black and white, the stories often draw from the colourful history and culture of the home country and cover a wide-ranging genre—from mystery to sci-fi to horror to action-adventure to slice of life and comedy. You can think of any story, chances are there is already a manga based on that premise! Point to note: Unlike other comics, manga is read from right to left. But don’t worry, you get used to this alignment really quickly.
Although there are thousands of mangas to choose from, we have put together our favourites off of our own bookshelves. We hope the list nudges you into the wondrous world of mangas. As for where to get them: You can read them on official websites like Manga Plus or purchase physical volumes from your local bookstores/online. We also recommend this infographic on Reddit if you want even more recommendations.
Recommendations by Aarthi
‘Naruto’ by Masashi Kishimoto: Not only is its anime adaptation a favourite among many in the community (including me), the manga is one of the best selling stories with 72 volumes and over 250 million copies sold worldwide. First serialised in 1999, the story follows underdog Uzumaki Naruto, an orphan, who pursues his goal of becoming the Hokage (strongest chief) of his village. The story uses concepts from Shintoism and Buddhism and merges it with Ninja training. The art is exquisite, especially on the action panels. I highly recommend reading Pain's Assault Arc and Fourth Shinobi World War: Climax.
‘Death Note’ by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata: This is another very well known anime and manga series. It falls under the supernatural-thriller genre but is an extremely enjoyable story about crime and righteousness. It follows a brilliant high school student Yagami Light who finds a Death Note which belongs to a Shinigami (grim reaper). The basic premise: people whose names are written in the Death Note die. As Light starts using the notebook to rid the world of crime, he is countered by L—an equally brilliant kid with great detective skills. In 13 volumes, we see the consequences of Light’s morally and ethically questionable actions.
‘Spy X Family’ by Tatsuya Endo: If you’re a fan of spy action, this one’s for you! The story follows Loid Forger who is a spy, hired to look over matters of great diplomatic importance and keep peace between fictional countries Westalis and Ostania. His mission: to infiltrate the closed circle of politicians for which he has to pose as a family man. The only catch: he has no family. In a series of hilarious mishaps, he ends up with an assassin for a wife, a four-year-old telepath for a kid and a dog that can predict the future. First serialised in 2019, ‘Spy X Family’ is an ongoing manga series.
‘Way of the House Husband’ by Kousuke Oono: Another one of my favourites is this comedy series with panels showing days in the life of a former Yakuza member Tatsu—bulky and tatted up—now married to a Miku who is a corporate employee. He happily takes up the house duties like cooking, laundry, grocery shopping and even ikebana, which often puts him in hilarious situations with neighbourhood aunties and the police. First serialized in 2018 as a limited series, now it is an ongoing bestseller.
‘Yotsuba&!’ by Azuma Kiyohiko: This is a very simple slice of life story centered around a kid named Yotsuba and her adoptive father. Each chapter has a mini adventure where Yotsuba meets new people and makes new friends and engages in a new activity. The original manga in Japanese is an easy read for anyone interested in learning the Japanese language. I have two volumes in Japanese and I highly recommend it for beginners.
‘20th Century Boys’ by Naoki Urasawa: Naoki Urasawa is a mangaka best known for his twisted dark themes and brilliant storytelling. This manga series is a science fiction about a group of friends who form a club as kids unbeknownst to them that they would have to save everyone from this very club which has developed into a cult and threatens the world as they know it.
‘She and her Cat’ Makoto Shinkai: This is a slice of life story from the director of popular anime films ‘Your Name’ and ‘Suzume’ Makoto Shinkai, who narrates the simple life of Miyu and her cat Chobi as they navigate adulthood.
Recommendations by Nirmal
‘One Piece’: by Eiichiro Oda. It is hard to begin any modern manga recommendation list without mentioning One Piece. Published in the ‘Weekly Shonen Jump’ magazine since July 1997, this epic-fantasy and adventure series has been running for over 25 years and has sold over 500 million copies since then. The series follows Monkey D Luffy, a young pirate and his dream of finding the greatest treasure in the world ‘One Piece’ to become the Pirate King. ‘One Piece’ takes you on an adventure that is filled with mysteries, excitement, emotionally resonant stories and a lot of fun. I’ve been reading this manga for over a decade, and I haven’t gotten bored of it one bit.
‘Attack on Titan’: by Hajime Isayama: This series begins in a post-apocalyptic setting of the world. Humans are forced to live in cities surrounded by three enormous walls that protect them from man-eating giants referred to as Titans. The story follows Eren Yeager, who wants to exterminate all the Titans as revenge for destroying his family. Him and his friends Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlert join the military to fight battles against the Titans. Hajime Isayama uses exquisite artwork and storytelling to bring to life the horrors and struggles of living in this dystopian world. The story develops intricately, and slowly reveals the secrets of this world to the characters. ‘Attack on Titan’ is deeply engaging, and one hell of a thrill ride. I didn’t regret picking this up.
‘Haikyuu’: by Haruichi Furudate: Haikyuu is a manga about volleyball. The story predominantly revolves around the Karasuno High School Volleyball club. It was once a legendary club in its older days, but currently they’re struggling to win. This all changes when Hinata Shoyo (the protagonist) and Kageyama Tobio, two new students join the team. What follows is a journey of the Karasuno club to becoming the best high school volleyball team in Japan. The series made me laugh, cry and feel a whole range of emotions while rooting for this one single team. It captures all the joy and pains of sport and the weight of playing for a team. It doesn’t matter if you don’t follow volleyball, you’ll thoroughly enjoy reading Haikyuu.
‘Berserk’: by Kentaro Miura: Originally This is an epic dark fantasy series set in a medieval Europe-inspired world. It follows the story of Guts, a solitary mercenary who joins Griffith, a charismatic leader of a mercenary group called ‘Band of the Hawk’. As the story progresses we read about the different battles, betrayals and pain Guts has to live through. The late Kentaro Miura, knits together a world that is gruesome, disturbing and beautiful. It is often considered a masterpiece that inspired a generation of manga artists and you need to read it to understand why. I’m awestruck at Miura’s artistry and ability to tell a captivating story and glad that something like this exists.
‘Bonnouji’: by Aki Eda. This is a small wholesome and lighthearted manga that revolves around two characters Ozawa and Oyamada and their ritual of opening boxes that Oyamada received from his weird and crazy brother. There is no deep story, it is just a couple of people hanging out and enjoying each other’s company.
‘Bakuman’: by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Bakuman is a series made by the same people who created ‘Death Note’. It is a manga about creating a popular manga and showcases the lives of two friends Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi who want to make it big in the manga industry. This is a fun read and if you’re curious about the Japanese manga industry, this offers an inside view of how it all works.