16 Dec, 2009

Our Favorite Manga of 2009

By: Michelle Smith, Erin Finnegan, Melinda Beasi, Phil Guie, Ken Haley, Grant Goodman, Connie C. and Sam Kusek

It’s that time again, when manga pundits don their Hats of Retrospection and declare which releases were the best of that year! Continuing with our less traditional categories from last year’s venture, we’re also going to weigh in on some of the more disappointing releases, as well. Some obvious contenders make the list, but there’s a lot more disparity in our opinions than you might expect!


driftinglifeBest New Series: Otomen (Aya Kanno, VIZ)
There’s at least a couple series that deserve this more, but Otomen is a lot more fun overall. It took me a couple volumes before the strange, sparkly, meta-humor of this series hit me. I’m still not sure if it’s a parody of shojo manga or truly sincere in its sparkles and plot devices so overused that they become funny again. I lean towards parody since one of the plot elements is a super-popular shojo manga featuring the main couple with swapped genders, the couple with opposite gender identities being the main theme of Otomen.

Best Continuing Series: Hikaru no Go (Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata, VIZ)
This was truly the year for Hikaru no Go, as we were treated to some of the best plotlines the series has to offer. Aside from the well-developed characters that make even a series about Go fun to read, the volumes from this year featured matches that have been built up for years, examinations of careers by several characters, and a farewell that breaks my heart no matter how many times I read it. There are few series that can rival the major event that takes place in volumes fifteen and seventeen for genuine emotional intensity.

Best Re-Release: InuYasha VIZBIG (Rumiko Takahashi, VIZ)
There are a couple good entries in this category, but none I liked as much as this opportunity to start InuYasha from the beginning. I hate including a series like this that everyone’s read, but it’s new to me, and it’s popular for a reason. I missed the boat when the series started running, and of course I could have picked it up any time since, but the three-in-one volumes with unflipped art and color pages are a far better treatment for my introduction to Kagome, Inuyasha, and their search for the Shikon Jewel shards.

Best Oneshot/Anthology: A Drifting Life (Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Drawn and Quarterly)
I feel like a broken record constantly coming back to this one, but reading it was one of the highlights of my summer. It’s a huge story that’s part biography, part history of manga, part history of Japan, and completely engrossing. I learned so much, and the only disappointing thing about it was that it had to end. It’s deeply personal, and to see Tatsumi interact at such a young age with some of the biggest names in manga (including himself) and see how he starts some of the most important movements in the medium with his coworkers is pretty incredible, especially knowing it’s all true.

Best Yaoi: Future Lovers (Saika Kunieda, Aurora Publishing)
The second and final volume of this series came out this year. It’s rare that I get more than shallow enjoyment from a BL book, but this had all my favorite things: an older couple, a more realistic approach to a gay relationship, and a sensitive romance with chemistry between the two that wasn’t forced. I doubted that a second volume would be a welcome addition, since the story feels complete in volume one, but the side stories about the pair coping with their families proved again just how superior this series was. A true joy to read.

Best Manga You Thought You Would Hate: REAL (Takehiko Inoue, VIZ)
I reluctantly started reading this towards the beginning of the year. Despite all the praise it gets, I didn’t think there was any way for a manga about wheelchair basketball to win me over. But it’s not really about wheelchair basketball, that’s just something they do. The incredibly bittersweet story, full of pleasant high points and crushing low points, is one of the best reads I had this year. Much like Hikaru no Go, it’s the fantastic and sympathetic characters that keep me coming back to this one, but in REAL, they do feel like they could be real people instead of a well-developed manga character.

Best Guilty Pleasure: Gakuen Prince (Jun Yuzuki, Del Rey)
I can see your opinion of me plummeting, and for good reason. This is honestly one of the trashiest, most cringe-inducing shojo manga available. But there’s something horribly addictive about the way the characters keep punishing each other, and seeing them interact with the other students at their school is like watching a train wreck. Every chapter is like a terrible lesson to teenage girls, and I don’t think I want to know who the intended audience is. But it crosses the line of good taste with a great deal of energy and intention, and it’s pretty fun to see all the taboos shattered in such an… extreme way. My conscience rebels, but I can’t read these volumes fast enough.

Biggest Disappointment: The Wallflower (Tomoko Hayakawa, Del Rey)
I went to this one late, but had high hopes since it was popular and sounded episodic and easy to pick up. I was disappointed by the completely one-dimensional characters, the tired jokes, and the lazy art. To be fair, the first volume I read was the worst and left a bad taste in my mouth for the others I read, but I can’t get over the complete lack of detail or effort that goes into the drawings and character development. The main character really should show some progress 20 volumes into a series, even a gag title like this.

Worst Manga: Maid War Chronicles (Ran, Del Rey)
This series was so bad that my subconscious made me skip it as I was going down a list of books from this year. I have no defense for this series, a fantasy starring a bratty prince surrounded by his maids that are also legendary warriors. They’re trying to take back their country after a rival takes the prince’s position, but they’re not trying very hard. More effort goes into molesting the maids and coming up with situations where they might have to take their clothes off than the dire situation at their home.


blackjack8Best New Series: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka (Naoki Urasawa, VIZ)
There were sooooooo many great new series this year. It breaks my heart to recommend just one! I find myself recommending Pluto to everyone the most often. It’s solid science fiction with the wide appeal of a primetime television. I also love the food reviews of Oishinbo, the cute-and-sick surprises in PELU, and the adorable E. coli of Moyasimon. I was loving 20th Century Boys more before I saw the crappy live action film, which really tainted the manga for me. I also look forward to every volume of DMC!
Honorable Mention: Oishinbo a la Carte (Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki, Viz); Little Fluffy Gigolo PELU,(Junko Mizuno, Last Gasp); Moyasimon (Ishikawa Masayuki, Del Rey); 20th Century Boys (Naoki Urasawa, VIZ); Detroit Metal City (Kiminori Wakasugi, VIZ)

Best Continuing Series: Black Jack (Osamu Tezuka, Vertical)
Tezuka was really down on the Japanese medical community in the 1970s, but reading this as an American now, as our country goes through a health care crisis, it seems particularly relevant. The handy short stories mean that I can pick this up and put it down between other books. In fact, I’m starting to think Black Jack is better enjoyed one chapter at a time, so I don’t raise my blood pressure too much thinking about the state of health care. Unfortunately, the hard cover editions were discontinued, so now my set won’t match on the shelf (arrg!).
Honorable Mention: Black Lagoon (Rei Hiroe, VIZ); Kitchen Princess (Natsumi Ando and Miyuki Kobayashi, Del Rey)

Best Re-release: Yotsuba&! (Kiyohiko Azuma, Yen Press)
Yotsuba&! was definitely the license rescue of the year. I enjoy Azuma’s sense of humor, and I like to keep up with reading hit titles from Japan. This is an easy title to recommend to people, so I’m glad that Yen has also re-released volumes 1-5. Sometimes I’m a little weirded out reading Yotsuba&!; why does this run in a magazine for older guys? Why does Jumbo have a crush on such a young lady? Where did Yotsuba come from anyway, and how did she come to live with Koiwai?
Honorable Mention: Aria (Kozue Amano, TOKYOPOP)

Best Oneshot/Anthology: A Drifting Life (Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Drawn and Quarterly)
Honorable Mention: GoGo Monster (Taiyo Matsumoto, VIZ)
Don’t make me choose between A Drifting Life and GoGo Monster! They were both so great! A Drifting Life is epic in terms of historical content, breaking down the beginning of manga, year by year, documenting pop culture and capturing the spirit of the day. Meanwhile, GoGo Monster is the best presented book of the year, with red-trimmed pages imprinted with an abstract design, and it comes in a colorful cardboard sleeve. Is it supposed to be like Kodansha’s “Box” line in America? Insider, Matsumoto’s story starts off as a school drama about an outcast and then explodes into an experimental comic.

Best Yaoi: Ooku: The Inner Chambers (Fumi Yoshinaga, VIZ)
OK, so maybe Ooku isn’t exactly yaoi, but it certainly involves “dudes getting rude,” albeit in an alternate history of Japan-turned-matriarchy. I was familiar with Yoshinaga’s other titles (oops, I spelled Ooku wrong back then) and I was desperately waiting for this award winner to hit American shores. The story delivered more than I was expecting in the final few pages, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where this is going. I haven’t read volume two yet, although it is out now.

Best OEL/World Manga: Yokaiden (Nina Matsumoto, Del Rey)
I haven’t read volume two of Yokaiden yet, but I did buy it. Volume one was strong enough that I put it on my 2008 list. I’m looking forward to seeing Matsumoto’s artwork in her upcoming Avatar the Last Airbender manga.

Best Manga for Kids: Happy Happy Clover (Sayuri Tatsuyama, VIZ)
Happy Happy Clover transported me back to my girlhood in the ’80s, where I gleefully consumed franchise media about similar forests filled with happy creatures, from My Little Pony to Glow Worms. Clover’s relationship with her best friend, Mallow, is freaking adorable and it’s a true-to-real-life kid friendship (in my opinion). The art is extremely cute, like a rabbit version of Hamtaro. I think it’s clear enough that kids ought to be able to follow the comic paneling with no problem. The stories rarely get preachy (I’m not going to say never…).

Best Manga That You Thought You Would Hate: Clover Omnibus Edition (CLAMP, Dark Horse)
I had read a random volume of Clover when TOKYOPOP released it in the distant past. I really hated the song lyrics that are repeated on nearly every page, and I couldn’t follow what was going on. Reading this handy omnibus cleared up that problem, and, surprisingly I didn’t get sick of the song at all! I’m not much of a CLAMP fan, but the sci-fi design elements really won me over.

Best Guilty Pleasure: High School Debut (Kazune Kawahara, VIZ)
High School Debut doesn’t exactly aspire to greatness. In the author’s notes, Kawahara admits she sometimes forgets to draw important lines, like chin lines (!) before the magazine deadline, and fixes them for her books. I really had high hopes for this, because I identified with the sporty, tomboy protagonist. However, after six or seven volumes of cliché drama, including misunderstandings, frenemies, and a parade of students afraid to speak to each other, I ended up giving it up. This is really perfect light, fluffy reading, and Yoh is a hunk, but at some point I got really sick of Haruno’s spunky wide-eyed naiveté. Couldn’t she have just a slightly higher IQ? If I manage to read more of this, it will only be as a guilty pleasure.

Biggest Disappointment: Mixed Vegetables (Ayumi Komura, VIZ)
My hopes were just waaaaaay too high for this one. I thinking it might be a junk food version of Oishinbo for kids, or a shojo version of Yakitate!! Japan, but instead Mixed Vegetables is just bad. I might be wrong, but there are no recipes in this title like there are in other foodie manga on the market. I was pleased when the couple got together at the end of volume one, because I thought the series would avoid a cliché on-again-off-again, are-they-or-aren’t-they romance. Unfortunately, our star couple breaks up right away. I can’t bring myself to care whether or not they get back together. Plus the art quality and the paneling actually get worse as the manga goes on. I’m not even sure how that’s possible.

Worst Manga: Vermonia (YoYo, Candlewick)
Candlewick’s debut into the North American market is laugh-out-loud so-bad-it’s-good funny. When the Mayor’s teenage daughter is kidnapped by aliens in the midst of an ancient civil war, it’s up to her friends, a skateboarding rock band, to save her. Along with the help of Princess Rainbow (har har) the kids transverse a videogame-like fantasy world that includes a saber tooth tiger spirit guide. It’s more like a laundry list of stuff kids might like than an actual book. This international co-production is disastrous, but I think it’s kind of inspiring in it’s craptasticness (young writer might thing: “I think I could write better than this!”) and it serves as a useful guide of how not to make manga.


yotsuba6Best New Series: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka (Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka, VIZ)
Pluto is a tour-de-force manga. The murder mystery that kicks off the story gives way to a masterful examination of humanity and how whatever we create can be infected by our flaws and insecurities. The thin line between artificial intelligence and “natural” intelligence plays a key role in Urasawa’s take on Tezuka’s work. Urasawa’s characters have light to shed on warfare, music, art, love, and hate—whether they are programmed to or not. If you like manga and you haven’t read Pluto, you need to fix that mistake immediately. This is A+ material from page one.

Best Continuing Series: Fullmetal Alchemist (Hiromu Arakawa, VIZ)
Hiromu Arakawa’s manga is utterly fantastic. I cannot pick out any weak volumes released this year. She keeps the tension high, the characters pressed for time, and has a narrative that refuses to let you go. The way she plays with the themes of family, love, loss, and addiction to power is what keeps me coming back time and time again. Everything is clean-cut, well executed, and never gets bogged down by confusing twists of logic. The most frustrating times of the year are the months in between releases of new volumes.

Best Re-Release: Yotsuba&! (Kiyohiko Azuma, Yen Press)
I wrote a 1000 paean about this title. It represents everything good about manga. I am convinced that reading it will make you a better person. Yostuba&! is pure happiness bound between two glossy covers.

Best OEL/World Manga: Scott Pilgrim (Bryan Lee O’Malley, Oni Press)
Trying OEL is a very new experience for me. That being said, I found a lot to like in Scott Pilgrim. It’s fresh and fun and proves that someone out there, who isn’t Japanese, can make a high-quality, manga-style graphic novel.

Best Manga That You Thought You Would Hate: Inubaka (Yukiya Sakuragi, VIZ)
Inubaka really caught me off guard. The covers all screamed “You will not like this!” Instead, I found that Inubaka had some of the best written female characters I’ve come across in any manga, ever. Instead of playing into character tropes (they aren’t all set on a single track pursuing a guy), the girls of Inubaka all have very complex, realistic issues they are dealing with.

Best Guilty Pleasure: Naruto (Masashi Kishimoto, VIZ)
I don’t talk about it much, but I have always loved the Naruto manga. This year brought some great storytelling moments. There were a few scenes that left me deeply affected, most notably Jiraiya’s last stand and Sasuke’s long-awaited fight with Itachi.

Worst Manga: Zombie-Loan (PEACH-PIT, Yen Press) and Tengu-Jin (Sumomo Yumeka, Aurora Publishing)
This is a toss up. Both of them are the manga equivalents of peeing in your pants in public: a horribly shameful, short-lived experience that some people will never, ever forget.


summitofthegods1Best New Series: The Summit of the Gods (Yumemakura Baku and Jiro Taniguchu, Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
I have to admit that this year was a bit of a slow year for me with regards to new manga, but out of the few new series I read this was the one that really stuck out in my head. It’s an enthralling, engrossing read about mountain climbing. Seriously. Mountain climbing. I was never a big Jack London fan and the whole man vs. nature shtick doesn’t hold that big of an appeal to me, but this book grabbed me early on and left me immediately wanting to read the second volume. Between the beautifully drawn mountainscapes of Jiro Taniguchi and the informative, documentary-like captioning, not to mention a rather engaging mystery and look into the life of an obsessed climber courtesy of Yumemakura Baku, this book ended up being a fantastic read.

Best Continuing Series: Blade of the Immortal (Hiroaki Samura, Dark Horse)
The series continues apace with several new volumes as the epically long prison arc reached its brutal and bloody climax. Horrors abounded as the true reach of the medical experiments being carried on beneath Edo Castle were finally revealed, and some old and forgotten characters made unexpected returns. Frankly, the two volumes that came out this year formed one of the better pay offs to a long term arc that I’ve seen in recent years. Samura’s penchant for enthralling and eye-catching fight sequences was also on full display with some intense and wonderfully demented moments. When that Otter hood came off the prisoner in volume 21? Yow! This year was just what the series needed after the interminably long prison arc.

Best Guilty Pleasure: Dogs: Bullets & Carnage (Shirow Miwa, VIZ)
I’ve always been a bit vague on exactly what would qualify as a guilty pleasure, but seeing as how I’m not that keen on Heine who’s arguably the main character of the series, I’ll go with Dogs. It’s a book where the biggest draw is the pretty art and wildly over the top action scenes that the Wachowskis wished they had thought up. Even though I may grumble about the story, the action is generally eye-catching and entertaining enough to tickle the portion of my brain that’s made me watch Versus three times in a single day. Lots of style, not much substance, but sometimes that’s just what you need to unwind.


pluto1Best New Series: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka (Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka, VIZ)
Based on volume three of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy (“The Greatest Robot on Earth”), this retelling from Naoki Urasawa brings new depth to Tezuka’s world and its characters, and it does so with remarkable reverence. Besides being intricately crafted both in storytelling and art, this series is surprisingly poignant and emotionally complex, particularly for a story in which most of the main characters are robots.
Runners up: Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei (Koji Kumeta, Del Rey Manga), Ooku: The Inner Chambers (Fumi Yoshinaga, VIZ)

Best Continuing Series: xxxHOLiC (CLAMP, Del Rey)
With its thoughtful mix of of folklore, religion, and philosophy, this gorgeously drawn series has been a favorite of mine from the start, but this year’s new volumes have really kicked things up a notch, which is saying quite lot for a series that has redefined itself constantly over the course of fourteen volumes. Despite increasing dependence on crossover material from concurrent shonen series Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, xxxHOLiC maintains a depth and mature beauty unmatched by any other of CLAMP’s work, past or present. Unlike so many series that are easily consumed and discarded, xxxHOLiC benefits from multiple re-reads, becoming richer each time through.
Runner up: Mushishi (Yuki Urushibara, Del Rey)

Best Re-Release: Yotsuba&! (Kiyohiko Azuma, Yen Press)
Appropriate for children but especially charming for adults, Yen Press’ rescue, reissue, and continuation of this series is truly a gift for all humanity, or at least those of us who read our manga in English. Following the daily adventures of a little girl named Yotsuba as she explores a world filled with wonders such as bicycles, air conditioning, and paper cup phones, this series is not only unbelievably cute but also surprisingly resonant for readers of all ages. Yen’s new translations are an upgrade from ADV’s previous release, at least in terms of capturing a sense of place, and the books’ crisp, bright paper is a nice treat as well.

Best Oneshot/Anthology: Mijeong (Byun Byung-Jun, NBM/Comics Lit)
NBM’s second anthology of short comics from up-and-coming manhwa-ga Byun Byung-Jun is uneven, unsettled, and artistically immature. It is also thoughtful, melancholy, and uncommonly beautiful, even in its weakest moments. Wholly unlike most of the other English-translated manhwa hitting the shelves these days, this volume is a hidden gem, with glimpses of true brilliance that promise a great future for the artist. Though perhaps not objectively the “best” in any category this year, this book’s dark humor and ethereal tone help to make it truly special. This manhwa is not to be missed.
Runner up: Castle of Dreams (Masami Tsuda, TOKYOPOP)

Best Yaoi: Age Called Blue (est em, NETCOMICS)
Though the competition here was surprisingly steep, I’m giving my vote to est em’s beautiful collection of vignettes revolving around the lives of two sets of bandmates—Nick and Billy, who are searching for what they mean to each other, and Pete and Joe, who discovered it much too late. Stark, yet surprisingly romantic, this single-volume collection is my favorite from this author, and that’s a fairly impressive recommendation. Though available for rent at NETCOMICS’ online store, I recommend the print version for the sake of permanence. Age Called Blue is a keeper.
Runners up: Future Lovers (Saika Kunieda, Aurora Publishing) and U Don’t Know Me (Rakun, NETCOMICS)

Best OEL/World Manga: Toxic Planet (David Ratte, Yen Press) This whimsical satire from French cartoonist David Ratte was one of the year’s biggest surprises for me, as it seemed to come out of nowhere with very little fanfare, and I was blown away by its pointed yet genuinely humorous take on global warming, pollution, oil slicks, and even genetically modified food. The artist has the uncanny ability to give expression to characters who never remove their gas masks and to bring his messages home with little more than a rare glimpse of true green in the midst of his universe’s otherwise sickening filth. Serialized first on Yen Press’ website and released as a single print volume, this comic has very little in common with most of Yen’s current catalog, but it’s become an instant favorite for me.

Best Manga for Kids: Hikaru no Go (Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata, VIZ)
Though Hikaru no Go has been in slow release from Viz since 2004, it is this year’s releases, volumes fifteen through seventeen, that really display the depth and downright elegance this series possesses. One of the few all-ages titles I can think of that offers a truly fulfilling reading experience for all ages, it’s got enough shonen sports manga formula to engage young readers, with enough emotional complexity (and beautiful art) to keep them hooked as they get older. It’s the kind of title that can be put away on the shelf and pulled down again years later to be enjoyed on a whole new level.

Best Manga That You Thought You Would Hate: Nabari No Ou (Yuhki Kamatani, Yen Press)
I have no interest in ninja. Truly, I don’t. Yet somehow, with its dark tone and unexpected humor, this ninja-centered story hooked me against my will and is so far holding steady. In addition to its engaging characters and very pretty art, this manga also has some of the cleanest action scenes I’ve seen in current shonen series, both kinetic and easy to follow. Though its second volume got off to a fairly sluggish start, its final chapter left me more intrigued than ever, and I can hardly wait for more. How the ninja ever managed this, I’ll probably never know.

Best Guilty Pleasure: One Thousand and One Nights (Han SeungHee and Jeon JinSeok,Yen Press)
It actually feels like a bit of a betrayal to list this as a “guilty pleasure,” because truthfully I don’t feel the slightest twinge of guilt for enjoying this series, but this category provides the perfect opportunity for talking about it once more and that’s something I have difficulty passing up. This retelling of the classic Arabian Nights follows the familiar story of the mad Sultan and his Scheherazade—in this case a young man named Sehera—including an engaging array of stories-within-the-story set in a variety of times and places, up to present day. The artwork is lush, the writing is stunningly romantic, and the series’ writer/artist team never use the strong homoerotic subtext (heavy on the “text”) as an excuse to become lazy.

Biggest Disappointment: Lucky Star (Kagami Yoshimizu, Bandai Entertainment)
As a fan of the anime series, I had high hopes when Bandai announced this license. Unfortunately, the first volume’s lifeless, incomprehensible English translation is so close to unreadable, it’s impossible to tell whether this 4-koma comedy is even remotely humorous, let alone comparable to its anime adaptation. A change in translation credit on the upcoming third volume is heartening, to be sure, but considerable damage has already been done.

Worst Manga: KimiKiss (Taro Shinonome and Enterbrain, Inc., TOKYOPOP)
Based on a PS2 dating sim, this series’ greatest sin is not its lame humor (“Heh, heh, your balls are huge!”), its cardboard characters, or even its generic plot. What’s most unfortunate about KimiKiss is that even its fan service—quite honestly the series’ only potential draw—is just about as original as everything else, leaving it with no apparent value, even in the crudest sense. The best that can be said about KimiKiss is that it is too dull to be offensive. The worst is exactly the same.


takeru1Best New Series: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka (Naoki Urasawa and Osamu Tezuka, VIZ)
What a difficult choice! So many truly fabulous series debuted in 2009 that I had quite a hard time picking just one. Ultimately, I have to go with Pluto, Naoki Urasawa’s reimaining of Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy story, “The Greatest Robot On Earth.” The result is a tale with epic, cinematic breadth that nonetheless never loses sight of the human element (ironic in a tale about robots). Visually stunning, emotionally wrenching, absolutely riveting from cover to cover, reading Pluto is truly a masterpiece. This is not a series to be missed by any comics fan, let alone a manga lover!

Best Continuing Series: Honey and Clover (Chica Umino, VIZ)
A year ago, I didn’t single Honey and Clover out for any superlatives. While I certainly appreciated its quirky charm, some of the comedy felt too over-the-top for me. Although Chica Umino never dispenses with humor entirely, the volumes released this year, particularly the seventh and eighth, feature finely realized character drama and many universal and heartbreaking moments. I defy anyone who reads this series to fail to identify with at least one of its protagonists as they struggle to figure out what they want to do with their lives post-university while enduring the pains of uncertain or unrequited love. It’s really fantastic stuff.

Best Yaoi: Future Lovers (Saika Kunieda, Aurora Publishing)
Please permit me one more opportunity to gush about the awesomeness that is Future Lovers. With rich characters and a slice-of-life feel, this series reads less like a BL tale than a seinen romantic comedy about two good people trying to get past their differences and achieve real happiness together. By turns funny, realistic, and moving, Future Lovers really is exceptional and features the first lead character to actually remind me of a real gay man that I know. I’d recommend it unhesitatingly, even to (and perhaps especially to) non-BL fans as an example of the very best the genre has to offer.
Honorable mention: Dining Bar Akira (Tomoko Yamashita, NETCOMICS)

Best OEL/World Manga: Nightschool: The Weirn Books (Svetlana Chmakova, Yen Press)
For me, this one was a no-brainer. Nightschool is the story of a teenage witch named Alex whose older sister disappears on the job at the Nightschool, prompting Alex to attempt a rescue. Chmakova combines likeable characters, an intriguing story, and some well thought-out worldbuilding to achieve a fun, spooky, and original story. Her artwork is clearly influenced by manga, but doesn’t attempt to be a copy. Indeed, a Western influence is also evident, and I especially appreciate the multi-ethnic cast. I found the second volume to be a little weaker than the first, but am still eagerly awaiting volume three.

Best Manga for Kids: The Lapis Lazuli Crown (Natsuna Kawase, CMX)
CMX has quite a few entertaining all ages titles in their lineup, but this two-volume series would work particularly well for the middle school reader. It’s the story of Miel, an unpolished but naturally gifted magician who shirks on practicing until she meets a boy (a prince, naturally) she’d like to protect. Okay, yes, maybe the part about needing a boy to get her motivated is a bit questionable, but I admire Miel’s determination to be useful to the guy she likes instead of just mooning about over him. The pacing is a mite rushed in the second volume, but Kawase manages to bring things to an enjoyable and satisfying conclusion.

Best Manga That You Thought You Would Hate: Takeru: Opera Susanoh Sword of the Devil (Kazuki Nakashima and Karakarakemuri, TOKYOPOP)
The lengthy and somewhat nonsensical subtitle of this series had me worried about what I would find within, so it was an extremely pleasant surprise when Takeru proved to offer an interesting, briskly paced story with appealing (if slightly generic) characters. Karakarakemuri’s art is attractive; she particularly excels at depicting character through body language and comes up with some nice character designs, too. Possibly the best part of the story is the cast of strong women characters, notably Miyazu, the unfailingly competent queen of a race of warrior women. Volume three just came out and it’s on the top of my to-read pile.

Biggest Disappointment: Nabari No Ou (Saika Kunieda, Yen Press)
This ninja tale of an unwitting and unwilling hero debuted to mixed reviews. Manga Recon’s own Grant Goodman was disappointed, but both Melinda Beasi and Comics Should Be Good’s Danielle Leigh enjoyed it, so I thought I’d check it out and see for myself. As it happens, I’m with Grant on this one. The premise has potential and the art is attractive, but the execution is lamentably boring. Interminable talk about forbidden arts and clan politics and repetitive ploys to get the protagonist, Miharu, to join the school Ninja Club make each volume drag, which is a real shame because sometimes, particularly when the lethal-yet-doomed rival ninja Yoite is concerned, things do get interesting. I’ll probably continue reading this in the hopes that it’ll improve.


negimaneo1Best New Series: Detroit Metal City (Kiminori Wakasugi, VIZ)
I love this series, even if it doesn’t warm my cockles so much as make me bust out laughing. DMC is about an unassuming young man, who inexplicably has become the death metal god of Japan, worshiped for his misogynistic and violent songs. I’m not that into death metal myself, and Kiminori’s series may be over-the-top and gleefully disgusting at times, but it resonates because it’s about something universal: the struggle between money and doing what we’re good at, and what our heart’s desire is, which are sometimes at odds. Combine that with artwork that’s as frequently ugly as the protagonist’s destiny likely appears to himself, and that’s plenty reason to go to DMC.

Best Manga That I Thought I Would Hate: Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution (Hiroyuki Tamakoshi, Del Rey)
Fan service! A high school boy who transforms into a girl! More fan service! On the one hand, Gacha Gacha seems engineered to fetish, the objects being certain female body parts, and in one chapter, cute little girls. Nevertheless, the series is surprisingly good reading, and if I had to guess why, I’d blame the emphasis on characterization over both the gimmicks (gender switching, time travel fantasy) and panty shots. The strongest episodes this year have been those in which gimmickry plays only an indirect role, taking a backseat to more typical teen angst. When that happens, it falls on the protagonists to be interesting enough to keep us reading, and luckily, that’s frequently the case.

Best Guilty Pleasure: Negima!? Neo (Ken Akamatsu and Takuya Fujima, Del Rey)
With its plethora of school girls on every cover, Negima!? Neo is a series I feel uncomfortable breaking out in public places. Meanwhile, with all the fresh faces staring back at me, not to mention the elaborate magical battles, I feel slightly embarrassed reading this at home. The question becomes: why do I feel compelled to read it at all? The decision would be a lot easier if the characters weren’t likable, and if the series didn’t seem to embrace its own ridiculousness, but that’s how it is (and given the exceptionally bright artwork, the latter-type moments feel awesomely surreal). As a result, despite three volumes of Negima!? Neo out this past year, I’m looking forward to more.


oishinbo1Best New Series: Oishinbo a la Carte (Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki, VIZ)
This series should really be on everyone’s list. Though sadly coming to a close with volume seven (There are actually 50 “a la Carte” volumes in Japan! – ed.), Oishinbo a la Carte has really brought a whole new side of manga to the table, introducing the American populous to a large part of Japanese culture, the cuisine. From sake to gyoza to rice and much more, Oishinbo a la Carte really drives home the history and cultural importance of each dish, dissecting each and every ingredient. The story can feel a bit rattled at times, as the chapters are selected by content alone and are in no sequential order, but the humorous character interactions (mostly on the part of Yamaoka) make up for it. It is food porn in its finest incarnation.

Best Continuing Series: Fairy Tail (Hiro Mashima, Del Rey)
I’ve really enjoyed Fairy Tail ever since it’s come out. As you can tell from my review of volumes one through three, I found it to be one of the best new shonen series out there. The stories keep getting better and better, introducing us to a whole magical universe of whimsical and wondrous characters, essentially creating a mythos Mashima was trying to create with Rave Master. Overall, I think it’s a series that has a great amount of depth to it; it is a very epic tale but each episode resolves itself so that it doesn’t drone on and feel ridiculous.

Best Re-Release: Parasyte (Hitoshi Iwaaki, Del Rey)
I was introduced to the first few chapters of Parasyte when it was running in Mixx and it really caught my attention. Kudos to Del Rey for picking up such and interesting and strikingly mature serious. Thought I am sad to see it end, it was really in-depth and raised a good amount of questions about humanity on a whole and made you really think about certain situations. On top of its thought-provoking writing, it was beautifully crafted, laid with well-paced fight scenes and heart-wrenching emotional pieces. Another overall winner of a series.

Best Oneshot/Anthology: A Drifting Life (Yoshiro Tatsumi, Drawn and Quarterly)
Following the life and blossoming of great gekiga writer, Yoshiro Tatsumi, this is what truly should be considered his masterpiece. It not only follows his journey and what personal hardships creators of the graphic narrative go through, but he really laid out the timeline and developmental stages of manga itself in a very interesting and insightful light. I’ve said it before in my review of this, but it really helps you to understand what manga is for the Japanese and what it means culturally for the country.

Best Manga You Thought You Would Hate: RIN-NE (Rumiko Takahashi, VIZ)
Surprising, I know, considering how much of a Takahashi fan I’ve made myself out to be on this site. Regardless, when I read the first few chapters of RIN-NE offered online, the whole concept really didn’t sit well with me. Time goes on though, and I was tapped to review it because of my love for Takahashi. Thought it fits her very formulaic style of storytelling, I’m enjoying the characters and the inventive use of tools (wheels of fire, that’s nice.) the more I read it. It does make me yearn for her older series, namely Ranma ½, but I’m glad to see that she is a still going strong as a creator and really hasn’t lost her touch.

Best Guilty Pleasure: BakéGyamon (Mitsuhisa Tamura, VIZ)
I’m still a big kid at heart and you really can’t beat a good old “kid’s battle with mystical monsters all while learning life lessons and growing up along the way” kind of story. Most times, people screw this up and when its bad, its really bad but BakéGyamon manages to stay soft and fluffy without being increasingly annoying as time goes on. I am also really surprised because most things that I’ve read this short (five books in total) are really terrible, but this series manages to make it work.

Biggest Dissapointment: Waqwaq (Ryu Fujisaki, VIZ)
Coming from the author who brought us Hoshin Engi, I was really expecting another epic, that incorporating a good amount of mythology or maybe just some thought into the story. Overall, the story was just very bland at the beginning and took some shape as the series progressed (plot development, friends becoming enemies) but not enough to really make it the winner we were all hoping for. I was also hoping for another shorts series to break the mold but alas, Waqwaq will just be forgotten like the rest of them…


Best New Series:

  • Detroit Metal City (VIZ)
  • Oishinbo a la Carte (VIZ)
  • Otomen (VIZ)
  • Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka (VIZ)
  • The Summit of the Gods (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)

Best Continuing Series:

  • Black Jack (Vertical, Inc.)
  • Blade of the Immortal (Dark Horse)
  • Fairy Tail (Del Rey)
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (VIZ)
  • Hikaru no Go (VIZ)
  • Honey and Clover (VIZ)
  • xxxHOLiC (Del Rey)

Best Re-Release:

  • InuYasha VIZBIG (VIZ)
  • Parasyte (Del Rey)
  • Yotsuba&! (Yen Press)

Best Oneshot/Anthology:

  • A Drifting Life (Drawn and Quarterly)
  • Mijeong (NBM/Comics Lit)

Best Yaoi:

  • Age Called Blue (NETCOMICS)
  • Future Lovers (Aurora Publishing)
  • Ooku: The Inner Chambers (VIZ)

Best OEL/World Manga:

  • Nightschool: The Weirn Books (Yen Press)
  • Scott Pilgrim (Oni Press)
  • Toxic Planet (Yen Press)
  • Yokaiden (Del Rey)

Best Manga for Kids

  • Happy Happy Clover (VIZ)
  • Hikaru no Go (VIZ)
  • The Lapis Lazuli Crown (CMX)

Best Manga You Thought You’d Hate:

  • Gacha Gacha: The Next Revolution (Del Rey)
  • Inubaka (VIZ)
  • Nabari No Ou (Yen Press)
  • REAL (VIZ)
  • RIN-NE (VIZ)
  • Takeru: Opera Susanoh Sword of the Devil (TOKYOPOP)

Best Guilty Pleasure:

  • BakéGyamon (VIZ)
  • Dogs: Bullets & Carnage (VIZ)
  • Gakuen Prince (Del Rey)
  • High School Debut (VIZ)
  • Naruto (VIZ)
  • Negima!? Neo (Del Rey)
  • One Thousand and One Nights (Yen Press)

Biggest Disappointment:

  • Lucky Star (Bandai Entertainment)
  • Mixed Vegetables (VIZ)
  • Nabari No Ou (Yen Press)
  • The Wallflower (Del Rey)
  • Waqwaq (VIZ)

Worst Manga

  • KimiKiss (TOKYOPOP)
  • Maid War Chronicles (Del Rey)
  • Vermonia (Candlewick)
  • Tengu-Jin (Aurora Publishing)
  • Zombie-Loan (Yen Press)

13 Responses to "Our Favorite Manga of 2009"

1 | Erin

December 16th, 2009 at 12:01 pm


AAUUGGHH I forgot about Hikaru No Go!

2 | Katherine Dacey

December 16th, 2009 at 11:04 pm


I was a little surprised by Grant’s explanation for including Inubaka. That series is one of my guilty pleasures, too, as I’m unapologetically “inubaka” myself. I’ve never found any of the female characters terribly interesting or appealing, however; they always struck me as fantasy objects, not unlike the purebred dogs that feature prominently into many story lines. I don’t know if you’ve read much shojo or josei, Grant, but I could definitely direct you to series that, from a female perspective at least, offer more authentic women characters than Inubaka.

That said, I really enjoyed reading this year’s list, especially the non-traditional categories — it’s refreshing to see titles that won’t be on everyone else’s best-of lists. You’ve also inspired me to read my copy of Mijeong, which has been patiently sitting on my to-review shelf for months.

3 | Michelle Smith

December 16th, 2009 at 11:29 pm


Thanks, Kate! It was a fun list to assemble, and neat to see different takes on the same titles (like Nabari No Ou!).

4 | Judi

December 18th, 2009 at 2:28 pm


I always enjoy lists, probably because I like to compare my likes/dislikes with others. My surprise was how many I’ve have read. Always thought of myself as a maverick, since I didn’t read what seemed to be popular.
My favorte yaoi “Future Lovers”, my passionate quilty pleasure” Dogs: Bullets and Carnage”, and my simple “Otomen “were there! Plus, causing a little controversy “Nabari no Ou”. Ha, guess I need to watch it or I’ll be mainstream before I know it. Now guess need to get off butt and read “A Drifting Life” which was kindly given to me.

5 | Michelle Smith

December 18th, 2009 at 3:37 pm


Hee! Thanks for the comment, Judi! Since you agreed with us so much, I must conclude that you have great taste! :)

6 | Grant

December 19th, 2009 at 11:04 am


Katherine, I’m thinking that “best written female characters” was the wrong combination of words for what I wanted to say. What really got me about Inubaka (and I’ve only read the volumes I’ve reviewed) was the way the characters dealt with tough moments. When the one girl loses her dog, the portrayal of grief was deep and realistic and really stuck with me. I haven’t read too much shojo or josei and I always welcome recommendations. Plus, it’s the holiday season, so I have a feeling I’ll be needing to buy some manga soon.

7 | Michelle Smith

December 19th, 2009 at 4:29 pm


If you read only one shoujo series, you should read NANA. :)

8 | Sam Kusek

December 20th, 2009 at 6:51 pm


Nana is certainly a great read but lets not forget classics like Maison Ikkoku!

9 | Michelle Smith

December 20th, 2009 at 7:10 pm


But Maison Ikkoku isn’t shoujo! :)

10 | Katherine Dacey

December 22nd, 2009 at 9:25 am


Grant, thanks for clarifying your comment. I agree that Inubaka is at its best when showing us how people really feel about their pets; those moments of “truthiness” help offset the fanservice and occasionally dopey plotlines.

As for great shojo/josei, I’d definitely recommend Suppli, Tramps Like Us, Blue, Monokuro Kinderbook and anything you can find by Moto Hagio or Keiko Nishi.

11 | Michelle Smith

December 22nd, 2009 at 10:22 am


And Honey and Clover! :)

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