15 Dec, 2008

Our Favorite Manga of 2008

By: Katherine Dacey, Sam Kusek, Michelle Smith, Ken Haley and Erin Finnegan

Yes, our list includes such meat-and-potatoes categories as “Best New Series” and “Best Re-Release,” but at the urging of our Ninja Consultant, we also decided to include a few awards that you won’t find at Publisher’s Weekly: Best Manga You Thought You’d Hate. Best Guilty Pleasure. Biggest Disappointment. And while you may find some obvious choices on our list—you didn’t think we’d overlook Black Jack, did you?—you’ll also find some idiosyncratic choices as well.

ERIN’S LIST

Best New Series: Fujoshi Rumi (Natsumi Konjoh, Media Blasters)
Genuinely hilarious but a little hard to find in stores, I laughed continually while reading this and am desperately looking forward to volume three. It’s hard to make romantic misunderstandings funny nowadays, but the same old jokes seem fresh through Rumi’s yaoi fangirl eyes.

Best Continuing Series: Yakitate!! Japan (Takashi Hashiguchi, Viz)
We’re about halfway through the series now in the U.S., and it’s still hilarious, surprising, and always leaves me hungry for fresh bread. I love that this series is so easy to recommend to people. Maybe I’ve been over-recommending it because of my bias towards food manga…

Best Re-Release: Black Jack (Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, Inc.)
Back in the day, Viz put out two volumes of Black Jack—thank you, thank you Vertical for picking this up and vowing to finish the series! The iconic black-and-white haired doctor is so appealing that I’ve become and instant fan and started buying the hardcovers.

Best One-Shot/Anthology: Disappearance Diary (Hideo Azuma, Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
This is the cutest most depressing award-winning manga I’ve ever read. I want to know more about Azuma’s wife and the history of Comiket! Apparently Azuma still goes to Comiket, and Ed Chavez has met him. But how much longer will Azuma’s liver hold out?

Best Yaoi: I Shall Never Return (Kazuna Uchida, Aurora/Deux)
I’m not following many—or really any—ongoing yaoi series besides this and a Taste of Tea. There is a lot of ridiculous heavy drama on every page that walks the edge between believable teenage emotion and bizarre schemes of the outlandishly rich. I guess it’s kind of like Strangers in Paradise in that way, except all the characters are definitely gay.

Best OEL/World Manga: Yokaiden (Nina Matsumoto, Del Rey)
I can’t stop talking about how hilarious this is. Canadian artist Nina Matsumoto was previously famous on the internet for “The Simpsonzu,” an anime-style drawing of all of The Simpsons characters, but she is also a web comic artist. She’s quite young (24), and I’m looking forward to seeing her style develop. Also I love yokai, and her book is really informative.

Best Manga You Thought You Would Hate: Hayate X Blade (Shizura Hayashiya, Seven Seas)
I totally thought I would hate this based on the back cover, but the book pulled a complete 360 on me and I loved it. The yuri aspect is not center stage; it’s just a fact of life in this sports comedy/parody series. It’s not easily recommendable to everyone, but it is the most easily recommendable yuri series for girls. (It’s not yuri for boys like The Last Uniform.)

Best Guilty Pleasure: B.O.D.Y. (Ao Mimori, Viz)
B.O.D.Y. is full of insane clichés, weak characterizations, and the maximum number of bubble-printed backgrounds allowable in any one volume. The nonsensical English title means nothing, and the author’s notes are more amusing than the text… but for some unknown reason, I still want to find out what happens next.

Biggest Disappointment: Wild Ones (Kiyo Fujiwara, Viz)
I read volumes one and two for a review that I scrapped because I was too disheartened to do it. There’s way too much love story and not enough yakuza. Fujiwara draws her protagonists with perfectly round fish-like eyes that fail to convey any emotion. The panel layout is hard to follow at times, and volume two was a paint-by-numbers summer story, complete with a watermelon.

Worst Manga: Three in Love (Shioko Mizuki, Go! Comi)
When will I learn to stop buying manga based on the title alone? This looks as if it was drawn in ballpoint pen (at times). The manga-ka admits that Three in Love was one of earlier works and it’s kind of embarrassing. Included in the back is a slightly-better-drawn fantasy chapter, but I swear I’ve seen better in the Artist’s Alley at any given convention. When Hayashi draws his misshapen heads in Red Colored Elegy, it’s a stylistic choice. When Mizuki does, it’s just an anatomical mistake.

KATE’S LIST

Best New Series: Real (Takehiko Inoue, Viz)
In lesser hands, Real might have been an After School Special in manga form, an earnest, uplifting story about disabled teens who find a new sense of purpose on the basketball court. Takehiko Inoue, however, steers clear of easy sentiment; his characters are tough, competitive, and profane, occasionally self-pitying, and fiercely determined to create a space for themselves that’s theirs—and theirs alone. Though the court scenes are brief (at least by shonen sports manga standards, where matches can take several volumes to unfold), Inoue captures the speed and energy of his athletes with consummate skill. A funny, honest, and sometimes rueful series that works equally well for teens and adults.

Best Continuing Series: Goong: The Royal Palace (Park SoHee, Yen Press)
Read a volume of Goong, and you’ll quickly see why it became a successful television show. It’s got a tough, principled heroine; two dreamy male leads; a cold-as-ice queen mother (paging Joan Collins!); several romantic triangles (Venn diagrams, really); and enough commoner-vs-royal tension to make Diana Spence and Queen Elizabeth’s relationship look cordial. Goong’s gorgeous artwork is the perfect complement to its sudsy plotlines, featuring some of the prettiest faces and coolest outfits I’ve seen in any shojo manga.

Best Re-Release: Black Jack (Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, Inc.)
On paper, Black Jack sounds a lot like House, the story of an eccentric doctor who finds a cure when no one else can, changing lives and showing up his rivals in the process. But compare the two docs’ resumes, and it quickly becomes clear that Jack does more than just diagnose rare tropical diseases: he performs brain transplants. He operates on psychic tumors. Heck, he even sews up a killer whale. None of these stories would fly if the title character were saintly, handsome, or even vaguely noble-minded; the whole conceit would be too preposterous for words. But Tezuka’s hero is prickly and materialistic, an anti-establishment figure who bends the rules, flouts authority, and sometimes saves the day. A must for every manga lover’s library!

Best One-Shot/Anthology: Shirley (Kaoru Mori, CMX)
I have a confession: I actually liked Shirley better than Emma. Don’t get me wrong. I adored Emma for its beautiful illustrations, Upstairs, Downstairs plotlines, and appealing cast. But Mori offers something more refined in Shirley, building poignant stories around small moments instead of dramatic confrontations. Her artwork is a little cleaner and simpler as well, allowing the reader to focus more on the actors and less on the elaborate furnishings. And Shirley’s characters are more vivid and interesting than the quiet, noble Emma, who sometimes seemed like a shoo-in for the Mary Sue Hall of Fame.

Best Manga You Thought You Would Hate: Oh My God (Natsuo Shino, Aurora/Deux)
Flipping through Oh My God, I felt my heart sink. The art was bad. The gods sported mullets. And the characters were standard-issue: a hot-headed demon, a prissy perfectionist, a teen who can see spirits. Imagine my surprise when Oh My God turned out to be funny. Really funny, in fact. Much of the humor is of a have-cake-and-eat-it-too variety, gently poking fun at BL conventions while offering tantalizing glimpses of bare chests and legs. Though the characters blush and occasionally fall into each others’ arms, the book is a strictly PG affair, proving that BL doesn’t need to be explicit to be effective.

Best Guilty Pleasure: One Thousand and One Nights (Han SeungHee and Jeon JinSeok, Yen Press)
It’s Sheherazhade in manhwa form, only Sheherazhade is an impossibly beautiful young man who’s bewitched the sultan with his good looks and storytelling chops. (In other words: The Arabian Knights, BL Edition.) If something this gloriously overwrought doesn’t scream “guilty pleasure,” I don’t know what does.

Biggest Disappointment: Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan (Chip Kidd, Pantheon Books)
This handsomely produced coffee table book looks like a million bucks, with its glossy pages, lovingly photographed Bat-paraphernalia, and kitschy-cool cover. If only the actual manga lived up to the hype! Unfortunately, most of the stories are pedestrian and hokey, lacking the campy humor of the Adam West TV show or the visual imagination of the best superhero comics. Strictly for hardcore Bat-fans and toy collectors.

Worst Manga: The Gorgeous Life of Strawberry-Chan (Ai Morinaga, Media Blasters)
I didn’t think it was possible to dislike anything by Ai Morinaga, but this sadistic boarding-school comedy proved me wrong. There’s no real story here; most of the “action” revolves around Akiyoshi, a fatuous pretty boy, and Strawberry-Chan, his talking frog. Akiyoshi delights in torturing his pet, squashing Strawberry-Chan, burying him alive, and even inflating him like a balloon via a well-placed straw. (If Morinaga is trying to make a greater point with her hero’s perverse antics, I can’t imagine what it is.) Adding insult to injury is the art, which is a riot of misapplied screentones, clashing patterns, and extreme facial close-ups—it’s the best representation of a migraine I’ve ever seen committed to paper, but some of the worst sequential art I’ve seen this year.

KEN’S LIST

Best New Series: Dororo (Osamu Tezuka, Vertical Press)
Yes, it’s a bit odd to nominate something that’s 40 years old for “Best New Series,” but Dororo would be a standout in any year. It’s a really fun, fast-paced tale of a boy hunting down the demons that possess 48 of his body parts. He’s part man, part machine, and all feudal swordsman! Tezuka’s cartoonish art might turn off some folks, and it’s certainly disconcerting to see him depict the horrors of war with this style, but overall I thought Dororo was a strong and enjoyable series.

Best Continuing Series: Blade of the Immortal (Hiroaki Samura, Dark Horse)
I didn’t pick up any of the new volumes that came out this year, so how could I possibly consider this the “Best Continuing Series of 2008”? Here’s how: the two volumes that came out this year reprinted material from the now-discontinued single issues. (The new TPB/collection-only material won’t be released until January.) The story finally shifts its focus from Manji to Rin as she begins in earnest to plot a breakout. She gathers allies and information and, thanks to a run-in with the police, finds herself working alongside her sworn enemies. Several characters reappear after a short absence, and we’re introduced to one of the oddest characters this series has seen so far… and if you’ve read BOTI, then you know that’s saying something. I can honestly say that BOTI is one of my favorite manga to date, if not my all-time favorite piece of sequential art.

Best Manga You Thought You Would Hate: Black Cat (Kentaro Yabuki, Viz)
When I was asked to review Black Cat, I was really expecting to dislike it. Maybe not quite hate, but I was sure that it wouldn’t hold my interest at all. The adventures of a pretty boy bounty hunter who uses a gun in a non-lethal manner just didn’t seem like a premise I could get behind. And, honestly, it’s a fairly straightforward shonen series. The idealistic hero with a dark past, his posse of friends (all teens with super powers and skills that put them on par with any adult they come across), and formulaic plots all combine to make Black Cat a series that I would never have considered picking up on my own. Yet, oddly enough, after having reviewed three volumes, I’m finding myself quite keen on it. So much so that I’m actually considering following the series as it runs headlong to its conclusion. Hell, I’m even tempted to try and pick up the earlier volumes in the series as well.

MICHELLE’S LIST

Best New Series: High School Debut (Kazune Kawahara, Viz)
Just managing to squeak into this category by virtue of its first volume debuting on January 1, 2008, is my personal pick for best new series, High School Debut. Okay, true, it’s not the most erudite of new series, but it’s the one that I love the most. Yoh and Haruna, the lead characters, are both very likable, and it’s easy to see why they may be drawn to each other romantically. Also, it’s unique that we get so much from Yoh’s perspective; one of my favorite parts of the series is how he regularly discusses his romantic tribulations with his friends and they take a genuine interest in the status of his relationship. If you’re tired of shojo where the klutzy girl manages to snag the beautiful boy though she possesses no redeeming qualities whatsoever, then High School Debut may be just the thing for you.

Best Continuing Series: NANA (Ai Yazawa, Viz)
I recently read an interview with a manga industry pundit who was speculating on what would appeal to female readers once they “graduate from shojo.” Graduate from shojo?! Clearly, this fellow has not been reading NANA, my choice for best continuing series of 2008! This series is dramatic, moving, realistic, and painful in a way that few series can be, thanks to its extraordinarily well-developed cast of characters. One truly cares about Nana, Hachi, and their friends; like a Joss Whedon show, I love them so much I can’t help but want things to work out sunnily, even though I should know better by now.

Best One-Shot/Anthology and Best Yaoi: Seduce Me After the Show (est em, Aurora/Deux)
With its melancholy vibe, original adult characters, and thoughtful and memorable stories, yaoi one-shot Seduce Me After the Show is so good it manages to win two categories at once. The title story, a two-parter featuring an actor and dancer who enjoy a brief fling while collaborating on a project, is a particular standout. I always appreciate it when characters have something other than romance on their minds, and that certainly applies here. The men in these stories have goals—both artistic and otherwise—and baggage that influence their relationships in interesting and complicated ways, allowing the collection to resonate even with those who aren’t the habitual boys’ love audience.

Best Manhwa: Very! Very! Sweet (JiSang Shin and Geo, Yen Press)
The best manhwa I read in 2008 was DVD (DramaQueen), but that didn’t come out in 2008, alas. The folks at DramaQueen have mentioned plans to restart their manhwa line, so hopefully I’ll really be able to name this one next year. Until then, this distinction goes to Very! Very! Sweet, an enjoyable offering from Yen Press. It’s the story of a Japanese boy sent to Korea to discover his roots and the rather strange girl who ends up his neighbor. It has its flaws, like relying on violence as humor a bit too much, but yields surprises every so often with the subject matter it covers.

Best Manga You Thought You Would Hate: Silver Diamond (Shiho Sugiura, Tokyopop)
“Hate” is such a strong word, but I had serious trepidations about reading Silver Diamond, since the idea of shonen-ai fantasy conjured up images of billowing capes, risqué situations, and a plot that took a backseat to romantic angst. I was delighted to discover instead an intriguing story populated with endearing characters. To top it off, it’s really funny! I’d never before considered the comedic potential of a talking snake until reading this series. I’ve now done a complete 180—far from being dubious, I read the second volume as soon as I could extract it from its Amazon packaging, and am eagerly waiting the next installment (due in January 2009).

Best Guilty Pleasure: Ruff Love (Tamaki Kirishima, Aurora/Deux)
I sort of can’t believe I liked Ruff Love as much as I did. I fervently maintain that yaoi featuring critter boys is not my bag, baby, but the charm of this amusing one-shot won me over. It’s the story of Taketora, a struggling writer, and the reincarnation of Shiba, his late grandfather’s dog, who returns to life as a human to repay his former owner’s kindness. Some creepy scenes do ensue, but the focus is more on the changes Shiba brings to Taketora’s life and career than on lusty shenanigans. In general, I’ve been impressed with Deux’s titles and this is no exception.

Biggest Disappointment: S.S. Astro (Negi Banno, Yen Press)
The prospect of a four-panel manga about a group of teachers sounded like it could be fun. Unfortunately, instead of finding the humor in occupational matters, S. S. Astro offers fanservice, unfunny juvenile behavior, and cardboard cut-out characters (the sleepy one, the hungry one, the lesbian) doing practically anything but their jobs. The art is also rather strange, with a gallery of nice-looking color images in the front of the book, followed by interior art that makes at least one character look about twelve. A good translation with informative notes can’t save this title from itself, however valiant the effort.

SAM’S LIST

Best New Series: Fairy Tail (Hiro Mashima, Del Rey) and Gun Blaze West (Nobuhiro Watsuki, Viz)
Though Fairy Tail and Gun Blaze West are done by artists known for more popular series, both stand on their own as good, solid titles with great artwork. Fairy Tail especially surprised me, as Hiro Mashima takes his style to new levels, while Nobuhiro Watsuki’s art felt much cleaner and tightened up than his work on Rurouni Kenshin. It’s also nice to see fresh material from artists whose other series that may have strayed off course (*cough* RaveMaster *cough*). Two honorable mentions for Best New Series are Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo (Vertical, Inc.) and Kazuo Umezu’s Cat-Eyed Boy (Viz). Both were exceptionally wonderful series, consisting of short and powerful vignettes.

Best Continuing Series: Eyeshield 21 (Riichiro Inagaki and Yusuke Murata, Viz)
Eyeshield 21, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (Viz), and Law of Ueki (Viz) are among my favorite series, and they didn’t disappoint me in 2008. Though Jojo and Ueki both made classy showings, giving us more great art and great stories, Eyeshield 21 was the real winner in my heart, focusing on my favorite Deimon Devil Bats and their journey to the Christmas Bowl. Honorable mentions in the Best Continuing Series category: Parasyte (Del Rey), Strawberry 100%, Project Arms, Hunter X Hunter, Yakitate!! Japan, Zatch Bell, Reborn!, Monster, The Drifting Classroom and Kekkaishi (Viz), just to name a few.

Best Re-Release: Black Jack (Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, Inc.) and One-Pound Gospel (Rumiko Takahashi, Viz)
Hands down, this year’s best re-releases were Black Jack and One-Pound GospelOne-Pound ended recently (and what an ending: eeeew), but Black Jack still has quite a ways to go (yay!). Another great re-release that ended in early 2008 is Junji Ito’s Uzumaki (Viz). I can honestly say it’s the only manga that’s ever made me feel sick to my stomach… and that’s saying a lot. Despite the queasy feelings it produces, Uzumaki is the pinnacle of Japanese horror.

Best Guilty Pleasure: Ral Grad (Tsuneo Takano and Takeshi Obata, Viz) and Yu-Gi-Oh GX (Naoyuki Kageyama, Viz)
If anyone hasn’t guessed that I’m a big shonen nerd, then let it be known I’m a big shonen nerd. Something about speed lines and dramatic posing never left me from childhood to adulthood. So sad to say, I have several guilty pleasures, all of them found the Shonen Jump category. I adore Ral Grad, beautiful art style and all. From its beginnings to its current GX incarnation, Yu-Gi-Oh has always provided great entertainment. And I’m still enjoying Shaman King. I don’t know why, but the wholesome artwork and slightly confusing but incredibly mystical story is enthralling to me.

Biggest Disappointment: Rosario + Vampire (Akihisa Ikeda, Viz)
I was particularly disappointed with two manga I reviewed: The Mysterians (Tokyopop), a horror series, and Suzunari (Yen Press), a 4-koma book that wasn’t funny. But one series—Rosario + Vampire—cut me pretty deep. You’d think a story about a kid who goes to a school for monsters would have some quality writing to back up its art, but no. By book two, I realized that the series isn’t really gonna go anywhere and decided it’s just not worth the money.

Worst Manga: Burst Angel (Minoru Murao, Tokyopop) and Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (Goro Taniguchi and Ichiro Okouchi, Bandai)
Burst Angel and Code Geass took the cake for Worst Manga I reviewed this year. Both prove that anime-to-manga adaptations never, ever work well. I’d also like to single out Shonen Jump magazine, which broke my heart earlier this year. Thank you for successfully taking up half your magazine with Naruto. I understand that its one of the most popular and successful series in the US, and that you’re following the market trend and trying to make money. But please, you have tons of great material at your fingertips that is being overshadowed by Naruto. Why not use Shonen Jump to bring these titles to a bigger audience?


BEST MANGA OF 2008: THE SHORT LIST

Best New Series:

  • Dororo (Vertical, Inc.)
  • Fairy Tail (Del Rey)
  • Fujoshi Rumi (Media Blasters)
  • Gun Blaze West (Viz)
  • High School Debut (Viz)
  • Real (Viz)

Best Continuing Series:

  • Blade of the Immortal (Dark Horse)
  • Eyeshield 21 (Viz)
  • Goong: The Royal Palace (Yen Press)
  • NANA (Viz)
  • Yakitate!! Japan (Viz)

Best Re-Release:

  • Black Jack (Vertical, Inc.)
  • One Pound Gospel (Viz)

Best One-Shot/Anthology:

  • Disapperance Diary (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
  • Seduce Me After the Show (Aurora/Deux)
  • Shirley (CMX)

Best Yaoi:

  • I Shall Never Return (Aurora/Deux)
  • Seduce Me After the Show (Aurora/Deux)

Best OEL/World Manga:

  • Yokaiden (Del Rey)

Best Manhwa:

  • Very! Very! Sweet (Yen Press)

Best Manga You Thought You’d Hate:

  • Black Cat (Viz)
  • Hayate X Blade (Seven Seas)
  • Oh My God (Aurora/Deux)
  • Silver Diamond (Tokyopop)

Best Guilty Pleasure:

  • B.O.D.Y. (Viz)
  • One Thousand and One Nights (Yen Press)
  • Ral Grad (Viz)
  • Ruff Love (Aurora/Deux)
  • Yu-Gi-Oh GX (Viz)

Biggest Disappointment:

  • Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan (Pantheon Books)
  • Rosario + Vampire (Viz)
  • S.S. Astro (Yen Press)
  • Wild Ones (Viz)

Worst Manga

  • Burst Angel (Tokyopop)
  • Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (Bandai)
  • The Gorgeous Life of Strawberry-chan (Media Blasters)
  • Three in Love (Go! Comi)

7 Responses to "Our Favorite Manga of 2008"

1 | MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Tokyopop layoffs, CLAMP mangettes, and best-of lists

December 15th, 2008 at 9:07 am

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[...] Brienza lists her top ten manga for 2008, plus a bonus light novel! The Manga Recon team lists their favorites of the past year as well. Over at MangaCast, Ed Chavez posts a Japanese list of “amazing” manga. [...]

2 | Sam Kusek

December 15th, 2008 at 11:33 am

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OH NO!
Was Bat-Manga really that Terrible? I’ve been secretly hoping it was the best thing ever

3 | David Welsh

December 15th, 2008 at 12:34 pm

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My favorite “Best of” endeavor so far! Great format, and a terrific example of what a group blog full of smart people can do really, really well.

Of course, nobody mentioned “Sand Chronicles,” so you’ve broken my heart into TINY, TINY PIECES.

4 | Katherine Dacey

December 15th, 2008 at 1:35 pm

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@Sam: Bat-Manga isn’t bad per se, it just didn’t live up to the hype.

@David: Thanks for the feedback! We owe a big debt of gratitude to Erin for suggesting the format you see here–she thought we ought to keep things fresh by including some more honest categories (like “Best Manga You Thought You’d Hate”) alongside the usual praise for Serious, Well-Crafted Books. If I had been making a more traditional best of list, rest assured it would have included Sand Chronicles!

5 | Michelle Smith

December 15th, 2008 at 2:03 pm

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I very nearly included it! I just happen to love High School Debut a bit more.

6 | Upcoming 12/17/2008 « Precocious Curmudgeon

December 16th, 2008 at 10:08 am

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[...] Disappearance Diary (which I reviewed here) has deservedly been popping up on several, including this one at Manga Recon. I point to this one in particular because it’s one of my favorites. I love the format, and I [...]

7 | L

February 12th, 2009 at 10:05 am

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I wholly disagree with the assessment of Rosario + Vampire. The story absolutely picks up at book 3, and is definitely a better read than the standard run-of-the-mill crap.

Your review reminds me of the writer from OtakuUSA that hated it because it had, “Mild, boring T&A.” Yeesh.

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