By Jason S. Yadao
Happy Thanksgiving! While you’re snarfing down that turkey (or pizza, if you’d prefer) and washing it down with a lovely cranberry juice chaser, I’d like to offer you this friendly reminder: The holiday shopping season begins tomorrow. This means that, as part of the Fellowship of Pop-Culture Columnists and Bloggers (Anime/Manga/Video Game Division), it is my civic duty to prepare several pieces on the following topics over the next few weeks:
- The holiday gift guide: Spotlighting those things that gave us joy as columnists and bloggers that we hope will give you and your friends/loved ones/coworkers/casual acquaintances/complete strangers much joy as well.
- The year-in-review piece: Remembering all the good things (and the bad as well, as a way of providing much-needed editorial balance) that happened over the past year, for those of you who want some sort of validation that the past 365 days were worth living.
Since year-in-review pieces typically come out around the second half of December, you know what that means: It’s holiday gift guide time! My anime and otaku-literature guides will be arriving in Cel Shaded over the next few weeks. Today, though, is a day for manga … or more specifically, the Great Manga Gift Guide, a project spearheaded by Precocious Curmudgeon blogger David Welsh and YuriCon and ALC Publishing founder Erica Friedman. Welsh and Friedman, responding to the New York Times’ lack of manga in its graphic novel gift guide, invited manga bloggers to contribute their own lists of must-read manga across this great, grand Intarwebz of ours. (Friedman will also be doing her own list, focusing on yuri manga, at her blog, Okazu.)
So which manga to include in my guide? I could default to the lazy “you can’t go wrong with any of ‘em” path, but then that would include Eiken and Dejiko’s Champion Cup Theater, and you already know how I feel about those manga. Fifty must-read manga throughout history? That would be the Rough Guide to Manga. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. (And have ever I mentioned that book makes a great Christmas gift, too? Oh, yeah.)
What I finally decided was to think small: namely, manga series that currently have 10 translated volumes or fewer. Think about it: These types of manga make great gifts because (a) if the recipient likes it, he or she won’t have to take out a bank loan to collect the entire series to date (hey, all those $7.99-$9.99 volumes of Naruto add up over time) and (b) a small number of volumes means getting caught up with the series won’t take too much effort, as all the volumes most likely will still be in print and available somewhere. My listings include the number of volumes available, the suggested retail price per volume (although there’s a strong chance you’ll be able to find them cheaper at certain retailers with discount programs), and either the book’s suggested age rating or what I feel to be an appropriate age rating.
Black Jack (Vertical, 8 vols., $16.95, older teen 16+): Eight volumes in, and my Cel Shaded recommendation from a year ago has held up quite nicely: “BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW.” Seriously, how could you not love the guy? He “built” his assistant Pinoko from pieces retrieved from a brain tumor; while his methods may be unorthodox and frowned upon by the “proper” medical community, he still has a strong sense of justice, knowing who to help and who to “help,” if you know what I mean; and his precise surgical skills, conveyed through Osamu Tezuka’s landmark cinematic style (and his knowledge of the human anatomy through his own training as a doctor), are unparalleled. Best of all, aside from a few nods to continuity, it’s easy to pick up any volume and get a general sense of what’s going on right away. But trust me, whoever gets this will want all eight volumes eventually. What the hey, put in a few preorders for whatever’s available, too. It’s that good.
Oishinbo (Viz, 6 vols., $12.99, teen 13+): Since this is a holiday devoted just as much to food as it is to giving thanks, I’d be remiss in not mentioning this series about food, an editorial staff’s quest to find the very best cuisine for the Ultimate Menu, and the rivalry between a father and his son. For those of you reading this in Hawaii, think of it as being like all those Soko ga Shiritai and Sushi! Donburi! Ramen! specials you’ve seen on KIKU-TV over the years; for those of you reading this elsewhere, think of it as being like … mmm, let’s say Alton Brown’s Good Eats with a dash of Iron Chef. In any case, Viz should be commended for finding a way to bring this long-running series to English-language audiences in easy-to-digest anthologies of all the best stuff, organized by different foods — vegetables, rice, sake, ramen and gyoza, et.al. Until someone sees fit to license Kami no Shizuku (Drops of God), this will probably remain the de facto manga for foodies.
20th Century Boys and Pluto (Viz, 5 and 6 vols. respectively, $12.99, older teen 16+): You have to think someone locally appreciates Naoki Urasawa stories, considering part or all of the 20th Century Boys live-action film trilogy has screened at pretty much every local film festival this year. And for good reason: Urasawa’s stories twist and turn, revealing just enough of the overarching mystery to tantalize you and keep you curious while jumping back and forth among time periods and locations to slowly fill in all of the missing details. Both of these series do that to fabulous effect — 20th Century Boys being about a seemingly innocent childhood game becoming chilling apocalyptic reality in the present day (present time, HAHAHAHA … sorry, having a Serial Experiments Lain flashback there), Pluto being an Astro Boy story reborn for a new generation of readers.
Azumanga Daioh (Yen Press, omnibus edition coming 12/15, $24.99, teen 13+): Okay, so maybe your bookseller of choice may not have this in time for Christmas, in which case you’ll have to improvise and give your intended recipient a lovely handcrafted item promising that he or she will be getting some delightful 4-koma school-days slice-of-life manga posthaste. You could pick up the ADV Manga omnibus, but you’d also have to put up with a Brooklyn-accented translation on Osaka, and I’m just curious about how Yen’s new translation accounts for her unique dialect. I also would suggest getting them a bookseller gift card for the amount, but then you run the risk of them going out and buying two volumes of the Lucky Star manga instead. And, umm … you probably don’t want them to do that.
But back to Azumanga Daioh. There are such memorable characters, I can still rattle their names off from the top of my head even though I haven’t read the ADV translation in a while: child prodigy and flying-pigtail-bedecked Chiyo, wildcat Tomo, strong-yet-shy Sakaki, spacy philosopher Osaka, weight-obsessed Yomi. I wrote about the series four years ago — my goodness, has it been that long already? I feel old now — and my main point still stands: It’s like the U.S. TV series Seinfeld, finding humor in the minutiae of everyday life.
Yotsuba&! (Yen Press, 6 vols., $10.99, all ages): And then there’s Kiyohiko Azuma’s follow-up series to Azumanga Daioh, where he took all the lessons he learned from that series — readers love cute girls and slice-of-life humor — and expanded on it to create Yotsuba, the refreshingly pure girl whose life is at the center of this series. Whether it’s learning how to ride a bike, meeting Danbo the cardboard robot or just hanging out with the neighbors, all of Yotsuba’s adventures are guaranteed to fill your heart with your recommended daily allowance of warm fuzzies. Everybody loves Yotsuba&! It’s that simple. If there have been any dissenting views, I either haven’t seen them or have purged those people from existence in my mind, because they probably also hate cute puppies, their mothers and life in general.
Leave it to PET! (Viz, 3 vols., $7.99, all ages): Since we probably won’t be getting Doraemon in English any time soon — long-out-of-print Kodansha Bilingual editions notwithstanding — we’ll just have to make do with little, sometimes-helpful, often-mischievous robots made out of recycled materials to fill the void of “fun, imaginative manga that are great for children to read” in our lives. Fortunately, Leave it to PET! fills it out quite nicely. And if you’re feeling particularly artsy, you can gather the kids and make real-life models of the characters using the bottles and cans around your house (along with a few additional art supplies, of course)! Very cool.
Moyasimon (Del Rey, 1 vol., $10.99, older teen 16+): I just started reading this after a review copy arrived at the office about a week ago, and already I’m digging the whole vibe of the book. Who would have imagined that agricultural studies would make a good topic? Yet Masayuki Ishikawa manages to pull it off. It’s a bit like Mushishi – another 10-volume-or-less series I highly recommend, by the way — except instead of a roving mushi master looking for the minature, silent creatures that dwell within all things, it’s a first-year college student who can see happy little bacteria chattering away and going about their lives. E.coli has never looked so cute and huggable! C’mon, you wouldn’t say “no” to having these smiley-faced strains at your Thanksgiving dinner table, would you?
… umm, never mind.
Disappearance Diary (Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 1 vol., $22.99, older teen 16+): We all want to get away from the high-pressure obligations in our lives. Unfortunately, despite what a certain advertising slogan may imply, we can’t always hop on a plane and fly off (and heck, Honolulu isn’t even served directly by Southwest, so there goes that idea). So why not take inspiration from someone else who unplugged and got away from his work? Caving in to deadline pressures and running far, far away from said pressures has never looked as cheerfully cartoony as this collection of stories based on artist Hideo Azuma’s personal experiences. As he notes in his introduction, “This manga has a positive outlook on life, and so it has been made with as much realism removed as possible.” And so we see the author as he voluntarily becomes homeless, becomes a gas pipe layer and goes into alcohol rehab … but in a somewhat chibi-esque manner, and always with a positive ending. These are the kinds of tales that you wouldn’t believe were true if someone didn’t tell you first … and those kinds of tales are always fun reads.
The Summit of the Gods (Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 1 vol., $25, older teen 16+): Now this is high adventure! Yumemakura Baku builds a story centered around the human desire to conquer towering peaks and the real-life disappearance of George Mallory as he attempted to scale Mount Everest in 1924. Summit of the Gods proposes that Mallory’s camera was found by a Japanese expedition photographer, and the mystery of what happened to Mallory — and why his camera was found in a small store in Kathmandu — only deepens from there. Rounding out the package is some detailed, stunning artwork from Jiro Taniguchi. The only problem with it is that the person who gets this book will reach the end and want to dive into another volume of the story right away … and if there’s anything I’ve learned over the years from collecting Fanfare/Ponent Mon books, they have a tendency to trickle … out … veeeeeeeerrrrrrry … slooooooooooooowly.
Want more suggestions? Check out my other manga-bloggin’ cohorts:
Deb Aoki – Manga.about.com
Melinda Beasi – Manga Bookshelf
Lori Henderson – Manga Xanadu
Lissa Patillo – Kuriosity
Alexander Hoffman – Eye of the Vortex Onlin
D. Orihuela-Gruber – All About Comics
Sean Gaffney’s Live Journal
Ed Sizemore – Comics Worth Reading
Mizelle – Golden Age Girl
Ysabet McFarlane – Cat Named Segue
Brigid Alverson – Mangablog
Emily’s Random Shoujo Page
Scott Green – Ain’t It Cool News Anime
Robin Brenner – No Flying, No Tights
Katherine H – Yuri no Boke
Julie – Manga Maniac Cafe