My Top Five Favorite Manga

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my time on the internet, it’s that it doesn’t matter if I think something is the most amazing thing since the last most amazing thing, other people aren’t going to get into it just because I like it.  Which is why it’s so important to be able to explain exactly why something is worth someone’s time.  Basically it’s my entire purpose as a reviewer, bringing new series to people that haven’t experienced them yet.  And like everyone else on the internet I have a certain number of manga that I consider my absolute favorites.  Unlike a good chunk the internet however I’ve been practicing explaining why the things I like are awesome.  So here is my tribute to my top five favorite manga, and why they should be in your top five too.

My Top Five Favorite Manga

5. Yankee-kun to Megane-chan

Delinquent Daichi Shinagawa wants nothing more than to be left alone and not get involved with anything or anyone during high school.  Unfortunately for him, his class representative, the glasses wearing Hana Adachi has other plans for him, and will stop at nothing to get him to enjoy high school. Right after she gets him to help her study for their next exam.

I suppose there are several series that could be my number five.  The reason Yankee-kun to Megane-chan takes the spot is that unlike all those other series, YtM has not yet fallen into any boring arcs.  The comedy and characters are as fresh as they were in the beginning of the series.  In fact I would say they’ve only gotten better with time.  Comedy counts a lot for me when considering manga, and as you read this list you’ll see that all my favorites have strong comedic elements.

YtM doesn’t score higher on my list mainly because while it has great comedy, all my other favorites have great comedy as well.  YtM falls short because it has exactly what I want in a manga, but doesn’t go any further.  The characters are all great, and the comedic timing is near perfect.  The comedy alone is the only reason I’m even reading a series that would just be about high school life.  I’m almost graduated from college, high school is not a point in my life I feel very nostalgic about.  So the fact that I’m even reading a series all about high school is a miracle in itself.  Especially considering it’s a slice of life series with no fantasy elements.

No story is complete without a little romance, and YtM has that in just the right amounts.  The only downside of this is that it is frustrating more often than not having to spend most of the series waiting for Shinagawa to clue in on who his mystery girl is.  I guess that’s part of why YtM is so low on this list, because there’s comedic stupidity, and then there’s just plain dense.  Shinagawa fits the latter category.

In the end, however, it’s the romance that forms a–shall we say–red thread that ties the episodic chapters together, and provides an ongoing narrative.  And you will bust a gut laughing.  I hope you brought spares.

4. Bakuman

Moritaka Mashiro doesn’t expect much out of life, other than to live a regular life.  Until glasses wearing Akito Takagi asks Mashiro to team up with him to create manga.  Following an impromptu proposal to his life-long crush, Mashiro joins Takagi and the two start their way on the long journey to the top of the manga world. 

Bakuman and I have had an intersting relationship.  On the one hand it takes much longer to read one volume, or even chapter, and I absolutely love how long each individual installment can keep me occupied for.  On the other hand it suffers from some questionable writing as close as just a few chapters ago.  I love how well crafted the story is, especially how each storyline is pulled to the perfect length before being followed by the next story.  But there are times when I can’t help but wonder what Ohba is thinking.  I won’t go into details, as there is a long while yet before the chapters in question see the light of day in the states.

There is comedy to be found in these pages, but it’s much more low key compared to everything else on this list.  The reason it scores a bit higher is because for me it is a completely unique series that addresses a part of my life I didn’t know needed manga.  Every time I read a chapter, or volume, I can’t help but feel pumped to work on my own fiction.  I’ve never read a story where the characters’ goals were so similar to my own, so there is a lot that I can forgive, just because how relevant this manga is to my life. 

3. Beelzebub

After Oga Tatsumi picks up a baby he found in a split open, middle aged, mustachioed man, he discovers from a goth-loli demon wet-nurse that the baby is the son of the Demon Lord who has been sent to earth to destroy the world.  And now you know everything you need to about this series.

This manga makes it in third place entirely because it is one of the funniest manga I’ve read in a long time.  The weird premise and characters all flow together perfectly for some pretty bizarre humor.  But humor alone doesn’t push Beelzebub all the way to number three.  The characters are so well crafted that they hold the somewhat lackluster plot together like iron cement–which I don’t think is even a real thing.  Oga, Furuichi, Hilda, Aoi and the others, make perfect launch pads for jokes, but also have more depth than you’d expect out of a comedy.  If I had to point to one thing that made this series for me, besides the comedy, it would definitely be the characters.  These are some of the strangest, and yet oddly sympathetic bunch of fictional folk that have ever graced paper.  If you want a manga that survives entirely off of a near perfect cast, then I recommend this series wholeheartedly.

2. Fairy Tail

Lucy Heartfilia runs into trouble when she falls into the clutches of a kidnapper posing as the famous Salamander from the mage guild Fairy Tail.  Fortunately for her the real Salamander crashes the party during his search for the fire dragon Igneel and drags her off to join Fairy Tail.

Some people hate this series because of how similar it is to One Piece.  I say they are full of crap, but are still entitled to their own opinions.  Even if Fairy Tail were a carbon copy of One Piece, I would still enjoy it, because I like One Piece, and even imitations of it would be better than any other manga out there.

That being said, Fairy Tail is not a copy of One Piece, and anyone that claims it is should really try reading more shonen manga.  Then look up the definition of the word ‘trope.’  When working in a certain genre it’s very hard to be completely original and avoid similarities with other series.  Fairy Tail isn’t perfect, but it has a lot of heart, and characters I care about enough to read through the plots that aren’t always as good as they could be.  Not that I think Fairy Tail has bad plots, but there are moments where the execution could be polished.

Keep in mind that despite what I say in the negative, Fairy Tail is still my second favorite manga.  The characters are great, and the art (which bears some superficial similarities to One Piece in the beginning, but anyone that thinks they still look alike needs to get their eyes checked) is well put together.  Most importantly though, this manga makes me laugh.  If it weren’t for the comedy Fairy Tail would be nowhere this high on my list, and probably wouldn’t even make it on the list in the first place.  Comedy is that important.

1. One Piece

Monkey D. Luffy and his crew are sailing the grand line in search of the fabled ultimate treasure One Piece.  Along the way they run into a colorful cast of allies and enemies, and even end up challenging the planet spanning world government.  And it’s a thousand times more awesome than any two sentence summary could ever bring across.

Nobody believes One Piece fans when we say One Piece is the best shonen manga in existence, bar none.  It has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.  While One Piece is my absolute favorite, and for good reason, it’s also the hardest on my list to explain why people should read it.  Any time I try I have to preface it with, “It gets really good once you get to the eight volume!”  In a way this fact is representative of the series in its entirety.  There is no one part of it that can be exemplary of why One Piece is so great.  It has to be taken as a whole, or not at all.

Eiichiro Oda is one of those writers who knows the value of planning, especially in a series that has already spanned over ten years, and has apparently only just passed the halfway mark.  At 62 total volumes One Piece is a monster of a series, and that is the main thing that scares new readers off.  Yes, you will be investing a lot of time into this series.  Yes, the first several arcs are fairly standard shonen fare, and not even very good shonen at that.  But the fact remains that once you’re under its spell you won’t stop until you make it all the way to the end.  And you’ll enjoy every last minute of it.  Guaranteed.

AND!

Honorary Mentions

Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple

Kenichi Shirahama’s life is pretty much a bullied hell.  Until he meets glasses wearing Miu Furinji (noticing a pattern here…), who takes him to her dojo home, where he learns four different styles of martial arts from six different teachers. 

At the very least I have to put Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple on this list, even if it peaked in quality a long time ago for me.  The first several major arcs were absolutely great, and the perfect blend of sympathetic characters and some of the best comedy I’ve seen in forever.  It suffers from several oddly proportioned female characters (especially later on), which were actually the reason I didn’t get into this manga for a long time.  But overlooking the fanservice–which isn’t hard considering there has to at least be a little realism for something to be titillating, and inflatable beach ball sized busts are not in the neighborhood of realistic–reveals a great series that has a surprising amount of its martial arts based in real life traditional and modern combat systems.  Powered up to manga levels of course, but at the very least from what I’ve gathered the majority of the theory is realistic.  Add in the most perfect sympathetic weakling character, and one of the sweeter romances I’ve seen in manga (only ever matched by Tite Kubo, and that was probably an accident in the first place!).  Warning: The romance won’t be addressed for a long, long time.  Be strong.

Favorite Finished Series

There are some series that were great, and I loved when they were being published/when I read them for the first time.  But once a story is over my mind tends to wander off for series currently being updated.  As such I have an auxiliary list of my top favorite completed manga series.  They are no less awesome than the series I read now. 

Ghost Sweeper Mikami

It’s about an avaricious woman whose job as a ghost sweeper pits her against a variety of supernatural beings, along with her lascivious assistant who wants nothing else but to get a peek of her showering.

Despite the fact that the characters sound unsympathetic, they’re funny enough that it doesn’t matter, and as you read more the more sympathetic they grow.  This one’s an oldy, but still one of the best manga I’ve actually completed.  With the release of the anime by Sentai Filmworks I can only hope that the manga will have its heyday in the states as well.

Ghost Sweeper Mikami‘s only real flaw is that it doesn’t really conclude as much as it just ends.  Takashi Shiina literally decided he didn’t want to do the same series for his entire life, which I can understand, but it doesn’t mean I’m not pissed that there was no real resolution.  This is the kind of manga that could have gone on for a while, and I would have liked an answer to some important questions.  And yes, most of those questions revolve around, “Who hooks up with who?”  At least Shiina managed to escape the trap other manga-ka of successful series fall into, and his current series Zettai Karen Children is just as enjoyable, if a little on the odd side.

Fullmetal Alchemist

Edward Elric and his brother Alphonse search for the philosophers stone to restore the bodies they lost trying to resurrect their dead mother.  But the closer they come to their goal, the more they realize that their goal may not be worth the price.

As far as manga with endings go, you can’t get much better than Fullmetal Alchemist.  Since it is a story that was written with an ending in mind it avoids a lot of the pitfalls other manga and serialized stories suffer from.  Instead of just deciding she was done, Arakawa had a specific goal she was working towards.  The story was planned out from the beginning, or at least felt like it was, which made the overall product much leaner and more enjoyable overal.  I recommend this one for people that don’t particularly like manga, for whatever reason, but who enjoy a well crafted story.  And it’s not that long either, at twenty seven volumes.

Ranma 1/2

Ranma Saotome has to deal with an unwilling fiance, who may or may not like him, rivals for his and her affection, and a curse that turns him into a girl when he gets splashed with cold water.  Life isn’t easy, especially when authorial forces conspire against you.

It’s easy to forget this one, since it’s been so long since I read it.  But this was my first anime, and my first manga.  It isn’t uncommon for people to complain about the ending, but when it comes to classic manga it doesn’t get more classic than this for me.  Despite all their dysfunctionality I completely fell in love with these characters, to the point where I will actually still revisit old fanfiction I read.  It may not be my absolute favorite, but it’s up there purely because of a combination of nostalgia and the simple fact that the stories are just as good now as they were when I first read them.

I hope those of you reading this blog post will at least take into consideration a few of the things I’ve said.  I love these manga more than any other manga out there, and think that given the chance everyone would enjoy them just as much.

I also need to point out that half of my list is not yet available in the United States.  I have no doubt that each one of these will eventually make their way here.  Beelzebub is a Shonen Jump property, and those make it over here pretty fast (though the naked baby on almost every page is probably hindering that a bit.  Just put a diaper on him!).

Yankee-kun to Megane-chan on the other hand is a Kodansha property, and while those haven’t really gotten as much push as the Yueisha…dammit Bakuman anime! Shueisha properties, the opening of Kodansha USA opens all sorts of possibilities.  I figure that once they get done with their re-releases of old properties, and have settled into a safe business model, they’ll start bringing over some of their other series.  (I would like to point out that Monster Hunter Orage, a short series that Hiro Mashima of Fairy Tail and Rave fame wrote and drew based on the popular video game, is one of their earliest releases.  A bit random, but makes sense considering the popularity of Mashima’s other series.)

Yankee-kun to Megane-chan is an odd example out, though, as three volumes have been released in a Chinese English edition under the title Flunk Punk Rumble (ugh…).  Apparently exactly three volumes have been released, but I can’t find them for purchase anywhere online.  If I could I would review them, since I’m sure they’d be a trove of laughs–not because of the original material, but because I have my doubts as to the quality of the translations.  If anyone knows where I can get my hands on them, at not too expensive a price, I’d be very appreciative.  Until then I’ll keep waiting for the series to come out in the States.

Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple on the other hand is a Shogakukan series, which don’t have as popular a presence in the States as either Shueisha or Kodansha.  Though they do have an ongoing working relationship with Viz media, who are pretty good about bringing new series to the States. I’m not really holding my breath, but it isn’t impossible.

Eventually I’m certain each and every one of these series will be available for purchase in the States, at which point I will of course be reviewing each and every volume released.  Until that point I’ll be continuing to review the currently released series.  I’ve already started my reviews of Bakuman, and will be doing the same for One Piece and Fairy Tail.  Eventually.

They may not all be available yet, but here’s what you can find:
Bakuman
Fullmetal Alchemist
Fairy Tail
One Piece
Ranma 1/2

4 comments

  1. Well it's clear you like fighter shounen series, though at least it's nice that Bleach and Naruto aren't on the list. =P

    Some shounen series I've liked are Death Note, Blood Plus, Scryed, Nurarihyon no Mago, and Trigun. Have you seen/read any of these?
    And since you're a big fan of comedy, I'll suggest some favorites of mine: Azumanga Daioh, Cromartie High School, School Rumble, and Ramen Fighter Miki.
    (Note that I think Scryed, Trigun, Cromartie, and School Rumble are specifically funner to watch dubbed.)

    I kind of want to do a post like this some time. Perhaps I'll do one soon.

  2. Bleach and Naruto have been dishonorably discharged, for the crime of boring me. That and pissing me off a few times.

    I haven't read any of the shonen series you've mentioned, but I am looking into reading Death Note. It's on my list as soon as I have the money to buy the volumes, though I could just get them from the library. From the skimming I've done I think I'll enjoy it.

    Since I enjoyed the Trigun anime I've considered reading the manga, but that's still a bit in the future. Though I suppose it is one of those series that needs to be read to be truly manga literate. I've heard of the other three, but dunno if I'll get around to reading them. All depends on if I can get my hands on copies of them (I don't like reading online so much anymore).

    And your comedies are straight on. I keep thinking i need to watch Cromartie High School, I've read a few chapters and thought they were hilarious. Azumanga Daioh is one of my favorite comedies ever, I recommend Yotsuba if you haven't read it yet. I've got School Rumble open in one of my browser tabs. I've got a list of anime that I'm going to watch, and along with the Slayers series that's one of the ones I want to try out. Figure that if there are so many available legally online I should take advantage of them. And I've hear do Ramen Fighter Miki, but not that much

  3. Yeah, Death Note manga is at the Provo library, so that wouldn't be too hard to get a hold of.

    The Trigun manga is rather interesting–the art style is quite gritty for a shounen, I think. The action can be SO chaotic though that it's a bit hard to follow at times. Anime was good, and I'm looking forward to the movie coming out soon.

    I have read some of Yotsuba, and I'm always meaning to read more. I own the first volume at least.

    I've never read Cromartie, but the anime is hilarious. It's got a great dub, which is good because many of the jokes rely on sudden, brief reactions. School Rumble has a good dub too, and I think the whole series (or at least the first season) is on Hulu. I've only seen the first season. I know all of Ramen Fighter Miki is on Hulu though, which I think is basically DBZ meets Azumanga Daioh. Or perhaps DBZ Abridged meets Azumanga Daioh. It's pretty obscure, but hilarious (IMO).

    Of all my suggestions I think you'd especially like Scryed though, if you can find a way to watch that dubbed. (It's one of those rare cases of a melodramatic English dub fitting quite perfectly for the characters.) It's a very shounen show, but has a pretty clever look at the "chaos vs order" theme.
    The review here by Nyron sums up my thoughts on it pretty well, though a lot more enthusiastically. (You have to scroll down to it. It's a really amusing read.)
    http://myanimelist.net/anime/168/Scryed

  4. I'll have to give Scryed a shot. Depends on if I find a place to watch it online, downloading is a pain.

    Need to see if I can track down a copy of Cromartie too, I kinda want to have a collection of all the good anime comedies.

    From what I've heard of the Trigun manga it's quite a bit darker than the anime, but goes into a lot more detail about a lot of things the anime leaves out, and develops Knives more as a villain. Which would be pretty neat to read about.

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