Monday, December 26, 2011

Best Manga of 2011

The following are my ten favorite manga of the year, the best of which will also be ranked on my forthcoming overall best comics of the year list.

1. The Drops of God (Tadashi Agi & Shu Okimoto) - I love this manga!  About a man who learns about wine after his father, a famous wine critic, dies, this book looks great and is completely engrossing.  The world of wine is really fascinating - I had no idea that wine was so complex. And the way the creators take the readers away with taste, transporting the characters to memories and breathtaking landscapes, is a smart choice that gets the point across very nicely. But as interesting as all of the subtleties of wine is, the art on this title is just drop-dead gorgeous and steals the show. From that beautifully-designed cover to the detailed backgrounds to panel-upon-panel of beautifully-rendered talking heads, this books looks fantastic.

2. Princess Knight (Osamu Tezuka) - The title that set the tone for shojo manga is just as wonderful now as it ever was.  Tezuka weaves a wonderful epic story about a princess born with the hearts of both a man and a woman, and the trials she endures to win the man that she loves, and the acceptance of her kingdom.  I'm a huge Tezuka fan, so I wasn't surprised that I really enjoyed this title, but even my high expectations were exceeded. Great cartooning, fantastic plot twists, tons of suspense and action, and a romance that has you rooting for the main character to beat the odds. This is Tezuka at his best, and it hardly surprises me that this title has been such an influencial work.

3. Wandering Son (Shimura Takako) - This story about two transgendered fifth-graders is masterfully told, with great characterization, and a fantastic story with a gentle tone.  Things play out very cinematically and realistically in this charming tale with very likeable protagonists.  There are a lot of great character moments and very subtle reactions that give this manga a feeling of richness.  This really is a gem of a series.

4. No Longer Human (Usamaru Furuya) - No Longer Human is based on a popular novel in Japan by Osamu Dazai, and is a really cool character study about a guy whose life is a complete and utter charade.  He may be popular and loved by his classmates, but it's all a very calculated show for someone who doesn't understand people at all.  We get to witness the slippery slope that the main character travels, knowing that he will reach a very low point in his life, but I loved going along for the ride.  This a thoughtful, sexy read, and it's rendered beautifully by Usamaru Furuya.

5. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (Shigeru Mizuki) - This World War II manga from legendary cartoonist Shigeru Mizuki follows a troop of the Imperial Army stationed in the South Pacific.  There's an interesting blend of humor and really dark material to be found here, but the humor lightens what would otherwise be a pretty depressing read.  Mizuki also draws the characters here in a cartoony style that contrasts nicely with the dangerous, realistic surroundings.  I really like the mixture of styles, and I was surprised by how contemporary this feels forty years after its original publication.  It really speaks to the strength of the creator.

6. Sailor Moon (Naoko Takeuchi) - Reintroduced to a new generation of readers, Sailor Moon made a triumphant return this year, and having missed the fun the first time around, I immersed myself in the world of the pretty guardian and her friends.  This is a magical girl manga full of pretty costumes and romance, as the girls begin a quest to fight for justice.  It's just a hell of a lot of fun.

7. A Zoo In Winter (Jiro Taniguchi) - In A Zoo In Winter, Jiro Taniguchi (The Quest For the Missing Girl) recounts scenes from his youth surrounding his beginnings in manga.  I'm a big fan of his artwork - it's very realistic and lush, very detailed with beautiful scenery.  His breathtaking backgrounds and cityscapes, coupled with the cartooning he brings to the expressions of his characters, is just a perfect marriage of art.  And beyond the artwork, Taniguchi recounts some very personal moments that make you feel closer to him, in what is a really solid, if quiet, work.

8. Velveteen & Mandala (Jiro Matsumoto) - I wasn't even sure I liked this after I finished reading it, but this manga is one of those works that's hard to get out of your head, and it makes you think about things and recall scenes.  Matsumoto definitely indulges in the grotesque in this ugly post-apocalyptic world that's often over-the-top and explicit, but there are some really great ideas packed into this story, and I love the dream-like scenes within its pages.  And in the end, it's even a rather sophisticated story that haunts you long after you've set it down. 

9. Bakuman (Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata) - The team behind Death Note tell a story about two manga artists breaking into the industry, and man, is it engrossing.  I tear through these volumes as soon as they come out.  It's suspenseful, engaging, and it just keeps you turning those pages ravenously.  Rarely do I look forward to the new volume of a series as much as I do this one.  It plays out cinematically, with lovely artwork, and it's really neat getting a glimpse into this world.

10. A Bride's Story (Kaoru Mori) - I loved Kaoru Mori's Emma, and as with that title, Mori meticulously researched 19th Century Asia for a look at the Silk Road.  In this tale, a woman is betrothed to a husband in a neighboring village, a husband who is only twelve years old.  We witness her adapting to her new life in a world that is fully-realized and historically detailed.  Mori draws out scenes wonderfully, to put emphasis on body language as much as speech, in fluid storytelling that masterfully breathes emotion into the story.  She creates an array of fully-realized characters that move through this vivid glimpse into the past, indulging in her own interests of the time period, while drawing breathtaking landscapes and scenes of intimate family life.

Honorable Mentions
The Book of Human Insects (Osamu Tezuka)
Chi's Sweet Home (Konami Kanata)
La Quinta Camera: The Fifth Room (Natsume Ono)
Sand Chronicles (Hinako Ashihara)
Twin Spica (Kou Yaginuma)

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