Saturday, January 05, 2013

Best Manga of 2012

2012 saw a lot of great manga, with fun new series debuts, and excellent volumes of ongoing titles.  It's always hard to narrow down my favorites to just ten books, but I've done just that in the following list.  So, in my opinion, these are the best manga that the year had to offer...

1. Soulless (Gail Carriger & Rem) - Adapted from the novels by Gail Carriger, by artist Rem, Soulless follows Alexia Tarrabotti, a preternatural in a Victorian Era London populated by vampires and werewolves, as well as humans. Preternaturals are rare, but the gift that Alexia has makes her a formidable opponent, as well as a target, as she has the ability to make a supernatural being completely human for as long as she touches them. And while that is certainly a cool part of the story, and comes in to play quite a bit, it's really the relationship between Alexia and the sexy werewolf Lord Maccon that is the thrust of this story.  This series is action-packed, funny and sexy - the perfect package. But it's really Rem that makes this gem of a manga shine. She adapts this story perfectly, hitting the right notes, letting the story unfold slowly and bringing the characters, secondary as well as primary, to life.  I haven't been this excited by a superntural manga in a long time, and it has easily earned the top slot on my list of favorite manga this year.

2. Young Miss Holmes (Kaoru Shintani) - This Victorian mystery series follows Christie, the young niece of Sherlock Holmes, as Shintani retells Doyle's famous stories in new and exciting ways.  Christie is a bright young girl who somehow manages to worm her way into her uncle's investigations, demonstrating an intuition and skill equal to that of her uncle's.  Together with her very capable maids, Christie is a force to be reckoned with, and faces danger and solves the toughest mysteries with a sweet smile and a curtsy.  The art is very detailed, and the characters have a retro look to them, all of which fit nicely into this world that Shintani has created, which is often funny and ridiculously suspenseful.  I love the supporting cast of this book as well as Christie, but it's that articulate, whip-smart little girl that really makes this story superb, particularly her relationships to those around her.  You can really see an Osamu Tezuka influence in the art and pacing of these stories, especially in a story that focuses on Christie's maid Nora, who is taught to be a criminal by gypsies.  But I can't stress enough how much fun I had reading these excellent stories, with a fantastic female protagonist at its heart.

3. Message To Adolf (Osamu Tezuka) - Tezuka takes on a story pretty epic in scope with this manga, which follows the lives of three characters named Adolf, including the Nazi leader himself, around the events of World War II.  Tezuka knows how to suck his readers in with this story full of mystery, suspense, intrigue and heartache.  Friendships are tested and lives are ruined in this amazing story.  Sometimes the story meanders a bit, but that only serves to make this seem like a much bigger story, surrounding a secret that could deal a great blow to Nazi Germany.  Message To Adolf moves along at a feverish pace, and is riveting throughout as it dances between the lives of various characters, showcasing this time period from different points of view.

4. 5 Centimeters Per Second (Makoto Shinkai & Seike Yukiko) - This beautiful, cinematic story based on the manga of the same name is an emotional powerhouse that explores the relationship of two children who fell in love in elementary school, but moved away from one another.  They try to keep in touch, but slowly drift apart despite great efforts to stay in one another's lives.  This is a moving portrayal of love as their lives are shaped by this early relationship, in positive and negative ways.  It reads very honestly and moves along in a breezy, dreamy fashion, like a summer romance.

5. Nonnonba (Shigeru Mizuki) - I love autobiographical manga, and this one, by master Shigeru Mizuki, is a real treat, exploring his childhood in a small town where soldiers are revered by the children, and sickness surrounds him as he begins to explore his creativity in the form of comics.  It's his relationship with his grandmother that is really touching, however, as she relays stories of yokai (spirit monsters) that share their world with them, setting fire to his imagination, and shaping his youth.

6. The Earl and the Fairy (Ayuko & Mizue Tani) - I really enjoyed the hell out of the first volume of this series, and had the quality not slowly tapered off over the subsequent three volumes, this would have been a strong contender for first place.  Once past that golden first volume however, the story slowly lost steam.  The book follows fairy doctor Lydia, a girl with the extraordinary gift to see and communicate with fairies, as she aids a young man of questionable intentions in his quest for a sword that will authenticate his birthright, as a descendant of the Blue Knight Earl.  There's mystery, romance, danger and action in this tale that is adapted beautifully from the books by Mazue Tani, by Ayuko.

7. Wandering Son (Shimura Takako) - Fantagraphics continued to publish Shimura Takako's story about two transgender children this year, showcasing Takako's elegant art in a beautiful story that is touching and riveting.  Shu and Yoshino are great characters, but the supporting cast is just as interesting.  This story is full of honesty and heartbreak, and is beautifully packaged by the publisher.

8. Attack on Titan (Hajime Isayama) - In the future, the world has been devastated by giants, the last remaining humans forced behind stone walls for their protection.  Many young men and women serve as protectors for the general populace, learning to kill the giants in very risky operations necessary to keep the people safe.  When a titan that eclipses the other giants suddenly appears to tear down the outer wall, their small world becomes even smaller, and the military, desperate to ensure the safety of the remaining people, strike a deal with Eren Jeager, who has lived among them all this time, but has terrible secrets locked in his past, ones that may have ties to the giants they fear.  This is sort of a complicated book, but the world-building is excellent, and the action and ideas here are refreshing and exciting.

9. A Bride's Story (Kaoru Mori) - Only one volume of this manga came out this year, but that was more than enough to guarantee it a spot on this list.  Always beautiful, this quiet, touching story of family on The Silk Road in the 19th century is often moving, and its thoughtful pacing and stories make this an instant must-read with each volume's release.

10. Barbara (Osamu Tezuka) - This strange manga about an even stranger girl is minor Tezuka, but even minor Tezuka is excellent.  The dirty, ill-mannered drunk Barbara may be more than she appears, and for author Yosuke Mikura, she may be exactly what he needs to make it big, in this manga that takes on big ideas like fate and inspiration, and is drawn beautifully by a master of the medium.

Honorable Mentions
Bakuman (Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata)
Danza (Natsume Ono)
The Drops of God (Tadashi Agi & Shu Okimoto)
Fallen Words (Yoshihiro Tatsumi)
Sakuran (Moyoco Anno)

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