Thursday, January 02, 2014

Best Manga of 2013

2013 saw a lot of great manga, from beautifully packaged products featuring classic manga masters, to excellent volumes of new 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.  The top books on this list will also be featured in my forthcoming overall best comics of 2013 list. 

So, in my opinion, these are the best manga that the year had to offer...

1.  Kitaro (Shigeru Mizuki) - Shieru Mizuki is known for specializing in stories about yokai, and this collection really showcases his strength in that area.  A Japanese pop culture figure, Kataro is a one-eyed monster boy with special powers, and a knack for dealing with pesky yokai.  Mizuki weaves wonderful stories here, full of monsters and demons, some genuinely creepy with images that will stay with you, and others more light-hearted and funny.  This impressive omnibus edition that Drawn & Quarterly has released is the perfect introduction to this rambunctious character and the crazy life he leads, and easily fits the bill for best manga of the year.

2.  The Twin Knights (Osamu Tezuka) - A follow up to the classic Princess Knight, Tezuka once again forces a heroine into men's clothing as two twins are separated at birth and a kingdom is at stake.  Like Princess Knight, this story is epic, and takes readers on a magical journey through different landscapes, meeting all sorts of strange people, before culminating in a breath-taking climax.

3.  The Heart of Thomas (Mato Hagio) - We saw a collection of work released from Shojo master Mato Hagio a few years ago in Drunken Dreams and Other Stories, thanks to Fantagraphics, and now they've released perhaps her best known works.  The Heart of Thomas is a mystery that takes place at a boys' board school in Germany, beginning with a suicide, and the beautiful boy who looks uncannily like the deceased.  It's a haunting story, brimming with emotion and complex relationships between the boys, but it's Hagio's delicate breathtaking beautiful line work that really brings this story to another level altogether.

4.  Vinland Saga (Makoto Yukimura) - This truly is a saga, featuring castles being stormed by waves of Viking warriors, ambushed ships at sea, and challenges of one-on-one combat.  Vinland Saga tells the story of Vikings as they wage war and make merry, but also a look at their everyday lives, and tragic, bloody history.  Yukimura's artwork is clear and well-suited for this historical action story, moving the events along cinematically, and sweeping readers up in its grandeur.

5.  The Strange Tale of Panorama Island (Suehiro Maruo) - This story is a little odd, but I like that.  Hitomi is a misunderstood novelist who fakes his death to take the place of an heir who recently died.  Using the heir's fortune, he makes his wildest dreams come to life on a pleasure island, where people can take strolls under the sea, frolic with beautiful women, and enjoy some breathtaking scenery.  A lot of this book is just a tour through the island at the end, but there's quite a bit of tension leading up to that as well, and frankly, Maruo's art is the major draw here, as it is phenomenal.  Very realistic and lush.

6.  Attack On Titan (Hajime Isayama) - The twists keep coming in this post-apocalyptic story about the remnants of humanity surviving behind walls that keep out man-eating giants.  This series is bloody and action-packed, and utterly nail-biting as things really go awry.  There is plenty of mystery in this series to keep readers coming back for more, between some pretty amazing action sequences.

7.  Young Miss Holmes (Kaoru Shintani) - In Victorian London, Christie continues to help her uncle Sherlock Holmes crack some difficult cases, while balancing her hobby with becoming a real lady.  Often very witty, and illustrated beautifully, this is a great mystery series that features plenty of action and unforgettable characters.

8.  Gold Pollen and Other Stories (Seiichi Hayashi) - This release from PictureBox showcases some lovely work from alternative manga artist Seiichi Hayashi, whose work we've seen previously in Drawn & Quarterly's release, Red Colored Elegy.  There are four stories collected here, with Hayashi experimenting with his style for different experiences with each.  I love Hayashi's use of color, especially when it's used sparsely in the later stories, although my favorite of the four offerings is the one full-color story, "Dwelling in Flowers," examining a relationship between mother and son.  I didn't really care for "Yamanba Lullaby," but otherwise, even the short "Red Dragonfly" was a moving short work.  Hayashi is very subtle about things, which I like, and the stories feel more real because of it.

9.  Soulless (Gail Carriger & Rem) - Continuing the adaptation of Gail Carriger's novels, Rem illustrates the lush environments of Victorian England in this steampunk series, transporting readers to this world with stunning, detailed illustrations.  Alexia keeps getting into trouble with supernaturals in this book full of conspiracies and the politics of vampires and werewolves in a very proper society.

10. Atomcat (Osamu Tezuka) - This all-ages title from master Osamu Tezuka brings his most famous creation to the limelight again, in an unusual way.  Tsugio, who is bullied at school, takes refuge in the Astro Boy stories he reads with his father, and when he takes in a kitten with a slight resemblance to Astro Boy, circumstances lead to the cat's alteration into a super kitten, protecting Tsugio from bullies on all sorts of adventures.  This book is lots of fun.  Cute and heartfelt, and perfect for manga fans of any age.

Honorable Mentions
The Mysterious Underground Men (Osamu Tezuka)
Sunny (Taiyo Matsumoto)
Triton of the Sea (Osamu Tezuka)
Wandering Son (Shimura Takako)
Yotsuba&! (Kiyohiko Azuma)