10 Best Manga of 2009

2009 was a fantastic year for manga releases.  And as I've read more manga this year than ever before, there were many books that did not make it to this pretty exclusive top ten list, many that I admire greatly.  My top choices will land on my overall comics end of the year list which will be out shortly.  Anyone looking to expand their library, I recommend the following books wholeheartedly.

1.  Pluto (Naoki Urasawa, Based on Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka) - Reimagining Osamu Tezuka's classic Astro Boy story "The Greatest Robot On Earth," Naoki Urasawa interprets Tezuka's world in a realistic fashion, updating the beloved character in a story that's drawn out to let the characters live and breathe in a fully-realized environment.  Urasawa is a master of pacing, which fans of the creator have experienced since Monster first began to be translated into English a few years ago.  With Pluto, Urasawa takes that pacing to a whole new level, injecting genuine suspense, a complex mystery and characters that develop before readers' eyes in a story that the master artist teases out for fans, leading to big reveals and making moments (like the introduction of Atom) seem that much cooler that ever before.  Urasawa also happens to be one stunning illustrator, making for some beautiful action scenes (or hell, just beautiful talking heads) amid some of the most crystal-clear storytelling out there.  The overall package is a manga nearly perfect on every level, and well-deserving of the title of best manga of the year.

2. A Drifting Life (Yoshihiro Tatsumi) - Telling the story of his life, manga giant Yoshihiro Tatsumi also paints a history of manga for readers in this massive autobiography.  Tatsumi was immersed in the manga world from a young age, and as such, he had a special view of the development of the medium, and being a master cartoonist, helped to shape it into what it is today.  Through this chronicle, Tatsumi captures the struggle of a blossoming artist, with all of its hardships and rewards alike, as he strives to follow in the footsteps of his hero, the great Osamu Tezuka.  This book is insightful, inspiring, and you can see his love for manga on every page of this great work.

3. Honey Hunt (Miki Aihara) - Honey Hunt is a shojo manga from the creator of Hot Gimmick, that follows the daughter of cold, distant celebrity parents.  To be taken seriously and meet her mother on her own turf, Yura strives to become an actress to rival her mother's abilities in a manga full of some really messed-up characters.  It may contain some echoes of Ai Yazawa's Nana, but this series is so well-executed and beautifully-crafted that I can't help but be utterly addicted to the title, constantly on the lookout for the next installment to come out.

4. Ooku: The Inner Chambers (Fumi Yoshinaga) - From the creator of Antique Bakery comes a tale that imagines an alternate history for Japan during the Edo Period.  During this time, a plague wipes out most of the male population, forcing women to take on roles formerly held by men, including the role of shogun.  To protect the royal lineage, the shogun's inner chamber has been converted to house the most beautiful men in the country, where they serve her until death.  The premise is creative and very rich, making for some intense, fascinating stories.

5. GoGo Monster (Taiyo Matsumoto) - Easily boasting the best packaging for a manga this year, GoGo Monster stands out on a bookshelf with a handsome design, and with a story just as rich.  Inside, you'll find quirky characters, particularly Yuki Tachibana, who may or may not have a gift to communicate with spirits at his elementary school.  This book is a vivid, slow-building work with an utterly compelling story. It's the kind of book that sent shivers up my spine, with some nightmarish images that won't soon be forgotten.  A strong, creative vision from a talented creator unafraid of putting difficult, lasting material out there.

6. Swallowing the Earth (Osamu Tezuka) - While Swallowing the Earth was written during a transition period for the god of manga, that of his stories moving from children's stories to that of the more serious, mature works of his later life, Swallowing the Earth is still a very rich tale where Tezuka has a lot to say about society, greed, government and gender inequality.  It's a story epic in scale, beginning with smaller events and mysteries that slowly spiral passed the sum of its parts into a whirlwind of disaster for the world's economy and governments, complete with plots of revenge and unexpected love. Tezuka populates his beautifully-illustrated world with characters that are oozing with emotion and reactions to the odd situations they find themselves in.  This book is top-notch and should really not be missed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of manga.

7. X-Men: Misfits (Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman & Anzu) - I wasn't expecting much of this title when I first picked it up, but it really won me over, and is a first-rate example of a reimagining done to fantastic results.  Perhaps it's the superhero fan in me, but I loved the shojo elements warped from things already present in the X-Men universe, throwing girl-next-door Kitty Pryde into a school populated by mutant boys who are fashion-forward and often oversexualized, with a good amount of humor and tension thrown into the mix.  Some manga readers may be put off by the superhero invasion into the manga format, and some superhero fans may be aghast at the transformations of their beloved universe, but I was, happily, very pleased with the imaginative result of the creators, and was constantly excited to see what else they had in store for the mutants.  The art is also executed to great results, from the designs of the reimagined characters to the clear action.  I often gazed at panels for awhile before moving on, particularly early scenes of Kitty phasing through walls and floors (and there's one later scene of her phasing through the mansion wrapped in Pyro's arms).  This book is just an utter treat and I have no qualms with naming this one of my favorite manga of the year because I loved every moment of it.

8. 20th Century Boys (Naoki Urasawa) - Like Monster, this suspenseful series is really complex and boasts a huge cast of characters that bounce back and forth in time as mysteries unfold (thank goodness for recap pages) as quickly as new ones pop up.  One has to keep on top of this series to keep the thread of the story, but for those who do, it's very rewarding.  Urasawa is a master cartoonist and has the ability to transport readers into the worlds he weaves, particularly into the lazy summer days of the childhood the characters in this series experienced.  Events unravel in a way that have you on the seat of your chair, and creativity explodes from the pages of this remarkable tale.

9. Yotsuba&! (Kiyohiko Azuma) - I think everyone who's ever picked up this series in the past breathed a little easier when Yen Press began to publish this series where ADV left off (and reprinted the five previously-released volumes as well).  I may have gasped or jumped for joy myself, because Yotsuba&! is a fantastic book that often makes me chuckle or just laugh outright.  Yotsuba is the cutest wide-eyed girl and captures an innocence from childhood that's difficult to recreate.  Azuma is amazing for having created this book and sustaining it with energy for so long, coming up with new adventures for Yotsuba to go on as she learns and grows.  Manga would be a much darker place without the little green-haired girl in it.  Thank you, Yen Press.

10. Leave It To PET! (Kenji Sonishi) - I have been consistently impressed by the offerings through Viz's new VizKids line of manga for children, and this title is the cream of the crop.  The book follows Noboru Yamada, who recycled a plastic bottle, and that plastic bottle returned to him as PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate, which is a type of plastic), a recycled robot who grants Noboru a favor every day as a way of thanking him.  Unfortunately, things don't always go the way they should.  Actually, they hardly ever do.  PET is lazy, mischievous and just plain bad at helping out, which makes for a pretty hilarious manga.  I don't think I've ever laughed so hard reading a comic as I have reading this book.  Sonishi's pacing and timing is superb, and any child who finds this in their hands is a lucky child indeed.

Honorable Mentions

The Color of Earth (Kim Dong Hwa)
Children of the Sea (Daisuke Igarashi)
Red Snow (Susumu Katsumata)
Happy Happy Clover (Sayuri Tatsuyama)
Hikaru No Go (Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata)


Drew said…
I completely agree re: Leave it to PET. It totally snuck up on me.

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