Friday, June 23, 2017

12 Manga and Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 1)

You like to read, right? Yes? I thought so. People don't generally read this blog unless they're fans of the written word.

I'm a firm believer in reading across multiple genres: It improves the mind and will immensely increase your writing skills. So it's only natural that on my shelf sits classic literature, fantasy, sci-fi, gothic literature (which I still can't bring myself to like, but I'll keep trying), satire, mystery, British and Russian and American literature, historical fiction, and nonfiction spanning world religions, pro-life apologetics, English grammar, and American government.

Chances are you've read some books in at least one of these categories. And if you've read books in all of these categories: You are awesome. And also probably need to get a life.

Aside from your standard (or, maybe, not-so-standard) novels, I also have several shelves dedicated to comic books and manga. And it always makes me sad that not very many people (specifically writers) seem to be familiar with this form of story-telling.

Some consider the images distracting. Some consider them childish (there's a difference between comics and picture-books. Just to be clear). But 90% of the time it comes down to the fact that people simply don't know where to start.

Well, that's where I come in. Allow me to drag you into the world of comic books and manga....Or introduce you to some new titles if you're already a native. I've only been reading these story formats for about a year and a half, but I'm in deep, deep love and am pretty confident that at least a handful of the books listed below will be something you'll enjoy.

I feel the need to mention to my hardcore fans: I'm not recommending purely classic comics/manga and yes, I'm aware that the below list is not encompassing some very excellent stories. This is Part 1 in a very long series of posts I'll be publishing over the years and it is put together using an incredibly complex system that goes something like this:

*stares at wall* *tries to remember all the comics and manga I've read* *remembers random ones in no particular order* *writes them down*

Got it? Okay. Let's go:
Hannah Heath: 12 Manga and Comic Books Worth Reading (Part 1)
But first, two quick notes:

1) Each book cover is clickable, so if one catches your fancy you can read more about it on Amazon. You're welcome.

2) If you see a manga you like and decide to read it, remember: You open them "backwards." This is important. You don't want to open it the wrong way and have the end spoiled for you.

1. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns: Comic Book. 
Obviously, the very first book I'm mentioning is about Batman. Why? Because he's Batman. Frank Miller is credited for taking the goofier version of Batman (think Adam West) and turning him into a darker, grittier character (think Christian Bale). This one is my favorite Batman comic, so if you like darker stories, symbolic imagery, and great characters, this is for you. Miller's Batman: Year One is also good....But we don't speak of The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Ever.

2. Naoshi Arakawa's Your Lie in April: Manga. 
This is an absolutely beautiful story. And I'm not just talking about the artwork. I discovered this manga by watching the anime (which is equally stunning). It's centered around a boy's struggle to find himself in his music and is the perfect story for all of us creatives. Read it. You must. Just keep a box of tissue nearby. And I say that as somebody cries about as much as a rock.

3. Ryan Smith's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 1: Comic book. 
For those of you who want the exact opposite of Frank Miller's Batman. This is goofy, hilarious, and endearing. It's slightly juvenile and the artwork is very cartoonish, but that just adds to the quirkiness.

4. Jun Mochizuki's Pandora Hearts: Manga. 
This is by far the most intricate series I have ever read in any story format. There's intense world-building, time-travel, and about 20+ characters who are all excellently developed. Also, the artwork is gorgeous. In my opinion, Jun Mochizuki is the gold standard when it comes to manga authors. So yes. Try some of her stuff.

5. Jeff Lemire's Descender Vol 1: Comic book. 
Don't want to read any superhero comics? Well, you're totally wrong, but I'll humor you. This is a good place to start. It's sci-fi with stunning (STUNNING) watercolor artwork, endearing android characters, and great world-building. Also, here's a good rule of thumb: Pretty much any comic book you read by Jeff Lemire will be amazing.

6. Kei Sanbe's Erased: Manga.
Only the first two volumes have been released in English and I'm eagerly awaiting the next volume. This is a heart-rending series. It's a mixture of time-travel, mystery, and thriller. It's a dark story that deals with issues such as child abuse, so I suggest reading my full review first so you can be sure you'll want to read it. But, for those of you who can handle hard topics when they are written well (which Sanbe does), I absolutely recommend this.

7. Jody Houser's Faith: Hollywood & The Vine: Comic book. 
Allow me to introduce you to my favorite non-Marvel, non-DC superhero: Faith Herbert. She's hilarious, sweet, and throws around nerd-references that make me jealous. I love her and I think you will, too. I review her comic books frequently on Constant Collectible, so you can check those out here (The titles with "First Look" and "Hannah's Novel Notions" are my reviews).

8. Kafka Asagiri's Bungo Stray Dogs: Manga. 
Supernatural agency protecting their city. Nothing super unique there. But wait. There's a twist: All of the agents are based off of literary figures: From classic Japanese authors to classic English authors. It's amazing. Also, the character arcs, humor, and artwork are excellent....So far, at least. Only 3 volumes are currently in English, so I'm waiting on the rest. I feel I should just learn Japanese at this point. Would that be faster? Probably not...?

9. Jason Aaron's Vader Down: Comic book. 
Darth Vader in all of his badass-ness. That's really all I have to say on the matter.

10. Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist: Manga. 
Okay, so I haven't read the entire series. But the volumes I have read I've really enjoyed: The brother relationship is sweet, the alchemy system intriguing, and the plot is neat. If you like alchemy stories, this is a definite go.

11. Madeleine Holly-Rosing's Boston Metaphysical Society: Comic Book. 
Steampunk. Alternate 1800's history. Ghost and demon hunting. Yep. This comic is great. It also delves into interesting points such as the class system in 1800's America. I discovered this series at Stan Lee's Comic Con, 2016 and I am so glad I did. Full review is here.

12. Tsukumizu's Girls' Last Tour, Vol 1: Manga. 
Once again, the rest of the volumes are yet to be translated into English. But I really loved the uniqueness of volume 1. It's a hilarious mixture of post-apocalyptic and slice-of-life. You'd think those two wouldn't go together, but you'd be wrong. The setting is great, the characters are funny, and the artwork is quirky. Give it a shot.

I have SO many more to recommend (which is why the title reads "Part 1"), but I'll stop with 12, even though it hurts my heart to not be able to tell you about all of the other amazing reads.

If you haven't read this story format yet, I'd love to hear why. And, more importantly, whether or not you think you'll now venture out and try some comic books and manga. If you didn't see any storylines you liked, just leave a comment telling me what you're looking for and I'll see if I can recommend something.

Already a comic book and manga fan? I'd love some recommendations from you! I'm always reading, so send me your top picks and I'll try to check them out!

Related articles:
A List of Great Self-Published Books You Should Read (Part 1)
9 Ways to Use Reading to Improve Your Writing

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15 comments:

  1. Thanks for the recommendations! I've read some comic books, but had no clue where to start with manga.

    I really liked the Loki: Agent of Asgard series (minus the crossover confusion in vol. 3). It takes place after the Journey Into Mystery series about Loki reborn as a little kid for a chance to not be a villain. That should be read first. It's mostly good, but it takes place after a weird crossover event that I don't know about, and some places I had to push through. imo, Loki's character is super interesting and worth it, though. After that, there's Young Avengers by Keiron Gillen- fun, fast, and leads to the Agent of Asgard series.

    In a completely different comic vein, I'd also recommend Ed Brubaker's whole Captain America run, starting with Winter Soldier vol. 1&2. That's the whole modern Bucky story, if that interests you.

    I'm looking forward to more posts in this series!

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    1. Yay! So glad you enjoyed the post. In my opinion, manga is easier to jump into than comic books (there's less comic-book craziness such as split timelines and expanded universe), so I'm sure you'd have no problem with manga. =)

      I LOVE the Loki: Agent of Asgard series. I like your point bout reading the Journey Into Mystery series first. I didn't and I had to take a large Google break about half-way through to check and figure out what was going on. I was able to understand, but it took a while. =D

      Thank you so much for the Captain America recommendations! I love Cap and Bucky in the MCU, but there are so many comics that I've been having a hard time figuring out where to start. I'll go with Brubaker.

      Thanks for the awesome comment, Justice! I appreciate it!

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  2. I love manga!!! I don't read a lot of comic books though. I'll have read some. I recommend A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ōima, which is a Manga. It's a slice-of-life/ drama, I loved it so much because it had such beautiful artwork and had a very compelling story, I haven’t finished it yet, but all the volumes have been translated to English. I hope you check it out!

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    1. Ooo! I heard of Silent Voice a while ago and it sounded awesome, but I couldn't remember the name so I never got a chance to read it. Thank you so much for reminding me of it. =D Excited to get reading!

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  3. I just started getting into graphic novels last year, starting with Maus. A couple months ago, I started Pandora Hearts, but my local library doesn't have the next volume, and I don't live near a bookstore with English books. I'm wondering how long I should hold out for the library or if I should just buy the missing volumes myself. Only time will tell...

    Thanks for another great post, Hannah! I'm adding some of these to my list!

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    1. Nice! Maus was my first graphic novel. I loved it. From there I jumped into comic books and manga. =)

      I'm very biased because I adore the series, but I think buying the missing Pandora Hearts volumes is a good call. My library did the same thing: They didn't have the last 5 volumes in stock. =) Once you finish them up, you'll end up wanting to re-read it, so I figure you might as well have them on hand.

      So glad you enjoyed the post, Azelyn!

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  4. I've only ever read one comic book (it was Batman, but I forget which one). I'd love to read some manga too but (a) we don't have any and we live in the middle of nowhere and (b) I feel like it's very expensive to get all the volumes of one story. :( Maybe someday...

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    1. Well, hurrah for reading a Batman comic book! =D

      Yes, manga (and comics) can get very expensive. Somebody just recently told me about ZingBox: It's a free (and legal) online site where you can read manga. I have yet to try it, but it sounds awesome. =D

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  5. I love comic books and graphic novels. They're such a fun, quick read. They're nice when you want a break from 500 page tomes. But I've never read much manga. Mostly because I don't know which ones are any good. So thanks for the suggestions. Some of my favorite graphic novels are Tintin, Page by Paige, and Delilah Dirk.

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    1. Exactly! I love long novels, but it's nice to be able to take a break and read something shorter. Both are excellent forms of storytelling, just very different. =)

      I LOVE Delilah Dirk! I haven't read Tintin or Page by Paige, though. I'll have to check those out. Thanks!

      If you end up reading any manga, I'd love to hear your thoughts! I'm glad you liked the suggestions.

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  6. - One Punch Man. The idea's just crazy good: a superhero so OP he can beat any villain with just one punch, trying to find a good challenge. It was originally a badly drawn web-original, and then a talented pro offered to redraw it, and it's in general just fantastic.
    - Magical Girl Apocalypse. This is a very bloody manga about a group of survivors trying to survive the mysterious "magical girls", robots who turn humans into zombies, while also trying to find out what caused them to appear in the first place and learning how to defeat them. Lots of blood, gore, body horror, but also well-built characters, better than average drawings, and a great solid mystery.
    - Mahou Shoujo Site.: this is by the same author as above, and both center around magical girls, but are otherwise different. Aya Asagiri, a girl who is bullied viciously, finds a pink toy-looking gun in her locker. The gun is a magical girl item, teleporting whatever it is pointed at to a location Aya was when last feeling an extreme change of emotions. She forms an alliance with another magical girl, time-stopper Tsuyuno, and they proceed to catch a "Magical Girl Hunter", and then, to team up with other magical girls against the Site Admins who first gave them powers. Reminds me of Worm, to be honest.
    -Franken Fran: This is a story about a girl who can (and for a payment, will) perform impossible surgeries, up to and including raising the dead. She, however, has little understanding of ethics and human moralities, and she sees things like putting a girl's dear dead dog's mind inside a icky middle-aged man's body as the right thing to do, for example.
    -Clockwork Planet: Based on a light novel series. A group of misfits take up arms against the corrupt government of the planet of clockworks. This group includes Naoto, a boy with extremely good hearing, his automata servant RuyZu, the young foul-mouthed master engineer Marie Bell Breguet, and Marie's bodyguard Halter. It is strongly hinted that Naoto is, somehow, connected to Y, the inventor who first turned Earth into a clockwork planet when nature died.

    I have read A LOT of manga, these are just some suggestions off the top of my head. If you'd want recommendations of a certain genre etc. I'm sure I can help!

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    1. Ooooo. I haven't read any of these. I love the world-building concept of Clockword Planet. In fact, all of these seem like they have really cool settings/magics. Also: I had no idea that One Punch man started as a web comic! It's been on my list of manga to read/anime to watch for some time now.

      I'm excited to get reading! Thank you so much for all of the great recommendations!

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  7. Thanks for the recommendations. I have been wanting to check out manga but didn't really know what to start with.

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  8. I was hoping for Fullmetal Alchemist to show on you list. If it wasn't I was going to recommend it. You absolutely should finish it when you get a chance. The story is amazing, and unlike some mangas or other serial comics, the whole plot was planned from the beginning. I'm sure there were some tangential elements that got thrown in there but overall, it's a cohesive, fully-formed linear plot. Every question or missing piece gets addressed and it's wonderful. Not to mention that you get to see the characters grow up over the course of the series.

    Since you obviously have good taste, I'll be sure to check out the others you've put on this list. I'm already familiar with The Dark Knight Returns, Pandora Hearts, and Stray Dogs.

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  9. I checked out Erased and Bungo Stray Dogs thanks to your recommendation, and I am loving it.
    I'd like to recommend a manga series called "Barakamon." It's a hilarious slice-of-life that follows a calligrapher who is sent to an island to reflect after losing his cool at a calligraphy exhibition. It's a great series that is hilarious, heart-warming, has great characters, and teaches some great life lessons. As far as I know, the first ten volumes have been released in English.

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