“Anime fan” is the term that has stuck in the common parlance to describe most of us reading this but I think it’s a bit of a misnomer. Anyone who knows even a little about Japanese culture knows that it isn’t anime but manga where the real action is to be found. Manga is the Japanese word for what we call “comic books” but the term has come into use in English speaking countries for good reason; Japanese comic books are different from the western variety. New anime fans are usually surprised to learn how large a percentage of anime titles started out as manga.
Those of us who have been sampling entertainment from Japan for a while know there is a much greater variety of stories and even genres in manga than can be found in anime or live-action shows. Many of the real gems never make it to the anime studios. It isn’t long before a good conversation at an anime convention turns from the screen to the printed page.
If I listed my “favorite” manga titles it would be a list so long none of you would invest the time to read it and I have no doubt your lists would be even longer. Still, idle Sunday afternoons lend themselves well to idle chatter so I thought I’d list the manga titles that influenced my thinking the most in an attempt to get some of you to do the same.
Even though I almost busted my gut laughing at Johji Manabe’s Caravan Kid and was fascinated by Masamune Shiro’s Orion I’ve boiled my list down to the 4 titles that I both enjoyed the most and spent the most time considering after finishing.
Appleseed (Masamune Shiro)
Fist of the North Star (story by Buronson aka Fumimura Sho, art by Hara Tetsuo)
Five Star Stories (Nagano Mamoru)
Sanctuary (story by Fumimura Sho, art by Ikegami Ryoichi)
Saying Shiro’s art is superb is like saying the sky is blue but his technical art hooked my interest in particular. His machines and devices not only look uncommonly cool but plausible as well. How often do you find a mix like that? Appleseed is a mix of “hard nails” action (of which there isn’t enough in this world, if you ask me) and true science fiction. It shows a near-future world where politicians and thinkers grapple with how to integrate new technologies into society while the police and SWAT teams on the street test how realistic those policies are. These issues are handled in a refreshingly pragmatic way. Shiro does a great job of conveying the idea that we won’t be saved or doomed by technology but by those who see it for what it really is and use it wisely.
Many people will never see the saga of Kenshiro as anything more than pointless skull-bashing and macho posing. I’m not going to tell people what they should appreciate but I got a lot more than that out of reading Viz’s translation and then picking through the original volumes with my own limited knowledge of Japanese. In a post-apocalyptic world that makes Mad Max look mild people have to fight for daily survival among a blasted landscape of roving gangs and cruel tyrants. With almost no technology to scavange and few communities in which to dwell, men must rely on their strength and their friends. Bravery and friendship are the two principles this manga portrayed again and again in memorable ways. I don’t find many stories that deal with deep male friendships from a male perspective (the majority of movies and TV shows showing male friendships with any depth are usually written by women who, while they mean well, just aren’t men).
A sci-fi/fantasy epic deserving of both the slash and the word “epic.” This sweeping story of the Joker Star Cluster takes both the broad and personal view of unfolding events with a skilled hand. A deity’s awakening and humanity’s next step in its destiny is the ultimate conclusion but the stories that lead us there would be first-rate even if they weren’t part of a greater whole. Nagano’s creation is an interesting setting that manages to incorporate a large range of elements from both science-fiction and fantasy without sacrificing consistency. On the sci-fi side of the fence we have genetic engineering, cloning, giant robots, space travel, inscrutable aliens and high-tech warfare while the fantasy side gives us knights, dragons, kings, gods, sorcery and sword-play. The grand scale of the story and the bravery and dedication to duty of many of the characters make this manga a classic. Many of the volumes end with insightful dialogue between characters that emphasize the very real issues that are dealt with in stories that seem only fanciful at first glance.
Although it’s debatable which genre best captures the essence of the Five Star Stories, I believe it is fantasy. Kings and knights guide society and have access to the best technology and magic, the ruling classes are made up of people born with the right characteristics to make them combatants and mentalists and the main character throughout the stories is a god. Fantasy is the better of the 2 genres for dealing with questions of morality and personal responsibility amid the dramatic events unfolding. The elegance and grace of centuries-old noble houses which color most of the stories wouldn’t shine as well with a stronger sci-fi emphasis.
This story of 2 men in modern Japan struggling to change society for the better struck a chord with me from the first volume. One goes into organized crime while the other enters politics as they seek to gain the influence they need to shake the halls of power and wake up a generation of apathetic dreamers. This story doesn’t illustrate how 1 or 2 people can make a difference. It illustrates how anyone with the right vision and dedication can bring together a group of friends and allies who can change things that too many people think are set in stone. Patience, insight and dedication to one’s friends set this story above a host of other organized crime and political intrigue manga.
How do you read your manga?
- In book form (60%, 3 Votes)
- Online (20%, 1 Votes)
- A lot of both (20%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 5