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Graphic Novelists You Should Know: Manga Edition

Join me in a manga?

Manga.  At first it seemed like a visitor from another planet, alien and intimidating, but now the chibis, catgirls and exclamations of “dattebayo” are a part of everyday life. For the reader late to the manga party, however, standing in front of a wall covered in series with titles like “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” “xxxHolic” and “Afterschool Charisma” can be a disorienting, almost dizzying experience. That’s why The Hub exists, dear reader, to help you embrace new formats without fear!

Astute readers will note that we have written about manga before — take in our guide to some of manga genres and tropes for reference. This post will help the manga novice to follow Rule 1 of the Novice’s Guide to Enjoying Comics found in our post about the DC Reboot: “Find a good comic book creator.” Here, for your reading pleasure, are some of the giants of manga, people who consistently and frequently produce good work, and who are shoo-in recommendations to anyone who wants to break into the manga-verse. Are you ready? Ikimashou!

How can you not love this man?

1. Osamu Tezuka — No manga post would be complete without mentioning Osamu Tezuka. The most prestigious manga award they give in Japan is named after this man. He is even called “the god of manga,” for heaven’s sake — why haven’t you read his books already!?

Tezuka-san was amazingly prolific in a variety of genres from youthful sci-fi (Astro Boy) to romantic tragedy (Apollo’s Song) to religious biography (Buddha). Many of his works are currently being re-released — most recently his gender-bender fantasy Princess Knight — so they are easier to find now than ever before. Tezuka’s style is not the modern manga style, and, despite being influenced by Western animation, he writes from a very Eastern perspective. Tezuka’s art, tropes and plot conventions can seem alien and jarring to a Western reader. Don’t go into a Tezuka book expecting anything based on your previous experience with manga (just prepare to be amazed).

Read This First: Dororo (on the list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2009). After his father makes a literal deal with the devil for power, Hyakkimaru is born incomplete. Forty-eight demons have divided up most of his body parts among themselves, leaving the boy without arms and legs, or even eyes and ears. Fitted with advanced prosthetics by his foster father, Hyakkimaru hunts the demons through feudal Japan to regain his body, along the way joining up with the titular Dororo, a child thief with a secret past. I love the combination of horror, demonic battles, and sophisticated musing on the injustice of the feudal system. In flavor it’s almost like a Japanese Hellboy — an atmospheric and moody work.

Takahashi-san and her creations.

2. Rumiko Takahashi — If Tezuka is the God of Manga, Rumiko Takahashi is the Princess of Manga. Her long and celebrated career has made her one of the richest manga artists in Japan, and her creations (including Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2, InuYasha) are household names all over the world. Takahashi’s work tends to be comedic and romantic, despite occasional macabre or serious overtones, and often include supernatural elements. Her current series, Rin-ne, follows a shinigami and a girl who can see ghosts as they help the souls of the departed achieve reincarnation.

Read This First: InuYasha. High school girl Kagome falls down a well and is transported back in time, to an era when Japan was apparently so plagued by demons that you couldn’t cross the street without being possessed, assaulted or eaten (why they never covered that in World History, I don’t know). Kagome and the half-demon InuYasha must work together to gather the fragments of a powerful jewel before the demon Naraku uses it to become all-powerful. InuYasha really has everything you could want in a manga — cute demon-dog boys, a plucky schoolgirl with magical powers, demon battles, magical swords, doomed romance, reincarnation — yet somehow, instead of being a collection of cliches, it all comes together into a fun, exciting story.

Naoki Urasawa is watching you.

3. Naoki Urasawa — Naoki Urasawa is a genius. Really, that’s the only way to describe him. Urasawa excels at creating atypical storylines focusing on complex characters who grapple with serious moral quandaries. Characters Urasawa has successfully brought to life include genius serial killers (Monster), outlaw vigilante everymen (20th Century Boys), and futuristic humanoid robots (Pluto). He also has a talent for suspenseful, twist-filled storylines that make his works nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thrillers — that are also extremely confusing if you aren’t reading carefully. A thinking man’s manga writer!

Read This First:  Pluto (one of YALSA’s Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2010). In this sophisticated retelling of Osamu Tezuka’s “Strongest Robot in the World” arc from Astro Boy, technology has advanced such that robots can be virtually indistinguishable from humans. In this setting, something is systematically hunting and killing the most powerful robots in the world. Detective Gesicht is assigned to find this killer — even though, as an advanced humanoid robot, he is himself a target. This series deals with some really heavy issues — hate, revenge, forgiveness, war — but it’s the characters that make it come to life. I was brought to tears at multiple times in this story because of how much soul was in those characters. *sniff* Excuse me a moment…

Can you believe there are no pictures of Fumi Yoshinaga? Instead, here's the movie poster for the live action version of Ooku.

4. Fumi Yoshinaga — An acclaimed author of romantic manga, Yoshinaga excels at depicting both the ordinary and the unusual. The ordinary: she writes excellent “slice of life” stories focusing on her characters’ everyday trials and tribulations. (She is quoted as saying she wants to write about people who “didn’t win” — love it!) The unusual: Yoshinaga’s works almost always involve atypical romantic relationships, whether they be LGBT (Antique Bakery), extreme age gap (All My Darling Daughters), or female shogun with male harem (Ooku). It’s the juxtaposition of very realistic characters in situations not often seen in literature that makes Yoshinaga’s work so intriguing.

Read This First: Flower of Life (which made the list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens in 2008). Cheerful teenager Harutaro Hanazono returns to school after a battle with leukemia. In school he makes friends, and, thanks to one of them, discovers his ambition to become a manga artist. Meanwhile, his teacher is having an affair with a married man, and all his friends have their own drama to contend with. A perfect example of Yoshinaga’s “slice of life” excellence.

The ladies of CLAMP. (Although in real life, I'm pretty sure they don't have cat ears.)

5.CLAMP — Not one writer but a superteam of manga creators, CLAMP is prolific and long lived — they’ve been a team since the 1980s! In a great fan-turns-pro story, CLAMP used to be a group of friends who made doujinshi (fan manga) together. Now they have made over twenty manga series, many of which have been animated, some of which are considered classics. Great job, CLAMP! The team’s work tends to focus on stories with magical or fantasy elements — divine battles (RG Veda), exorcists (Tokyo Babylon), sentient humanoid androids (Chobits), and trans-dimensional travel (Tsubasa) all factor into CLAMP’s creations.

Read This First: Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles. Sakura is a princess and Syaoran is the foster son of an archaeologist. Despite the difference in their backgrounds the two have been friends since childhood. On the very day that Princess Sakura plans to confess her true feelings for Syaoran, her memories are scattered across the multiverse, and Syaoran undertakes a dimension-hopping trip to retrieve them. The price? Sakura will never remember her lifetime of friendship with him again. Fun, action-packed and heartstring-pulling — this is like a manga version of Sliders. Only better.

Hopefully, these five authors will provide a fun and accessible gateway into the world of manga. It’s a fun world well worth exploring! If reading these authors’ works gives you an unquenchable zeal for manga, check out the 50 Essential Manga over at About.com. Just reading the first volume of each series turned me from a trembling neophyte into the manga powerhouse I am today.

How about you? What manga creators are your favorites? Do you have lists of manga to share? Do so in the comments!

— Maria Kramer is reading How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, which is not manga, actually.

2 Comments

  1. Ted Anderson Ted Anderson

    Great list! Takahashi and CLAMP are two of the great shojo (girls’ comics) creators, while Urasawa does dense, thoughtful action stories like nobody else. And Yoshinaga is a really excellent talent who’s only just getting the recognition she deserves–Ooku is a great series, but her earlier works Flower of Life and Antique Bakery are definitely worth your time.

    A personal favorite of mine is Kiyohiko Azuma, whose series Azumanga Daioh and Yotsuba&! are both wonderfully humorous slice-of-life series.

    • Maria Kramer Maria Kramer

      I love Azumanga Daioh and especially Yotsuba&! Thanks for mentioning them! Manga is such a diverse universe — there really is a manga out there for everybody.

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