November 26, 2009

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Manga Gift Guide 2009

In response to the fact that Onion didn't think any manga made for notable comics and the New York Times left manga out of their holiday gift guide, the Precocious Curmudgeon came up with the idea of having us do our own lists.

I am not nearly the manga fan and expert that he is, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway. I'm going to go with the tried and true method of recommending by the type of person you're considering. My goal was to make selections based on what this person might like, so it's not so much as best-of as a "good starting point" list.

Keep in mind that I read almost all of my manga from my library, which works very hard to have a solid collection of comics of all kinds for its readers. What that means for me is that my list is probably least likely to be current books. I did try, however, to go for things that should still be in print. Let me know what you think!

For the person who doesn't want to read right-to-left:

Just about anything from Fanfare would do, but I am going to go with 2009's "A Distant Neighborhood" by Jiro Taniguchi. A soft sci-fi story about a man who's unhappy with his current life gets sent into his past and given a chance to prevent his greatest tragedy--the sudden disappearance of his father. Split into two volumes, making it pass the other manga objection ("They're too long! Now pass me that copy of Amazing Spider-Man 611!") at the same time, Taniguchi draws in a basic style that provides what the reader needs without being too flashy. His protagonist, Hiroshi, faces a problem common to all of us--what do you do when your life isn't what you want it to be? Would getting to do that life over again make a difference? The answer Hiroshi receives is not what you might think. Not only is this a great read, it's a good gateway book as well.

For the person who likes a book like "Fun Home" or the work of Jeffrey Brown:

I'm not all the way through the series because I had some issues getting them from my library, but I feel confident in recommending this for people who like autobiographical comics. "Barefoot Gen" is the story of a survivor of the nuclear bomb attacks on Japan. Starting off by showing life before the bomb, the manga has an almost comic feel at times before portraying some of the most horrific things imaginable--which writer/artist Keiji Nakazawa does not shy away from drawing. Not for the squeamish but I think it provides a strong representation of what manga can bring to the table.

For the Fan of Kung Fu Hustle:

Gotta go with one of the books that drew me into manga, "Ranma 1/2"! This might even be a book that your potential reader might have heard of, as Rumiko Takahashi is probably about as well known to a non-manga reader as anyone could be. It's the story of people who practice anything goes martial arts and can't help but keep falling into cursed springs and getting changed into all kinds of things, from girls to pandas to pig. A love-hate relationship drives the "plot" of the book between the changing Ranma and an independent girl that his father wants him to marry. Everything about the book is silly and should work well for people who like slapstick martial arts comedies.

For those who miss Twilight Zone:

"Mail", another short series, features a 4th wall breaking protagonist who hunts malevolent ghosts and purifies them with a mystical bullet. He tells a cautionary tale ala Rod Sterling and then gets into the mix. Drawn with equal parts restraint and shocking horror by Housui Yamazaki, I was hooked on this one from the start. It does bog down a bit when we start to learn about the character's history, but overall, this was one of the best series I read in 2009.

For the Anglophile in your life:

I don't remember who suggested I read "Emma", but I am betting it was the Curmudgeon. I'm glad of it, because it may be one of the best-researched (sometimes to the point of distraction, which is why an anglophile will love it) period pieces I've ever read. I could easily see it as a Victorian novel. The narrative voice that author Kaoru Mori created, even if it doesn't speak per-se, would fit well with James or Wharton. Emma is such a wonderful chracter to root for despite the fact that Mori is not afraid to make her life difficult. This is also another series that has a fairly small number of volumes.

For those who like Feudal Japan or Wolverine-as-Samurai:

"Lone Wolf and Cub" by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima was another early manga read for me that hooked me into reading more of the genre. (It's also another series I need to finish some day.) A loyal solider is wronged by those who covet his position with the Shogun and he ends up striking out on his own as a hired sword. That would be interesting enough, but on top of it, he does this with his young son in tow, leading to situations both horrifying and amusing by turns. The narrative weaves in and out from past to present, giving a nice contrast to the story. It's gritty without being overly dark, something modern American comics have trouble grasping, it seems.

Yes, I have one for Twilight People:

Never thought I'd use this as a category, but I'm sure most people have a Twilight fan in their life, so if they are looking for a vampire-themed manga, I'd point them to "Lament of the Lamb". Kei Toume hits the angst button fairly hard on this story of a family cursed with a mysterious disease that's pretty easily recognized as being vampirism. Our protagonist is not very happy with his condition, but the idea of tortured vampire love should give Edward fans something to sink their teeth into.

For Your 40 Year Old Friend Who Likes 1980s Sci Fi:

"Akira" is another one that might even be known by your potential reader. With a new printing by its original publisher, it should also be pretty easy to find. Akira is the story of a dystopean future where people are reduced to their most barbaric levels and some children have special abilities that can affect the course of the world. Hitting just about every 1980s trope you can think of--a bleak future, human cruelty, exploitative secret governments, huge guns, humans turned into monsters, and betrayal--this is a classic that your middle-aged friend who still remembers the original "V" series should enjoy quite a bit.

For Those Who Like Romantic Comedy:

"Love Roma" by Minoru Toyoda is set in a high school, which is pretty typical for manga and has a similar love conflict to Ranma 1/2 but the pacing is completely different. Written as a series of set-piece jokes (not unlike a sitcom), Love Roma features a romantic lead with no inner censor and a girl who gets flustered at the drop of a hat. Set everywhere from a haunted house to a baseball diamond, the characters romp through playful fun and team up in the most unlikely ways. My only knock on this one is that the art's a bit simplistic for my taste, but it's still a lot of fun.

For Those Who Love Halloween:

I have become quite a fan of horror manga, as I think that it's better than its American counterparts. Therefore, I am going to cheat like mad here and recommend three!

Want psychological horror? Go for "The Drifting Classroom" by Kazuo Umezu, about a school transferred into some time of time warp by forces unknown and reduces its occupants to desperate measures.

Want some aliens instead? Try "Parasyte" by Hitoshi Iwaaki and see a new predator stalk the earth, with only a few humans prepared to stop the threat!

Want just plain weird? Gotta go with "Uzumaki", which features so many batshit insane moments it's not even funny. Junji Ito must have some really interesting nightmares. Watch as a town goes crazy bit by bit as more and more people spiral down the drain of insanity. There's even a movie version, for when you want to see the same things in live-action!

That's a good set of starting places, but if you want the opinion of those who are better at this than I am, check out this post which is keeping a list or hit up my twitter feed, as we're hashtagging this puppy as #gmgg!

This is probably my only post today, so Happy Thanksgiving everyone!