November 25, 2010

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Manga Gift Guide 2010

Last year, those of who blog about manga put together gift guides for the holiday season. We're at it again this year, with the host being Daniella at All About Manga.

You can find the master list of 2010 Manga Gift Guides here.
You can find my gift guide from last year here.

A few things you should know before we get started. I tend to read my manga behind everyone else, as I do with so much of my reading, it seems. I rarely read new stuff, even after I took a vow to do more current reading this year. However, there are a lot of older series that are pretty good, too, and shouldn't be overlooked when hitting up your favorite brick and mortar or online store.

I also do not read manga exclusively, so my range of options is a bit more limited. It also means my choices are affected by the fact that I am an omnivorous comics reader, so if you are looking for titles that have crossover appeal, I might be able to help you.

I made it a vow not to repeat myself this year, which may be a bit tricky. We'll see!

For the Kid in All of Us

One title I picked up from others' Manga Gift Guide last year was Yotsuba&!, an amazing manga by Kiyohika Azuma. Featuring a young girl who experiences the world with fresh, literal eyes Yotsuba goes through everyday life and turns it into a place of adventure. She's innocent and yet sharp at the same time, with a doting foster father who encourages her her wonder instead of moving into the "real world." Backed by a forgiving set of neighbors and quirky friends, Yotsuba is a place of silly comedy and a world that allows everything to be possible. I wish we lived there, and I can't recommend reading about Yotsuba highly enough.

For the Lover of Black Comedy and Intelligent Horror

About as far away on the spectrum as you can get from Yotsuba&! but equally as good is the Kurosgai Corpse Delivery Service. Written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by 2009 Gift Guide suggestion Mail's Housui Yamazaki, it's the story of a group of students who are out of work but in touch with the supernatural. Never taking itself too seriously, this mostly ensemble book works like an intelligent version of Scooby Doo, with the team encountering all sorts of horrors (rendered extremely well by Yamazaki), many of which are tied to important social or political issues. There's a nice mix of jokes, jocularity, and fear, and I love that Otsuka isn't afraid to touch on things like the Iraq war or the horrible things people will do to each other if given the chance. Kurosagi may be the best of Dark Horse's manga line, and that's saying something.

For the Lover of TV's House

I can't believe I didn't get started on reading Black Jack by the great Osuma Tezuka until recently. Heck, I can't believe it was the first Tezuka I'd ever read! That's like a superhero comics fan never reading Jack Kirby. At any rate, Black Jack is the story of a rogue doctor who practices medicine without a license and caters an image of cold calculation that couldn't be further from the truth. He takes on all sorts of cases that others deem hopeless and finds (with a little help from Tezuka's fertile imagination) a way to make things work. The actual medical practice is a bit fanciful, of course, but then again, so is the stuff Hugh Laurie does. Tezuka doesn't shy from controversial ideas in the manga, but do be aware this is from an other day and age, so the racial representations are not always easy to swallow. I enjoy this series a lot and look forward to reading more of it soon.

For the Folks Who Liked Scott Pilgrim

This might be odd casting, but I'm going to stretch things a little bit here and recommend Nana by Ai Yazawa for those who enjoyed the relationship drama of the Scott Pilgrim series or movie. There are some striking similarities---Nana K is a drifter who seems unable to form strong bonds with anyone and can't get her life in gear or hold a job. Nana O is part of a band trying to make it within a world of small gigs and devoted fans. There are all sorts of complicated romantic ties (both known and unknown) amongst the large cast, and a lot of the players are quick with a witty joke. There's no video game geekery, but in exchange we get a deeper look at the problems of growing up, including making terrible mistakes that can come to haunt you. Though the artistic style is also quite different, I think those who could relate to Scott and his problems will also relate strongly to our two female protagonists--provided they can deal with a series that isn't centered on a male character. This is a long-running series but one well worth following.

For Those Who Don't think an OEL Manga Can Be Good

I'll admit I'm sometimes a bit skeptical of OEL mangas. They seem to try so hard to show how manga-ish they can be and forget that the whole point is to tell a good story first, then worry about the style in which you write it. Nightschool by Svetlana Chmakova gets this formula right. It certainly uses a fair share of manga tropes (a highschool, relationship drama, exaggerated features, and characters acting in certain power roles familiar to any reader of manga, just to name a few), but each one moves the story along rather than shouting out at the reader, "Look at me! I'm a manga theme!" or just showing up because the writer/artist is working off some imagined checklist.

I guess I should mention the story, since I praised it. A high school for people with strange abilities or traits lives within the same world as a regular high school. We have people hunting some of these creatures and a girl who may be a threat to the entire world, depending on who gets their clutches on her. Nothing is as it seems, and even the players in the drama may not be ready for what comes next. The main characters are interesting, the dialog is pretty good, the plot certainly thickens, and I was happy to find another good horror manga to add to my reading list. (This is definitely recommended for horror fans as well!)

For The Independent Comic Fan Who Might Like the Right Manga

Children of the Sea by Daisuke Igarashi is part of the Viz Signature line, where for a few dollars more than usual, you can see some really strong adult pieces from Japanese comics. If you flipped the art and changed the publisher, I'm sure there are quite a few folks who would be raving about the book and talking about how yet again Fantagraphics (or Slave Labor or whoever) had found yet another masterpiece. Igarashi's art doesn't look like what people think of when they consider manga, and only its right to left format shows the country of origin. This is my pick to hand to the person who says they enjoy comics but "just can't get into manga." The problem, kind sir (or madam) is that you haven't found the right one. This might just be the book for you (or them, depending).

If you do decide to pick it up, be warned that this one is a slow starter. The concept is that there's something wrong with the fish of the world. They're doing things that are unnatural for them, and no one can figure out why. Meanwhile, there are a group of children who seem to be more fish than man, and they're tied into the mystery somehow. The story flows over the reader in a pleasant series of waves, each page lapping gently together for an effect that might not work for another story but does well here. It's definitely different from what I usually read, but I like it a lot.

For Your Friend Who Likes 1980s Sitcoms

I don't mean it as a slight at all when I say that Iatzura na Kiss has a strong 1980s vibe. It should, given that this series first came out at the beginning of the 1990s and places the characters in a setting and situation that looks like it's right out of a CBS prime-time lineup next to the Golden Girls. A particularly stupid girl ends up finding herself tangled up in the world of the smartest boy in school, and despite their immediate hatred you just know how this is going to end up. It's a premise that should seem tired and played out by now, but works because the idea was still currently when it was written and because Kaoru Toda does a skillful job of crafting the story in such a way that it works better than any description can give. I found this one to be a delightful piece of popcorn and I think most others wit a soft spot for situational comedy will as well.

That's my manga gift guide for 2010! Hope you find a few good choice to aid in your purchases. Don't forget to pick up a volume or two for yourself!