Panel Patter's Best of 2011: Manga Edition

Hello and welcome to the first of the four Best of 2011 Lists here at Panel Patter.  Since it's Monday, we'll start with the manga.  I have to admit, it was a bit harder to put this list together than some of the others.  My manga reading decreased in 2011, including a period of time where I did not read any manga titles at all.  I'm finding that over time, my taste in manga is getting quite specialized and I'm less inclined to take a chance on a series.  Still, there were some very good mangas put out in 2011, and here are the ten I thought were the best.

10:  I'll Give It My All...Tomorrow
A Story of a middle-aged salary man who decides to give up all his safety and security to follow his late-blooming dream to become a manga-ka.  There's only one problem--he's not the most motivated person in the world.  The protagonist struggles to try and find his way, despite the beratings of his father and the expectations of the world around him.  It's a very moving, if sad, story, told with a good balance between comedy and seriousness.

9.  Twin Spica
A young girl dreams of joining the new Japanese space program, even if the wreckage of the old program haunts her life.  Fighting against the odds, she tries to do what few can hope to manage.  Neither her size or the risks will deter her.  A story of hope and never giving up, this is a classic story that I will miss when I'm finished with it.

8. Gen Manga Anthology
There are tons of Japanese comics out there, and the English-speaking world only gets to see a small proportion of it, made even smaller by Tokyopop's departure.  Gen Manga is an attempt to create a monthly, digital anthology of Japanese creators who are working in the equivalent of Japan's smaller publishers.  The comics themselves are solid, if not spectacular, and I'm glad to get to read more stories from sources other than the main publishers of manga here in the United States.  They're definitely worth looking into, especially since the price point is aggressive for digital manga.

7. Natsume's Book of Friends
Natsume has a problem that leads to great storytelling--he can see spirits no one else can, thanks to a link to a relative who created a book of names that control different ghosts and other haunts.  He only wants to set them free, but some of them want him dead for their pain at the hands of his relative.  Watch as with the help of an evil demon trapped in a good-luck cat, Natsume tries to return every single name in this relaxed, Victorian-style vignettes.
6. 20th Century Boys
This sprawling story might be the most Western-feeling of all the manga I've read, as the plot and pacing remind me very much of Steven King and other similarly prolific writers.  It's going to take me a long time to get to the end, but it's been a fun ride trying to figure out how the small band of friends can stop their rogue member from destroying the world.  A great series, but I am a bit worried about the length.
5. Wandering Son
This is one of the most serious manga series I've ever read, and I finished it unable to come to grips with the best way to review it.  Dealing with two children who come to realize they are trapped in the wrong gender, it's a story of secrets, revelations, understandings, and occasional cruelty.  The book handles the topic with care and respect, however, which is part of why it is so good. Fantagraphics is extremely selective in its choice of manga to publish, and this one was a perfect fit for them.
4.  Jormungand
As much I love serious and thoughtful manga, I also grew up on 80s Action movies and the A-Team, and Jormungand taps into that essence while also adding 21st Century cynicism into the mix.  The adventures of Koko and her band of weapons dealers across the war-torn world is both big and bold and surprisingly deep at times.  I liked this series on first sight and nothing has changed my opinion as we move into the seventh volume.  A great action manga with teeth.
3. Stargazing Dog
I've said it before and I'll say it again:  Don't let the cute dog narrator fool you.  This is a serious and tragic story that uses the dog as an innocent narrator to the tragedy of his owner's life.  It follows the classic drama structure and should bring a sniffle or two to your eye by the time the story reaches its inevitable conclusion. Drawn expertly by Murakmi and presented in left to right format by NBM, this is a manga that deserves a wide audience.
2. Karakuri Odette
I probably have an irrational love of this series, but I just think it's such a great example of what a coming of age story can be with a female protagonist who is not sexualized and deals with problems beyond just whether or not boys like her.  Odette must find her place in a world where a strong female character is often told to mind her place.  The series is complete in six volumes and every one of them was high-quality.  I'd love this one to get rescued, but even if it does not, I'm happy to have read it.  You will be, too, if you get the chance.
1. A Bride's Story
My favorite of the manga I read far and away this year was Kaoru Mori's A Bride's Story.  Mori was behind the excellent Emma, a period piece set in late Victorian England.  Here, she takes the same skill and care to detail the life of semi-nomads on the Silk Road during the 19th Century.  It's absolutely gorgeous, with every panel featuring painstaking details that immerse the reader in the world.  The themes are similar to Emma, as are the strong female leads.  Just a perfect, perfect book.

That's my list of the 10 Best Manga for 2011.  What did I overlook?  What do I have no business including?  Feel free to tell me in the comments!