This week, I thought I’d take a look at a trio of long-running Dark Horse series. Two are rather spiritual in nature (and I use that term loosely and literally), while the third contains only the inhabitant of infinity.
Action/Historical: Blade of the Immortal – Hiroaki Samura, 26+ volumes
Swordsman Manji is cursed to never die until he has slain 1,000 bad men. He teams up with a girl named Rin who is on a personal quest to slay a man named Anotsu and his entourage. Rin shows him she can hold her own as a fighter, until the bad men start showing up with two dead heads sown onto their shoulders and other creepy things. Manji is drawn completely into Rin’s fight, and the story takes advantage of the fact he can’t be killed, slicing him up bloodily at every turn and throwing every sort of terrible enemy at him. Manji is the best part of the series for a good while, but it’s surprising when he leaves the story and one of the strongest arcs is carried mostly by Rin. While there is plenty of well-drawn physical violence, the story takes its time to show all sides of the conflict as well, and to ponder the nature of “bad men.” Anotsu slew Rin’s parents in an effort to eradicate the antiquated dojo system, which caters exclusively to the wealthy and is no longer adequate for taking on different and new kinds of enemies. Is he a bad man? Is Rin like him in her quest for revenge? There are many interesting characters and rather horrifying situations that play out during the course of the series, but it’s also worth taking a look at because of the art. Samura is a wonderful illustrator, and uses an unusual-for-action-manga sketchy pencil style.
Romance/Drama: Bride of the Water God – Mi-Kyung Yun, 12+ volumes
Admittedly, the reason you want to pick this series up is because the art is not to be believed. Bride of the Water God is the story of a woman named Soah that is sacrificed to the Gods by her village. The world of the Gods is beautiful to look at, and the character and costume designs outdo themselves volume after volume. The story itself is interesting, with Soah trying hard to get along with her new groom, Mui, a type of water/storm god, and the intrigue in the world of the gods. Mui takes the form of an uncaring child named Habaek by day, but by night he turns into smoking hot random god Mui that attempts to seduce Soah and make her untrue to her vows. But there are a lot of other characters in the world of the gods, and they are introduced so fast it is difficult to keep them straight, and also difficult to care about the intrigue in their lives. I’ve only read the first five volumes, but I like the art so much I keep hoping that the story will simplify and sort itself out enough to follow in all its soap opera glory. This is also a good example of a Korean manhwa, and one of the only ones that’s currently being translated into English.
Slice of Life: Oh My Goddess! – Kosuke Fujishima, 43+ volumes
This is another that’s difficult to recommend to a new reader, but I’ve been following it for almost 10 years, and I enjoy the characters and mundane charm in each new volume in the same way I might sit down to a favorite television show every week. Rather famous and long-lived, Oh My Goddess is about college student Keiichi accidentally dialing a wrong number and summoning the goddess Belldandy, who offers to grant him one wish. Thinking it a joke, he asks her to stay with him forever, and she does. Wacky goddess hijinx ensue, and the pair is quickly joined by Belldandy’s two sisters and a thousand other characters. If it sounds like a cliche, it is, but Oh My Goddess started its run in 1989 and was ripped off mercilessly by the many other harem comedy manga that came after. Oh My Goddess is somewhat better because the comedy isn’t so much about Keiichi being awkward with women (at least, not after the first few volumes). Each volume usually contains 2-3 short stories, sometimes about Keiichi, but just as often focusing on the huge cast of side characters. They are almost always funny and charming in a way that few writers can pull off, especially with a cast this big and for such a long-running series. Time does move forward slowly (Keiichi gets his masters degree, then finds a job), and there is an occasional long and dramatic story arc (the recent volume in English are about the gang going to fight demons, and it is the longest story arc in the entire series), but mostly the pleasure is in the day-to-day details and struggles. It’s not overwhelmingly fastastic, and it’s probably hard to see the good in it for many, but it’s always been a favorite of mine.