When it comes to comics, Marvel and DC reign supreme. But, there is another kind of comic that often falls by the wayside in light in those comic giants in the United States. We're not talking about indie publishers or big names who just happen to be smaller than the Big Two, we're talking about manga.
Manga, which are comics produced in Japan, are frequently the driving force behind many popular anime. Series like Naruto, Dragonball Z, and Sailor Moon are all based on their highly popular and successful manga series, which have all sold like hotcakes for decades.
Like comics, manga have some of the most fantastic stories fans will find anywhere (though learning to read from right to left instead of left to right is an adjustment in itself). But with the amount of series out there, where could newbie readers start knowing where to look? To help out, CBR is going to take a look at some of the manga series that comic readers should consider looking into.
14 Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple (Completed)
Created by Syun Matsuena,“Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple” follows second-year high-school student Kenichi Shirahama, a perpetual weakling targeted by bullies and not gifted or talented in much of anything. His fate soon changes upon meeting Miu Furinji, a beautiful transfer student and adept martial artisy. Desiring to grow stronger, Kenichi joins the dojo where Miu lives that's filled with various martial arts masters whose styles range from Karate to Muay Thai. Despite having no talent or prior experience, Kenichi dedicates himself to becoming their lone disciple and quickly finds himself drawn into the martial arts world, becoming a target for those looking to test their strength against a disciple of the Ryozanpaku dojo. To survive these obstacles and become the strongest, Kenichi only has one thing to rely upon: good old-fashioned training.
While the story itself isn’t anything wholly original, what makes this manga stand out is the fact that the myriad of martial art styles are all centered around real techniques. For comic fans who love master martial artists like Iron Fist and Batman, “Kenichi: Mightiest Disciple” is a series that doesn’t underestimate the importance of preparation while also stressing the relationship between student and master.
13 My Hero Academia (Ongoing)
“My Hero Academia” for those that can’t get enough of the superhero genre. Kohei Horikoshi's series is set in a world where over 80% of the population possesses some sort of superpower, which are universally referred to as “quirks.” These powers can range from explosive, combative abilities to minor, more supportive abilities. Because of the super-powered population, the government has made it so that those with quirks can become registered, paid superheroes. The series follows Izuku Midoriya, a first-year high-school student who dreams of becoming as a great a hero as his idol All Might despite not having a quirk. But, through special means, Midoriya inherits a power all his own that allows him to pursue his dream of becoming a full-fledged hero, and seeks to enroll at a school designed to train the next generation of heroes.
Having debuted in 2014, the series is still a relative newcomer to the manga world, but it's been a huge hit in Japan since day one. With its art style, unique powers, and likeable cast of characters, it’s easy to tell where the author got much of their inspiration for this series from. For comic fans who like character-driven stories centered around younger heroes like the Teen Titans, “My Hero Academia” is a solid choice that will not disappoint.
12 Soul Eater (Completed)
For fans of the mystic and supernatural series like "Doctor Strange," “Soul Eater” could be right up your alley.
Written by Atsushi Okubo, “Soul Eater” features a world where the Grim Reaper (known as Shinigami in Japanese) rules over the Death Weapon Meister Academy, a place where humans known as meisters work with partners capable of transforming into various weapons. The series focuses on Maka Albarn, a young scythe meister who aims to become as prestigious a meister as her mother, and her partner Soul, who aims to become a powerful Death Scythe (a weapon powerful enough to be used by the Grim Reaper after it has absorbed the souls of 99 demons and one witch). Alongside her meister classmates Black Star and Death The Kid, Maka serves the Grim Reaper while overcoming the various threats that come with being a young meister.
In regards to its premise, “Soul Eater” can be pretty comparable to “Harry Potter” in regards to its magical students and academy setting. That is, if Albus Dumbledore was a God of Death and the wizards’ wands were weapon-transforming humans. With a strong, female protagonist, darker fantasy setting and diverse set of supernatural abilities, "Soul Eater" enjoyed a solid popular run for nine years prior to its completion.
Created by Kentaro Miura, "Berserk" features Guts, one of the most badass protagonists from any series one can ever hope to read. A freelance mercenary with one of the most tragic, gruesome backstories (so beautifully detailed and filled with character development that its flashback lasts 102 issues) and victim to one of the most tragic betrayals of all-time (he, his girlfriend, and all their friends get sacrificed to demons by his best friend), Guts is a man on a mission, always fighting and mowing down enemies with his great sword “Dragonslayer.” There are few men - or monsters - who have gone up against this man and lived to talk about it. Guts is a fitting name for this protagonist, reflecting his refusal to give up in a world that's cruel and constantly trying to kill him.
Of course, “Berserk” is more than its massive, sword-wielding protagonist. It is a gripping dark-fantasy with twists at each and every turn. From cursed armor to grotesque monsters and amazing battles everywhere, it's a thrilling read for those who aren’t bothered by blood and gore. Beneath all of Guts’ struggles is some powerful storytelling not unlike what you'd see on "Game of Thrones," with the series gaining a massive cult following and devoted fan base.
11 The Seven Deadly Sins (Ongoing)
Knights are strong, brave, and honor bound to carry out their duties in service to their king. In “Seven Deadly Sins,” there exists a certain group of knights that defies this several times over and stands above all others.
Nakaba Suzuki's "Seven Deadly Sins" chronicles the adventures of an elite group of knights within the kingdom of Liones known as The Seven Deadly Sins, once renowned for their power and status as Holy Knights, who were driven from the kingdom for allegedly committing treason against Liones. But when impending danger enters the kingdom once again, Elizabeth, a princess of Liones, decides to seek out this dangerous group of knights to ask for their aid. But are these knights really as dangerous as they seem to be? And what secrets do they hold? No doubt Elizabeth and the rest of Liones are sure to find out the hard way.
"Seven Deadly Sins” provides fans with magical knights in a fantasy-medieval setting. The series has great world building and boasts a cast of quirky yet well-developed and likeable characters while providing an intriguing mythos and mystery that is sure to keep you reading further.
10 Hajime no Ippo (Ongoing)
George Morikawa's "Hajime no Ippo" chronicles the path of Ippo Makunouchi through his journey as a young, professional boxer. Starting out as a timid, bullied high-school student, Ippo is exposed to the world of boxing after running into pro-boxer Takamura Mamoru, who is in the middle of training. Already possessing much physical strength from working out of his family’s fishing shop, Ippo begins training at Kamogawa gym alongside Takamura, where he soon finds that the world of boxing is simple: train hard to win. The series follows Ippo as he gains new allies and rivals alike as he continues to develop his boxing skills.
“Hajime No Ippo” might be a sports manga, but the series’ longevity can’t be understated (over 114 trade paperbacks), nor can the action taking place in the boxing ring. With each and every fight, Ippo learns and develops physically and mentally, as do most of the major opponents that he fights. As is the case with “Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple” many of the boxing terms, techniques and references are real. The best part is that you don’t have to be a fan of boxing to enjoy “Hajime No Ippo” to its fullest.
9 Hitman Reborn (Completed)
Written by Akira Amano, “Hitman Reborn” focuses on third-year middle schooler Tsunayoshi Sawada, who isn’t much good at anything in his life. His lack of talent in academics and athletics are known throughout the entire school. But, Tsuna’s life is flipped upside down when he is visited by an infant in a suit calling himself Reborn, who claims to be one of the greatest mafia hitmen in the world. As Reborn arrives at Tsuna’s house, he reveals that Tsuna is the heir of the Vongola family, one of the largest and most prominent mafia families in the world. To that end, Reborn is to train this “No-Good Tsuna” into a exceptional mafia lord. Tsuna soon learns there’s more to this infant Reborn than meets the eye.
Like most long-running shonen (a manga genre that's light-hearted and action packed) series, getting past the first story arc can be a bit difficult given the perceived lack of plot. But, as Tsuna finds himself dragged further into mafia affairs, the tone of the series takes some surprising turns that help chart the series’ successful run. Its blend of action and comedy, particularly between Tsuna and Reborn, help make for a compelling story about the worth of one’s own potential.
8 Magi (Ongoing)
For comic fans who loved the story of Disney’s “Aladdin” as a kid, look no further than “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic.” Written by Shinobu Ohtaka, the series focuses on the adventures of Aladdin, a traveling young boy of mysterious origin who travels on a flying turban and wears a strange recorder around his neck. During his travels, he runs into a teenage youth by the name of Alibaba Saluja, who seeks to enter the mysterious dungeon known as Amon outside of their city for unknown reasons. As they meet various allies throughout the world, each of these boys’ ideals will be challenged as they seek to overcome the underlying darkness within their world, some of which is closer to home than it may appear.
Set in a fantasy Arabian world where magic courses through the land and many seek to become kings in their own right, “Magi” is a series that brings forth amazing magical battles and great dynamic characters who are all likeable in their own way. Unlike other series, it also brings with it great world building, political intrigue, themes of idealism and what it means to rule, while challenging the morals and motives of characters.
7 Mob Psycho 100 (Ongoing)
Created by ONE (the author's nom de plume), “Mob Psycho 100” is set in a world where spirits rampage and cause mischief throughout the streets. To combat these spirits, there are special humans known as ‘espers’ with special powers who exorcise them. The series focuses on one of these espers, an average middle school student named Shigeo Kageyama, who is also nicknamed Mob. A powerful esper in his own right, Mob continually suppresses his emotions to keep his psychic powers in check. But, should his emotional threshold reach 100%, his immense power threatens to explode out of him. Alongside his con-artist boss Arataka Reigan, Mob goes through life with only one goal in mind: to live as normally as possible and accomplish deeds without the use of his psychic powers.
With the appearance and art style, it would be easy to pin “Mob Psycho 100” as a carbon copy of “One Punch Man.” But, this series separates itself from the parody series in that it presents a unique spin on a character like Mob, who that isn’t looking to do grand things with his powers or become the mightiest esper. He just wants to be a normal guy and go out with the girl he has a crush on at school. But, it is Mob’s overall lack of ambition coupled with his emotion suppression that make him such a unique character. ONE knows how to do his characters, and fans of “One-Punch Man” would do well to check this series out, especially since it wrapped up the first season of its anime adaptation in late September.
6 Rurouni Kenshin (Completed)
Rarely, if ever, are there series that often have a fine balanced mix of historical events and samurai action. “Rurouni Kenshin” manages to do all of that and more.
Created by Nobuhiro Watsuki, the series takes place in 1878, 11 years into Japan's Meiji Era following the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate. “Rurouni Kenshin” follows a samurai known as Kenshin Himura, a former imperial assassin and wandering samurai who has taken an oath to wander the country and never kill again. Known as "Battosai" (which translates to man-slayer), there are many in the peaceful era who look to claim his blood-ridden title for their own. With new friends and a new purpose, Kenshin must fight to protect the peaceful lives of the new era while holding to his oath to never kill.
“Rurouni Kenshin” lines up as one of the best manga when it comes to character development, particularly in terms of its protagonist, who finds himself looking for peace after a life of war and slaughter. Coupled with it a fine balance of comedy, action, and nuggets of actual Japanese history, the series thrives off of mixing these elements to make something that stands out from both its predecessors and its successors.
5 JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure (Ongoing)
Batman and his ‘Bat Family’ are among the most iconic group of heroes in DC Comics, but they couldn't hold a candle to the wealthy Joestar Family in “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.”
Created and written by Hirohiko Araki, the plot focuses on various members of the Joestar family who find themselves having to take down supernatural enemies. The series, which currently consists of eight parts, follows different Joestar family members through various points of time in each of these parts. As a result, readers are acquainted with new characters in each storyline that have their own unique personalities and motivations while having to overcome some kind of mystical threat.
“Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure” has amassed a cult following since its inception in 1987 and has enjoyed decades-long success. Its character personalities coupled with its unique art style make it one of the more engaging series out there. Four of the eight storylines have received anime adaptations and its popularity shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
4 Kingdom (Ongoing)
Set in the Warring States era of Ancient China, "Kingdom" follows the main protagonist Xin, as he seeks to become a world-renowned general for his nation of Qin. Born a war-orphan and subsequently becoming a slave alongside his friend Piao, Xin must work his way into the ranks of the Qin army and prove himself worthy of command while overcoming various obstacles from both other warring nations and within Qin itself. But, with each and every battle, Xin is determined to become a top general at any cost, though he is not the only soldier of his nation trying to climb the ranks. Gaining respect from high-ranking soldiers as a former slave is easier said than done, but actions speak louder than words, and on the battlefield, Xin won’t hesitate to fight.
“Kingdom” has perhaps the largest-scale battles of any series out there and their outcomes often rely less on individual skill and more-so on the strategies used to place armies in the best position to claim victory. When there are one-on-one battles, the spectacle is just as grand as when massive armies are facing off. The art style is among the best of any ongoing manga, showcasing gruesome battles and characters drawn with very vivid detail, making this series on worth a good read.
3 Vagabond (Ongoing)
For those seeking an action-centered, yet mature character-driven story with some glorious artwork, “Vagabond” stands in a class of its own.
Set at the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan after the Battle of Sekigahara, the series tells a fictionalized version of Musashi Miyamoto, the legendary samurai and historical figure within Japanese lore. Originally known by his birth name as Shinmen Takezo, Miyamoto is a skilled swordsman who is shunned as an outcast for his violent personality and constant thirst for combat. Soon, the samurai finds himself a wanted man and becomes a ronin (or wandering samurai) as he journeys through Japan to find the answer to the question he seeks: what does it mean to be strong? But as his reputation grows, so too does the number of challengers and rivals looking to take his life.
Heavily character driven with glorious sword-fighting action and comic art from any series, “Vagabond” is a series well known within manga-reading circles. Takehiko Inoue’s story and artwork truly makes for a story worthy of your attention.
2 Tokyo Ghoul/Tokyo Ghoul:re (Ongoing)
“Tokyo Ghoul” will appeal to fans of "American Vampire." Just replace the era-hopping American setting with today's Tokyo, Japan, and the vampires with a different (and literal) kind of ghoul hiding in plain sight.
Set in a world where creatures known as ghouls live among humans and can only survive by consuming human flesh, "Tokyo Ghoul" follows the journey of Ken Kaneki, a first-year college student whose life quickly takes a dark turn when a date reveals herself as a ghoul and attempts to devour him. A construction accident spares Kaneki from her grasp but leaves him in critical condition. To save his life, doctors transplant her ghoul organs into Kaneki, making him into a ‘half-ghoul.’ As a result, Kaneki can no longer consume regular food and is quickly thrust into ghoul society where he must contend with the challenges of being a ghoul himself, including avoiding capture from a federal agency tasked with eliminating ghouls.
Created by Sui Ishida, “Tokyo Ghoul” is a beautiful, dark and twisted fantasy headlined by an intriguing host of characters. Behind complex storylines, intriguing artwork and amazing action sequences, it is a series that isn’t afraid to take unexpected turns or take its characters to unexpected places. The series even spawned a sequel, “Tokyo Ghoul: re,” which acts as a continuation of the original “Tokyo Ghoul” series.
1 One Piece (Ongoing)
Mix "Dragon Ball Z" with "Pirates Of The Carribbean" and you get “One Piece,” a story set in a grand age of pirates, where many seek to claim the fortune of the late Gol D. Roger, the former Pirate King who hid the largest treasure somewhere in the mystical waters known as the Grand Line. A young, boisterous pirate by the name of Monkey D. Luffy sets out to sea with the dream of becoming the next Pirate King. To do so, he must gather a strong crew while sailing the seas in search of the One Piece, the mysterious treasure Roger claims to have left behind.
Created by Eiichiro Oda, “One Piece” does an incredible job of world building and intertwining plotlines. While there are some who may not be in love with the art style of the series, the quirky, loveable characters and addictive storyline make “One Piece” a series that has already made its mark among manga. Few, if any, will ever be able to match the international impact it has made throughout the world.
What do you think of our selections? Any other manga you feel is a must-read? Please let us know in the comments!