Issue #27

Year End Studio Wrap Up And Manga Recommendations Guide: Part 1

It's celebration time here on Manga Island. I've been here for a year and things seem to be getting better and better for manga fans all over. I've read a ton of manga this past year and have seen all kinds of new developments and changes in studios and I even managed to ship an OEL title along with the rest of my team. A banner year indeed! This week I wanted to give my assessment of the studios that have helped make Manga Island what it is, and give props to those studios going above and beyond the norm.

Del Rey has done an excellent job this year. The series I have been reading have all looked great. Del Rey books have excellent production value, and best of all, they have copious translation notes in the back. Del Rey has certainly proven they are in it for quality and they have released several series that I have been keeping up with throughout the year. Considering they also now have the "Gundam Seed: Destiny" license, I'm looking forward to another year of great titles from them.

Del Rey Recommendations:

"Genshiken" - Otaku fan boy culture and the women who inexplicably love them. It reads like a parody and love letter to all misfit otaku everywhere. Even if you aren't an anime or manga fan, if you've ever had an obsession with sci-fi or comics, you probably know someone who bears a striking resemblance to the characters in "Genshiken". A fun, and funny, read overall.

"Nodame Cantabile"

A great music oriented manga. This is thoroughly enjoyable and is perfect for the holidays. It also comes endorsed by my wife, who is only a passing manga and anime fan, but has a music composition degree. She loved it enough and we've been telling other musicians about it. All of the great school (this time music academy) drama things you expect in manga with a musical twist. Great stuff.

Tokyopop has been concentrating on their OEL launch this year (covered along with other companies in the next column), but remained steady in putting out quality licensed titles as well. I've bought enough titles that I sometimes wonder if I should shorten the. I just wish that more of their classic titles such as "Cyborg 009" would have fared better in sales. I have to give them credit for finishing out the classic series they did have. Tokyopop has released so many titles that it is really hard to choose for my recommendations.

Tokyopop licensed recommendations:

"Blame": A mix of French and Japanese art styles combine with a cyberpunk tale for those who don't mind delving in the esoteric. "Blame" is not for everyone, but it is a fantastically designed manga. I recommend it for anyone who enjoyed classic "Aeon Flux" and Liquid TV shorts, as well as Cyberpunk fans looking for a fix.

"Mobile Suit Gundam Ecole du Ciel": I'm a huge "Gundam" fan, and I was really excited to see the paring of legendary artist Haruhiko Mikimoto (Macross and numerous other works) with the franchise. Combining academy training with the Gundam Universe, it's a great read and should appeal to fans of "Stellvia", "Gunbuster" and Gundamers (as "Gundam" fans are called in Japan) alike.

Of course I have to mention my short list of other great titles this year, including "Planetes", "Beck" (I can't wait for new issues of Beck to come out, they can't come soon enough!!!), "GTO" and if you are in a back issue mood, you might want to give "Cyborg 009" a spin. In keeping with the holiday pick me up, the touching high school drama "Kare Kano" manga is also one that think all ages can enjoy.

Dark Horse has set themselves up as the front runner in unedited manga. It's great to see that they are willing to take the marketing chance and put out strong adult titles for all of us fans old enough to buy shrink wrapped, non-hentai manga. "Berserk", "Monkey King", "Samurai Executioner", "Eden" and the list goes on and on. I've come to rely on Dark Horse for quality books and a near flawless roster of new titles. Plus, they've thrown novels into the mix with the "Vampire Hunter D" novel series, a daunting task to translate, much less market. I will lament the passing of their anthology book "Super Manga Blast", we have far too few manga anthology books here in the US, I guess because they don't seem to do as well (witness the demise of Gutsoon's venture) with the exception of "Shonen Jump." The upcoming roster of titles is strong, and even includes Harlequin romance titles, venturing into new territory and trying to branch out to different markets. I'm curious how this will go, but I have to applaud Dark Horse's willingness to try new things.

Dark Horse recommendations:

"Berserk" is still at the top of my list of series that I follow with each release. Currently Dark Horse has released 9 volumes of the 29 released in Japan. Although I wish that "Berserk" monthly, it is always well worth the wait. For epic action and adventure, it is still hard to top "Berserk."

"Samurai Executioner", "Lady Snowblood", and "Lone Wolf and Cub", these pocket-sized editions would make great stocking stuffers for the big kids who dig samurai dramas on your list. Each of these series showcases great historical drama in a cool, small format that is great for those of us with not much room on our shelves.

Viz continues their quality comic lines and expands them with the Shonen jump line of quality comics at a cheaper price. Viz also has tons of classic manga in their back catalog. I've enjoyed so many Viz titles this year; they continue to be a giant in manga industry here in the US and are now expanding to Germany in an unprecedented partnership with Tokyopop. The new Shonen Jump line of popular and affordable titles is a great idea that I hope other manga publishers are able to emulate. The quality of Viz books continues to be top notch in production and translation. This year also saw Viz releasing more prestige titles such as "Sexy Voice and Robo" and art books for various Studio Ghibili films, nice touches for fans looking for books beyond the usual manga fare. Plus, how can you beat the company that brings us "One Piece" and "Naruto." I have to applaud Viz for keeping the landscape of Manga Island full of action and adventure for all these years.

Viz recommendations:

"Death Note": Perhaps not the most holiday friendly manga, but it really has stuck with me since I first decided to pick it up. I can't wait for each volume to come out, and I have had lots of friends pick this up after checking out the first couple of chapters. Intriguing morality play and detective story wrapped into a supernatural manga package. This one is definitely not to be missed.

Out of the Back catalog I have to again recommend "Nausicaa of the Valley of the wind: Editor's choice edition" and an old favorite of mine "Mai the Psychic Girl" seeing "Mai" on Viz's site made me remember the days of monthly Viz stapled comics and I had to re-read this great tale. The art by Ryoichi Ikegami (best known for "Crying Freeman" and "Sanctuary") is superb. I really have enjoyed trials of Mai and her awakening to her psychic powers and the deadly organization bent on her capture. This is one that deserves to be in any otaku's manga collection and is a great series to get new manga readers into.

ADV branched out from their anime roots this year into full blown manga publishing, with some ups and downs along the way. I was cautious at first to see if ADV would be successful at both print media and DVD production, but so far it seems that they are doing well, despite some hiccups along the way. Fan favorites such as "Azumanga Daioh", "Full Metal Panic", and "Yotsuba" bolster some of the lesser know but still enjoyable titles. Despite the fact that there haven't been many new release announcements lately, I am holding out in the hopes that ADV is able to continue in the year to come as they have produced titles I have enjoyed immensely. "Cromartie High" school alone should be on everyone's shelf who enjoys offbeat humor. It's the most laugh out loud funny comic I have read since "The Tick" or "Groo", and absolutely one of the funniest manga out there.

ADV recommendations:

"Yotsuba" the super cute and story in the world of "Azumanga Daioh" continues to warm hearts and bring enjoyment to manga fans everywhere. It's a great for all ages and come recommended by tons of manga fans, critics, and fellow OEL creators.

Unfortunately the "Ray" volume 3 has not been announced officially yet, but I am still holding out. This manga is definitely for the adults, but it was great fun and it struck all the right chords for me. If you dig a mix of nods to old school manga, action adventure and kung-fu doctors, you owe it to yourself to check this out.

Central Park Media has also had a rocky start in the manga business, but has recently issued statements about their comeback and their titles and new makes a comeback with their titles, I was worried for a while that their manga branch was going the way of Gutsoon, with cancellations and delays. However, I breathed a sigh of relief when I got a new press release about them returning strong, with a new drive a new website full of PSP and iPod downloads, and more and more comics announcements. CPM has a huge lineup set to go that includes manga based on fan favorites such as "Lodoss War", "Nadesico", and lot of Korean (manwha) books as well. I'm hoping that they turn things around and ship the books that people are clamoring for final volumes of. If the quality of the books I've been reading and the amount of extras on the new site are any indication, you can expect great things from CMP in the coming year.

CPM recommendations:

"Alien Nine" has gotten around Manga Island and it's an enjoyableread. Recently I have gotten into "Nambul" (for the hardcore war fans out there) and the fantastic art and cool fantasy of "Dark Angel".

Digital Manga Publishing is actually responsible for some of my favorite titles published by Dark Horse and has quite an imprint of their own. The quality their translations and variety of their books speaks volumes for them. I always know that I am getting a great book when I pick up a DMP title. I'm looking forward to "IWGP" and "Worst" next year, as well as a slew of new manga and manwha. DMP has become synonymous with great books here on Manga Island.

Digital Manga Publishing recommendations:

This year, I have really enjoyed "Worst" and "IWGP", both share gritty urban Japanese settings, and are great dramas to have on your shelf. "Worst" is a fantastic high school fighting manga with more depth and politics than most. "IWGP" should appeal to anyone who wants to see what dramas like "90210" or "The O.C." might be like if they were set in Tokyo. I mean this in a good way, if you are looking for no holds barred teen drama, this is the one (not for the kids!)

If yaoi (boys love) manga is more your taste, look no further than "Antiques Bakery." Sure to please around the holidays with all the cooking in the air, I thought the book was charming. The art is great and I dig the characters overall. I'm not a big yaoi fan, but I enjoyed this one a lot.

DrMaster rises from the ashes of what was once Comics One, or at least they have picked up a lot of former ComicsOne titles. I really enjoyed Comics One's concentration on Chinese comics and it heartens me to hear that they will be continuing to publish at least some of those titles. DrMaster seems to be staunch supporter of fighting franchises like "King of Fighters" which is always cool in my book. I haven't read a lot of DrMaster books since the switch over but the books I have read pretty darn good. If they would just revive "Storm Riders" and "Crouching Tiger", I would be happy!

DrMaster recommendations:

"Stellvia" continues to be a favorite around Manga Island based on the very enjoyable anime. Teens training to be space pilots and save the world is a staple I never get tired of it seems and "Stellvia" has lots to enjoy. Good for all ages and for sci-fi and teen manga fans alike.

"Iron Wok Jan" is a great manga as well. I was introduced to it by how critically acclaimed it was, and for good reason. Thoroughly enjoyable and very clever and funny, it deserves to be picked up by otakus of all ages looking for some great manga outside of the typical shoujo and sci-fi genres

Well that wraps it up for this week on the Island. Next time, I'll traverse the landscape of this past year's OEL books and the publishers making them happen. Until next time stay warm and be sure to spread manga everywhere in the spirit of the holidays. We'll be trying to stay cozy looking forward to the New Year on Manga Island.

Links of interest

A quick personal note:

Recently, in an interview about Psy-Comm I sent out my email with the wrong version and did not include the names of the inker and toner on the book (I was double checking their names and they did not get included). I wanted to recognize them as their tireless efforts really made the book shine. I want to salute Jeremy Freeman (inker) and Chi Wang (toner) for the excellent work they did on the book. My sincerest apologies go out for the mistake I made. Books get made through a team effort and your contribution is most appreciated.

-- Tony Salvaggio

Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, PSY-COMM Volume 1 is out RIGHT NOW!!. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.

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