Last week I offered four manga recommendations in the science fiction genre. For the third part of this series (which I hope to conclude one of these days), I move onto other genres, including mystery, horror, slice-of-life, and finally, just general weirdness. Because that is just how my manga rolls sometimes, friends.
Next week I conclude this billion part series with romance recommendations, which I want to emphasize will include titles that won't appeal merely to women (in other words, I hope not to scare off the guys next week in spite of the pairing the words "romance" and "manga").
Now on to this week's manga for adults recommendations!
I often short-hand the plot of Monster as the manga version of "The Fugitive." In reality, it is so much more than that - the story begins when our saintly hero, Dr. Tenma, sacrifices his medical career when he chooses to operate on a young boy, Johan, instead of an important politician. Of course, the boy is saved and the politician dies. After his career goes in the crapper as a result of his decision, our doctor becomes the suspect of a number of homicides and later realizes that the true killer is the very boy he saved. Going on the run to catch the boy, who is the sociopathic "monster" of the manga's title, the narrative follows Tenma as he struggles not only with his conscience - should he kill for the greater good? -- but also the kind of world that could create such a boy as Johan.
It takes incredible skill to produce a comic book thriller of such quality and there is a reason Viz calls this title "Naoki Urasawa's Monster" and places it in its "Viz Signature" line. Just read the title, it deserves so much more love than it gets.
Published in the U.S.: 13 volumes released
Status in Japan: Complete at 17 volumes
Recommend by John Thomas, who writes, "BATTLE ROYALE is a violent psychological tale asking ˜Could you kill your best friend?'" Tokyopop is currently releasing this series in "Ultimate Editions," meaning you can grab three volumes worth at once in one fairly inexpensive hardcover door stop edition (via Amazon). Battle Royale is sort of like "Survivor" if they were killing each other off for the only prize that really matters in life -- survival.
Battle Royale is like popcorn - while the story is neither light nor airy, it is oh so easy & enjoyable to consume without intellectual effort. Expect senseless, yet disturbingly entertaining, depictions of teenage violence and sex. On other hand, is there really any other kind?
Published in the U.S.: All 15 volumes released by Tokyopop
Ultimate Editions: 1 and 2 currently released (combined of 6 volumes total).
Since I don't particularly care for the horror genre, I'm going to rely on John Thomas's enthusiastic recommendations for various manga titles currently published in English (I hope he won't mind my taking advantage of his kindness).
"GYO is a two-volume beach-based horror thriller where the rotting stink-lines seem to come right off the page.
UZAMAKI's three volume re-release wraps up this week, and is one of the most original horror titles ever. Imagine being freaked out by spirals. A small coastal town in Japan experiences it.
MPD-PSYCHO is an uncensored riddle of an enigma about a killer cop with a nose for finding the bad guys - though sometimes it's his reflection."
Ode to Kirihito
Tezuka gets his own category because he's - you know. Tezuka. Probably best known in the United States for his "Astro Boy" series, it is beyond cliche to note that Tezuka is the "god" or "father" of manga (I just like to call him the "godfather" manga, but that is neither here nor there). Considered one of the most influential story-tellers in Japan, Tezuka is given credit for publishing the first shojo manga and also employing those really, really big manga eyes (inspired, as I understand it, from Disney of all places).
Vertical has recently released three of Tezuka's very adult works: the medical mystery "Ode to Kirihito," the frankly uncategorizable "Apollo's Song," and the insanely-odd psychological thriller "MW." Each work is around 500 pages or longer and published complete in one volume. If I had to pick a favorite among the three works, I'd go with "Apollo's Song," since its topic is one near and dear to my heart: sex and love and, often, the heart-breaking distance between the two. Our anti-hero of "Apollo's Song," Shogo has angered the gods, and must experience lifetime after lifetime, never reconciling his heart and his desires. Tezuka's strength as an artist and story-teller is to take the unbelievable and commit it to paper without fear (please see bizarre opening image of millions of little sperm-men just dying at a chance at "romancing" the female-egg goddess. Did I mention these works are really, really weird? Well, I'm sure you've figured it out by now).
Any of these three works are worth picking up, and in spite of their flaws they are enjoyable for Tezuka's ability to produce art of such variety, intelligence, significance and, perhaps most importantly, strangeness.
Genre: Slice of Life
Antique Bakery is about four men who run a bakery. Actually, Antique Bakery is about four incredibly attractive men who run a bakery. Actually, Antique Bakery is about four incredibly attractive men who run a bakery and discuss pastries in exquisite detail and often have disastrously amusing personal lives.
Have I hooked you? I fear I haven't.
Fumi Yoshinaga is my particular god of manga - I picked up the first volume of Antique Bakery not long after it was released in the U.S. on a complete lark and somehow fell in love and never really fell out it. Yoshinaga's art style *and* writing are significantly different than any other mangaka's work being published in the states - while her minimalist art may take some getting used to, while you are grappling with the image, she hooks you without fail by making you howl with shock & laughter, moving you with her no-nonsense affection for life as it actually is, not how we wish it to be. As far as I'm concerned she can do almost no wrong, and while her "Flower of Life" may be a little more accomplished in terms of story-telling, Antique Bakery will always be first in my heart since it was a first for me.
It was just recently announced Japan will be turning AB into an anime. I'm not even sure what do to with that except say this is unexpected. I can't imagine Yoshinaga's art animated but such an attempt will be interesting to say the least.
DMP has released all four volumes in the states.
(There are also 14 significantly more "adult" doujinshii that Yoshinaga herself did for the series which I'm sure will never see the light of the day in the U.S.)
TOWN OF EVENING CALM, COUNTRY OF CHERRY BLOSSOMS
Wispy line-work accompanies this short but powerful tale about the everyday impact of the *aftermath* Hiroshima bombing in Japan. I place this story in the "slice of life" category, because it isn't about the catastrophic event of the bomb dropping and its immediate destruction, so much as it conveys the long, slow effects that the population of Hiroshima experiences. These effects are experienced not only many years later but in this short manga, they radiate out to other people and other cities, not necessarily connected to the immediate experience of having survived the bomb-dropping.
This is a powerful story that is shouldn't be taken as depressing or wallowing in suffering. Quite the opposite - by taking the slice-of-life approach the artists conveys volumes about recovery and hope simply by representing the everyday things & experiences that abound, even in a world once devastated by war, violence, sickness and death.
Published complete in one volume by Last Gasp.
Does "deeply weird and really cool" count as a genre?
KUROSAGI CORPSE DELIVERY SERVICE
Dark Horse technically classifies Kurosagi as horror but I really think of this title as Scooby Doo with more Buddhists and dismembered dead bodies. Terrifically weird, the title follows a bunch of college slackers who have weird psychic and crime fighting abilities and use them to solve murders and mysteries and stuff. They are in the "corpse delivery service" which means they find unclaimed corpses and attempt to give them some kind of peace.
But I mentioned Scooby Doo but with more dismembered bodies -- what are you waiting around for?
Published by Darkhorse, 6 volumes released in the U.S.
Ongoing in Japan
SEXY VOICE AND ROBO
David writes "A phone-book sized collection of terrific stories about a girl who uses her considerable smarts to meddle in the lives of strangers, sometimes at the request of a retired yakuza." You honestly can't go wrong with this title, as it reminds me in many ways why comics are *fun*.
Published by Viz, complete at one oversized volume.
That's all for this week, join me next week as I struggle to define the difference between men's and women's manga "romance" titles!