I pride myself on being an omnivorous reader who rarely turns her nose up at any type of book…. but even I have my stumbling blocks. For years, one of those personal stumbling blocks was manga*. I always relied on the knowledge of my coworkers and secondhand information from reviews when I needed to purchase or recommend manga for kids and teens at my library job.
When people asked me if I read manga, I usually fell back on the excuse that reading from right to left was confusing. This is such a crap excuse. I regularly talk to people who feel that comics of any sort are confusing because they aren’t sure what to read and where to look — like any new skill, reading manga (or reading comics in general) just takes some practice, dedication and repetition to get into the swing of things. It also takes finding the right book, and for ages I hadn’t found the right books. I tried reading classics like Sailor Moon, I tried series that were popular with the teens at my job like Attack on Titan, and I tried series with themes that sounded up my alley like Library Wars, but for years nothing clicked.
I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to reading so I kept adding a few volumes of manga into my reading periodically despite my history of failures, and I eventually found some series that I really love. The following books are those that I credit with getting me to confidently state that I like reading manga:
Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawaz
This is one of the classic titles that you’ll find on gobs of “best” lists that did click with me. Barefoot Gen is an autobiographical account of Keiji Nakazawa’s childhood in Hiroshima, the dropping of the atomic bomb and its aftermath. The story is every bit as harrowing and poignant as you’d expect given the subject matter. The edition that I read has been reformatted to read from left to right which makes it a great introductory volume for people getting started reading manga.
Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto
Out of all the titles on this list, Sunny is absolutely my favorite. The artwork in the books is fabulous and each volume begins with a few pages of gorgeous full color paintings. Sunny follows the daily lives of a group of kids living in a foster home in Japan in the 1970s. The character development is so skilfull and nuanced that I feel like I actually know the kids. These quiet, quirky, melancholy, slice-of-life stories remind me of some of my favorite comics from publishers like Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly.
One-Punch Man by ONE
I find the humor in One-Punch Man absolutely hilarious (mostly because I love stories that poke fun at the superhero genre). Saitama is a superhero who can beat any villain with a single punch — unfortunately all he wants is a battle with a comparably skilled opponent. The lack of quality adversaries for Saitama leads to much angst and ennui. This was one of the titles popular with teens at my job that I ended up liking (the anime adaptation is pretty great too).
A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima
Whenever I try to describe it this series ends up sounding incredibly melodramatic (something I’d usually steer away from), but, like Sunny, this series’s strength lies in its nuanced character development. On the surface, the plot revolves around bullying but its heart lies in themes of change and forgiveness — the main character, Shoya, bullies a deaf girl in his elementary school mercilessly and she eventually leaving the school; years later Shoya’s path and hers cross again.
Uzumaki by Junji Ito
This book of short horror stories features outstanding artwork and a fairly odd premise – the terrifying element in each story is…… wait for it……. a spiral. Yep.
And, it totally works! The stories are weird and creepy and delightful.
I think that anyone who enjoys reading comics will benefit from adding some manga to their reading life, the art and story pacing are often significantly different from western comics. Your mileage with the books on this list may vary — it might take you awhile to find your gateway books but the reward is worth the work.
Until next time, find the stories that make you stronger. #WorkOutNerdOut