Summer is winding down, but it’s still miserable out here on the East Coast—nasty, sticky, humid heat that makes stepping outdoors feel like wading through a bowl of warm miso soup. It’s too hot to move, too hot to think, too hot to do anything except seek out someplace air conditioned and stay there as long as possible.
I’ve been using a bit of psychological warfare as well, reading as many books as I can find set in cold climates. Any distraction is good, and a distraction that includes blizzards and snowdrifts and people shivering around a wood-burning stove is even better. Here’s a snowy sampler of manga to read while you’re waiting for the weather to break.
The Ice Wanderer, by Jiro Taniguchi
Armchair adventurers have been reading Jack London’s tales of life in the land of ice and snow for over a century, and manga master Jiro Taniguchi evokes his spirit in this collection of short stories, leading off with a purportedly true tale of London’s adventures, and following it up with an adaptation of a segment in London’s White Fang. While Taniguchi is best known for quiet, contemplative pieces such as The Walking Man and Furari, there is a whole other side of his work that exhibits his fascination with the struggle of man against nature in its rawest form. If the heat wave persists, check out his mountaineering stories, The Quest for the Missing Girl and the five-volume Summit of the Gods.
Golden Kamuy, by Satoru Noda
Noda’s story of a treasure-seeker on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido also evokes London in many ways—it’s about a man searching for gold in a forbidding climate, running up against not only the native fauna but also the most dangerous hunter of all, his fellow humans. Like London, Noda relishes depicting the details of survival—a friend describes this as a “stealth cooking manga” because so much of it involves preparing the latest catch for dinner. The lead character, Sugimoto, earned the sobriquet “the immortal” as a soldier in the Russo-Japanese war, and he is still haunted by his experiences in battle. After he is wounded, Asirpa, an Ainu girl, saves his life and teams up with him to help him search for a cache of stolen gold; Sugimoto is doing it for love, Asirpa for revenge. The twist is that the treasure map that is tattooed across the skins of escaped prisoners, whom they have to hunt down one at a time. Of course, others are searching for the gold as well. Noda’s art is clear, crisp, and exquisitely beautiful at times, although he also draws some pretty gory fight scenes. Golden Kamuy was nominated for a 2018 Eisner Award.
Erased, by Kei Sanbei
Satoru Fujinaga, a failed manga creator, travels back in time to his childhood in order to stop a serial killer. Creator Kei Sanbe skillfully tells the story across two different timelines, throwing in a great twist to resolve the genre’s ever-present paradox problem. Most of the childhood scenes are set during a snowy winter; the children hang out in parks and secret hideouts. Although this is sometimes a tough read, as the murder victims are children, there’s also a strange coziness to it. It’s a murder mystery, a time travel story, and a story about childhood and family and belonging. Even the covers of the four ominous volumes show winter scenes—three are snowscapes, and one shows the children tucked into their snug hideaway. Icy backdrop aside, this one is a page-turner, with a colorful cast, a compelling central battle of wits between Satoru and the murderer, and a satisfying denouement.
Vinland Saga, by Makoto Yukimura
With its heady mix of battles, intrigue, and beautiful historical detail, Vinland Sagais a great read in any season (we’re already on record as being fans). Come for the snowy winter scenes, stay for the crazy Viking warriors, the complex double-crosses, and the gorgeous depictions of Viking life.
Sweet Rein, by Sakura Tsukuba
This three-volume series isn’t really about winter so much as Christmas, but hey, it’s not to early to start thinking about that either! It’s also a reminder that manga can be really weird: this shoujo rom-com is sort of a gender-flipped version of the Tim Allen movie The Santa Clause. A girl bumps into a boy and suddenly she is Santa and he is her reindeer—which makes her his master. Hilarious complications ensue! This manga is silly and funny and exactly what you need when you’re sitting by the pool and need to be distracted.
What manga do you read to cool down?