Seemingly endless manga series are great—have we mentioned we love One Piece?—but sometimes you just want a good story that ends before you wade through 12 or 60 or 80 volumes (again, we’re looking at you, One Piece).
Enter the one-shot manga, a format that probably doesn’t get as much attention as it should—because there are no cliffhangers, no lengthy suspense-building arcs, no need to speculate breathlessly about what will happen in the next volume. Just a good, solid story. Here’s a look at some of our favorite one-shots from the past year.
Furari, by Jiro Taniguchi
From the creator of The Walking Man comes another book of meditative strolls, these through the streets of 18th-century Tokyo (known at the time as Edo). As in The Walking Man, the main character in Furari is nameless, but he is based on the mapmaker Tadataka Ino. He walks through the city, counting his paces as a way of measuring distances, although he often gets distracted. Along the way, he encounters merchants and markets, stops to admire a view, has a chance encounter with a traveling poet on a moonlit bridge, and listens to a storyteller in a tavern. Sometimes he and his wife go on little outings—to the park at cherry-blossom time or to the beach at low tide to gather clams. Even though he is retired, he continues to think about measurement and distances, and to puzzle over how to improve surveying. It’s mostly an episodic slice-of-life story, although there is a bit of a plot to it. Furari is printed left to right, and Taniguchi has a clear, linear, realistic style, with a nice balance between detail and simplicity.
Ichi-F, by Kazuto Tatsuta
This hefty manga is a remarkable first-hand account of the life of a cleanup worker at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was severely damaged in the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Tatsuta (a pseudonym) chronicles the everyday life of the workers: the complicated protective gear, the protocols they must go through, the rest areas where they unwind, smoke, and talk. He describes several stints working in the power plant visits to the nearby cities, and his relationships with the people around him, and he even goes meta when he depicts the reaction to his first short manga about life at the plant. This omnibus edition, which bundles the three original volumes into one thick one, is printed left to right.
I Hear the Sunspot, by Yuki Fumino
This is a yaoi (male-male romance) manga that goes very light on the romance; it’s really about friendship. Taichi is loud, overconfident, and always broke, so he’s always hungry. Kohei is quiet and keeps his feelings to himself—not because he is standoffish, as many classmates assume, but because he is deaf (although he has some hearing, and he can always hear Taichi’s voice). They form a friendship of convenience when Taichi agrees to take notes for Kohei if Kohei will bring him lunch. As this slim volume goes on, we learn some of the backstory of both characters and see their relationship deepen and become more complex. With its thoughtful depiction of the experience of deafness, I Hear the Sunspot may be of interest to fans of A Silent Voice. A sequel, I Hear the Sunspot: Theory of Happiness, will be available in February.
Dissolving Classroom, by Junji Ito
Remember the scary stories we used to tell on sleepovers and at camp? Dissolving Classroom feels a bit like that—there was this guy, and he worshiped the devil, and his sister was really weird, and then people melted. Junji Ito’s horror tales are not for the faint of heart (or stomach), but this is actually one of his more restrained efforts. Sure, there are a couple of severed heads, but mostly people just melt, their brains flowing out through their eye sockets, and then the weird little girl bottles their liquid remains for later consumption. Her creepily polite brother apologizes continuously because it really gets him off. The story is episodic, with the brother-sister team turning their horrific powers on various subjects, and it ends with a sort of orgy of apologizing and people-melting. One volume is about right for this story—Ito works his concept really hard, but it’s difficult to see how he could have kept it going much longer.
She and Her Cat, by Makoto Shinkai and Tsubasa Yamaguchi
Miyu, the “she” in She and Her Cat, is so darn cute, she upstages the cat. She wears adorable little outfits, puts up her hair, stirs up a simple dinner in a frying pan, does her laundry, looks pensively out the window, avoids phone calls from her mother, dodges a prospective suitor, pulls an all-nighter after messing something up at work. We see all this through the eyes of her cat, who is weirdly in love with her (although he has a cat girlfriend, she definitely plays second fiddle to Miyu in his heart). This manga, adapted from Shinkai’s short film of the same name, focuses almost entirely on Miyu’s emotions, as Chobi, the cat, doesn’t really understand her experiences—all he sees is her reactions. Yamaguchi excels at creating a mood with lighting and framing, often cropping out parts of the picture—which fits nicely with Shinkai’s elliptical storytelling style.
Paperback $13.89 | $14.99
The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
Marie Kondo’s first manga brings her particular style of organizing advice to a new medium, wrapping it in a story about a young woman whose messy ways are ruining her life—and her chances with her hot new neighbor. The manga format allows her to show how her system works in a real-life (well, sort of) setting and answer her sometimes skeptical customer’s questions. And since it boils her system down to the basics, it’s a good quick read for anyone who is curious about the KonMari method and wants to learn a bit more.
In This Corner of the World, by Fumiyo Kouno
Fumiyo Kouno evokes the life of ordinary Japanese people in the 1930s and 1940s as if she had lived through those times herself. She didn’t: Although she grew up in Hiroshima, where part of her story takes place, she was born long after World War II. And yet, this book is a remarkable document, depicting both the minutiae of day-to-day existence in wartime and the emotional lives of a family: Cheery Suzu, her young husband Shusaku (whom she married almost sight unseen), Shusaku’s parents and his prickly older sister. They work together to survive the war and help their neighbors, even in the direst of circumstances. Kouno is also the creator of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, another single-volume manga about survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima.
What’s your favorite “one and done” manga?