U.S. manga publishers took on challenging and unusual series in 2017, even as they also played it safe with sequels to some of the top series of previous years. As 2017 heads into the history books, here’s a look at some of our favorite new series and one-shots of the year.
Golden Kamuy, by Satoru Noda
A rugged adventure story in the tradition of Jack London, Golden Kamuy is set in the early 1900s and stars Saichi Sugimoto, a veteran of the Russo–Japanese War who earned the sobriquet “The Immortal” because he was a fierce fighter whom no one could kill. During the war, Sugimoto promised to care for the wife and child of a dying friend. Now that the war is over, he is panning for gold in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, hoping for a big strike so he can fulfill his vow. Then he hears about a stash of gold that can only be found with a special map—a map tattooed on the skins of a group of prisoners. Together with a young Ainu girl, whose father was killed when the gold was originally stolen from her people, he goes in search of the treasure, but of course, a lot of other people are pursuing it as well. Noda skillfully mixes plenty of action, some of it quite gory, with a tale of survival and friendship, weaving in many aspects of the indigenous Ainu culture along the way.
Tokyo Ghoul: re, by Sui Ishida
The first volume of Tokyo Ghoul: re starts out looking like a completely different story from the original Tokyo Ghoul, but by the end, a number of familiar faces have reappeared. There is a major difference, though: Tokyo Ghoul was told largely from the point of view of the ghouls, while Tokyo Ghoul: re, at least in the beginning, is centered in their opposition, the Commission of Counter Ghoul. A special squad of CCG investigators have been implanted with the ghoul’s special organ, kagune, so they have partial ghoul powers; they are carefully monitored, however, to keep them from getting too strong or losing the ability to live on ordinary food rather than human flesh. The ghoul physiology is explained up front, so you don’t have to have read Tokyo Ghoul to understand Tokyo Ghoul: re, but there are a lot of allusions readers of the original series will catch on to first.
Your Name, by Makoto Shinkai and Ranmaru Kotone
Mitsuha lives in a small country town, where her father is the mayor. She feels constricted by her life and wishes she was a boy and lived in Tokyo. Taki, a boy who lives in Tokyo, wishes he was a girl who lived in the country. They both get their wish in an odd way—they trade places when they are dreaming. It takes them a while to figure this out and to learn to communicate with one another—and then it turns out that there may be a larger purpose behind the body switch. This is a manga adaptation of director Makoto Shinkai’s anime film, which he wrote concurrently as a novel, also titled Your Name.
Kakegurui Compulsive Gambler, by Homura Kawamoto and Toru Naomura
At the prestigious Hyakkou Private Academy, the students focus on the most important skill for achieving success: gambling. After all, traditional athletics and academics aren’t real-world skills, but psyching out your opponent is. Being able to cheat convincingly is a useful skill as well, but what makes new student Yumeko Jabami such a powerhouse is that she can figure out the cheats while playing the mind game. In a school where the bets go far beyond money, and a student’s position in the elaborate caste system is determined by his or her gambling prowess, winning really is everything. (As in many seinen high schools, the teachers are invisible, the girls’ uniforms are short and clingy, and the student council rules the roost.) The manga plays out as a series of high-stakes gambling games, as the students emerge one by one to challenge Jabami. The games are clever, the cheats are even cleverer, and the creators use unusual angles and lighting to heighten the drama. It’s a great setup, inviting the reader to match wits with Jabami and making Kakegurui a compulsively readable manga.
Bloom Into You, by Nakatani Nio
High school freshman Yuu is still waiting for love. It’s not for lack of interest from the opposite sex—a boy in her middle school has asked her out and is waiting for her response—but Yuu wants to be swept off her feet, and so far that hasn’t happened. When she sees an older student, Nanami, reject a boy’s confession of love, saying she isn’t really interested in going out with anyone, Yuu is impressed: Here’s someone who feels the same way she does. Except it turns out that Nanami is in love—with Yuu. When Yuu protests that she doesn’t feel the same way, Nanami says that’s OK, that she’s happy just to be in love even if Yuu doesn’t reciprocate. The romantic tension is high, however, especially after Nanami asks Yuu to be her campaign manager as she runs for student body president.
Dreamin’ Sun, by Ichigo Takano
Shimana hates everything, including her name. She feels like a stranger in her own home, ever since her mother died in a car accident and her father married someone else. Her half-baked plan to play hooky and run away gets an unexpected boost when she trips over a sleeping, kimono-clad man in the park. Soon he is her landlord, and she is sharing a house with him and two classmates—serious, dreamy Asahi and goofy but good-hearted Zen. Of course Shimana is at the center of it all and both the younger guys like her (the landlord is a little weird). Like Tohru Honda in Fruits Basket, Shimana finds that her new home starts opening up the door into other new avenues of life. Takano is the creator of the time-travel shoujo manga Orange, and she has a steady hand and a real knack for telling stories.
Land of the Lustrous, by Haruko Ichikawa
All the life forms in Land of the Lustrous were converted to minerals eons ago, as a result of repeated meteor strikes that also broke off chunks of their planet and converted them to moons. The characters are spindly, fairy-like creatures, that embody the characteristics of different minerals. This can be a good thing—Diamond is hard and therefore a good fighter—or a bad thing—Cinnabar exudes poison. Poor Phosphorous is too weak to ever go into battle and is assigned to create a natural history of the planet, while everyone else gets to fight the aliens that are trying to steal their bodies and turn them into jewels. This sounds like a setup for a standard-issue battle manga, but the art brings it to another plane: Ichikawa’s battles have a surrealistic flavor, more like the psychedelic art of Victor Moscoso or Rick Griffin than anything in modern manga, and the story has many dreamlike aspects as well.
Descending Stories, by Haruko Kumota
Descending Stories is the tale of a brash young ex-con who has set his heart on learning rakugo, the traditional art of Japanese storytelling, having been captivated by a rakugo performance while he was in prison. He shows up unannounced at the home of the rakugo master Yakumo, and Yakumo, unexpectedly takes the young man—nicknamed Yotaro, or “idiot”—as an apprentice. Kumota wraps lots of interesting detail about the world of rakugo into this story, but it also works well as a soap opera, as we slowly learn the details of Yakumo’s origins and the true story of the mysterious death of his partner (and rival) Sukeroku.
Vampire Knight: Memories, by Matsuri Hino
The obvious audience for this is fans of the original Vampire Knight series, who are legion. Indeed, if you haven’t read the original series, be warned that the first volume of Vampire Knight Memories starts with a spoilerrific introduction that condenses the original 19-volume series into a single paragraph. With the stage set, Matsuri Hino dives right in with a series of short stories about Yuki Cross, Kaname, Zero, Yuki’s children, and the vampire/human world of Cross Academy. It’s a second helping for those who just can’t get enough of Hino’s trademark vampire melodrama.
Erased, by Kei Sanbe
Erased starts out as a time-travel story and then segues into a complex murder mystery. At 29, Satoru Fujinuma is a failed manga-ka who earns his keep delivering pizzas. The root of his failure as an artist seems to be that he is keeping a part of himself walled off, and this series, which stretches across four hardcover omnibus volumes, is the story of how he goes back and unravels the deeds of the past, changing the past so he can change the future. Funjinuma can jump back in time—at first by just a few minutes, so he can stop an accident or abduction, and then, after a few practice runs, he is sent back to his childhood, a time when several children in his area were murdered, and an adult friend was convicted and sentenced to death. Despite having the brain of a 29-year-old, and memories of what happened the first time around, Fujinuma finds that changing the past is more difficult than he expected—but he feels compelled to try, to prevent the murders not just of the children but also of his mother in the present day. Sanbe has a sharp eye for detail and nuance, and this story, presented in two-volume hardcover omnibus format, keeps you turning the pages.
Sweet Blue Flowers, by Takako Shimura
“Sweet” is the word to describe Takako Shimura’s high school yuri romance set at two private girls’ schools. The couple at the center are childhood friends who are reunited when they start high school—they go to different schools but take the train together. Fumi is tall, dark and quiet; Akira is shorter, light-haired, and down-to-earth. Together they make a complementary pair, but their relationship evolves slowly, with lots of complications. Sweet Blue Flowers spends about equal time inside the heads of both lead characters, which makes for a richer story. While this book is a great read for fans of yuri manga, it’s also a good choice for anyone interested in the art of the comic: Shimura pares her panels down to the minimum, composes her pages with care, and uses the manga toolkit to its best advantage. In particular, there are many quiet moments where a character simply stops to reflect for a minute; this brings depth and focus to the storytelling and slows down the pacing. Shimura is also the creator of Wandering Son, a story about transgender pre-teens that won wide praise for its sensitive handling of the subject, and Sweet Blue Flowers, although its characters are older, has a similar feel to it.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, by Nagata Kabi
The emotions are raw and the art is rough, but maybe that’s what made this one-volume memoir such a runaway success. The heroine suffers from an eating disorder, cuts herself, lives with her parents, can’t hold down a job, and is still a virgin. Underlying all of this is a weird hollowness—she’s not even sure who she is. So one by one she tackles her problems, gaining a little ground here and there, and finally taking the big step of hiring an escort to help her get comfortable with sex. That turns out not the experience she expected it to be, but it leads to other things: Nagata realizes some important truths about herself, and her online comic about her life is a surprise success. Seven Seas will publish the sequel, My Solo Exchange Diary, next June.
Sherlock: The Blind Banker, by Steven Moffatt, Steven Thompson, and Mark Gatiss
This is one of a series of Sherlock manga that are close adaptations of the BBC TV series. Although they are close adaptations, the manga allow for a tighter presentation, and the antics of Benedict Cumberbach’s Sherlock are less distracting. This episode includes a pair of locked-room murders, messages in a mysterious script, and a Chinese circus, giving Holmes and Watson plenty of scope for detection and deduction.
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, by Akira Himekawa
The two-woman team known as Akira Himekawa are old Zelda hands, having written and drawn all the previous Zelda manga (now being collected by Viz as Legend of Zelda: Legendary Edition), and this new series gives them a chance to not only return to the world of Link but move into a darker realm. They briefly introduce the reader to the world of the story before sending Link off on his latest adventure, in which he turns into a wolf in order to follow his newest quest. As with the other Zelda manga, Himekawa add some elements of their own, fleshing out the story, rearranging the narration, and adding a few new characters. The result is something that is more than the game, and indeed, it’s a great read for those who have never played it or even read the earlier series.
Girl from the Other Side: Siuil, a Run, by Nagabe
Girl from the Other Side is a quiet story, and it takes some time for the contours of its world to fall into place. In the beginning, we are presented simply with a young girl, Shiva, who is living in the home of a strange being, whom she calls Teacher. Teacher is tall and thin, with a goat’s head and spiral horns, yet he dresses like a man; his house has a full kitchen, although he does not eat; and he doesn’t seem to feel physical pain. As the story slowly unfolds, we learn that this is a world with Insiders and Outsiders, and the Insiders fear the Outsiders are cursed and will curse them. The story certainly has parallels with fairy tales, with its scary-looking but kindly older male caring for a beautiful little girl, but beyond that, there is a deeper story of how this world came to be and what the consequences are.
What’s the best new manga you read in 2017?