If you’re reading your manga one volume at a time, you’re getting the story, but you might be missing some of the art: most translated manga is published in paperback, with black and white interiors, in a standard 5-inch by 7-inch format. In Japan, manga is serialized in larger-format magazines that often include color pages. Those color pages are often rescanned into grainy black and white for the collected editions. Artists also produce promotional cards, posters, and other extras that seldom make their way into the non-Japanese editions of their work.
Fortunately, Japanese publishers love to collect all these color illustrations and little extras into art books, and more and more of those are being translated too. They tend to have a common format: a large trim size and full-color pages given over entirely to art, with the captions (and sometimes notes from the artist) in the back. Many have a slipcase, dust cover, or other deluxe touches. The artwork usually includes cover art, full-color magazine pages, covers from anime and game adaptations, promotional postcards and other extras, and sometimes original art created specifically for the book.
Here’s a look at some manga artbooks in a range of different genres, any of which would make a great gift for the manga readers on your shopping list.
Yana Toboso Artworks Black Butler 1, by Yana Toboso
Yana Toboso’s Black Butler is a quirky blend of horror, action, and decadent luxury. The story of a demonic butler who serves a rich orphan, it’s set in Victorian England, giving Toboso plenty of opportunities to draw lavish details such as velvet curtains, china teacups, and cakes. Lots of cakes. This gorgeous hardcover artbook reproduces color covers and pages from the original run of Black Butler in GFantasy magazine but also includes some original work, promotional extras, and artwork Toboso did for other series, including her one-shot manga Rust Blaster. Her notes in the back discuss how she developed each piece and reveal some of the thinking behind the series, making it a special treat for Black Butler fans. This book reads right to left.
Shiro Amano: The Artwork of Kingdom Hearts, by Shiro Amano
Kingdom Hearts is a video game that mixes original characters with Disney stalwarts, including Goofy and Donald Duck. The video game was adapted into several different manga series and novels, and most of the illustrations in this book are covers and standalone art from these adaptations, along with a few promotional pieces. Unlike most art books, this one does include text, in the form of quotes from the story alongside some of the art, but the footnotes are still in the back. Because of the sources, the artwork is a mix of black and white and color. The book comes in a plastic slipcase that is clear in some places so the full-color cover shows through. This book reads left to right.
Uzumaki Naruto Illustrations, by Masashi Kishimoto
At 120 pages, this is a slimmer volume than most of the others, and the footnote images are in black and white. On the other hand, it does include a sheet of stickers. The artwork focuses on the latter half of the series, from about volume 38 onward, and there’s plenty here to please any Naruto fan. This book reads right to left.
Pepita: Takehike Inoue Meets Gaudi, by Takehiko Inoue
This book is a little different from the others in this post, in that it’s a travel memoir, not a collection of previously published work. Takehiko Inoue is the creator of Vagabond, Real, and Slam Dunk, but in Pepita he records his visit to Spain to visit a number of sites associated with the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi—the buildings he designed and also the area he came from. Inoue, an accomplished artist by any measure, depicts his travels with drawings and photographs, as well as text describing his reaction to the sites. This book reads right to left.
Alice in the Country of Diamonds ~Wonderful Wonder World~ Official Visual Fan Book, by QuinRose
The “Alice” story, loosely based on Alice in Wonderland, started as a video game in Japan, but English-language readers first experienced it as the manga series Alice in the Country of Hearts. Since then it has expanded to numerous spinoffs, including the game Alice in the Country of Diamonds ~Wonderful Wonder World~. As the subtitle suggests, this book is a visual guide to the world of the game, with a brief introduction to the story, character profiles, an interview with the artist and scriptwriter, and about 40 pages of original manga. While much of the book is specific to the game, there’s a lot here to interest any Alice fan. This book reads from left to right—except for the comics section, which starts at the end of the book and reads right to left.
PandoraHearts Odds and Ends, by Jun Mochizuki
PandoraHearts wound up its run earlier this year with volume 24, which will be released in English next March. This art book features covers, extras, and rough sketches from the first 10 volumes of the series, plus some art from Mochizuki’s one-shot manga Crimson-Shell. Heavy paper, a dust cover, a slipcase, and some die-cut pages give this book a particularly deluxe feeling. This book reads right to left.
The Art of Satoshi Kon, by Satoshi Kon
Satoshi Kon started his career as a manga creator and went on to become the director of a handful of critically acclaimed anime (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika) before his death in 2010 at the age of 46. This volume collects work from his entire career, from art school drawings through manga covers, promotional art for his anime, even storyboards from his animated short Good Morning. Kon’s notes on the artwork were originally written for a 2008 exhibit of his work, and revised shortly before his death. The book also includes a letter of condolence to one of Kon’s colleagues from director Darren Aronofsky. This book reads left to right.