From the nonstop action of Attack on Titan to the quiet dinner conversation of What Did You Eat Yesterday? manga publishers had something for every taste in 2015. Here’s a roundup of ten of my favorite ongoing series.
Master Keaton, by Naoki Urasawa and Takashi Nagasaki
Teaching archaeology doesn’t pay very well, so professor Taichi Hiraga Keaton moonlights as an insurance investigator, a job that allows him to travel around the world and look into murders, missing person cases, and art forgeries. He’s uniquely qualified for the job: A former British Army and SAS officer, trained in hand-to-hand combat and survival skills, he’s a quick thinker who can turn a wooden spoon into a defensive weapon or knock an enemy off their feet before they see him coming. Master Keaton is a collection of short stories, most just one or two chapters long. Urasawa has a special gift for drawing faces, and he endows every story with a cast of interesting, idiosyncratic side characters, making this a series that is easy to pick up but hard to put down.
Attack on Titan, by Hajime Isayama
I’ll admit, when Attack on Titan first came out, I found the art to be awkward and off-putting. Once I actually started reading it, though, I got hooked fast. Isayama mixes up fast-paced action scenes with character drama and an unfolding larger story of a power struggle that gives this series more of a sense of purpose than a lot of battle manga. Strong characters, a well-articulated world, cool technology, and surprising plot twists make Attack on Titan a compelling read.
Vinland Saga, by Makoto Yukimura
Most Viking stories focus on the brutality of their conquests, and Vinland Saga has plenty of action, but it goes beyond that into a complicated plot filled with revenge and rivalries and, occasionally, reflections on what it means to conquer at all. Most of the characters are based on real historical or legendary figures, and Yukimura gives each of them a complex personality and motives that reach beyond just busting heads. Well, most of them anyway. He also revels in the setting, surrounding the action with carefully researched, meticulously detailed costumes, ships, and weapons. This is a manga you can just disappear into for hours at a time, and Kodansha Comics kicks it up a notch further with great production values and plenty of extras.
Sunny, by Taiyo Matsumoto
Taiyo Matsumoto’s Sunny follows the daily lives of a group of children living in a foster home. They refer to themselves as “orphans,” but at least some of them do have parents—as one child tells a newcomer, they have been “dumped.” In the home they create a society of their own, with rivalries, moments of weakness, and little kindnesses, often overlaid with a harsher tone as the characters bump up against one another. When they need to retreat from the hubbub, the children take shelter in Sunny, an abandoned yellow car, where they dream of traveling to their old homes or newly imagined landscapes. With atmospheric art and unforgettable characters, this a sometimes difficult but always satisfying series.
What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga
Fumi Yoshinaga’s slice-of-life manga follows a gay couple, Shiro and Kenji, and their ever-expanding circle of friends as they fix—and eat—dinner. A lot of the action consists of just that: We watch someone (usually Shiro) as he cooks, commenting as he goes along on what he’s doing and why he’s doing it that way. Of course there’s more to it than that: The food, the cooking, and the conversations reveal the layers of their life and their relationship. Yoshinaga brings in additional characters and some food-related subplots (a supermarket closes, a friend’s refrigerator breaks down) to keep the story from becoming the manga version of America’s Test Kitchen. Beautifully drawn and filled with mouthwatering meals and tender moments, What Did You Eat Yesterday? is a manga to savor in small bites, as the stories are self-contained and the cooking gets overwhelming if you read too many at once.
Noragami: Stray God, by Adachitoka
The lead character of Noragami is a god who’s a loser: Despite being a deity, Yato is homeless, and he picks up odd jobs (finding a lost cat, changing a tire) in hopes of saving up enough to afford his own shrine someday. Yukine, his shinki (weapon) is a ghost boy whose moral lapses cause Yato physical pain, and the third member of the core trilogy of this series, Hiyori, is a schoolgirl who is stuck between the human and ghost worlds and keeps slipping out of her body. Together they fight ayakashi, malicious spirits who cause evil to humans, and as the series goes on more gods come into the picture and a larger struggle emerges. Adachitoka brings energy and imagination to the shonen genre, with plenty of action and an ever-growing cast of characters based on traditional Japanese gods.
My Love Story!! by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko
My Love Story!! is a high school romance that uses a lot of standard shoujo tropes—there’s the trip to the beach, the karaoke session with the mean girls, and of course, the hot guy who’s the prince of the school. What makes it so much fun, though, is the way it inverts those tropes: The girl, Rinko, doesn’t fall for the prince of the school, she falls for his best friend, the gentle giant Takeo. Takeo is strong and kindhearted, but until Rinko showed up, he was unlucky in love. Consequently, everything that happens with Rinko, from getting a text message to spending the night with her when they get stranded on a mountain, causes his head to explode. That’s almost literally true: A lot of the humor in this manga comes from Aruko’s over-the-top depictions of Takeo getting flustered, lightning bolts coursing across his head. There’s nothing in this manga that you can’t see coming a mile away, but it’s a fun read, and it’s refreshing to see the standoffish guy just stand off to the side and the eager one get to be with the girl for a change.
Black Butler, by Yana Toboso
At 21 volumes and counting, Black Butler just keeps humming along with new stories and strange characters. Sebastian, butler to the orphaned rich kid Ciel Phantomhive, doesn’t just polish the silver, he can wield it as a lethal weapon. Together the butler and his young master investigate Jack the Ripper, go undercover in a circus, and, in the most recent story arc, travel to Germany to investigate mysterious deaths and a cursed forest. Mixing action, drama, and Victorian elegance, Black Butler is a consistently fascinating read.
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Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, by Eiji Otsuka
A quintet of recent graduates of a Buddhist college carry out the final wishes of the dead in this ensemble series, but the catch is that the dead are already dead when the story begins. That means this manga is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart; Otsuka gleefully depicts rotting corpses in all stages of decomposition, and there are some disturbing storylines involving sex and violence as well. However, he also brings sardonic humor and occasional moments of great beauty to this series, which consists of self-contained stories about different “cases.” Some are mysteries, others are touching stories about people and the lives they have lived, and sometimes it gets outlandish (as when the KCDS travels to a rural town that fancies itself a sort of Japanese Roswell to investigate the corpse of a purported space alien). Dark Horse has just started republishing the earlier volumes as three-in-one omnibus editions, meaning you get a lot of death and dark humor in every book.
Showa, by Shigeru Mizuki
Shigeru Mizuki was born in 1922, four years before the Showa era began, and he died a few weeks ago, over 25 years after it ended. In this series he blends the larger events of history—economic turmoil, war, political movements—with a more personal account of his own life, growing up in a rural village and later as a soldier in World War II. As in his other works, Mizuki contrasts meticulously drawn, photo-referenced backgrounds with a cartoony, expressive characters, including the narrator, Rat Man. It takes a little getting used to, but it’s a powerful tool for breathing life into what would otherwise be a dry recitation of events. This series won the 2015 Eisner Award for the Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia, as well as numerous awards in Japan.
What’s your favorite ongoing manga?