I didn’t read as many comics as I usually do this year. However, I did read a lot of manga and as such, I would like to present to you my The 15 Best Manga Series of 2016. Let’s take a look at some of best series released over here in America from last year.
As always, a disclaimer: This is all just personal opinion and what I think is good may not reflect or match up with what you think is good. So if a favorite manga of yours is not on the list (like Attack on Titan, One-Punch Man, or Vinland Saga), there’s no reason to get upset. Also, this list is based on what I enjoyed the most this year. There are series out there, or even some on this list, which may be better than some of my choices here, but that’s not how I decided things.
Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma: 2016 was a heck of a year for Food Wars! as the main and supporting characters fought to stay in their school during its new, “perfect cooking” regime. Enemies everywhere, tough head-to-head shokugekis, character development and revelations, and more–it was a wild ride to say the least and a lot of fun to read. It just misses out on the list due to there being several other great titles this year and unfortunately dragging its feet on a few storylines.
One Piece: 2015 was a pretty weak year for One Piece overall due to dragging out the Dressrosa story arc, and the following one involving Zou didn’t do much for me either. This year was a huge turnaround though, as the main characters finally went directly into the belly of the beast by taking on one of the Four Emperors, Big Mom, in order to rescue Sanji, who has been reunited with his family… which is a whole other can of worms. It was a very exciting year for the series overall and this probably would be #16 on my list if I had to give it a number.
Tomie: One of the final series to come out this year, Viz Media brought us the complete Tomie collection. Every story involving the maddening, hypnotizingly beautiful monster known as Tomie was released and it was a pretty good set of stories. This is easily some of Junji Ito’s best, most consistently well written material, even more than stuff like Uzumaki and Gyo. It’s also pretty good in the sense of being able to see him grow and develop as a storyteller and artist, watching his style evolve over time in one book. The entire series of stories may have been worthy of being in the Top 15, but they were all released several years ago at some other point in English, so they miss out. Still, if you’re a fan of Ito, definitely a book to check out.
And now, let us begin…
15. Fire Force by Atsushi Ohkubo
A relatively new series that only has one volume currently out, Fire Force was a title that really surprised me in the best of ways. It’s very much a typical Shonen style action series with elements that I’ve seen in other series plenty of times before. However, its execution, writing, and artwork all really come together in a great way here, making for a very entertaining series so far. It’s a familiar, but solid premise about a special and quirky firefighting squad tasked with taking out fire demons essentially. Due to the creator’s previous experience with the big hit that was Soul Eater, this is really right up his alley and delivers a truly solid beginning from what I’ve seen so far. Hopefully next year, we’ll see series come back again next if it continues to remain a blast.
14. Red Sprite by Tomohiro Yagi
Now this was a sad situation. Like Fire Force, Red Sprite is a series with a lot of familiar elements in its storytelling, characters, and setup. A series about a young boy and his ragtag group of outcasts who steal a government’s flying war machine, determined to find lost friends and establish their own home, it’s definitely made of pieces and parts of other stories. However, also like Fire Force, it’s executed very well. It has very fun characters, intimidating villains, a great sense of adventure, exciting action, and really great looking artwork. I was hoping for a long journey with this title when Weekly Shonen Jump picked it up, but alas, it was cancelled by the fifteenth chapter. Unlike a lot of series that ended or got cancelled this year, Red Sprite at least managed to close out on a good note and for that, it easily earned its spot on this list.
13. Inuyashiki by Hiroya Oku
Inuyashiki was certainly an interesting series this year. The third volume felt very disconnected from the rest of the series, while the other two volumes really delved into the depths of the villain and showing us how cold he is, how he operates, and yet he still does feel some attachments to the world. It’s hard to fully describe other than saying the creator has really made this villain far more interesting than he has any right to possibly be. And that is a good summary of Inuyashiki in 2016, it’s a series that’s better than it has any right to be, especially after the creator’s last series, Gantz. Oku creates very strong and well-written lead characters, with stunning artwork that can capture emotion and intense action so well. There are certainly problems to it, but Inuyashiki has become one of the most engaging mangas I’ve read and I’m extremely eager to see more next year.
12. Master Keaton by Hokusei Katsushika, Takashi Nagasaki, and Naoki Urasawa
Master Keaton has been an enjoyable series as well. Focusing on Taichi Hiraga-Keaton, a man of English and Japanese heritage, and his family, the series is about the adventures and situations he gets into as insurance investigator, former solider, and archeology professor on the side. Every chapter, with few exceptions, is an one-shot story about something he got drawn into. It can be from his perspective, his family’s, or a character the story is surrounding and the stories can about almost anything, like helping a forger escape from the mob, three young boy detectives trying to solve a case Keaton is investigating, or a story about an artifact’s curse. There’s a lot of variety in what the series can be about, from fun journeys to really personal, human tales. Its only weaknesses are in the quality of the stories, their execution, and usually being limited by being a one-shot story They ultimately keep the series at thirteen on the list, but it’s still a manga to give a shot.
11. Cells At Work! by Akane Shimizu
Of the new series I got to read this year, this is perhaps one of the most creative. Cells At Work! is a series focusing on personified cells and how they work within your body to keep it healthy and safe. The series centers around a female Red Blood Cell and male White Blood Cell as they do their jobs, encounter viruses and bacteria, and deal with the various conditions the body experiences. There’s no overarching story as of the first two volumes, but the manga makes up for it by having really enjoyable characters, fun storylines and interesting takes on human and cellular functions, and having a good sense of humor and occasional drama. This is a series that got me emotionally attached to blood cells and made me sympathetic to cancer cells and that’s saying something. With dumbed down, but fairly accurate science, Cells At Work was a series that came later in the year but I loved every moment of it.
10. I am a Hero by Kengo Hanazawa
There are tons of zombie series out there these days that tend to blur together after a while. I am a Hero is the exception. Easily one of the best debuts this year and keeping that quality with each volume, I Am a Hero tells a slow moving story about a man with psychological issues during a zombie outbreak. The main character is not exactly perfect by any means nor is he a typical protagonist, but he’s so incredibly written and fascinating to read about as he struggles to survive this world. The pacing is slow, but the buildup to when things go to hell is so rewarding and feels very realistic. The zombies themselves are really extremely intriuging–both super durable as well as having echoes of their former selves in their actions and things they moan out. Combined with great art, this is one of the most thoroughly engaging character pieces I’ve read this year. This could totally a top 5 title if not for Dark Horse’s stupid decision to make the collected editions smaller and thus, cropping the top and bottom of each page. It takes away from the great artwork and it makes absolutely no sense why the company would do such a thing.
9. Happiness by Shuzo Oshimi
It’s hard to know where to exactly start talking about Happiness, especially when we’re this early into the series and its slow burn approach. The series has a very familiar premise that’s been in a lot of vampire/monster themed series in the past: the main character gets attacked and bitten and slowly becomes more and more like a monster. However, there’s just something about how this series is told that makes it so engrossing and so eerie at the same time. It’s a slow-moving story, but its slow-pace makes things so effectively chilling as we read about the lead slowly losing himself while trying to have a normal life. A life that could easily fall a part in a single second if he loses it and the way the book paces itself and reveals things just keeps you on the hook the entire time. I don’t fully know how to accurately describe it at times, but this is easily the best horror manga of 2016 and one of the better debuts in general.
8. Rose Guns Days: Seasons One and Two by Ryukishi07, Soichiro, and Nana Natsunishi
Given that creator of this series, Ryukishi07, has really only ever done horror and mystery series, an alternative history drama set in Japan after WWII with America and China occupying most of the country is a bit of an unusual choice. However, Rose Guns Days: Seasons One and Two proved to be a solid, enjoyable tale. Season One wrapped up this year with Rose and her team fighting to lead her people into the future against a man with equally held ideals and beliefs. The creator did a fantastic job of writing Rose, showing her grow and develop as a leader, one who finally had to make difficult decisions and bloody her hands. The same held true with the villains, who were equally well-written and developed to the point where it wasn’t too hard to sympathize or understand where they came from. The climax was nearly perfect and did almost everything right in my mind. Season Two has only just begun currently, but it is off to a solid start with new characters and an interesting conflict between the Japanese and Chinese that may lead to a small war within the small district the series takes place in. I’ve come to really enjoy this series and I’m excited to see where the rest of Season Two leads me.
7. Nisekoi: False Love by Naoshi Komi
In Japan, there were quite a few series that came to an end this year. Kochikame, a series that was running since 1976, finished up. Bleach ended as did Toriko. Billy Bat from Naoki Urasawa, My Love Story!! after the creation of a successful anime, Blood Lad (which we reviewed the anime for), and another further down on this list all came to an end as well. Of the series that I read that ended, Nisekoi: False Love was the best in my opinion, having a truly spectacular year. This is a series that’s been really dragging its feet for a while with the reveal of who the main character was in love with and who he made the promise with as a child. This year, the series wrapped all of that up, including several subplots and character arcs in a great way. Everything felt right and hit the right emotional note to make each reveal and moment so strong, including the revelation of who made the promise and the final confession. It just all came together so well and if you haven’t read it yet, I won’t dare try ruining it for you. I loved every moment of the series and while it may have dragged on at certain points during the end, I have to give it this spot on the list. This was easily the best series conclusion I read this year.
6. Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano
If I had to pick the hardest comic or manga to read for this year, Goodnight Punpun would win it by a country mile. This is a coming-of-age story about a boy who goes from a wide-eyed, quirky youth to a depressed, very dreary and dark young man. A series where we see how sad, ugly events in a person’s life can really corrupt and destroy a human being, leaving them no longer the same in only a few years or months. It’s a series that can be surreal, extremely human, and devastating in so many ways that I could never really recommend it to someone if they are not in the right state of mind. But, as I said, it’s a fascinating experience that really gets under your skin and just makes you think, reflect on your life and the people around you. Have you or those around you experienced the things Punpun has and how have they shaped you? Its brutal, almost unrelenting nature at times can make it hard to read, but I would completely be lying if I didn’t name this one of the most powerful series of 2016, for either comics or manga.
5. The Promised Neverland by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu
Like in 2015, Weekly Shonen Jump continued to publish Jump Start titles throughout the months to see how the English audience reacted to them and if they were worth picking up. The Promised Neverland was one of those titles and ended up being a big surprise hit for the online magazine and for the year in general. It’s about a bunch of young children having to figure out a way to escape from their orphanage before they’re shipped off by their “mother” to become food for these frightful, horrifying monsters. It’s a game of cat and mouse as the kids need to stay one step ahead of their mother and soon, her new assistant and find a way to escape. It’s an intriguing story for sure, combined with strong characterization and tense storytelling that leaves me wanting the next chapter every week. In a way, it reminds me of Death Note, in that it is a battle of the minds and wits, but with fewer discussions of morality. Of all the new series that debuted in America this year, this was the clear winner and I look forward to what new horrors await it in the coming year.
4. Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches by Miki Yoshikawa
When writing the part for Nisekoi, I really wanted to say that it was the best romantic comedy of the year. However, Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches easily took that title and ran several spots ahead on the list. While Nisekoi definitely had the emotional element down perfectly, Yamada-kun was able to do everything and do it well. It had a solid romance blooming between Yamada and Shiraishi in all of the books released this year and it resulted in them becoming a couple at the very end (it’s so rare to see a couple forming in the middle of a story and not at the end). The comedy was top-notch with many great interactions and humorous bits with every member of the cast. There was a decent mystery with the secret of the witches and final witch herself. The manga had dramatic moments that were well-executed and really struck a cord with me, especially when everyone lost their memories of Yamada. Everything about this series this year was great and if the series ended half-way through Volume 11, it would have been perfect. However, the series does continue on from here and I have no idea where things could go given what happened, so here’s hoping the series continues to be good in this new year.
3. A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ōima
In some ways, Goodnight Punpun and A Silent Voice had similar elements: they’re both very dramatic slice-of-life stories about characters with troubled pasts and histories that keep seeming to tie them down and prevent them from moving forward. There are incredibly powerful moments and not just with the lead characters either, but with the entire supporting cast. However, while Goodnight Punpun stays depressing and actively at times works to avoid moving towards the light, A Silent Voice doesn’t.
If you want pure, powerful, heartbreaking, down to earth emotions and characters struggling, this is by far one of the most poignant mangas of the past few years. In the final three volumes released this year, we got to see the main characters develop and start overcoming their own internal problems, even after tragedy strikes and bridges are burned. We got insight into the minds and pasts of the supporting cast, seeing how they got to where they are, what kind of people they are, and how they are growing from everything that has happened (besides Miki Kawai, who really hasn’t learned a damn thing). The artwork is just perfect in capturing all the small moments and every bit of drama perfectly, just hitting you in the right area every time. Even more than my coming two choices, this is a series that must be read at least once in your life. If you are even the slightest fan of manga or have a passing curiosity in reading some the medium, A Silent Voice is a series that you must try.
2. My Hero Academia by Kōhei Horikoshi
If there was one series I read in Weekly Shonen Jump this entire year that almost always left me excited or wanting more, My Hero Academia was the clear answer. My favorite manga and favorite series in general for 2015, 2016 has been an even better year in terms of story for the series. We had a summer training camp arc interrupted by a bunch of villains, All Might and All-For-One squaring off for the final time, the series hitting its 100th chapter, everyone working to get their hero license and some not succeeding, and a fight between Midoriya and Bakugo to end the year. It was one hell of an exciting ride with plenty of things I just did not seeing coming at all.
And to top it all off, the writing and artwork were just stellar. Absolutely wonderful characters with loads of personality and depth to them, great and memorable villains, intense and exciting action scenes, and providing both solid comedy and drama overall. The artwork was just as energetic and exciting as could be, the design and creativity in characters’ outfits and looks were fantastic, and there was a great sense of flow and movement in the fighting. This is easily the second best superhero series of the year, whether it be in comics or manga (Tomasi and Gleason’s Superman was superior), and I loved almost every moment of it. But despite all of that, it did not take first place on my list. Instead, it went to…
1. Assassination Classroom by Yūsei Matsui
Looking back on it, my top three manga series of 2016 were the same titles that were the highest-ranking manga series in for Top 30 Series of 2015 list. This year though, what was originally the third best and had now become number one: Assassination Classroom. In Japan, this series came to a close, but I know next to nothing about what happens. My choice is based on the volumes that came out in America, Volumes 8 through 13, and it was a great set of books. This is the year where there was tons of character and story development and it feels like there’s been real progress and growth.
Outside of Koro-Sensei, who at least remains a fun and entertaining character, just about every character within E-Class had some development or saw them reach a certain point. Everyone, even people who were just background characters or haven’t done much in a very long time, was given a little bit of growth or moment to show how far they come. There were many fun chapters developing individual characters, good mini-arcs involving confrontations with Class A and higher ups, and intense arcs involving extremely dangerous villains that pushed everyone to their limit and allowed unexpected characters to really step up. Everything was so much fun and just plain exciting. This was by no means the deepest or most emotionally gripping series of 2016. However, for a series that did just about everything it was attempting to do right, while also providing an extremely engaging and entertaining experience, there was no better manga in 2016 than Assassination Classroom.