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Manga

How we fell in love with manga

We share how we came to discover and appreciate Japanese comics.

All loves start somewhere. Many people can tell you early stories about how they came to love games, movies, and other interests as kids, and comics are no exception. Today we’re talking specifically about manga, and how our staff members came to discover and love it. There are some common series across their accounts, as well as some more niche picks. Here’s what we had to say:

Eric Cline:

Though I loved comics from the time I first learned to read, I mostly only read American comics as a kid. The first manga I ever read was probably volume one of Naruto in late middle school or early high school, but I didn’t continue on with the series at the time. I didn’t really read manga regularly at all until a couple of years ago. The opportunity arose to review some series that looked interesting to me, and I quickly began consuming way more Japanese comics than I used to. It didn’t take long for me to read just as many manga series as I did western superhero titles, and now manga is almost all I ever read.

Kodansha Comics

The two main series I would credit as being my first loves in manga are No. 6 and Museum. They’re about as different as two comics could be, but they both utilize the medium effectively to tell unique stories that hit upon niches I really love.

Ryousuke Tomoe’s Museum, published in English by Kodansha Comics, is a demented horror-thriller. It stars a young cop on the hunt for a serial killer who commits his crimes while wearing a rain jacket and a frog mask. The design is striking, as are his actions. He “punishes” his victims by killing them in ways that correspond to what he perceives as having been their sins in life. The manga is equal parts creative and unsettling, and the thriller pacing is top-notch. In terms of suspense horror, comics don’t get much better than this.

Atsuko Asano and Hinoki Kino’s No. 6, also published by Kodansha, is a dystopian sci-fi romance. It stars Shion and Rat, a pair of young men fighting against the supposedly utopian city No. 6. The story channels both corrupt government vibes and unexpected fantasy twists, along with one of the most tense and poignant love stories I’ve ever seen. Rat and Shion’s previous walks of life couldn’t have been more dramatically different, and a lot of the character drama comes from the friction between their opposing philosophies and their deep care for one another.

These two series, with their sheer excellence at delivering two very different types of stories, showed me just how worthwhile it was to read comics outside of the American mainstream. At this point I can’t see myself ever not being a huge manga fan. I also recently resumed reading Naruto. I just finished power-reading all 700 chapters in three months, and I’m cursing myself for not doing so sooner.

David Brooke:

I started reading comics when I was about 9 and became more and more invested in the medium as the years went on. Manga was never something I knew about mostly because it wasn’t available in my hometown bookstores and comic shops. The idea of reading manga became of more interest to me though once I started running out of classic American comic book stories to read. A visual medium like American comics but all new stories? Sign me up. It wasn’t until high school that I started to get heavily interested in movies and that’s where Akira came along. The anime was adult, well-done, and captivating. It was short though and didn’t seem to tell the whole story. I had to read the manga.

Recently repurchased the Kodansha rerelease (somebody stole my original 6 volumes!)

Coincidentally the Akira manga series was being re-released in a larger paperback format in 2000 by Dark Horse Comics with a new translation too. Even though the volumes came out only every few months I was purchasing them the day of release. Each volume was consumed quickly, making the wait for the subsequent volumes quite a bore. Akira is such a fantastic manga and a great one to start with for American comics readers in part because its layout design is similar to American comics, but also due to the highly detailed art. It’s a series I think anyone can enjoy even if you’re not a comic book or manga reader.

I followed that up by buying every copy of Lone Wolf and Cub available. The gritty samurai tale was similar in its graphic violence, but it was a shorter chapter-based series that’s akin to most manga series. As the years went on series like Death Note and Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka became favorites I go back to often.

Having grown up in the late ’80s into the ’90s I didn’t have the opportunity to find manga on bookshelves as much as kids do today. With anime and various outlets to see Japanese stories usually adapted from manga, kids today have many more options.

Trevor Richardson:

Viz Media

I can’t remember what order I read these in, but I remember regular trips to Borders (R.I.P.) for the latest volumes of Naruto and Fruits Basket, which I read simultaneously. In both cases, I watched the anime first, seeing Naruto on Toonami and watching Furuba (the show’s nickname) on YouTube back when you had to watch each episode in three parts. I loved the action and world-building of Naruto and the humor and pathos of Furuba. When it would get closer to Christmas I would usually ask for multiple volumes at once, though I’d still knock them all out in one sitting.

In middle school I also burned through Death Note and let me tell you, every single twist and turn and outwitting had me shook. I had never read anything that felt as smart as Death Note did when it came to characters planning eight steps ahead of one another. One of my “friends” completely spoiled a couple major deaths in the series, but even knowing those endings never took away from how exciting the plot was leading up to those moments.

I got back into manga fairly recently and I have My Hero Academia to blame for that. Given how much I love MHA and gobble up queer YA series, I think the circle has come back around. Gimme that good shonen action in some series, fluffy pathos in others. My ravenous consumption of Golden Kamuy doesn’t really fit into the equation as well, but you know…beefcake.

James Sainte-Claire:

Viz Media

I was really into comics as a teenager, and I got to know the guy behind the counter at my friendly neighborhood comic shop pretty well because of it. I wouldn’t say we were friends, but he was sharp and attentive, the kind of guy who would read Previews from cover to cover every month and really understood what was going on.

As I started high school I started reading less mainstream titles, and in particular I was really into Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise; there just weren’t a lot of comics like it at the time. One day as we were discussing it at the register, the comic shop employee suggested I head over to the back issue bins and look for a title called Maison Ikkoku and said that if I was into the romcom stuff I’d probably enjoy it.

Rumiko Takahashi is about as great an introduction to manga as a person can ask for. She’s one of the few manga artists in the Eisner Hall of Fame and she absolutely deserves it. I fell in love with Maison Ikkoku almost immediately. Not only was it funny, but it had heart and relatable characters. Godai was kind of a loser and Kyoko was kind of pain in the ass but you were rooting for them right from the beginning. Before long I was buying the collected editions, and when I had caught up to the most recent one I started buying Ranma 1/2, too.

Nowadays I’ve mostly moved my manga collection to digital instead of physical, but the one thing I hung on to is that original set of Maison Ikkoku collections I assembled throughout high school and eventually college. I don’t think I’d be a manga fan without it, and even though I’ve read hundreds of manga and a lot of them have been wonderful, Rumiko Takahashi’s work will always be special to me.

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