My 8 Favorite Manga

8 Manga I'm Pretty Fond Of

Probably the first thing that jumps out when you look at the title of this list is that there are less manga here than there are anime on that other list. One might ask "does this mean that manga are worse than anime?" and to that I would say "no, definitely not, hold on a sec and I'll get around to explaining things." The only reason that this list is smaller is simply that I've read less manga than I've watched anime. The fact that I feel confident enough about the medium already to compile a list like this is more a testimony for it than against it. I'm also blowing through manga pretty fast, so it's very likely that this list will expand shortly and I may have to delete this entire introduction. Hopefully I'll just raise my standards. 

Anyways, while I can understand why the two mediums would draw comparisons, the limited amount of manga I've read so far has pretty much convinced me that where anime benefits from color, animation, music and voice acting, manga benefits from having better writing, more creativity, completed stories, and a wider variety of stories. Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? Well, it is. By the time you get to the top of this list we're past even Madoka territory. That's right, I've read a few manga already that have topped even my favorite show ever. 

In other news, all the same stuff applies to this list as to the anime one. These are my opinions, they're extremely personal, they have a lot to do with gut emotional reactions, there are plenty of great manga I didn't put on here just because they weren't special to me, etc. In its purest form this is an exercise in articulating why my favorites are my favorites, and that's about it. Oh, except for fan art. I'm going wild with the fan art here. 

8. Ranma 1/2

Ranma 1/2 is definitely a nostalgia pick. Around the age of 10 I was first introduced to manga, and the one series that our family went out of the way to pick up all 36 volumes of was the series about a gender-swapping martial artist and similarly transforming friends. I've read and re-read every chapter of this story countless times throughout the years, and by the time I was ready to put together this list it had earned itself a spot just through its proximity to my heart and my life. Though the story is perhaps less unique than the other entries on this list and not quite as recommendable, I still pick up a Ranma 1/2 book once in a while so my opinion of it is still fresh and I do believe that there is something remarkable and special about this winding saga. Ranma 1/2 is funny in that way that Japanese media rarely is. It's goofy and quick, its got all manner of effective ongoing and recurring jokes, and it puts its art and style to incredible use in terms of keeping the pacing sharp and snappy, the essential ingredients of any good comedy. Perhaps most impressive is the way that it manages to become gradually more ludicrous over the course of its entire run, offering up legitimate drama to increase the contrast of its tone and highlight its jokes even more while also one-upping itself long into its twilight years by providing exponential amounts of nonsense. On top of this, it has a pretty impressive core of tasteful gender politics, something that in retrospect is surprising to find in a battle harem. subtle in all the right ways, Ranma 1/2 will always entertain.

7. Molester Man

And the award for 'Worst Series Name' goes to Molester Man, with Onani Master Kurosawa by the same artist coming in at a close second. I'm sure the above picture doesn't go a very long way towards convincing anyone that there's a good reason to have this thing on my list either, but bear with me here. I'm honestly not sure if I've come to appreciate Molester Man's sketchy, dirty, unfinished style because the content is so good or because it actually works, but either way I certainly had no gripes. Anyways, why is this here? Well, Molester Man is pretty much the rom-com, up there with stuff like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind competing for the number one spot as stories that manage to be hilarious, moving, painful, important, and adorable all at once by invoking the simple but difficult art of writing characters that feel like real honest-to-God genuine people. It feels like this is how romance actually kinda works: devoid of nonsense like fate or convenience and full of all the tedious difficulty of full conversations and awkward texting and trying to act your best to pretend like you're cooler than you are. Honesty, this felt like a story that was willing to go wherever felt natural, and its protagonist's staggering and necessary growth not only justified the entire story in and of itself but also felt like some of the most earned development the stage of romantic comedies has ever seen. Molester Man isn't interested in all of the synthesized cuteness of John Green novels, it's interested in the very real cuteness that comes from funny people trying to take their lives serious without putting away the fun that makes it all worthwhile.

6. The Flowers of Evil

Remember that time in your life when you had random crushes on people that you barely knew, crushes that developed into near-obsessions for no real discernible reasons? I sure do. I spent most of middle school years having wild one-sided romances with girls I exchanged maybe three or four words with once a week. Eventually I got older and learned that those girls were actually people too, and that there was an option available where I just walked up to them and had conversations, but before that I was stuck in this place of very little meaningful communication, thriving on the words of gossips and acting on social pressure. If you ever had that point in your life, where you felt like all your relationships were non-genuine and you had no idea how to really connect with the people you wanted to care about, you'll find something of yourself in the harsh, isolating world of Flowers of Evil. The Flowers of Evil is really just an excellent story told well; it has a sense of scale and importance most dramas lack, it's not afraid to get grisly and painful which makes its moments of catharsis that much more impactful, and it manages to pull together every single one of its threads into an absolutely magnificent conclusion that's bound to leave you feeling satisfied regardless of your other emotional states.

5. When They Cry

When They Cry is a bit of a medium mess, unfortunately. Both Halves of the story, Higurashi and Umineko, got anime adaptations, but both were regrettably poor. Both also got manga adaptations, with the Umineko manga being, at least in my opinion, a triumph, and the Higurashi one being still inferior to the visual novel. As a result I'd actually recommend the Higurashi visual novel and the Umineko manga, and I put the whole series here pretty much because I didn't know where else to put it. Anyways, When They Cry is pretty much an epic. It may be the largest, most complex interconnected world that anime and manga have to offer, filled with fun, twists, intrigue, and more characters than you can keep track of. It's not a flawless story: the writing itself is often clunky prose, it can sometimes get muddled in the details, and both of the current installments sport different strengths and weaknesses. But in terms of what it actually manages to accomplish, it's pretty much unrivaled. Higurashi is the thriller story, managing to keep you both intrigued and afraid for more hours than you'd think possible and carried by pretty much my favorite ensemble of protagonists from anything. Umineko on the other hand might not have as endearing a cast but it triumphs what is without a doubt the greatest mystery of the medium, keeping on the gas with an endless display of intelligence and cleverness. In fact, it might not even be that there's a problem with the characters: I may have just spent so much time pulling my hair out trying to keep track of all of Umineko's treacherous pieces that I forgot to care about the actual cast. Needless to say, the together the two are a legitimately unique experience, something you're unlikely to find anywhere else and, in my opinion, worth the absolutely absurd amount of time required to complete them.

4. The Voynich Hotel

The Voynich Hotel is an example of one of those stories that's just so thoroughly fresh, innovative, and complete that it feels kinda bulletproof. There's not any one particular part of Voynich that stupefied me; instead, I was just generally drawn in by a story well-told, a story of drama and romance and culture and history all bound together by an incredible surreal-horror atmosphere and a relentless desire to have fun. Full of moving parts and individual character stories that interact and overlap in carefully planned ways and doing most of its world-building and exposition through side-splitting humor that makes the information you're getting feel pretty much self-justified, Voynich is really something to marvel at. Perhaps most notable is the manga's art style, undoubtedly one of the best I've seen. it's fluid and dynamic, cutting cool, simple designs and poses using masterful shading and contrast. Each of the characters feels distinct and relate-able just by looking at them, and once they open their mouths it becomes almost impossible not to feel invested. It's not often that I feel utterly gripped and addicted to something from the start to the finish of any story; even my favorites usually had to earn my attention or pull their parts together to make me become truly invested, and on my first time through masterpieces such as Hunter X Hunter or Aoi Hana there were times when I felt myself willing the story to pull me back in. But Voynich Hotel had my attention from page 1, and it didn't let it go until I had burned through every page it had to offer. That, in my opinion, is a remarkable accomplishment.

3. Aoi Hana

There's a pretty simple explanation for this one: this is kinda just like sorta the best romance story ever told, and serves as the model for my own writing and I guess even my life whenever the matters of the heart are concerned. It's kind of a miracle this exists: gay and lesbian relationships aren't usually treated with a great deal of sincerity in any medium, and when they are they're almost always either very sexualized, wholly concerned with driving home social issues, or both. Aoi Hana is sort of interested in normalizing lesbian relationships, but more than anything it just wants to tell a compelling romance story full of all the cringy, queasy twists and turns that entails and a great deal of excellent character development. It's got great art, expressions, pacing, dialogue, handling of exposition, flashbacks, drama, the whole lot. Honestly, it took me about two whole pages to feel like I was starting something special, and by the end I found myself in that wholly unusual position where I was actually begging the story for a happy ending even if it wasn't as graceful just because I had become so invested in the characters and the unparalleled chemistry crackling between them. It's not that hard for me to get at least mildly invested in characters, but to get me invested in a couple is another feat entirely. Well, Aoi Hana got the job done. This is it, guys. This is that one thing that managed to make me stupidly sappy.

2. Oyasumi Punpun

So, uh, I don't really have any reservations in saying that, in my limited and woefully uninformed opinion, this is the greatest story of all time. It's only number two on this list because I'm counting personal feelings above all else, but even then it could really go either way. Oyasumi Punpun is a honest-to-God fucking masterpiece. I don't even know what kind of mad genius is required to conceive a thing like this and then actually manage to create it, but holy shit guys, it just doesn't really get better. This story is a hard thing to get through. It's brutal, cruel, painful, and vicious. It grinds you down with cycles of failure and collapse and depression and does its best to ruin and defile its characters. It starts out with the thesis of 'life is a fleeting thing marked by moments of catharsis and beauty that keep us able to push onwards despite our inability to ever find true stability or inner peace in a world that is constantly changing and lashing out in its loneliness and indifference towards us,' and then it goes downhill from there. Circumstance spares no one a break: the characters of Punpun are forced to find any tranquility they acquire through their own efforts and decisions, constantly sending them back through the whirlpool to test if they've actually grown at all or if they were simply able to uphold their epiphanies in the moment. It was difficult for me to get through this story. After a certain point I felt like it was actively and successfully attacking everything I believed in, breaking down my confidence in myself and my capacity to be a good person. It emptied me down tot he very bottom of the well, and then it gave me just enough to start to fill myself back up again. Punpun is the sort of story you could live your life by, and part of me feels like even now that's what I'm doing.

1. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

It seems kinda weird to follow up Punpun with anything after talking about it like that, but I like to think of it like this: if Punpun is where I feel like I am right now, Nausicaa is where I want to be. Nausicaa offers legitimate redemption to a broken world, both on an individual level and to the socio-economic problems we have allowed to consume and overrun us. Nausicaa is a story about faith, and God, and people who wield true good in the face of hopelessly complex issues and unspeakable tragedy to find real solutions, not idealistic ones. Just like in Punpun, no one in Nausicaa is spared by convenience. Even the noblest hero must find it in their soul to come to terms with the sin they must incur if they want to protect anything in a world marked by violence, greed, misunderstanding, tradition, and the highest importance placed on capital value. I guess deep down I've always believed it's possible for humanity to break our timeless, endless cycles of self-sabotage and destruction, not because I think it's possible for all of humanity to simultaneously invoke their dormant goodness but because I think the right leadership backed by just enough enlightened like-minded supporters have the capacity to make somewhat utilitarian decisions in order to set the world as a whole on a different track. 

If Punpun stands as a testimony to the truth that all people's lives have value and all people's hearts are capable of the faintest inkling of pure love, Nausicaa stands as a testimony that people are capable of not just enduring, but triumphing, capable of embracing every corner of their essence and striving endlessly to become truly great: to become someone truly worthy of being idolized. In this era we love to be cynical, to call people false idols, to tear down illusions of grandeur and uncover flaws and errors so as to remind ourselves that seeking the very best versions of ourselves is unrealistic and impossible. Nausicaa, both the story and the character, does everything in its power to debunk that. Nausicaa creates someone who, however fictional, I find myself able to really, fully believe in, to hold myself accountable towards, and to challenge myself to become more like. Who doesn't love a good Christ figure? Nausicaa believes that we can reach solutions to staggering inequality, excessive violence, and rampart environmental degradation and destruction if we can find it in ourselves to have a little faith in an unfettered voice championing chaos and mercy.

Maybe I'm just young and naive, but I wanna believe that too. 

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