Manga is such an important part of Japanese popular culture and every year sees an almost infinite amount of new titles and releases. But which ones stood out in 2013? We asked the Manga Night team for their picks.
Each of the Manga Night writers chose a manga that they wanted to introduce to overseas readers. Their criteria were the artistic merits of the manga and whether it conveyed a sense of Japanese culture.
What were the ten manga that made the biggest impression on you in 2013?
‘Aoi Uroko to Suna no Machi’ (Yoko Komori)
This manga brilliantly features adorable characters and is very finely drawn. It feels like it stands somewhere between a picture book and a shojo manga. But far from relying only on its characters, what really stands out about the manga are its densely depicted backgrounds that evoke a real sense of the life and locale. The scenery, with its idiosyncratic milieu, plays the function of smoothly interweaving the fantasy of a mermaid and the story of a student who transfers schools and lives with his parents. Komori presents a world that you can find only in this comic. (Koichi Ikeda)
‘Anone’ (Machiko Kyo)
It feels like the dream I had that night when I had finished reading ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ in my teens had become real. Filled with blank spaces, the style of ‘Anone’ is a light, minimal one. Its red and black binding, meanwhile, is reminiscent of ‘Mein Kampf’. The story traces the journey from living in hiding to a concentration camp, and the exchanges that take place in the shut-up space between Taro and Hanako, who recall Adolph and Anne. It depicts youthful stargazing and the feeling of being unable to escape the parental yoke, as well as the cruelty that comes from not being able to understand people’s pain. The story being told here is essentially that of adolescence, seasoned with social transitions. The manga is like the very mental landscape unfolding inside the young female protagonist. (Rakuchu-rakugai)
‘Tsukikage Baby’ (Yuki Kodama)
This manga portrays the love, friendship and secrets in a town that preserves the Owara traditional dance and music festival. With its dialect and rows of old houses, the Yatsuo region in Toyama Prefecture is full of color and a richly Japanese aura. The cover design for the manga is also very elaborate and designed beautifully on the back with the lyrics from the Owara dance. The depiction of the details is deft, such as the hats worn during the dance that hide the facial expressions of the performer, creating an intriguing drama. The attention to food also leaves a strong impression on the reader, such as when coffee is spilt during an unexpected encounter with the protagonist’s uncle, or the sandwich that the heroine eats. Far from being just another Boy-Meets-Girl manga, we look forward to seeing how the story develops. (kuu)
‘Bungo no shokusai’ (Original Story: Atsushi Mibu; Art: Kei Honatsu)
If you know someone famous goes to a certain restaurant it tends to make you think that the food must be good. We live in a world today where many of us want to be in the same space or experience the same tastes as someone we admire. This manga takes for its aperture the unusual theme of the food culture of post-Meiji period literary figures, such as Osamu Dazai, Ryunosuke Akatagawa and Kafu Nagai. These nationally famous writers lived a mere 100 years ago but do we know what they ate? This manga offers us glimpses. Many of the restaurants they patronized still exist and it’s interesting to re-trace their steps. And it truly demonstrates the appeal of manga how you can see what cannot be shown by photos, these literary greats tucking into a meal! Also look out for Soseki Natsume, Shiki Masaoka and Ichiyo Higuchi. (029*83)
‘Sono otoko, amatou ni tsuki’ (Une histoire d’un amateur de friandises) (Emu Esuto)
The manga of Jiro Taniguchi is highly acclaimed in France because they are very similar to bande dessinée, which are realistically drawn and with little over-decoration. As part of that pedigree I would like to introduce Emu Esuto. Fundamentally, Esuto writes ensemble love stories in a naturalistic style, though sometimes she also writes surreal gag manga in a realistic style. The manga is about hotshot lawyer Jean Louis who lives in Paris. At first glance he looks like a perfect gentleman, but his weakness is chocolate. The cover expresses this peculiar mismatch with the gentleman hiding his favourite chocolate in his inside suit pocket. The cover is also semi-transparent, with a gold foil band and flyleaf paper patterns. Its binding resembles the packaging of chocolate you might find on a shop shelf, showing that this really is a manga that is very particular about the details. (Kazunari Ota)
‘Kageki shojo’ (Kumiko Saiki)
No doubt about it, 2013 was another year in which young girls really competed against each other to hit the big time. This comic has such a pastel color “Harajuku kawaii”-ness about it you might expect a unicorn to appear on the cover. This story of adolescence is set in an opera school with an earnest but innocent girl and a determined former aidoru both aiming to be top of the class. Every scene conveys the sparkling dedication and innocence of teenaged shojo today. It would be interesting to put the young girls who make such a splash this year up against these kageki (“radical”) girls. (kukurer)
‘Boku wa mondai arimasen’ (Natsujike Miyazaki)
This writer is a genius. Everything about this is just brilliant, from the pictures to the title, the dialogue and all the details. Please completely immerse yourself in this uniquely Miyazaki world. It just feels so good! What’s it about? Well, in a word, it’s a story about love. (Yumi Iwasaki)
‘Sayonara sorushie’ (Bon au revoir, Sorcier) (Hozumi)
This manga portrays the lives of painter Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo, and its style is, well, like a picture. Vincent van Gogh’s work was not valued in his day and Theo was just said to be someone who supported his older brother. Against these commonly held beliefs, Hozumi’s manga sets up a bold fictional interpretation which is a real page-turner, while also simultaneously making you think about what is “work” itself. It depicts how Theo wanted to be a painter but couldn’t, and the troubles he had while living side by side with his more talented brother. Through these two contrasting brothers, the manga-ka is asking if it possible to make a place for yourself in this situation. (bookish)
‘Meshibana keiji tachibana’ (Original Story: Sahee Satado; Art: Tori Tabii)
Another fantastic example of a “gourmet manga”, it features a group of useless detectives and their particular taste for second-rate eateries and cuisine from chain restaurants, bento and so on. What’s great here is that the story isn’t limited just to the Tokyo area but follows the cops around the unique restaurants and cultures of regional Japan. What kind of person could be as knowledgeable about fast food as this writer?! (Masanori Honda)
‘Mashiro no oto’ (Marimo Ragawa)
This is the story of a young tsugaru shamisen performer who is blessed with great musical talent, but whose chaste personality stops him from going out into the outside world. Influenced by the people around him, he gradually comes round to interacting with society. The females who do their bit to encourage the boy include everyone from children to old women. (Yasuhiro Yamauchi)
Finally, what manga are you looking forward to for 2014?
We are looking forward to seeing how two things develop their activities with sound. The first is Domix, which is working to expand the possibilities for electronic comics that come with sound and voices, though in a different way to anime.
The other is a more analog approach. Mieru Record with OTOWA turns the white paper strip used in a music box into a manga. You wind the music box like a mechanical organ to play the sound and at the same time read the manga that is gradually revealed, with the speed at which you listen to the music in time with the pace at which you read.