I recently ventured into the very loud universe of manga and boy it tends to be overwhelming! So little time, so much to discover, so many big mouths and super intense eyes to stare at… Luckily I found someone older and wiser who operates her very own manga library in Brussels, Barbara Bruni from Kokoro Manga, and asked her where beginners like me should start. This is the list she came up with:
(Also, here is some manga for beginners knowledge.)
AKIRA – Katsuhiro Otomo
For fans of Mad Max and other “the world is destroyed, so now what?” kind of stories.
This eighties manga series is actually one of the first works that was translated into English, introducing manga to an international audience, and counts as one of the big classics. Set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic Tokyo, it relates how a mishmash of characters, including a teenage bike gang chief, a revolutionary fighter and a military leader work together in order to prevent a telekinetic teen to further destroy the city. Even worst: this foe intends to use his powers to awaken the mysterious “Akira”, a creature who was responsible for ravaging the city in the first place, years before our story starts.
ASSASINATION CLASSROOM – Yūsei Matsui
For Tarantino- and happy ketchup lovers.
Imagine your class teacher being an extremely powerful and evil monster intended on destroying the planet. That’s exactly what happens to the pupils of class 3-E at Kunugigaoka High School, whose new teacher appears to be the cheerful alien Koro-sensei, already responsible for the destruction of the moon and claiming planet earth will be next. He teaches them regular courses, but also how to grow into skilled assassins, while Japanese secret services offer them an enormous reward for taking him out. Problem is, this proves to be a near impossible task as he is so damn almighty. Things get even more complicated as Koro-sensei actually proves to be a great tutor and some kids even grow to like him –if only his mind wasn’t so set on destroying them all…
CHI – Konami Kanata
For hangover days and those who have a really hard time to focus. In fact, you could even read it to your kid.
Probably the best one to start manga: Chi is an adorable little kitten that loses its mom in the local park and gets adopted by a little boy called Yohei. The series follows its cute adventures around humans and in the wild and that is that: naïve, super cute and nicely sarcastic.
ANOTHER – Yukito Ayatsuji
If you like ghost stories and mysteries.
After a popular girl named Misaki dies in 1972, her teachers and classmates all pretend she is still alive, leading to mysterious events at Yomiyama North Middle School. Years later, in 1998, new kid Koichi Sakakibara transfers into class 3-3, her former class, and realizes a mysterious curse leads his classmates towards a gruesome death, one by one. He tries to resolve the mystery, as well as score some points with his crush Mei Misaki, the beautiful and distant student all the others, including the grownups, seem to ignore. In fact, they don’t even seem to notice her. Who is she, and what is causing all these deaths?!? (You can watch the anime version of this series on Netflix by the way.)
FAIRY TAIL – Hiro Mashima
If you like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, are secretly into prince Eric from The Little Mermaid and read your babysit kid’s fairy tale books once they’re sound asleep, please go ahead:
The story is set in the world of Earth-land, populated by wizards good and bad, dragons and their slayers, talking cats, knights and other fairy tale-ish creatures. It focuses on the adventures of young wizard Natsu Dragneel, member of the honorable Fairy Tail guild, his celestial wizard friend Lucy Heartfilia and his talking cat Happy. Alongside other members of the guild, they battle dark wizards, criminals and ancient demons alike. As I said, you will need a dose of vivid imagination for this one.
ONE PIECE – Eiichiro Oda
Funny pirate alert.
Another classic. One Piece follows the path of a teenager called Monkey D. Luffy, whose body became as flexible as rubber after he accidentally ate a supernatural fruit. Apparently, this also sparks a thirst for adventure, as he sets off traveling the seven seas in search of a mythical treasure, gathering a merry band of pirates along the way. Absurd, adventurous, comedic and very entertaining: Jack Sparrow meets Mister Fantastic! The manga is very popular with teens all over the world.
BLACK BUTLER – Yana Toboso
Imagine pairing up Sherlock Holmes with the devil himself instead of plain old Dr. Watson. Now thàt is the recipe for some Victorian thrill! Sorry Watson…
Dark and gloomy, that is how this tale starts as thirteen-year-old Ciel Phantomhive is abducted by a mysterious cult after his parents were killed and his childhood home, Phantomhive manor, was set ablaze. His captors intend to sacrifice him to a demon, but instead he turns the creature against them and forms a pact: in exchange for his soul, the demon will help him take revenge on those who hurt his family. Together, with the demon disguised as his butler Sebastien, they return to London to track down Ciel’s enemies while at the same time resolve some mysteries for Queen Victoria –because why wouldn’t they?!
THE DROPS OF GOD – Tadashi Agi
For wine lovers and fans of epic family dramas alike.
Upon the death of his estranged father, a wealthy wine estate owner, Kanzaki Shizuku learns he has to solve thirteen mysteries related to the drink in order to gain access to his heritage. Even worst: he isn’t the only one competing for the huge estate, as his adoptive brother Toomine Issei is also in the running. He sets off on an adventure in a race against the clock, helped by former and new friends, through the universe of fine wines and dramatic family feuds.
Aoi Horus no Hitomi – Chie Inudoh
History lovers, unite!
Okay, so you have to be a fan of ancient Egypt specifically, but this one’s here to show you that many manga often focus on the culture and history of civilizations outside Japan as well. It tells the story of famous Egyptian queen Hatshepsut, from her tomboy childhood to her incredible rise to power. Nicely dramatic and entertaining.
RUROURI KENSHIN – Nobuhiro Watsuki
If you’re into samurai and you know it, clap your hands!
Romance, drama and a lot of fighting in Rurouri Kenshin, the story of a former assassin who vows to protect the people of ancient Japan without ever taken another life again. Of course, his own personal story catches up with him, taking him out of his role of taciturn, wandering swordsman –especially since a long-lost love proves to be alive and kicking and waiting for some dramatic reunion…
(Eternally grateful to Kokoro Manga.)