It was a difficult thing, but we narrowed down our favorite U.S. manga releases from 2017. Let us know yours!
Best New Manga
Each character (cell) is bold in their depiction and each is sooo serious about their job. But I guess they have to be to keep this blundering human alive! From getting the flu to the creation of cancer cells to seasonal allergies to getting a blood transfusion, the fun never stops.
All of this is weathered with a big dose of humor. The jokes, reactions, rivalries, team-ups, and just general eccentricities of these characters (cells) makes every chapter a hilarious and educational romp.
Cells at Work! is a unique and charming manga that I’d never seen before. And just this month it was announced that Cells at Work! will be getting an anime. I hope this brings loads more people to the series.
Real Girl by Mao Nanami Nerd boy meets real girl and together they navigate the ups and downs of love. In this opposites attract scenario, the series steers away from putting its characters into boxes. This is especially true with Iroha who has past relationship experience, a rare thing for a girl romantic lead.
The depth and sincerity of the romance in Real Girl is endearing. Mao Nanami strikes so many great notes in her sweet portrait of two people falling in love, one of who happens to be an otaku.
This series wraps up with volume 12, coming out in February. But I won’t have to miss it for long since it will be getting an anime very soon!
The Black Museum: The Ghost and the Lady by Kazuhiro Fujita When Florence Nightingale appeared in Fate/Grand Order lots of fans seemed perplexed by her portrayal in the game. They expected a gentle healing Caster that kissed people’s wounds and told the pain to fly away. In fact, they assumed that the pink haired lady with a white crown would be Nightingale when it eventually turned out she was Medb. Instead, they got a gung-ho Berserker drawn by Jormugand’s Keitarou Takahashi that was adept at healing but also was a no-nonsense tough as nails combat medic. It turns out that her portrayal in the game was heavily influenced by a single manga. That manga is The Black Museum: The Ghost and the Lady.
If you have been on this site long enough you know that we really loved Le Chevalier D’Eon. It was a great series that mixed historical fiction with fantasy. I love stories that mix historical characters real with the fantastical elements of the time. I think if the gameplay was more my style could really get into the Assassin’s Creed games. The story combines the famous story of the mother of modern nursing and the legend of the Man in Grey of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It is a clever combination that adds a bit of Homunculus to spice things up.
The core of series is the relationship of Florence Nightingale and the Man in Gray. They have a lively relationship that really grows both of them as characters. Considering Gray is an old ghost who is impossibly set in his ways this is no small feat. At the same time, the setting is informative and fascinating. The horrific conditions that Nightingale is forced to work in at the start almost seem more inhuman and insane than the conflicts going on around her. The addition of the supernatural angle is merely a pleasant spice to an already great dish.
The series is also only two thick volumes long. It a world of sprawling epic likes One Piece, Detective Conan, and Boys Over Flowers it is nice to be able to sit down and get a full and rich story that you can read in a single day with only minimal effort. You get a nice chunk of Nightingale ‘s life with Gray and hits lots of her early days in nursing especially in Crimea. This lets you feel as if you read the equivalent of a long movie without the story ever dragging or wearing out its welcome. If anything you might only curse that it is not longer.
It goes without saying that I would love to see an anime adaptation of this manga but I figured I would stoplight another series there and let The Ghost and the Lady winning this prize mostly speak for itself.
The Promised Neverland by Posuka Demizu and Kaiu Shirai As of late Shonen Jump is in search of a new hit. With Naruto and Bleach out of the magazine, they seem in constant search of new titles to fill those coveted blockbuster spots. One Piece is still going strong and My Hero Academia is doing a good deal of heavy lifting but there is still a void of mega-hits outside of them. I have a feeling The Promised Neverland will never fill that hole but it has a much more interesting legacy to step into. I think The Promised Neverland fills the role of the next Death Note for the magazine. It will never be the merchandise machine that Naruto is but a title that feels different from the normal fare in Shonen Jump and can bring in a different audience than the more conventional titles as well as appealing to the traditional fanbase.
The Promised Neverland distinctly has that cat and mouse psychological thriller that you might usually see in a seinen magazine with a bit more of all ages bent. That said this is still a series where man-eating demons often kill and consume their adolescent prey. Sometimes on-screen. It places it somewhere between One Piece and anything Go Nagai on the sliding scale of disturbing shonen violence.
That is what I think makes it a successor to Death Note. It feels a bit more daring than most of the other titles in the magazine while still being firmly in the demographic. Also, the Promised Neverland feels a bit smarter. While strategy and cunning often play a part in sport and fighting shows it feels a bit simpler than the more Machiavellian mental chess matches in something like The Promised Neverland. Also, there is often a bit more on the line. Overall it seems a nice transition into more mature titles while still being a good fit for the magazine.
I have a feeling The Promised Neverland is going to be one of those titles that goes under most people radars until it gets an anime. Then I expect to explode like Attack on Titan. If you’re not reading it I think you should at least keep your eyes on the series.
Best Ongoing Manga
JoJolion by Hirohiko Araki JoJolion is a bit of an odd duck in the greater JoJo’s cannon in the same way that Diamond Is Unbreakable was. So far there is no clear ultimate antagonist, the stakes are high but a bit unclear, and the end game of the story is a bit murky. But much like Diamond Is Unbreakable is feel like the primary draw is discovering that is going on in the town. If anything Diamond Is Unbreakable may have tipped its hand too quickly with Kira and Araki has realized sometimes teasing out the mastermind is something you can do for great effect without losing your audience before then. So far JoJolion has kept the story engaging and tense without putting all of its cards on the table.
That said JoJolion has done a good job of keeping the story exciting and mysterious so far with the Rock Human antagonists. They are a bizarre bunch that feel slightly different from the standard stand users but still tap into the great Jojo’s formula. Dolomite and Urban Guerrilla both had a great sense of tension when they confronted Josuke and Yasuho. They are good fights that reveal just enough information so that the plot always feels like it is moving forward.
I would also like to mention that the recent She Saw story arc really helped show that Yasuhois vitally important to the story and not just a sidekick or support character for Josuke. I really felt like she was on the borderline between being a main heroine and just a love interest with a lot of screen time and this was a vital push in the right direction.
I am really interested to see where the story goes from here. Wherever it goes you know it will be bizarre.
Space Brothers by Chuuya Koyama There was a time when Space Brothers was the constant talk of the town when it came to stories for adults. But that slowly stopped once the anime went off the air. It was not that people stopped loving the adventures of Mutta Nanba. It is more that any manga without an anime loses some traction with fans. That is a real shame because the story has remained consistently strong, moving, and inspiring since the manga has continued.
Mutta’s trip to the moon feels like the emotional climax of the story. For the longest time everything has been building up to Mutta finally realizing his dream of exploring space and he is finally doing it. At the same time the story is tying in all of the other storylines in both subtle and dynamic ways. Chuuya Koyama does a great job with tension in the mission. It seems far more leisurely and character based than anything before it. There are these moments when you think they are going to hit a disaster but things actually gets solved with a bit of humor and ingenuity. When the real disaster hits you have been lulled into sweet sense of security so it hits really hard. Brilliant timing.
It is simple. If you stop with the story of Space Brothers when the anime ended now is the time to start reading.
Barakamon by Satsuki Yoshino This series has been consistently at the top of my reading list. The story developments in the volumes from 2017 were some of the biggest and most crucial for Handa’s future.
Satsuki Yoshino has a firm hold on when the story needs to be wacky, needs to be serious, and needs to just be. More than just an eccentric comedy in the idyllic countryside, Barakamon is full of life-affirming spirit.
What started out as a beautiful story of friendship and romance has developed into a thoughtful look into navigating life changing decisions as the end of high school approaches. The friendships and love have only gotten deeper and more true as the real world starts closing in.
I’m going to be very sad to say goodbye to these characters in just a couple more volumes.
Akiko Higashimura As a prolific manga-ka who works on multiple series, she is extremely focused. Watching her work (check out her YT channel!) is impressive. More than that though, Akiko Higashimura consistently feels like she is looking directly into my awkward soul whether through her nerds in Princess Jellyfish or her not-adults in Tarareba Girls. I look forward to seeing many more of her stories in English in the future.
Eiichiro Oda I know that Kate will tell you that Oda has gone on hiatus but that is just her wearing her homicidal hatred of Sanji on her sleeve. It turns out that he is still writing manga and it is very good. This current Whole Cake Island Arc has been an interesting ride which has a great mixture of comedy, adventure, and drama. Sanji has always been one of the more flat characters so a some added depth really helps make him more than just the lecherous cook. Plus they have been hinting that there he had some major secrets for years now so it is nice to see some of those checks have finally been cashed.
It was also interesting to see the return of Capone Bege. It was always clear that he would come back but it is super surprising that he is a reluctant ally. From his first appearance you would naturally assume he would be a major antagonist or at least the ally of a major villain. It is the sort of mix-up that makes Oda manga worth reading.
I have been really enjoying Carrot as a temporary crew member. She does not seem like someone who is going to stick around but she has a great dynamic with the crew and really adds a good bit of goofy humor as well as a nice bit of firepower. Much like Marguerite I will be sad to see her go but I will appreciate the time we had with her.
Oda really wins this spot barbecue after two decades of writing manga he is still able to surprise his audience while tying together the many plot lines built up over the hundreds of chapters of the series filled with foreshadowing for most of the major reveals. Amazing.
Best Manga That Should Get an Anime
Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura I have to say part of me is always perplexed that Vinland Saga has never gotten an anime. It really seems like a prime candidate because it seems to have all that you would want for an anime. It is a great historical setting that has action, intrigue, and a merciless quest for revenge. It has all the flashy fights for simple entertainment but also enough meaty story surrounding it that it does not feel like total cotton candy. Plus the viking setting is not touched enough in anime and manga that it feels fresh and different.
My only theory is that they are waiting for the manga to be near completion before they green light the anime so they can run the whole story without interruption. If that is the case then all we can do is wait.
Kigurumi Guardians by Lily Hoshino This manga is such a “this could only happen in manga setup” which makes it absolutely perfect. Magical guardians. Giant-sized stuffed animal mascots. Beautiful and clandestine student council president. Hyper-sexual transformations. Villains from another dimension stealing hearts.
This series is at turns delightful, strange, funny, familiar, unique, and bizarrely accepted by the cast in such a way that I also embrace it.