It was a difficult thing, but we narrowed down our favorite U.S. manga releases from 2018. Let us know yours!
Best New Manga
Jean is a charming detective that keeps his own council as the territories dabble in a coup d’etat. Jean’s motivation and role in this story is slowly teased out to great effect.
Natsume Ono gives the same attention to conspiracies as she does to sandwich breads in winning combination.
Wakako-zake by Chie Shinkyu From simple joys like fried chicken and rolled omlette, to unsual sights like monkfish foie gras and grilled turban shell, Wakako takes pleasure in all ends of the culinary spectrum.
Short chapters burst with meticulously drawn food and Wakako’s wide-eyed reactions. A contented “PSHEWWW” often escapes her lips (and mine) as she enjoys her after work restaurant jaunts.
Again!! by Mitsurou Kubo What if one of the main creators of Yuri!!! on Ice created their own version of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches but swapped out time travel for magical kiss powers and made the story about 10% more serious. This gives you a very good idea what Again!! is like.
Again is a fantastic story where a misanthropic boy who just graduated. but if filled with regrets, is transported back to the first day of High School alongside bratty princess to their first day of High School. The eventually decide to start putting right what once went wrong at their school with a very dysfunctional Oendan team and the very awkward captain. The main problem is Kinichirou is horrible when dealing with other people and Akira is horrifically self-absorbed. The other problem is the seemingly well-adjusted people they are trying to help are just as messed up as they are. Just in different ways.
It is a great series with wonderfully expressive art, great comedy, and solid drama. If you Yuri!!! on Ice, Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, or Orange you definitely want to try this out.
Seven Shakespeares by Harold Sakuishi When I saw Harold Sakuishi at NYCC in 2018 it was clear from the questions he got almost everyone knows him as the author of Beck. I bucked the trend and while being a fan of the Beck manga I asked questions about Seven Shakespeares. I admit that there are several worlds of difference between the two series so there is no guaranteed overlap in the fandoms of the two series I find both of them equally compelling. I also find it awesome that the person who created a series about the modern Japanese rock scene could also write a piece of Elizabethan historical fiction with equal skill. That is definitely some impressive range.
Taking on the Bard of Avon is not something you do casually. He is one of the most well know authors in history so adding him to a piece of fiction is both tempting and foolhardy. Making him the main character of your story doubly so. A manga doing so is either very confident or terribly foolhardy. Thankfully Harold Sakuishi has the skills to pull it off.
It is also worth noting the secondary protagonist of the series is a woman named Li who lives in the English Chinatown. I’m fairly certain most people would not guess that a series like Seven Shakespeares would deal with the Chinese immigrant population in Elizabethan England but it does. That alone makes it worth checking out.
I do feel like this series has a bit of a niche appeal to fans of historical manga so I can’t see this as a title everyone needs to read. Thankfully it is available digitally so you can easily sample it as see if it tickles your fancy. I think you might be very pleasantly surprised. Remember, “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
Best Ongoing Manga
The Promised Neverland by Posuka Demizu and Kaiu Shirai I have to assume that Posuka Demizu and Kaiu Shirai have some pretty damning blackmail information on someone at Shonen Jump because it is the only reason I could see that the magazine infamous for running popular series into the ground would ever let something like The Promised Neverland announce it is ending with only something like 11 books currently under its belt. As far as I can tell the series is only growing in popularity so it is not like it is ending because the fans have grown tired of the story.
The last year of story has taken the premise and gone is some exciting and intriguing directions. While the initial arc to escape the orphanage was tense and engrossing the places Emma has gone since then have only built on the initial strengths of the series. The Promised Neverland has gained a bit more action and adventure while keeping the more cerebral cat and mouse aspects of the first arc.
For a story as strong as this to get an ending green light when it could be dragged on for several more arcs for must be either a miracle or a piece of art done by a team that is strong enough to convince their editors that they can quit while their ahead and simply move on to their next success. I think the strength of this years story lines convince me it is the former and not the latter.
JoJolion by Hirohiko Araki JoJolion reminds me a lot of Diamond Is Unbreakable when it comes to structure. Both of them start off in strange little towns in Japan, they meander around with a plot that only truly reveals itself as the story goes on. So far JoJolion is keeping you guessing about the main antagonist. There is clearly a plot with Josuke Higashikata’s memories, the Rokakaka Fruit, and the enigmatic Rock Humans are all part of a larger plot that has yet to fully reveal itself. But so far the story has done an excellent job of keeping the story engaging while keeping some key plot elements hidden. The fights with the Rock Humans have been strong and exciting and have let Josuke and Yasuho show off their abilities. Also everything surrounding Jobin has been fascinating since it is very clear that Hirohiko Araki want to keep his status as a hero or villain very vague. I think much of the series will depend on how strong those hidden elements turn out to be but so far it is a fascinating journey to get to that point.
Arte by Kei Ookubo Set in 1700s Italy, Arte is a manga that displays exquisite attention to the details of life, architecture, and history. Aspiring painter Arte’s serendipitous meeting with Master Leo and subsequent apprenticeship is a bit of dumb luck that Arte has to capitalize on. As a noble woman, her entering the life of an artist is unprecedented but she is determined to prove herself and gain respect in a world that doesn’t accept her.
The Morose Mononokean by Kiri Wazawa Like many great yokai manga, we are treated to tender portraits that lean towards melancholy as we come to understand the yokai and their past connections. Abeno and Ashiya bring these stories to light, help the yokai move on, and sometimes get embroiled in a bigger problem than they thought. Ashiya’s naive kindheartedness and Abeno’s terse attitude make them a great duo.
As the series progresses, it is clear that the yokai world holds many secrets, Abeno’s past is a mysterious one, and Ashiya possesses powers which need explanation.
Natsume Ono Her simple designs and sparse approached to paneling belies complex characters and plots. Modern to historical, all of her series are filled with a sense of atmosphere and dynamic personalities.
Haruko Ichikawa I’m fairly certain Haruko Ichikawa comes off to anyone as a normal person. I’m sure she is a lovely lady. Her manga is bathed in an empathy and complexity that make me want to believe she is a kind and clever person. The thing is I’m guessing you could come away from a casual conversation with someone like Eiichiro Oda or Miki Yoshikawa and unless you hit the right topic of conversation you could easily assume they could be your neighbor or coworker. On the other hand if someone had a conversation with a writer like Hirohiko Araki or Haruko Ichikawa I would be very surprised if they came away thinking they are a regular bloke. While it might make being their friend or relative a bit challenging it also makes for some wonderful manga.
Haruko Ichikawa’s manga has the feel of a modern take on a 70’s shoujo series. The look, themes, and style of art and storytelling all feel like a bit of a throwback while still feeling very modern. At times she feel like a lost Forty-Niner and other times she is unmistakably contemporary. Her building of the world of Land of the Lustrous is deliberate and detailed while being organic and well paced. And the world of Land of the Lustrous is quite alien and unqiue so it can’t rely on similar series to do the heavy lifting.
Also she really likes drawing butts. I mean in the Arco Wada could and her could talk into the wee hours discussing the glory of posteriors. That is not really what elevates her work to high art but it is defining enough that I thought I should mention it.
The real interesting part comes from the fact that her manga has so many levels. There is the simple surface layer of fantasy adventure that works very well. It is a good mix of adventure, mystery, and wonder with a dash of thoughtfulness to make it feel more than just fun fluff. If you enjoy her work on that simple level that is great. But if you dig deeper you will find layers of religious and secular philosophy that are the core of her work. Concepts like the Seven Treasures of Buddhism, the number 108, and the Ship of Theseus are all intricately woven into the DNA of the story without ever explicitly calling attention to themselves. There are some amazing depths to Land of the Lustrous if you want to dig deep and start taking things apart.
Best Manga That Should Get an Anime
Atelier of Witch Hat by Kamome Shirahama Atelier of Witch Hat really has two elements that make it ideal for an anime adaptation. First of all it has a very unqiue fantasy world. While there are lots of series that a society of wizards that have to remain hidden from the mundane masses the world of Atelier of Witch Hat is neither fully in the urban fantasy nor the Harry Potter mold. The magical systems, history, characters, and general world design simultaneously feel familiar and yet unqiue. Atelier of Witch Hat invokes a feel of previous popular works while not seeming like a carbon copy of something that is popular. The second is its illustrated fairy tale style is begging to be animated. The pages of the manga feel like the pages of a wonderfully detailed picture book of some grand fantasy story. While it look wonderful when it is static it could truly be a masterpiece with a loving animation team.
It would be a great substitute for more episodes of The Ancient Magus’ Bride if done by the right studio while finding its own audience thanks to its abundance to style. It is a series that is magical in more ways than one.
Shojo Fight by Yowoko Nihonbashi Shojo Fight hits a lot of classic sports tropes and does them justice. Neri is having trouble moving past an unexpected death in her life. Her grief has driven a wedge between Neri and volleyball, Neri and her friends, Neri and herself. Just as she starts reconnecting, a fateful meeting with a coach gives her the final push she needs. Shojo Fight also stands out for its bold lines and character designs.