Sunday, August 21, 2005

A (Perhaps Unnecessary) Guide To Current Popular Manga

I think that perhaps a problem some people have in getting into manga is that they do not know what the manga titles are ABOUT.

We generally do a good job keeping people abreast about popular current comic works, but not so much with manga.

So I present to you this guide to the five hottest current (and I mean CURRENT, as ICv2 just released the latest sales figures this morning!!) Manga series in America.

(Titles arranged in order of most popular to least, based on sales figures as of late July 2005)

1. The Fruits Basket series

This comic is HUGE. I mean, HUGE.

It is one of those series that just somehow connects to the zeitgeist, because in July, the English translation of Volume 11 of the series took the #1 spot on the sales charts. Guess what book it replaced?

Volume 10.

Which replaced?

Volume 9.


Anyhow, Fruits Basket is the brainchild of writer/artist, Natsuki Takaya. This has been her most successful series to date.

The series is about a teenage girl, Tohru Honda, who is orphaned and goes to live with her grandparents, but while waiting for her grandparents' house is built, she stays with the mysterious Sohma family, who Tohru discovers have been cursed with the following problem - when any member of the family is hugged by someone of the opposite sex, they transform into an animal from the Chinese Zodiac!!!

Normally, they would just wipe her memory, Zatanna-style, but she convinces them to let her become their housekeeper, and the premise of the series is that the Sohmas become Tohru's surrogate family (and perhaps a love connection) while she provides them a connection to the normal human world, with the threat always that Akito, the head of the family, will determine her memory must be erased.

Here's a page from the series, demonstrating just how Tohru works to bring the family out of their lull (the page is courtesy of Tokyopop's profile page on the series. Remember, it is manga, so it must be read from right to left!).

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For extra fun, here is one of those quizzes about "Which Fruits Basket character are you?"

I got Ayame, the oldest brother...hehe.

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2. The Tsubasa:Reservoir Chronicle series

This series has been running in Japan in the popular Shonen anthology. It is the work of the popular CLAMP writing team (which is currently made up of four women, Ageha Ohkawa, Mokona, Tsubaki Nekoi and Satsuki Igarashi. The group once had FIFTEEN members!!).

The series is about a young princess names Sakura who exhibits weird powers, including visions. She is in love with an archaelogist named Syaoran (her friend since childhood), but when she visits him at a dig, she discovers a symbol on one of the ruins which triggers her powers and causes her to grow wings...and her wings explode and send many pieces of her wings to different dimensions.

The problem is, those pieces of her "wings" were actually her soul and memories, and without them, she will die.

Therefore, Syaoran must travel to the other dimensions with Sakura to collect the pieces. To help him on this quest is Kurogane, a disgraced ninja and Fai D. Flowright, an exiled magician.

To begin the quest, though, all must pay for the ability to travel dimensions with the thing most dear to them. In Syaoran and Sakura's case, it is their love.

If he manages to COMPLETE his mission, and save her life, she will not love him when he returns.

That's pretty cool, no?

Of course, while they are trying to find the wing pieces, they get into other adventures, writing wrongs they come across.

The series crosses over quite often with another of CLAMP's comics, XXXHOLiC, which is a magic series.

Here is a pic of the three guys (the latest release here is Volume 6, by Del Rey)...

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3. The Full Metal Alchemist series

If it were not for Fruits Basket, Full Metal Alchemist would definitely be the American Manga hit of 2005, as Volume 1 is going to be the highest-selling graphic novel of the year, even more than Dark Horse's Star Wars Episode III adaptation!

A top-selling comic book, a popular Anime series, a video game and a move release, Full Metal Alchemist must be having...THE BEST WEEK EVER!

The comic comes from writer/artist Hiromu Arakawa, who hit the limelight with her award-winning debut, Stray Dog, in 1999.

Full Metal Alchemist stars two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who are, well, alchemists.

They controversially try to revive their dead mother through alchemy (human transformations are seriously frowned upon), but fall afoul of the number one rule of alchemy - the Equivalent Exchange.

The Exchange basically states that you don't get anything for free in alchemy, for everything you get, you must give something in return.

So, in their (failed) attempt to bring their mother back to life, Alphonse loses his body and Edward loses an arm and a leg.

Edward's great skills saves Alphonse's soul, though, but Alphonse becomes ties to a giant suit of armor that belonged to the boys' father (who deserted the family when they were infants).

Edward got metal replacements for his legs, and goes to work as a State Alchemist, under the codename Full Metal Alchemist (because of his arm and leg).

The brothers strive to find the Philosopher's Stone, the one artifact that will allow them to bypass the Exchange, and get Alphonse his body back and Edward his arm and leg.

Meanwhile, of course, there are adventures to be had as Alchemists fighting crime in the city, using Ed's alchemy powers and Alphonse's super strong armored body!

Here's a picture of the brothers from the cover of Volume 1 (Alphonse is, of course, the big metal guy...Ed is the other one...hehe).

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4. The Rurouni Kenshin series

This work, by writer/artist Nobuhiro Watsuki (the first male creator to appear on this list, which is interesting, no?), is about a famous samurai assassin named Himura Kenshin, who, ten years earlier, had killed the former leader of the era, ushering in a new political landscape.

Now, ten years later, he is hounded by people either wanting him to kill for them, or people who want to kill him for his past deeds. Meanwhile, he is haunted by all the killing he has done, and just wants to atone for his sins.

That is hard to do, when each volume has a new bad guy coming to kill him (which, let's be honest, does get kinda repetitive, as Rurouni Kenshin is now at Volume 16 in America).

Here's a nice computer wallpaper showing you a sample of the style of art for the series...

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Also, don't forget the "Which Rorouni Kenshin character are you?" quiz!

I got...

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5. The Inu Yasha series

Inu Yasha is the most recent work by Rumiko Takahashi, the most successful female writer in manga history (and one of the richest women in Japan period).

The American series is up to Volume 22, but still sells quite well.

The story is a straightforward one.

High school student Kagome Higurashi is sent back into the past by a demon. Once there, she comes across a half man/half demon named Inu Yasha, who was wounded by his love, Kikyo, when he tried to steal the Jewel of Four Souls (which gives the possessor great power) from her.

Years later, an evil demon (the one who brought Kagome to the past) gained possession of the Jewel, so Kikyo's sister determined that she had to revive Inu Yasha to stop the demon.

In the battle, the Jewel was scattered across the world.

Now, Kagome and Inu Yasha must travel around to collect the slivers of the Jewel.

The story details the adventures they have and all the people they come across on their journey - some friends, some enemies!

The art is very nice. Here is a pin-up of the two lead characters...

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Well, I hope that one of these five series sounds like your cuppa!

They all should be on sale at your local bookstore!

Read More


Blogger Michael said...

Hahahahahahahaha! You're Kaoru.

For the record, I don't think Kenshin actually killed the previous leader of Japan, as there was no previous leader, but rather a collection of feudal warlords. The side Kenshin fought for actually restored the Imperial system.

Also, you left out the most important element of the series: the sakabato, Kenshin's reversed-blade sword that allows him to use his skills without killing.

8/21/2005 05:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, none of these really sound all that interesting at all. I might be more inclined to check one out, though, if I didn't have to look at manga art.

Really, that's the trouble with manga.

It's manga.


8/21/2005 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Full Metal Alchemist sounds kinda neat, because alchemy is always a cool subject. Still, I'm not a big fan of the usual style of manga art.

It's not that I don't appreciate the huge and supposedly awesome Japanese comic industry, but it's like a whole 'nother animal. I've still much to explore in the American realm!

Plus I can't train myself to read right-to-left. I just can't.

8/21/2005 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Fair enough, Dan.

If it doesn't sound any good, then by all means, I would not expect you to pursue it!

8/21/2005 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

I've never heard of any of these.

My brother, who is big into manga, really likes this Naruto series. When I was at SDCC, I saw TONS of kids dressed up as characters from Naruto.

8/21/2005 08:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Vernieda said...

Naruto is the manga that the current generation of fans practically grew up with, so it's safe to say that it currently has the largest fandom. Which is why you'll see lots of people cosplaying.

8/22/2005 07:54:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

Naruto is an incredible manga, you can download every installment the week it comes out in Japan. I've currently read up to Chapter 253. It has all the crazy action of an American Superhero comic but with a lot of emotional depth and maturity (meaning it has emotional resonance without having to take itself too seriously and be too adult and gritty).

Once you get a slideshow viewing program, you can download at

8/22/2005 07:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Inuyasha guide is way off. I imagine your using something Viz said and their release of the manga is pretty bad.

First up, Kagome's a junior high student (in Japan, Junior high tends to go from 7-9 grades. Kagome is a 9th grader).

Second, Kagome was pulled into the past by a creature that has nothing to do with the main villain. She awakened Inuyasha to defeat this creature. And Kikyo's sister was very much against Inuyasha being re-awakened.

As far as the art, yeah, it starts out a little on the ugly side (maybe Takahashi lost a little practice in between the end of Ranma 1/2 and the start of Inuyasha) but it does become very good. Too bad the english edition is published flipped, in which the art is reversed to read left to right. The series often makes a pretty big deal about this (Kikyo is supposed to shoot Inuyasha in the heart but in Viz's release, she nails the wrong side for this) and characters where this is important (such as Miroku) are now cursed on the left arm instead of the right.

Good series but of all those on the list, this one got the worst in terms of the American release.

- Kevinroc

8/23/2005 04:09:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Yeah, I am going by the Viz copies.

Did they botch the translations?

That is awfully lame.

8/23/2005 05:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, besides Kagome's grade (which I can't remember exactly what Viz stated) the rest of what Kevinroc says is in the Viz release of the manga...

- Vikram

8/23/2005 10:10:00 PM  
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