By Deb Aoki
2011 was a mixed bag for manga: TokyoPop closed their North American operations and so did Borders Books and Music, but it was also the year when more publishers than ever made the move to digital publishing. Things are changing and changing in a big way – but one thing remained constant: there was a lot of great manga for almost every reader released in 2011.
I made my picks for the best of 2011, and so did the critics -- but what are your favorite new manga of the year?
About.com readers were asked to nominate their favorites, then vote for the best of the best in 10 categories. So which titles came out on top? Here are the results:
With a very entertaining anime series to boost its profile with fans, and a fun, exciting storyline to keep them coming back for more, Blue Exorcist emerged as the clear front-runner in the Best New Manga poll, handily beating out critics' faves like A Bride's Story and The Drops of God.
Scrappy Rin Okumura and his studious twin brother Yukio both grew up under the care of Father Fujimoto. But at age 15, Rin discovers a secret: he’s the half-human/half-demon son of Satan. After a brush with his father, Rin vows to fight evil by becoming an exorcist.
Besides taking top honors as the overall favorite new manga of 2011, Blue Exorcist also garnered the most votes as the Best New Shonen Manga of the year. With Kazue Kato's detailed artwork, memorable characters, and her story's exciting mix of action, humor and supernatural intrigue, it's little wonder that this series has already earned the loyalty of shonen manga fans.
Author and Artist: Naoko Takeuchi
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Compare prices for Sailor Moon Vol. 1
After many years of being an out-of-print classic, Sailor Moon returned in 2011, and fans old and new rejoiced.
Usagi Tsukino is a spunky and slightly ditzy teenager. But what she's about to find out is that she has a destiny to fulfill that will see her reunite her with friends and her true love from another lifetime. You see, Usagi is Sailor Moon, guardian of truth, love and light. With the help of her fellow Sailor Scouts, she'll try her best to protect Earth from the evil forces that want to plunge mankind into darkness.
Author and Artist: CLAMP
Publisher: VIZ Big / VIZ Media
Compare prices for X Vol. 1
Originally published by VIZ as X 1999 in the Animerica magazine days back in the early 1990's, X is back -- this time as double-sized, deluxe volumes for CLAMP fans who love its mix of sci-fi/fantasy action and drama.
Years ago, Kamui Shiro left Tokyo after the tragic death of his mother, leaving his close friends Kotori and her brother Fuma behind. Now back in Tokyo, Kamui reunites with his childhood friends, but he's dark and moody; a very different person than they remember. Little do the siblings know that Kamui is at the center of an epic battle that threatens to destroy the world.
Author and Artist: Kaoru Mori
Publisher: Yen Press
Compare prices for A Bride's Story Vol. 1
From the creator of Emma comes a story set in a place far from Victorian England. This time, the action takes place in the Middle East, circa mid-19th century. The "bride" of A Bride's Story is Amira, a young woman who has been sent to a neighboring village to marry Karluk, a young man who, at 12 years of age, is 8 years her junior. While her new family and young husband accept Amira, circumstances have changed back home, so her brother has been sent to annul the marriage and bring his sister back, by force if necessary.
Author and Artist: Masashi Tanaka
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Compare prices for Gon Vol. 1
Shh. Don't tell Gon that dinosaurs are extinct, and don't underestimate him. This pint-sized dinosaur packs a mean punch! In these finely-rendered but wordless adventures, Gon encounters grizzly bears, cougars, eagles and many other critters who are many times his size, and leaves them quivering in his wake.
This is the third time around for Gon, as this all-ages series was published by DC's Paradox Press and later CMX Manga in the past, but thanks to Kodansha, it's back for another chance to win the hearts of animal-lovers of all ages.
Author and Artist: Kazuma Kodaka
Publisher: June Manga / Digital Manga Publishing
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Border, the latest series from Kazuma Kodaka gave fans the cute guys, heart-wrenching drama, hot love scenes with a dash of humor that made Kizuna and Bad Teacher's Equation fan-faves. So little wonder that it claimed the most votes in the Best New Yaoi (Boys' Love) Manga poll. In this series, Yamato and his band of misfit detectives use some, (ahem) unconventional methods to solve cases.
Author and Artist: Natsume Ono
Publisher: VIZ Signature / VIZ Media
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2011 was definitely a big year if you're a Natsume Ono fan. Besides releasing some of her most recent series, House of Five Leaves, Ristorante Paradiso and Gente, VIZ Media also released some of her earliest works too: Not Simple, Tesoro, and La Quinta Camera.
Like Gente and Ristorante Paradiso, La Quinta Camera is set in Italy, a land that is close to her heart. This slice-of-life one-shot is set in an apartment building where four single men reside, and follows what happens when a fifth man moves in.
Author and Artist: Jiro Taniguchi
Publisher: Fanfare - Ponent Mon
Compare prices for A Zoo in Winter
From the creator of award-winning graphic novels for grown-ups like The Walking Man and A Distant Neighborhood comes a semi-autobiographical story about a young man making his way in Tokyo as he struggles to make a name for himself as a manga artist. His journey of self-discovery happens during the late 1960's, which was also a time of social and creative change in Japan, and Taniguchi gives readers of glimpse of bohemian life at this pivotal moment in Japan's recent history.
Author and Artist: Avi Arad, Junichi Fujisaku
Artist: YaSung Ko
Publisher: Yen Press
Compare prices for The Innocent
The Innocent brings together a multi-national creative team: Israel-born/American and former Marvel Comics honcho Avi Arad with Japanese and Korean comics talent for a one-shot action/adventure story about a man seeking vengeance from the afterlife.
Ash is a detective who was executed when he was wrongly accused of crimes he didn't commit. He's given a second chance at life, and is charged with helping other innocents who are in danger. But is revenge more important to Ash than redemption?
Author and Artist: Fumiyo Kouno
Publisher: Futabasha / JManga.com
Read To All Corners of the World Vol. 1 on JManga.com
When JManga.com debuted in August 2011, one of the stand-out releases was this historical/slice-of-life story from the creator of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms.
Suzu is a young girl growing up in pre-war Hiroshima. She loves to draw and is a bit of a daydreamer, but things get real enough when Suzu marries a young man who lives in a nearby town. Kouno uses this ordinary life to illustrate the sacrifices that everyday people made during wartime, and hint that darker days are on the horizon.
The nominees for each category were selected from the titles nominated by About.com readers in January - February 2012. The qualifying titles that received the most nominations were selected as finalists. Remember, only titles that made their North American debut in 2011 were eligible to be nominated for the 2012 Manga Readers' Choice Awards.
Check out last year's winners in the 2011 Manga Readers' Choice Awards.
Also, check out the other winners in the About.com Readers' Choice Awards, including the About.com Anime Readers' Choice Awards.