In some ways, 2008 was a rough year for U.S. manga publishers. The slumping economy forced several companies to layoff staff, cut their schedules, and one closed up shop. But there were also many bright spots, with the return of Slam Dunk and Black Jack, and the arrival of hotly-anticipated series like Gantz and Real. Avant-garde and classic manga also made a small but notable showing in '08.
So here's my picks for the Best New Manga of 2008, and my choices for Best Continuing Manga of 2008. Got your own choices? Sound off in the forums and share your favorites or stay tuned for the 2008 readers' polls!
Publisher: VIZ Signature VIZ Media (US)
Visit VIZ Media's Real page
Read a review of Real Volume 1
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A thug, a cancer survivor and a high school student left paralyzed from an accident; three young men who have one thing in common: a burning passion for basketball. But Real is about more than just sports -- it's filled with human drama, humor and true-to-life characters who struggle to transcend their physical and emotional limitations.
Real is a story by a manga-ka at the height of his storytelling abilities. Gorgeous art, nuanced character development and of course, exciting sports action all come together in one unbeatable manga that rose above the rest in 2008.
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Visit Random House's Fairy Tail page
Read a review of Fairy Tail Volume 1
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In a world where wizards are celebrities, the magical mavericks of the Fairy Tail guild are a rowdy, rag-tag gang who cheerfully bend the rules as they take on odd jobs and miscellaneous missions for pay. Monsters, magic and mayhem are featured on every page of Fairy Tail, making it one of the most exuberantly enjoyable shonen manga debuts this year.
Del Rey Manga released the first two volumes of Fairy Tail simultaneously, and gave fans a one-two punch of manga fun. With each new volume, Fairy Tail has proved to be a series worth picking up and sticking with.
Publisher: Shojo Beat / VIZ Media
Visit VIZ Media's High School Debut page
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Haruna is a tomboy who wants to find a boyfriend in high school. Trouble is, she has no sense of fashion and is a total dating dunce. After several failures, Haruna asks the hunkiest guy in school to be her dating coach. He agrees, as long as she doesn't fall for him.
In a genre that is rife with tired plot clichés, Kawahara managed to create something rare and wonderful: a truly fresh, funny and heart-felt shojo manga series with a quirky couple who just get more endearing with each volume.
Visit VIZ Media's Black Lagoon page
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Filled with big guns, tough gals, high-octane action and international intrigue, Black Lagoon blasted onto the scene like a manga version of a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster.
Black Lagoon is a modern pirate fantasy for grown-ups, featuring a frustrated Japanese salaryman who leaves a 9-to-5 grind for life as a mercenary courier. With its United Nations of loveable lowlifes and fast-paced plot twists, Black Lagoon is rip-roaring thrill-ride that's witty enough to not take itself too seriously.
Publisher: Dark Horse Manga
Visit Dark Horse's Gantz page
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Two high school students meet a grisly end when they get hit by a subway train -- or do they? They find themselves in a room with other recently deceased people and a mysterious black orb that has recruited them to play a dangerous game: they must hunt and kill aliens.
With its over-the-top violence, Gantz gained a cult following long before it came to the U.S. Thankfully, Dark Horse had the cohones to publish it in all of its uncensored glory so fans could experience this story with all of the blood, guts, nudity and bizarre twists that make it a jaw-dropping read.
Visit VIZ Media's Honey and Clover page
Read a review of Honey and Clover Volume 1
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While it's featured in Shojo Beat, Honey and Clover is essentially a josei manga story that's told from its male characters' point of view... and what characters they are! True to its art school setting, Honey and Clover is filled with eccentric twenty-somethings who fall in and out of love while trying to survive those 'starving student' college years.
With its quirky humor and offbeat art, Honey and Clover is not everyone's cup of tea. Nevertheless, it emerged as the clear winner in this small, but growing segment of manga for grown-ups published in America.
Publisher: Shonen Jump / VIZ Media
Visit VIZ Media's COWA! page
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From the creator of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z comes a cute and funny one-shot about a vampire/were-koala boy, his ghost pal and former sumo wrestler who are sent on a mission to get a cure for the monster flu that has stricken their hometown.
With its cast of monster kids who act like kids, some goofy gags and a few fight scenes tossed in to keep things lively, this all-ages manga is clever and charming enough to entertain adults as well as younger readers.
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Visit Random House's Yokaiden page
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Hamachi is a good-natured boy who is more fascinated than frightened by yokai, or Japanese monsters. But when a yokai steals his grandmother's soul, Hamachi embarks on a journey to the supernatural realm to save her.
Yokaiden was originally scheduled to be published in Summer 2008, but from the looks of things, the few extra months paid off as creator Nina Matsumoto delivered a well-crafted monster manga story that is chock-full of clever pop-culture-infused twists and smart, sassy dialogue.
Publisher: Pantheon Graphic Novels
Visit Pantheon's Bat-Manga! page
Read a review of Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan
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Long before most American comics fans ever heard about manga, the editors of Shonen King magazine got 8-Man creator Jiro Kuwata to create a Japanese version of the Caped Crusader's adventures. But after the TV show left the airwaves, this cross-cultural comics creation faded from memory.
Thanks to collectors Chip Kidd and Saul Ferris, these long-forgotten stories were gathered, photographed and presented in a classy art book that's both a labor of love and a retro blast of Batmania as seen through Japanese eyes.
Publisher: VIZ Signature / VIZ Media
Visit VIZ Media's Solanin page
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After graduating from college, two twenty-somethings try to reconcile their youthful dreams with the crushing mediocrity of their post-graduation adult lives. A fateful event forces ex-office worker Meiko out of her lethargy, and prods her into trying to accomplish something more meaningful with her life than just getting by.
A slice-of-life story that mixes emo introspection with some stunning artwork and relatable drama, Solanin is a satisfying one-shot that proves that manga for grown-ups can be smart and sensitive without being profane.