By Deb Aoki
If 2010 was the year that manga publishers dipped their toes into the digital world, 2011 was the year that many jumped right in. Thanks to tablet computers like the iPad and e-Reader devices like the Kindle and Nook, more and more North American publishers began offering more and more titles in digital formats. 2011 was also the year that TokyoPop ceased their manga publishing operations in North America, and Borders Books & Music closed their doors for good. Meanwhile, JManga.com launched, offering many new titles as digital-only releases, and VIZ unveiled SuBLime Manga, a partnership with Libre to launch several digital only releases.
Digital is becoming a bigger part of the manga landscape in North America, but print is still very much alive and well, as you can see from my 15 picks for 2011's best new manga. Also, check out more new series and one-shots in the 2011 New Manga Gallery.
Also, while you're at it, check out my picks for the Best Continuing Manga of 2011, including my picks for the Worst Manga of the year, and 2011's biggest disappointment.
Author: Tadashi Agi
Artist: Shu Okimoto
Compare prices for The Drops of God Volume 1
As a die-hard foodie/wine lover, I've been eagerly awaiting Vertical's release of The Drops of God since they announced it earlier this year. This double-sized volume certainly delivered, with an engaging and entertaining story about a topic that isn't often depicted in Western comics: wine.
The Drops of God features real wines in a fictional story about Shizuku Kanzaki, a young man whose father was a world-renown wine expert and collector of rare wines. Although he grew up surrounded by wine, Shizuku turned his back on his father's world. But after his father dies, Shizuku discovers that his father has an adopted son, Issei Toomine, a 20-something wine critic on the rise. He also learns that father's will has set forth a challenge for his two sons: they must seek out and correctly identify 13 wines known as the "Twelve Apostles" and the "Les Gouttes de Dieu (Drops of God)." The winner of this globe-trotting competition will take ownership of the elder Kanzaki's vast and extremely valuable collection.
Forget what you think you know about wine -- that it's snobby, obtuse, and unapproachable. Drops of God will get you excited about the world of wine, and have you coming back for more.
Author and Artist: Kaoru Mori
Publisher: Yen Press
Compare prices for A Bride's Story Volume 1
From the creator of Emma comes another lovely story about a strong but gentle heroine set in world that Mori depicts in keenly-observed detail. While its story is not as heart-achingly romantic as Emma, it's still a must-read for anyone who loves impeccably-drawn comics, period.
Instead of the Victorian England of Emma, the setting of The Bride's Story is the Middle East, circa mid-19th century. The "bride" is Amira, a young woman who is a skilled hunter and horsewoman. She 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 with her family back home, so her brother has been sent to annul the marriage and bring her back, by force if necessary.
Author and Artist: Kazue Kato
Publisher: Shonen Jump / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Blue Exorcist Volume 1
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.
When I first heard about Blue Exorcist, I wasn't all that impressed. Boy discovers he's the half-human, half-demon son of Satan, then vows to fight his father by becoming an exorcist? Given how many boy-fights-demon shonen manga series there are out there already, this sounded pretty dreary. But Kazue Kato dispelled these doubts with a beautifully-drawn story, a fully-realized universe of magical places and creatures, terrific action scenes, and most importantly, characters you can't help but love and want to know more about through volume after volume of adventures.
Author and Artist: Naoko Takeuchi
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Compare prices for Sailor Moon Volume 1
I almost feel like I should put quotes around the "new" here, because as everyone knows, Sailor Moon is hardly a new series. However, in the context of 2011, it is new, because this re-issue features a new translation (with the original Japanese names of the characters), newly touched-up art and for the first time ever, its published with its sister series, Codename Sailor V. To tell you the truth, it's new to me, since I'd never read the long out-of-print TokyoPop editions. Yeah, I know. My bad.
Usagi Tsukino is a happy-go-lucky middle school girl who discovers that she has a destiny to fulfill: She is the leader of the group of girls with celestial powers who all lived prior lives as guardians to the royal family of the moon. It's now up to Usagi, a.k.a. Sailor Moon to protect the Earth from the evil servants of the Dark Kingdom.
Author and Artist: Osamu Tezuka
Compare prices for Princess Knight Part 1
Another winner in their excellent line-up of releases by the Godfather of Manga, Vertical's release of Princess Knight gives this iconic gender-bending shojo manga heroine another chance to win the hearts of readers young and old. Yes, the story can seem a little dated and quaint compared to its contemporary counterparts, but it's no less charming and fun to read.
Princess Sapphire is a girl who has been raised as a boy in order to protect her kingdom from falling into the hands of an evil Duke. Sapphire grows up to be a confident young woman who can wield a sword and ride a horse with the best of them, but things get complicated when she falls in love with Prince Franz, the crown prince of a neighboring kingdom.
Author and Artist: Usamaru Furuya, based on the novel by Osamu Dazai
Compare prices for No Longer Human Volume 1
Based on the classic novel by Osamu Dezai, Usamaru Furuya's version of No Longer Human is set in modern day Japan, as a young man from a good family becomes disillusioned with life, and begins a descent into debauchery and self-destruction.
I've read another version of No Longer Human that sticks closer to the original 1948-setting of Dazai's story. This contrast only made Furuya's version more interesting, because he takes more artistic liberties with depicting the young man's inner turmoil and outer decay. Completely compelling, disturbing and memorable, and as a three-volume series for grown-ups, No Longer Human is a short-term comics commitment that's well worth checking out.
Author and Artist: Kohta Hirano
Publisher: Dark Horse
Compare prices for Drifters Volume 1
No one quite does over-the-top action like Kohta Hirano. After Hellsing ended its run, fans wondered, what would he do for an encore? With only one volume out, it's hard to say if Drifters will match the intense insanity of Hellsing, but it sure is giving it a good shot.
Drifters is a manic fantasy/action/sci-fi mash-up about a samurai who is transported from the battlefields of Sekigahara to a strange world of elves, dragons and demons. Toyohisa discovers he's just another "drifter," one of many famous (and infamous) warriors plucked from the battlefields of the past who are now charged with fighting a war that's way beyond their imaginations.
Author and Artist: Takako Shimura
Compare prices for Wandering Son Volume 1
Fifth grader Shuichi Nitori comes from a middle-class family, with supportive parents and a slightly pushy but loving sister. He's a happy child, but he has a secret: he wonders what it would be like to be a girl. At school, he meets Yoshino Takatsuki, a female classmate who is disinterested in girly things. With their puberty on the horizon, the two tweens begin exploring their gender identities, and discover how different they really are from their classmates.
Gender-bending is not unusual in manga, but it's rare to see transgender identity issues depicted realistically, not just as a plot gimmick. With her spare, elegant art and slice-of-life storytelling, Shimura tells a sweet and sensitive coming-of-age tale that opens your eyes and your heart to these kids and their unusual, but very real desires to be the boy/girl they know they really meant to be.
Author: James Turner
Artists: Jorge Monlongo and Gemma Correll
Publisher: VIZ Kids / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Mameshiba: On The Loose!
I'll admit it, 2011 was pretty slim pickin's for kid-friendly fare in manga-land. This is really too bad, because kids love reading comics. I'm always asked to recommend titles for younger readers and am too often left with a painfully short list of worthwhile picks. VIZ Kids is trying to fill in the gap by publishing some original comics creations, like Mameshiba: On The Loose!
You'd think that critters with no legs or paws couldn't do very much but roll around, but that didn't stop James Turner, Jorge Monlongo and Gemma Correll from finding inventive ways for the bean dogs to get around and get into trouble. Silly in a way that kids love, and quirky/cute to boot, Mameshiba are loveable legumes that you'll be seeing a lot more of in 2012.
Author and Artist: Shigeru Mizuki
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Compare prices for Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths
Legendary manga creator Shigeru Mizuki is best known for his tales of yokai, Japanese demons and spirits. However, in his semi-autobiographical WWII tale, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, Mizuki recounts the horror of his time on the battlefield in New Guinea. After losing his arm on the battlefield, Mizuki kept drawing anyway, and pointed his pen at Japanese military mindset that sacrificed many lives for a lost cause in the name of 'honor.'
Dense with details, and filled with pathos, humor and horror, Onwards Toward Our Noble Deaths an uncommonly quirky, tragic, and intimate look at the pointlessness of war.