At the Best and Worst Manga Panel at San Diego Comic-Con, critics Carlo Santos (Anime News Network), David Brothers (4thLetter! and Comics Alliance), Christopher Butcher (The Beguiling and Comics212.net, Eva Volin (School Library Journal), and Deb Aoki (About.com) shared their picks for the past year's best and worst.
See their picks for the best new and continuing manga for all-ages/teens, for grown-ups and the most annoying manga that was published in 2010-2011. Also, check out their 7 most-anticipated Fall//Winter 2011 releases and 5 most-wanted-but not-yet-licensed titles.
Chris Butcher: "I don't really care for sports, and yet, this manga is riveting! This is about a high school baseball team. It has love triangles, fully-fleshed out characters, a story that subverts shonen manga tropes. It's a really naturalistic, slice of life story."
"It's so rare to find a book that just breathes like this one does. It's a wonder to spend time in the world that Adachi has created -- a suburban Japan of endless spring and summer. If you hate baseball, if you love baseball, even if you're indifferent about the sport, so long as you like great comics then Cross Game is for you."
Carlo Santos: "As a serious, hardcore fan of baseball, I'd like to say that this is one of rare sports manga out there that gets it right."
David Brothers: "7 Billion Needles is based on an old sci-fi novel from the 1950's, but it's really shockingly modern. It's about a teen girl who shuts herself off from other people and just listens to her headphones. Then she's killed in an accident, and an alien rescues her by recreating her body, then tells her that she has to help save the world. It's really heartwarming. There's lots of weird sci-fi action, but it's really about learning how to open up to people, and the importance of relationships."
Carlo Santos: "What I really like about this series is that it really makes you stop and think. It tackles a lot of big ideas, like what it means to be human and how we form relationships with one another."
Carlo Santos: "Genkaku Picasso is about a high school boy who is a gifted artist. He's killed by a freak accident, but gets a second chance at life, with a catch – he creates these strange and surreal drawings that will help him solve his classmates' problems. He's kind of a recluse, but through these drawings, he solves mysteries and becomes friends with his classmates."
Chris Butcher: "(Furuya) based this story on himself, and how drawing helped him break out of his shell, to make him a better person, who could have a life, and a wife, and not just be a recluse. At the same time, this story is about this creepy kid who goes into other people's thoughts to solve their problems, and it's a Shonen Jump book! It's really good."
Carlo Santos: "This is an example of how you don't have to create a completely original story – you can take a basic idea and do it well."
"Blue Exorcist is about boy who has to take up his destiny to fight the greatest evil that the world has ever known, but he's the illegitimate son of Satan. He was raised by a priest, so he considers himself to be a part of the human world and on the side of good. Once his powers awaken, he decides, ' I'm going to kick Satan's ass!'"
"You've got a hero, Rin, who's considering his morality and whether he's going to be good or if he's evil because of who his father is. The action scenes are really intense; they really pull you in. It's a good story, it's got good art, it's just a good read all around."
Deb Aoki: "Arisa by the artist of Kitchen Princess, a sweet cooking manga series. Arisa on the other hand is really dark and fascinating."
"Arisa is about twin sisters who are separated when they were tweens. One of the sisters, Arisa is a popular, straight-A student. The other sister Tsubasa is rambunctious and rebellious. When Arisa tries to commit suicide and goes into a coma, Tsubasa goes to Arisa's school disguised as her sister to understand why this happened. She discovers that her classmates are playing a sick online game run by "The King," a mysterious person who grants wishes that have lately taken a darker turn."
"Arisa has a lot of twists. Ando writes such a suspenseful, often surprising story, I never know what's coming next."
Deb Aoki: "This one got picked as both a best new manga for teens, and a best new manga for grown-ups."
Eva Volin: "Books should act as windows and mirrors: windows into another person's experience and mirrors to your own. This book about a boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who wants to be a boy does both sensitively, truthfully, and without being teach-y or preachy."
David Brothers: "What I know about transgender life could maybe fill half a page. This book was really eye-opening for me. It forced to think about things that I normally don't think about. It's just a really sweet story. It's got good humor, and it's very, very human. By reading Wandering Son, I learned something, and I was really impressed by what I learned."
Deb Aoki: "Kaoru Mori is the creator of Emma, a romance between a maid and a man of the gentry in Victorian England. A Bride's Story is her current series and it showcases her incredible artistry."
"The bride in A Bride's Story is a 20-year old woman who lives in the Middle East, around the turn of the century. She is sent to marry a boy who is perhaps only 12 years old. To some American readers, this is a kind of awkward circumstance, but Mori's artwork is so astoundingly gorgeous, you'll just have to get over that."
"If you appreciate great art and storytelling, Western or Asian, you will absolutely love this book. Her storytelling is sensitive and her action sequences are astounding. This should be on everyone's must-buy list."
Chris Butcher: "This is the first widely available work published in English by Shigeru Mizuki (creator of GeGeGe no Kitaro). It's called Onwards Toward Our Noble Deaths, which is a sarcastic title, because everyone in the book, except perhaps the commanding officers, know that there's nothing noble about being sent to die. If you ever wanted to learn about the futility of war and the necessity of peace, this book does it."
"A harrowing, but absolutely necessary look at the Japanese experience during World War II. Shigeru Mizuki is easily one of the most famous and talented living manga-ka in Japan. It is fitting that his first work on North American shores is one that explains and describes his life and his motivations so perfectly."
Chris Butcher: "Jiro Taniguchi is a cartooning master, frankly, and 95% of his output in English has come from boutique publisher Fanfare/Ponent-Mon. His art is so technically precise -- it's arresting to open to book and see just how gorgeous it is, and yet his stories are considerably more subtle, growing with strength and resonance over the course of the book. Fanfare has truly done a great service to English language comics by translating his entire library. Their new release A Zoo In Winter, an autobiographical work about the origins of Taniguchi's cartooning career, is a milestone in that publication history."
Eva Volin: "This is a retrospective of an amazing career. Moto Hagio is one of the Fabulous 49ers, one of the earliest groups of women hired to write comics for girls. In Japan, they decided that it'd be a really great idea that if they wanted to sell books to girls, they might want to try having women create what girls wanted to read. And it was not what the men thought girls would want to read!"
"This is a collection of her short stories, and they're brilliant. They make you cry, they make you ache for things that you didn't know you missed. Some of them are sentimental, but they are sentimental in the best possible way. It really is a look at a life that you have lived, and a life that you didn't realize that you could have lived."