At the Best and Worst Manga Panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2012, critics Carlo Santos (Anime News Network), Brigid Alverson (MangaBlog and Robot 6), Christopher Butcher (The Beguiling and Comics212.net), Shaenon Garrity (ComiXology, The Comics Journal), and Deb Aoki (About.com) raved and ranted about their favorite and least favorite manga of the past year.
See their picks for the best new and continuing manga for kids/teens, for grown-ups, and the most despicable manga that was published in 2011-2012. Also, check out their 5 most-anticipated Fall/Winter 2012-2013 releases, 5 most-wanted-but-not-yet-licensed titles, and 5 underrated manga worth checking out.
Chris Butcher: "You cannot heap enough praise on Sailor Moon. It inspired a whole generation of new cartoonists in North America. And for it to be back, and to be selling so well again, all those little girls who bought it the first time around 15 years ago are back and buying it again, along with a new generation of fans, it's amazing. If you've never read it before, it actually really holds up well after all these years."
Brigid Alverson: "My daughter is 17, and she's not really into manga anymore. But recently, we were watching the Sailor Moon anime, and she can still sing the theme song and do all the moves!"
Carlo Santos: "Everything that is great about Sailor Moon, you almost owe at least some of that to Osamu Tezuka and Princess Knight. This is one of the first manga series where there was a girl hero — she wasn't just a sidekick, she wasn't waiting for the hero to rescue her, Princess Knight dressed as a boy, she dressed as a girl, she took on evil witches and demons. I think there's even one part when she takes on Satan! I mean, wow, if you think Sailor Moon is epic, you owe it to yourself to check this out. It's just as amazing."
Shaenon Garrity: "This being from Osamu Tezuka, this manga is, of course, completely insane. He throws out every idea that ever popped into his head here. It's got witches and pirates and Satan and angels and evil princes, and then the princess turns into a swan, and it just goes on and on like that! The art is terrific too."
Deb Aoki: "I like A Devil and her Love Song mostly because it features a different kind of shojo heroine. Maria Kawai is a truth-teller who just tells it like it is. But sometimes when you're a truth teller, that can make you very unpopular and misunderstood because people don't want to hear it. The heroine is pretty, so she looks snobby, but she's actually very good-hearted and a bit socially awkward. Maria is unusually smart and resilient as shojo heroines go, as she deals with her friends, her enemies, her teachers, and the two guys who find themselves fascinated by her, in spite of her quirks and her blunt style of communication."
Brigid Alverson: "What I like about this series is that its kind of self-critiquing as a shojo manga. There's a part of the story where everyone bullies the heroine, and she just doesn't play along with it — she doesn't let it break her. The story is very smart and the art is very sharp, and it's very easy and pleasant to read."
Brigid Alverson: "Jiu-Jiu is about a girl who comes from a family of demon hunters. From almost the very first pages of this story, her twin brother gets killed, so she's very sad. To cheer her up, her father gives her two wolf pups, one white and one black, who are jiu-jiu — they have the power to turn into humans; they also have the power to turn into hot guys, because, this is shojo manga!"
"What's great about this manga is how it plays with sexuality, but never really goes there. There's also a lot of humor in this story. The wolves love to follow her everywhere. Then they enroll themselves into her high school, but they're still basically dogs – so a Frisbee gets them all excited, even though they look like hot guys."
"It works on a couple of different levels: it's very emotional. The heroine is very dark, very disturbed; she deals with feelings of worthlessness, which I think is a part of being a teenager. She's trying to have a normal high school life by day while by night, she's fighting demons and monsters. At the same time, there's a lot of comic relief thanks to the dogs. In the first volume alone, it went from being a fairly simple story to one that has a level of emotional complexity that I didn't expect from a shojo manga. It kind of gets its hooks in you."
Shaenon Garrity: "Shigeru Mizuki, he's one of the all-time great manga artists. He's one of the biggest badasses in the history of comics. He's so bad ass, he lost an arm in WWII, and he still came back to Japan to draw manga. He's such a bad ass, he's still alive and in his 90's and outlived many other legendary manga artists, including Osamu Tezuka, who was actually younger than Mizuki."
"Mizuki is best known for doing GeGeGe no Kitaro, which is kind of a kid's series about a little boy who lives in a graveyard, and comes from a clan of monsters. This series is very much beloved in Japan."
"He did this story in the 1980's and it's absolutely awesome. It's about his life, as he grew up in a little village, and a old woman he knew who believed in every single monster story/ghost story in Japanese folklore, who shared these stories with Mizuki. NonNonBa is a great story. It's tons of fun. The artwork is adorable and creepy at the same time. "
Brigid Alverson: "I've described Sakuran as kind of like Memoirs of a Geisha, but shows more of the dark side of that world. It's not about a geisha — it's set in the same general setting, but it's about an oiran (courtesan), so the story is set in a brothel. It's about a girl who is sold to the brothel as a child. She has a very strong personality. The story is very good, the storytelling is very compressed. Sometimes, I'd look at a page and then have to go back and read it three times because the story moves so quickly."
"The artwork is gorgeous; it also has several full-color pages. There's also a live-action movie based on this manga — and the movie also has gorgeous colors too. It's just a really, really good, done-in-one-volume, human interest story about a girl and the world that she didn't create."
Shaenon Garrity: "I haven't read it yet, but I'm a huge fan of Moyoco Anno, and I'll read anything by her. She's one of the smartest writers in manga. Just very stylish, sophisticated stuff."
Carlo Santos: "This one works for teens too, but I think it's also good for grown-ups because it's got a complex story with more mature themes that adults can get into."
"Durarara!! starts out with a kid who moves from the country to Ikebukuro, which is a district in Tokyo, and he gets tossed in the middle of a world where there's all kinds of characters living in all kinds of intersecting storylines. There's a street gang that apparently only exists on the Internet, there's headless biker that drives around Tokyo kicking ass and taking names. It's got a lot of mystery surrounding the characters; there's an evil medical corporation, there's a guy who's so obsessed with a girl he keeps her head in a jar."
"It keeps throwing strange twists at you; it's so imaginative, and it's full of curveballs and twists. This is the kind of manga that I love, because you never know what's going to happen next."
Shaenon Garrity: "This is yet another title that I'm just delighted to see back in print. If you've never read it before, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. Of course, because it's by Tezuka, it's totally nuts; it's full of nutty twists."
"It's a historical story, set in World War II. It's about two boys named Adolf who meet and become friends in Japan in the 1930's. Then WWII starts, and they part ways: one of the Adolfs moves back to Germany, while the other stays in Japan. Message to Adolf is also about a secret about a third Adolf, Adolf Hitler."
"The best part of this story is how it depicts wartime Japan, and how it turned into an imperialist state. It's really well-observed; it was a time that Tezuka himself lived through, so it's a very accurate, very interesting take on this era in history."
Carlo Santos: "Everything you read about WWII in America is told from the American point of view, like 'We're Americans! Rrarr!' This story, on the other hand, tells the story from a Japanese point of view, and from a German perspective too. The story of the two Adolfs really opened my eyes to a different historical perspective of the war, and it will really open your eyes too."
Deb Aoki: "This one is my personal favorite new manga of the past year for very obvious reasons: I like manga, I like wine and Drops of God have both of these things in a big way."
"The Drops of God is about two young men who are competing to inherit a multi-million dollar wine collection that was amassed by their father, who was a famous wine critic. What's fascinating about this book is how it makes wine tasting and wine appreciation very entertaining and dramatic. Sure, sometimes it can be kind of ridiculous and over-the-top, like when one of the characters' ability to decant wine is considered so exquisite, all the girls swoon and want to sleep with him! It can be kind of weird that way! But if you can get over its bits of weirdness, you can learn a lot about wine from reading Drops of God."
"Anthony Bourdain, who's here for Comic-Con, picked up all four volumes of Drops of God from the Vertical booth this weekend. I've given this book to sommeliers who normally never read comics, and they love it. It's just really satisfying to see how it appeals to a wider range of grown-ups who don't normally read comics."
Brigid Alverson: "My brother is a winemaker who never reads comics. He loves Drops of God. He's calling me up, asking me when the next volume is coming out. He can't get enough of it. They can't put it out fast enough."
Christopher Butcher: "I actually cheated here – I picked all of Natsume Ono's manga from throughout her career. (laughs) I also cheated because I got to hang out with her in Japan in November and talk to her about her work."
"I was introduced to her work when it was only available in Japanese. On my very first trip to Japan, Not Simple was just released there as a graphic novel. I bought it in Japan because I thought this is the kind of manga that would never, ever be translated into English! And lo and behold, 12 years later, VIZ Media published Not Simple and several other manga by Natsume Ono over the past two years, and I'm so happy that they did."
"It's just such an amazing series of books. She's just such a unique, singular talent. And the way that she's developing is just completely beyond my expectations. With every book she puts out, she's just phenomenal. Tesoro and La Quinta Camera are some of her earliest works, while House of Five Leaves is one of her more recent series."
"House of Five Leaves has some light shojo elements, but it also appeals to the same readers who enjoy Lone Wolf and Cub, because it's also kind of bad ass. Her work just speaks to you; it's a body of work that shows such a personal vision."