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Best Continuing Manga of 2011

20 Picks, Including Best Series, Under-appreciated Gems and 2011's Worst Manga

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Best All-Ages Manga Series (runner-up) - Chi's Sweet Home

Chi's Sweet Home Volume 6
© Konami Kanata

Author and Artist: Konami Kanata
Publisher: Vertical
Compare prices for Chi's Sweet Home Volume 7

After being separated from her mother and sibling, a kitten finds a home with a young couple and their son. With each new volume of Chi's Sweet Home, Chi learns more about how the world works (well, at least according to how she sees things from a kitty's point of view), starts exploring the neighborhood, making new friends, and getting into trouble.

Like Yotsuba&!, Chi's Sweet Home was originally created for grown-up readers in Japan, but has the added bonus of being a wonderfully-drawn, fun, and kid-friendly read too. A wonderful series that I love sharing with cat-loving readers, age 8 to 80.

Best Edition of Reprinted Material - Black Jack

Black Jack Volume 7
© Tezuka Productions

Author and Artist: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical
Compare prices for Black Jack Volume 17

Back in the day, VIZ Media published a few volumes of Black Jack, but as we now know, it was only a small sampling of the adventures of Osamu Tezuka's renegade surgeon who uses his scalpels and near-miraculous surgical skills to mete out his own brand of justice. Now, 17 volumes later, Vertical has given North American readers a nearly complete collection of Black Jack adventures, and what a ride it's been.

While several Black Jack stories did seem to follow a predictable formula, where Black Jack is called upon to cure an incurable condition and somehow makes everything right, Tezuka had more than enough ideas at his disposal to create many inventive and surprising Black Jack stories too. A wonderful collection of stories that show Tezuka at his crowd-pleasing best.

Best Anthology / Magazine - Yen Plus

Yen Plus December 2011
Text copyright © Cassandra Clare LLC, Illustrations © Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Author and Artist: Various
Publisher: Yen Press
Subscribe now to Yen Press

Since leaving the print/newsstand world behind, Yen Press has been doing its level best to make the online-only version of Yen Plus a monthly must-read for manga readers. While many fan faves like Black Butler didn't make the migration to online serialization, Yen Plus has been offering readers a fun mix of new, original, and fan-fave content like graphic novel adaptations of Gail Carriger's Soulless and Cassandra Clare's The Infernal Devices to make it well worth its $2.99 monthly fee.

And they're not stopping there! In recent issues, Yen Plus has been featuring the latest chapters of Soul Eater NOT!, straight from Japan, leading up to worldwide simultaneous online publication of this sequel to Soul Eater in 2012. That's right -- the latest chapters will be available online to readers all over the world (not just North America) at the same time as its available to readers in Japan. It's a bold move toward what fans have been clamoring for, for years.

Best Art Book - Mega Man Tribute

Mega Man Tribute
© CAPCOM

Author and Artist: Various
Publisher: Udon Entertainment
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Udon Entertainment has made a name for itself with its classy art books featuring gaming icons from the Capcom universe, like Street Fighter and Dark Stalkers. For the Mega Man Tribute, they put out an open call to artists to create and submit original illustrations based on Capcom's beloved 'Blue Bomber.' What they got back was a diverse array of artwork in a variety of styles from over a 100 artists from all parts of the globe for a one-of-a-kind tribute to a video game icon.

Even if you've never picked up a controller to play a Mega Man game, Mega Man Tribute will charm you with its infectious spirit of fun, and unabashed love for a hero that has transcended its 8-bit origins.

Best Underappreciated Gem: Shonen - Gin Tama

Gin Tama Volume 8 by Hideaki Sorachi, published by Shonen Jump Advanced / VIZ Media
GINTAMA © 2003 by Hideaki Sorachi/SHUEISHA Inc.

Author and Artist: Hideaki Sorachi
Publisher: Shonen Jump / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Gin Tama Volume 23

Imagine if you will, a Japan where the Black Ships that arrived in Tokyo back in the 1800s did not herald the arrival of Admiral Perry and emissaries from the West, but aliens from another planet instead. This simple and far-fetched premise has given Hideaki Sorachi fertile ground for his wacked-out brand of satire that pokes fun at pop culture, modern and historical Japan and otaku culture.

While some of its jokes rely on a passing knowledge of Japanese pop culture, Gin Tama has many moments when it's just laugh-out-loud funny, period. For example, Gin Tama Volume 23 has a story that pokes merciless fun at a cigarette smoker who is driven to the point of desperation when the entire planet is designated as a no-smoking zone. Sorachi then takes this comic premise and drives it to absurd extremes and beyond.

Best Underappreciated Gem: Shojo - Kamisama Kiss

Kamisama Kiss Volume 1 by Julietta Suzuki, from Shojo Beat Manga / VIZ Media
HAJIMEMASHITE KAMISAMA © Julietta Suzuki / HAKUSENSHA,Inc.

Author and Artist: Julietta Suzuki
Publisher: Shojo Beat / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Kamisama Kiss Volume 6

Left homeless due to her good-for-nothing father's gambling, Nanami is offered a place to live by a kindly stranger. But like any gift that seems just a little too convenient, Nanami's new home comes with a catch: she is now responsible for the shrine and its resident deity, a crabby kitsune (fox spirit) who isn't entirely convinced that his new mistress is worthy of his services.

Stories about yokai (Japanese spirits/demons) are pretty commonplace in both shojo and shonen manga nowadays, but Kamisama Kiss has a lot of the endearing quirks that made its predecessor Karakuri Odette so much fun to read. Worth a look if you're seeking some lighthearted romance with a supernatural twist.

Best Underappreciated Gem: Seinen/Josei - No. 5

Number 5 Volume 1, Page 26 by Taiyo Matsumoto, published by IKKI Comics / SHOGAKUKAN
© 2001 Taiyou MATSUMOTO/Shogakukan

Author and Artist: Taiyo Matsumoto
Publisher: IKKI Comics / SHOGAKUKAN
Visit the Apple iTunes Store to buy No. 5 for the iPad

Back in the day, VIZ Media published the first volume of No. 5, but never published the entire series. Now that more readers than ever are reading manga on their computers, phones, tablets and e-reader devices, IKKI Comics opted to give fans the opportunity to read the entire No. 5 saga, albeit only on the Apple iPad.

In the world of No. 5, The Rainbow Council of the International Peace Keeping Forces is a group of global guardians with special powers who are charged with keeping the peace in a desert world. But when one of these guardians, No. 5 runs away with a mysterious woman and kills two of his fellow "Numbers," he sets in motion events that threaten to tear the world apart.

As is true with other works by Matsumoto, No. 5 is challenging, but ultimately rewarding read. If you have an iPad and love comics that push the boundaries of the medium, you owe it to yourself to add No. 5 to your digital comics collection.

Biggest Disappointment - TokyoPop Closes

TokyoPop
© TokyoPop

2011 wasn't a great year to be a manga publisher. The Borders Books and Music bookstore chain, one of the major retail outlets for manga in North America closed its doors. Sales slumped across the board for almost every publisher. TokyoPop had its share of problems, but at the start of 2011, things seemed to be on an upward trend.

Sure, their so-called reality show was a clunker and the big screen adaptation of Priest was a box office bomb, but Tokyopop had a few bestselling series (Hetalia and Alice in the Country of Hearts), they picked up several promising new titles, and they even redesigned their logo and website. So many fans and industry watchers were surprised when TokyoPop management announced another round of layoffs in Spring 2011, followed by the announcement that they would be closing their North American publishing operations in June 2011, leaving many unfinished series in limbo.

Since then, a few TokyoPop titles have been picked up by other publishers (Loveless by VIZ Media, and Alice in the Country of Hearts by Yen Press), and since mid-October 2011, TokyoPop has been dropping hints on their Facebook page that they intend to publish manga once more, albeit "more limited than back in the old days." As of late December 2011, nothing concrete has materialized. Stay tuned?

Worst Excuse for Manga - Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai

Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Sean Michael Wilson and Chie Kutsuwada
© 2010 Sean Michael Wilson, Chie Kutsuwada, William Scott Wilson and KODANSHA INTERNATIONAL LTD.

Authors: Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Sean Michael Wilson, William Scott Wilson
Artist: Chie Kutsuwada
Publisher: Kodansha International
Compare prices for Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai

A young samurai in training visits a swordsman who has opted to live out the rest of his days as a Zen monk. Through a series of anecdotes, the elder swordsman provides example after example of how a 'true' samurai should behave.

I know the original book is supposed to be a classic that provides insights into the samurai's code of honor. But as a graphic novel, this book is just dull, dull, dull. The artwork is flat, the storytelling is dreary, the pacing is haphazard, and it just reads like an endless array of pointless beheadings, ritual suicides and battles. Strictly for history-crazed Japanophiles or anyone looking for a 'Cliff's Notes' version of the original book to fulfill an Asian Lit requirement.

Worst Excuse for Manga (runner-up)- Sasameke

Sasameke Volume 1
Sasameke © RYUJI GOTSUBO 2002,2003,2004 / KADOKAWA SHOTEN

Author and Artist: Ryuji x Gotsubo
Publisher: Yen Press
Compare prices for Sasameke Volume 2

Oh Sasameke... your art looked so promising. Your story, about a former soccer prodigy who returns to Japan and finds himself at a high school with a mediocre team of misfits, it seemed like a perfect set-up for never-say-die sports action, heartwarming friendship, and maybe some romance and comedy too. So where did it all go so, so wrong?

Maybe most of the fault lies with a creator who seems so bored with sports manga tropes, he just couldn't muster up the enthusiasm to create a coherent story. Absurd twists and ridiculous side characters pop in and out of the story with whack-a-mole randomness. The sports action is near impossible to follow. And the ending? If you were dumb enough to stick around long enough to read the final chapters, Ryuji x Gotsubo slaps you upside the head with an anti-climatic finale that will leave you wondering why you even bothered to waste even a minute of your day with these double-sized volumes of inanity.

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