2010 was a time of comings and goings in the world of manga. Two indie publishers entered the manga arena while Del Rey, CMX Manga, Go Comi and Aurora bowed out. Japanese and U.S. publishers cracked down on scanlations, then VIZ, Yen Press, TokyoPop and Dark Horse plunged into the brave new world of digital publishing. But print still rules in manga-land, so see my picks for 2010's best new manga, including much-anticipated titles and a few under-the-radar gems.
Also, check out my list of 2010's Best Continuing Manga Series, which also includes picks for best under-appreciated gems and the worst manga of the year.
Author and Artist: Moto Hagio
Compare prices for A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
Conjoined twins who share a painful co-existence. A young girl rejected by her mother who can only see her as an iguana. Ill-fated lovers who are doomed to be separated in several lifetimes. These characters came to life in this collection of smart, sensitive and thought-provoking short stories created by master storyteller Moto Hagio.
A Drunken Dream proved to be a lightning rod for comics critics, as manga fans praised it while for some... well, its charms eluded them. With stories chosen from Hagio's 40-year career, A Drunken Dream is bit uneven, but it is undeniably the most fascinating manga released this year.
Author and Artist: Kanata Konami
Compare prices for Chi's Sweet Home Vol. 1
A curious kitten is separated from her mother and siblings, only to be adopted by a young couple and their son. The young family gets attached to Chi the kitten, but there's one problem: their apartment complex doesn't allow pets.
With its charming full-color artwork and slice-of-life stories, Chi's Sweet Home ended up being the one manga that I enjoyed reading and recommending to even non-manga readers again and again. Chi is adorable and relatable because Konami lets her act, think, and see the world like a cat, not a snarky human in a cat suit, ala Garfield. An all-ages treat that kids and adults alike can fall in love with.
Author and Artist: Mitsuru Adachi
Publisher: Shonen Sunday / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Cross Game Vol. 1
When we meet Ko Kitamura, he's a happy-go-lucky boy who runs errands for his family's sporting goods shop. Ko could be a great athlete, or at least his classmate Wakaba Tsukishima thinks so. Wakaba and her three sisters help run the local batting center, so baseball is in their blood. Ko is talented but indifferent to the game, until a tragedy spurs him on to greatness.
With its leisurely pace and subtle but thoughtfully-created characters, Cross Game isn't a high-adrenaline sports manga. However, Adachi is uncommonly good at crafting stories that grab you by the heartstrings and keep you hooked until its very last page.
Author and Artist: Usamaru Furuya
Publisher: Shonen Jump / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Genkaku Picasso Vol. 1
High school student Hikari Haruma earned the nickname "Picasso" thanks to his interest in art. But when he survives a freak helicopter accident, Hikari finds out that in exchange for his life being spared, he must now help others with his drawing abilities. Hikari draws pictures of people's troubled hearts and enters the drawings to help solve their problems, because if he doesn't, his arm will rot away.
Shonen manga has its share of predictable tropes, but Genkaku Picasso cheerfully turns them upside down and inside out with its reluctant hero, unexpected psychological twists, and a hefty dollop of dark humor.
Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Artist: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Shonen Jump / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Bakuman Vol. 1
Like many shonen manga stories, Bakuman revolves around a quest to be the best. But this time, two high school boys are not trying to be the strongest fighter, the toughest athlete or the ultimate game master. Moritaka and Akito have set their sights on a much tougher goal: they want to be professional manga creators.
While Bakuman has been criticized for its sexist tendencies, this new series by the creators of Death Note offers an intriguing look behind the scenes at the world's most popular manga publication, Shonen Jump magazine. An inspiring and perhaps cautionary tale for aspiring artists everywhere.
Author and Artist: Natsumi Ando
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Compare prices for Arisa Vol. 1
Tsubasa and Arisa are twin sisters who have been separated for three years due to their parents' divorce. The girls go to different schools and seem to have wildly different lives and personalities: Tsubasa's a bit of a hot-tempered roughneck while Arisa is pretty and popular. But things aren't as simple as they seem. After Arisa attempts suicide, Tsubasa goes to school in her place and discovers a dark side to Arisa's 'perfect' school life.
It takes a fair amount of storytelling skill to keep readers guessing and Arisa succeeds in spades. A genuinely suspenseful shojo manga mystery that balances cute art with compelling, creepy twists.
Author and Artist: Julietta Suzuki
Publisher: Shojo Beat / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Kamisama Kiss Vol. 1
When Nanami's gambling, good-for-nothing dad leaves her without roof over her head or a cent to her name, she fears that she's doomed to be homeless. So when a strange man offers her his home, she immediately accepts, only to find that her new "home" is a ramshackle shrine and her new roommates are two little demons and a stubborn young man who just happens to be a fox deity.
Much like her her other series Karakuri Odette, Kamisama Kiss shows off Julietta Suzuki's wit and her knack for creating memorable characters caught up in quirky circumstances. A fresh and fun take on girl-meets-demon romances.
Author and Artist: Kaneyoshi Izumi
Publisher: Shojo Beat / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Seiho Boys' High School Vol. 1
Take a bunch of hot guys, throw them in an all-boys school that's miles from the nearest town and what have you got? Surprise! This isn't a boys love series, nor will a cross-dressing girl be hiding in their midst. Instead, Seiho Boys' High School does something that few shojo manga series bother to do: it features teenage boys who act like...teenage boys.
The guys of Seiho Boys High School can be horny, tactless and clueless at times, but that's what makes them loveable. The boys' misadventures and bouts of heartbreak are all seen through their eyes, which gives this series an unusual point of view.
Author and Artist: Tsutomu Nihei
Publisher: VIZ Signature / VIZ Media
Compare prices for Biomega Vol. 1
If you've been near a comics shop lately, you've probably seen a lot of zombies on the rampage. Then along comes Biomega, Tsutomu Nihei's sci-fi horror action-adventure featuring an army of ever-mutating zombies. But unlike its American counterparts, Biomega is a kill 'em all splatterfest that's smart, exciting and decadently gorgeous.
It's rare to see a sci-fi story that's so imaginative and so incredibly eager to pile on apeshit levels of over-the-top action and bizarre cosmic twists. Volume 1 was insane enough, but Nihei somehow ups the ante with each new volume. And did I mention the bear with the assault rifle?
Author and Artist: Osamu Tezuka
Compare prices for Ayako
Set against the turbulent years after World War II, Ayako is the story of a powerful land-owning family and the corruption inside and outside the clan that leads to their destruction. As the youngest daughter of the Tenge family, Ayako has been locked away for most of her life to keep the family's secrets. But as the years go by and Ayako grows from a child to a young woman, the lies and the dysfunctional family hierarchy that have kept her imprisoned begin to crumble.
Ayako is a dark and sprawling narrative that weaves together real historical events with unspeakable horrors committed by a fictitious family. An emotionally draining tour-de-force.