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Michael Gombos' Top 9 Manga

Dark Horse's Director of Asian Licensing Shares His Must-Read Manga Picks

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If you love reading GANTZ, MPD Psycho or Blood+, you have Michael Gombos to thank for that. As Dark Horse's Director of Asian Licensing, Gombos reads a lot of manga and manhwa to find the next big thing.

But out of all of the graphic novels he's read over the years, which ones have found a front and center spot on his bookshelf? See his choices, and find out why they're his all-time favorites.

1. Sekitou Erejii

Sekitou Erejii Volume 12 by Kira Takashi
© Kira Takashi

Author and Artist: Kira Takashi
Publisher: Kodansha
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"This is my favorite of all-time. The trade paperbacks are on my top shelf, and despite being the newest of all the manga in my list, Sekitou Erejii is easily the most-read in my collection."

"It's the perfect love story, and I wonder when it will become a Japanese TV drama. It's got everything a drama needs to be successful (Love triangles, estranged lovers from the past, long trips alone to get away, the desperate following their love, the "chance" meeting while snow falls, etc.) Perhaps I like it so much because I lived for three years where the story is set. In any case, the story is all too believable, and the characters are completely real."

2. Hellsing

Hellsing Volume 1 by Kohta Hirano
© Kohta Hirano

Author and Artist: Kohta Hirano
Publisher: Dark Horse
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"Carl Horn said it perfectly: 'It takes every cliche and pushes it to the limit. Vampires, check. Nazis, check. Catholic Church, check.'"

"Despite it being chock full of cliches, Hellsing does it perfectly. There's more energy in Hirano's art than can be found amongst hundreds of volumes of tens of different series."

3. Lone Wolf and Cub

Cover artwork from Lone Wolf & Cub volume 1 graphic novel
© Kazuo Koike / Goseki Kojima

Author: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse
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"In terms of detail and style, Kojima Goseki is really unrivaled. There are quite a few Koike fans at Dark Horse (myself included) who really think that this is one of the crown jewels of manga."

"When I read the series, I actually feel like I am learning something about feudal Japan. When you find a story that can combine entertainment and education harmoniously (without making you feel like you're being "taught" something), that's a sign of something special."

4. Blood +

Blood + Volume 1 by Asuka Katsura, published by Dark Horse Manga
© Asuka Katsura / Production I.G. / Aniplex / MBS / HAKUHODO

Author & Artist: Asuka Katsura
Adapted from anime created by Production I.G., Aniplex and directed by Junichi Fuiisaku
Publisher: Dark Horse
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"While I am a fan of the manga, I really like the entire franchise. We publish the novels as well (which are a deep read), and there are new things that might be coming up for the Blood+/Blood mythos."

"Blood / Blood+ is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer of Japan, and just as there is a Buffyverse, there is a definite 'Saya-verse.' They're always adding more to it, and it never feels forced."

5. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Volume 1 by Nagaru Tanigawa and Gaku Tsugano, from Yen Press
© Nagaru Tanigawa, Gaku Tsugano, Noizi Ito / Kadokawa

Author: Nagaru Tanigawa
Artist: Gaku Tsugano
Publisher: Yen Press
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"While I know that Samurai Champloo wasn't initially a manga (there was a manga adaption made after the infinitely superior anime), Haruhi is like SC because it has a little something for everyone."

"If I were chosen to introduce someone to anime who had never heard of it before, I'd show them Samurai Champloo. For manga, that'd be Suzumiya Haruhi."

6. GANTZ

Gantz Volume 1 by Hiroya Oku from Dark Horse Manga
© Hiroya Oku

Author and Artist: Hiroya Oku
Publisher: Dark Horse
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"It's a great series — slick and ultra-violent (see MPD Psycho) — and to be honest, there is a lot of 'me' invested in this series."

"They told me that it'd never get licensed here, much less to Dark Horse, given the Shueisha/Shogakukan/VIZ arrangement. I said they were wrong. To me — and in this industry and at Dark Horse — GANTZ and I are one and the same. While I am fan of the series, and it's certainly in my top 20 for actual material, I can't separate myself from this."

"It's something people needed to see, and every time I look at my bookshelf and see GANTZ there, I think that series alone has made my time here at Dark Horse well-spent."

7. Kimengumi / Flash! Kimengumi

Kimengumi Flash! Volume 3
© Motoei Shinzawa

Author and Artist: Motoei Shinzawa
Publisher: Square Enix
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"I still cry with laughter when I read this. The word-plays in nonsensicality of this manga exceed anything ever done before it, and I can't imagine that there is much to compare it to (Kimengumi was Shueisha, and Flash! Kimengumi is now with Square Enix)."

"I can't see this ever getting released here simply because it's pun after pun, but it's the funniest manga I have ever read, hands-down. If I ever become President Wackaloon of Happyland, this book will be our constitution."

8. AKIRA

Akira Volume 1 by Katsuhiro Otomo from Dark Horse Manga / Kodansha
© Katsuhiro Otomo / MASH Room / Akira Committee

Author and Artist: Katsuhiro Otomo
Publisher: Dark Horse
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"I guess I am one of the tens of thousands who had their first exposure to manga/anime culture via AKIRA. I watched the anime first, then snapped up the manga."

"Along with Lone Wolf and Cub (and several others that aren't on this list), AKIRA is something people will be reading 30 years from now. For example, if people are into role-playing games, they were most likely introduced to it through Dungeons & Dragons, or introduced to it via someone who started with D & D. I think it's the same with manga /anime and AKIRA."

9. Reiko the Zombie Shop

Reiko the Zombie Shop Volume 1
© Rei Mikamoto

Author and Artist: Rei Mikamoto
Publisher: Dark Horse
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"I think that you'd have trouble finding a more ambitious manga than Reiko the Zombie Shop. Larger-than-life boobs? Got 'em. Gore by the bucket? Yep. School girls controlling armies of undead? Has that. Coat hangers downing attack helicopters? That's there, too. Reiko is Grindhouse Camp manga personified."

"Since I was responsible for the acquiring MPD Psycho and GANTZ, perhaps I have become attenuated to a lot of violence in manga, but Reiko still produces some scenes that make me look twice. It's fairly brutal, but Mikamoto leads gruesome scenes into cute scenes with seemingly effortless seamlessness."

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