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9 "War is Hell" Military Manga

Combat Comics: From Alien Frogs to Fullmetal Alchemists

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After World War II, Japan's armed forces have been relegated to non-combat roles on the world stage. But soldiers, sailors and pilots are center-stage in these military-focused manga series. Time-traveling commandos, post-apocalyptic warriors and even infantry rabbits battling cat Vietcong are just some of the soldiers you'll meet on this manga battlefield.

1. Sgt. Frog

Sgt. Frog Volume 1-3 omnibus, Keroro Gunso by Mine Yoshizaki published by TokyoPop
© Mine Yoshizaki / TokyoPop

Author and Artist: Mine Yoshizaki
Publisher: TokyoPop

Unbeknownst to the people of Earth, the army of Planet Keron are planning an invasion. But even the best laid plans of alien frogs can go awry as Sgt. Keroro blows his cover, loses his secret weapon and gets abandoned by his squadron. What else can this poor frog do but hang out with the Hinata family and build Gundam models until the rest of his froggy force gets their s**t together?

As more of his cohorts start showing up on the Hinata family's doorstep, Sgt. Keroro's dreams of world domination come just a little closer to coming true. But seeing as these amphibious aliens are easily distracted, this might take a while...

2. Samurai Commando: Mission 1549

Samurai Commando: Mission 1549 Volume 1by Ark Performance, Harutoshi Fukui and Ryo Hanmura
© 2005 Ark Performance / Harutoshi Fukui / Ryo Hanmura / Kadokawa Shoten

Author : Harutoshi Fukui, from a story by Ryo Hanmura
Artist: Ark Performance
Publisher: CMX Manga
Visit CMX Manga's Samurai Commando page

In Samurai Commando Volume 1, modern day warrior Colonel Matoba and his armed platoon travel across time to arrive in feudal Japan. While there, Matoba kills Oda Nobunaga, the legendary daimyo that united the warring states of Japan. This sets off a destructive ripple effect across the decades that threatens to unravel the fabric of space and time.

The Japanese army sends a second platoon to the feudal era to try to stop the rogue commander. But with a 72-hour window to complete their mission, can they stop Matoba, or will they too be lost in the feudal era forever?

3. Fullmetal Alchemist

Cover artwork for Full Metal Alchemist Volume 1 by Hiromu Arakawa
©Hiromu Arakawa / Shonen Jump

Author & Artist:Hiromu Arakawa
Publisher: VIZ Media Action
Visit VIZ Media Action's Fullmetal Alchemist page

The main characters of Fullmetal Alchemist, brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric have a talent for alchemy, the magical science of transmuting materials. But when they attempt to bring their beloved mother back to life, they break one of the key laws of alchemy and are punished severely: Edward loses his leg, and Alphonse loses his body. Edward's nickname comes from the metal protheses that he must wear, metal that he can transmute into weaponry when needed.

Now, as state alchemists for the government, the two brothers travel the countryside, trying to right wrongs and punish corrupt evil-doers.

4. Pumpkin Scissors

Pumpkin Scissors Volume 1 by Ryotaro Iwanaga from Del Rey Manga / Kodansha
© Ryotaro Iwanaga / Kodansha

Author & Artist: Ryotaro Iwanaga
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
Visit Del Rey Manga's Pumpkin Scissors page

Idealistic and headstrong Alice Malvin is the commander of Pumpkin Scissors, a government paramilitary group dedicated to uprooting evil and helping with the reconstruction of a war-ravaged country. When a mysterious veteran named Randel Oland joins their crew, Pumpkin Scissors gains a savvy strategist with a soft heart and a dark secret.

Set in a vaguely Germanic country in the early to mid-20th century, Pumpkin Scissors provides a mix of military action, drama and humor that's rarely seen in contemporary manga.

5. Apocalypse Meow

Apocalypse Meow Volume 2 by Motofumi Kobayashi, published by ADV Manga / SOFTBANK Publishing
© 2005 Motofumi Kobayashi / SOFTBANK Publishing

Author & Artist: Motofumi Kobayashi
Publisher: ADV Manga

Similar to how Art Spiegelman's Maus told a true story about World War II and the Holocaust by depicting Jewish people as mice and Germans as cats, Motofumi Kobayashi's Apocalypse Meow tells a gritty Vietnam War tale by using rabbits as American G.I.'s and cats as Vietnamese civilians and solidiers.

It's a little disquieting to see cute bunnies and kitties spew profanities and blow each other to bits, but Kobayashi's story has a ring of truth to it that's undeniable. With it's attention to detail in weaponry, history and military strategy, Apocalypse Meow is largely geared for war movie buffs, provided they can look past its cuddly coating.

6. Basara

Basara Volume 20 by Yumi Tamura, published by VIZ Shojo
© Yumi Tamura / Shogakukan Inc.

Author & Artist: Yumi Tamura
Publisher: VIZ Media Shojo
Visit VIZ Media Shojo's Basara page

The sole shojo manga title in this list, Basara is an epic story (over 25 volumes!) about a teen girl who leads a rebel uprising in a post-apocalyptic Japan. Sarasa's twin brother Tatara was originally thought to be the "boy of destiny" who would lead the poor and oppressed to freedom. When Tatara is murdered by the Red King, Sarasa disguises herself as a boy to lead in his place.

While Sarasa builds her army and wins battles, she also falls in love and starts to ache for what she's lost: Her life as a woman. The shojo twist to this tale? Sarasa has unknowingly fallen in love with her sworn enemy, the Red King.

7. Akira

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

Author & Artist: Katsuhiro Otomo
Publisher: Dark Horse Manga
Visit Dark Horse Manga's Akira preview page

For post-apocalyptic drama of a different kind, Akira is set in a modern-day Japan not long after a mysterious explosion has decimated the once-thriving metropolis of Tokyo. Neo-Tokyo s largely isolated from the rest of the world, and American and European military forces are keen to invade and reclaim Japan.

Again, while everyday military life and conventional warfare is not the focus here, the martial law world that Akira is set in, plus its numerous characters with paramilitary backgrounds make it an appropriate pick for this list. An exciting, sprawling sci-fi epic filled with eye-popping details and jaw-dropping action.

8. Shadow Star

Shadow Star Volume 1 by Mohiro Kitoh, published by Dark Horse Manga
© Mohiro Kitoh / Kodansha

Author & Artist:Mohiro Kitoh
Publisher: Dark Horse Manga
Visit Dark Horse Manga's Shadow Star preview page

For a more low-key look at Japan's relationship with its armed forces, Shadow Star depicts the Air Self Defense Force with a sci-fi twist. Shunji Tamai is a pilot in the Air Self Defense Force, so when mysterious flying aliens appear in Japanese air space, he's one of the first to know. What he doesn't know is that his daughter recently took in a star-shaped alien into her care.

Shadow Star captures all of the details of air-to-air combat and lovingly depicts fighter planes with mechanical accuracy. The sci-fi suspense is compelling and inventive and the art is deceptively delicate. An overlooked gem that's worth another look.

9. Golgo 13

Golgo 13 Volume 1 by Takao Saito, published by VIZ Signature
© 2006 Saito Production / Shogakukan Inc.

Author & Artist: Takao Saito
Publisher: VIZ Signature
Visit VIZ Signature's Golgo 13 page

While technically not a military manga title, Golgo 13 has enough firepower and political intrigue to make it a worthwhile addition to this list. Ruthless and efficient, Golgo 13 is a professional assassin for hire. His flawless aim and high-tech spying skills make him the go-to guy when the stakes are high and discretion is a must.

In Volume 1 of this seinen manga series, much of the story is about Golgo 13's mission to Iraq, which includes numerous cameos of real-life politicians such as Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright and Saddam Hussein, plus enough guns, battleships and bombs to leave Baghdad in flames.

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