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Top 20 Manga Must-Reads


New to the joys of manga? Before you read the rest, check out some of the best. Our top 20 list includes recommended reads for every age and every taste. Choose from action-packed shonen manga and romantic shojo manga for kids and teens or cutting-edge graphic novels for adults -- you're sure to discover a comic book that will blow you away.

1. Lone Wolf & Cub

Cover artwork from Lone Wolf & Cub volume 1 graphic novel
Writer: Kazuo Koike / Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse

Considered one of the finest examples of cinematic storytelling, Lone Wolf & Cub follows samurai assassin-for-hire Itto Ogami and his young son Daigoro as they slash their way across feudal Japan toward their ultimate goal, vengeance. Winner of numerous international awards, including the Eisner Award, Lone Wolf and Cub has influenced many comics creators, including Frank Miller (Dark Knight Returns, Sin City).

2. Mushishi

Mushishi Volume 1 by Yuki Urushibara from Del Rey Manga
© 2000 Yuki Urushibara/KODANSHA LTD. All rights reserved.

Author & Artist: Yuki Urushibara
Publisher: Del Rey Manga
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Mushishi is a rare breed of manga: a smartly-written story that's told with simple yet mesmerizing imagery. It defies simple descriptions: Is it a Japanese ghost story? Is it a cautionary fable of strange events and supernatural beings? Is it a heartwarming tale of compassion, friendship and love? Mushishi is all of these things and more. Full of heart, humor and wisdom, Mushishi is one of the best new manga to arrive in the states in years.

3. Nana

Cover artwork for Nana Volume 5 by Ai Yazawa, U.S. edition published by Shojo Beat / Viz Media
© 1999 Yazawa Manga Seisakusho

Author & Artist: Ai Yazawa
Publisher: Shojo Beat / VIZ Media
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Ai Yazawa's Nana is a fashionably fun and romantic shojo manga series that captures the energetic pulse of life as a twenty-something in Tokyo. Two very different girls named Nana meet on a train, and by a series of coincidences, become roommates. Nana Komatsu is a young girl looking for love and a halfway decent career in the big city. Nana Osaki is a rock and roll singer on the rise. With stylish art and sophisticated storylines Nana follows the interwined lives and loves of these two young women.

4. Akira

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

Set in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, Akira is a sci-fi/cyberpunk epic that raised the bar for manga in the '80s. Otomo's impeccably-drawn artwork and the epic scale of his story opened many people's eyes to the vast possibilities for manga as a mature storytelling medium.

5. Death Note

Front cover artwork of Death Note volume 1 by Tsugumi Ohba / Takeshi Obata
© Tsugumi Ohba / Takeshi Obata

Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Artist: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Shonen Jump Advanced / VIZ Media
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Light Yagami has got it all: Good grades, good looks and a good family. Trouble is, he's bored out of his mind. After he finds a notebook that gives him the power to kill anyone just by writing their name, Light faces the ultimate test of wits: Can he use his power to rid the world of criminals before the police, the FBI and the shinigami grim reapers catch up with him? Death Note is a brilliantly-written supernatural suspense story that hooks readers in and won't let go until the surprising climax in Volume 12.

6. Yotsuba&!

Yotsuba&! Volume 1 by Kiyohiko Azuma, published by ADV Manga / Media Works Inc.
© Kiyohiko Azuma / MediaWorks Inc.

Author & Artist: Kiyohiko Azuma
Publisher: ADV Manga
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The simple joys of summer have never been so delightful as when they're seen through the eyes of Yotsuba, the little green-haired girl who just moved into the neighborhood. A trip to the fishing hole, the playground or to the neighbor's house to enjoy the air conditioning turn into hilarious adventures. Yotsuba's quirky take on everyday life will have readers of all ages smiling from cover to cover.

7. Fruits Basket

Fruits Basket volume 17  by Natsuki Takaya published by TokyoPop
© Natsuki Takaya / TokyoPop

Author & Artist: Natsuki Takaya
Publisher: TokyoPop
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Through a series of wacky circumstances, schoolgirl Tohru Honda takes up residence at the swank residence of the very wealthy, but very cursed Sohma family. Their magical burden? They turn into Chinese zodiac animals whenever they're hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Fruits Basket starts off as a goofy romantic comedy, then develops into an emotional roller coaster that mixes humor, fantasy, profoundly moving romance and family drama for an addictive series that has made it the best-selling shojo manga title in America.

8. Naruto

Cover artwork for Naruto Volume 18 by Masashi Kishimoto, published by VIZ Media / Shueisha
© Masashi Kishimoto

Author & Artist: Masashi Kishimoto
Publisher: Shonen Jump / VIZ Media
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One of the world's most popular shonen manga series, Naruto is the extremely addictive story of a misfit junior ninja with a powerful secret: He is the living prison for a destructive nine-tailed fox demon. Full of action and unforgettable characters, Naruto is more than a martial arts comic -- It's a story full of emotional depth and humor. Definitely worth a look for any reader age 12 and up.

9. Tekkon Kinkreet: Black and White

Cover artwork for Tekkonkinkreet: Black and White by Taiyo Matsumoto, published by VIZ Media
© Taiyo Matsumoto

Author & Artist: Taiyo Matsumoto
Publisher: VIZ Signature / VIZ Media
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Bold and surreal, Tekkon Kinkreet (a.k.a. Black and White) is a story that defies expectations. It's essentially about two streetwise orphans in a corrupt city, but this witty, gritty multi-layered story reveals much more to the reader who reads it several times. While it's not your typical manga tale, Tekkon Kinkreet is a truly original creation that dazzles the eye and touches the heart.

10. Emma

Emma Volume 1 by Kaoru Mori, published by CMX Manga / Enterbrain Inc.
© Kaoru Mori / Enterbrain, Inc.

Author & Artist: Kaoru Mori
Publisher: CMX Manga
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Set in Victorian England, Emma is a historical manga centered around the intertwined lives of a maid and a wealthy aristocrat. The strict hierarchical rules of English society forbid their relationship, but they can't stop this star-crossed couple from falling in love. Meticulously-researched for historical accuracy, Mori sets the mood beautifully and tastefully. There are lovely wordless moments, stolen glances and subtle smiles that reveal her characters inner lives more effectively than any narration or dialogue ever could.

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