A Beginner’s Guide to Manga

PART 1: SHOUNEN

First up is shounen, which is the most popular type of manga both in Japan and in the West. Almost all of the titles that are familiar to Western audiences come from this genre, including what’s come to be known as the “Big Three”: NarutoBleach, and One Piece – all of which are/were published in Japan’s most popular manga magazine, Weekly Shounen Jump. Other titles in this genre that you’ll probably recognise are Dragon BallYu-Gi-Oh, Death Note, and the super-popular Attack on Titan.

As I said in the introduction, shounen manga is mainly targeted towards a young male audience, and the word “shounen” itself can be literally translated as “boy”. Common characteristics of the genre are intense action, friendship and teamwork, and comedy – and romance is often included as well, but it usually takes a backseat to the action. Most shounen manga have young male protagonists, and the series tend to be quite long-running.

RECOMMENDATIONS

[Please note that the following recommendations are not necessarily my favourite shounen manga – but they are series that I think will make good starting-points for people unfamiliar with the genre.]

Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata//Hikaru no Go vol. 11Hikaru no Go by Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata (Weekly Shounen Jump). This story follows a young boy called Hikaru, who one day discovers an old Go board while searching his grandfather’s attic, and it turns out to be haunted by the thousand-year-old ghost of a former emperor’s Go-tutor. Luckily for Hikaru, Sai is not a malicious spirit – he just wants to play Go. Constantly. Masterfully-written and distinctively-drawn, with characters who’ll really stick with you, and an incredibly touching storyline. No actual knowledge of Go (a Japanese strategic board game) necessary.

Hiromu Arakawa//Fullmetal Alchemist vol. 27Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa (Monthly Shounen Gangan). The tale of two brothers, both talented alchemists, on a search for the legendary philosopher’s stone, that will enable them to recover the bodies that they lost in an unfortunate attempt to resurrect their dead mother. The elder brother, Edward, lost an arm and a leg, while the younger brother, Alphonse, lost his entire body, and now exists only as a soul, bound to a suit of armour. Once again, fantastic art and storytelling. There’s a little more humour in this series, as well, as well as a complex, politically-driven plot.

Haruichi Furudate//Haikyuu!! vol. 1Haikyuu!! by Haruichi Furudate (Weekly Shounen Jump). A sports manga that follows a high-schooler called Hinata, who dreams of being an ace volleyball player despite his small stature and lack of experience. The art in this series lovely (some of the best I’ve come across in a sports manga) and the matches are super-exciting, but the real strength of Haikyuu!! is in its characters – there’s not a single one that you won’t fall in love with, and even the ones who would just be extras in most series are surprisingly well fleshed-out.

CLAMP//Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle vol. 1Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE by CLAMP (Weekly Shounen Magazine). Lastly, I bring you a fantasy adventure manga, which follows a teenage boy named Syaoran and his companions on a quest through the dimensions, in order to recover the scattered memories of Princess Sakura, the girl he’s in love with – but with a catch! Syaoran had to sacrifice something in exchange for the ability to travel through dimensions, and the price that the Dimension Witch demanded was Sakura’s memories of him, so she will never remember what he meant to her. This story is more romance-heavy than the others on the list (which makes sense, since CLAMP are a group of mangaka who’re best-known for their shoujo manga), but it’s also a really fun adventure story, set to a backdrop of basically every series CLAMP have ever written (though you don’t need to be familiar with the rest of their work before reading this).

[Navigation: INTRODUCTION | SHOUNEN | SHOUJO | SEINEN & JOSEI ]

Thematic Recs: Sports Manga

As you can probably tell from my last wrap up post, I’ve been reading a lot of manga recently… But something I didn’t mention in that post is my extreme, irrational love for sports manga (and anime!), which is probably my favourite genre of manga. It’s not something I can explain – I find watching real-life sports dire, and playing is only marginally better. For some reason, though, it’s an entirely different story when it’s in manga-form! 😀 Here are some of my favourites:

Haruichi Furudate//Haikyuu!! vol. 11) Haikyuu!! by Haruichi Furudate. My most recent obsession is a volleyball manga that follows two first years in high school: Hinata, who adores volleyball, but who’s never been part of a real team before, and Kageyama, a genius setter known as the “King of the Court” because he’s prone to making unreasonable demands of his teammates. After ending up at the same school, they’re forced to learn to work together in order to join the volleyball club. This series has everything: a full cast of wonderful characters, plenty of character development, a heavy dose of realism, an interesting storyline, exciting matches, and beautiful artwork.

Daisuke Higuchi//Whistle! vol. 12) Whistle! by Daisuke Higuchi. A football anime that follows a middle-schooler called Shou Kazamatsuri, who transfers to a new school in hopes that, at a school with a much smaller football team, he might actually be able to play in games sometimes. This is one of the best sports manga I’ve ever come across, and it really holds up, even though it’s quite old (it ran from 1998-2002), with an engaging story, and a whole cast of incredibly relatable characters – but the realism is really what sets this manga apart. No magic football to be found here! 😉

Tadatoshi Fujimaki//Kuroko no Basuke vol. 13) Kuroko no Basuke by Tadatoshi Fujimaki. Basketball, this time! Our main character Kuroko was once the “Phantom Sixth Man” in the legendary middle school basketball team known as the Generation of Miracles for their miraculous skills on the court, but… people tend to forget about him. Now his teammates have all gone their separate ways for high school, hoping that facing off against each other will provide them with a real challenge – while Kuroko hopes that he will be able to rekindle their dwindling love for the sport. Suspension of disbelief is required from the get-go for this one, but the story is gripping, and the humour is spot on. You should also be prepared for feelings. Lots and lots of them, particularly as the series progresses.

Takeshi Konomi//The Prince of Tennis vol. 14) The Prince of Tennis by Takeshi Konomi. A super-popular manga that follows a tennis prodigy called Ryoma, who returns to Japan from the U.S. at his father’s request, in order to attend his old middle school. Be warned that the actual tennis in this series gets rapidly more and more ridiculous as it goes on – most people who love it, seem to love it for the characters (of which there are many), and it inspires a huge amount of loyalty from its fans. I’m a Rikkai girl through and through (and not just because they wear Hufflepuff colours!), and I experience inexplicable joy whenever the team reappears in the story. 🙂 This series isn’t for everyone, but give it a chance, and you might just fall in love with it, too!

Riichiro Inagaki//Eyeshield 21 vol. 15) Eyeshield 21 by Riichiro Inagaki. This follows a high school American football team (called “Amefuto” in-series) that’s struggling to survive with incredibly low membership. Enter Sena, a first year whose main talent is running away from bullies… and who the team captain decides will make a brilliant running back. Consent not required. This series is heavy on the comedy, but the characters are great fun, as are their interactions (Sena often comes across as the sole sane man, surrounded by lunatics). The match scenes are fairly realistic, and it’s quite easy to follow the rules of the game, even for someone like me who doesn’t really know anything about American football…

Honourable Mentions: Area no Kishi by Hiroaki Igano, and Giant Killing by Tsunamoto Masaya. These are both football manga, and are great so far. They haven’t been included in the main list only because I haven’t actually read that much of either of them yet… Area no Kishi follows a high-schooler who’s dealing with the tragic death of his super-football-star brother, while Giant Killing focuses (interestingly) on the coach of a professional team who are hoping to play their way out of mediocrity. Also Baby Steps by Hikaru Katsuki, which is a more realistic take on a tennis manga. I haven’t even started reading the manga yet, but the anime is excellent (despite the weird art style), and anime adaptations tend to be quite faithful to their source material, so I expect that the manga is, too!