Manga for Beginners: My Journey into the Big, Mad World of Japanese Comics (Guest Blogger Post)

Welcome back to another guest blogger week on simpleek! This week we have the very awesome Ashley Hagood of Robo♥Beat. Ashley’s blog focuses mainly on the things she loves the most, which are science fiction, fantasy, and video games. If you’re looking for a blog that focuses on  film, TV, books, or games with a sci-fi and fantasy angle, most likely you will find it on her blog. Nothing Ashley blogs about is ever boring, and she brings fresh and insightful perspectives on the genres. She’s also a contributing writer for Population GO. Aside from her love of all things sci-fi, fantasy, and video games, Ashley is a new fan to manga. For her guest post, Ashley talks about what it’s like to navigate the wide and wonderful world of manga as a newbie. Read her picks for the best starter manga if you’re also a newcomer to manga like she is. If you love sci-fi, fantasy, and video games as much as she does, please visit her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter for updates on her current projects or if you want to just chat with her. Ashley is a lovely person to chat with, so tweet at her!

As someone who has always loved a good yard and lots of fantasy or sci-fi, manga has seemed like an exciting storytelling medium to tap. But for a long time, the idea of getting into manga overwhelmed me. Weaving through the many genres and foreign titles was confusing at first, and I quickly learned that the story and visual style of many manga series are not well-suited to manga virgins. I needed a gentle entrance to Japanese comics.

And so, naturally, I asked everybody who read manga for recommendations. I quizzed friends, bugged coworkers, and spent a lot of time surfing manga apps and forums for beginner-friendly series. There are still many that I can’t wait to dig into, such as Akira, Fullmetal Alchemist, Ouran High School Host Club, Black Butler, One Piece, Yotsuba&!… Yeah, I should stop. The point is there’s a lot of good manga out there.

Rather than diving straight into the series with over-the-top, whimsical premises – which are totally endearing but can be a bit much for newbs such as myself – I looked for series with lots of heart and drama. And as manga fans must know, those are not hard to find. What I love about manga is how daring and heartfelt many of the stories can be… and I’m looking forward to embracing the crazy chaos of manga’s madder stories soon, too.

Thanks to recommendations and online research, I found a few manga series that appealed to me as a newb. Some are popular, others I never heard about from anyone but deserve tons of praise, and one drove me nuts even though I couldn’t put it down. And I’m grateful to them for helping me kick open the door to the manga world.

Death Note

Death Note

My best friend in college introduced me to the live-action Death Note movies, and from there, I dove into the manga series. It’s insanely well-known for a reason, and I believe it’s a great starter manga for adults because of its dark story and sophisticated themes.

It revolves around Light Yagami, who discovers a notebook that allows him to write the names of people whose faces he knows to kill them; he can even specify how they die. Light decides to use the Death Note for what he believes is good, killing criminals – and then he’ll set himself up as the god of the new, honest world. Part of the fun is his interactions with the shinigami Ryuk, the former owner of the Death Note. And then there’s the detective “L” from the International Police Organization, who is determined to track down whoever is causing these mysterious deaths.

Death Note explores whether any human has the right to play god and toys with the definition of “criminal,” as Light, in judging and deciding the fate of criminals, essentially becomes one, too.

Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle

I am nowhere near finished with this manga series by Clamp, but I might be in love with it. The art style, story, characters, comedy – everything about this manga feels rich and compelling. And what’s strange is that I can’t for the life of me remember where I first discovered it.

Tsubasa

The series begins when Princess Sakura of Clow Kingdom loses her spirit, which disappears into alternative dimensions. To save her, Syaoran, her childhood friend and archaeologist (I love that he’s an archaeologist) visits these other worlds to track down the pieces of her soul, with the help of the Dimensional Witch and others who have reasons to travel. But Syaoran must pay the Dimensional Witch with whatever is most precious to him – and as heartbreaking as it is, that’s Sakura’s memories of him.

Also, the lovely simpleek has recommended the connected series Cardcaptor Sakura based on how much I love this series, so I’m excited to jump into that next and learn about these characters all over again!

Hot Gimmick

Hot Gimmick

Even though I started other manga series before Hot Gimmick, this is the first one I finished, because I could not put it down. Its art and layout make it easy to follow, and the story is addicting. It revolves around a sweet 16-year-old girl named Hatsumi, who sneaks into a store to buy a pregnancy test for her younger sister. But another high schooler, Ryoki, catches her and blackmails her into being his slave, doing his bidding anytime he commands it.

While this may not be the most stellar manga on my list, it’s easily the most controversial – and that’s what makes it so interesting. Most of the time while reading, I wanted to strangle the characters. Hatsumi is ridiculously passive, Ryoki is manipulative and abusive, and there are over-the-top scenes depicting despicable behavior, without the characters learning lessons or evolving much. When I finished this manga, I immediately jumped onto Goodreads to write a raging review about how much it upset me – yet I still gave it 3 out of 5 stars for being such an infuriating, gripping, totally-didn’t-expect-that-ending read.

Planetes

When I was first researching manga a few months ago, this is the manga that caught my attention most. It’s hard science fiction, which is one of my favorite genres in any medium. And it’s beautiful. I’m not just talking about the art; the stories, characters, and emotions are also rich and thought-provoking. In the very beginning, the poignant chapter closings left me in awe and made me want to keep reading, even without cliffhangers.

Planetes

Planetes follows the stories of the DS-12 “Toy Box” crew, who collect space debris to prevent it from colliding with and damaging space crafts. Though some chapters seem to be about the space debris, many others explore life in space and the character’s personal journeys – including why they would take a rather glamorless job collecting space debris like this. I also enjoy the scientific talk, which rings true and shows that the writers obviously did their research to depict space in a realistic way.

It’s no wonder that this series own the Seiun Award for best sci-fi series, and I can’t wait to watch the anime next.

Bakuman

Bakuman

Another popular manga by the creators of Death Note, Bakuman is a fun beginner reader because it’s a manga about manga – and what could be a better introduction than that? A coworker recommended it to me because I enjoyed Death Note. It follows the young, idealistic creators of a manga series as they first birth their plan and later gain success. There’s also a cute love story just over the horizon – with a girl who wants to be a voice actor. It reminds me a bit of Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which is one of my favorites; that book also follows a young duo, but this time writing a comic book series. Honestly, there’s nothing that feels quite as good as jumping into the far-fetched dreams of young, creative people and watching them come true.

– Ashley

17 thoughts on “Manga for Beginners: My Journey into the Big, Mad World of Japanese Comics (Guest Blogger Post)

  1. Reblogged this on Robo♥Beat and commented:
    After lots of research and false starts, I’ve finally started reading manga! (And yeah, I’m still a total beginner, so send me manga recommendations!) Check out my “simpleek” post about the different series that got me started.

    • Death Note is good as a starter, and for shoujo romance, Ouran HS is good too, but Tsubasa Chronicles put me off fantasy /adventure. The plotline is convoluted and even the authors had admitted they’ve put themselves in a box they couldn’t get out of. Readers also needed to read xxxHolic besides Card captor sakura, to understand some parts of the story.

      • I just started Ouran High School Host Club too and like it so far. Yeah, the Tsubasa plot can be really confusing, but I still love the characters and art… and overall I really enjoy the story concept. So it’s better to read Cardcaptor Sakura and xxxHolic before this one? That’s good to know, I’m not even close to being finished with Tsubasa so maybe I’ll pick those up now rather than later!

    • Unfortunately, I think you might want to finish card captor sakura first, then maybe simultaneously read xxxHolic and Tsubasa Chronicles. In fact, there are 2 more TC is interwoven with. I just can’t recall the titles. One has Tokyo something in the title.
      There’s another good one… Monster. The author has been given numerous awards for this.
      And by the way, if you get to like shoujo romance, there are actually 2 types… shoujo for younger readers, and josei, for more “mature” ones. But it doesn’t mean shoujo stories are immature ^^”…. Ouran HS is shoujo, but it’s cute. Josei can be a bit depressing.

  2. I love anime and comics so you’d think I’d be all into manga as well. One of these days, I’ll take the plunge and Death Note will definitely be one on my list.

    • Yeah, Death Note seems to be one of those mangas that anybody can enjoy, even if they’re not into manga. It’s kind of like Watchmen or something, where even if you don’t read comics, you can still enjoy a dark, well-woven, illustrated story.

  3. Great post and welcome to the world of Manga haha :) The ones I would recommend are Elfen Lied (reduced me to a sobbing puddle) and Monster (brilliantly written thriller/drama). I’ve never read the manga but I’ve watched the Anime of Ouran High School Host Club and Code Geass, both of which I can highly recommend. Oh and Full Metal Panic.

    Sorry I’ll stop. But definitely Elfen Lied, it’s my favorite and very highly rated.

    Thanks for sharing! All the best :)

    Rohan.

    • Thanks! I will check out Elfen Lied and Monster. I’m always up for a tear-jerker, so Elfen Lied will be at the top of my list for sure. And it’s okay, I’ll take all the recommendations I can get… so send me more anytime! =)

      • Well Full Metal Panic is awesome, and since you are into gaming as well I’d have to recommend Sword Art Online!

        I watched the Anime of Elfen Lied first and am going through the Manga now. I was a mess after the anime lol. It’s my favorite, but it really doesn’t go easy.

        Have fun!

        Rohan.

  4. People mention Monster, but it’s easier to start with Pluto, it’s the same author, it’s shorter and it’s sci-fi.

    Akira is another fun choice for adult manga sci-fi, and it’s a classic.

    Also, I adore Death Note too. Great comic book, page-turner like no other. I’ve watched the movie after manga and it surprised me in an incredibly positive way.

    Anyway, great article and nice selection of comics! I need to get into Planetes, seems right up my alley.

    • Yeah, Planetes is amazing. People say it’s really similar to Saturn Apartments, which I also started but I liked Planetes better, so I put the other on the back burner after just a couple of chapters.

      Akira is on my to-read list, I’m always up for more sci-fi! I’ll check out Pluto, too. I hadn’t heard of Monster or Pluto before this, so I’m eager to check them out. Thanks for the suggestions!

  5. Death Note is fantastic, and the tv series is among my favorites as well. Full Metal Alchemist is another winner. And hopefully I won’t get laughed out of the comments when i say I’ve read every chapter and love the Naruto manga, way more than the tv show. It has so much heart, and the characters are adorable. I can forgive the overwrought flashback diatribes when the characters can so consistently rip my heart out.

    • Yes! I was going to read Fullmetal Alchemist as one of my first mangas, but then I got carried away with a bunch of others. I actually just started the anime, but I’m thinking maybe I should set that aside until after I read it…

      Naruto! I’m sure I will get around to that, it seems like one of the most well-loved mangas out there for sure. I like anything that will rip my heart out, so that’s good to know!

  6. Huh, I would never have pegged those as good beginner manga except for Death Note. Tsubasa, in particular, is shocking because it’s essentially a cross-over manga made for fans of Clamp. You don’t need to know about the other stories, of course, but much of the fan service and a few jokes are lost on you if you aren’t familiar. And for Hot Gimmick, it’s precisely because it’s so problematic that I would not recommend it. I wouldn’t want people to get the wrong idea about shoujo. Last two I personally have not read, so no opinion.

    My personal recommendations:
    Akira – I’m going to agree with everyone here. This is the perfect entry point for the more mature readers. It’s not too long, features art that is almost a melding of East and West, and has a really intriguing story to boot.
    Dream Saga – On the other end of the spectrum, there is Dream Saga, which is perfect for young (female) readers, featuring a likeable but spunky heroine, an interesting plot, and safe and cute romance. It’s also only 5 volumes long. I find most new manga readers get overwhelmed by the series that go on for over 10 volumes, so for first timers, I do try and recommend shorter but still satisfying works.
    Cat Street – Ok, this one is unlicensed, but it is the ideal manga I would give someone if they wanted to see what shoujo romances are about. You have a flawed but interesting heroine, two guys, and a plot that acts as a coming of age story.
    Fairy Cube – For shoujo without a focus on romance, I would go with Fairy Cube. It’s super short, but still has interesting characters and a pretty good plot. Art is very clean too and the premise focusing on Western mythology will give new readers something familiar to latch onto to.

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