For the purpose of this post, I’m using a highly idiosyncratic definition of “best”, based mostly on what I looked forward to and enjoyed re-reading. And if some sources can publish “Best of 2008″ lists in early November, I figure as long as mine’s out by the end of January, I’m good.
I have a few subcategories, under which I’ve ranked a maximum of five titles, with #1 being best. Links take you to my reviews.
Best Completed Manga
These titles ended this year, and I’ll miss them.
- Tramps Like Us, the wonderful josei, concluded in February.
- Emma got her happy ending in March in this Victorian maid’s romance.
- The thrilling Naoki Urasawa’s Monster ended in December, although we’re still talking about what the conclusion meant.
- The Kindaichi Case Files series was truncated early with volume 17, The Undying Butterflies, in May, due to publisher problems.
I had expected to include ES (Eternal Sabbath) (ended in March) on this list, but I found the conclusion so out of keeping with the rest of the series that it didn’t make the cut.
Best Continuing Manga
- Nana, easily. Brilliant stuff, with books 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 out this year.
- Aria — Although Tokyopop began publishing it this year, I couldn’t in good conscience put it under Debut, because ADV put out three volumes back in 2004. However, Tokyopop did continue the series beyond where ADV left off, releasing a new book 4. It’s simply lovely to look at.
- Love*Com is goofy romantic comedy, very good at what it does and always enjoyable.
- Parasyte‘s alien body horror overcame my dislike of scary stuff due to its skill and depth.
- Hikaru no Go — It’s easy to take consistently good, long-running series for granted, distracted by shiny new stories, but this competition manga stayed at the top of its game.
Plus, a quick shout-out to my favorite guilty pleasure, Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs, just because no one else ever mentions it.
Best New Manga
- Black Jack — Demented. Excellent. Viscerally imaginative.
- High School Debut is very very good at what it does, and by turning the usual characterizations on their heads (the girl is sporty and doesn’t understand relationships; the boy does although he’s been hurt in the past), it stays fresh and funny. It also comes out quickly, with six volumes this year, one every couple of months, which helps in building and keeping interest.
- Sand Chronicles steps beyond the usual high school romance with realistic tough choices.
- Papillon only started in October, but I loved its twist on Cinderella twins, and with the author’s track record on Peach Girl, I have confidence it will continue well.
- Solanin, a single-volume telling of how a group of young adult friends make key life decisions.
- Aurora’s josei and ladies’ comics. While Walkin’ Butterfly started acceptably storywise, there were printing and binding problems with the book (the spine was too tight, mostly). As the series continued, the physical problems were corrected, only for the story to become tiresome. The promised conclusion in book 4 keeps getting put off and now has no definite publication date. The Luv Luv line of sexy comics for adult women, meanwhile, delivered plenty of sex wrapped in plenty of cliches and sometimes disturbing ideas of how women should behave. It was adult only in the number of naked body parts shown.
- Beauty Pop — From great beauty competitions with original characters to boringly standard romance. Dropped.
- The Reformed — Who would have guessed that prolific how-to-draw-manga artist Christopher Hart’s original manga would be so horrible?
- Manga Sutra — From creative sex education to stereotype in only three books. This series had potential to be something different, a sexy yet informative story for adults, but instead went for repetitious plotlines that didn’t address the conflicts the author raised, settling instead for overly familiar characters and situations.
- Honey and Clover, for not living up to all of its praise. That’s not the fault of the series — it’s a fairly good story with characters that I’d really like if some of them weren’t so aggressively wacky — but I feel bad for not liking it as much as I feel I’m supposed to.
For comparison, here’s last year’s list. Please note that I have a couple more Best of 2008 posts, one for graphic novels and one overall, still to come.