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. I have a few subcategories, under which I’ve ranked a maximum of five titles, with #1 being best. Links take you to reviews of the titles.
Best New Manga
- Pluto — Simply astounding, a meditation on the nature of what it means to be human in a time of great crisis, told through a gripping robot murder mystery.
- Ooku: The Inner Chambers — Fumi Yoshinaga hits new heights of achievement and insight with this story of a male harem in historical Japan. Beautiful and heart-breaking.
- 20th Century Boys — The second Naoki Urasawa work on the list (Pluto being the first), which is pretty amazing. Also amazing is how easy it is to argue over which is better, with answers varying based on which chapter of which series has most recently come out and how impressed the reader is. This series can be more wide-ranging than the other, with a weirder cast of characters.
- Oishinbo a la Carte — Pure fun and exoticism. Learn crazy details about Japanese food and culture while salivating over how good all the dishes sound.
- A Drifting Life — Flawed, but impressive in its massive scope. Its power and impact can’t be denied.
This was definitely Viz’s year, with outstanding releases from their Signature line, especially. Manga for adults (not porn, just mature material) seems to have found an audience, thanks to their support. This would also be my best overall list, which I find a positive sign, that so much good stuff began this year.
Best Continuing Manga
This list is very similar to last year’s. Which is nice, that series I loved continued being good. Yotsuba&! wasn’t on last year’s only because no volumes were released in 2008.
- Nana — Always my best. Books 14-19 came out this year, exploring young women finding themselves in one of the most vibrant cities of the world. Plus, it captures on paper the power of love and rock’n’roll.
- Yotsuba&! — As mentioned above, it came back this year from a new publisher, with books 6 and 7 coming out from Yen Press, along with reissues of the first five. Charming view of the world from a child’s perspective, full of imagination and wonder.
- Aria — Another one that came back from uncertainty, which thrilled me. There was only one volume this year; I hope for more in the next. Reading this lovely, pastoral series about female gondoliers on another planet is a relaxing, transporting experience.
- Hikaru no Go — I have been following this series since 2004, and I’m still enjoying it. That’s pretty impressive. Books 14-17, out this year, captured a transformative moment in the lead character’s life, as he passed from a boy to man.
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei — Launched this year, but I put it here to make the numbers work. I enjoy it because of its consistent satire of culture and human nature. So much is specific to Japan, but there’s plenty more that’s universal. And I love the flat, design-y look, different from so much else, but still recognizably manga.
Best Completed Manga
Not many titles I recommend ended this year. Maybe I’m getting luckier. The first one on this list, though, will be sorely missed.
- Emma — This was on the same list last year, as I thought book 7 ended the series. However, this year saw three move volumes, collecting short stories about the characters. This final volume (for real this time) went out on the best note possible: a glorious wedding.
- The Color of Earth, Water, and Heaven — A bit too sanctimonious at times, but I liked it for doing something different. And kudos to graphic novel publisher First Second for explanding their line in this way.
Honorable mention: Kat & Mouse — I thought this kids’ mystery series was doomed to remain unresolved, but here, two years after the previous volume, readers were given the tying-up of loose ends, thankfully. Not really a manga, by some definitions, although published by Tokyopop, I’m still sorry to see it go.
Guilty Pleasures and Griping
Last year, this category was “Most Disappointing”, but that seemed too negative. This year, it’s a catch-all for other things I wanted to mention. Other series I’m enjoying include:
- Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs — I still love this “doggie book”, although I cringe at the every-so-often panty shot. The rest of it, though, is cute and heart-warming. The release frequency keeps decreasing (only three volumes this year, 12-14), which concerns me, but there’s at least one more volume scheduled for March.
- The Lizard Prince — Not my usual kind of story, but enjoyable in its comedy fantasy romance.
- Otomen — Wildly uneven but surprisingly enjoyable, even so. Launched this year, four books out so far.
- High School Debut — The last few volumes have been disappointing, but that’s in comparison to outstanding early installments. I think I might have liked it more, as a whole, if it had ended earlier. Six books out this year, 7-12; the last volume of the series ships in February.
My biggest change of heart would be Papillon. Last year, it was on my best new manga list, based solely on its first book. It went in a very different direction this year, so I dropped it, but then I tried again, after having first removed all expectations of seeing anything approaching normal behavior. At that point, it became somewhat enjoyable in its wackiness. Remember, reading is a balance between the material and the reader.