by Ed Sizemore
Looking back over 2011, there were some great manga published. In particular, three significant books were translated into English: Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, Tank Tankuro, and Wandering Son. Only Tank Tankuro by Gajo Sakamoto didn’t make my top ten list. It’s an important children’s manga from pre-World War II. However, it doesn’t age very well. Sakamoto’s unquestioning patriotism and use of stereotypes makes it hard to enjoy.
There were two Tezuka manga published this year, and I desperately wanted to include them in my top ten. However, honesty forbids me. Book of Human Insects is well-written, but I still struggle with a Tezuka story where the villain or villainess wins in the end. Princess Knight is a fun book, but it’s also deeply flawed in its storytelling.
Here are my top ten favorite manga for 2011.
1. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki. Finally, we get a manga by Mizuki in English. A powerful, semi-autobiographic tale of the hardships faced by Japanese troops during World War II, this book is also a needed reminder that not everyone wearing a Japanese uniform supported the Imperial regime. I hope this does well enough to spark interest in his other works, especially GeGeGe no Kitaro.
2. Wandering Son by Shimura Takako. Words fail me when trying to describe the beauty and artistry of this manga. The genius of this series is that Takako doesn’t focus on how ‘strange and unusual’ transgender people are, but rather how ordinary. I want to say this should be required reading for junior high students as a way to help promote understanding. However, I don’t really know if that approach works.
3. A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori. My review of the first volume focused too much on my own hang-ups instead of the breathtaking art, wonderful storytelling, and meticulous research. My eyes almost die from ecstasy with each new volume.
4. A Zoo in Winter by Jiro Taniguichi. I feel like Taniguichi is writing his stories for me. His sense of nostalgia, history, and character are almost identical to my own. I immediately identify with his lead characters and sympathize with what they’re going through. Maybe it’s a middle-aged man thing.
5. Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami. Everybody and their brother has praised this book and rightly so. It’s as moving as everyone says. It’s a sad story, so best to save it for when you’re ready for a good cry.
6. 7 Billion Needles by Nobuaki Tadano. This series seems to have been overlooked by most people. It deserves a much wider audience. It’s a solid sci-fi story that gets better with each volume and has a terrific ending.
7. 20th Century Boys Volumes 13-18 by Naoki Urasawa. This series has been an amazing roller coaster ride. I’m impressed that Urasawa is able to maintain real suspense over so many volumes. I can’t wait to see how it all wraps up.
8. Twin Spica Volumes 5-10 by Kou Yaginuma. Another great sci-fi series by Vertical that is getting criminally neglected. This is more of a soft sci-fi, where the focus is on the characters and their development over technology and world-building. A very moving story with lead characters you’re constantly rooting for.
9. Yotsuba Volume 10 by Kiyohiko Azuma. This series is pure joy. Yotsuba is the cure for any bad mood. Unfortunately, we have caught up with the Japanese releases, so that means only one or two volumes a year. Azuma needs to write faster.
10. Chi’s Sweet Home Volumes 5-7 by Kanata Konami. Look, it’s a cat manga, so it’s already 90% there for me. It’s well-written and adorable, so I’m totally sold. This is another manga where we’ve caught up to the Japanese release and will have long waits between volumes.