Image credit goes to https://www.fluentu.com/blog/japanese/learn-japanese-with-manga/
In preparation for this post, I decided to briefly review my thoughts on a lot of the manga that I have read in the past and grade each one based on their plot, art, characters, setting, and themes in hopes of understanding why I like certain manga. The final ranking was not all that dissimilar to the initial list that I wrote in my post about taste, however, some series received higher rankings, some lower, and some series that I don’t even think of as my favorites found their way into the top 10.
I will still be reviewing my original top 10 list in this post, but I did find it strange that certain aspects of series that I do not think of as my favorites would bring me to rate them so highly. It could maybe have something to do with a series’ influence on manga as a whole, or even just having a really memorable character or scene. So before I go into my original top 10, here is a look at the difference between the initial one and the new one (the original list has the series’ rankings from the new list in parentheses.)
10) Sukedachi 009 (助太刀009) by Kishimoto Seishi (#17)
9) Vagabond (バガボンド) by Inoue Takehiko (#4)
8) My Hero Academia (僕のヒーローアカデミア) by Horikoshi Kohei (#12)
7) Berserk (ベルセルク) by Miura Kentaro (#6)
6) Seven Deadly Sins (七つの大罪) by Suzuki Nakaba (#5)
5) JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (ジョジョの奇妙な冒険) by Araki Hirohiko (#10)
4) Blue Exorcist (青の祓魔師) by Katou Kazue (#11)
3) Naruto (ナルト) by Kishimoto Masashi (#3)
2) Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師) by Arakawa Hiromu (#2)
1) One Piece (ワンピース) by Oda Eiichiro (#1)
New Top 10 List According to Personal Ratings
10) JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (ジョジョの奇妙な冒険) by Araki Hirohiko
9) Gintama (銀魂) by Sorachi Hideaki
8) Dragon Ball (ドラゴンボール) by Toriyama Akira
7) Billy Bat (ビリーバット) by Urasawa Naoki
6) Berserk (ベルセルク) by Miura Kentaro
5) Seven Deadly Sins (七つの大罪) by Suzuki Nakaba
4) Vagabond (バガボンド) by Inoue Takehiko
3) Naruto (ナルト) by Kishimoto Masashi
2) Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師) by Arakawa Hiromu
1) One Piece (ワンピース) by Oda Eiichiro
So, as you can see, there were quite some differences between the two, so I will try to take this into account when explaining what it is about each series that I like on the original list. I will also be including the ratings I gave each series in each of the five categories I used (plot, art, characters, setting, and themes.)
10) Sukedachi 009 (助太刀009)
by Kishimoto Seishi
Total: 41/50 (#17)
Image credit goes to http://animanga.wikia.com/wiki/File:Sukedachi_Nine.jpg
Sukedachi 009 is a very dark, yet intriguing series written and drawn by Kishimoto Seishi-sensei, the twin brother of the manga-ka behind Naruto, Kishimoto Masashi-sensei. Unfortunately, unlike his brother, none of his manga have been massive successes, but still sell fairly well.
The manga is a sort of ‘what-if’ story, telling of a Japan that has brought back the form of criminal punishment known as adauchi, or revenge killing, in which the bereaved family members of the victim of a murder are legally given the opportunity to take the life of the criminal for revenge. But if the killer should manage to kill the bereaved instead, then they are granted a period of amnesty. However, the series twists this by allowing the bereaved to carry out their revenge through a virtual-reality experience, while the person actually trying to kill the murderer is one of nine special government agents, called the Sukedachi (a term referring to one who assists in a killing). The criminal must also be killed in the exact same way as the victim; if they killed the victim by hitting them with a car, the Sukedachi has to hit them with a car; if they stabbed the victim 30 times in the chest, the Sukedachi must stab them exactly 30 times. A virtual-reality visor connected to a camera on the Sukedachi’s body armor allows the bereaved to feel as if they are living the experience without actually having to kill anyone, retaining their “innocence.” Each member of the Sukedachi force has their own troubled past connected to the creation of the adauchi law, as well as a unique ability that aids them in fulfilling their duties, including the main character Seiji, Sukedachi number 007, who cannot feel pain below his shoulders as a result of a past accident. The story follows his and his comrades’ struggle over whether or not the adauchi law is for the good of the public and if revenge can actually mend a broken heart.
Unfortunately, Sukedachi 009 is a rather short series, only 5 volumes in total, but the plot is intriguing and well-thought out, the art is gritty and nearly realistic (in a way similar to Naruto, but darker), and the main concept behind the world in which it takes place makes for a world in which characters’ reactions and ideals seem plausible and understandable. However, because of its short length, many characters were left underdeveloped or had their stories rushed, but the main character did at least have a fully-fleshed out character arc. The series is highly underrated, and I recommend that anyone read it if the concept sounds interesting.
by Inoue Takehiko
Total: 47/50 (#4)
Image credit goes to http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/Vagabond
Vagabond is a series that is regarded by many to be the most well-drawn manga of all time. The care of Inoue-sensei for his work, who has written other well-renowned works such as Slam Dunk, can easily be seen from even the first page of this series.
Vagabond is an adaptation of Yoshikawa Eiji’s novel Musashi, telling the story of Miyamoto Musashi, the oft-proclaimed “greatest swordsman of Japanese history” (I originally wanted to keep any manga not based on another medium; anime, film, novels, etc.; out of my ranking list, but Vagabond as a manga has earned many accolades by its own right.) The story follows Musashi from his time as a youth fighting in the Battle of Sekigahara (1600 AD) into his time training with the sword to become “invincible under the heavens.” Along his travels, he has many profound experiences with various historical figures and fellow warriors. The story eventually branches off to tell the life story of Sasaki Kojiro, the man who would become Musashi’s greatest rival in the duel of Ganryu Island.
Vagabond certainly deserves the praise that it has received, as the art is outstanding among all manga, the characters are well-written and make the reader believe that they are accurate depictions of real figures in Japanese history, and themes brought about by the well-recorded ideals and thoughts of Miyamoto Musashi are brought to life. I did not put it much higher on my original list only because I have just recently read it and am waiting for the conclusion, which will no doubt be worth the wait.
8)My Hero Academia (僕のヒーローアカデミア)
by Horikoshi Kohei
Total: 42/50 (#12)
My Hero Academia has quickly found itself in a comfortable position among Weekly Shonen JUMP’s most popular current serializations. This was not manga-ka Horikoshi-sensei’s first serialization in the weekly magazine, but has been far and beyond his most successful.
My Hero Academia takes place in a world where a vast majority of humanity is born with super-human abilities called “quirks” that have changed the way that daily life is carried out. Many people aspire to become super heroes to use their quirks to save lives and fight villains who use their quirks for nefarious purposes. The main character, Midoriya Izuku, is a young boy who aspires to enter the top high school for heroes-in-training, U.A. Academy, and become a hero just like his idol, the #1 Hero, All Might. However, Izuku was born with a genetic defect that prevented him from ever developing a quirk. After a chance encounter with All Might, Izuku begins his training to prepare for his entrance into U.A. alongside a cast of colorful and unique classmates.
My Hero Academia starts out strong, providing one of the most emotional and well-paced opening chapters that JUMP has produced in a long time. Every character feels unique in design, personality, ambition, and ability, while the blend of Japanese shonen manga and American super hero comic art styles provides for a strong sense of action and excitement. Sometimes, it can be a little difficult to keep track of which character has which quirk or which personality, but the series can only continue to improve as it continues. It’s rather safe to say that My Hero Academia has taken the openings left behind in JUMP following the conclusions of Naruto and Bleach.
7) Berserk (ベルセルク)
by Miura Kentaro
Total: 44/50 (#6)
Image credit goes to https://hdwallsbox.com/berserk-manga-black-swordsman-wallpaper-13986/
In Japan, Berserk is often touted as the greatest dark fantasy manga of all time, and “dark” and “fantasy” are perfect words that encapsulate what this series is all about. A nearly 30-year publication has provided Miura-sensei with plenty of time to create a story of epic proportions. Berserk has gone on to inspire many to create beautifully dark, gritty pieces of art, with the critically-acclaimed Dark Souls video game series being at the forefront.
Berserk follows the story of former mercenary Guts as he hunts and slays demons that are attracted to a cursed emblem etched into his neck. Guts believes that slaying the demons known as Apostles will lead him to find a way to reverse the curse placed upon him and the ones he cares about and reverse the wrongs placed upon him in the past. I cannot give too much synopsis as much of the main plot is given within the first arc of the manga, but do be prepared; Berserk is perhaps one of the grittiest and unapologetic manga out there.
Berserk is often ranked highly alongside Vagabond as having some of the most enriched art in the field of seinen manga. Gritty art depicts gritty characters in scenes of gritty violence enough to excite and nauseate. I only take away points from the setting because I personally do not care for medieval settings, but that is just my own personal taste. The story is perhaps one of the greatest tales of revenge and redemption fueled by a character who is neither evil nor just; he only wants to right the wrongs cast upon him. Many people complain as the series is constantly plagued by hiatuses that sometimes see pauses between chapters for years at a time. But if these hiatuses are what allow Miura-sensei to produce such high quality work, then the wait is always well worth it.
6) Seven Deadly Sins (七つの大罪)
by Suzuki Nakaba
Total: 45/50 (#5)
Image credit goes to https://hdwallsbox.com/berserk-manga-black-swordsman-wallpaper-13986/
Seven Deadly Sins was a manga that I began reading upon the release of the first chapter in 2011. As the series grew in length, I grew more and more fond of it. Suzuki-sensei was apparently an already well-established manga artist, having the honor of being one of the few to have work published in every major shonen manga magazine. Seven Deadly Sins was my own introduction to his work, but even after reading many of his stories, it remains my favorite.
Seven Deadly Sins takes place in the kingdom of Liones in the fictional country of Britannia (modeled heavily on real-life Britain and Wales). The story begins as the princess Elizabeth finds herself on a quest to reunite the band of knights known as the Seven Deadly Sins to help her fight back against the Holy Knights who have overthrown the kingdom. She is saved from a band of Holy Knights by the former captain of the Seven Deadly Sins, Meliodas, the Dragon’s Sin of Wrath, who has the appearance of a young boy, and his talking bar mascot, Hawk the pig. Together, Meliodas, Elizabeth, and Hawk travel the country searching for clues to find the remaining Sins and return peace to the kingdom.
At first look, the art of Seven Deadly Sins highly resembles that of Toriyama Akira-sensei’s Dragon Ball (many people I know have mistaken the two at some point or another), which lends to a plethora of creative and inspired character designs with a wide range of expressions. But what is truly impressive about the series’ art are the backgrounds, into which beautiful detail is given to make the scenery feel much like that of the British countryside. Every character has a deep back-story for which Suzuki-sensei creates extra side-story chapters to explain. While the connections among characters is fascinating, the story sometimes spends too much focus on the romantic relationships between various characters, which can sometimes take away from the central plot (although one romantic subplot is central to the second half of the story). Themes of redemption and the repentance for one’s sins are weaved well into the profiles of each character. Previously, I had said that I am not such a huge fan of medieval stories and settings, and this had made me originally wary of whether or not I would like Seven Deadly Sins. However, a constant pace of progression, action, and character development has made this series one of my favorites.
5) JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (ジョジョの奇妙な冒険)
by Araki Hirohiko
Total: 43/50 (#10)
Jojo has only just recently become well-known in the West due to its recent anime adaptation. However, Jojo has been a staple in Japan’s Weekly Shonen JUMP (later in other magazines) for three decades. The series and its manga-ka, Araki Hirohiko-sensei, have now become so central to manga/anime culture (and even popular culture in general), that references to Jojo are near impossible to avoid.
Describing the plot to Jojo in a short summary is near impossible as the series is not just one story, but rather eight stories (so far) that follow the adventures of members of the Joestar bloodline throughout history (and even parallel universes!) Each “part” of the series has a different main character with some blood relation to the main character of “Part I: Phantom Blood,” Jonathan Joestar; Jojo for short (all except parts 7 and 8, in which an alternate version of Jonathan is the progenitor of the Jojo line). Each part depicts a Joestar descendant fighting against an evil or injustice using supernatural abilities. The series is chock-full of references to classic rock bands and songs such as ACDC, REO Speedwagon, and Queen (although Araki-sensei uses references to modern pop music, such as Lady Gaga and Japanese techno-pop group Perfume, in later parts).
The art of Jojo evolves as the series does, and only continues to improve as the series grows older. Every character is unique in personality and ability, allowing for unique confrontations between characters that never have a dull moment. Settings vary from England to Egypt to Italy and even fictional locations in Japan. And although the theme of each part changes with the main character, there is always a present theme of passing on the torch to a new generation and the connection of main characters through their bloodline. In the future, I would like to write a post about my own rankings for each part of Jojo, so if you have not read it, please do so and look forward to that list.
4) Blue Exorcist (青の祓魔師)
by Katou Kazue
Total: 42/50 (#11)
Image credit goes to http://maroonersrock.com/2014/02/review-blue-exorcist-manga/
Blue Exorcist was my favorite manga throughout my high school years and really changed the way that I looked at manga; more as an art form than a form of entertainment. Katou-sensei creates a rich world with sympathetic characters and unique creatures based entirely in our own.
Blue Exorcist follows the story of Okumura Rin, a boy with violent tendencies and a kind heart raised in a church by Father Shiro Fujimoto alongside his twin brother, Yukio. Upon learning of the existence of demons, it is revealed that Rin and Yukio are the sons of the demon king, Satan, who possesses and kills Fujimoto in an attempt to make Rin his new vessel (Yukio never inherited Satan’s power, and could not be used as a vessel). Vowing revenge upon the demon king for the death of his adoptive father, Rin defies the order of assassination placed on his head by the Vatican and takes up the sword containing his demonic abilities to become an exorcist. He is taken to True Cross Academy by the mysterious Mephisto Pheles, friend of Fujimoto, and is enrolled in the secret exorcism cram school, where Yukio is already an established teacher. While making friends for the first time in his life, Rin tries his best to learn to control his power and become a respected exorcist.
Blue Exorcist takes a plot not too dissimilar to series like Naruto, but adds a fresh change to it with a unique spin on a setting that resembles our own world. The designs of both the characters and the demons that they fight are both classic and original at the same time, and while the premise seems rather simple, the story goes in directions that few would expect from most shonen manga. Both Rin and Yukio make for highly relate-able characters, each in their own way; Rin as the kind-hearted trouble-maker who wants acceptance as a normal human being and Yukio as the level-headed genius who just wants to be recognized as someone beyond the brother of the boy with Satan’s powers. My only problem with the series is that there is a lack of awe-inspiring villains to counteract the wealth of impressive hero characters, despite the fact that there are so many interesting demons that appear throughout the series. Blue Exorcist was one of the series that really brought me deeper into the world of manga, and I think that it is one that really anyone can enjoy.
3) Naruto (ナルト)
by Kishimoto Masashi
Total: 48/50 (#3)
Without a doubt, Naruto is the title that enticed me into the world of manga/anime, despite having been exposed to it many times before. The world and characters that Kishimoto-sensei crafted for this story made me understand the scope of what manga is able to do that other forms of art and media cannot.
Naruto is the story of titular character Uzumaki Naruto, a boy who in which the demon Nine-Tailed Fox was sealed upon his birth, forcing him to be stigmatized by the fellow citizens of Konohagakure (the Hidden Leaf Village). Naruto grows up alone and without a family, desiring to become a ninja that can be respected by everyone in his village, aiming to become the Hokage, the strongest ninja in the village. Naruto becomes a ninja and is placed in a team with his rival, Uchiha Sasuke, love-interest, Haruno Sakura, and teacher, Hatake Kakashi. Together, they embark on missions, fight other ninja, and grow stronger. However, Sasuke is eventually enticed by a dark entity and leaves the village, Naruto chasing after him and vowing to bring him back.
Naruto is often cited as the number one stereotypical shonen manga and receives a lot of backlash from Western audiences for this reason. However, the story is nothing like any manga that had come before it and is rather a landmark that by which many shonen manga now aspire to be. The artwork is crisp and easy-to-follow, and the story, while somewhat simple, is emotional and impactful when read with the right mindset. Every character is unique and has their own motivations; both the heroes and the villains are well-written and interesting in both design and execution. Themes of friendship, dreams, and effort are often cited as being overly common in shonen manga, but Naruto is a series that handles all of these themes eloquently and in a way that moves the reader. Like how Kishimoto-sensei was inspired heavily by Dragon Ball to write Naruto, this series has inspired numerous other successful manga to come after it, including Blue Exorcist and Black Clover. Whether you care for Naruto or not, it cannot be denied that this series is influential on manga as a whole.
2) Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師)
by Arakawa Hiromu
Total: 49/50 (#2)
Image credit goes to https://www.pinterest.jp/pin/113645590567043253/?autologin=true
While some series are faced with critical acclaim in one audience and backlash with another, it seems that Fullmetal Alchemist has been one series that has been universally praised by audiences in both Japanese and Western markets. Arakawa-sensei combined an amazingly well-thought out story, amazing characters, and awe-inspiring scenes into a manga that nearly everyone can get behind.
Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who journey their home nation of Amestris in search of a way to restore their bodies to normal; in an alchemic experiment to revive their dead mother gone wrong, Edward lost his right arm and left leg, while Alphonse lost his entire body, his soul transposed into a suit of armor. During their journey, the brothers find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy involving the national military and a group of artificial humans called homunculi that could cost the lives of millions.
This is a series that is beyond deserving of the laurels that people hang upon it. The plot is more well-thought out than any other story I have ever read, allowing for readers to make their own connections as the characters do and solve the mystery alongside the Elric brothers. Every character has a purpose in the story, even if they don’t seem to at first, and helps the plot move along in their own way. The setting, based loosely on European nations during the first half of the 20th century, feels inspired, yet something original at the same time, lending itself to the ways that characters behave and making the usage of alchemy seem natural. Themes range from family, to sense of country, to sin and redemption, to race relations, and even humanity’s relation to God and truth. Truly my only issue with the entire series is that the art style, specifically that of the characters, is slightly lacking in the realism that the story presents; the backgrounds and the action are incredibly believable, but characters feel just a little to cartoon-ish. For myself, if a manga’s art style does not match the tone that it’s story sets, then it can be a little (or extremely, in some cases) off-putting. In it’s entirety, Fullmetal Alchemist is a wonderful story that I think anyone can and should experience, made complete by fantastic art, a complex, well-thought out plot, and characters that feel real, original, and engaging.
1) One Piece (ワンピース)
by Oda Eiichiro
Total: 50/50 (#1)
If you have read my previous post about One Piece, then it should not be surprising that I think of it as the greatest manga of all time and as my favorite manga. What I call “the King of Manga” is the brain child of the genius of Oda-sensei, whose ability to craft an infinite amount of unique, original characters, a world of endless fantasy, and a story that spans generations with its ability to entertain, has led me to consider him the greatest manga-ka of all time.
One Piece follows the story of Monkey D. Luffy, a young boy who aspires to sail the seas and find the treasure known as the “One Piece”; for whoever is able to find this treasure left behind by Gol D. Roger, the man once called the “Pirate King,” shall inherit his title. Along his adventures, Luffy encounters fantastic locations and recruits a number of bizarre and dream-filled members to his crew, including Roronoa Zoro, a man who uses three swords and aims to be the world’s greatest swordsman; Nami, a money-loving cat burglar with excellent navigation skills; Usopp, a pathological liar and skilled sharpshooter; Vinsmoke Sanji, a woman-obsessed cook with powerful legs; Tony Tony Chopper, a humanoid reindeer with expansive medical knowledge; Nico Robin, a wanted criminal who can read ancient text unreadable by any other; Franky, a soda-drinking cyborg and skilled craftsman; and Brook, a music-playing skeleton brought back to life. Along the way, they encounter allies and enemies alike, including fellow pirates, underworld traders, powerful warlords, and the World Government’s military. Many characters, Luffy included, are possessors of abilities from the fabled devil fruits, which grant fantastical abilities (for example, Luffy can stretch his body like rubber), but takes away their ability to swim. Together, Luffy and his allies sail the ocean to find the One Piece and achieve their own individual dreams.
Now over 20 years in the making, One Piece has truly become a story of epic proportions. Events in the story find themselves linked to others that had happened in chapters from years earlier, thanks in part to the extensive cast of unique and fantastic characters. While some devil fruit abilities seem standard for a fantasy shonen manga, most of them are completely original and Oda-sensei creates characters that compliment the ability and vice-versa. The world of One Piece is more expansive than that of any other manga; every island has its own ecosystem, its own culture, its own atmosphere. Characters and locations seem exaggerated, but as a fantasy story, One Piece makes every single detail feel wonderfully necessary, no matter how outlandish. The character of Luffy is ingenious, as, unlike most main characters, he has zero internal dialogue; everything that Luffy thinks or feels is shown directly through his actions rather than his thoughts. With perhaps the exception of friendship and individual growth, themes vary from story arc to story arc; family, acceptance, aspirations, effort, the right to live one’s own life, romance (in an adventure sense), the value of life; all of these and more are present and depicted in impactful and moving scenes. And, as I said about Fullmetal Alchemist, the art style of a manga matching its theme and tone is something that I consider important to a manga; no manga does this better than One Piece. A manga about dreams and adventure needs an art style that feels fantastic and exciting, and One Piece achieves a perfect harmony between its art and story, even if that means that certain characters or traits seem unappealing. Villains are ugly because it reflects their sinister and twisted nature while comical characters are made to look strange to make even their appearance something to laugh at. One Piece is truly the pinnacle of manga, what many manga strive to be. It has started the greatest boom of aspiring manga-ka since Dragon Ball, myself included in those who want to attain something like what it has. One Piece has reiged as the “King of Manga” for some time, and as of now, the end to its reign seems far from sight.
And there you have it, my personal top 10 favorite manga that I have read! Each one has really influenced how I view manga (and even some, how I view life) in some way, and I really hope that my recommendations can give someone a new favorite of their own. Manga is a really impressive art form into which a LOT of blood, sweat, and tears is poured, and I really think that the work of manga-ka is underappreciated. Yes, their job is to make something entertaining, but at the same time, a story is being told; a story that might be able to make you think or laugh or cry.
If you would like, please let me know what your own favorite manga are! I know this was a long one, so thank you so much for reading it if you made it this far!