While to most, the concept of "serious comic books" no longer seems a contradiction in terms, manga still has a reputation as kid- and teen-oriented. Lots of leaping and yelling and punching, or handsome older boys standing next to blushing teenage girls. But there are plenty of deeper, thought-provoking manga out there that are (relatively) easy to find outside of Japan. Below are a list of 10 manga titles that, while they may be fun or funny, go deeper than the average comic.
by Katsuhiro Otomo
There's a reason this became one of the most popular anime films of all time. This is a truly epic, sweeping story of many lives caught in a turbulent near-future. Not unlike a good WW2 movie.
by Osamu Tezuka
What was originally a simple children's adventure story tackles all sorts of issues, from racism to heroism. It may be simple at times, but that's part of its charm. Not surprising from Osamu Tezuka, the "God of Manga."
illustrated by Yukito Kishiro
Some stories never take the easy way out. Alita, an android created for war that wants nothing more than a quiet normal life, goes through hell over the course of this story, in all sorts of personal ways. Plus, the artwork is clean and exciting.
by Osamu Tezuka
Tezuka, the "God of Manga," decided to take on a biography of Buddha, and it turned into a 3,000-page epic. He sticks to the natural biography of Buddha and his beliefs, ignoring the mysticism of Buddha's later years, making this a very accessible read for those interested in his life and major philosophical turning points.
by Osamu Tezuka
Another series by Tezuka, this time inventing the modern samurai adventure story. The protagonist, Hyakkimaru, was abandoned by his cruel father, who gave up his son's various body parts to 48 demons. Hyakkimaru now grimly hunts down those demons in this dark story of fantastic horrors, accompanied by a kid thief named Dororo. The depth here comes from Hyakkimaru's struggles with his fate and his reactions to other, normal people.
by Y. Yasuhiko
The "Star Trek of Japan" got its start with an anime TV series in 1979; this manga by the original character designer is a condensed re-telling of that epic war story (again, think WW2 drama). Its strength lies in its characters, some driven and some downright deranged, as they battle through the final months of the One Year War.
illustrated by Hayao Miyazaki
The single deepest comic story I've ever read, Nausicaa is a post-apocalyptic adventure that confronts the nature of human impact on the environment. What starts as a simple metaphor becomes a complicated philosophical topic woven into a sweeping war story; this is not a paean to environmentalism.
illustrated by Osamu Tezuka
This is the final work listed here by Tezuka, and it's arguably his deepest. It's really a collection of relatively short stories, all connected by people who seek or encounter the Phoenix, which can grant immortality. It's an almost incomprehensibly vast story, spanning millions of years and dozens of characters, touching on many facets of human existence and purpose.
by Nobuhiro Watsuki
Kenshin was once an assassin for the revolution, but he's repented and now he just wants to live in peace. But the consequences of his past actions return to haunt (and fight) him, as Kenshin eventually must confront not only old enemies but also his own regret and pain.
While this manga has only the barest semblance of a plot — a high-strung boy is hired by a laconic modern witch to help with her clients — the series has a Twilight Zone-like strength to its individual stories. Each client's problem usually hides deep psychological issues, and the solution is often shocking and thought-provoking.
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
About Brent P. Newhall
Brent is a writer, teacher, programmer, cook, gardener, artist, techie, blogger, and part-time scholar.
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