Ai Yori Aoshi Vol. 1
by Kou Fumizuki
This charming, tender series features some characters that are almost sickeningly sweet. Almost, but not quite, and in the end, theyíre quite lovable.
The cover features Aoi Sakuraba in a pose Iíd love to post on my wall, and one that girlfriends everywhere would probably love to tear down from a wall. For a cute, innocent girl, Aoi sure does get illustrated well in all the right places.
Kaoru Hanabishi has almost completely forgotten his childhood. Honestly, it wasnít full of too many happy memories, anyway. Thus, when Aoi shows up claiming to be his fiancť, he is taken aback. However, in addition to being a beautiful young woman, Aoi is also one of the kindest, most sincere people Kaoru has ever met. Now, if only her family (one of the wealthiest, most powerful families in the world) could see things her wayÖ
While this series doesnít really get moving until the later volumes, itís one of the best romances out there, and itís about time we finally got it (in manga form) in the states. Ai Yori Aoshi boasts great art, great characters, and an unpredictable storyline. Pick it up!
Megatokyo Vol. 2
story and art by Fred Gallagher, co-created with Rodney Caston
My personal favorite web-based comic has finally made it to its second physical printing thanks to Dark Horse Comics this time. The artwork has been flipped for this editionÖokayÖjust kidding.
Seriously, though, if youíre going to pay for a free comic, then you should get some bang for your buck, and Dark Horse more than delivers with this excellent edition of Megatokyo. Tons of bonus material and the ability to check out any strip almost instantaneously (instead of waiting for them to load on your computer) make this a must-buy for fans of the series.
Megatokyo is disturbingly familiar to me in ways I dare not explain, but letís just say if I could kill things for SEGA for a living, youíd just need to hand me a gun and point at the target. Even if you donít empathize on every imaginable level with Piro and Largo, thereís bound to be some element of anime, gaming, or Japanese culture that you can relate to. For a series produced as a hobby, Megatokyo has more depth and soul than many commercially created comics out there today. Fredís artwork is amazing, and his characters are even better, so get this and support domestic web comics!
I do have to warn those of you who arenít into the aforementioned subcultures that this may be too much for you. However, if youíre not into anime, manga, or video games, then why are you reading this?
Vagabond Vol. 8
by Takehiko Inoue
The story of Musashi, one of Japanís greatest swordsman and philosophers, has slowed down a little bit as this series enters its eight volume. That isnít to say that there is less action Ė most of the book is actually one long fight scene. When I say itís slowed down, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the focus has intensified on a key moment in Musashiís life. As he realizes his beastlike method of fighting will get him killed sooner rather than later, he begins to see things in a slightly more enlightened way in order to stand up to Inshun of Hozoin Temple.
The artwork remains better than almost every other manga now available. Itís that good. The story, based on Eiji Yoshikawaís classic (Musashi), is equally solid. This is easily one of my top ten favorite series, and worth picking up for anyone who likes a good samurai swordfight. The book is big, inexpensive, unflipped and even has color. Itís the best of all worlds, and Vagabond deserves such respect.
Battle Angel Last Order Vol. 2
by Yukito Kishiro
Speaking of my top ten favorite manga series, hereís number one for me - Battle Angel. Yukito Kishiro mixes science fiction, philosophy, frantic action, and easily the best character ever created Ė Alita Ė and weaves one of the most engrossing, original, and beautiful stories Iíve ever had the pleasure of encountering.
Set after the shocking truth of the Tipharean people is revealed in the first series, Alita now seeks to bring peace to the chaos she helped create.
With enough technical details to satisfy a rabid Star Trek fan and enough philosophical ponderings to keep a temple full of monks contemplating in silence for a decade, itís no surprise that so many people love this series.
Intellectual content aside, thereís also the superb artwork, featuring sublimely attractive, horribly deformed, and altogether unique characters with plenty of personality to support their incredible physical appearance. This is the reason I read manga, and at times, I think I enjoy anime simply in the hopes that Battle Angel might one day be properly animated.
Happy Lesson Vol. 1
art by Shinnosuke Mori, created by Mutsumi Sasaki
ADV is off to a great start, but they still need to work on their English adaptations of the manga titles they produce domestically.
Happy Lesson follows the life of Susumu, a lonely boy who is suddenly made less lonely when a group of young women decide to become his surrogate mother. At the same time.
All of the hijinks you can imagine (or that you can recall from Love Hina, Ranma Ĺ, Ai Yori Aoshi, or any other sort of harem manga series) are bound to occur eventually, but for those of us who canít get enough of this genre (yes, harem comedy is a genre), thatís what we want.
If youíre tired of it, then move on to something with a more believable guy to girl ratio.
Shinnosuke Moriís artwork is good and lively, though at times I had trouble telling the mothers apart. Oh, and for the record, ďmamaĒ sounds slightly perverted to me. Donít ask me why, but itís used so often that it bothers me. Maybe Iím weird. As with Azumanga Daioh and Full Metal Panic, Happy Lesson just doesnít read as well as it should. It could benefit from another slight rewrite, in my opinion. Itís okay to stray from the original source material if youíre making things more readable, and I mean grammatically readable, not culturally readable.
Thereís no need to go replacing cultural references, but characters should speak like humans, after all.
Fruits Basket Vol. 1
by Natsuki Takaya
One of the most eagerly anticipated manga series is finally here, and it was certainly worth the wait! Bishonen, cat-guys, mouse-guys, and the undeniably endearing Tohru Honda all combine to create an irresistibly addictive series.
Tohru is coping with the death of her mother and ends up moving in with a small band of members of the Sohma family while her reluctant blood relative guardians work on their house. She quickly discovers the shocking secret of the well-off family, which sets the stage for quite a bit of drama and humor down the line. When hugged by a member of the opposite sex, each member of the Sohma clan changes into the animal of the Chinese zodiac that represents his or her birth year.
Unknown to most people, however, there is a legend concerning the zodiac involving the cat as an excluded member from the menagerie. Itís a story that Tohru has always been fond of, but when she actually meets the cat, he isnít exactly what she had hopedÖ
At times, the panel arrangement is a bit confusing, as is the time progression, but this is such an amazingly cute story, you wonít mind pausing and rereading to get into the flow of the book. The artwork is distinct and aesthetically pleasing, but itís the plot that fans are here for. Everyone needs a little Fruits Basket - get yours today!
Maison Ikkoku Vol. 3
by Rumiko Takahashi
The third volume of Viz's re-release of Takahashi's great classic Maison Ikkoku is brilliant due to the new pricing and unflipped format. Reading through this series the first time enchanted me, and the once-again is somehow more magical.
The comedic romance between Kyoko and Godai starts to become more heated, as Godai can't quite escape dating the eternally too-kind Kozue, causing Kyoko to date tennis coach Shun Mitaka almost out of spite. Still, this volume starts to see Godai's emotions for Ikkoku-kan's manager to be less about lust, and more about heart.
Besides continuing on with the insane circumstances that keep this fated couple apart, Takahashi introduces the first real conflict of the story, as Kyoko's parents try and force her to quit her job and move back in with them. Seeing the residents of the run-down apartment actually display hurt over the sudden (and faulty) news of Kyoko's departure really adds in the human element to the otherwise two-dimensional characters. And folks, from this point on, it just keeps getting better and better. Don't be a fool and miss out on Maison Ikkoku again. At this price, it's impossible to resist.
Please Save My Earth Vol. 2
by Saki Hiwatari
About the only thing that sucks about this book is that there are nineteen more volumes after this that I still have to wait for. Every once in a while, we need a good long series, and Please Save My Earth has enough heart, adventure, science fiction, and mystery to satisfy any comic-lover.
Alice keeps exploring into her past life with the help of her former life partners Jinpachi and Issei, just while Rin, the young reincarnation of Alice's great love, starts to set into motion plans to take over Tokyo Tower. As Alice and friends start to track down the others reborn on Earth, they start to piece together their fragmented past, discovering the reason why they died forlorn on the Moon eons ago.
While still very early in the story, and not even caught up to the end of the OVA series which itself was only a short beginning to the long comic series, this volume is laying down all the groundwork for an amazing shoujo series that's too complex and amazing to miss.
One Piece: Romance Dawn Vol. 1
by Eiichiro Oda
Proudly claiming to be the "World's Most Popular Manga" on the back cover, Shonen Jump brings One Piece to U.S. shores. The title has been a hit in Japan and in the fansubbing community so it's American release was inevitable. The very Toriyama-esque tale follows Luffy, a young boy questing to become the King of Pirates. To that end, Luffy and his motley crew search for the mysterious One Piece treasure.
Written and illustrated by Eiichiro Oda, One Piece has a very distinctive and fresh art style and, as mentioned above, a plot that recalls Dr. Slump or Goku's adventuring days in Dragonball.
The graphic novel has several issues of manga, early pages from the "pilot" versions of One Piece, and commentary and how to draw segments by Oda.
by Tomoko Taniguchi
Taniguchi returns to the world of her earlier high school heavymetal love story, Let's Stay Together Forever, to focus on one of the other bandmates, the sleepy, totally dense Shinkichi.
Emyu, one of Taniguchi's most confident and individual female leads, is a bit of a firecracker, prone to wearing bizarre outfits that easily matches Shinkichi's glam-metal sensabilities, falls for the oblivious rocker, against the well-wishes of her friends. Shoujo drama strikes, however, as other metal-head classmate Yasu falls for Emyu, and pursues her relentless as she dreams of making dandelion crowns for her personal Bon Jovi.
This work shows impressive leaps forward in art and storytelling compared to Popcorn Romance and Let's Stay Together Forever, and the portrayal of a not-so-mousey heroine gives the story a strong injection of dimension. Another classic shoujo book, fans of hair-metal and girly stories will not only be entertained, but might be caused to put their hands to their mouth to giggle incessently.