The manga series of 2017 served up plenty of action, whether as a time-travel murder mystery, a quest for stolen gold, or a school full of treacherous gamblers. Here’s a top ten of favorites from the past year.
Erased is a mystery story with a time-travel angle: Washed up manga-ka Satoru Fujinima keeps experiencing time slips, in which the clock rolls back a few minutes and he has to figure out what is out of place in the world around him—in order to stop a car accident or other disaster. After a few of these episodes, he goes back all the way to his childhood to stop a serial killer who was murdering children when he was in elementary school—and who may have murdered his mother in the present day as well. Kei Sanbe’s clean-lined art is easy to follow; he establishes the characters’ personalities and evokes the atmosphere with a minimum of clutter. Yen Press is publishing this series in hardcover two-in-one omnibus volumes.
A convict is released from prison with one goal: He wants to become a master of rakugo, the traditional art of Japanese storytelling. So of course he goes straight to the top rakugo master, Yakumo, and asks to be his apprentice. Yakumo, who is arrogant and capricious, never takes apprentices, but he makes an exception for the ex-con, whom he nicknames Yotaro (a rakugo term for “idiot”). Yakumo’s household also includes the ill-tempered Konatsu, the daughter of his late partner, who wants to be a rakugo performer but is held back by the tradition that only males do rakugo. The backstories of the characters and their struggle to continue their art in modern times make this an unusual and fascinating manga.
The veteran of a recent war teams up with an indigenous girl to seek treasure in a frozen land. No, it’s not a Jack London story, it’s Golden Kamuy, an adventure tale set in Japan’s northern region of Hokkaido. Sugimoto, who earned the nickname “the immortal” and a measure of notoriety during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, has traveled to Hokkaido to prospect for gold in order to help the widow of his best friend. He’s not having much luck panning for nuggets in a stream, but then he hears about a cache of gold that was stolen from the local Ainu people. The thief went to prison and refused to divulge its location, but he tattooed a secret map on the skins of his fellow prisoners. Sugimoto sets out to find them all, but he would have ended up as dinner for a bear if not for the help of Asirpa, an Ainu girl who has her own reasons for wanting to get to the gold. Golden Kamuy is a great, if occasionally gory, tale of adventure and survival in an unusual setting.
This one was a surprise. It starts out like a pretty standard shonen manga: There’s this planet where all the people have become minerals, sort of, and they have battles against an alien enemy. One character, Phosphophyllite, is brittle and unfit for any sort of battle, and is assigned instead to compile an encyclopedia. Another, Cinnabar, exudes a powerful poison and must live in isolation as a result. Each character has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, linked loosely to the qualities of the corresponding mineral. What sets this manga apart is the artwork, which has a dreamlike quality, mixing images of gods and abstract patterns in a style reminiscent of the psychedelic art of the 1960s. It’s an unusual style and a refreshing change from the usual spikes-and-speedlines way of depicting battles.
Yaichi is an ordinary guy whose complacency is shaken by the arrival of Mike Flanagan, who is the husband—or rather, the widower—of Yaichi’s twin brother Ryoji. Orphaned at an early age, Yaichi and Ryoji grew apart over the years, and Ryoji eventually moved to Canada, where he married Mike. Now that Ryoji has died, Mike wants to meet his husband’s family and visit the places that Ryoji used to talk about. Yaichi, who seems to have dealt with his brother’s homosexuality mainly by ignoring it, now finds himself thinking thoughts and asking questions that had never occurred to him before. Complicating things even more is the fact that Mike, a burly, bearded foreigner, is just so different. Fortunately, Yaichi’s daughter Kana immediately accepts Mike as a member of the family, and her matter-of-fact responses help Yaichi get his bearings in this unfamiliar situation.
You can’t make a best-of-the-year list and leave off one of the most popular titles in North America. Tokyo Ghoul is popular for a reason: It mixes up action and drama, coming of age and conquering demons (both internal and external), in a story with a well imagined world, including a varied cast of characters. In this world, ghouls must eat humans to survive, so ghouls and humans are deadly enemies. An encounter with a ghoul leaves college student Ken Kaneki a half-ghoul, with a ghoul’s need to eat human flesh but a human’s horror at that act. The series begins with him learning about ghoul society, then shifts to a more action-oriented plot as he and his allies take on a shadowy ghoul organization—while evading their vicious human pursuers, the Commission on Counter Ghoul.
Only one thing is important to the students at Hyakkou Private Academy: Gambling. They are wealthy and connected, and all are expected to have bright futures, so the school focuses on an important skill: Making decisions and confronting uncertainty. They do it through an organized system of gambling; winners are at the top of the social hierarchy while losers are treated with contempt. Even in this rarefied atmosphere, transfer student Yumeko Jabami stands out for her boldness, her skill, and her ability to spot not that the game is rigged—all the games are rigged—but how it is rigged, and how she can use that to win. Each new challenge involves a different game (which is carefully explained), a different set of characters, and a different way for Jabami to psych them out. It’s a very clever story, presented dramatically and full of interesting twists.
Oima is the creator of A Silent Voice, the much-acclaimed manga about a bully and a deaf girl, and To Your Eternity is a very different but very worthy followup. The story starts with a mysterious orb that falls to earth and takes on the shapes of things around it—first a rock, then moss, then a wolf. The wolf wanders through the snowy landscape into the home of a boy who has been abandoned by his tribe. When the boy dies, the mysterious being takes on his shape as well. This strange being is compelled to learn and evolve by observing and imitating the things around it, constantly seeking new stimulation, slowly moving toward becoming fully human as it interacts with the people around it. That gives Oima room to tell a whole series of stories about the different people who encounter the being, and what it learns from each of them.
A slice-of-life manga set in an extraordinary time, In This Corner of the World is the story of a young woman who goes to live with her husband and his family in a city near Hiroshima at the beginning of World War II. The manga mixes human drama with a chronicle of daily life in wartime, from coping with rationing and substandard food to seeking out the survivors of bombings, including the bombing of Hiroshima (which is seen at a distance). Kouno, who is also the creator of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, has a charming, retro style that draws the reader in to the time period of the story, the 1930s and 1940s.
This one’s just for fun. The plot of Assassination Classroom is preposterous: The students of class 3-E must kill their teacher, a tentacle monster who has already taken a big chunk out of the moon, before he destroys the world. To this end, they are all given special weapons and encouraged to assassinate him, with the help of several human assassins. Complicating this is the fact that the teacher, Koro-sensei, has supersonic speed and other powers, making him difficult to kill—and he is actually a really good teacher, who pays attention to his students’ needs and helps them maximize their strengths. On the one hand, this is a goofy sendup of shonen manga that openly makes fun of many of the tropes; on the other hand, it’s a great action story with an earnestness to it that makes it endearing. The result is a really fun read with plenty of assassination attempts and plenty of laughs.
Click Gallery below for full-size covers from all the series.