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Five Great Manga of 2013

2013 has been a great year for comics. From superheroes and manga to nonfiction and indie presses, every style and genre has been firing on all cylinders. Here are five great manga released this year that you can check out through the library.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko - If you love giant robots, work-a-day personal drama, and/or military campaigns, this series is the king granddaddy manga. Yasuhiko was the character designer of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime, and his manga revisit of the Gundam story is classic and fresh at the same time. The art style is strongly reminiscent of 1970s manga, yet the detail and pacing easily outmatch most other manga by light years. These editions published by Vertical include watercolor segments and handsome binding, making them a treat to read. Do you even need to know the story by this point? Fair enough: in the midst of a cease-fire between the Earth Federation and the space colony-based Principality of Zeon. The Federation's secret weapon, the mobile suit called Gundam, falls into the hands of teenage pilot Amuro Ray while under attack by Zeon forces. Ray and the Gundam board the Federation ship White Base to find safety in Earth headquarters, but are diverted through California and must scrape by Zeon territory to safety. The crew of the Federation ship, as well as those of Zeon, are filled with characterization and backstory, providing a compelling cast of characters to root for on both sides. Suit up for the series to continue through 2014.

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto - How can a manga be this abstract yet realistic at the same time? Matsumoto draws his worlds and characters at strange angles, his wiggly lines turning the ordinary into the magical. Case in point: Sunny, a beat-up Nissan Datsun 1200 that different children of the Hoshinoko orphanage drive in their minds to take them far away, or sometimes just look cool or feel in control. By the end of book one, I wanted to switch our world for Matsumoto's, except his characters' lives are just as full of frustration and joy. This funhouse mirror of a manga is no less engrossing, though.

Bakuman by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata - Welcome to the most metafiction to be found in one manga. Bakuman follows two middle-school friends, an artist and writer, as they climb the ranks of manga stardom, meet friends and rivals of all styles, and chase their elusive dreams. The two rapidly age, breezing through high school and referring to college as if acing tests were an afterthought. The true genius of the series lies in its self-referential treatment: whatever manga genre is discussed in the comic winds up becoming the genre of Bakuman itself. For example, when a romance writer enters the story and talks about what makes a good romance, those same traits show up in the story to mirror what was just said. Add to this that each artist character's series within Bakuman has its own unique style, and the creators seem abitious enough to generate a whole school's worth of their own manga. This meta-commentary happens repeatedly, yet the story keeps moving forward and showing readers the light and dark sides of manga production at every turn. Another layer of hidden meaning comes from the comic's creators, who were also responsible for Death Note and Hikaru no Go. When the story comments on edgy mystery series or an intense rivalry with an antagonist, readers cannot help but feel a wink at their earlier work. First-time readers will nonetheless have plenty to chew on over the course of this series's twenty books.

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura - If comics can do anything better than prose, it is the art of the subtle silence. One silent frame can speak volumes, which happens a lot in this manga's examination of gender roles and confusion. The two main characters are a boy who wants to be a girl and a girl who wants to be a boy, but even that is too simple a description for the complex feelings they hold. Classmates, siblings, parents, and even their dreams and internal monologues all deliver different messages and emotions regarding their choices and discoveries. I cannot understate how subtly yet intelligently Shimura portrays these fifth- and sixth-graders as they navigate otherwise usual lives with unusual secrets. Sometimes the protagonists are so shy that even the reader doesn't completely know what they are thinking. The only weak spot in this series is Shimura's art, which includes some similar-looking characters and sparse backgrounds, meaning the manga's success is completely dependent on its cast and story, which have yet to slip up over five books.

Tropic of the Sea by Satoshi Kon - Before Kon directed anime films, he created this environmentalist tale under a strict and unforgiving deadline. The author's afterword confesses a number of shortcomings in the book's production, but Kon and his assistants covered up all supposed rough edges in time for the final draft, because this one-book manga easily shows off Kon's imagination and humanity. A family living within an island community is torn apart by the father's decision to cash in on a magic egg bestowed to the family by a mermaid. If protected, the island experiences calm seas and regular fish harvests. When the egg is used to capitalize on and promote corporate developments on the island, the weather turns topsy-turvy and chaos ensues. The art is crisp and lends itself to several large spreads, suggesting a storyboard worth filming.


Tropic of The Sea by Satoshi Kon
Amazon Says: Yosuke's family has a strange tradition - once every sixty years they receive an egg from a mermaid. When the egg matures his family dutifully returns it to the sea, where the more...
Amazon Says: Yosuke's family has a strange tradition - once every sixty years they receive an egg from a mermaid. When the egg matures his family dutifully returns it to the sea, where the whole process is then repeated. In exchange for this favor, the mer-people bless his coastal town with bountiful catches of fish and calm seas. But as a commercial development encroach on the sleepy seaside village and Yosuke's father is lured away from tradition towards modern properity, and turns the egg into a tourist trap, what will happen to the promise their family made to the mermaids generations ago? Tropic of the Sea Satoshi Kon's first feature length manga, includes a dozen black and white art plates from his original release, along with a 5-page essay written by Kon in 1999 detailing his transition from the manga industry to the animation business. less...
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Amazon Says: It is the year Universal Century 0079, in a space colony the Earth Federation is storing and testing a new piloted robot for use in the battle against the Principality of Zeon more...
Amazon Says: It is the year Universal Century 0079, in a space colony the Earth Federation is storing and testing a new piloted robot for use in the battle against the Principality of Zeon. The experimental RX-78 Gundam mobile suit is scheduled to be transported to Federation command in Jaburo, deep within the Brazilian jungles. Unfortunatley, before the transporter would arrive, the Federation would come under attack from Zeon. With few resources available against the Zeon's most mobile mechs, Federation forces strike back using their new weapon, the mobile suit Gundam. Caught in the crossfire is a young teen named Amuro Ray. Not willing to see innocent people die like this, Amuro crawls into the cockpit of the closest machine around him. Whether it be a tank, jeep or jet, he was going to use it to help stop this slaughter. And what he happened to slide into was another Gundam. Having never operated a machine like this, what are the chances he can do anything to repel an experienced squad of mech-piloting invaders? Volume 1 includes an essay from Hideaki Anno, director of the hit anime Neon Genesis Evengelion. Color pages from Yas. And an essay from Kadokawa Publishing Executive Shinichiro Inoue. less...
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Amazon Says: With the Federation's White Base now on Earth and his assault carrier loaded with civilians, Bright Noah must now navigate his ship safely through enemy occupied territory. Un more...
Amazon Says: With the Federation's White Base now on Earth and his assault carrier loaded with civilians, Bright Noah must now navigate his ship safely through enemy occupied territory. Unfortunately on his tail are a host Zeon troops. Lead by the Commander of North American Earth Forces, Captain Garma Zabi, a fleet of aircraft is preparing to lay siege on the Federation ship with ambitions to capture its new Mobile Suit. But before the Zeon make their move in the American desert, an old acquaintance of Garma's has arrived. Lt Char Aznable, known on the field of combat as The Red Comet, followed the White Base from space and is here to on a reconnaissance mission to gain information on the Federation's new suit. To prove his worth, Garma engages the Feds soon after his brief reunion. The results were not ideal. In fact, the Federation may have found new weapons for their defense in the process. And Garma, who led the charge himself, was fortunate to survive this first confrontation. Now with the White Base heading towards South America, and word of an insurgence movement developing, Garma must find a way to quash the Federation's plans...There is no turning back! less...
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Amazon Says: In the third volume of Gundam the Origin, the White Base is on the run after a successful attack against the Zeon forces in Los Angeles. As they refuel en-route to their Feder more...
Amazon Says: In the third volume of Gundam the Origin, the White Base is on the run after a successful attack against the Zeon forces in Los Angeles. As they refuel en-route to their Federation base in Jaburo, hidden in the heart of the Amazonian jungle, the crew learns they may be holding on to a new weapon just as valuable as their new Mobile Suit. On the Zeon side, their leadership has been shaken to its core. A grand ceremony is produced in honor of a fallen Zabi youth. Shocked by this death, there are many within the Zeon ranks left frustrated with intent on seeking vengeance. less...
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Sunny, Vol. 1 by Taiyo Matsumoto
Amazon Says: The latest manga masterpiece from the Eisner Award-winning creator of Tekkonkinkreet. What is Sunny? Sunny is a car. Sunny is a car you take on a drive with your mind. It tak more...
Amazon Says: The latest manga masterpiece from the Eisner Award-winning creator of Tekkonkinkreet. What is Sunny? Sunny is a car. Sunny is a car you take on a drive with your mind. It takes you to the place of your dreams. Sunny is the story of beating the odds, in the ways that count. It’s the brand-new masterwork from Eisner Award-winner Taiyo Matsumoto, one of Japan’s most innovative and acclaimed manga artists. Translated by Tekkonkinkreet film director Michael Arias! Reads R to L (Japanese Style) for teen audiences. less...
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Wandering Son, Book 1 by Shimura Takako
Amazon Says: A sensitive masterprice from Japan’s most prominent creator of LGBT manga. The fifth grade. The threshold to puberty, and the beginning of the end of childhood innocence. Sh more...
Amazon Says: A sensitive masterprice from Japan’s most prominent creator of LGBT manga. The fifth grade. The threshold to puberty, and the beginning of the end of childhood innocence. Shuichi Nitori and his new friend Yoshino Takatsuki have happy homes, loving families, and are well-liked by their classmates. But they share a secret that further complicates a time of life that is awkward for anyone: Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. Written and drawn by one of today’s most critically acclaimed creators of manga, Shimura portrays Shuishi and Yoshino’s very private journey with affection, sensitivity, gentle humor, and unmistakable flair and grace. Book One introduces our two protagonists and the friends and family whose lives intersect with their own. Yoshino is rudely reminded of her sex by immature boys whose budding interest in girls takes clumsily cruel forms. Shuichi’s secret is discovered by Saori, a perceptive and eccentric classmate. And it is Saori who suggests that the fifth graders put on a production of The Rose of Versailles for the farewell ceremony for the sixth graders — with boys playing the roles of women, and girls playing the roles of men. Wandering Son is a sophisticated work of literary manga translated with rare skill and sensitivity by veteran translator and comics scholar Matt Thorn. 8 pages of color; 184 pages of black and white less...
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Wandering Son: Book Two by Shimura Takako
Amazon Says: Our heroes enter the sixth grade in volume two of this legendary series. In the second volume of Shimura Takako's superb coming-of-age story, our transgendered protagonists, S more...
Amazon Says: Our heroes enter the sixth grade in volume two of this legendary series. In the second volume of Shimura Takako's superb coming-of-age story, our transgendered protagonists, Shuichi and Yoshino, have entered the sixth grade. Shuichi spends a precious gift of cash from his grandmother on a special present for himself, a purchase that triggers a chain of events in which his sister Maho learns his secret, and Shuichi inadvertently steals the heart of a boy Maho in interested in. The woman who showed so much interest in Yoshino (when she was wearing a boy’s school uniform) in volume one reappears with her boyfriend, and becomes a mentor and friend to the two children. And the kids go on a class trip that is a rite of passage Shuichi would rather pass up. Shuichi is called a “faggot” by another boy, and the dramatic nature in which Saori comes to Shuichi’s defense leads the two to discover a shared fondness for Anne of Green Gables. But despite his propensity to cry (a propensity noted repeatedly by his more outgoing sister), Shuichi finds strength and courage he didn’t know he had. A sophisticated work translated with sophistication by veteran translator and comics scholar Matt Thorn. 200 pages of black-and-white comics less...
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Wandering Son, Vol. 3 by Shimura Takako
Amazon Says: A sensitive, sophisticated work of literary manga. As shown in the first two volumes of this acclaimed series, Shuichi and his friend Yoshino have a secret: Shuichi is a boy w more...
Amazon Says: A sensitive, sophisticated work of literary manga. As shown in the first two volumes of this acclaimed series, Shuichi and his friend Yoshino have a secret: Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. But one day, abruptly, their secret is exposed, and the two find themselves the target of sixth-grade cruelty. Their friendship is strained, as Yoshino makes a half-hearted effort at being a “normal girl”... and their mentor, Yuki, reveals the harder reality of being transgendered. Meanwhile, Shuichi’s sister, Maho, realizes her dream of becoming a model, and drags Shuichi along for the ride. Shuichi meets another boy who wants to be a girl, and finds himself on an arranged date with a boy who doesn't know that the girl he has a crush on was born a boy. After an unhurried, almost leisurely buildup that gave us an opportunity to get to know and understand our protagonists, artist Shimura picks up the pace in this latest volume, with tears and laughs aplenty. A sophisticated work translated with rare sophistication by veteran translator and comics scholar Matt Thorn. Black & white throughout less...
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Wandering Son, Vol. 4 by Shimura Takako
Amazon Says: In this manga, transgendered children cope with love complications as they enter high school. Wandering Son has garnered extensive praise (from the LGBTQ community, from manga more...
Amazon Says: In this manga, transgendered children cope with love complications as they enter high school. Wandering Son has garnered extensive praise (from the LGBTQ community, from manga fans, and from comics fans in general) for its uniquely funny, warm, and sensitive treatment of the travails of two Japanese tweens who find themselves coping with the knotty issue of gender identification, as they slowly realize that maybe they aren’t who they were meant to be. In this latest volume, love is in the air. It’s in the trees and on the streets. It’s hanging on the walls and piled in great heaps on the floor. Or is it really love? These sixth and seventh graders don’t really know. But something is definitely amiss. They can’t sleep, and when they do sleep they have strange dreams. They get angry and cry, they blush and grin like idiots, for no reason. And it isn’t even spring. But the standard rules apply: If A is in love with B, B is certain to be in love with C, and C is likely to be in love with D, or possibly A. And now it seems a good third of the alphabet is in love with our shy protagonist, Nitori-kun. But the flip-side of love is jealousy, and hate. The simple friendships of childhood develop into the complex, tense relationships of adolescence. Friends become strangers, or worse. But while everyone seems to have caught the bug, Volume 4 revolves solidly around the triangle of Nitori-kun, Takatsukisan, and Chiba-san. Yet centrifugal force seems to push the three away from each other, and there is a certain grimness as they say goodbye to elementary school, and put on the (highly gendered) uniforms of junior high school… less...
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Wandering Son: Volume Five by Shimura Takako
Amazon Says: In the latest volume of this gentle manga, new gender-reinforcing school uniforms cause drama at the junior high school entrance ceremony! In the latest volume of the acclaime more...
Amazon Says: In the latest volume of this gentle manga, new gender-reinforcing school uniforms cause drama at the junior high school entrance ceremony! In the latest volume of the acclaimed series about transgendered kids exploring their unfolding identities, we’ve reached a big event; the junior high school entrance ceremony. The boys wear black uniforms with stand-up collars based on mid-19th century European military uniforms and the girls wear navy blazers, tan skirts, and red ribbon neckties. Enter our heroes; Nitori-kun is forced to wear a boy’s uniform while Takatsuki-san has to wear a girl’s! Yet one girl—Sarashia Chizuru— draws stares, whispers, and pointed fingers, because this long-haired beauty is wearing a boy’s uniform. Both Nitori-kun and Takatsuki-san are awed by the girl’s courage, but Takatsuki-san is particularly vexed by their own faintheartedness. They envy more than a few other students who experience such liberty in wearing either uniform and ponder what it ultimately means about themselves. Envy and jealousy are prominent themes in Volume 5: Chiba-san is jealous of Takatsuki-san, for whom Nitori-kun still carries a tortch. Maho envies Anna-chan’s professionalism as a model. And Chii-chan’s loyal sidekick, Shiri Momoko, is intensely jealous of anyone in whom Chii-chan shows the slightest interest. And so our protagonists set off on the journey to adolescence…. Black & white illustrations throughout less...
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Bakuman., Vol. 1 by Tsugumi Ohba
Amazon Says: By the creators of Death Note! The mystery behind manga-making revealed! R to L (Japanese Style). Is becoming a successful manga artist an achievable dream or just one big ga more...
Amazon Says: By the creators of Death Note! The mystery behind manga-making revealed! R to L (Japanese Style). Is becoming a successful manga artist an achievable dream or just one big gamble? Average student Moritaka Mashiro enjoys drawing for fun. When his classmate and aspiring writer Akito Takagi discovers his talent, he begs Moritaka to team up with him as a manga-creating duo. But what exactly does it take to make it in the manga-publishing world? Moritaka is hesitant to seriously consider Akito's proposal because he knows how difficult reaching the professional level can be. Still, encouragement from persistent Akito and motivation from his crush push Moritaka to test his limits! less...
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