Tuesday, November 24, 2009

best of 2009: manga, graphic novels, and comics

Your mileage may vary, but these are the manga, graphic novels, and comic collections that rocked my face off in 2009. Not all of them were originally released this year, but since that's when I first read them, I've put them on this list. Aside from the first entry, these aren't necessarily in order of preference.

1. Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki: Kimberly, or "Skim" to her friends, is a teenage girl who's confused about her sexual identity, her occasionally stormy relationship with her best friend, and life in general. She finds comfort in a crush on her English teacher, and things take an unexpected turn. This beautifully illustrated graphic novel is one of the best coming of age stories I've ever read in any medium; the description of first love is so real it hurts.

2. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service by Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki: A group of Buddhist college students starts a service to help troubled souls pass on to the other side. There's a monk who can talk to the dead by touching their bodies; a man who can "dowse" for corpses; a computer hacker; a teenage boy who channels a foulmouthed alien (my favorite character) through a hand puppet; and a gothic Lolita embalmer. Be warned, things can get extremely gory, but if you have a taste for the macabre, you'll love it. Terrific editor's notes at the end of each volume explain some of the more arcane aspects of the story.

3. Joker by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo: When the Joker is released from Arkham Asylum, he sets out on a bloody mission to reclaim his turf. If you liked The Dark Knight's nastier vision of the Joker, you'll probably love this.

4. Delivery Cupid by C. J. Michalski: A collection of boys' love stories from one of Japan's most popular manga artists. (Yes, despite the pen name, she's most definitely Japanese.) The stories and art are so sweet they'll make your teeth ache.

5. Token by Alisa Kwitney and Joelle Jones: Set in 1980's Miami, this graphic novel stars Shira, a teenage girl who lives with her father and grandmother. Troubled by her father's budding relationship with his secretary, she seeks solace in shoplifting and a mysterious Spanish boy. Excellent art and a fun story.

6. The Impostor's Daughter by Laurie Sandell: The author grew up worshipping her father, a charismatic Argentinian who boasted about his famous friends, daring exploits, and numerous degrees. But when she got older, she learned that he wasn't quite what he seemed. The art in this "graphic memoir" isn't always the best, but her intriguing story more than makes up for it.

7. Love for Dessert by Hana Aoi: There isn't much erotic heterosexual manga aimed at women, so I was thrilled to discover the Luv Luv line on Amazon. This volume features several stories, ranging from the spicy to the sweet, and all of them featuring fairly graphic sex. It's not, you know, fapworthy or anything, but it may give you some ideas...

8. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel: After reading Bechdel's Fun Home (my favorite graphic novel of 2006), I became a fan. This enormous (almost 500 pages!) collection of her comic strips is by turns funny and thought-provoking.

9. Sleepwalk by Adrian Tomine: A selection of stories about modern life. Some of these were done very early in Tomine's career, so the art can be spotty at time, but you can definitely see signs of the masterful artist he'd become. His work, both written and illustrated, is so hauntingly beautiful.

10. Unlovable by Esther Pearl Watson: This has such a fantastic backstory behind it that it can't possibly be true, but man, I hope it is. Allegedly, the artist found a teenage girl's diary in a gas station bathroom, and she decided to illustrate the entries. Tammy Pierce (I assume she changed the real diarist's name) is an overweight, obnoxious, and utterly relatable teenage girl. If you were ever a teenage girl---hell, if you're HUMAN---this book will make you utterly cringe in recognition. You'll also laugh your ass off. Don't be put off by the art; this is a must-read.