Wednesday, November 17, 2010

best of 2010: manga and graphic novels

And now it's time for my list of the best manga and graphic novels of 2010! Before I begin, a few notes:

  • Aside from the first title listed, these are not necessarily in order.
  • I doubt anyone still harbors the belief that "comics" are strictly kids' stuff, but just in case: some of these titles are for mature audiences only. If a title contains exceptionally strong content, like the equivalent of an R rating or higher, I've made a note of it.
  • Not all of these titles were originally released in 2010, but that's when I first read them.
  • These are all commercially available in the US. I read plenty of fan translations online, but none of those really stood out to me this year.
  • As always, your mileage may vary.


Superheroes...who doesn't love 'em? Well, as it turns out, many of them are hiding very dark secrets beneath their masks and capes. The CIA forms a black ops team called The Boys to keep an eye on them and, if necessary, kill them. Some of the superhero teams are relatively harmless and only need a stern talking to if they get out of line, but others are incredibly dangerous. THE biggest superhero team (think Justice League caliber) includes some of the worst offenders, like the genuinely psychotic Homelander.

The Boys all have their own reasons for joining the group, though I won't spoil most of them. There's Billy Butcher, the aptly named leader; Mother's Milk, one of the only people who isn't afraid to get up in Billy's face when necessary; the mute and extremely violent Female; and The Frenchman, who can track people by their smell. In the first issue, Billy recruits a Scotsman named Hughie, whose girlfriend was accidentally killed by an unrepentant superhero. Hughie is the most likable of the group, in no small part due to his (intentional) resemblance to Simon Pegg.

This is a hard series to describe without giving things away, but trust me, it's awesome. It's absolutely not for the easily offended; there's gutwrenchingly graphic violence, some truly depraved sexual content, blacker than black humor, and language strong enough to shock a sailor. (Billy is a Brit and tosses around the C-word like most people use "the".) But underneath The Boys' lurid facade lurks a genuinely compelling saga of conspiracy, betrayal, heartbreak, vengeance, and love.


After her family goes bankrupt, former rich girl Choko gets a job as an office worker...and her boss turns out to be her former servant! He keeps alternating between tyranny and adoration, and poor Choko has no idea how to handle the situation, but she's pretty sure she's falling in love. Yuki Yoshihara has been one of my favorite mangaka for years; in addition to her artistic chops, she can turn out some very funny stories. As a bonus, this series features one of the hottest deflowering scenes I've encountered in any medium. (Reader advisory: nudity, sexual innuendo, and fairly graphic sexual content. No actual penetration shown, but there's zero doubt what's happening.)

In the latest series from Japan's most successful female manga artist, we meet Sakura, who's able to see ghosts and spirits thanks to a childhood brush with death. One day, she meets a new student named Rinne, who works as a shinigami; think Grim Reaper, but not as creepy. A fun story that promises to get deeper as it goes along.

When she was young, Rasetsu was attacked by a demon. He marked her with a rose-shaped tattoo and promised to come back to claim her when she turned 20 if she hasn't found true love by then. Rasetsu, blessed (or cursed) with spiritual powers, takes a job as an exorcist and tries to find the man who will save her before it's too late. It's like a much darker take on an old fairy tale, and I really like Rasetsu, both for her feistiness and the fact that she must recharge her spiritual powers by ingesting massive amounts of sugar.

A charming and witty collection of comics from the writer of French Milk.

A young couple's joy at the birth of their first child, Hikaru, turns to concern when it becomes apparent that he's not like other children. After months of frustration and incorrect diagnoses, Hikaru is finally diagnosed as autistic. Sachiko, his mother, is the primary caretaker and has to deal with the ignorance of people around her, ranging from neighbors to her mother-in-law, who thinks the autism is Sachiko's fault for taking "shortcuts" like using disposable diapers. (According to the extremely informative translation notes at the back of each volume, the characters used to write autism in Japanese literally translate as "closed off syndrome", which has led to a common misconception that people with autism are voluntarily antisocial.) With the Light can be heartbreaking, of course, but more often, it's uplifting. Sadly, Keiko Tobe passed away this year, but according to the American publisher's website, they will finish translating what she had completed before her death.

After reading The Boys, I knew I had to get my hands on Preacher. I haven't finished it yet---as of this writing, I'm up to volume 6---but whoo, what a ride so far!

As a child, Jesse Custer was groomed by his psychotic grandmother to become a preacher. When he grows up, he reluctantly assumes the position, and one day he's preaching when he's possessed by an entity called Genesis. In the process, his church is destroyed and the entire congregation dies.

Because Genesis is the product of an angel and a demon, it's composed of both pure evil and pure goodness, which gives it powers strong enough to rival God's. God is freaked out and abandons Heaven, and Jesse decides to track Him down and make him answer for His crimes against humanity. Along the way, he's joined by his ex-girlfriend Tulip and an Irish vampire named Cassidy, but plenty of people will stop at nothing to make sure they don't find God.

Can I just say this series fucking rules? Granted, it can be extremely blasphemous, but even religious people, if they keep an open mind, will find plenty of food for thought in this series. (One of the most glowing reviews on Amazon is from a self-described evangelical Christian.) Like The Boys, it has plenty of salty language, gore, and sexual content, but it also has a heart. I'm going to say something blasphemous myself: at his best, Garth Ennis is almost as good as Alan Moore.

Oh yeah, I went there. And believe me, that is NOT something I would say lightly.

When Catwoman steals an important notebook from Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl (aka Barbara Gordon) is determined to get it back. Beautifully illustrated, fluffy fun that undoubtedly served as the inspiration for a thousand femmeslash fanfics.

Nanami has a crush on her fellow student Yano, but he's still mourning the death of his girlfriend. Can she break through his reserves, or will she have to write him off as a lost cause?

This manga won the prestigious Shogakukan Manga Award, and it's not hard to see why; it perfectly captures the bittersweet sensation of first love.

I've only read two volumes of this series, but Jesus H is it funny. It's about an isolated all-male boarding school where the students have no idea how to interact with females on the rare occasions that they run into them. One of my favorite moments when a character, trying desperately to think of something to say to the girl he likes, blurts out "You have a pussy between your legs." I could identify with the poor guy; I remember when I was about 12 years old and for some reason it occurred to me that hey, EVERY SINGLE MAN ON EARTH (well, excluding a few unfortunate souls, of course) has a penis. I was mortified and couldn't look any male, aside from my neutered cat Sprite, in the eye for days.