Tuesday, November 22, 2011

best of 2011: graphic novels/manga

It's time for my list of the best graphic novels and manga of 2011! A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2011, but that's when I first read them (with one major exception, which I'll get to shortly).
  • All of these are commercially available in the US. I still read a lot of manga scanslations online, but none of them made the cut this time around.
  • Aside from the first title mentioned, these aren't necessarily in preferential order.
  • I doubt anybody still labors under the impression that graphic novels and manga are strictly kids' stuff, but just in case: some of these titles contain mature content. Nothing too bad this time around, though, primarily because I didn't read any new Garth Ennis!
  • G, please skip the section on Ex Machina because I'm going to make you read it eventually. The section on Y: The Last Man is safe, however; nothing there you don't already know.
  • And as always, your mileage may vary.

Okay, true confession time: I actually read the majority of this series last year, but I didn't read enough in time for it to make the cut for my 2010 list. And that is something I needed to rectify here.

I've been a Stephen King fan for the last three decades of my life, so when he praises something, you can damn well bet I'm gonna give it a look; he's like my Oprah. So when I saw the blurb on the front from King calling Y: The Last Man the "best graphic novel [he's] ever read", picking it up was a no brainer.

A plague has wiped out every single male organism on Earth aside from a slacker named Yorick and his monkey, Ampersand. Yorick immediately becomes the target of just about every woman in the world. Some want to study him for clues to the plague, others want to have his baby, and a radical feminist group wants to kill him. All Yorick wants to do is get to Australia in hopes of finding his girlfriend Beth, but it won't be an easy journey.

I was just kind of meh after finishing the first volume, but by the time I'd closed the second one, I was hooked. This is absolutely essential reading if you like graphic novels, dystopian themes, or...you know...things that rule. Easily the best graphic novel I read in 2011.

In this graphic novel, MariNaomi talks about her romantic interludes, first loves, and heartbreaks. The perfect blend of funny, moving, and raunchy.

Taiga is a broke college student who desperately wants a girlfriend. To his delight, when he finally finds a job, one of his coworkers is a beautiful woman named Yuiko who accepts when he asks her out. But it turns out Yuiko is a fujoshi, meaning that she loves anime and manga dealing with man-on-man love. Taiga has to come to grips with her obsession, which even extends to fantasies she has about him and his best friend. Is she worth the hassle? Find out in this funny and charming series.

After finishing Y: The Last Man, I decided to catch up on Brian K. Vaughan's other works. This one follows Mitch Hundred, an unassuming New Yorker who becomes a bona fide superhero after an accident gives him strange new powers, most notably the ability to "talk" to machines. He decides to run for mayor of New York City, but his powers may be more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to politics. Wonderful art and an engrossing story; the final volume had a couple of jawdropping moments that made me want to start the series all over again, just to look for the foreshadowing.

Amy is a depressed twentysomething stuck in a rut. The only things that seem to brighten her mood are her beloved cat, reruns of her favorite cartoon Mr. Dangerous, and the e-mails she receives from her friend/love interest Michael. It's packed with cringeworthy but utterly relatable moments, such as the scene where a customer at the store where she works asks her out. She agrees, and on their date he tells her that he liked her better than her coworkers because they were all too concerned with their appearance. She snaps, "Oh, so I'm fat and ugly but at least I'm interesting?" Ouch. It's reminiscent of Daniel Clowes' work, but it has a charm all its own, and if you love Clowes and Adrian Tomine, you're sure to love this as well.

Tony Chu is a detective with a strange secret: he's cibopathic, meaning that he gets psychic flashes from whatever he eats. It's so strong that he lives primarily on beets because they don't give him any alarming visions. Unfortunately, sometimes he has to use his gift in particularly distressing ways...like sampling a corpse to see who or what caused its death. It can be gross, but it was so original that I really enjoyed it.

Oddly enough, Showtime is developing Chew into a series.

Nine short stories by Daniel Clowes, one of the masters in his field. My favorite was the title story, in which a caricaturist develops a strange relationship with a hipster girl who sees his work as the highest form of art.

A modern (and fiercely feminist) take on fairy tales and Chaucer, Linda Medley's Castle Waiting has beautifully intricate art and an endearing story. Unfortunately, due to differences with her publisher, the series' future is in question, but I'll snap up the next volume when and if it's published.

To be honest, I wasn't completely sold on this series at first, but I stuck with it because, thanks to previous titles like Monster and Yawara!, Naoki Urasawa has an excellent track record with me. I'm glad I did, because this series just keeps getting better and better.

As children, a group of friends created the "Book of Prophecy", a wild short story about evil taking over the world. When the kids get older, they're horrified when it looks like a mysterious man called the Friend is taking a cue from the story they created so long ago. The group bands together once more to stop the Friend and his followers from destroying the world.

Urasawa's art is deceptively simple but masterful; when a woman showed up at one point, I knew instantly who she was even though her previous appearance was as an infant. That takes real skill. And the story is awesome, too. Urasawa has won every major manga award in Japan for his work, and it's not hard to see why.

A graphic memoir chronicling the decline of the author's parents, Lars and Rachel, and her experiences taking care of them during their final years. The art style might be unusual to people unfamiliar with the underground style of the 1970's (though this is a contemporary work, Farmer came to prominence during that time), but please don't let that, or the subject matter, put you off. Yes, you will cry (and if you don't, my condolences on your missing heart), but it's worth it.