Monday, November 05, 2012

best of 2012: manga and graphic novels

2012 wasn't a great year for graphic novels and manga, so this list only has 5 entries as opposed to the usual 10. 

A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2012, but that's when I first read them.
  • All of these are commercially available in the US. 
  • These are in order of preference.
  • 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.  If a title contains exceptionally strong content, like the equivalent of an R rating or above, I've made a note of it.
  • And as always, your mileage may vary.

After a long manhunt, Tokyo police finally capture Shinohara Keiji, a serial killer who has claimed twelve lives.  He promises to give a full confession under one condition:  he wants psychiatrist Asano Katsuya to be the one who hears it.  Asano reluctantly agrees, but he begins to regret it when Shinohara starts getting under his skin.

Initially the cover is what attracted me to this book, although I figured the interior couldn't be anywhere near as beautiful.  Wrong; the entire book looks like that, only in black and white (and a handful of color illustrations separating the chapters).  It's one of the most visually stunning manga I've ever seen, and it's not just "gift wrapping" because the story is excellent too.  It's extremely dark---think Dexter or Chelsea Cain's work in manga form---but compelling.  I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Reader advisory: language, graphic violence, nudity, and graphic non-consensual gay sex.

In this gripping graphic memoir, the author tries to figure out how his strange but seemingly harmless high school friend grew up to be Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the most notorious serial killers in the world.  When his wife called him to say that one of his former classmates had just been arrested for a string of grisly murders, Dahmer wasn't even the first person he thought of! 

It sounds exploitative, but in my opinion it really isn't; the author never tries to excuse what Dahmer did, only to describe the person he once knew.  In one particularly poignant anecdote, he recalls how Dahmer, during a class trip to DC, managed to score a meeting with then-VP Walter Mondale:  "When I think of this bizarre event, and about the kid who had the brains, charm, and chutzpah to pull it off, what comes to my mind is...what a waste."

Reader advisory:  disturbing thematic elements

After discussing her relationship with her closeted father in the searingly brilliant Fun Home, Alison Bechdel focuses on her mother, who inexplicably stopped touching her when she was seven years old.  Bechdel tries to figure out why, and she also explores the mother-daughter dynamic in general. 

Don't go into this thinking it's as good as Fun Home, because it's not; that would be a tall order indeed.  But if you take it on its own terms, it's a poignant, often funny, beautifully illustrated work of art.

Reader advisory:  sexual content, though nothing too graphic

Tamaki, the owner of a host club, finds a badly beaten young man outside one night.  He takes the man home, and soon they fall in love.  A beautifully illustrated and very sweet manga.  (And yes, it IS manga; despite the author's pen name, she is most definitely Japanese.) 

Reader advisory:  gay sexytimes

If, like me, you're a massive fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender and miss the hell out of the characters, you'll love this 3-part series.  I can't really go into detail because it would spoil the show if you haven't seen it, and if you haven't, seriously, GO WATCH IT NOW because it's fucking awesome.  (Just be sure to avoid M. Night Shyamalan's abortion of a movie.)