Hello! Today’s post is for those who have seen the online book community picking up more and more manga, are interested in trying it, but have no idea where to start.
For those who already are knee deep in reading manga, a lot of these recommendations will seem super obvious (which… is the point! Easy to pick up and get into) So if you’ve ever been curious about manga, but haven’t read it yet, here are some places you could start. I myself have been reading manga since I was about 14, so 2004. I’ve got a lot of favorites, and a lot that I read one volume and went ‘yikes’. There’s something for everyone though, you just need to find what you like.
But we’ll begin with the basics:
How to read a manga
Most manga are published in their original format: right-to-left, which is what I think puts off a lot of potential readers. I promise, it’s not that bad, and once you get used to it, it’s as natural a process as reading an American-style graphic novel.
(Picture above and below sourced from wikiHow, if you’d like a fuller explanation of how to read manga, check out their how-to page)
So you see, right to left. Look at the top section – a large rectangle encompasses the first three panels. You read the right section, then the left one, top to bottom. Then four and five have their own rectangle, and six is by itself in its own as well. A lot of times, the art will reach across panels, but this is the basic pattern, and it’ll become identifiable to your eye pretty quickly. Another example of the right-to-left, top-to-bottom style is this:
See the top rectangle’s ‘right section’ is comprised of two pictures? Read the entire right section first – the top and the bottom, then move over to the left section. Simple, right? You read the entire manga like this – you start at what would be the ‘back’ in a western comic, and flip the pages backwards, reading like shown above the whole time.
Don’t worry – if you forget and open what would be the ‘front’ of a western comic, which is actually the back of a manga, there’s usually a warning page that says ‘stop! you’re reading the wrong way!’ along with a diagram shown above to teach you how to read the panels. So dun worry, you won’t accidentally read the thing backwards.
Where to start
I’m gonna base this on genres of books! So if you hopefully you’ll find some stuff for you!
If you like contemporary fiction, you might like…
Silver Spoon by Hiromu Arakawa – This is a nice slice-of-life manga with some comedic elements about a city-dweller student who goes to agricultural school. It delves into themes concerning self-motivation, ambition or lack thereof, the grit about where your food actually comes from, and the realities of running a farm. It’s a really good solid, light-hearted yet also serious-sometimes series. It has a lot of cute animals, good side characters, a main character that sometimes doesn’t quite know what he wants, and I find it very relatable, even though I have literally never touched a cow in my life. I wrote a review on the first volume, if you want more non-spoilerly thoughts on it.
Hotel Africa by Hee Jung Park – Technically this is a manhwa, which is a Korean comic. Same concepts to manga though, so no worries, there’s not another reading style to learn. This is another slice of life, following two timelines around the same character: Elvis. In one, Elvis is four, living with his mother at Hotel Africa, a hotel out in the middle of nowhere in Utah, where Elvis interacts with the guests who come wandering in. The other timeline follows Elvis as an adult, dealing with friends and life. Both timelines have a theme to them that kind of pull at your heartstrings. It’s a very sedated pace, but the intricacies of the characters that are explored within are very well developed. I wrote a spoiler-free review on this one too!
If you like thrillers and/or mysteries, you might like…
Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba – This is in my top five manga series of all time, and it’s definitely thrilling. It follows the main character, Light Yagami, when he finds a Death Note, a notebook dropped by a god of death. When you write a name in the note, that person dies. I don’t wanna give away much more, but… this series is smart, it’s suspenseful, it’s twisty and turny and very exciting. And, it’s relatively short! Twelve volumes. It obviously has some fantastical elements – gods of death, yada yada, but it’s set in modern day (maybe early 2000s). If you check only one thing out in this list, make it this one.
Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit by Motoro Mase – This is a modern day dystopian series followed the man on the cover in a world where the government has decided it needs to remind its citizens of the value of life. To do this, all babies are injected with a capsule at birth… most are harmless and do nothing. Every so often, though, that capsule will kill the person it’s injected into at a randomly set day in the future. Twenty four hours before that person is to die, the main character or someone like him shows up at their door and hands them an ikigami: a death notice. The story follows all the different people living out their last day before they die, and the thoughts of the man who has to tell them it’s going to happen.
Case Closed by Gosho Aoyama – Now I gotta warn you, this one is long (it’s still ongoing and it has been for years) but it’s really easy to read and sucks you in right away. It follows Shin’ichi Kudo, an ameteur detective who witnesses something he shouldn’t, and then in an attempt to kill him, the people he saw unknowingly turn him into the kid pictured above. The story follows Shin’ichi as he tries to find the people who turned him into a kid. It’s very episodic and each chapter is a Sherlock Holmes-esque crime. It’s really, really good.
If you like magical realism and light romance, you might like…
Orange by Ichigo Takano – This one I’ve seen around a lot recently. It seems like a lot of people are using this as their gateway, and after reading it myself, I can see why. It’s easy to pick up, and it’s short – two bind-ups and a normal sized epilogue of sorts. This follows a girl among her group of friends who receives a letter from herself ten years in the future, warning her that one of her friends is in danger, and she must protect him. This one covers deep topics like suicide, so be aware.
Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya – This was actually one of my gateway manga in high school, hehe. It follows the main character Tohru, on the cover, after she is kicked out of her family’s house and decides to live in a tent in the woods… only to find she was camping on the Sohma property. The Sohma family takes her in, and she soon discovers they’ve been cursed with the signs of the zodiac, and whenever someone of the opposite sex hugs them, they transform into animals. This one is really, really cute and sweet. Tohru is a precious little bean, each member of the Sohma family is unique, and the plot that develops is pretty great. PS the cover above is out of print, but they do have bind-up editions that are currently being printed, which should be fairly easy to find.
If you like historical fiction, you might like…
Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki – This manga is set in Meiji Era Japan, eleven years after the fall of the Bakamatsu regime. It follows Kenshin, who was known as Battousai the Man Slayer during the bloody revolution. Now living as a wanderer, he has sworn off killing, and is trying to live in penance for his actions. The characters in this series are inspired here and there by real people, and you get cool reference pages in between the chapters, detailing where each character came from. It’s really good.
Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi – This is a historical fantasy, first off, so know that. It follows the girl on the cover, Kagome, after she falls down an ancient well on her family’s shrine, and appears five hundred years in the past, surrounded by Japanese demons of myth and legend. After she accidentally breaks the Shikon Jewel, a powerful gem that grants its user great strength, into fragments, she then goes on a journey to collect them all before they can fall into the wrong hands. This series is a tad dated – ‘modern’ day, Kagome’s time, is 1997. But it’s neat, the characters are fun, it’s funny, and there’s a bit of romance, too. This one is one of my all-time favorites.
If you like fantasy, you might like…
Noragami by Adachitoka – Now, I’ve only read two volumes of this so far, but from what I’ve read, this has the makings of a solid manga. It follows Yato, a god without a shrine, as he leaves his phone number scrawled on bathroom walls in hopes of getting people to call him so he can help them and gain some spiritual followers. Two volumes in, and there are already some interesting characters, some neat creature designs, and the beginnings of a good overarching plot. This was nice and easy to pick up and get into.
Delicious in Dungeon by Ryoko Kui – You’ll probably really appreciate this comedy fantasy if you’re a fan of Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder or some other dungeon crawler game. It follows a group of rag-tag people who end up together, trying to survive within a dungeon, after one’s sister is kidnapped by a dragon. In the meantime, on the quest to retrieve the sister, they catch and eat as many dungeon monsters as they can. Who knew treasure chest mimics were delicious?
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa – Recognize the name? Same author who did Silver Spoon! Very, very different manga, though. This manga is also in my top-five favorites ever. It follows Edward and Alphonse Elric, shown on the cover. When the boys were young, their mother died, and they used alchemy to try to bring her back. It didn’t go well though, and as a result, Ed lost his arm and leg, and Al lost his entire body. All that remains is his soul, tethered to a suit of armor. As the story takes off, you follow the two on their journey to get their original bodies back. This is probably one of the most amazing plots I’ve read in a manga, honestly. The plot twists, the scope, the characters, the depth. It’s all absolutely amazing and I honestly feel it’s a masterpiece.
And that’s it! I’m thinking this’ll be enough to get you started. If you’re a new manga reader, and end up liking any of these, do let me know! And if you wanna talk shop or more recs or anything, shoot me a comment! I hope this guide is able to help someone out!
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