By Erica Friedman

2018 has been a tempestuous year for comics, from blockbuster titles to harassment cases rocking the industry; the ongoing coordination of harassment and the increase of diversity in titles and creative staff as a backlash to the backlash. It’s an interesting time for comics, as they say.

In the meantime, if you’re a manga fan, this year’s been no less of a whirlwind tour. While the issues rocking the Japanese industry don’t touch us here in the west as deeply, there’s been just as much happening there. But for English-language readers, what we’ve seen in 2018 is the breakout of some extraordinary manga.

Because there is now so much manga being translated into English, I turned to a number of my favorite manga experts to help me put this list together. Manga writers Deb Aoki, Brigid Alverson, Sean Gaffney and Kate Dacey and the fine humans that comprise the Manga Twitterverse all chipped in to help me create this list. My sincere thanks to everyone. With their help, here is our combined Top Manga for 2018

My Hero Academia

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Written and Illustrated by Kohei Horikoshi
Translated by Caleb D. Cook
Published in English by Viz Media

Every generation of manga readers gets the Shonen Jump epic it deserves. Kouhei Horikoshi and Hirofumi Neda’s My Hero Academia is that epic. In a world where everyone is born with a power known as a “Quirk”, Izuku Midoriya wants desperately to be a hero, but with no Quirk has no chance. An accidental encounter with legendary superhero All Might changes Izuku’s life forever in this action-adventure manga about odd powers.

My Hero Academia follows the tried, true and profitable formula of boy’s manga – that is, average character’s struggle to adapt to new powers and grow in strength and humanity as they mature. It also has the added benefit of a sports manga, with rounds to be fought against increasingly difficult opponents, as we gain allies and forge new relationships.

Both situation and art favor fantasy over reality. There’s no pretense to realism in the art and it would be out of place in any case. This is a story in which the people are the Pokémon and learning about them, their Quirks and how to defeat them is the point. It’s a fun, compelling and dare I say it, quirky, mainstream manga that can appeal to a wide audience.

Sailor Moon Eternal Edition

 

Written and Illustrated by Naoko Takeuchi
Translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley
Published in English by Kodansha Comics

Usagi Tsukino learns she is the Guardian of love and justice, Sailor Moon. She meets and befriends her fellow Guardians, each named after a planet, as they fight extra-terrestrial threats to Earth. Twenty-five years ago, Naoko Takeuchi created a story of a lazy, clumsy, crybaby of a girl whose love for everyone and everything would save us all and changed manga and anime forever.

To celebrate this silver anniversary, Kodansha Comics is putting out a large-format version of the Japanese “perfect” edition of Takeuchi’s classic, with holographic cover, color pages that have never made it into the manga since it first appeared in Nakayoshi magazine. With original covers for this edition by Takeuchi, this is a simply gorgeous iteration of an enduring manga series.

The story is simple and fast paced – the Sailor Guardians meet, defeat and befriend the enemy until they face the ultimate boss. They must power up with each new threat which allows for regular upgrades to theirs costumes and merchandisable items. The absurdly lovable characters drive the plot and are the main reason the story has endured for so long. This isn’t the first story where the Princess is the protagonist, nor the last in which she fights for love and justice, but as a beautifully rendered version of the fairy tale in which the Princess fights, wins and gets to have her prince, it’s still the ultimate fantasy manga.

Golden Kamuy

Written and Illustrated by Satoru Noda
Translated by Eiji Yasuda
Published in English by Viz Media

“Come for the History, Stay for the Food,” was Manga Twitterverse’s almost unanimous refrain when asked about Golden Kamuy. Set in the early 20th century, Golden Kamuy is the tale of a Japanese soldier and an indigenous Ainu girl searching for treasure in the Hokkaido wilderness. As Kate Dacey put it, ” She’s smol but fierce, and is waaaaay smarter than anyone else in the story.”

The story provides a compelling mixture of history, anthropology, food and action. Ainu girl Asirpa is a crowd favorite. The art is redolent of stylistic features common to manga for adult men- smoothly drawn action, bold lines, dramatic use of light and shadow, and emotional visuals to emphasize the stark realities of war…and delicious food. Golden Kamuy is clearly a crowd pleaser. Fans of history and food are in for treat with this manga.

My Brother’s Husband

Written and Illustrated by Gengoroh Tagame
Translated by Anne Ishii
Published in English by Pantheon Books

The last couple of years have seen a number of breakout hits for queer manga creators. My Brother’s Husband is an award-winning mainstream manga story for a non-queer audience, which gently uncovers the passive homophobia of “good” people.

Yaiichi’s late twin brother Ryouji was gay, but Yaiichi has pretty much buried that, along with his brother’s memory, until his brother’s Canadian husband shows up on his doorstep. Mike Flanagan has come to visit Ryouji’s home and childhood haunts. As he spend time with Mike, Yaiichi is forced to confront the denial, discomfort and homophobia he’s always felt.

Tagame is one of the very few out gay male artists in Japan, and his art here, while wholly family-friendly, reflects his interest in and love for the male body. His art is clean and precise and realistic. But more importantly, his work is sweet, gently handling the presumed audience of adult, straight men for whom the work is written. There is no bitterness in how layers of homophobia are uncovered, just a kindness that teaches the readers to see their own biases. This is not a manga for the queer community, it is for relatives and friends who just don’t quite understand why the words they use – or the way they avoid talking about things – can be hurtful.

Silver Spoon

Written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa
Translated by Amanda Haley
Published in English by Yen Press

Another manga that teaches as it entertains, Silver Spoon follows the trials and tribulations of Yuugo Hachiken as he takes on a teaching position at a provincial agricultural school. Alongside hijinks of a city boy meeting the demands of agricultural life, we enjoy facts about the sources of the foods we eat and the processes by which we get them from the farm to our tables. Creator of Fullmetal Alchemist, Arakawa’s art is delightful, leaning towards the amusing over careful drafting.

Sean Gaffney adds, “Given how long fans were clamoring for it, and how much it not being licensed had become a running gag, it’s a relief to say that Silver Spoon is absolutely worth it – great characters, a wonderful examination of modern farming, and a subplot involving the dangers of taking too much on yourself. It’s as good as advertised.”

After The Rain

Written and illustrated by Jun Mayuzuki
Translated by Jocelyne Allen
Published in English by Vertical

Akira Tachibana’s running career has come to a premature end due to injury. Depressed, she wanders into a coffee shop where the owner and his son are kind to her. She starts working at the restaurant and develops a crush on Masami Kondoh, the owner.

Deb Aoki says about this manga, “It’s actually a sweet story, as the older man ponders his forgotten dreams of being an author… [while the] girl gets over some of her fears after an injury that stopped her running career. It could have been gross, but it’s actually quite cute.”

The art is the standard house style for many manga magazines that appeal to adult readers, character designs aren’t realistic, but the backgrounds tend to be. For adults looking for something a little nostalgic and a little cute without a sugary overload, After the Rain will do the trick.

The Internets were clear that this year a trifecta of queer manga was worth reading.

The Bride Was a Boy

Written and Illustrated by Chii
Translated by Beni Axia Conrad
Published in English by Seven Seas

This comic essay by Chii is a diary of her transition, and the subsequent travails as she and her boyfriend negotiate Japanese bureaucracy in order to get married. The author tells her story in a simple fashion, focusing on the positive, without ignoring the difficulties she encountered along the way. This is not a “coming out” story, but it is a charming journal of a person’s journey to be exactly who they want to become.

The art here is cute and often childish, which suits the author’s tone, and softens the few blows where she and society clash. The Bride Was a Boy is not a tear-jerker at all, but a lovely grin-making essay on the road one takes to get where one is.

My Solo Exchange Diary

Written and Illustrated by Kabi Nagata
Translated by Jocelyne Allen
Published in English by Seven Seas

The sequel to the blockbuster My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness stands in stark contrast toThe Bride Was A Boy. This intersection of queer manga and medical manga autobiographical essay details a lesbian artist’s difficult struggle with crushing depression and the desire to be a functioning adult in a world where almost nothing of who or what she is is socially acceptable.

Art in this volume is allegorical, and the three-color format becomes symbolic of the narrator’s mood. The story is by turns hopeful and devastating, as Nagata reveals the ups and downs of her actual life.

This is not an easy read, nor a comforting one, but it has struck a chord in millions of readers worldwide and has to be considered a groundbreaking book for manga in the west.

That Blue Sky Feeling

Written by Okura
Illustrated by Coma Hashii
Published in English by Viz Media

Noshiro transfers into a new school and meets surly Sanada, who is rumored to be gay. Instead of being put off by the rumor, Noshiro is more determined to become friends, in this delightful coming-of-age school story.

The art is quite typical for boy’s non-fantasy manga set primarily in a school, with bare backgrounds where not much detail is needed to stimulate reader’s memory. The focus is on faces and over-the-top emotional outbursts.

This manga ran in a magazine with a presumed audience of young men, and is therefore an unusual addition to the lineup. Focusing on the strength it takes to be one’s true self and stand up for what’s right, this story is feel-good tale of growing up.

Invitation from a Crab

Written and Illustrated by panpanya
Translated by Ko Ransom
Published in English by Denpa Books

Invitation From a Crab is a unique, surreal and ever-so-slightly dark tale of the paranormal that resides within an average life. The city we’re familiar with has never looked so strange as it does here. And yet, everything is completely recognizable.

With illustrations that combine western and eastern artistic techniques and both real and unreal scenarios, panpanya speaks to all of us, and about all of us.

Originally published in an eclectic magazine with a presumed female audience, panpanya’s protagonist is androgynous, the chapters building on psychological disruption and set in a world in which the unusual and inexplicable sits side by side with the average and normal. This is the perfect book for someone looking for something outside the ordinary.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Great list! We’re huge Silver Spoon fans over here, though based on the anime…looking forward to finally sitting down and reading the manga to get the whole story.

  2. Nice list. Lots of good choices.

    BTW Hirofumi Neda is the artist for My Hero Academia Smash. Kohei Horikoshi is the sole writer/illustrator of My Hero Academia

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