The manga industry is interesting. Where as American comics had their growth cut out from under them in the 50s, manga grew and expanded from the popularity of Osamu Tezuka’s Mighty Atom (Americans know as Astro Boy) to Naoki Urasawa’s psychological thriller Monster. While we as Americans tend to exaggerate the popularity of manga and anime in its home country, it goes without saying that manga is far more available with so much more to offer in terms of genre’s and voices. American comics are viewed by non-fans as superhero stories and little else. For manga-to someone who does not follow-is viewed as anything from Sailor Moon to Dragonball Z to Naruto. While DBZ and Naruto are similar, there is an acknowledgment that manga as sequential art offers more options.
There are many reasons why. First we go back to Osamu Tezuka, the beloved God of Manga, who truly popularized the artform through varied work. From stories aimed at young readers to stories aimed at young girls to older audiences. Tezuka was a master of craft and took the medium in different directions. The second reason is of course is the female voice. American comics have been, lets be honest, terrible about female creators. While female mangaka’s did struggle for a time to be recognize within the industry, now its hard to imagine manga without them. The highest paid comic creator in the world is a female mangaka, Rumiko Takahashi. The third reason is the way manga is released and distributed. Manga is first serialized in large phone book magazines aimed at singular demographic. Shonen=boy, shojo=girl, seinen=young male, josei=young woman. These books feature differing styles and genre and genre blends.
Seinen manga is what I’m focusing on and I’m going to point to my three favorite from this demographic.
What Is It: Kenichi Sonoda likes three things fast cars, cute girls, and guns. Gunsmith Cats is the epitome of this. A bounty hunter/crime fiction/action series about a gunsmith/gunslinger named Rally Vincent and her bomb expert partner Minnie May Hopkins. They go after bounties and sometimes those bounties get out of hand. Along the way you meet their various friend and associates, the most popular of which is Bean Bandit, a towering man who works as a transporter. The stories throughout the series include battling a drug lord named Gray, Rally becoming the infatuation with an Italian mafia queen, and Rally squaring off against ehr rival Bean in many car chases.
What Is It For Me: Gunsmith Cats is just pure fun and energy. What Sonoda does-besides having such a fun light style-is craft some of the most detailed guns and cars. This man loves guns and cars. Despite living in Japan which has strict gun laws Sonoda is careful in detailing and researching the firearms in the series. There was a one off story where Rally explains proper firearm handling in a firearm lesson. There is also the car chases. Sonoda is the 0king of the comic book car chase. You can not go to far into this series without Rally in a Mustang, usually a Shelby GT500 but later a Viper. It’s an incredible dialogue and Sonoda channels his joy of cars and guns so well in Rally, who herself as such a fun character. She may not be as peppy and optimistic as Minnie May but she is a great lead. I’m not going to lie, some of the stuff around Minnie May is unsettling. The character is 18, looks like she’s twelve, and worked as a teen prostitute but damn it she blows up stuff real good. I love the interplay between rally and Bandit too-Bean Bandit is such a bad ass. The ending to the series is a bit anti-climatic but overall GSC is fun times. Light, action heavy fun.
By Naoki Urasawa, based on The Greatest Robot on Earth from Mighty Atom by Osamu Tezuka
What It Is: The modern manga master, Naoki Urasawa, whose work such as the thriller Monster and the complex science fiction thriller 20th Century Boys has made him one of the most talked about storytellers worldwide decided to remake one of the most famous Astro Boy stories. The story was about a powerful robot who sought to defeat the 8 most powerful robots, Astro Boy included. Urasawa’s retelling actually uses the german robot Gesicht who works as an inspector for Europol and he is on the case of a series of robot murders. This mystery leads to a Middle-Easter War and a Doctor hellbent on revenge. This version of the famous story is dark, serious, and incredibly intense.
What it Is To Me: I’m not into Astro Boy. I tried. I picked this up on the strength of Monster and 20th Century Boys (Plus the one anime release of Yawara!). This book left me gasping. It was a heart stopper, incredibly dramatic, and very toughing. It’s a hard science fiction crime thriller. The fact the book does not introduce Astro Boy (or Atom) until several chapters down the line shows that Urasawa was trying to do something that would live up to the original without being some bothersome remake (the arc had been adapted into anime a few times). As I write this I’m remembering the various death scenes at the hand of killer-and the way Urasawa depicted them before their fates. Pluto is brutal and beautiful.
#1. Excel Saga
by Koshi Rikdo
What It Is: The story of the secret organization Across who seek to takeover the world, starting with japan. Lead by the mysterious Il Palazzo with his main charge-Excel, the lead. She’s joined by Hyatt and Elgala and they run operations for Across. Their enemies are the Department of Environmental Safety. Overseen by the mysterious Dr. Kabapu. His underlings include four individuals who all happen to live in the same complex (who are also in the same complex where Excel, Hyatt and Elgala live). Kabapu sends these four on missions, sometimes with a high operating robot run by a strange Professor Shiouji.
What It Is To Me: When I started hitting the comic shop every week excel Saga was the first manga I started following volume to volume. I watched the anime series, a parody of other anime. It was silly with a lot of craziness but the manga was more focused. It stuck to the general idea of Excel and Hyatt doing weird jobs for their boss and skimming pass their neighbors who they were unaware were employed by their rival (and vice versa). Somewhere down the line, after a bit of repetition, things exploded. Rikdo’s stories before that were fun and amusing but then the characterization got deeper and the mystery behind a Kabapu and Il Palazzo deepened and included Shiouji’s missing father and his eccentric mother. The story shifted and changed, the bonds between the friends and the enemies. I’ve been reading the book for a decade now, the Japanese run finished a year or so ago and the English version is on the verge of ending. It’s been a long time for me reading the adventures of Excel-this enthusiastic, airhead who tries to hide her own insecurities and fears as she blindly does what she believes her lord wants of her. The story of Shiouji trying to measure up to his father. Misaki, her odd relationship with Iwata and her co-workers poor Watanabe (nothing goes right for him) and Sumiyoshi (who just wants to collect his dating games). You get attached to material you’ve followed for a long time-it’s sad to think it’ll be over soon. I liked Excel Saga anime when I saw it at my first AX in 2001. I’ve loved Excel Saga manga for years now.