The Manga Top Ten トップテン・マンガ
By Topher Seal and Clint Joslin
This list that Clint and I have assembled represents what we believe to be the very best in manga collecting. Many of these books are nearly impossible to find in the states and even on eBay. To get it down to ten we had to eliminate some pretty important selections so if you think we grossly underestimated some series like Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, Vampire Hunter D or others please make your case in the comments! Sales, rarity, popularity and critical acclaim effected each decision but it was not easy to get it to ten.
Manga is a big part of what it means to be Japanese both culturally and commercially. It’s a form of sequential art much like what we enjoy here. There’s no denying that the billions of people from all age groups and backgrounds who read them have an insatiable appetite for the best creators have to offer. They are a complex, diverse type of comic with intriguing thematic content on par with anything American creators have made. Over the last fifty plus years, we have allowed them to influence our own art, reading habits, gaming and many other creative outlets that we enjoy every day.
What many believed was the very first manga in Japan appeared in the 12th and 13th century, in a series of drawings like frogs and rabbits titled Choju-giga (Scrolls of Frolicking Animals) produced by several artists. Though the medium dates back to the 12th century it really wasn’t until the post-war efforts of creators like Osamu Tezuka and Machiko Hasegawa that the panel structure and techniques we know and love today were formulated. Their innovation continues to influence modern comic creators from all countries.
In America reading comics is often seen as something enjoyed by more specific groups but not in Japan. Shōnen, seijin ,seinen and shōjo are just some of the gender and age-specific categories that manga can fall into and there seems to be a type for everyone! In Japan it is common to see people of all ages enjoying manga daily. As they become more popular demand grows and these stories are often collected into tankōbon which are pretty much just like the trades we buy in America.
Nearly every aspect of Japanese pop culture production can be traced to the industrial complex of manga, as the most famous have a far-reaching influence and quickly turn into books, television shows, anime, collectible figures and video games. For a long time, manga has served as a cultural pillar of Japan’s economy. It transcended cultural barriers and made an important and lasting impression on audiences across the globe, becoming Japan’s most popular cultural export.
One Piece ワンピース
First appearance: Weekly Shōnen Jump 34 July 22, 1997
Though not as well known in the states as some others on this list, any manga that holds the Guinness World Record for sales ( over 400 million copies ) cannot be denied. I find it fascinating that a comic about a pirate boy who acquires a rubbery body by eating some odd fruit far surpasses all others on this list in sales.
NOTE: Romance dawn established a world which would later become One Piece. As the original art progressed the characters and people evolved into the work everyone seems to be obsessed with . All the original and subsequent versions ( Luffy and other prototypes ) were later collected in Weekly Shonen Jump.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
First appearance: Shonen Ace December 1994
Though this manga has sold well the anime is really what created a cultural phenomenon and rabid fanbase. Neon’s dense material and religious symbolism were masterfully interwoven into a post-apocalyptic, mech masterpiece. Neon Genesis is an investigation into our very souls and the psychological ramifications involved in any attempt to prevent the next tragedy from happening.
Astro Boy 鉄腕アトム
First appearance: Tetsuwan Atom #1
It is known in Japan by its original name Mighty Atom. Written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka from 1952 – 1968. As the story goes, Astro Boy is a child robot made by Dr. Tenma to replace his deceased son. Instead, he becomes the greatest superhero. The Manga has sold approximately 100 million copies. It hit the US briefly in the 60’s and again in 1987 titled The Original Astro Boy via NOW comics which ran 20 issues. Dark Horse comic published the first ever English-language version but with the artwork flipped so it could be read from left to right for the Western readers in 2002. There have been three different Astro Boy Animated TV series – 1963, 1980, & 2003.
Note: Astro Boy makes his first US appearance in a self-titled Gold Key issue and his second in a very rare March of Comics issue.
First appearance: Pokemon Pocket Monsters #1
This is one of the first Pocket Monsters Manga to come out in Japan starting in April 1996 and ran for 13 volumes. The Manga follows Red, a young boy. In the first few books, Red’s team consists of Pikachu (who is unable to talk) and Pippi/Clefairy only. This was later serialized in CoroCoro magazine and is the second longest running Manga. “Pika” is the Japanese word for the noise of electricity cracking. “Chu” is how the Japanese describe the sound a mouse makes. That’s how the name Pikachu was created. He is the equivalent of the USA’s Mickey Mouse in Japan. Pokemon saturates nearly every inch of popular culture in America from comics to games to phone apps.
Ghost in the Shell 攻殻機動隊
First appearance: Weekly Young Magazine April 1989
Seinen manga Ghost in the Shell/Mobile Armored Riot Police was written and illustrated by Masamune Shirow. It chronicles the story of a counter-terrorism unit in a futuristic Japan. Shirow’s work explored the relationship between man and machine and what the spirit truly means in a dangerous, advanced technological civilization.
The Manga was first serialized in 1989 and ran from May 1989 to November 1990 and then published in its own tankōbon by Kodansha. The original name ( Kōkaku Kidōtai ) is also the original published name.
Dark Horse initially published it in English monthly into eight comic issues from March 1995 to October 1995 but the uncensored version wasn’t released until 2004.
Lone Wolf and Cub 子連れ狼
First appearance: Weekly Manga Action September 1970
This violent tale of revenge set in the Tokugawa era remains a popular Manga franchise to this day. Created by writer Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, it was first published in 1970 selling roughly 8 million copies. This samurai story spans 28 volumes with over 300 pages each totaling over 8700 pages in all. It was originally released in the US by First Comics in 1987 featuring covers by Frank Miller and later by Bill Sienkiewicz. First Comics had shut down before completion of release publishing less than one third of the total series. In September 2000, Dark Horse Comics began to release an English translation completed in December 2002. A movie remake is in the works. Attached is Justin Lin as Director and written by Andrew Kevin Walker.
Cowboy Bebop カウボーイビバップ
First appearance: Monthly Asuka Fantasy DX October 1998
Cowboy Bebop is an existential journey set in space in our not too distant future. It touched on sensitive subjects few others have acknowledged such as abusive relationships, ecoterrorism, post-traumatic stress disorder, survivors guilt, and infidelity. The anime is renown for it’s incredible animation and killer soundtrack by the Seatbelts.
The first manga titled Cowboy Bebop: Shooting Star was written by Hajime Yatate and illustrated by Cain Kuga. This was serialized from October 1997 to July 1998. US release date was April 2003. Cowboy Bebop is famous for its tributes to culture, it has five major film influences: Enter the Dragon, Ying hung boon sik, Reservoir Dogs, The Crow and Desperado.
Dragon Ball ドラゴンボールZ
First appearance: Weekly Shōnen Jump 51 December 3, 1984
Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball series has sold over 150 million copies and is one of the most appreciated and recognizable manga franchises ever created. Originally Akira had created Dragon Boy to star in a kung-fu shonen manga for Jump Comics and the prototype first appeared in the August issue of Fresh Jump in 1983.
Dragon Boy evolved into Dragon Ball and slowly because one of the most popular manga in Japan. Thanks to a serious push in the US, it developed a passionate fan base as the action-packed Dragon Ball Z which continues to enjoy a healthy following.
First appearance: Akamaru Jump Sampler 1997
Masashi Kishimoto’s epic manga series is the third highest selling series of all time and it’s easy to understand why. One cannot deny the popularity of Naruto as it has sold over 200 million copies. It’s coming of age narrative is popular for fans of all ages and an epic anime series is something no fan should miss.
First Appearance: Weekly Young Magazine 24
Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic masterpiece is generally considered the best manga of all time. Otomo unknowingly became an early contributor to the cyberpunk genre as he created a beautiful narrative which investigated the conflicts between the youth and establishment in a futuristic, post-war Japan.
It certainly helped Akira that Marvel published and added color to a 38 volume series under its Epic imprint. Complete sets of that, and the Kodansha volumes are all quite valuable but Young Magazine 24 and the remaining serialized issues which ran from December 1982 through June 1990 are truly the holy grail of Manga collections.
It’s important to note that Otomo published an earlier work called Fireball in Action Deluxe Magazine in 1979 which explored themes used in his later works including Akira.
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