So it’s that time of year again. Yes, the “everyone makes lists about the best/worst things of the year.” And you know what? I love it. Yes, love it. And so, I decided to put together my own list of my top five best manga of 2011.
To be eligible for this list, all a series had to do was have one book this year that I have read. Some (most actually) began in earlier years but they were the titles I looked forward to reading the most in these last twelve months. And so, without further ado, here are my top picks of the year.
5. Codename: Sailor V by Naoko Takeuchi (Kodansha Comics)
I will admit, nostalgia goggles are on pretty tight for this one, though from what I’ve read online about this series, I’m not alone. Along with the re-release of Sailor Moon (which likely could have made the list, if the two released volumes weren’t still sitting in my to-be-read pile), 2011 saw the first English release of the series which started it all, Codename Sailor V, featuring Aino Minako, aka Sailor Venus, in her early adventures. This series is just a really fun read and also interesting from a storytelling perspective as you can see the parts of the world that we know and love from Sailor Moon really start to come together. And it doesn’t hurt that the book itself is a lovely release, complete with colour pictures which I think really show how great the series’ art is.
4. Gunslinger Girl by Yu Aida (Yen Press)
This one I’ve talked about here before (in my last review, actually) so I’ll be brief. I love this series and could not be happier to see it finally getting released again. The world here is just so beautiful and unnerving and thought-provoking, which are three things I love in a story, manga or otherwise.
3. Vampire Knight by Matsuri Hino (Viz Media)
I often describe Vampire Knight as my guilty pleasure manga (and anime, for the record). While it definitely is a guilty pleasure, I also think it’s a very well put together series as well, which is what puts it above more “quality” series like Gunslinger Girl. It is full of melodrama but this is melodrama done to perfection, that always has at least a ring of truth. It makes you laugh and cry with the characters – in particular my beloved Zero, who is just an incredibly interesting and well-developed character. I also really love the world that the manga has created for its vampires to exist in and the volumes released this year have really begin to delve into it more. Of course, there is the epic love triangle that also contains one of the most intense (and sometimes homoerotic) rivalries I’ve ever seen. While I was initially worried that the series might be dragging as it started an entirely new arc, I have thankfully been proven wrong and am eagerly anticipating the story continuing in 2012.
2. Ooku: The Inner Chambers by Fumi Yoshinaga (Viz Media)
I first encountered Ooku last year when I wrote a review for it for the now defunct Manga Life (you can read the review for vol 3 on my blog, here) and the series was my pick for best series of 2010. The political intrigue of this story is just incredible and, like Gunslinger Girl, also very thought-provoking as it plays with gender issues. The art also is beautiful (though admittedly it can be difficult at times to tell some characters apart) and the story is wonderfully epic, giving an alternate history to the entire Tokugawa shogunate period. I personally love the archaic language which I became used to after reading a volume or two, though I do see why some would have issues with it. Still, the story is good enough to overcome the few flaws it has and makes it a solid runner-up for 2011.
And my pick for best manga of 2011 is …
1. Bunny Drop by Yumi Unita (Yen Press)
I was introduced to this series first through the anime, which aired in Japan over the summer. I was immediately in love. The series is just so different from anything else I’ve read, as it shows the challenges of a single man suddenly being thrown into a “father” role for the illegitimate daughter of his late grandfather. Yes, the blood relationship is as complicated as it sounds but what comes out is one of the most feelgood stories I have ever watched or read. Every moment that I am experiencing Bunny Drop I am smiling and just having a great time, and that’s really something that’s a bit too rare in today’s entertainment. This series also features fantastic art and writing, which includes some of the best portrayals of children in fiction that I have ever seen. This is a book that I would recommend to anyone who likes kids, whether or not they are a manga fan. It’s just that good.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
So that’s my top five. All great series that I love reading and highly recommend. I also would like to take a moment to name two runners-up who are only not on the list because they did not have new volumes come out this year. The first is NANA, which is sadly on indefinite hiatus due to Ai Yazawa’s health issues. This is definitely one of my favourite series period and I am heartbroken at the idea there’s a chance it will never be finished. I wish Ai Yazawa all the best in her recovery because losing her as a mangaka would be a truly terrible thing.
My second sadly missed series is Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden, by my favourite mangaka, Yuu Watase. I am a big fan of hers, particular of the original Fushigi Yuugi series, and I constantly look to see if there is a new volume of this being released … and sadly am often disappointed. However, it looks as though volume ten has been released in Japan, so hopefully it will soon get released in English and this series can be a contender for a proper place on next year’s list. (Editor’s note: Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden (Vol. 10) is due out from Viz Media in September 2012!)
Finally, just in case anyone is interested, the worst manga I read this year was March Story. I also reviewed it for Manga Life and you can read that review (for vol 1) here but needless to say, while it did have wonderful art, the story was just really unoriginal and not at all compelling. But I definitely read much more good than bad this year and have high hopes for 2012.