There are no shortage of ‘Best Of’ lists this time of year. While I like popping around to different peoples’ sites and seeing what they thought, it’s a bit of a frustration that I can’t seem to write one myself. How people choose a solid list containing five or ten favourites, from across different genres and subject matters, is just something I can’t seem to muster the brain power for. Not enough conviction I suppose? There’s just so much to love!
But I can’t overlook the perfect chance to look back at all the great titles a year had to offer and 2011 had some really fantastic ones. So then where is this going, oh rambling one, you ask? My semi-traditional equivalent to the yearly best of – the random Lissa’s favourites and best-ofs list! Which really just means you get a lot more titles broken into a lot more categories so I can remain a lot more loving to a lot more series. And in some cases not so loving… From the Best Release Quality to the Favourite Fan Service and even to the most Gag Worthy – here are a bunch of my favourite titles from 2011!
Best Release Quality
While we’re not getting the same amount of individual volumes of manga as years’ past, the quality of releases keeps getting better. This year I was really impressed with Yen Press‘s work on A Bride’s Story which was a hardcover book sporting a beautiful full-colour, matte finish cover slip. It compliments the work perfectly!
Another nice hardcover book was Wandering Son which was released by Fantagraphics. The book was also printed at a larger than normal size making for a book that’s a bit tricky to fit on the shelf but really enjoyable to read.
Viz Media‘s softcover omnibus of CLAMP’s X series was also a treat with lots of full-colour, glossy pages inside. The series is also released in its original visual format for the first time in English.
Best Boys’ Love
My boys’ love buying was a bit smaller than usual this year as much of Digital Manga’s attentions shifted to digital releases and I began running into a lot of supply issues trying to buy physical copies from them (a definite downer of 2011!). Of the titles I did read though, two really stood out. The number one was Only Serious About You (Vol.01) – a really charming story that felt like Future Lovers meets Bunny Drop. The art was nice and the story so sweet and romantic, even with things remaining mostly platonic in this introductory volume.
Another boys’ love title that I loved was Rabbit Man, Tiger Man. I couldn’t resist the visual contrast between the small, cute doctor and the tall, scary yakuza! The story itself was a lot funnier than I expected and I was entertained by every page. The English adaptation stood out to me as being really good too, I loved some of the word choices. I really hope the rest of the series gets licensed.
Favourite Fan Service
While neither are new series to this year, the continuing Black Butler (Yen Press) and XXXHolic (Del Rey) win again for best fan service (the kind that appeals to me)! The suedo-romantic(?) tension between it’s lead male characters and the gorgeous clothing design and dark inking make them immediate must owns, complete with the occasional squeals and swoons. XXXHolic has been a more consistent wow factor volume after volume so it’ll be bittersweet seeing it end early this new year.
Best Second Chances
Re-releases, omnibus and new editions have became a fairly regular occurrence and the chance to revisit something missed is great. This year I was pleasantly surprised by Seven Sea‘s Blood Alone (Vol.01), an omnibus edition of the original first three volumes. It’s a great vampire story that steers clear of most tropes and focuses more on a subtle but poignant relationship between a young girl and her protector.
One of my favourite series of 2011 was Full Metal Alchemist. Though it’s been coming out for a number of years, I’d only just started reading it thanks to borrowing a friends’ copies. Viz Media celebrated the last volume of the series coming out by releasing a box set of the entire thing – all twenty-seven volumes! It’s a fantastic value. I highly recommend it, while also suggesting you avoid the omnibus editions which only cover the first nine volumes then stop.
Digital Manga‘s continuing editions of Kizuna have been great as well. In 2011 we finally got to the point in the omnibus editions where the original English edition by BeBeautiful had stopped. New content! I love that we have a second chance to purchase it, and now the whole thing at that!
Best (Worst?) Good-Byes
While 2011 saw some great series start, it also saw some of my favourites come to an end. The biggest and saddest goodbye goes to Vertical Inc‘s edition of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack. This is one of my favourite manga series of all time and to finish reading the last volume was a sad experience indeed. It’s such a fun series and Black Jack himself is an amazing character. I’ve no doubt I’ll be re-reading it again and again.
Viz Media’s English edition of Full Metal Alchemist also came to an end. The pain of it ending was dampened by how I’d read the whole thing within a month leading up to it and because the ending was so, so good. I’m also thankful we got to read the entire story. I wish I could say the same for things such as Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo and Shinobi Life which we’ve had to say farewell to early because of Tokyopop’s shutdown. That wasn’t an easy goodbye in itself either – so unfortunate!
Like watching a train-wreck and being unable to look away (as they say…?), sometimes there are those titles that are just dark, depressing and sort of scary. Bleak as they may be, the emotional rollar-coasting of reading them makes every page turn worth it. Vertical delivered two series that fit the description, both by Usamaru Furuya. Lychee Light Club is a one-shot with plenty of violence, sex and crazy, crazy people. I read it, loved it and honestly may never read it again. It’s just one of those kind of titles, you know? My signed copy sits proudly on the shelf.
Usamaru Furuya’s No Longer Human has been an experience as well. It’s more grim and dark than violent and shocking but I’m definitely in for the whole messy journey. I look forward to seeing how it finishes in 2012 with volume three what was started in 2011 with volumes one and two.
Getting to meet Usamaru Furuya and hear him interviewed at TCAF 2012 was also a big highlight of the year for me. Hopefully in 2012 I’ll be able to meet an idol with fewer than twenty minutes of self-psyching to work up the nerve to say hello – it could happen, right?
Most Long Awaited
Of all the English manga titles and trends started in 2011, I think it’ll be most known for bringing about two of the most long-awaited manga series of all time – Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon and Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight.
Kodansha Comics released the two volume prequel series, Sailor V, and the first two volumes of Sailor Moon – both are must haves for the magical-girl fans out there! Talk about a trip down nostalgia lane too. While Sailor Moon is one of the most well-known manga titles, Vertical Inc took the honour of releasing one of the very first. The company released both omnibus volumes of Princess Knight in 2011 so you can now buy the whole thing – prepare to enjoy!
As a big CLAMP fan, I was also thrilled to finally get the first volume of their new Gate 7 in my hands. With the title first announced years ago by Dark Horse, it’s been a much longer wait than any anticipated.
Hidden Gems of 2011
Two titles published by Digital Manga that I really enjoyed were Replica and Countdown 7 Days. Both are by Kemuri Karakara and are series it’s tricky to really nail down genre-wise. They’re very shonen in nature but more character-oriented with really nice artwork, less focus on stuff like fighting and ‘The power of friendship!’. Sort of like… D.Grayman, Arata the Legend, and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles – to name a few that come to mind first.
I really enjoyed both the series so far – great art, fun characters and some interesting stories. I heard little mention of either from the manga blogosphere or social media outlets though but I hope a lot of readers still got to check them out. I’m sure a lot of readers out where would enjoy them. Volume one of each were released in 2011 and I’m eager for the follow-ups in 2012.
I love a good one-shot! When done well they’re a really satisfying experience, having either a nice collection of short stories or one solid piece planned for a one-go read. They’re also the easiest thing to suggest to new readers – short but sweet, without the commitment of multi-volume series. Of the one-shots published in 2011, my favourites were Natsume Ono’s Tesoro (Viz Media) and Taniguchi Jiro ‘s A Zoo in Winter (Ponent Mon). I’ve read works by both the artist’s before but these easily became my favourites of each. Both are high quality releases and have stories full of sincerity and compelling human drama – I highly recommend both!
I don’t consider myself quick to tears but sometimes a volume of manga manages to get me there. Goes to show you should always be ready with a hanky or two because you never know what tears a story may bring. Ouran High School Host Club (Vol. 17) was such a fun, high-energy and very satisfying read that I found myself tearing up from joy. That was a new one for me. I enjoyed it so much, seeing how far the series and characters have come. You can bet the last volume, due out in June 2012, will be one hard to say good-bye to.
My feelings were similar reading the last volume of Genkaku Picasso, also released by Viz Media. Picasso’s growth and acceptance of his new friends and their support for him was so touching. I never thought it’d be a series that would move me that much but, by the end of volume three, I was definitely wiping at my eyes to be able to see the pages.
Lastly, when it came to just downright heart-breakingly sad, Stargazing Dog from NBM Publishing won hands down. What made me cry wasn’t even always the sad parts, sometimes it was those bittersweet moments that predate them. It was no surprise to me that a book about the love and loyalty of a pet dog would be an emotional trip though. It’s a great read but definitely have your tissues ready for this one.
We saw series start and end in 2011 but many others were just trekking their way through with more to come. My top-wanted series (because goodness knows there’re dozens of ‘em) that began in years past and have continued through 2011 and onward to 2012 are Kamisama Kiss, Bunny Drop, 20th Century Boys, Pokemon Adventures and The Tyrant Falls in Love. Saying good-bye to a year comes with a lot of good-byes in general but at least there are none for these yet!
Some continuing titles however, made their way through 2011 with unfortunately minimal appearances. A number of my favourite series only had one volume released over the entire year. While the books were great, the long wait is always tough. I’ve got my fingers crossed for more of Kaze Hikaru, Yotsuba&!, Berserk and The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service in 2012.
Along with the series that I already loved going into 2011, I also went into the year with a few series I was on the fence about. With several volumes of each throughout the year though, I was made a believer! While they each had some rough starts – be it too predictable, too slow or just painfully sexist, 2011 was a redeeming year for Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-Ne (Viz Media), Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica (Vertical) and Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Obata’s Bakuman (Viz Media). Now I’ll be spending 2012 eagerly awaiting every new volume of these three.
Top I’m-Not-Sure-Why Reads
Most people have these kinds of reads – the ones where you really like them but you’re not really sure why. I went into 2011 not able to pinpoint why I love Viz Media’s Toriko and Kodansha Comics’ Air Gear so much and a year later I’m still not sure why. Both had several volumes out in 2011 and still the answer eludes me. One thing I do know though is I love Toriko more for the story, less for the art, and with Air Gear it’s the opposite. I guess as long as I still love reading them, it’s okay that 2011 held tight to their secrets!
Enjoyable as many reads were this year, there were some that I could have done without. They weren’t bad, per say, but I was left feeling so underwhelmed upon finishing that I felt my time and money could have been much better spent elsewhere. Blood Blockade Battlefront (Dark Horse), Drifters (Dark Horse) and Drops of God (Vertical) were all series newly started in 2011. While I usually give a series two volumes to impress, I think I’ll leave any future copies of these ones on the shelves for other more interested readers. Not necessarily bad, just not for me.
Most Gag Worthy
Alas where there is good and meh, there is also just outright bad. Thankfully I didn’t read too many stinkers this year but yikes, did the bad ever stand out when they did show themselves. While I don’t often regret reading a book, I got to that point with Ai Ore! (Vol. 01). With some of the most hateable characters I’ve ever read in a manga title, and the end of this first volume nearly earned the title a chuck at the wall. Why, Viz Media? Why?! Digital Manga’s The Beautiful Skies of Houou High was pretty bad also, but erred on the side of just being painful to read and falling short of being rage-inducing.
… and that’s it folks! My thanks to all the manga publishers, local retailers, fellow manga supporters and of course manga creators for a great 2011!