Ep.56: The Best Books (for New Readers) of Season One
Tired of “balanced” reviews pointing out strengths and weaknesses of a title? Just want to know what manga you should ACTUALLY read?! Well, this week the full Mangasplaining crew picks their “best manga for folks who haven’t read much manga before” from the first season of Mangasplaining. These are the 11 titles that they recommend… With a few caveats and a hilarious discussion of each title, of course!
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Mangasplaining: Best Books (for New Readers) of Season 1
Show notes by Christopher Woodrow Butcher and Deb Aoki
Audio editing by David Brothers
Hey y’all! When we started this podcast we decided to try and find books that we liked for Chip to read, as someone who “hadn’t read much manga before.” Since that fateful day a year ago, we’ve covered quite a few titles, and sometimes folks will ask us for our recommendations! The thing is, and as we cover in the intro to this episode, it isn’t really about whether a book is bad or good–each of these books was picked by one of us because we like them and wanted Chip to like them too. But in the process of doing the podcast, we learned that some of these books are better than others as recommendations for new readers!
So, what was originally just gonna be a list on our website is now an episode, because we needed a little low-effort content for our ‘time off’ between Season 2 and Season 3. Except this didn’t end up being low-effort at all (lol) and frankly, it was a heck of a lot of fun. A true ‘bonus’ of a bonus episode.
We covered 29 books on Season One of Mangasplaining, and we picked 11 of them as being great reads for new readers (with some caveats). Please enjoy this (final) bonus episode of Mangasplaining Season Two, and we’ll see you for new regular episodes starting with Season Three next week!
But before that happens, we also have traditional show notes:
02:00 “Sbarro” is the “Vertigo” of comic books to “Subway Sandwiches” mainstream “Marvel and DC” is a helluva take. Also as a take, it makes no sense whatsoever unless you’re already a comics nerd. Lol.
The Best Manga For New Readers from Mangasplaining Season One
The Way of the Househusband (Episode 8)
by Kousuke Oono
Translation by Shelton Drzka, English adaptation by Jennifer LeBlanc
Touch-up Art and Lettering by Bianca Pistillo
Published by VIZ Media (Print & Digital)
If you like: Comedy, Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye.
What’s it about: He was the fiercest member of the yakuza, a man who left countless underworld legends in his wake. They called him “the Immortal Dragon.” But one day he walked away from it all to travel another path—the path of the househusband! The curtain rises on this cozy yakuza comedy!
04:20 I think when most hardcore manga fans think to recommend manga, they tend to go for the ‘coolest’ work (see: AKIRA), and tend to forget that humor and comedy tend to be pretty universal ideas. The short chapter-long gags of The Way of the Househusband are an amazing way to convince someone that actually, they might dig manga. And yeah, it does get a little repetitive, but it also stays pretty great, and it’s fun to dip in and out.
06:10 Chip has been watching the British comedy show Task Master, and his shout-out slot this week was already spoken for, so he wanted to make sure we shared this clip from Task Master up front.
06:45 We were trying to keep this episode to a tight 45 minutes and so I didn’t want to go too far off script, but since we’re here in the show notes almost a year later–man, did the anime kill the momentum for this series or what? Anime fans were not having the limited animation style of this series on Netflix.
Thing is, when an adaptation doesn’t live up to the hype, it just destroys the sales of the tie-in product. Out of 20 years in comics retail, the most glaring example of this is the film adaptation of Moore and O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s a good, fun, somewhat high-brow heroes and villains slugfest (particularly the first volume). The mini-series and collected edition of the book was doing very, very well sales-wise during the lead-up to the film’s release. But after the movie’s release? It ended all that sales hype, and destroyed the ‘mainstream’ sales of the title and its sequels/spin-off projects. This has happened quite a bit over the years, and it’s a shame because the core work often still remains good and fun and watchable, but its been tainted by association with a bad adaptation. I think back to what Chip said a few episodes ago about adaptation, about Zack Snyder ruining the Watchmen graphic novel for him (in the Akira Vol 3 episode), and that’s a very human response.
Which is all to say, go back, check out The Way of the Househusband — it remains awesome even if you hated the ‘anime’.
What’s it about: Yuta became immortal when he unwittingly ate mermaid flesh, and now he seeks a way to become human again. Hundreds of years later, he encounters a volatile and determined young lady named Mana while searching for a mermaid. Could this mysterious woman hold the key to saving Yuta’s humanity?
07:53 I think this is something that a lot of manga fans, anime fans, J-culture fans in general, don’t really think about: The “Manga-ness of Manga”. Basically it means the conventions of the genre and the medium that, once you’re immersed in it, you don’t really notice anymore. I won’t get into what those are here, since we’re talking about side-stepping them. They don’t all necessarily apply to Mermaid Saga in particular, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression of the series to new readers.
That said, there’s some great plot-twists in Mermaid Saga, some surprisingly grisly horror scenes, some very funny jokes too. It’s a great pick-up-and-read book… about cannibalism. (cough cough)
09:07 That “especially in Japan” comment makes sense if you’ve read the show notes for the Mermaid Saga episode. But here’s a hint:
What’s it about: In a trash-filled apartment, 24-year-old Akira Tendo watches a zombie movie with lifeless, envious eyes. After spending three hard years at an exploitative corporation in Japan, his spirit is broken. He can’t even muster the courage to confess his feelings to his beautiful co-worker Ohtori. Then one morning, he stumbles upon his landlord eating lunch—which happens to be another tenant! The whole city’s swarming with zombies, and even though he’s running for his life, Akira has never felt more alive!
09:05 Just to clarify, VIZ sponsored us to read this title in the sponsored “Blind Date” segment, not to like it or endorse it. We actually just liked this one, and can recommend it to new-to-manga readers… if you’re not ‘completely over’ zombies or whatever.
10:30 Here’s an example of some good art from Zom 100.
11:05 Chris is a sucker for good cover art and special cover treatments, honestly. That hot pink cover really stands out on the manga stands, both here and in Japan.
11:46 Speaking of which, Platinum End from Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ohba has a great cover treatment…! Er, in Japan, and Spain. I actually just realized I saw the book mentioned for its covers online more than once, and I saw the Japanese editions, and that I’ve never seen the English editions in person. So I have no idea how VIZ is handling it. But the versions I saw from Japan and Spain are really special, and made we want to check out the series, so apologies if I got that way, way wrong. Lol.
AKIRA Volume 1 & 2 (Episodes 01 and 25)
By Katsuhiro Otomo
Dark Horse/Kodansha Comics Softcover Edition: Translated by Yoko Umezawa, Jo Duffy, and Dark Horse Comics. Lettering by David Schmit and Éditions Glénat
Kodansha Hardcover Edition: Translated by Stephen Paul, Edited by Haruko Hashimoto. Lettering by Evan Hayden
Published in softcover and hardcover editions by Kodansha.
If you like: The animated film AKIRA, really great comics art and storytelling
What’s it about: Welcome to Neo-Tokyo, built on the ashes of a Tokyo annihilated by a blast of unknown origin that triggered World War III. The lives of two streetwise teenage friends, Tetsuo and Kaneda, change forever when paranormal abilities begin to waken in Tetsuo, making him a target for a shadowy agency that will stop at nothing to prevent another catastrophe like the one that leveled Tokyo. At the core of the agency’s motivation is a raw, all-consuming fear of an unthinkable, monstrous power known only as Akira.
13:00 Honestly, our AKIRA episodes are our most popular episodes. Y’all just really love AKIRA.
14:00 I know it’s not necessarily advanced, more like 102-level instead of 101-level, but storytelling, in addition to the actual illustrative/rendering aspects of comics, doesn’t get as much credit as it should. That’s because quite honestly the quality in manga is generally pretty high, but when you see exemplary stuff, like in Otomo’s work, it’s worth calling it out.
If you like: Slice-of-life stories, Gentle coming-of-(old)-age, The Great British Bake-Off
What’s it about: Ichinoi, a 75-year-old woman living a peaceful life, unwittingly buys a Boy’s Love manga one day…and is fascinated by what she finds inside. When she returns to the bookstore to buy the next volume, the high school girl working there–Urara, a seasoned BL fan–notices a budding fangirl when she sees one. When Urara offers to help Ichinoi explore this whole new world of fiction, the two dive into BL fandom together, and form an unlikely friendship along the way.
17:40 In as much as humor/comedy is a broad genre to introduce a new reader to a new medium, sometimes going really specific can work as well. As Chip is a comics maker himself, he’s actually really responded well to the manga we’ve shown him that have aspects of making art, and making comics, within them. Although that wasn’t a huge theme in the first season, with BL Metamorphosis carrying the torch on its own, Season 2 introduced titles like Blank Canvas, Blue Period, and Look Back that really drove the idea home.
18:29 Chip loves him some romance, any chance to share these images:
19:15 Deb is winking. We’ve recorded our Birds of Shangri-la episode already, and it might be the craziest episode we’ve ever done. Was I so loud during recording that we almost got kicked out of our room in an Italian hotel? Find out! Look for it April 19th, wherever you get your podcasts!
20:13 Spoilers: She lives. Sorry, I can’t let you think that she might die while you’re reading the book, it really, really changes the tone. But it’s a fantastic book that you should totally read. Here’s an image I didn’t have a chance to use in the show notes:
If you like: Slice of life, Coming-of-(middle)-age, Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, WKRP in Cincinnati
What’s it about: Minare thought she was just venting to a stranger when she told a guy at a bar about her man troubles. It turns out that man works at a radio station, and the next day she’s shocked to hear her grumbling broadcast on the air! She storms the station in a rage, only to be duped into joining a talk show, and her acid tongue makes her into an instant star!
22:25 Sometimes even the right book can hit you the wrong way. I remember Chip saying that Helter Skelter was a tough read for him that did a lot of stuff “wrong,” but by the end of Season One it was the book he’d thought the most about. I think I’m the exact same way with Wave, Listen to Me!, and I’ve enjoyed going back to that book, and even started on volume 2.
Also, since I mentioned him, here are my friends Keith and Mino’s adorable baby, Fuji, playing in the snow in Hokkaido (photo used with permission). Maybe someday Japan will open up again, and the whole Mangasplaining crew will travel back to Hokkaido to meet him.
What’s it about: As part of the celebrations for its 100th anniversary, the publishers of the Tōzai News have commissioned the creation of the “Ultimate Menu,” a model meal embodying the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. This all-important task has been entrusted to journalist Yamaoka Shirō, an inveterate cynic who possesses no initiative—but also an incredibly refined palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of food.
28:45 David’s “Family Restaurant” installment of Oishinbo is a very good idea, but his American fast-casual installment of Oishinbo would be even better. Can you imagine Shiro and his dad arguing over the merits of TGIFriday’s versus Applebees? Man, someone needs to make that. I’d buy that.
Further reading: This week on MSX, Deb wrote a whole great big long article on FOOD MANGA! You can check it out for free right here. Deb covers the origins of food manga in Japan, and then picks 10 tasty titles that are available in English for us all to enjoy. Oishinbo is included!
If you like: Romantic intrigue, suspense, love triangles
What’s it about: Ayano, an elementary school teacher in her thirties, stops by a bar one day and meets another woman named Akari. Sparks fly as the two chat, and before the night is over, Ayano even goes in for a kiss. Akari is intrigued but confused…especially when she discovers that Ayano has a husband! Both Ayano and Akari are about to find out that love doesn’t get any easier, even as you grow older.
31:30 As I write this on April 5th, Even Though We’re Adults Volume 4 is released today! And no, volume 5 is not the last volume, it’s still going in Japan with the recently-released volume 6 being the most recent release. Maybe we can cover it in 2 batches.
Chip, if you read this, maybe think about picking volumes 2-4 for Season Three, then we can do Volumes 5+ for Season Four? Lol.
Further reading: Also over at MSX, writer and editor (and podcast listener) Erica Friedman put together an overview of the work of Takako Shimura for western readers! You can check it out here. It talks about Even Though We’re Adults, the author’s other work in English, and even suggests a few possible future releases!
If you like: Tear-jerkers, the movie Big except not funny the same way, Field of Dreams (for the father-son relationship, not for the baseball)
What’s it about: After well over a decade’s absence, Yoichi Yamashita journeys back to his hometown to attend his father’s funeral. As the relatives gather and the stories flow alongside the drinks, Yoichi’s childhood starts to resurface. The spring afternoon playing on the floor of his father’s barber shop, the fire that ravaged the city and his family home, his parents’ divorce and a new ‘mother’. Through confidences and memories shared with those who knew him best, Yoichi rediscovers the man he had long considered an absent and rather cold father.
32:30 I think we are really proud of that episode, and we greatly appreciate how many of you who listened to the episode and read the show notes have been so kind and shared so much with us. It remains one of our most-recommended episodes to start with the series, too. Our sincere thanks. You can see the comments that Deb is talking about in the link above.
Also, this is the kind of book that won’t necessarily be easily available, being from a small publisher, but it’s worth your time to hunt down and get it.
The Strange Tale of Panorama Island (Episode 16)
By Suehiro Maruo and Edogawa Rampo
Translation by Ryan Sands, Kyoko Nitta
Lettering, retouch, and design by Evan Hayden
Edited by Ryan Sands and Colin Turner
Published by Last Gasp (Print Only)
If you like: Alternative Literature? Dark Comedy? Sexy islands?
What’s it about: On a remote and mysterious island, one man builds a playground of hedonistic excess. His world is filled with splendor — replete with waterfalls, grand palaces, and gardens — a grand back-drop for decadent feasts, orgies, and dark secrets.
Set in 1920s Japan, The Strange Tale of Panorama Island follows the twisted path of failed novelist Hitomi, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the son and heir apparent of a rich industrialist family. Hitomi learns of the rich man’s sudden passing and creates a desperate plan. He fakes his own death, digs up and hides the other man’s body, and then washes himself up starving on a beach near the home of the dead man’s family. After successfully impersonating the now-dead son, Hitomi takes over all aspects of the man’s life, including his company, his fortune, and eventually his wife. The failed author soon redirects the family’s wealth to his own perverse aims.
A graphic novel based on the revered novella by Edogawa Rampo. Rampo was the godfather of Japanese pulp mysteries. Stunning artwork by master manga artist Suehiro Maruo deftly illustrates this Japanese pulp classic in fine detail.
38:00 There’s three red laser sniper scopes lining up on Chip’s forehead right now, that form the shape of the outline of Micky Mouse’s head.
Who’s it for: People that think AKIRA is the best-drawn manga of all time, historical fiction buffs
What’s it about: Acclaimed creator Kaoru Mori (Emma, Shirley) brings the nineteenth-century Silk Road to lavish life, chronicling the story of Amir Halgal, a young woman from a nomadic tribe betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior. Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive and birth families, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her.
39:45 See, this is kind of what I was getting at about the “Manga-ness of Manga” back in the first entry. There are just different sorts of things “on the table” as part of plot and story details that are generally considered taboo in contemporary Western mainstream lit. The high-concept for this book wouldn’t have gotten approved at most graphic novel publishers here, but also the resulting book is awesome, not skeevy, and totally something that I’m glad exists (and has been translated to English!).
But also, and this isn’t “North American Comics-splaining” so it hasn’t really come up yet, the reverse is also true. There are some real plot and story conventions in Western media that don’t typically translate in the same was to the Japanese mainstream. Maybe we’ll get into the idea more when we read a kids comic, or breakdown the medium in a serious way at some point. Or maybe not, and we’ll just talk about books we like.
42:20 Poor bunnies.
42:50 The little kiddos acting as a “Greek chorus” of sorts really do make for a fun read.
…and those are the 11 titles that we all agreed were great reads for folks who hadn’t read much manga before! What do you think? Are you just really upset that Yotsuba&! or Tekkon Kinkreet didn’t make the cut? Or do you have a hard disagree on any of our choices? Let us know in the comments! And thanks for listening and reading!
43:38 Now it’s time for SHOUT-OUTS!
Chip shouts-out GHOST CAGE #1, published by Image Comics. Written by Caleb Goellner and illustrated by Nick Dragotta. Both friends of David’s and of the podcast’s, and DISCLOSURE: David is the editor of this title. It just came out a few weeks ago, it might still be on the shelves of your fave comic store!
Christopher shouts-out Smile Down The Runway, by Kotoba Inoya, and published digitally by Kodansha.
Deb shouts out Go With The Clouds, Nouth by Northwest, published digitally by Kodansha.
[Deb:] Also, Iceland is amazing. Go visit if you can.
David shouts out Daredevil #1 and Devil’s Reign by our pal Chip Zdarsky. And you can find that one at a comic specialty shop near you, via comicshoplocator.com.
…and that’s the episode! Thanks so much for listening and reading along! 🙂
Thanks again to D.A.D.S. for their musical accompaniment this week, and we’ll see you next week for Season Three, Episode One, which is actually just Episode 57, AJIN: Demi Human Volume 1 & 2. Take care!