oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
For [personal profile] wychwood, who asked, "What would you recommend as a good starting point for someone interested in reading some manga? Coming from a Western comics background, mostly superheroes, some indies etc."

First, yay! I'm always glad when more people are thinking of getting into manga! So the following have what I tend to think of when I think about superhero comics; namely, a large cast of characters, a lot of plot, and a lot of action.

Manga by Urasawa Naoki, especially 20th Century Boys. 20th Century Boys is definitely my favorite of his works, even though it's not necessarily the most comprehensible... it's got hidden bases and shounen/boys' manga tropes and time skips and a ragtag group of people fighting against large forces, and it's incredibly fun. Monster is also good, although it's more of a thriller, and Pluto is Urasawa's take on a famous episode from Tezuka Osamu's Astro Boy. Pluto is very SF, with the protagonist for most of it being a police robot. These are actually the only three series of his I've read, and all of them are finished, which is nice.

Claymore by Yagi Norihiro is the rare shounen manga that has a nearly all female cast. The Claymores of the manga are basically a monster-human hybrid created to fight monsters, kind of like Slayers. It's a pretty dark series, with a lot of gore, but I find the worldbuilding really cool, especially as a kind of very, very twisted version of Buffy in which the Watchers are totally evil. I haven't caught up with it for a while, so I'm not sure how the past few volumes have been, and it is an unfinished series.

Fullmetal Alchemist by Arakawa Hiromu is really good. It's about two brothers, one of whom is a disembodied spirit residing in a suit of armor and the other being an alchemist who's lost an arm and a leg. All the body part loss happened when they were very young and tried to bring their mother back to life via alchemy, and the story starts with them trying to find a way to get Al's body back. I also haven't finished reading this, although the series is finished. I love this for the scope of the worldbuilding and the way it doesn't flinch from consequences of actions, and it actually talks about things like state militarization and genocide in a not-stupid way.

7 Seeds by Tamura Yumi is a post-apocalyptic story about the few survivors of humanity. It unfortunately hasn't been licensed, but it's being scanlated if you're okay with that. This is my new favorite series! Tamura is amazing at juggling a huge cast of characters, and this has a Hunger Games-esque part with teens getting pitted against each other, survival against giant insects, stories of what happens to people right before the apocalypse hits, and zany hijinks. It is the BEST. There are so many awesome characters, and Tamura regularly breaks my heart.

Okay, this is not an action manga whatsoever, but it's probably a pretty good gen thing if you aren't opposed to cute kids. Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba& is a slice-of-life manga based on the exploits of 5-year-old Yotsuba, who does stuff like paint her hands blue or get confused by air conditioner. I find it incredibly charming without being twee, and it's one of the things I always read when I'm down because it invariably cheers me up.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Wow! An Urasawa series that ends before it hits the double digits!

Spoilers are the greatest robot on Earth! )

Overall, I still have some issues with the way Urasawa deals with the portrayal of Middle Eastern characters, as well as with the metaphor of individual and institutional prejudice against robots equaling racism. I found the original volume of Astro Boy that this is based on to be relatively uninteresting and focused on the tournament-style fighting that can be so frequently found in shounen, but Urasawa does an excellent job of looking at more of the underlying issues without ever changing the essential character of Atom. And although he doesn't up the number of female characters by much, I like his Uran so much more! But really, the main surprise for me was how much I loved Gesicht, a fairly one-off character from the original. Urasawa similarly adds depth to all the robots in the original, but Gesicht in particular walks that line between man and monster that Urasawa so likes to examine in the series of his that I've read.

The eight-volume length also allows me to keep track of the plot better, and to my surprise, Urasawa actually manages to pull together most of his loose ends. That said, while I think this may be a better-constructed and more grown up series than 20th Century Boys, I miss the latter's rush of adrenaline and idtastic ideas.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
It's been so long since I've read these that my memory is extremely hazy.

...why did I think it was a good idea to try and catch up on at least some of my review backlog?

Anyway. I first read vols. 4 and 5 in Chinese and had no idea what was going on. I suppose robots and mass murderers and worldwide plots is too much for my Chinese. These volumes continue Urasawa's trademark ever-expanding plots; just as soon as we get one answer, three more questions pop up.

Spoilers )

I'm curious to see how Urasawa will wrap this up in two volumes; my current impression is that he could probably keep going with the story for at least ten more. Although I think this series starts off better than Monster or 20th Century Boys, its length may be its strength and its weakness. It's short enough to not be daunting or confusing, but it also means we spend less time with the characters and therefore feel less strongly about them.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
(OT: May be (even more) out of touch than usual next week, as will be in Hong Kong and Shanghai, possibly without internet.)

This is Urasawa Naoki's remix of "The Greatest Robot on Earth" arc of Tezuka Osamu's Astro Boy. It's the future, and robots and humans live together, although robots are still constrained by the Three Laws of Robotics, and there's a growing anti-robot movement among humans. The POV character is a robot detective named Gesicht rather than Astro Boy.

There have been a series of murders, linked by each victim appearing with horns or antlers and each victim being one of the seven great robots or a human connected to robot politics. Much like Urasawa's other thriller series (Monster and 20th Century Boys), the pieces so far are very disconnected. Many of the chapters bring in more and more secondary characters and more and more pieces of the puzzle, and while it feels like we're not very far in solving the murders, Urasawa's presenting a lot of neat worldbuilding.

Many of the questions raised are about robot rights and if robots are human; Astro Boy, his sister Uran, and Gesicht can pass as human, which disturbs many people. There's a character who consistently confuses robot-detection machines, since he was heavily injured at one point and is now a cyborg. Robots can die, and one scene in the first volume has a robot grieving, and yet, people count robot deaths more lightly than human deaths.

I'm fairly sure many of these issues will be explored even more fully in later volumes; Urasawa's doing a lot of set-up so far, and if Pluto follows his other thriller series, pieces won't start falling in place until much later on. That said, the world he embellishes is so fascinating that I don't mind reading the worldbuilding, and as usual, I particularly love his secondary characters and how well he sketches them out in just a few pages or chapters. (My favorite was the piece on North 2, war, mass murders, and music.)

On the other hand, the parallels drawn between robot discrimination and other forms of discrimination—particularly racism, given that one robot hate group wears KKK-esque hoods—disturbs me. I'm tired of SF/F parallels to racism that create an entirely different group of beings to discriminate against, be they robots, clones, aliens, elves, or whatnot, when actual POC aren't included. Butler's Oankali series works because it explores fear of the other both in terms of aliens AND in terms of human cultures and races and gender; other series and works don't cut it because they pass off talk of overcoming differences without including actual diversity in their casts. I'm really hoping that Urasawa will include more non-Japanese POC later on in the series (amazingly, POC exist in Germany! I'm betting they still do in the future!).

Other than that, I'm enjoying the series a lot so far and looking forward to Urasawa pulling in more and more plot twists as it continues.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Spoilers! )

Overall, Monster is a good, solid series, even though I feel the plot falls a little apart near the end.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
I thought this series was boring up till around vol. 5, and now I cannot stop reading it. I think I've said this several times already, but the more I read, the more impressed I am with how solid Urasawa is, both as an artist and as a writer. I've been trying to sell him to other people (hi [livejournal.com profile] vom_marlowe, victim recipient of my latest attempts!) because he does great plots that are insanely addictive, likeable and moral characters, good women, and I really enjoy his side characters.

I keep saying this, but I'm still so impressed by how he can make me care about someone in the space of a volume, usually by a deft combination of time-skipping around in the narrative, tying the character into the plot, and giving them very memorable and believable backstories and motives that dovetail nicely into the themes of the story he tells.

Spoilers )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
This is still not quite as awesome as 20th Century Boys, but it's pretty darn close. I'm just in awe of how quickly Urasawa can make me care about a just-introduced character and how insanely he plots. He manages a giant cast of characters and crazy complex plots like no one else.

Spoilers )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
It's over! Wah! Though I was briefly confused despite [livejournal.com profile] rilina already having told me that a 21st Century Boys existed, and I couldn't really figure out if it was over or not. I blame the Japanese publisher. Usually there is a handy-dandy "Complete" kanji on the spine for completed series, and it wasn't on vol. 22, and when it listed the publishers' series, it didn't mark 20th Century Boys as complete.

Anyway.

Series-destroying spoilers! )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
I think my reactions to all the plot developments and twists in these five volumes (how did I read five volumes last night? I was going to stop at one, I swear...) can be summed up as: OMGWTFBBQSQUEE!!!!!!!!

I'd also like to note that this is the good kind of "OMGWTFBBQ?!" as opposed to the bad kind, which seems to be showing up on nearly all entries on the S3 finale of BSG (I don't even watch the show and I've noticied!).

Spoilers like you wouldn't believe )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
For once, I am actually posting these manga write-ups in real time; aka, this is not a couple of days or weeks after I finished the volumes.

Sadly, this means that everyone can tell that I have read 11 volumes of this series in just two days, and five of those were read in a frenzied rush yesterday night after I got home from work.

It's a good thing school is not starting until April!

Urasawa does plot incredibly well, unlike many other shounen series (*cough*Bleach*cough*). I get a sense that he knows where the story is going, and he has no problem dropping huge plot twists in every chapter, which makes everything move very quickly. But he's not just good at plot. I love his characters as well, and he does a very good job of fleshing out supporting characters in just a few pages so that I actually care about what happens to them. And I already adore the main characters.

The other thing I like is that while the story is about saving the world from an evil cult, it's also about normal people finding the courage in themselves to be heroes and to fight back.

Urasawa is also doing very well with the multiple flashbacks and skip-forwards in time; part of this is because of how well he ages his characters. I had a little difficulty telling Kenji's friends apart in the first few volumes, but I figured them out fairly quickly. The more amazing thing is, I also managed to figure out what they looked like at separate ages, just because of Urasawa's character designs.

Giant spoilers )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
This is amazingly addictive. Usually I read manga in spurts; read one or two, forget about it for a month, read another three, forget about it for a month, rinse and repeat. I suspect that I will end up blazing through this in a couple of days.

Also, I though the first three volumes were cracktastic, but wow! Clearly the series will only get exponentially more cracktastic as it goes on.

Spoilers )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Most people (me included) have been reading Urasawa's Monster, which is a good series on serial killers and what makes people monsters and what keeps them from being monsters. I like Monsters a lot; I think it's a well-written, solid series.

But so far, I absolutely adore 20th Century Boys.

[livejournal.com profile] rilina has already pointed out that this series seems to be comprised of all of Urasawa's cool bits. So far, I'd say his cool bits are: rock and roll, secret societies, cults, world domination, childhood games, memories and the importance thereof, laser guns, mysterious prophecies and prophets, and killer viruses. And I'm sure even more are going to pop up as the series goes along. In other words, this is crack on the level of Yuki Kaori, only influenced by sci-fi pulps and Godzilla movies instead of Gothic insanity.

I love it! It is awesome! It is totally insane!

Anyway, plot summary: Kenji, once a boy with a secret base and a teen with an electric guitar and rock-and-roll dreams, has now settled into adult life, runs a convenience store chain and takes care of his sister's baby Kanna, as no one knows who Kanna's father is or where Kiriko (his sister) went. But a virus that drains all the blood out of human bodies has appeared, several of Kenji's childhood friends have disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances, a cult run by a man who only calls himself "Friend" seems to be intent on world domination and monster robots, and everything seems to be connected to the stories that Kenji and his friends used to make up in their secret base.

This hits a giant button of mine; namely, the stories we tell each other as kids, the games we play, and how important they are. Also, there's a homeless man whom everyone calls "God," a book of prophecies, a giant hovering bomb-like thing with a creepy clown smile, and insane cultists. I'm very much looking forward to what Urasawa throws in next.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Dr. Tenma ends up ruining what could have been a very prosperous career and an engagement to the daughter of a very influential man when he opts to operate on a boy instead of another very influential man. Unfortunately for him, the boy grows up to be a depraved monster serial killer. Since Tenma feels very guilty about this, he tries to track the boy down.

This sounds like a very boring thriller. So far, it's not.

Tenma is the key to the entire series (or at least, what I've read); he's truly a good man caught up in increasingly bad events. Usually I don't like the heroes of thrillers, but Urasawa manages to give Tenma an innate humanity and kindness that I really like and feel drawn toward.

The eponymous monster is much more boring; I don't buy people being naturally soulless and evil, as this boy apparently is. And the series does tend toward "natural evil" as a justification for the increasingly violent measures that Tenma and others end up taking, which bores and disturbs me.

On the other hand, I like moral questions in general, and Tenma really is a compelling character, because he does try to be good and is faced with hard choices.

There is an interesting female character who pops up in vol. 2, which makes me happy, as Tenma's ex-fiancee is your standard rich bitch blah blah.

Anyway, I think I'll keep reading, though maybe this will be delegated to tachiyomi or library loans.

Links:
[livejournal.com profile] rilina's review (scroll down)

Also, I swear [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink wrote it up because that's how I heard about it, but I can't find the post.

ETA: [livejournal.com profile] coffeeandink's tags

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