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.
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Claymore readers might be interested in this post on women warriors and the male gaze. Spoilers through v. 15. I kind of noodled in the comments, but my brain is too dead to come up with anything coherent.
oyceter: (bleach sting like a bee)
Several people reading this is making me want to catch up too!

I figure the cut-tag text is not spoilery if you are reading shounen...

Spoilers face even bigger bads! )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Um, yes, my inherent privileging of narrative over pretty much everything else has won over my flailing and pathetic attempts to get enough sleep. I fear this is the story of the life.

But, continuity! Story structure! Reveals! I have to say, Yagi's worldbuilding is pretty good... I now have to reread to see what's been set up and what hasn't.

Spoilers have no pithy remarks )
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
Whoo! The continuing excitement from volume 11 continues! And I get my favorite manga storytelling devices—flashbacks, flashforwards, and individual character stories!

Spoilers are impatient )

Am dying to read more to get to spoiler spoiler spoiler scene which I have heard a great deal about on LJ.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
This is so sad. It hasn't been very long at all since I last read vols. 1-8, and I've already forgotten who half the Claymores are, what they do, and what's going on.

Sadly, volume 9 picks up from a dungeon arc; i.e. Clare and other people are in some cave or something somewhere duking it out with giant yoma. Although there is some payoff at the end of it that leads back to the larger plot, I got a little bored with the hack-and-slash "how to best kill yoma" sections. But the end of volume 11 promises a very cool plot development indeed, and I am hoping the next few will have much more about the Claymores and less yoma-fighting strategizing.

Spoilers )

I also want to formulate some sort of thesis about monstrous bodies and strength in shounen: how strength is directly tied to monstrosity, particularly in the villains, but how even heroic strength is frequently tied in with bodily abuse or breaking down your body to build it up again (an extended metaphor of how we build muscle?). It's particularly interesting in Claymore, because the division between the monsters and the heroes is very thin indeed, and because I feel female characters rarely get this sort of monstrous strength. More often than not, if women's bodies are changed, it's to exaggerate them sexually and to create femme fatales with vagina dentata, but in Claymore, even though the Claymores' bodies are monstrous, they're monstrous in a way that is much more in line with shounen tropes in terms of how they push the limits of what their bodies can do and frequently draw on non-physical attributes to help with the physical (ex. ninja jutsu, shinigami strength/bankai, channeling yoma energy). The trope of the Claymores struggling with how much yoma energy to use and how far they should push their bodies is one that I rarely get to see with women.

I don't really have any conclusions, just thoughts about female physicality and strength and how some of the strongest women I've seen so far in shounen are tied to monstrosity directly. I don't think this is necessarily negative, since many other shounen heroes' strength is also tied to monstrosity and/or bodies that go beyond nature, and because all strength in the Claymore universe seems to be monstrous. It'd be interesting to see Yagi write about human men and women and to see how that measure of strength changes (or doesn't).

In conclusion, maybe I should suggest a Shounen Bodies panel to accompany the one on shoujo bodies last year! Except the focus would still be on women, only in shounen manga, not shoujo.
oyceter: man*ga [mahng' guh] n. Japanese comics. synonym: CRACK (manga is crack)
I think I actually flipped through volume one in a bookstore before and decided the series was too bloody to read; luckily, my public library has it, so I ended up mainlining it anyway.

In a medievaloid fantasy world, humans are often preyed on by yoma, demons who can assume anyone's form and who like eating human guts. In defense, a secret organization of men created half-yoma, half-human beings to fight the yoma. For some reason, only women survived this transformation, and the humans call them Claymores after the giant swords they all carry. The Claymores travel through villages, kill yoma, and let the black-clad men of the organization get the money.

Unfortunately, the more the Claymores fight, the more of their yoma power they have to use, and eventually, it consumes them. Then, they either become yoma themselves, or they send a black card out to a fellow Claymore so they can die while still human.

Clare is a Claymore, with a more unusual backstory than most. In volume one, she wanders into the boy Raki's village to kill the yoma that killed his parents. The first volume plays much like a western: the solitary village, the villain, the innocent boy whose gratitude she earns, the triumphant yet lonely walk away in the sunset. But Raki ends up following her, and Clare begrudgingly accepts his company.

Like several other people on my flist have said, I love that this manga is shounen and yet revolves around a host of female characters. Raki is our viewpoint character for volume one, but he's really a very minor character who's mostly there to be the kid in distress for Clare to rescue. While volume 1 stands alone, volume 2 gets into a more interesting yoma plot (less slash and bash, more strategy), and then we get to Clare's backstory, which as mentioned, is great.

Unfortunately, the series bogs down a little later with many fight scenes and assorted new fighting techniques; this will probably be fun and enjoyable for shounen trope fans (I, on the other hand, have a limited tolerance of power ups and fights). I am still bothered by the amount of violence, though I've discovered it's less because of the bloodshed and more because so much of it happens to be the chopping off of limbs and assorted decapitations and bisections. I'm not quite sure why this makes me more queasy than a simple sword thrust to the gut, but there you have it.

On the other hand, there's promise of getting more into the nature of the Claymores, the history of the organization, whatever shadowy secrets the organization is hiding—what organization with black-clad men isn't hiding secrets?—and more of Clare's main goal. I'm hoping there will be less limb-chopping, although the number of limbs flying seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. Ah well.

Also, this series may have the first decapitated head hugging scene that is actually tragic and not accidentally hilarious.

Please put any spoilers for vols. 1-8 in <span style="color:#333;background:#333">spoiler text</span>! And no spoilers for further volumes; I have them on hold at the library.

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