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San Diego Comic-Con 2011
The Best and Worst Manga of 2011

by Gia Manry,

About.com Manga expert Deb Aoki, librarian Eva Volin, ANN critic Carlo Santos, 4thletter.net and ComicsAlliance blogger David Brothers, and retailer/Comics212.net blogger Christopher Butcher launched into their presentation on the best and worst manga of 2011 with the best titles for all ages, starting with Mitsuru Adachi's baseball manga Cross Game. Butcher noted that Adachi serves as inspiration for many manga creators, including Ranma 1/2 and Inuyasha creator Rumiko Takahashi. He also praised Viz's release of omnibus volumes rather than a larger number of shorter volumes. The other panelists joined in praising the series, noting that they've never cared as much about baseball games.

Brothers provided an introduction to Vertical's 7 Billion Needles, a sci-fi story based on Hal Clement's story Needle. The series has also been nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Adaptation this year. The panelists agreed that it's the sort of strong sci-fi whose speculative nature showcases humanity.

Santos's picks started with Usamaru Furuya's Genkaku Picasso, published in the U.S. by Viz Media. The series revolves around a young man who is a gifted artist with a strange habit of going into a trance and drawing images that help him solve his classmates' problems. Butcher revealed that the story is actually loosely about Furuya himself (Butcher met the artist at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival earlier this year). Santos then presented Kazue Katō's Blue Exorcist, which he praised as turning tropes on their heads: the main character was raised by a priest but is the son of Satan. Instead of following in his famous father's footsteps, the boy decides to kick Satan's butt. Aoki revealed that she expected to hate the series and was pleasantly surprised.

Aoki's pick, the "token shoujo manga," was Natsumo Ando's Arisa, a strangely twisted manga about reunited twin sisters who switch places, during which time the protagonist learns that her sister's life is not as sweet as it seems. Aoki also picked Takako Shimura's Wandering Son, which she said was an odd title because the panelists nominated it in both the "for teens/all ages" and for grown-ups" categories. The story features a young boy who finds himself wishing he was a girl who becomes friends with a girl who wishes she was a boy. Volin stated strongly that she felt that the book is invaluable for teenagers who are experiencing something similar, and for their classmates who are unsure of how to deal with it. Brothers agreed, calling the book "eye-opening" and leading him to think about things he may not have otherwise.

Next came Yen Press' A Bride's Story by Emma's Kaoru Mori. Her newest series is about a twenty-year-old Turkish woman who is sent to marry a 12-year-old boy, which sounds awkward to American ears but Aoki notes that the art is simply beautiful and is combined with strong, sensitive storytelling.

Butcher took the microphone to talk about Shigeru Mizuki's Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, which shifts away from his famous Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro children's horror manga and features instead the front lines of World War II. When Mizuki himself was in the war he lost an arm— his drawing arm —and was forced to learn to draw with his other arm. Our Noble Deaths tells Mizuki's own tale about a doomed military troop defending a patch of land that is ultimately worthless. Butcher states that the tome is the book to read in order to learn about the futility of war, which was particularly courageous at the time it was published (the 1960s) since there were still a significant number of people in Japan who felt that they never should have surrendered to America at the end of WWII. Butcher also extolled the art, stating that "for a guy with one arm, he draws like he has four."

Jiro Taniguchi's A Zoo in Winter, published by Fanfare - Ponent Mon, came next. Butcher stated that every one of Taniguchi's book is worth owning, and that this one is an autobiographical tale about becoming a mangaka in Kyoto in the late 1960s. Butcher is halfway through and states that the story is told with charm and grace.

Another Eisner nominee, Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream, came next. The book is a retrospective of Hagio's amazing career, reported Volin, which began in part when publishers began hiring women to create manga for female readers. The short stories will "make you cry, make you ache" for things "you never knew you missed." Volin also described the stories as sentimental in a good way. Aoki also highly recommended it but expressed disbelief that it would win the Eisner.

Santos brought up Furuya's Lychee Light Club next, which he called "foul, disgusting, and wonderful." Butcher told the audience to buy it and not try to cross the border with it. Next came Volin's pick Bad Teacher's Equation by boys-love mangaka Kazuma Kodaka. The story has been "floating around on the Internet" for years and has finally been released in English. Volin praised the story because its depiction of male couples is "as realistic as yaoi is ever going to get." The story is about a young man who falls in love with a teacher, although nothing happens between them until the boy is of age. Volin admitted that the first volume is a bit odd, but suddenly "everything turns" around volume three and readers want to spend time with the characters...despite the lack of sex in the book.

Aoki's pick was Natsume Ono's Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso, a rare manga for women which features older men. Aoki said that when she read the stories she "was completely charmed" and would recommend the book even to non-manga readers.

The next category was best continuing manga for all ages/teens: the adorable kitty manga Chi's Sweet Home (Butcher continued to offer his perspective that it's a sadder manga than most people realize), Kekkaishi (Aoki: "it definitely deserves to be more popular than it is"), Twin Spica (Butcher: "it keeps getting better with every volume"), One Piece (Brothers: "the best American comic, the best French comic, the best Japanese comic..."), Fullmetal Alchemist (Santos: "does anyone not know FMA? Leave!"), and Itazura na Kiss (Volin: "one of [DMP's] best offerings").

Among the best continuing manga for grown-ups were: Eisner nominee 20th Century Boys (Butcher: "it's so ambitious, it's so smart, it keeps you on the edge of your seat every volume"), Ōoku: The Inner Chambers (Volin: "this is alternative-universe done right"), Eisner nominee Bunny Drop (Volin: "all of the pieces with this book fall into place"), Vagabond (Brothers: "volume nine has a 150-page fight scene"), and Deadman Wonderland (Santos: "I'm so sad that Tokyopop shut down and we won't get the rest of the series").

Worst manga, rapid-fire because the panelists started running out of time:

And the most-anticipated upcoming manga:

Underrated but Wonderful:

And with that, the panel was over!

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