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San Diego Comic-Con International 2013
Best And Worst Manga 2013

by Todd Ciolek,
Among the manga discussions at this year's SDCC, nothing was quite as likely to inspire debate as The Best and Worst Manga. The panel gathered together Deb Aoki (Mangacomicsmanga.com), Brigid Alverson (Publishers Weekly, MTVGeek, Mangablog.net), David Brothers (Comics Alliance), Shaenon Garrity (manga editor and comic author) and Christopher Butcher (The Beguiling, The Toronto Comic Arts Festival) to display their favorite manga currently available—and their most detested ones.

Brothers led off the category with ONE and Yusuke Murata's One-Punch Man, which follows an overpowered superhero in search of an opponent that he can't knock out with a single blow.

“This is a superhero comic by a guy who's clearly a huge fan of superheroes,” said Brothers.

Chris Butcher and Garrity both selected Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro.

“It's basically a manga about a little boy who lives in a cemetery, and every story involves him going up against a yokai,” said Garrity.

Butcher compared Kitaro to Kazuo Umezu's Drifting Classroom, considering its packaging of dark storytelling in a “kids” manga.

Hajime Isayama's minor cult phenomenon Attack on Titan also showed up in the category, drawing praise for its compelling story and criticism for its art.

“I can't stop reading,” Aoki said. “But there's an art major in me that wants to mark it up with a red pen, because the anatomy is so bad.”

Alverson introduced Keiko Suenobu's Limit, a series about bullying and cliques among teenagers, as highlighted by an ill-fated bus trip.

“It's a little bit Lord of the Flies,” Alverson said. “But it takes a lot of the schoolgirl tropes and turns them on their heads. For an older teen it'd be great.”

Moto Hagio's The Heart of Thomas, recently translated by Fantagraphics, remains a groundbreaking work among manga, pioneering the “boys love” genre and, in Garrity's opinion, being “better than anything that came after it.”

Butcher praised the art in Osamu Tezuka's Unico, if not the story. The tale of a wandering Unicorn cursed for his cuteness by the goddess Venus, the series was printed in color—a rare case for manga of its day.

“Even if the stories themselves aren't much, it's really going to catch your eye,” Butcher said.

Starting off the column was Eiichiro Oda's pirate epic One Piece, which continues to be a crowd-pleaser among shonen-manga series.

“One Piece is just amazing,” Brothers said. “Even when Oda's drawing ridiculous things, it just works. It makes sense, it's exciting, the bad guys almost always end up being friends with the good guys...except the really bad guys...who get taken down hard.”

Butcher admitted that he finally jumped into the series, saying “I have to stop myself, because eventually I'm going to catch up, and then the agony of waiting begins.”

Aoki chose Blue Exorcist for the category, lauding its mix of demon-related drama and teenage problems.

“And it's all beautifully drawn,” Aoki added.

Mitsuru Adachi's Cross Game appeared as a newcomer on the panel last year, and Butcher brought it back among the ongoing series.

“It's a love story, but they throw a twist at you in the first volume that will just break your heart,” Butcher said. “If you like teen romance, you'll love it. Everything about it is perfect. It's about baseball, and I could give two Fs about baseball, but I read fourteen hundred pages of a baseball manga and loved it.”

Takako Shimura's Wandering Son, a gentle coming-of-age about two children struggling with gender identity, was up next.

“What I like about it is that it's treated in a really natural, down-to-earth way,” Garrity said. “It's part of this whole period where everyone is just growing up and finding out who they are.”

Alverson introduced Kumiko Suekane's Afterschool Charisma, a drama set at a school peopled by the clones of famous historical figures. Teenage replicants of Queen Elizabeth, Sigmund Freud, and others fill the school halls. Despite the setting, Alverson stated that the series remains a good read for adults as well.

In the older-readers category, Butcher led off with Taiyo Matsumoto's Sunny.

“It has a really melancholic sweetness to it,” Butcher said. “The story just keeps growing and getting better and better.”

Alverson selected Natsume Ono's Danza.

“It's a collection of short stories and the characters and situations are so real,” she said. “They're the sort of stories you tell other people.”

Aoki picked The Strange Tale of Panorama Island by Suehiro Maruo and Edogawa Rampo, the later of whom she described as “Japan's Edgar Allen Poe.” The story follows a man posing as his wealthy, recently deceased classmate and creating “an island of utter decadence,” Aoki described.

Tokyo Love – Rica'tte Kanji?! came up as Garrity's selection. Based on the author's experiences as a young lesbian in Tokyo, the manga “gives an interesting little glimpse into a culture that's not often seen in manga,” Garrity said.

Aoki also recommended Utsubora: Tale of a Novelist, a one-volume tale of a famous author's plagiarism and a murder mystery, as a companion to The Strange Tale of Panorama Island.

Among currently running series from previous years, Butcher praised Daisuke Igarashi's Children of the Sea for its steadily unfolding mystery and gradually developing heroine.

“The whole narrative structure changes toward the end of the book where he goes into these long displays of sea animals,” said Butcher. “It's unlike anything out there.”

Kaoru Mori's A Bride's story won acclaim from Garrity for its tale of betrothed youths in nomadic tribes in Central Asia.

“Most of the manga is dedicated to these incredibly detailed depictions of 19th-century Asian steppe life, and you're not going to see that anywhere else,” said Garrity.

Alverson introduced the bath-related comedy of Mari Okazaki's Themae Romae, in which a bath-builder of ancient Rome visits modern Japan for inspiration.

“What's absolutely fascinating is the incredible detail of the bathrooms,” Alverson said “I don't know how much you can write about bathrooms, but I look forward to finding out.”

Takehiko Inoue's Vagabond continues to please, and Brothers described it as rather inspirational in its tale of Miyamoto Musashi's journey to becoming Japan's finest swordsman.

“I like it because it's about Musashi growing up,” Brothers said, “but there's more to it than just the swordfights.”

Aoki encouraged the audience also to check out Fumi Yoshinaga's Ooku, in which women assume power in feudal Japan after a plague kills off wide swaths of the nation's men.

The panelists then turned to the worst manga, a division that Tite Kubo's Bleach led to much applause from the audience.

“When Bleach started, it was a great idea,” Brothers said. “Then it just kept going. It's like a bad X-Men comic. But Kubo still draws the best title pages in comics.”

Garrity introduced Attack on Titan as “best-worst” manga for its mix of compelling plot and lousy art.

“But the art is also really arresting, though,” Garrity said, describing the grotesquely fascinating scenes of giant humanoids devouring people.

Mayu Shinji's Demon Love Spell appeared next, and Alverson had no kind words for its tale of an inept shrine maiden who turns her school's primary ladies' man into a tiny brat. And there's one way for the two of them to fight an invasion of monsters: sticking the little guy down her cleavage. Really.

“This manga was so icky and so stereotypical that i just couldn't take it.” Alverson noted.

For Kouichi Kusano's I Don't Like You At All, Big Brother, the title says it all.

“I had to buy this manga because I didn't get review copies, and I hated myself,” Aoki recalled.

Alverson broke ranks by pointing out her dislike with the art in The Heart of Thomas.

“There are times when the anatomy isn't there,” Alverson said. Butcher added that the “weep-screaming” was a bit much. Garrity disagreed with them.

As the panel hurried through its last categories, Akira Toriyama's Dr. Slump and Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro's Toriko came first, followed by an unexpected choice: Gengoroh Tagame's The Passion of Gengorah Tagame.

“If you're short on hardcore gay porn, this is the one for you,” Butcher said of Tagame's manga.

Another pick: anything by superhero-manga pioneer Shotaro Ishinomori, whose works are now being released by ComiXology.

Aoki praised Blood Lad, the tale of an otaku vampire who ends up caretaker to a dead admirer.

Among the most-wanted due out in the remainder of 2013 and the following year, Inio Asano's Nijigahara Holograph came first.

“If you like Donnie Darko but you would like it to be...better, you should read this,” said Garrity.

Hideki Mori and Kazuo Koike's New Lone Wolf & Cub appeared on the list, along with a reappearance of Shigeru Mizuki. His Showa: 1925-1939, a nonfiction chronicle of Japanese history, is due out from Drawn & Quarterly.

“I just assumed you would never get a piece of historical nonfiction about Japanese society,” Butcher said. “If you are a Japanese history enthusiast, don't miss this one.”

Shinobu Ohtaka's Magi also appeared, as did Fujio Fujiko's long-awaited Doraemon manga. Aother one to look for: Moyoco Anno's Insufficient Direction, a chronicle of Anno's life with her husband, Evangelion director Hideki Anno.

Not much time remained for the final category, but the panelists squeezed in praise for a bunch of manga they'd like to see licensed: Fumi Yoshinaga's Kino Nani Tabeta? (“What Did You Eat Yesterday?”), Hiromu Arakawa's Silver Spoon, DJ Teck's Morning Attack by Katsuhiro Otomo, Yumiko Oshima's Gou-Gou Datte Neko de Aru (“But Gou-Gou is a Cat”), and, lastly, Yuki Suetsugu's Chihayafuru, which fans can get to know through the currently streaming anime.

“Please watch the anime,” Aoki said, “Because you will fall in love, too.”

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