The Best Series Out Now on the Viz Manga Appby ANN Editorial Staff,
Looking for some recommendations for what to read on the new Viz Manga app—now available in the United States and Canada? Our team of reviewers has you covered, from acclaimed shōnen and shōjo manga hits to some of the more off-beat titles.
Note that a subscription will get you access to all titles on the web and app versions, but some titles are only accessible through the browser version due to content restrictions.
Recommended: Black Lagoon (website-only)
The caveat here is that Black Lagoon is not, technically, on the Viz app. The manga, in the parlance of the Parental Advisory warning printed with the very first physical volume way back in 2003(!) contains "drinkin', smokin', ass-kickin', law-breakin', gun-love, running with scissors and just about everything your mother told you not to do," and you know they don't allow that kind of content through the app store. So you'll have to read in-browser if you want to catch up with Rei Hiroe's rip-roaring ride through Roanapur and follow it along on its newly simulpublishing schedule.
Black Lagoon is cool not just because it's a hard-hitting action series full of murders and cusses. Its cast of smugglers regularly settle down to reflect not just on the ugliness of the criminal world they inhabit, but their reason for being there and even the odd beauty that can be found persisting within. Manga creator Rei Hiroe has an amazing knack for constructing settings and characters that can project an air of grounded, gritty realism one moment, before exploding into raw feral action the next. It's also got a whole host of mean ladies whom I want to shoot me in the face, which we all know is the most important metric for a work to be judged on.
Also Check Out: Goodnight Punpun (website-only)
Goodnight Punpun has been on my to-read list for ages. The combination of a grounded exploration of childhood trauma filtered through Inio Asano's surrealist art comes off as an immediately compelling combination. Now that I'm able to access the whole series through the app, I can see there's already even more to Goodnight Punpun than I might have expected. The series seems to start small and slow, not heaping innumerable tragedies on our itty-bitty bird-boy, but rather dolling out one or two dark events to kickstart things, and then just following him through his tiny life as it's forced to continue on.
The warped simplicity of a child's perspective is communicated so engrossingly in the first few parts of Goodnight Punpun. I might have expected the storytelling to be denser, but instead, the chapters fly by in a rush of bizarre imagery and hilariously dry narration. One could argue that Asano's approach is downright pretentious, but compared to the innumerable other sad boy coming-of-age stories I've encountered, I will take the tragicomic adventures of Punpun here. It's a standout choice of reading material, and if you happen to like Asano's style, you're in luck: one of the selling points is this service is that it's got access to his wider catalog.
Recommended: Hayate the Combat Butler
Written by the same person who is responsible for the currently airing TONIKAWA: Over The Moon For You series, Hayate the Combat Butler follows one of the unluckiest bastards in the entire world. The first chapter is about Santa Claus telling a kid he's not going to get any presents for Christmas because he is poor. That wacky brand of cynicism is at the heart of Hayate the Combat Butler, and it's been one of my favorite comedy series ever since.
Similar to series like Gintama, Hayate technically has an overarching story, but it also feels like a celebration of all things shōnen manga. The series has maids, spiritual powers, prophecies, huge misunderstandings, talking animals, and an incredibly expansive cast. It has references and fourth-wall-breaking gags about every trope you could possibly imagine, and the general tone feels like it's constantly inviting you to get in on the joke. Considering that it also comes to a relatively satisfying conclusion after 400 chapters, I definitely think this is a series worth your time if you're looking for laughs.
Also Check Out: Kimi ni Todoke
Kimi ni Todoke focuses on a young girl named Sawako, who has to go down in history as one of the purest entities to ever have been written in fiction. This girl is the embodiment of needing to be nurtured and protected without her coming off as some kind of Mary Sue. If anything, it's her disposition that naturally ends up drawing people towards her after her class gets rid of their preconceived notions of how she looks. You genuinely believe that her presence makes the lives of everybody around her that much better.
The story starts off with her admiring the classroom's social butterfly, but eventually turns into a very sweet romance. The idea of selfishness and perception lie at the heart of the series, but not in a way that feels cynical. If anything, it's one of the few romance series that really exemplifies that idea that it's OK to be selfish and speak up for yourself. It's OK to feel like you deserve another human being's time or that you're worthy enough of receiving their love. Likewise, I definitely think this manga deserves a lot of love. The anime just came out on Netflix again a little while back, but it doesn't cover everything. So whether or not you're continuing off of the anime or starting from the very beginning, I could not recommend this series enough.
Recommended: Phantom Thief Jeanne
Part of why this series is one of my all-time favorites is probably simply because of when I read it; it spoke to me when I needed to hear what it was saying. But it's also just a very good example of the magical girl genre, as well as one that was arguably ahead of its time in at least two very important ways. Not only is Chiaki/Kaito Sinbad a bona fide magical boy, but it also has one specific plot twist a decade before Puella Magi Madoka Magica pulled the same thing, and in a way that I'd argue is much more significant to its characters and story. It's also from my favorite period of Tanemura's art, full of art history details and beautiful, busy linework.
The series stars high school girl Maron, who moonlights as the mysterious thief Jeanne. Her past life as (you guessed it) Jeanne d'Arc doesn't just afford her the ability to transform, it also has a significant impact on her fears and worldview. The manga plays with ideas of purity and faith in some very interesting ways; Maron has to learn to believe in herself above all else, something that comes much more naturally to other magical girls. It captures why magical girl stories are so important: they show us how to reach into ourselves and find our own power, no matter how much that may hurt.
Also Check Out: Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand
This is where I struggled the most. I wanted to pick a second choice that was older, but when it came down to it, this is the book that has stuck with me the most. It's a bittersweet read, and its themes and execution remind me strongly of When Marnie Was There. The story takes place in a small seaside village with a rich folkloric history of mermaids who help prevent tsunamis. Tokiko recently moved there with her father and is fascinated with the tales. But her curiosity goes beyond what the adults think is strictly good for her.
Everything goes back to the question of what is real and what it is that we want to be real. There's a strong theme of adults not wanting to believe what children see, and their misguided wish to protect them from anything painful or sad. The book shows that sometimes kids need to know the hard stuff to make sense of it and move on. It's been haunting me ever since I first read it.
There are, of course, a ton of other titles I thought about: Basara is my all-time favorite post-apocalyptic adventure with a kickass heroine, Crown of Thorns (from the creator of Hana Yori Dango) is a fun, mildly dark romp, March Story makes interesting use of fairy tales and has gorgeous art, and there's something delightfully terrible about Hot Gimmick, which is all of the bad romance tropes in one melodramatic, steaming pile. There's a lot of good stuff here (How Do We Relationship?! After Hours! Orochi!). Dig around; I'm sure you'll find something.
Recommended: Frieren: Beyond Journey's End
50 years after the defeat of the Demon King and his army, Himmel the Hero passes away. At the funeral, his former companion, the Elven mage Frieren, has a revelation that changes the course of her immortal life: she wasted the time she could have spent with him. Vowing to get to know humans better from now on, she finds herself retracing the journey she, Himmel, and their friends took together—finding with each step that the “brief” decade they spent together has already affected her much more than she ever thought possible.
Frieren: Beyond Journey's End is the bittersweet tale of a person who views the world in a fundamentally different way from those around her, and how she learns slowly but surely how to connect with others. Through Frieren and her companions—both those new and long gone—this manga delivers a mixture of light comedy and deep explorations about the nature of the human soul. Be it the numerous one-shot stories or the occasional multi-chapter arcs, Frieren: Beyond Journey's End is as fantastically entertaining as it is poignant, not to mention far more than the sum of its parts. I say this without hyperbole: Frieren: Beyond Journey's End isn't just the best manga on this app, it's the best manga I have ever read. You're doing yourself a disservice if you don't give it a read yourself.
Also Check Out: Black Lagoon (website-only)
Rokuro is your average twenty-something white collar company employee. While on a business trip to the South China Sea, his ship is hijacked by the Black Lagoon mercenary group. Soon, Rokuro finds himself aiding them in their mission, diving ever deeper into the South East Asian criminal underworld. Yet despite his kind nature and conventional Japanese upbringing, Rokuro discovers he is far more suited to this world of violence than he ever would have expected.
While it's filled to the brim with bloody action and explosive gunfights, on a thematic level, Black Lagoon is a massive exploration of the concept of nature versus nurture. To many, Rokuro is a beacon of light in the darkness of their world. He still believes in right and wrong and is willing to act on his convictions—despite the lack of ability to fight. Yet as his time in the underworld grows, the jaded, cynical nature of the criminal society he is immersed in begins to rub away at him. While each arc of the story has its own dilemmas and life-or-death stakes, his soul is what's really at risk. Add to this a memorable cast of characters and a ton of crime drama action, and you have one of the best ongoing manga series out there.
Recommended: How Do We Relationship?
On paper, this starts as a pretty simple rom-com. Saeko and Miwa make for a charming lead couple, and it's very endearing to see them fumble through the hurdles of a love that neither of them really knows how to navigate. Only after the series progresses for a while does it fully reveal what it has to offer: a thoughtful, unflinchingly honest look at the realities of maintaining an adult relationship. There are many moments of romance and affirmation, but just as many times where little issues snowball into enormous fights, or a typical hurdle in a romance story isn't cleared because one or both characters are struggling with their own issues. All the while, the series is brutally honest about the pressures of being queer in a heteronormative society, and how that can warp or exacerbate the universal struggles of love.
Things can get messy, distressing, and at times even unhealthy in ways most romance media tries to paint over. It makes for gripping, addictive character drama that always feels deeply grounded and honest. Moreover, that approach to romance allows the story to develop in some surprising, sometimes heart-wrenching directions as it progresses. It has a frank approach to nudity and sex that can be sensual and romantic when it needs to be, but also captures the awkwardness that can come with a physical relationship. All in all, it makes for a romance manga that is well worth anyone's time.
Also Check Out: What a wonderful world!
I've read and enjoyed several of Inio Asano's series, but this surreal, two-volume anthology series has stuck with me the most since first reading it. The key is in how the structure serves to spread out Asano's signature combination of ennui and anxiety across multiple characters. Each story paints a distinct picture of a different person—sometimes stretching for dozens of pages, sometimes ending after merely a handful—that captures something visceral about their life. Sometimes it's a disaffected 20-something trying to muster up the courage to do something with their life, even if it's the wrong choice. Other times it's an old man trying to make peace with his many regrets in his final days. One chapter is all about a criminal hiding from the yakuza by wearing a bear costume.
Separately, the stories can vary in quality and impact, but side-by-side they form a mosaic of emotional suffocation that Asano has spent basically his entire career trying to wrangle onto the page. It can be fascinating, loathsome, painfully relatable, or all three at once. Connected by a broad theme and the author's knack for deadpan surrealist humor, it makes for a reading experience I've never found elsewhere. It has only grown more powerful upon each revisit.
Recommended: How Do We Relationship?
Girl meets girl. Girl gets girl. Girl gives girl a rollicking good time in the bedroom. And that's only the beginning of the story. This delightfully messy romantic dramedy explores what happens long after others of its genre roll the credits. Miwa and Saeko start out as members of the same band in their university music club, but their relationship quickly escalates to something more than friends—and then things get complicated. How Do We Relationship? is a refreshingly frank portrayal of a college social circle that expands far beyond its two protagonists.
While it depicts a wide range of queer experiences in modern-day Japan, expect things to get romantic instead of preachy. If you're tired of high school romantic comedies that conclude when the couple has their first kiss, you'll find this decidedly adult story, complete with all the drama and tortuous feelings of college hookup culture, to be a breath of fresh air. Miwa and Saeko may not be sure if they're friends with benefits, lovers, or platonic friends, but the story meets them at each emotional milestone with empathy, humor, and plenty of fun. Tamifull's art is by turns both cute and sexy, perfect for illustrating a story that can pivot from heartfelt to raunchy in a moment.
Also Check Out: House of Five Leaves
Down on his luck and desperate, master-less samurai, Masa takes a shady job from Yaichi, the charismatic leader of a kidnapping ring called the Five Leaves. But just as with the enigmatic Yaichi, there's a lot more to these supposed “bad guys” than meets the eye. Though Masa repeatedly attempts to extricate himself from the gang, Yaichi's subtle machinations keep getting him further entangled in their business in spite of himself, until he comes to see them as something like family.
The manga's fluid illustration appears to have been quickly scribbled down as if author Natsume Ono's hand couldn't keep up with her thoughts. Characters wear her trademark broad mouths and sleepy eyes, a style you might recognize from Ono's other works like Ristorante Paradiso and ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. Also notably present: her tender renderings of deepening relationships between men. Unlike more action-packed samurai stories of the Edo era, this manga relies instead on mystery, intrigue, and character drama to compel the reader. Each chapter is like peeling another layer off of an onion, bringing Masa closer to a realization about the Five Leaves, and perhaps about himself as well.
Basara has long been one of my favorite manga that's hard to recommend. The art is gritty and rough in the beginning. Also, at 27 out-of-print volumes, it's quite an investment of both time and money. Now that it's available through the Viz app, though? I can't scream, “Go read Basara!” loud enough or long enough. If you think of shо̄jo as nothing more than blushing high schoolers, Basara is here to prove you wrong. Needless to say, if you like Yona of the Dawn and wish more series like that were published in English, this recommendation strengthens exponentially, because Basara is probably its closest relative.
The series takes place in post-apocalyptic Japan and follows Sarasa, who must take on the role of her twin brother Tatara, who was prophesied as the country's destined savior but is murdered by the Red King. As she gathers allies and makes her moves, the story shifts effortlessly between pathos, action, romance, character drama, and political intrigue. Yumi Tamura refuses to simply paint post-nuclear Japan as a ruined hellscape, but instead something much more vast and varied. As the tale of a brutal war told through the lens of its characters' emotional growth, it is no less compelling than something like Berserk or Vinland Saga and deserves just as much acclaim.
Also Check Out: Lovely Complex
Not that there's anything wrong with blushing high schoolers! One of the most exciting things about the new Viz app is the number and variety of shо̄jo manga available. If that's your jam, and maybe even if it isn't because it never hurts to broaden your horizons, Lovely Complex is another one of my favorites. Risa Koizumi is taller than most boys her age; her male classmate Atsushi Ohtani is shorter than most girls. The two decide to help each other with their respective crushes but, of course, messy feelings occur and shenanigans result.
Much like its protagonist, Lovely Complex stands head and shoulders above most similar series. It has many charms—a delightful supporting cast, dialogue that snaps like a whip, Risa's tendency to make faces uglier than your average Baki character—but the one that has always won me over most is the central relationship. Risa and Ohtani are one of the most genuinely compatible couples I've seen in fiction. They're fun together and separately, with the kind of mutual playful antagonism that forms the backbone of the strongest relationships. The art style is simple, focused on clean lines and sight gags. I admire how Aya Nakahara isn't afraid to let Risa make ugly faces or act silly, because teenage girls are like that, even the pretty ones.
Recommended: Dorohedoro (website-only)
Dorohedoro might be my favorite manga series of all time. From its grungy art style to its lovable characters and singular blend of gore and goofs (which is why it's website-only), there's nothing else like it. It punches you in the face with the greatest opening page, as it introduces our lizard-headed hero, Caiman, swallowing a wizard's entire melon whole. This is just the beginning of a long-form mystery about Caiman's true identity that drives over 20 volumes of the story. It takes a long, winding road to reach its answers, but the true joy is in the journey. With every new chapter, Dorohedoro extends a grimy hand and leads you down a colorful hole full of brawlers and sorcerers who will lop your head off just as quickly as they'll share a home-cooked meal with the rest of the murder-prone eccentrics in their found family.
Also, if you've already enjoyed the anime adaptation, I'd vehemently suggest looking into the manga too. I think the anime did a wonderful job capturing the series' quintessential quirks, but no adaptation can replicate the tone and texture of Hayashida's art. She's a one-of-a-kind talent, and new details pop out at me every time I reread these chapters. It revels in horror, comedy, and romance alike. There's a giant talking cockroach with sweet kicks and a penchant for baseball. Dorohedoro has everything you could want in a manga.
Also Check Out: Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction by Inio Asano (website-only)
Yes, it's another website-only recommendation, but it's not my fault they're hiding all the good stuff there! Inio Asano has made a name for himself writing raw fiction that digs into the layers of skin and identity that people tear through during their tumultuous adolescence. I've long considered Goodnight Punpun (also available via this subscription) to be his magnum opus, but Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction gives the depressed bird-boy a run for his money. While both series cover similar thematic ground, Dededede uses an alien invasion, a loving satire of Doraemon, and a heaping serving of gallows humor to languish in our current glut of pre-apocalyptic anxiety. Through its two highly lovable lead girls, it witheringly captures the youthful despair of growing up in a doomed world—and that's before it gets to the stuff written during the pandemic! The ambitious story aims at all levels of society, from oafish government officials down to the gallant shitposters fighting the good fight online, and it does so with a gut-busting irreverence.
At its best, Dededede gets the absurdity of living today better than any other contemporary fiction I've read, but I'm also highlighting this title for the excellent timing of the app's shadow drop. Viz released the final volume last month, so all 100 chapters are now available for binge-reading. And with the anime on the way, don't you want to be one of the cool kids who knew about it before the adaptation?
Recommended: Dorohedoro (website-only)
While not available to read through the app, the fact that people can now read the entirety of Dorohedoro through means that don't involve making a shady deal with some smoke-user or devil is pure magic. With a title that could roughly be translated as "mud sludge," Dorohedoro's art and story broadly feature things that are bizarre, violent, and grotesque, and somehow transforms them into a delightful romp that is equal parts humorous and horrifying, with no shortage of good company provided by a cast of characters who are as lovable as their morals are dubious. How this series managed to run for 18 long years makes me mystified, as little about it ages.
Inspired by both comic book and punk aesthetics, Dorohedoro proudly embraces filth in a way that never goes out of style. The craftsmanship Q uses, layering grime to render her characters and environments, is impressive. The urban settings feel lived-in, and the visions of a horror feel like dreams. While I admire the anime's attempt to adapt the series, the necessary loss of detail doesn't quite capture the decadently dirty vibes of the manga. Viewers who are eagerly waiting for another season shouldn't waste this newfound privilege to dig the whole thing like a trash panda in a take-out restaurant's dumpster.
Also Check Out: Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction by Inio Asano (website-only)
A while ago, I fell in love with Inio Asano's Goodnight Punpun (also available through the Viz app), which tells the story of the absurdly pitiful life of a character depicted as an abstract crudely drawn bird creature. Although I adore Asano's other works, Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction feels like his attempt to create something more light-hearted and hopeful while maintaining his bold confidence. This story follows two high school girls living in Japan during an ongoing alien invasion, adding nuance to the politics of an otherworldly crisis alongside the ups and downs of everyday life. It presents various interesting commentaries, often critical of how world powers handle emergencies and how people allow themselves to be ruled by ignorance or fear. These are done through a gamut of irony, tragedy, and even a couple of good jokes.
Arguably the best part is how the story's believable approach made it easy for me to empathize with the characters. While Asano still portrays humans as flawed, the girls in Dededede are fun and sympathetic in a way that feels more relatable than most of his characters. Their struggle to cope feels relatable and engaging. Even those who might not typically be fans of Asano's work could find it easier to appreciate Dededede. Having recently finished it on the app, I can attest that it has some of Asano's best craftsmanship. It has a lot to say and does so satisfyingly, securing it as my favorite work of his and probably one of my favorite manga overall.
discuss this in the forum (8 posts) |