Noteworthy Manga for the Spring

Hi again everyone! Joe Pascullo here once again penning a guest piece on my friend Tabrizia’s blog. And today our focus is going to be on some noteworthy manga that’ve debuted here in the States in 2021 (so far). On my podcast Manga Monthly, I booktalk all of the new titles that are making their English-language debut, and I’ve set aside a diverse group of 2021 manga that I’d love to thrust into the spotlight here today. Let’s dive in!

Asadora! by Naoki Urasawa

One of my favorite mangaka of all time would hands down be Naoki Urasawa. Ever since reading his unbelievably beautiful 20th Century Boys saga, he’s been the man to me. I’ll read anything he puts out, and this title here has already started off in excellent fashion. Like 20th Century Boys, Asadora is a story that spans multiple decades. And when the first volume begins, we see that an unknown yet gigantic creature is making Tokyo residents run in terror in the year 2020. But that’s all we know about that part of the story, for it then enters a rest-of-the-book flashback to the year 1959. In the port city of Nagoya, our plucky child-protagonist Asa is running as fast as she can to see her mother, who has gone into labor. However on the way, she is kidnapped by a man named Kasuga, who plans to hold her for ransom. Kasuga was a former hero back in the days of World War 2,  but has now fallen on incredibly hard times. With a raging typhoon outside, the two become an unlikely duo and are going to have to end up assisting one another in what’s sure to be a great mystery/sci-fi story!

Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead by Haro Aso

What would you do in a zombie apocalypse? Would you hide? Would you fight? Well for our protagonist in this one, a 24-year old salaryman named Akira, he’s stoked and ready to check some boxes off on his bucket list! Allow me to explain. Akira has been living a joyless life for quite some time now. Working at what’s known as a black company in Japan, Akira has absolutely zero time for anything else in his life outside of his job. No time to sleep, no time to date, not even any time to tidy up his apartment. It’s work, work, work, work, work. However now, a zombie outbreak has started in Tokyo. Akira momentarily wonders if this could make him late for work. But then, he thinks more rationally, and says that this probably means he doesn’t have to go to work at all. Instead of fearing that his life could be on the ropes with all of the zombies running amok, Akira is elated that he now has time to himself! And as a result, he’s going to begin creating his bucket list & working his way through it, regardless of what may be happening outside in the world.

Haru’s Curse by Asuka Konishi

This title was great, reminded me right off the bat of the Korean melodrama Winter Sonata (don’t ask me why, it just did). Told from 3 main characters’ points of view. When we meet Natsumi at the outset of this story, she is now dating her twin sister Haru’s ex (via an arranged marriage), Togo. Haru has tragically passed away from cancer, and now to the two family’s chagrin, Natsumi has sort of taken her place in the arranged marriage that didn’t see itself through. Natsumi really loved her twin sister Haru, was devastated by her death, and finds herself constantly wondering how Haru would feel about her dating her one time-beau. Through flashback scenes, we learn a little about how the hospitalized-Haru did feel about such a possibility. And when Natsumi stumbles upon some online blog entries that seemed to come from Haru’s time in the hospital, Natsumi’s not quite sure she likes what she learns from them, and is now not quite sure she likes what she’s feeling for Togo now either. Drama at its finest in Haru’s Curse.

Doughnuts Under a Crescent Moon by Shio Usui

In this story, we meet an office worker named Hinako. She’s single (unlike most of her friends), and this has begun to make her feel defective. She simply can’t stop putting herself down, so much so that even when she does get a date, she ends up spoiling it due to how little confidence she has in herself. One day after breaking things off with a potential partner, Hinako runs into one of her female coworkers, Satou, as she’s crying her way home from her date. Satou in the office is cool, calm, collected, and basically everything that Hinako is not. She’s eating a donut when she runs into Hinako, using it to metaphorically explain to her that the holes in a donut are what makes them so darn good. It’s a message that really resonates with Hinako, and something begins to stir inside of her as well as a result. Could she maybe find what she’s always wanted romantically with a woman, not a man? And could this woman be Satou? Is she the one for Hinako?

Our Not-So-Lonely Planet Travel Guide by Mone Sorai

One of the opening lines of the book is “People have their reasons for going on journeys.” And in this book we’ve got 2 guys, almost 30 years old, who are going to go on one of those journeys with one another. They are former classmates turned couple: the nervous, worry wart Asahi, and the easygoing, and occasionally airheaded Mitsuki. Mitsuki is a freelance photographer whose job allows him plenty of freedom. Asahi is out of work at the moment. He had a major medical procedure 6 months ago and had to leave his job, so he’s free to do some extensive traveling himself. Asahi is a little more conservative with their relationship than Mitsuki is, preferring to keep it more under wraps than public, due to the way the LGBT community’s perceived in Japan. But the two are together, and do love one another. And they’ve made this pact to travel around the world. If they survive the trip together with their relationship still intact, they promise to get married and let everybody who doesn’t know, know. This is leg #1 of their trip. Hopefully they still love each other after all is said and done!

Boys Run the Riot by Keito Gaku

One of manga’s most anticipated titles is now finally here in English in May! And it’s spotlighting a demographic that doesn’t get shown enough in manga: transgender characters. Mangaka Keito Gaku is a transgender man living in Japan, and he’s really done a great job with this title so far. Ryoko is a transgender teenager, in his 2nd year of high school, who hates putting on his school uniform everyday, since it reminds him that he’s really a female. So he works around this most of the time by just wearing his school gym uniform. Ryoko has acted like a boy his whole life, always hung around with them, always felt like one of them. Though his body’s a female one, his mind is 100% male. On non-school days he wears boys’ clothes to be a version of himself he doesn’t hate, as opposed to how he sees himself in his school uniform. And one day when out shopping for clothes, Ryoko reaches for a shirt, at the very same moment one of his other classmates does, a guy named Jin. Jin feels that this is fate, and asks Ryoko if he wants to start a fashion brand with him. Ryoko is apprehensive at first, but when he realizes he can send a message to others through fashion, he’s all in.

Tono Monogatari by Shigeru Mizuki

One of Japan’s most beloved mangaka would be the late Shigeru Mizuki.  A lover of yokai (supernatural monsters found in Japanese folklore), Mizuki is the brains behind the beloved Kitaro manga (which features yokai galore), the fantastic 4-part Showa: A History of Japan manga (evidenced by the Kodansha Manga Award & Eisner Awards that title took home), and also NonNonBa, an autobiographical selection that shows just how Mizuki came to love yokai so much in the first place. But today, we have Tono Monogatari. Mizuki puts his own spin on a 1910 book, a collection of, what else, yokai tales. 

Tokyo Fashion: A Comic Book by Nodoka

We don’t get a ton of nonfiction manga making its way over here, but we have an interesting title that has in the early portion of ‘21: Tokyo Fashion: A Comic Book. Not a ton of story with this one (being nonfiction and all), though it does have a slight fictional element to it. The mangaka Nodoka is a character in this book, describing herself as a woman around 40 who likes to seem fashionable, but is lazy. Her counterpart in this book is a talking cat named Minyako. And while Minyako is a freeloader at Nodoka’s house, she helps her out with her wide range of knowledge when it comes to fashion. Though the bulk of this book is dedicated to women’s fashion tips, there are a few towards the end that are dedicated to both men & families. Lots of short chapters here, covering a wide range of fashion topics, including fitted and loose clothing, color coordinations, hemming pants, accessories, and shoes. So if you’re looking to hear fashion tips directly from a Japanese person herself, this nonfiction title could be for you!

Blue Lock by by Muneyuki Kaneshiro

A sports selection right here! Japan’s men’s national soccer team has just been bounced from the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Not long after there is a meeting of Japan’s Football Union, in regards to their next World Cup appearance in 2022’s edition. A new hire to the Union makes a suggestion when it comes to a new head coach: an eccentric man named Jinpachi, who says the only way Japan can win a World Cup is to find a revolutionary striker. He calls for the country to gather Japan’s top forwards, and invites them all to a training facility known as Blue Lock. From there it will whittle them down until the country’s finally found the player that they need. One of those forwards is Isagi, who is looking to be on as visible a stage as possible to fulfill his dream of being a member of the country’s national team. And when Isagi receives a summons inviting him to Jinpachi’s Blue Lock facility, he realizes his dream is closer than ever before. But with 99 other players battling Isagi for that elusive striker spot, Isagi realizes that while he’s got a golden opportunity before him, it’s going to be anything but easy to make it to the top.

Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection by Junji Ito

Junji Ito is easily the most prominent horror mangaka to ever live. From classics such as Tomie and Uzumaki (which will be receiving an anime adaptation sometime this year!), to the numerous short story collections we’ve seen come out over the years, such as Shiver, Smashed, Fragments of Horror, and Venus in the Blind Spot, Ito has so many good books out, it’s, dare I say, scary! Add Lovesickness to the ledger. While there are some shorter stories towards the book’s back, the majority of Lovesickness features a character known as “the beautiful boy at the crossroads”. In a foggy Japanese town called Nazumi, there is a thing known as crossroads fortunes. When you pass somebody lingering at an intersection and they ask you to tell their fortune (primarily about their future love life) you are obligated to do just that, tell them what you think their fortune will be. However there is this mysterious yet very tall & striking guy who is going around giving girls negative fortunes. They then end up dead via suicide the following day. And our lead character, a teenage boy named Ryusuke, has just moved back to his hometown of Nazumi after 8 years away from it. When he hears about these mysterious incidents, he remembers himself 8 years ago as an 8 year old, being asked to tell a woman’s fortune at an intersection, only to learn she died the next day. So now all these new deaths are dredging traumatic memories up for Ryusuke. A lot of people are dying all over town, and we can’t help wonder if this is all connected to Ryusuke’s incident 8 years ago…

My Dearest Self With Malice Aforethought by Hajime Inoryu

And finally, a fantastic psychological thriller to close things out! In this one we have a male college student named Eiji. After drunkenly taking the last train home following a night playing games with a group of guy & girl friends, Eiji wakes up in his bed with a girl in it from his university named Kyoka. Confused at this, Kyoka fills him in that he asked her out & that the two are now boyfriend and girlfriend, something Eiji has no recollection doing. He also has no recollection of beating up a pretty tough classmate of his who was flirting with his newfound girlfriend. When a friend fills him in that all this happened three days ago, now Eiji begins to really worry. What happened to those missing days? Was it time travel? Is he suffering from amnesia? Another thing that is happening to Eiji that he has no idea when or how it did, was that he’s on speaking terms with one of his classmates that he previously wasn’t, an introverted goth girl named Rei, who suggests to him that he may be dealing with split personality. And that during these days that he isn’t able to remember, his other self may be living life for him, and making choices & actions that he has no memory of. And when violent murders begin happening all over town, and Eiji’s gaps of memory begin to grow larger…well you see what I’m getting at I’m sure 😉 .

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