Cup of Tea’s Best Books of 2021: Manga and Graphic Novels

Welcome to the Cup of Tea’s Best Books of the Year, where I list the best of the best books I read this year.

So now we come to the most popular of the genres (well, in my opinion at least), mangas and graphic novels.

Mangas and graphic novels have increased in popularity over the years, with relatable, diverse and exciting stories that go way beyond the typical comic story. 2021 is no different, filled with innovation and excitement that makes me think that next year will even be better! So now on to the choices…

You know when I talk about mangas and graphic novels, I can’t do it alone so of course I asked my friend and manga expert, Joe Pascullo to give his choices of the best manga and graphic novels of 2021:


Joe’s Picks

Asadora! by Naoki Urasawa

Hey! This is Joe, and I’m back to reveal 10 of the best manga I read in 2021! So look, I know. I’ve already written about Naoki Urasawa’s Asadora in both the Noteworthy Manga for the Spring, and the Best Books of 2021…So Far: Graphic Novels & Manga blog posts already this year. But I just can’t help myself, it is that good, and only getting better as the series rolls along! If you haven’t picked up this award-winning sci-fi/mystery title yet, please make it your New Year’s resolution to do so! We have a huge typhoon, a spunky female protagonist, and an enormous unknown monster that is terrifying everyone who has the misfortune of coming into its path. How will it all shake out? Read this gem to find out! 

The Cat Proposed by Dento Hayane

A nice tale here from Tokyopop, with some really great yokai artwork. In it we have chronic overworker Souta, who is so tired out from his work, he thinks a gent he sees during an oral storytelling event is actually a bakeneko. The thing is though, that’s just what he’s seeing! This bakeneko, Kihachi, while being impressed that Souta can see him, does inform him that this does have consequences. Bakeneko society has its own set of rules. And when a human finds out they exist, they must make an eternal promise with one another to avoid punishment. That promise? Souta now has to become Kihachi’s mate, or suffer a terrible curse should he not! How will this unforeseen inter…species relationship end up working out?!

Dai Dark by Q Hayashida

From the mangaka that brought you Dorohedoro comes another zany dark fantasy you’ve got to read to believe! Aboard a space pirate ship called the Kahiya, a man washes aboard who’s barely clinging to life. The man’s name is Zaha Sanko, and its been said that whoever steals his bones, will be granted any one wish they desire. While the space pirates’ attempt to do this ends up getting thwarted by Zaha’s skeleton friend Avakian, that doesn’t mean all is well. Zaha’s bones have a curse upon them that allows this phenomenon and he really wants nothing more than to figure out how to break this curse and proceed with a normal life. As Zaha and Avakian continue to unravel this mystery, more and more interested parties appear to try and make this task more difficult…

Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, Story by Kanehito Yamada, Art by Tsukasa Abe

This serene and somber manga questions readers to think about the concepts of life and death. This is something our lead character, the female elf mage Frieren’s never really had to ponder. She ages incredibly slowly, and is centuries old despite not showing any signs of it on the outside. Having reigned in an era of peace with some non-elf cohorts, Frieren begins to reflect upon the ending of life like she never has before. Winner of the 2021 Manga Taisho, one of the biggest awards Japan bestows upon manga contenders, Frieren truly is a different type of manga, where the actual adventure at the heart of the story isn’t the main focus. Instead, it’s what happens once the adventure is over, and everyone has to go on with their everyday lives. That to me really helps it stand out!

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

All right, I’ll need to ask for forgiveness! These next two titles, like Asadora! also appeared under the Noteworthy Manga for the Spring blog post a few months back. But they are both so nice, I had to make it twice. Our-Not-So-Lonely Planet Travel Guide features a boys love couple Asahi & Mitsuki. They are about to embark on a trip around the world, with the stipulation that if they survive the trip with their relationship still intact, they will get married to one another. Starting off their trip off in Thailand, India, and Georgia, the two witness how other countries perceive and understand their members of the LGTBQ community, something they sometimes wish were a little different than how it actually is in their home country of Japan. Super sweet love story taking place in some awesome worldwide settings!

Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, Story by Haro Aso, Art by Kotaro Takata

In this title, we see a fresh, new take on the zombie genre. Akira’s in his third year of being a wage slave at the production company he works at. He’s as tired as one can possibly be, and when the zombie apocalypse arrives, you might think he’d welcome death as a way to escape the doomed situation he’s in at his job. Or maybe even fight them off to survive…that’s what most would do at least. But Akira does neither. Instead, he celebrates! He knows due to the zombies, he no longer has to go to his black company job ever again! So what will Akira do with the newfound free time? Well aside from avoiding death by zombie at every turn, he creates a list of things he’s always wanted to do but has never had the time to. And one by one, Akira makes his way through it in this funny dystopian manga!

Beast Complex by Paru Itagaki

Taking place in the same universe as Paru Itagaki’s Beastars, anthropomorphic carnivores and herbivores once again find themselves at odds with one another. Efforts to keep the two classes apart are common, but it’s a world where that is only so effective. The efforts aren’t strictly enforced, and encounters between the two inevitably happen. This is a collection of 6 short stories, where carnivores & herbivores must deal with the stereotypes that exist regarding each other. In one story, a seemingly perfect lion student is tasked by his teachers to try and get a distrustful bat student to return to school after he has quit coming to classes. In another, a gazelle who is on a struggling cooking TV show has now been given a new cohost who’s a very large crocodile, much to her chagrin. While carnivores & herbivores have their differences, and the herbivores in particular are very leery when it comes to carnivores, these stories show how members of both these classifications have to share the world that they live in, and work together to make life habitable no matter what animal you are. That’s something us humans can relate to!

Hana-chan and the Shape of the World by Ryotaro Ueda

This manga is a slice of life featuring a young girl named Hana, who resides in a rural area. Life isn’t anything extraordinary here, and the manga does a nice job emphasizing that some days are going to be mundane, and that is OK. To steal a line from the book’s blurb: “It’s the story of a girl. A girl who lives in the country. A girl encountering fragments, both bitter and sweet, of the world around her. It’s the story of the shape of her world.” Follow Hana as she experiences life one day at a time.

Those Snow White Notes by Marimo Ragawa

Coming of age story emanating out of Tokyo Japan! After Setsu’s grandfather passes away in Aomori, he feels as if he needs some sort of inspiration in order to begin playing the shamisen (a traditional 3-string Japanese instrument). So Setsu leaves to find himself in Tokyo, with the dream of being a big time shamisen player in mind. There he meets Yuka, a girl who is chasing down her own dream of becoming an actress, and like Setsu, will stop at nothing to see her dream come true. A great story about two teens who despite all the obstacles in their way, will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, regardless of how hard they’re going to be to attain.

Kaiju No. 8 by Naoya Matsumoto

And in some ways, I may have saved the best for last. One of the most anticipated titles of 2021 has finally come out in the year’s final month. The popularity this book has overseas is through the roof, and I’m excited to hype it up right here today! In a world where kaiju emerging out of nowhere is an everyday occurrence, Japan’s Third Division is one of the best when it comes to neutralizing these threats. 32-year old Kafka always wanted to be a member of this defense force, but life didn’t go as planned, and he instead works for the much less prestigious kaiju cleanup fleet. However! When a chance opportunity to finally join the oft-celebrated Third Division comes Kafka’s way, he decides he may want to take that chance and fulfill his lifelong dream. But when a kaiju invades Kafka’s body, and gives him the speed, strength (and even to an extent, the appearance) that a kaiju has, life’s about to get pretty interesting!


My Picks

Trese Series by Budjeete Tan

This series was recommended to me by a friend and I am so glad I found this is hidden gem! Very adventurous with a mixture of fantasy, folklore and mystery that will be a definite treat for any reader of the genre! Compared to other graphic novels, this one is a combined volume of vignettes of mysteries that Detective Trese is on called to solve. So if you are looking for quick but compelling and thrilling stories to read, this is one series that should definitely be on your radar!

Stray Dogs by Tony Fleecs and Trish Forstner

As soon as I saw the Disney-esque illustrations, I knew this comic was going to be different from any comic book and I am so glad I found it! Mystery, thriller…and dogs?! Silence of the Lambs meets The Lady and the Tramp in this dark, creepy but an innovative story that I applaud for its uniqueness and spin on the horror genre. 

Run: Book One by Andrew Aydin and John Lewis

To John Lewis, the civil rights movement came to an end with the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. But that was after more than five years as one of the preeminent figures of the movement, leading sit-in protests and fighting segregation on interstate busways as an original Freedom Rider. It was after becoming chairman of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and being the youngest speaker at the March on Washington. It was after helping organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the ensuing delegate challenge at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. And after coleading the march from Selma to Montgomery on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” All too often, the depiction of history ends with a great victory. But John Lewis knew that victories are just the beginning. In Run: Book One, John Lewis and longtime collaborator Andrew Aydin reteam with Nate Powell–the award-winning illustrator of the March trilogy–and are joined by L. Fury–making an astonishing graphic novel debut–to tell this often overlooked chapter of civil rights history. (Credit: Harry N. Abrams)

Big Apple Diaries by Alyssa Bermudez

I found this memoir not only highly enjoyable but relatable. Along with reminiscing with Alysssa on her middle grade years, I was doing the same with my years, since my childhood had some similarities but most importantly the part about 9/11. A lot of middle grade readers will love the diary format of this story and although it includes references that may go over the young readers’ heads, the uncertainty of life  and growing up with different emotions are themes that young readers will identify with. 

Feelings: A Story in Seasons by Manjit Thapp

Enter Manjit Thapp’s world, where you’ll find moods that change as quickly as the weather; the different shades of anxiety and hope that each new season brings; and the stages of joy and pain that fuel our growth. From the spark of possibility and jolt of creativity in High Summer, to the need for release from anxiety and pressure during Monsoon, to the desolation and numbness of Winter, Thapp implores us to consider the seasons of our own emotional journeys. (Credit: Random House)

Why She Wrote by Lauren Burke and Hannah K. Chapman

I learned so much from reading this! I saw my favorite authors and discover new ones along the way. Just like they do with their compelling podcast, Chapman and Burke provide well-researched and insightful information about female authors that provided so much to literary civilization. It might be a handful of female writers but this book really makes you want to discover more.

Boys Run The Riot by Keito Gaku

Absolutely amazing! Really captures the teenage emotions of trying to find their place in the world versus being accepted by their peers. Although this has LGBTQIA representation (which was bloody brilliant and on point), any and all readers could identify with this powerful story of a group of boys taking charge of their destiny.

Home by Julio Anta

After being separated from his mother at the US border, a young Guatemalan immigrant must learn to harness emerging superhuman abilities while being hunted by the Federal Government. (Credit: Image Comics)

Absolutely loved this! The author took an important and relevant issue and added a fantasy element that in no way makes deters from the message of this powerful comic book. 

Crushing by Sophie Burrows

She’s lonely and searching for connection. He’s lonely and afraid to reach out. Life in the big city means being surrounded by connections–making them, missing them, and longing for them. But is finding someone else really the answer to their problems? Crushing, the stunning debut graphic novel from Sophie Burrows, is a story told in silence; a story without words but bursting with meaning; a story about loneliness and love. Achingly beautiful, quietly defiant, and full of subtle wit and wisdom, Crushing is a unique meditation on the human condition in the twenty-first century, and a timely examination of young adult life in an age of isolation. (Credit: Algonquin Young Readers)

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy

Provides the same hilarity and wisdom that is installed in any of Huda Fahmy’s comics! But what is great about this one is that it focuses on the teenage emotions and journey trying to discover one’s true self. Fahmy’s story is so relatable and readers will have a wonderful time connecting with this realistic story!



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