Sunday, January 2, 2011

Manic About Manga’s 2010 Favorites

I generally don’t like to follow the trend and post “Best of” lists because these lists can be so subjective. One title that I may like some other manga blogger may have that title on their “Worst Titles” list and titles that I might feel a bit squeamish over may show up on a “Best of” list (which actually happened this year-twice.) So I’ve decided that I’m going to post a list of titles that I read this past year that I found myself loving. Be aware that some of these titles are ongoing series (both here and in Japan – with the exception of one it’s done in Japan but still ongoing here) and one series that was actually released a few years ago but I only read this year. Another caveat before I jump in - the titles fall into two publishers DMP/Juné/DokiDoki/801 Media and TokyoPop/BLU and are mainly Yaoi/Shonen-Ai titles. Money was tight last year and I really had to budget (which was tough, do I put gas in my car and pay some bills or buy more manga? I really wanted to buy the manga but sadly reality won out.) I’m hoping that this year there will be more cash for me to be able to splurge on more titles. Without further ado here is my favorites list for 2010! Links for reviews will be provided.

Alice the 101 by Chigusa Kawai (DokiDoki, 2 volumes released, series ongoing) Aristide “Alice” Lang has entered Mondonveille Music Academy to fulfill his grandfather’s dying wish. Only 100 students get accepted into this prestigious school but it seems that Alice is a special case and gets accepted as the 101 student. He has no formal training and can’t read music but he has an amazing ear and perfect pitch. With the help of his roommate Theo and upperclassman Vick will Alice be able to deal with life at school?
Normally manga that centers around music always catches my attention but for some reason I couldn’t get excited about this title. I finally broke down when time was running out with the copy the publisher provided for me (it was an eManga copy) and the second volume was getting ready to hit shelves so I had access to it early. Once I jumped in I found the story to be charming and the art superb. But it was the second volume and the character Georges Saphir (a supporting character) that I found myself hooked. Being a mediocre musician myself (I sing and play the piano) I found many of the scenarios so true to life that I couldn’t help the fact that I was being drawn in. Chigusa Kawai-sensei must have done some serious research because this manga is jam packed with musical information and some great pieces of music that the students play. This manga has everything and can be enjoyed by all. Plus there are shonen-ai vibes all over the place which I simply love.

The Object of My Affection by Nanao Okuda (Juné, 1 volume one-shot) Once small in stature Hiroki Wakamiya saw Wataru Anzai play on the basketball court he knew that one day he was going to surpass Anzai’s skill but also play on the same team, he even challenged Anzai directly. Five years and a growth spurt later Wakamiya was scouted to play basketball at the same university as Anzai but Anzai is nowhere to be found. When the two reunite Wakamiya realizes that his feelings of admiration are actually a feeling of love. Can these two overcome the difficulties facing them and come together?
When I first read through this manga I honestly thought that I was reading a basketball centric version of Dash by Natsume Itsuki. But I liked Dash and found that I really enjoyed The Object of My Affection. Not only do we get the story between Wakamiya and Anzai but it also features other romances between other members of the basketball team. The story is a gentle romance with great art and the humor is very natural and plays well. There are a few sex scenes but even though they aren’t explicit they are tastefully done and very satisfying (I don’t have to have explicit sex for me to enjoy a title.) The characters are very real and accessible. Plus there’s a sequel/spin-off of sorts that I also enjoyed (the sequel is called Honey/Chocolate and features a different couple from the basketball team.) It’s definitely worthy of your time.

La Esperanca by Chigusa Kawai (Juné, 7 volumes released, series complete) Georges Saphir is the unofficial idol at Saint Grollo, a prestigious boys school. To keep from hurting the feelings of his fellow classmates he treats everyone the same. He’s friendly and rather popular with those around him but always keeps them at arms length. That’s the case until mysterious student Robert Jade transfers into his class. Robert is older than the other students and has a bit of a temper, definitely the bad boy type. For some reason Georges is drawn to Robert and vice versa, except in Robert’s case Georges resembles someone from his past that causes him extreme pain. What does the future hold for these two boys?
This series actually came out a few years ago and the final volume was actually published in 2007. I overlooked this title because I didn’t think I’d like it. It wasn’t until I read the second volume of Alice the 101 that I decided to give it a shot. I didn’t know that he had his own series until I read the character profiles. I had fallen for Georges and once I found out that he was the star of La Esperanca I knew I was going to have to read it. I wasn’t disappointed. The art was fantastic. I love how Kawai-sensei draws chibis. Also I was so drawn into the story that I read all seven volumes in one sitting, which meant that I ended up staying up way past my bedtime and was exhausted at work. Oh well, it was definitely worth it. It is so emotionally heart wrenching I couldn’t put it down and found myself crying through the final volume. This is a great series to check out if you are new to the BL genre but seasoned veterans will enjoy it too.

Kyo Kara MAOH! vols. 5-7 by Tomo Takabayashi and Temari Matsumoto (TokyoPop, 7 volumes released, series ongoing) In these volumes of Kyo Kara MAOH! Yuri and the gang go to Svelera to search for a person who seems to be mistaken as Yuri because they are in possession of the Mateki, or Demon Flute, which is also a Demon treasure. Gwendal’s cousin was banished from the kingdom to locate this missing treasure as punishment for past crimes. Yuri and company meet up with Gwendal but on their way to the capital Gwendal and Yuri get separated from the rest of the crew, get mistaken for elopers, actually find and team up with the Yuri look alike, get captured again, etc. Once the Mateki is found and they return to Shinmakoku Yuri assumes he can get back home to Japan because he finished his quest. Sadly he’s stuck in Shinmakoku and is unable to go back. But a new adventure awaits Yuri in the form of a little girl who claims to be his love child but actually turns out to be an assassin. What’s in store for Yuri this time around?
Being a BL-centric reader Temari Matsumoto is a name I know well but all I knew about Kyo Kara MAOH! was the mention of it on the back covers of a couple of her other titles. I then picked up the anime series (my copies are the Geneon releases which are no longer available but Funimation grabbed the license when it became available and is now available once again) when I stumbled upon it. Falling for the anime and then discovering that TokyoPop had licensed and was starting to release the manga series made my day. At this point I can’t get enough of it. The story is great but what really makes this truly a favorite is Matsumoto-sensei’s art. It really brings the world created to life. Now if we could only get the light novels that inspired both the manga and anime I would be a happy camper. Another thing I’m a bit worried about is that there hasn’t been any news regarding future volumes. I know that Kyo Kara MAOH! is up to volume 10 and still ongoing in Japan. I sure hope that TokyoPop will continue this series because you can’t beat a fun story with great characters and amazing art! (Click Here for the review for volume 5)

Calling by Mio Otsuki (BLU, 1 volume one-shot) Kazuaki Hinamura leads a rather boring life. He works in the General Affairs office of his company, lives alone, has no girlfriend, and doesn’t have much ambition. His world is tossed upside down when he meets Kira Aratani. Kira is a rising star in the porn industry and fell in love with Kazuaki at first sight. Kazuaki is not at all thrilled with this news but is willing to be friends with Kira. Will Kira’s devotion to Kazuaki finally win his heart?
Even though I haven't been able keep up on other publishers titles (but I wish I could) I have the tendency to make sure to always stay on top of BLU's releases. I had no experience whatsoever with this artist and didn’t know much about her or this manga. Once I saw Otsuki-sensei’s chibis I knew immediately that I was most likely going to enjoy this title. I was correct in my assumption. It was a refreshing change from the usual yaoi fare available. It features adults living adult lives and behaving like adults, the relationship begins naturally and there is no force involved. I’ve become rather desensitized to the rape=love scenario but when you happen upon a story where that isn’t a factor it’s definitely time to celebrate. Both the story and the art make this a truly enjoyable manga. It’s very sweet and definitely worth your time.

Silver Diamond vols. 5-7 by Shiho Sugiura (TokyoPop, 8 volumes released, series ongoing) Rakan is a being called a Sanome who has the ability to cause plants to grow and flourish. With volume 5 Rakan has decided to go to the alternate world with Chigusa, Narushige and Koh, and Tohji. Once they arrive they are soon in a camp with numbered children who have been abandoned by both family and country. Once Rakan sees the hopeless state that the world is in he decides that he’s going to bring the green back. The adventure starts now.
I picked up Silver Diamond on a whim, I stopped by my local Barnes and Noble to pick up a totally different manga title but wound up with this one instead. I must say that it’s a good thing that I did because I immediately fell in love. Rakan is so clueless but adorable, Chigusa is amazing at how bold he is in his pursuit of Rakan and how Rakan is so clueless regarding it, Narushige is so overprotective it’s crazy, and Tohji is always the one who is always forced to keep Chigusa at bay. But the one who makes it a totally awesome title is the wise cracking, talking snake Koh. The gorgeous art and incredible storytelling make this a compelling read. I was worried for a while because there was quite a large span of time between the beginning of the series and the continuation. I thought that maybe due to low sales it was going to be canceled. Thankfully things have picked up. I know that volume 8 was released here at the end of the year but it will be 2011 by the time I get it read so that is why it’s not on the list. I hope that TokyoPop will still continue to stand behind this title because even though there are 21 volumes (and it’s still ongoing) you’ll have a faithful reader of this title in me.

Blood Honey by Sakyou Yozakura (BLU, 1 volume one-shot) Yuki Akabane is descended from vampires. He doesn’t have much in the way of traditional vampiric traits but one, the love of drinking blood. To help him out with this endeavor Akabane works as a nurse in a blood donation clinic. Osamu Mayuzumi is a blood donor nut. He has a very hot blooded personality and the only way to keep his temper in check is by donating blood. But Mayzumi has a fear of needles and the only nurse who has been able to draw his blood without any pain is Akabane. Because of that Mayuzumi is constantly in Akabane’s clinic. One evening Mayuzumi showed up with a friend’s ID so he could have his blood drawn. Akabane reluctantly draws the minimal amount but doesn’t feel like he should include Mayuzumi’s blood with the rest of the vials so he decides to have a snack. It turns out that his donor nut has the most delicious tasting blood. When Mayuzumi shows up again Akabane has a proposition, since Mayuzumi wants his blood drawn often and it can only be drawn by Akabane, how about they meet at Akabane’s place? It’s a match made in blood heaven.
I love this title. I read it in scanlation form and was ecstatic when I heard it was licensed. As soon as it was available for preorder at Amazon it was in my shopping cart faster than the speed of light. The art is adorable, the story is charming and it is definitely a great read. The characters are fantastic and are rather funny. There isn’t much in the way of sex for our main pairing but the secondary characters definitely get hot and heavy. Those characters are just as enjoyable as our main couple. It’s definitely worth spending some time with.

Isle of Forbidden Love by Duo Brand (BLU, 1 volume one-shot) Aki had a traumatic experience as a child. But it seems that the man who saved him made a huge impression on him. Because of that experience, and that man, Aki has made it his mission in life to serve the people of Edo as a Jittemochi, a common citizen with the power to make arrests on behalf of the police. Lately there has been a rash of kidnappings and strange murders. But the strangest thing seems to be that the man that saved him twelve years ago has reappeared and hasn’t seemed to age at all. Aki apprehended him (sort of) just to find out that he only looked like the man. Kuga and Aki hit it off immediately and while Aki is very up front and honest and while Kuga is helpful he’s also very mysterious. Aki is determined to get to the bottom of the crime, but could Kuga, the man who resembles his Conch Buddha, be the actual criminal?
Isle of Forbidden Love is a mysterious tale that spans time and space. It is lushly illustrated and if you have a thing for traditional Japanese dress you will be in heaven (I know I was!) I’ve never been disappointed by a Duo Brand title but I’ve never really been impressed either so when this came out I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to get it. After reading through a few reviews and being informed that it was a yaoi mystery I decided that I should pick it up. I was not disappointed. I actually love it so much I read it regularly and it has made it on my all time favorites list. The characters are interesting, the art beautiful, and the story compelling it is definitely a must read! Oh, and if you are wondering what the deal is with the Conch Buddha you’ll just have to read it to find out.

Gakuen Heaven: Calling You by You Higuri (BLU, 1 volume one-shot but part of an ongoing series) Keita Ito has settled in happily at Bell Liberty thanks to the friendship of Kazuki Endo, now his lover. Because of this friendship the two were able to win the MVP contest that the mysterious Chairman set up to make it possible for Keita to stay. It turns out that the mysterious Chairman and Kazuki are one in the same. A long time ago Keita and Kazuki made a promise that they would one day attend the same school. Now that the time has come it seems that the Suzubishi Group, parent company to BL Academy, want Kazuki to relinquish his title of chairman and come back to corporate and head up a new venture. Obviously Kazuki has no desire to do that so his father, and president of the company, sends in a new vice chairman to create some chaos within the student body. Keita on the other hand has been roped into helping the student council with the yearly Silver Bell Festival. These two hardly see each other as it is. Now that they’re together again will they be pulled apart forever?
The reason that Calling You is on this list is purely sentimental. It’s a pretty run of the mill BL story featuring a schoolboy romance but I have a soft spot in my heart for Gakuen Heaven and this is my favorite and most natural of the pairings. Because this series is based on the BL game of the same name each volume features Keita with a different partner (he’s not the school bicycle, I promise.) In this volume it follows the main pairing from the original novel as well as the anime. And like I mentioned before is my favorite pairing. The reason why I’m so sentimental about this volume is because this particular manga was the first volume I ever ordered in Japanese after I read the first Gakuen Heaven manga volume in English. I was very new to the BL genre and was having a difficult time finding titles to keep me interested. Thanks to the first volume it kept me in the fandom and I soon found myself searching out anything Gakuen Heaven related. You Higuri-sensei’s work is amazing. Her characters are so impossibly beautiful that you can’t help but be drawn in. The detail is amazing and the backgrounds are just as detailed as the foreground. Honestly I’m in awe every time I read any title by her, but this one holds a special place in my heart and I can’t thank BLU enough for bringing this title to us in English.

ZE vols. 5-6 by Yuki Shimizu (801 Media, 6 volumes released, series ongoing) Ryuusei Kitamura has nothing to do with the Mitou clan even though he has the power of kotodama. Moriya is a masterless kami-sama destined to return to hakushi (blank paper). Moriya doesn’t want to return to hakushi so Waki sends Moriya to Ryuusei with the time limit of one month to convince Ryuusei to accept him as his kami. Ryuusei on the other hand knows almost nothing about kami because he refuses to use kotodama. Will Moriya be able to save himself by convincing Ryuusei to become his master?
I feel I need to mention that the fourth volume came out this year as well but I found myself drawn more to Moriya and Ryuusei than Genma and Himi (which that pairing is featured in volume four). We do get a quick glimpse of Ryuusei and Moriya in the first volume, are introduced to them at the end of vol. 4, and finally get their story in five and six. This series has consistently blown me away because it was featured on my list last year. Shimizu-sensei’s art is gorgeous, lush, and detailed, the characters are fascinating, deep, and real. They’re all flawed in their own ways. I enjoyed this particular pairing because Moriya, the kami, is the seme. It seems in most of the other pairings (with the exception of Konoe and Kotoha) the kotodama-sama is the seme. After reading volume six, which concludes Moriya and Ryuusei’s story, I have to say that this is my second favorite pairing within the ZE universe. My first favorite coupling is still Raizou and Kon (their story is chronicled in the first two volumes and they get a chapter in volume 6) but the series is still ongoing so I may change my mind when we get the story between Shoui (the current head of the Mitou family) and his kami Asari (my heart skipped a beat when we met Asari in the first volume, a true moe moment.) This is definitely a worthwhile series and I LOVE it. Now I must apologize for the extreme fujoshi rant that just went on. Did it even make any sense?

Itazura na Kiss vols. 1- 4 by Kaoru Tada (Digital Manga Publishing, 4 omnibus volumes released, series complete in Japan but ongoing in English) Kotoko Aihara isn’t the sharpest tack in the box and she’s developed a crush on the smartest boy in her grade, Naoki Irie. She writes him a letter detailing her feelings for him but he rejects her outright stating that he doesn’t like “stupid girls.” Kotoko, dealing with her broken heart, is then faced with quite the challenge. The house that they recently finished building collapsed in a small earthquake and the only place they can go is to the house of a friend of her father’s. Unfortunately for Kotoko the friend happens to be the father of her crush Naoki. The two move in and Kotoko’s adventures begin. She gets along well with Naoki’s parents, especially his mom, but his little brother is not too fond of her. Initially Kotoko was going to try to give up on Naoki but being faced with this new challenge she decides to keep pursuing him. What lies in store for Kotoko now?
I rather enjoy this title but I have mixed feelings about it in the future. I know this sounds strange but it’s strictly because I have this weird OCD. Once I start reading a series regardless of whether I like the story or not I have to read it to its conclusion. Unfortunately Tada-sensei passed away before the series was ever finished. So I wonder how it will be handled. Another thing that kept me away, initially, was the fact that this series was started in the 90’s. The art is definitely dated and features typical shojo flowery-ness but once I started reading all of my hesitations flew out the window. It’s simply charming. Kotoko’s determination is simply amazing, and even though I found Naoki rather annoying at the beginning he’s starting to change and I’m starting to like him. Yuuki, Naoki’s brother, is great for comic relief and Naoki’s mom is out of this world. She will stop at nothing to see Kotoko and Naoki together. This title is not only a fun read but it also served as the inspiration for future shojo series. I swear that while reading this I caught glimpses of Marmalade Boy. Even though it isn’t complete it’s definitely a title you won’t want to miss.

Yugi Yamada’s No One Loves Me (Juné, 1 volume one-shot) should have made this list but I haven’t had a chance to get a copy and I’ve only read the scanlation. I really loved the story and was ecstatic that Juné acquired the license and published this title recently. So it gets an honorable mention along with two of her other titles Close the Last Door vol. 2 (I’ve read it online through eManga but I need to get my physical copy and I have it in Japanese) and Open the Door to Your Heart (I have a temporary eManga copy for review purposes – which I haven’t read yet – but I want a physical copy, and again I have this title in Japanese.)

So tell me, do you agree, disagree, or what are some of your favorites from 2010?