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10 Overlooked Manga You Should Read
Anime and manga´s popularity is on its peak. These once obscure genres have become an important part of pop culture and they´re here to stay. It is hard to tell what makes them so compelling. Perhaps it is the refreshing content, far from the bounds of our culture? Is it the immense bibliography that any manga fan can dive into? Who knows. What we know is that manga rules.
Yeah, nowadays even people who are by no means “geeky” or “a nerd” are being dragged into manga. The problem is, they don´t know where to look, mainly because there are a few extra-successful pieces of Japanese comic that have taken all the credit. One Piece, Naruto, Dragon Ball… Don´t get me wrong, these are amazing manga, but there is plenty more to look at.
Many series have been forgotten due to many reasons: not having their correspondent anime, having a prolific author with much more important works… It doesn´t matter. We´re here to make them justice.
I know we have forgotten many manga worth reading, but we have the limitations of a list and… well, of reality. But don´t worry: if you have already read the most popular series and don´t know where to look at next, here are ten of them that can equal and maybe even top them.
10. Monster Soul
Monster Soul is one of those series too short-lived to be especially memorable, but it is an entertaining and fairly interesting manga. It tells the story of a troupe of monster who are constantly running from human hunters and also have to face other not-so-friendly creatures.
What is the problem with the series? In two words: Hiro Mashima, its creator. Yeah, that Hiro Mashima, the writer and penciler of Fairy Tail. With such an important work to compete with, no one should wonder why this light-hearted and funny monster tale (pun definitely intended) doesn´t get the recognition it deserves.
The story is too superficial to stand above many others, but an interesting backstory is suggested for our main character and this seemingly unnecessary plot point comes to play at the end of the manga. Aki will have to face a demon to save the souls of his parents, and to rescue his partners from the hell he´s sent them to. This section of the main narrative is the most interesting of them all, and it is a shame that this series didn´t explore the pasts of all the troupe: I´m sure that would have been a… hell of a story.
Well, I suppose we´ll always have Paris.
9. Go! Go! Ackman!
Akira Toriyama is widely known for his successful series Dragon Ball, which began as a comedy. This wonderful artist was always interested in simple, comedic, child-oriented works. He wanted to finish this manga before it turned into something completely different, but his editors and fans convinced him that the show had to go on. When he finished it, it was a completely different comic that he could never really connect with: success had destroyed what he had tried to do. We only have to look at his earlier (and latter!) works to see the genre he was comfortable with.
Go! Go! Ackman! is a good example of this. The manga tells the story of a devil boy who causes havoc around him. Even if he is a completely evil character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, the childish nature of the fiend creates empathy with him. That´s why we always want him to win… or we would, if his failures weren´t so hilarious.
At least until an antagonist in the form of an angel is soon introduced and we see him fail instead of our lovely demon. He is not better than his enemy, but he is much more of a hypocrite. And that´s why we despise him so much.
Is this series a masterpiece? Of course not! It´s just a minor work. But a pretty funny one.
8. Violence Jack
The fact that Go Nagai is mainly known for his work in Mazinger Z, the manga whose anime brought mecha robots into the game for a wide audience (even if he didn´t invent the genre), makes some of his other manga pretty strange and even disturbing if you don´t know what to expect of them. In fact, the seemingly innocent writer Go Nagai is known in his country for having expanded the horizons of manga… by making them more mature.
Most of his works are filled with sex and violence. It is true that sometimes he tries to be too mature and that makes these themes appear in an over-the-top fashion that turns horror into unintentional comedy, but some of his stuff can be disgusting too. Violence Jack is the proof.
This story is set in a post-apocalyptic region of Kanto where a supernatural and mysterious giant called Jack has to battle against all kinds of gangs and cults that try to feast on the rest of humanity. Notice that this was published years before Mad Max, so it has the merit of originality. It also has the merit of being one of the most wicked and gory series I have read on my entire life, and it connects perfectly well with other Nagai´s stories. It´s not a manga for everyone, but some people will enjoy it.
7. Deadman Wonderland
Deadman Wonderland is in this spot of the list because it is the most popular of them all, but it is also one of the most compelling. It tells the story whose entire class is slayed by a mysterious “man in red” who will haunt his nightmares. He is accused of murder and sent to an inhuman prison where he will have to survive using the powers he´s recently acquired. He will have to participate in a demented tournament that will cost him a part of his body if he loses, and he will have to explore his past and the life of his new friend, Shiro.
This series is action-packed, like any good shonen, but it also has the maturity of a seinen. The themes are pretty dark, exploring the consequences of human experimentation and the living in one of the hardest prisons in the world. The characters are pretty complex, to the point where a convicted killer might seem attractive to us. The story gets more and more interesting as it goes, and those characters you have fallen in love with will start to suffer. A must-read for the people who enjoy seinen and know how to appreciate a good story.
Osamu Tezuka´s case is very similar to Go Nagai´s. He is an author regarded for one of his most light-hearted works, Astroboy, but he also innovated by making manga less innocent and going from his childish stories to a series that explores mature themes like racism or revenge. It is true that, by today´s standards, it´s not that shocking, but Alabaster still makes a good comic.
It tells a story of a black athlete who is framed and goes to jail. There, he will meet a mad doctor who is trying to achieve invisibility, and who will experiment on him. He doesn´t turn completely invisible, but his skin does, and his veins turn prominent enough to be recognized perfectly. After he gets revenge on the woman who framed him, he soon decides to run a criminal mob and drag the granddaughter of the professor, an invisible child, into it. As we´ve previously stated, it is not an especially dark story, but the contrast between the cartoonish drawings and the themes that appear in this comic makes it somehow disturbing.
Riki-Oh has, like many books of the 20th Century, been overshadowed by his movie adaptation. If you haven´t watched it, do yourself a favor and do it: it´s an hilarious take on martial arts and a gorefest that not all stomachs can handle. But the manga, which hasn´t reached its popularity, is also worth looking at. Though some may call it just a Fist of the North Star rip-off, it is actually much more.
This comic tells the story of a dystopian world with privatized prisons. A new inmate, with a Star of David on his hand, will change this world by the power of his mighty fist while he looks for his lost brother and tries to learn about his past. He will have to face inmates, evil wardens, cyborgs… all kind of enemies in a tale of violence that becomes weirder and weirder.
The story is dull and the characters are one-dimensional, but… that´s actually the point. The manga is so ridiculous it becomes brilliant and ends up in that marvelous category of “so bad it´s good.” When you finish reading it, you will have a smile on your face and will definitely understand the meaning of life.
4. Doctor Slump
We have already talked about Akira Toriyama, and about how his favorite genre is comedy. If Go! Go! Ackman! and the early adventures of Goku and company haven´t yet convinced you, Dr. Slump will. Perhaps you will remember these friendly characters from the crossover they had with Dragon Ball, but their story is so much wider.
Yes, it is perhaps very childish to a person who has already read Death Note or some of the entries on this list, but it is a fairly entertaining series for children or adults who just want to have a good time reading a self-conscious story without pretentions. That´s the kind of story Toriyama wanted to make: a light-hearted story that parodies other genres and features short episodes without epic battles, complicated time travel or an even-deadlier-than-before-monster each saga.
One could think that creating a dull and innocent comedy is easy, but many authors can assure that it is more difficult than making an action manga. You want one more reason to read it? Well, some people who have read all of Toriyama´s work think this is his best story, way ahead Dragon Ball. It´s a real shame that it is so underrated outside its country.
3. Captain Harlock
Captain Harlock is a good manga, but with a really important flaw: it has no ending. Leiji Matsumoto, its author, left the book before it finished, and only the anime series could finish properly. Though this is a shame, the manga still manages to fascinate new readers with the story of a romantic hero who doesn´t want to be like the lazy and boring people around him.
When extraterrestrial forces kill Professor Daiba, his son Tadashi will have to search for help outside his planet due to the incompetence and indifference of his government. He finds a way to get his revenge in the form of Captain Harlock, a space pirate who also faces regularly the extraterrestrials that slayed his father. With him, he will learn the values of honor and the importance of a rebellious spirit in a conformist universe. With this Long John Silver at his side, he will avenge his father´s demise… and he will also become a man.
It is an interesting series that demonstrates that a mature story about everyday concerns can be told without the blatant use of excessive violence or sex. And so does the manga in the next entry…
Once again, we find a case of an author with so many good works that some of them don´t get all the love they deserve. Naoki Urasawa has written noir stories like Monster or Billy Bat, an epic science-fiction dystopic manga and a tale of childhood friends that is at the same time 20th Century Boys… he is a creator that knows how to write original manga with three-dimensional and believable characters… and who also knows how to revitalize old franchises.
That is what he did in Pluto, where he took the mythology of Astroboy and turned it into a grittier story without losing the things that made it the phenomenon it was. He turned the adventures of the child robot into a detective tale that followed the steps of Inspector Gesicht, a robot that has to track a serial killer who might be tied to a recent conflict.
This series has it all: adventure, mystery, sociopolitical criticism… it is a mature story that doesn´t rely on violence or gratuitous sex. It relies on a world so plausible, yet plagued with so many futuristic wonders to admire, that the reader can enjoy the retelling of the adventures of Astroboy and, at the same time, take a breath and think about his own world.
Aaaaand here is Go Nagai again. You might remember how we said that he had created an innocent world with Mazinger but also explored more mature themes in his latter works. Maybe Violence Jack took it to the next level with some of the most disgusting scenes ever conceived in any comic book, but the manga that started it all was Devilman.
Devilman tells the story of Akira Fudo, a mild-mannered student who discovers a horrifying race of creatures: the demons, who will try to conquer the planet after being frozen for thousands of years. With the help of his friend Ryo Asuka, he fuses with the fiendlord Amon to become the protector of the Earth. He becomes more aggressive and fierce, but he will have to face horror beyond his imaginations.
The manga begins with the story of Akira, but it soon takes the demon invasion to a whole new level. This underrated comic is about evil, about how an external force can influence humans and take their worst self out of them. Though it has admittedly aged pretty badly, this tale still has plenty of depth. Psychological complexity, intelligent plot twists, compelling characters… What are you waiting for?