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Manga Must Reads

Updated on April 16, 2015
Kyoko from Skip Beat!
Kyoko from Skip Beat! | Source

If I don't have access to graphic novels, I read my manga on the MangaReader app on my iPhone.

I haven't had much time to watch anime since I've posted my 15 Must See Anime Series Hub and 5 More Anime Must Sees, but I have started reading more manga. I've gotten pretty positive feedback and interest from my anime hubs, so I thought the people who enjoyed the anime series I suggested may also like manga I've read and really enjoyed.

Rather than share a specific number of series, as I did with the anime, I'd like this Hub to remain a work in progress and as I read new things I'll add them here.

Just a note on my tastes, I like shoujo manga but not overly dramatic or extra frilly girly manga. I also like shounen manga but not the excessively violent or dark or musclehead kind. Basically I like balance. I like things that are nicely drawn, have interesting and lovable characters, a well thought out storyline or characters I enjoy so much that I don't really care about the story, humor, romance, action, magic, martial arts, magical girls, neko, cuteness, and stuff like that. So if this sounds like the kind of stuff you enjoy, continue. If this isn't really your thing, you probably won't be interested in what I've listed (but it couldn't hurt to look either.)

I am determined not to post everything I've read, but only the titles that I really thought were special. Since a lot of anime and manga is pretty cut and paste, it may take some time before this Hub is full of a lot of great titles. I'll comment on this page every time I've added something new.

Recommendations are welcome! Thanks! Hope you enjoy!

PS - If you are not familiar with manga, please note that it is read right to left, not left to right. I've posted some scans here so I don't want anyone to get confused!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Sahbmad comes to see Alibaba, Sinbad, and the Fog Troupe.The General begins to explain how Balbadd came to be in the situation they are in.Paper money is given to the King of Balbadd.Initially the paper money seems more valuable than gold.Sinbad knows that using paper notes will eventually lead to trouble.Balbadd's obsession with paper money puts them in debt.The royals of Balbadd are consumed by greed.The King devises a plan to get more money.The King wishes to use the citizens of Balbadd as collateral.
Sahbmad comes to see Alibaba, Sinbad, and the Fog Troupe.
Sahbmad comes to see Alibaba, Sinbad, and the Fog Troupe. | Source
The General begins to explain how Balbadd came to be in the situation they are in.
The General begins to explain how Balbadd came to be in the situation they are in. | Source
Paper money is given to the King of Balbadd.
Paper money is given to the King of Balbadd. | Source
Initially the paper money seems more valuable than gold.
Initially the paper money seems more valuable than gold. | Source
Sinbad knows that using paper notes will eventually lead to trouble.
Sinbad knows that using paper notes will eventually lead to trouble. | Source
Balbadd's obsession with paper money puts them in debt.
Balbadd's obsession with paper money puts them in debt. | Source
The royals of Balbadd are consumed by greed.
The royals of Balbadd are consumed by greed. | Source
The King devises a plan to get more money.
The King devises a plan to get more money. | Source
The King wishes to use the citizens of Balbadd as collateral.
The King wishes to use the citizens of Balbadd as collateral. | Source

Magi: Labyrinth of Magic

Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic is a new manga/anime series that began in 2013. It follows the Magi, Aladdin, and his friend Prince Alibaba Saluja and the freed slave Morgiana on their mission to save the world from the "abnormalities of the world."

Upon first glance you might mistake this for yet another magical anime with your stock anime archetypes--heck, it even has its own little magical boy--but trust me, this series is so much more than it appears!

Along with the lovable characters and their awesome and adorable character designs, this series is full of action, love, humor--and surprisingly--quite a bit of insight and reflection on what's going on in our world.

I first tuned into this series on Netflix for my kids. I expected it to be some corny magical series where everyone is saved by love and tears of the savior--blah, blah, blah. I was so surprised to find that the trials and tribulations the heroes had to face were very relevant to what we have to deal with in the real world. Not only that, but "happy endings" in this series don't solve everything. People die. People have to pay for their mistakes. Heroes don't go home happy and joyful. They experience pain and loss that continues to affect them long after their battles have been fought. Not only that but the heroes don't have the power to fix everything, in fact, very often the saviors in the story are the ones being saved by their supporting characters.

It's a great story and while it has some predictable parts--I can't say I know where it will lead at all. Since it is so new, the story is getting updated in real time, so I don't know what is going to happen in the end, but so far it's been an amazing ride.

I highly recommend the manga over the anime of this series because the animation is not so great in the anime and the story has some added depth in the manga.

I love this series so much I was going to do a Hub completely dedicated to some of the best moments in the series, but instead I've posted the first moment I realized this series was a lot deeper than just some silly magical boy story.

There were plenty of instances before this moment that were quite good, mostly concerning slavery and the value of human life. However, it wasn't until this moment where I felt that this series was a lot more than it seemed.

This scene takes place after Alibaba Saluja--the illegitimate prince of Balbadd--and his band of vigilantes has risen up against the King of Balbadd (his brother Ahbmad) and the royal family to fight for the citizens of the country. The Deputy King, Alibaba's brother Sahbmad, has left the kingdom in the night to come speak with Alibaba and warn him of the evil plan the King has for the citizens of Balbadd.

I was very intrigued by this scene because here they discuss the emergence of paper money and how its value is arbitrary, because in truth--paper money is just paper, it has no real value at all. Yet, in the end, paper notes end up being more valuable to royalty and the kingdom than the lives of the citizens of the people.

The heroes cannot believe it, how could it be possible that paper is worth more than human beings? This type of greed is described as an abnormality in the world and something our heroes must rebel against or else the world will soon be led to darkness.

This scene challenges us to think about our own value systems and how much impact paper money has on our own lives. It also provokes the audience to wonder, what was the world like before money? Does our money really have as much value as we are made to believe it does? Should it? What would happen if we chose to reject it?

Madoka (right) Mama (left) and Papa (up)
Madoka (right) Mama (left) and Papa (up) | Source
Mama and Papa show Madoka their winning ticket.
Mama and Papa show Madoka their winning ticket. | Source

Bitou Lollipop

I stumbled across this series after dropping yet another shoujo romance about a timid girl whose love interest is a forceful hot-headed guy. So. Annoying. And sexist. And way too pro-rape culture for my liking. Though admittedly, I've said through said romances just to see how it ends. Not that there's really any point in that, since it always ends the same. ANNOYING!

I was really ready to drop this story from the start, because the art style is way different from what I like. The characters' eyes are humongous, even for manga. It was very distracting in the beginning because I couldn't understand why the artist drew such ridiculously huge eyes and such insanely slim limbs. Fortunately, the story was way too unique for me to just drop it, so I read on despite the art style (something I rarely, rarely ever do).

Madoka is a second year in high school. Her parents are former delinquents that eloped when they were teenagers, had her, and apparently spent their days mostly drinking, gambling, and watching ER dramas on TV. Aside from their bad habits, they do really love Madoka, and Madoka loves them--so they are a pretty happy family.

One day her parents hit the lotto and win a million dollars. Instead of spending it all, they decide they want to pursue their lifelong dream of becoming doctors (despite the fact they can barely do basic elementary school math). Madoka is opposed to the idea at first, but after seeing how truly dedicated her parents seem to be, she decides to support them. They make the decision to move back to her grandparent's house, but Madoka doesn't want to change schools so they allow her to board in the guest house of a friend's.

This is where the story begins. Interesting so far right? I don't want to give too much away in this, but a love triangle does emerge. I typically don't like stories with love triangles, because the main character never chooses the guy I like (I always pick the good guy who doesn't have a personality disorder and isn't a complete hothead and super pushy and possessive. The good guys never win!). This one is different though, because it isn't quite as predictable as other stories. In addition to that, all the characters in this story have amazing depth and really interesting back stories that just made me want to read more and more so I could learn more about them. Yet, the more I learned about them, the more I wanted to know!

Though on the surface this is a love triangle romance story, there are so many subplots and various things going on that make it very captivating. It's a story about appropriate and inappropriate love, about loneliness, about friendship, about family, about doing what's right, about being loyal and kind and truthful, about being yourself and what that means, about finding yourself, about the awkwardness and discomfort of being an adult. There's action and adventure and mystery. There is even some sports and music themes. It's funny, dramatic, thoughtful, and really highlights the complexities of life and just being a human.

I read the first 21 chapters in 6 hours and was literally crying for more. This is a new series, so it hasn't been completed yet. I am anxiously awaiting the next installment.

Blue Exorcist (Ao no Exorcist)

Blue Exorcist follows twin brothers Rin and Yukio who are twins raised by Father Fujimoto. Rin is a volatile child who can't seem to control his aggression and strength. Throughout his life he's been labelled a monster and a demon. Yukio is the opposite; quiet, polite, and gentle. After a freak occurrence with a demon, Rin learns that he and his brother are the sons of satan, but that he is the one who has inherited his birth father's dark power.

After Father Fujimoto is killed, Rin swears vengeance on Satan and is determined to become an exorcist so that he can defeat Satan himself. The story follows the twins to True Cross Academy, a high school that also doubles as an exorcist training ground. Both demons and exorcists are after Rin because of his power, but he will not stop until Satan is defeated.

I was debating whether or not I should add this story to my list because there are things that I like and don't like about it. I think I'll start with the things I don't like. I don't like how shallow the relationships are between the characters. Rin and Yukio don't really feel like brothers to me. They seem more like maybe they went to the same school together, but never really got to know each other. That's the sort of feel I get from them. This is possible, but at the same time, that contradicts the story--because apparently Rin was always looking out for Yukio and protecting them when they were children. For that to be true, I feel they would have to be a lot closer.

On the topic of relationships, Rin and Yukio's reaction to Father Fujimoto's death is just lacking. Shiro (Father Fujimoto) was the only parent they ever knew since their mother died while giving birth to them. For all they knew--he really was his father. Yet, when he died...though Rin swore vengeance and everything, for the most part he seems unaffected by Shiro's death throughout the series. His personality doesn't really change much. That just seems sort of strange to me.

In general, the development of relationships in this series is sort of flat. The main focus is obviously the action, comedic bits, and just trying to whip Satan's butt. Other than the disappointing character development, the story is a bit confusing at times too. Without giving anything away, some things in this story just don't make any sense! Especially Satan and his relationship with Rin and Yukio's mother. I'm not sure if I'm confused because things just didn't translate well or if it's because the story itself is confusing--but I'm not really satisfied with the backstory of their existence.

So those are the reasons I was going to leave it out. Now the reasons I included it.

I love the idea of the son of Satan rising up against him. Rin's character is so fascinating to me, even though I think he could have been developed a little better. All his life, people have said he's bad and told him he will not amount to anything--but because just one person believed in him (Father Fujimoto...and possibly Yukio) he still tried hard to prove everyone wrong about him. Then when he learns that he is, in fact, a demon--rather than give in and admit that people were right about him all along--he never quits! He will not allow others or even his born nature to dictate his fate. He wants to be the master of his own destiny. This is really moving to me. I think anyone who has felt trapped by what was expected of them will be motivated by Rin.

The action in this series is also pretty good, though sometimes it can drag out. I also like the different demons that show up. I think that all the characters in the series are actually pretty interesting. I just wish they were fleshed out a bit more.

My most favorite thing about this series though, doesn't even have to do with the manga, but the anime. I really like the first and second openings and the second closing for the anime. They are so good, haha.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Kyoko discovers Shotaro's true feelings and intentions.In the beginning it is mentioned that all humans are given a box with many locks that house their true potential.  Sho's betrayal has unlocked Kyoko's box.Kyoko's box appears to house her inner demons, which immediately overpower the angels of her affections.Kyoko is no longer the humble and sweet girl she once was.Kyoko swears vengeance on Sho for the way he has treated her.Kyoko is determined to defeat Sho.
Kyoko discovers Shotaro's true feelings and intentions.
Kyoko discovers Shotaro's true feelings and intentions. | Source
In the beginning it is mentioned that all humans are given a box with many locks that house their true potential.  Sho's betrayal has unlocked Kyoko's box.
In the beginning it is mentioned that all humans are given a box with many locks that house their true potential. Sho's betrayal has unlocked Kyoko's box. | Source
Kyoko's box appears to house her inner demons, which immediately overpower the angels of her affections.
Kyoko's box appears to house her inner demons, which immediately overpower the angels of her affections. | Source
Kyoko is no longer the humble and sweet girl she once was.
Kyoko is no longer the humble and sweet girl she once was. | Source
Kyoko swears vengeance on Sho for the way he has treated her.
Kyoko swears vengeance on Sho for the way he has treated her. | Source
Kyoko is determined to defeat Sho.
Kyoko is determined to defeat Sho. | Source

Skip Beat!

I came across this manga while searching for stories with strong female leads. This is one I know has been somewhat popular for awhile (there is even a drama and an anime for it, both of which I haven't seen yet). I never gave it a chance because I thought it was about a high school pop idol band and I haven't really been in the mood to read something like that. Skip Beat! is in fact about teenage pop idols, but not in the way I had expected.

Kyoko is a teenage girl from Kyoto who has ditched High School and moved to Tokyo with her best friend and childhood crush, Shotaro, to help him pursue his dreams of being a pop idol. Kyoko is a homely, but loyal and kind-hearted, girl with an incredible work ethic. She is very happy to make sacrifices to help Sho pursue his dreams--that is, until she finds out the only reason Sho brought her to Tokyo was to be his maid. She discovers all these years her love and friendship with Sho has been completely one-sided and he, in fact, thinks very little of her. Hurt and enraged from being so badly tricked for so many years, Kyoko swears vengeance on Sho. She is determined to beat him at his own game and become an even greater celebrity that he ever will be.

Skip Beat! is definitely a bit outrageous and contrived at times, but it's a comedy so it's acceptable. I love Kyoko's character (probably because she reminds me of myself in my college years--sugar on the outside, spice on the inside, and a whole lot of you'll-pay-if-you-cross-me). I also love her determination and perseverance, even if her reasons for being so are a little warped (at least in the beginning). She's definitely the spunky cool female lead I was looking for when I picked up this manga.

Once I started reading this story, it was really difficult to put it down. My favorite part of a good story is character development. When I first started Skip Beat! I didn't have a lot of faith in the characters developing past what was on the surface, but I was wrong. All of the characters in Skip Beat!, including the antagonists, grow and change throughout the story. They have interesting back stories and develop intense and believable relationships with each other. My heart actually aches as the lead develops her love for another and even though there are characters I don't like, I still find myself empathizing with them--despite my best efforts to say, "nooo! I don't like you!"

Another thing I really appreciate about this story is that it focuses on a lot of things, rather than just a love story. I often get annoyed in other manga romances when the protagonists love interest becomes the center of her world and everything she lives for. In a way, Skip Beat! is sort of a parody of that because that's exactly how the story starts out, then shows how dangerous it is to live life that way. More than romance, Skip Beat! spends a lot of time developing Kyoko's pride in herself and confidence in being her own person, independent of others. Additionally, they spend time on her developing friendships with other people--not just her love interests.

Jellyfish Princess (Kuragehime)

I was first introduced to this series by watching the anime and loved it so much I recommended it. Unfortunately, the anime series leaves on a cliffhanger so you have to continue with the manga to know what happens next.

Jellyfish Princess is about a young woman named Kurashita Tsukimi. She is obsessed with jellyfish and lives in a women-only housing complex with other young women (known as the Amars) who have their own strange obsessions. They are all pretty socially awkward and dislike glamorous people until Tsukimi befriends a stylish boy, Kuranosuke, who enjoys dressing in drag. So starts the Amars journey into the world of fashion and the stylish.

What I loved about this series was how unconventional the heroes are. Today, especially, everything is overrun with dolled up glamorous people (even kids shows! It's crazy!) The Amars are anti-glamour and even when they get their sweet makeovers they still stay true to themselves and their image. Yes they're a bit odd and a bit eccentric, but they're passionate and good people and if the outside world can't accept them for that--then who needs'em anyway. Even Kuranosuke, who is actually quite popular and social, has his own quirks that he is ridiculed for--but he fights to stay true to himself.

If you consider yourself an otaku or a geek you'll probably be able to relate to this series. If you enjoy fashion stories, you'll like this too. If you like guys in drag, this is for you. If you like jellyfish, this is definitely for you, haha. It's a fun read. As far as I know it's still in the making so it's not finished yet (and leaves off on a cliffhanger). I hope to see more from it soon!

The main characters of Dear Only You Don't Know! Jin Hui Cho, Ari Doh, Na Young Min, Soo Jin Mi and Mi Mi, Chae Rim Shin
The main characters of Dear Only You Don't Know! Jin Hui Cho, Ari Doh, Na Young Min, Soo Jin Mi and Mi Mi, Chae Rim Shin | Source
Side comic of Dear Only You Don't Know!
Side comic of Dear Only You Don't Know! | Source

Dear Only You Don't Know!

Dear Only You Don't Know! is a webcomic written by Yuria which can be found on Naver.com. I'm reading the scanlations of it by Easy Going Scans.

The initial appeal of this manga--or rather manhwa, since it's Korean--is that the art is beautifully drawn and in full colour! So, it's definitely a treat for your eyes, though the formatting is a bit odd. (I don't read a lot of webtoons so I don't know if this is how they're normally formatted)

The story draws you in right from the beginning when you learn that one of the main characters is not actually a loving, doting, stereotypical housewife--but in fact a scary mob boss trying to keep her true identity a secret from her husband. The story follows 6 female leads who are all trying to hide something about themselves from their loves/potential loves. Na Young Min appears to be a glamorous beauty at first glance, but is actually a very talented makeup artist who works hard to hide her "plain face." Soo Jin Mi is a teenager who actually looks very mature for her age and lies that she is much older to get close to her 30-year-old crush. Mi Mi is Soo Jin's sister, a sweet and mysterious woman who is trying to keep her past a secret. Ari Doh is an outspoken young woman, who after suffering from many failed relationships, has devoted herself to hiding her true feelings and not being the one to fall in love first! Chae Rim Shin is the smartest girl in school, but in secret she is an otaku who loves to read manhwa.

Lastly we have Jin Hui Cho, daughter of the leader of the Golden Dragon Gang and President of the Golden Dragon company. To her husband she's a sweet and carrying woman who loves animals so much she opened a pet grooming and boarding shop. To everyone else...she's just plain scary!

There are other characters in addition to these and their love interests (Such as Yuri which, unlike the main characters, hides nothing about herself at all). All are interesting and dynamic. I really enjoy all of them and how they interact with one another.

The story is mostly slice of life, watching how these characters live their daily lives and deal with the troubles that come with trying to keep secrets. It touches on real issues like the pressures of being a young adult who isn't sure what they want to do with their life and how difficult it can be to be bullied at school. Drama is kept to a minimum and the romance is believable and not cheesy or corny at all (except for the love song for Na Young lol). The mood is pretty light and comedic with sprinkles of mystery, action, and suspense to keep the reader wanting more.

I didn't expect the story to be so interesting, but underneath all the jokes and sub-plot a story unfolds. The more you know the more you want to know! It's a really great read. I've enjoyed it very much--especially the bits with the all-girl school because those are SO true to what it's like to go to an all-girls school for High School! Haha!

Have Suggestions?

If we have a similar taste in manga and anime, please feel free to make suggestions in the comments below! If you read any of these after reading this Hub, let me know if you enjoyed it!

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