It was simultaneously a year of contraction and expansion for manga as the industry saw a few more of its traditional manga houses fall off the list and indie comics publishers picking up the slack. Small publisher Go! Comi called it quits while DC Comics shut down its manga operation, CMX. Del Rey Manga was reshuffled to Kodansha Comics with Random House handling operations for the Japanese publisher. Drawn & Quarterly continues its gekiga campaign with Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Black Blizzard, while newcomers to the field and veterans of independent comics publishing, Top Shelf and Fantagraphics rolled out their first manga collections, the AX anthology and Drunken Dreams and Other Stories, respectively. An added surprise was the coalition building between American and Japanese publishers in the effort to wipe out online pirated manga aggregator sites. Scanlation (scanned and translated manga online) once a building block to the global rise of manga’s popularity has persisted through manga’s peak and now threatens the health of the local market.

From its boom in 2005 to current murmurs of revenue loss, it is a curious time for manga. Manga publishers continue to experiment with digital distribution while the uncertainty of the market looms large. Any outsider would think that manga has met its demise, but insiders all know: manga readership is up; it’s only a matter of capturing that elusive online audience. Here are a few picks of what’s captured our attention in this past year.

Ax (Vol. 1): A Collection of Alternative Manga, edited by Sean Michael Wilson and Mitsuhiro Asakawa (Top Shelf)

The widest collection of alternative manga to be published in the U.S. curates some of Japan’s best and weirdest work. Pulled from the AX alternative manga magazine, the book features work by Kazuichi Hanawa, and heta-uma pioneer Yusaku Hanakuma, with a story by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Not all the stories are successful, but gems such as Einosuke’s “Home Drama: The Sugawara’s” won’t be found anywhere else.

Chi’s Sweet Home, Konami Kanata (Vertical)

This manga has got to be the cutest thing 2010 has seen. Kanata gets inside the head of a tiny lost kitten who has a mind of her own which gets her into all sorts of wild adventures. Full color fun and a perfect reminder of why cats are adorable.

Korea As Viewed by 12 Creators, Various. (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)

Four years late and worth the wait, Korea—like its predecessor, Japan—is an experiment in geographic location-based short storytelling. 12 comics creators from Korea and Europe, create stories about the country based on their visits or their childhood. A successful set of narratives evocative of time and place.

Bunny Drop, Yumi Unita (Yen Press)

Sentimental without being sappy, Bunny Drop focuses on single-parenthood in Japan by following Daikichi who becomes the guardian to a 6 year-old. Whether or not Unita means to highlight some of the backwards aspects of the work/family divide, some of which is specific to Japan (i.e. modesty preventing a co-worker from being helpful, care-taking not seen as a reason to transfer to a different position) it does come out. Straight-forward stuff to get your blood boiling on one of today’s most debated topics: parenting.

Black Blizzard, Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly)

A straight-forward work of crime-noir about two escaped convicts handcuffed to one another is a testament to the power of combining words with pictures. With a simple layout and artwork that borders on crude in style, Black Blizzard was considered one of the most cutting edge manga of its time. The entire 138 page book took a total of 20 days for Tatsumi to complete. An enduring story, masterfully told.

Dengeki Daisy, Kyousuke Motomi (Viz Media)

Motomi’s series exploits some of the most common themes in contemporary manga: abandonment, loneliness, and longing. It’s a strange story, a sort-of high school romance that becomes kind of an action-packed mystery. But the true star of the series is female protagonist Teru Kurebayashi whose wit and toughness are endearing despite the gimmicky plot.

Biomega, Nihei Tsutomu (Viz Media)

Master of cyberpunk, Tsutomu’s Biomega takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where infectious disease runs rampant and humans are quarantined to another level of earth. Dark and gritty, and odd at times albeit never out of place (the bear soldier is a good example) this series is another reminder to readers that we live in his world, and not the other way around.

Ayako, Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)

A scathing criticism of post-War Japan, the redistribution of farmland under McArthur, and family hierarchy, Tezuka unleashes a storm with Ayako. An ambitious, 700 page allegory of burying tradition while maintaining the patriarchy, defending honor by way of corruption, and the inevitable tainting of character by the simple presence of purity, Ayako is a story that Tezuka creates with a shaky hand (allegories are tough to maintain at this sort of length) and a bitterness that lingers.

Twin Spica, Kou Yaginuma (Vertical)

It doesn’t get any better than a girl with big dreams of space exploration, and everything she’s willing to endure and uncover in her pursuits. Powerfully emotional, at times melodramatic, as well as frank and understated, this series was highly anticipated last year and worth the hype.

A Drunken Dream, Moto Hagio (Fantagraphics)

Most of shojo manga today are derivative of Hagio and her contemporaries - and pale in comparison. This collection of stories takes from the oeuvre of Hagio, one of the first in a pioneering generation of manga to be created by women.