In manga, 2007 was the year of re-release and omnibus magic. Tankoubons put on on weight, like Yen Press’s With the Light, and received hard-cover makeovers, such as Tokyopop’s Battle Royale. Viz Media thought big for the comics market with their omnibus re-release of Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkon Kinkreet: Black and White, while indy/horror publisher IDW tried getting it’s feet wet in the manga pool with Umezu’s Reptilia. Strong titles like Parasyte switched hands from TokyoPop to Del Rey Manga, with TokyoPop instead picking up ADV’s expired license, Aqua and Aria.
How does this translate in our local market? The search for good licenses is getting more and more intense—for American and Japanese publishers alike. Kodansha began courting international manga influenced creators with a competition that followed on the heels of a contest held by the Japanese Ministry of Culture. Meanwhile, bookshelves in the U.S. are growing crowded with midlist titles and long running, multiple volume series. Publishers are finding ways to maintain the interest of manga readers by keeping their solid sellers on the shelves. But the best is still yet to come. For 2008 licenses such as GANTZ, SlamDunk!, FairyTail, and Black Jack already give readers much to look forward to. And across the ocean, Japan is working hard to put into motion joint ventures that will bring a new meaning to the word “synergy” and “global manga,” proving that the belle of the ball may have a few openings on her dance card. Shall we dance?
Here’s a short list of ten titles that made 2007 a year to remember
10) Palette of 12 Secret Colors by Nari Kusakawa (CMX)
A gentle and subtle read about an island where “palettes” or girls paired with tropical birds, create color for export. Clever and adventurous with a distinct calm that enhances Kusakawa’s magical world.
9) Two Will Come by Kyungok Kang (NetComics)
Part high-school drama, part folklore/fantasy/thriller, Kang weaves together one girl's path as her family struggles with an ancient and mystical curse and she fends off the advances from a popular but cruel classmate.
8) Star by Keiko Konno (DMP)
Is it possible for boys love to contain mature, thoughtful characters? A simple story about a salary man who becomes romantically involved with a co-worker in their company’s research and development office, Konno has created boys love without the drama, and in salary man Hirokawa, the boyfriend we are all looking for.
7) Peter Panda by Ya-Ne Ri (DramaQueen)
Korean bi-shonen, Ri builds two stories, one of a high-energy high-school girl and her guardian panda-cum-disco-king, and one of three beautiful boys whose languid bodies decorate many a page. The two worlds intersect but for small, pivotal moments, leaving the reader giddy with anticipation.
6) MW by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
Tezuka’s most disturbing and relentlessly evil work about two men who live through a bio-chemical attack. One devotes himself to God and redemption, the other to murder and vengeance. For a more uplifting experience, read this with Vertical’s next Tezuka release, the children’s series, Dororo.
5) Incredible Change-bots by Jeffrey Brown (TopShelf)
Technically, Brown’s Change-bots is not manga or manga influenced. It is, however, American mecha ala Transformers as interpreted by Jon Stewart. If Kodansha editors are looking for an aggressive reworking of manga from a Western perspective, this is it.
4) Suppli by Mari Okazaki (Tokyopop)
Finally, a long-form narrative by josei master Okazaki hits the States. Like Erica Sakurazawa, whose simplistic drawings and sweet, haunting narratives depict the life of the contemporary 20-something woman in Japan, Okazaki addresses the struggles of the modern career woman determined to carve out a place for herself in a conservative advertising agency. Okazaki’s style is all her own. She attacks the subject matter with vivid, hyper-stylized graphics and an intensity that brings the frustration and yearning of her protagonist directly to the surface.
3) MPD Psycho by Eiji Otsuka and Sho-u Tajima (Dark Horse)
Graphic, gorey, and violent by necessity, Otsuka’s Multiple Personality Detective is a step beyond Death Note. Readers are encouraged to form their own cheat sheet to assist them in the plot’s twists and turns. Tajima’s use of detail will make even the most jaded comic afficianado think differently of barcodes.
2) Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno (Last Gasp)
Admittedly, Last Gasp released Town of Evening Calm at the cusp of 2006. But this simple comic based on true events is too important to pass up. Like Barefoot Gen, Town addresses the effect of the atom bomb on the inhabitants of Hiroshima, the guilt that survivors bear, and the sickness that many survivors suffered from. A reminder of where manga came from, and the conditions it grew out of.
1) Tekkon Kinkreet: Black and White by Taiyo Matsumoto (Viz Media)
The ultimate urban coming of age story set in a city silently dying of gentrification-cancer, Matsumoto unravels a narrative of two flying street-kids, Black and White,whose bare-knuckled determination, and devotion to each other, threaten to tear them apart and destroy the city they love.