There are manga, and there are sports. If the next thought in your head is “never the twain shall meet,” you might be surprised to learn that there’s actually an entire sub-genre of manga focusing exclusively on sports. Wataru Watanabe’s Yowamushi Pedal, (or “Wimp/Sissy” Pedal) does the most poetic job yet of bringing this delightful literary paradox to life.
To start with, Yowamushi Pedal does not at first seem to be about sports at all. Our protagonist is high school freshman and Otaku (anime fanatic) Onoda Sakamichi, who pours his passion into anime and manga and could never get along with sports or jocks. He sings anime theme songs on his way to school and while shopping for merchandise, he collects capsule toys obsessively and hopes to form an anime club. He doesn’t even realize that his weekly trips to Akihabara by bicycle are actually a grueling feat that have developed his unusual talent for biking.
While he might not have realized, he keeps getting noticed by skilled athletes at his school, whether it’s kind Kanzaki who thinks him a diamond in the rough, cold-tempered Imaizumi who is looking to test his recent training or wild Naruko who ropes him into chasing down a car. Eventually his dream of reviving the anime club seems to have been dashed — but in the process of meeting his new friends he unexpectedly develops an otaku-like passion for bikes and a new type of confidence. Onoda instead joins the biking team and finds himself on a path to discovering teamwork, exhaustion, victory and friendship like he’s never experienced before.
Watanabe’s storytelling and style are head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to new manga. His characters are as diverse in personality as they are in looks, and he weaves exciting tales of growing friendships and loving rivalries that are both thrilling and heart-warming. Although his artwork appears awkward at first, his fresh choices when stylizing his characters are consistent, lively and unique, allowing for a perfect range of emotion and movement as he shows us these high-speed races. If you enjoy Yowamushi Pedal make sure to check out similar titles like The Prince of Tennis, Big Windup, Cross Game and Fantasy Sports.
Yo-Kai Watch is poised to become the next Pokemon! The Nintendo 3DS game about tracking and befriending cute little Japanese folklore-inspired ghosts has landed stateside and brought with it an anime show and a manga series. Kids everywhere can get their Yo-Kai fill no matter their preferred medium.
In the first volume of the manga, Yo-Kai Watch hero Nate Adams — an ordinary elementary school student — is on his way home one afternoon when he happens across a capsule machine made of stone. To Nate’s surprise, the machine still works and grants him a stone capsule. At first he feels slightly underwhelmed by the rock, but then it goes nuts and poofs out a floaty, unibrowed, blue Yo-Kai called Whisper.
Whisper is super grateful for being freed and pledges to serve Nate as his personal butler. He even gifts Nate a swanky watch...a Yo-Kai watch! The watch emits a special light that reveals the otherwise invisible Yo-Kai to its wearer, which Nate quickly realizes makes him his look like a crazy kid as he converses with his invisible familiar in front of his friends and family.
It’s for the greater good, though. Each chapter pits Nate and Whisper against a mischievous Yo-Kai hounding people around town. First is Jibanyan, a fiery two-tailed cat who vows to get revenge on the car that ran him over. Then there’s Happierre and Dismarelda, two bulbous spirits who alter the moods of everyone and everything around them but balance one another quite perfectly. Next comes Mochismo, an animated rice cake who haunts a child who never finishes his rice cakes whenever he’s treated to them. That’s not even all of the Yo-Kai Nate meets in volume one — they’re everywhere!
Children who know and love every last Pokemon or teens who grew up with the critters should definitely check out Yo-Kai Watch.
In the world of manga there are few titles more renowned — and more confusing — than that of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki. It’s a story told in multiple arcs that could be read as stand-alone stories, yet are all connected by the characters and events that take place. The origin of the adventure is called Phantom Blood, a story told in volumes 1-3. Phantom Blood is set in a roughly historical timeframe in a location more or less resembling England. We begin the tale by meeting our hero Jonathan Joestar (nicknamed JoJo), a schoolboy living a carefree life with his wealthy and kind-hearted father. Everything turns south for JoJo, however, when young Dio Brando claims rights to his father’s guardianship. Instead of the playmate and friend naïve JoJo had been hoping for, Dio is determined, for no apparent reason, to take away everything good in his life — his father’s love, his faithful dog, and even the first kiss from his sweetheart. Araki’s dialogue rings out strange and memorable even translated from its original Japanese as Dio triumphantly cries “You thought your first kiss would be JoJo, but it was me, Dio!”
Events quickly escalate from childhood squabbles. As they do, an ancient stone mask with a terrible curse to bear finds its way into Dio’s hands, turning his rivalry with JoJo from a man to man duel to a cataclysmic event involving torture chambers, Jack the Ripper, vampires, the zombie apocalypse, dismemberment, ancient sun magic, hair fights (what?) and, of course, exploding boats. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure never once fails to deliver on its titular promise — it is bizarre. Araki’s highly stylized and exaggerated illustration hails from what is now considered old-school manga — Phantom Blood may have been released as English language volumes in 2015, but its original serialization in Japan began in 1987. There’s a certain stiffness and ridiculousness to the overly muscled characters that does not always seem intentionally comedic. At the same time, each event taking place is so over the top it’s nothing but the most fitting style. Once you become acclimated to the universe, there’s an undeniable and surprising tenderness to the story and characters, and JoJo and Dio become almost self-aware in their roles of light and dark against each other.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is for any reader looking to pick up something different, something very, very different. It more than delivers.
High school heartthrob Sakamoto is unflappable. In Nami Sano’s new manga series Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, he evades a bevy of traps set by his fellow schoolmates and keeps the flocks of smitten girls in check like a true gentleman, all while aiding his less popular classmates. Throughout the premiere volume, he remains upstanding as he helps his classmates, teachers and even the bullies who target him, with his seemingly endless repertoire of “secret skills.” Sakamoto has an ability for every occasion and deploys them only once he tires of toying with his adversaries.
When a group of jealous dudes rigs a dusty eraser to fall on Sakamoto as he enters the classroom, he catches it without even looking. In the bathroom, the pranksters hurl buckets of water over the walls of the stall Sakamoto occupies, but he already has his fashionable umbrella open. When he gets back to class he discovers his desk is missing, so he makes the best of it by lounging on the windowsill and letting the sun illuminate his alabaster skin and the breeze whisper through his hair.
There’s just no getting to Sakamoto. After witnessing a guy surrendering his lunch money to a group of bullies, Sakamoto becomes his self-appointed mentor and gets them both jobs at a fast food joint. Together, they man the grill and fry stations during busy weeknights, and Sakamoto’s student begins to develop a sense of pride derived from his newfound work ethic.
Handsome, charming, selfless, witty...Sakamoto has so much going for him; so much that it makes readers wonder whether he’s even human. Readers who enjoy shonen manga will enjoy the satire in the first volume of Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, and readers who are more partial to rom-coms will be head over heels for the titular character.
One-Punch Man is just the best, and that’s his problem. Following the adventures of Saitama, “a guy who’s a hero for fun,” this hit Japanese series by writer ONE and artist Yusuke Murata is debuting stateside simultaneously as a manga as well as an anime streaming on Hulu.
The book follows a pretty simple premise: Saitama is a hero who trained so hard that his hair fell out, and now he can beat anybody with just one punch. Unfortunately, Saitama also discovers that without the risk of defeat, fighting evildoers has become a reluctant chore. Now, instead of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, he wanders listlessly from farmers market to farmers market, looking for sales and pining for a fight that isn’t over in one punch.
Despite his reluctance, Saitama’s abilities get him dragged into all kinds of unlikely scenarios. A man who gains crablike powers after eating too much seafood goes on a rampage! Mosquito season turns out to be the work of an anthropomorphic bug woman! Skinhead terrorists cause baldness to go out of style! Saitama even gets roped into training a pupil, the angst-y cyborg Genos, whose hilariously lengthy origin story is in desperate need of an editor.
In a season where it’s hard to avoid three-hour superhero slugfests, this series is a breath of fresh air. It’s skewering humor and clever satirization is sure to appeal to both superhero fans and haters alike.
Having won the 2015 Eisner Award for both “Best New Series” and “Best Publication for Teens,” Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen, is a series to keep an eye on. The Lumberjanes, a group of five snappy scouts at a camp for “Hardcore Lady Types,” are an endearing bunch whose wacky adventures are sure to elicit smiles.
The power of “Friendship to the Max” gets the girls through a number of sticky situations, ranging from dodging their strict cabin supervisor after hours to battling sea monsters armed only with their scrunchies. Yetis, were-bears and outhouses full of raptors aside, Lumberjanes is a book about friendship and individuality. April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley each have their own quirks and skills that, when combined, make for an unstoppable force of feel-good girl power.
Fans of other offbeat series like Adventure Time or Bee and PuppyCat will feel right at home with Lumberjanes. Allen’s artwork is stylized and modern, the action is exhilarating and the zany sense of humor has something to offer readers of all ages. The film rights have recently been picked up by 20th Century Fox, so read Lumberjanes soon before everyone else is wondering “what the Joan Jett” this series is all about!
Gotham Academy’s Olive Silverlock doesn’t pretend to be a slice of life protagonist. She’s a high school student at a gloomy Halloween-Castle-esque school in the heart of Gotham, dealing with hauntings, crocodiles in the pipework, mysterious and unwelcome cult meetings in the friendly campus mausoleum and, of course, semi-regular visits from Bruce Wayne himself. Authors Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher follow the creed of “start your story as late as possible” — although this is only volume one, Olive’s life is already in chaos as she deals with the outcome of her mysterious summer. Everyone seems to be whispering about what happened to her, and what it was that could be causing her to act so distant, even frightening. What connection does Olive’s new demeanor have to her mother, recently committed to Arkham Asylum? Will it strain her relationship with her boyfriend Kyle to the breaking point, or alienate his sister, chipper genius Maps? Don’t look for answers just yet, because the story’s just getting started.
Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy is teen experience expressed honestly and beautifully. With grounded yet fantastical writing and Karl Kerschl’s absorbing artwork, each page brings you fully into a wonderfully gothic and magical universe comparable to Narnia and Hogwarts. Kerschl’s environments especially should be commended, since he elevates each page to the style of classical painting with his detail, lighting and diverse color palettes.
Sam Bosma’s debut graphic novel Fantasy Sports is a late gift to any kid who felt gym class lacked a Tolkien-esque quality.
Fantasy Sports introduces us to Wiz, a young magician beginning her internship in the mage’s guild under the tutelage of the older, grumpier Mean Mug. It’s not going great. They don’t get along, and Wiz is less than thrilled that Mean Mug doesn’t seem to know any magic. But after a chewing out from their supervisor, the two are sent to prove themselves on a treasure hunt in a mummy’s tomb. This leads them to evil skeletons, magic puzzles and a basketball game with a smack-talking mummy (of course).
Similar to Scott Pilgrim or Adventure Time, this book mixes the tropes of fantasy and video games with the heightened drama of adolescence. Like peanut butter and chocolate, it works like a charm. Although a couple of crude remarks make this book inappropriate for young children, older readers will find it infectiously fun. You’ll feel yourself swept back to a time when a friendly game of basketball had the life-or-death stakes of a boss battle.
Popular even before it was complete, award-winning before it was published, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is a unique debut graphic novel about heroes, villains, monsters and peeling off those labels to see the people underneath. Our story begins when longtime supervillain Ballister Blackheart receives an unexpected visitor in his secret lair — stout little Nimona, a young and eccentric shape-shifter who insists on becoming his evil sidekick. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Nimona’s commitment to evil might be a little more heartfelt than Blackheart’s, and the question of which side of the fight is truly righteous comes into question not too long after.
Emotional backstory, in-depth character writing, a complex, strangely believable fantasy universe that combines medieval-style armor with apparatus of science fiction are all to be found in Nimona. Stevenson’s cartooning style, often praised for its expressive energy and humor, proves equally effective when expressing the dark, dismal and threatening — and a cool shadow dragon or two. LGBT readers can take note of the warm handling of the gay relationship in the book as well. It is written so subtly it has the effect of normalizing the subject rather than pointing aggressive arrows towards it.
After working on her last series for four years, mangaka — that’s someone who writes and illustrates manga — Go Ikeyamada has a super-fun and adorable new series called So Cute It Hurts!! The first volume of So Cute It Hurts!! follows identical twins Megumu and Mitsuru Kobayashi as they meet their first real high school crushes at the same time. Apparently, it’s a twin thing.
Megumu, or Mego for short, is a hapless history otaku who knows everything about Japan’s feudal warlords. Mitsuru is really good with a kendo sword and fights for his school team, but he’s even better with the ladies from the visiting schools. While his body is agile, his mind is not so sharp, and he’s bombing his history class. Knowing that his sis is well-versed in Japanese lore, he asks her to swap clothes with him and go to his all-boys school to take a test and save his grade. Mego likes her brother, but not enough to agree to such a hackneyed scheme.
When she wakes up the next day, Mego finds a wig and a note from Mitsuru in her room and realizes that he’s already absconded with her books and school uniform. Begrudgingly, she equips his slacks and hoodie and heads to his school, only to be accosted by the third toughest guy in the entire student body. Meanwhile, Mitsuru, dressed as Mego — “I’m so cute it hurts!!” — witnesses the class beauty tormenting a girl for being different, and can’t help but intervene. Neither Kobayashi twin realizes they’re about to meet the person of their dreams, but as their school days progress they draw closer to the fateful encounters that’ll leave them breathless and starry-eyed.
So Cute It Hurts!! is filled with lots of manga in-jokes that fans of the medium will appreciate, but newcomers will still laugh out loud at the silliness of the plot and the situations in which the twins find themselves. Ikeyamada’s art mixes traditional anime styles with adorable chibi stand-ins on nearly every page, giving the story a very light-hearted feel. So Cute It Hurts!! is shaping up to be a great teenaged romantic comedy that manga fans should definitely check out.