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.
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.
Writer Reki Kawahara and designer abec have experienced unbridled success in the past half-decade with their original series Sword Art Online. In 2009, the first SAO light novel about virtual reality video games with real-life implications was released. The novel has since been expanded to 15 volumes and has spawned two seasons worth of anime, three PlayStation games, a handful of mobile games and eight manga adaptations. The most recent manga book to arrive stateside is Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops, and it’s just as fun and endearing as the original SAO. It’s definitely cuter, too.
In SAO:GO, series favorites Suguha, Rika and Keiko are coping pretty well with the aftermath of the Aincrad tragedy, and are still just as hopelessly addicted to online gaming as ever. The trio play the new VRMMO Alfheim Online religiously, and are ecstatic to find a new add-on quest has arrived after a long day at the SAO returnees school. Dubbed “the Angel’s Whisper Rings,” the adventure has the young ladies aiding an angel in strife while proving their devotion to one another to earn powerful rings of friendship.
The three dive into Alfeim Online ready to take on the new high-level quest as their avatars Leafa, Silica and Lisbeth, using their previous experience with the angel in SAO as a starting point. On their way to find her, the trio encounters a familiar dual-wielding swordsman clad in a midnight-black coat. Fans of the series will know it’s fate that unites the girls with this swordsman, but will never foresee the impending twist that makes SAO:GO an enjoyable departure from the previous SAO adventures.
SAO:GO is a quirky, adorable spinoff of the Japanese megahit Sword Art Online. Readers who have enjoyed SAO arcs Aincrad, Fairy Dance and Progressive will find so much to love about Girls’ Ops. Gamers and anime fans alike should also check this out.
Virginia Boecker was able to cross an item off her bucket list when she published her debut novel The Witch Hunter. As an English history buff, Boecker was spending time in London when she was inspired to write the novel. Though this story takes place in a very different world, where witches and other paranormal creatures are common place, the setting is reminiscent of old world England.
It’s 1558, in a place known as Anglia, where witches and other creatures are pitted against the monarchy for the right to live and practice their beliefs freely. The country is divided with many wanting to see witchcraft practiced openly. King Malcom and his grand inquisitor do all they can to eradicate witches and witchcraft by having a small and elite band of witch hunters that tracks and captures witches who are later burned alive.
By day, Elizabeth Grey is a servant in the kitchen. By night, she is one of the king’s most capable witch hunters. When she is caught with a collection of suspicious herbs, she is arrested as a witch. It’s while she sits rotting in a cell and awaiting her execution that she finds an unlikely ally who leads her to question her black and white world. Could it be that she has been manipulated by the very people she trusts the most, or is she simply being misled?
This young adult novel is a wicked mashup of genres, from romance to adventure, with a healthy dose of historical paranormal fiction to tie it all together. If this is your magical brew, look to Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes for another gripping historical paranormal fantasy with a strong female protagonist, who also has a tendency to challenge authority.
A.J. Steiger’s debut novel Mindwalker is a futuristic dystopian novel geared toward young adults. Steiger received a fiction writing degree from Columbia University—so while this is her first novel, she’s no stranger to the writing process.
Mindwalker takes place in a future dictated by psychologists who determine people's mental stability, and their "class" in the U.S. region as a result. “Type ones” are mentally stable and given every opportunity that society has to offer. On the other end of the spectrum, “type fours” could be a danger to society, so they are fitted with collars and liberally given pills to facilitate suicide. Though this creates a society with less crime and violence, people live in a constant state of anxiety. Anything they do or say could cause their type to go up and their potential to go down. If a person’s type does go up, they can lower it by agreeing to mental reconditioning.
One form of reconditioning is known as mindwalking. A Mindwalker is a person with the ability to see into someone's mind and, at their request, remove traumatic memories in order to help them live a more fulfilling life. The novel’s protagonist, Lain, is a Mindwalker. She was passionate about her job and believed it to be completely rewarding until a fellow student, Steven, asked for a favor. When Lain finds that Steven's memories don't match reality, Lain begins asking questions that challenge her principles and make her question the whole structure of society.
With thought-provoking ideas regarding self-perception, plus a healthy dose of action, this dystopian romance is a quick read. For those who are hooked by the unique plot, its sequel Mindstormer is expected to be released next June. If you just can’t wait till then, look to Plus One by Elizabeth Fama for equal amounts of dystopian romance and action.
An Ember in the Ashes is a deftly written debut novel by Sabaa Tahir, a promising new author not to be ignored. With alternating chapters, this teen novel skillfully intertwines the lives of two young people living in a martial society.
The book opens with Laia, a member of the colonized Scholar society. Though they’re called Scholars, these people have been beaten down and denied their heritage to the point that people are no longer even taught to read. When Laia’s home is invaded by law enforcement, her life is forever changed. She’s put on a path to go against her demure disposition and rally to save the only family she has left.
On the other end of this society, we follow Elias as he completes his training to become a “Mask.” Masks are the highest form of defense in the Serra community. They are both feared and revered. As a Mask, Elias is trained to be a graceful killing machine, a skill which disgusts him to the point that he contemplates desertion.
The setting and power struggles of this book are reminiscent of Game of Thrones while the trials that Elias faces are evocative of the Hunger Games or Divergent. Despite this book being suggestive of these other series, Tahir creates a unique and captivating read that is hard to put down.
The first in a planned trilogy, The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall is the start to a fast-paced thriller series that readers won’t be able to put down. When the book begins, Avery West is a fairly typical teenager, with the exception of the all-too-frequent moves she and her mom make for her mom’s job. However, when Jack Bishop shows up at her high school and asks her to prom, her whole life changes in a way she never would have expected.
What should be a happy moment in her school year is turned upside down when Jack reveals that her absent father's family is incredibly powerful and a part of a secret society, the Circle, that dates back to the time of Alexander the Great. Avery learns that the Circle controls many of the world’s governing bodies and has extreme power in other areas as well, which she witnesses first hand. She’s whisked away to Paris, and the Circle shuts down Prada so she can shop by herself for an afternoon. As Avery learns more about her family background and the secret society they’re a part of, she is drawn even deeper into the Circle’s lore. Meanwhile, Jack begins to realize Avery’s importance to the Circle, leading the two on a whirlwind, worldwide adventure.
The Conspiracy of Us is filled with mystery, suspense and romance. Maggie Hall has created a story that will delight readers looking for a new thriller. Check out Hall’s Pinterest account for a fun board of inspiration for the fashion and travel locations for the series.
Lish McBride, author of the teen series Necromancer, has come out with a new young adult novel titled Firebug. This preternatural pleasure is equal parts Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and Firestarter by Stephen King. Start with a young girl who has the ability to create fire with her mind, and mix in a love triangle and a sinister paranormal mob. The result is a fast-paced romp that’s hard to put down.
After Ava’s mother is killed by the Coterie, an organization that governs paranormal citizens, Ava is forcibly enlisted as a hitwoman by the same organization. Her talents and affiliations have limited her circle of friends to her guardian, Cade, and her two partners, Ezra and Lock. When the leader of the Coterie, a vampire named Venus, threatens her last remaining family, Ava balks and starts a fight that just may be too big to win.
Morris Award-nominated McBride created a page-turner in this first installment of her new series. The combination of action, drama and witty banter is sure to leave you wanting more.
Former intelligence officer Amber Lough is trying her hand as an author of young adult fantasy with The Fire Wish. The backdrop for this book is the Middle East in a time full of mysticism and intrigue. The humans live in and around Baghdad while the jinni population inhabits a sprawling underground cavern.
The chapters of this novel alternate between two 16-year-old girls, Zayele and Najwa. Zayele’s father arranged for her to marry Kamal and become a princess of Baghdad, but the prospect of living this sheltered existence seems stifling to her free-spirited tendencies. In what seems like another world, Najwa is weighed down with responsibility and, while she is ready to rise to the occasion, she finds her abilities suppressed by the elders in her community. Both girls are caught in a war between the jinni and the humans. When the desperate Zayele makes an impulsive wish, it forever alters both of their lives and connects them in ways they never thought possible.
The Fire Wish is the first installment of Lough’s new series, and this dual perspective, fast paced fantasy contains everything from action and adventure to romance. Fans of Cinda Williams Chima’s The Demon King will surely find this book just as magical.
In 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic had such a profoundly devastating impact that drastic measures had to be taken to stem the infection, Elizabeth Fama’s new young adult novel Plus One covers this period in history. To keep up with the additional demands brought on by the pandemic, many more medical professionals were brought in and worked in shifts divided by night and day. This dual system worked so well in the medical field that it was integrated into other industries and finally the government.
Though the system was first designed with equality in mind, over time things changed. Day became the sought after curfew, offering better jobs and more economic advantages. Sol wanted nothing more than for her grandfather to see his first grand baby, but with her brother being day and she and her grandfather being night, the task was almost insurmountable.
Sol had almost no plan when she set out on her mission, so it was no surprise that an adventure ensues. This young adult novel follows Sol as she is betrayed by someone she’s supposed to love, loves someone she’s expected to hate and finds strength in unlikely places. Fama creates a fast-paced and compelling story with compassionate characters and an unexpected ending. Fans of the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth should check out this standalone dystopian novel.