2010 Manga Gift Guide

Here are my picks for manga to give to people this holiday season! Here’s my guide from last year, in case you’re curious about my previous picks.

We’re lucky to be living in an age of awesome omnibus editions, and I think they make awesome gifts for manga fans. The books on this list are suitable for teens and adults, I didn’t read a ton of all ages manga this year.

For the fan of classic shoujo:

I don’t think it gets much better than the Dark Horse Clamp Omnibus releases. Some of the more recent Clamp series leave me a little cold, but it is hard to recapture the charm and whimsy of the original Cardcaptor Sakura. With plenty of outfit changes, a tarot card-inspired magical quest, and puppy-love crushes popping up everywhere, Cardcaptor Sakura is a must read for any fan of shoujo fantasy. I tend to be merciless about culling my collection if I have older volumes when I know I’m going to buy the same manga in a deluxe edition, so I don’t have my old stray volumes of the original Tokyopop release. I can’t compare the old and new translations, but I do appreciate the great paper quality of the new Dark Horse edition, as well as all the bonus color illustrations included in this volume. I’m looking forward to collecting the rest of this series.

Itazura na Kiss came out last November, but I didn’t read it until 2010 so I’m including it in this gift guide. The dim-witted heroine with lots of heart is a shoujo staple, and sometimes such a cliched character type can be a little annoying. However, one of the reasons why so many lazy mangaka turn to this character type is the classic and hilarious portrayal of Kotoko in Itazura Na Kiss. Kotoko’s hopeless and all-consuming love for the epitome of Japanese eliteness Irie inspires sympathy in me as opposed to resignation. Kaoru Tada surrounds her odd couple with a large and hilarious supporting cast, making Itazura Na Kiss much more interesting than you might think for a story that follows the romance of a nice but simple girl and her chosen snobbish but intelligent guy.

For the shoujo fan who has everything:

One of my pleasant discoveries late in the year was the omnibus edition of Toru Fujieda’s Dragon Girl. I enjoyed her series Oyayubihime Infinity from CMX, and Dragon Girl makes a slightly goofy premise (girl infiltrates a traditional Japanese cheering club) much more enjoyable than you might think. Rinna’s relentless pursuit of excellence in cheering and total lack of embarrassment even as some of her classmates attempt to pick on her are admirable, and Fujieda manages to create an interesting reverse harem story with plenty of humor. I’m looking forward to the second and concluding volume when it comes out later in the year, and I think the double omnibus edition will make a great addition to any fan of silly shoujo. I haven’t seen this title get as widely reviewed as other shoujo titles recently, so this is my under the radar new shoujo pick.

For the alternative comic fan:

If you know someone who tends to prefer alternative or indie comics, there are some manga out there that should appeal to them. Tops on the list is the Top Shelf anthology AX Volume 1. My full review is here, but the short version is that AX is a carefully curated anthology that gives the reader a new appreciation of the variety of storytelling and art styles that come out of the alternative comics scene in Japan. This would also be a great gift for the manga fan that appreciates volumes that fill in their knowledge of the history and development of the art form.

Other options would be almost anything from Viz’s Sigikki line which is filled with unique storytelling and distinctive art styles. My current favorites from this line are Children of the Sea, Afterschool Charisma, and House of Five Leaves. I think House of Five Leaves, with its slice of life account of a diffident ronin accidentally falling into a life of crime might appeal most to indie comic fans who are open to trying out some manga.

Fans of craziness in comic form – post apocalyptic sci-fi seinen version:

I’ve only read one volume of Biomega and I mean to track down the rest of the series at some point. However just from reading the first volume I wouldn’t hesitate recommending the title to anyone with a sense of humor who enjoys dark twisted science fiction. Tsutomu Nihei’s vision of the future is filled with stylish zombie fighters, abandoned places with interesting architecture, and a talking bear with a machine gun. I don’t think it gets much better than that. I can’t say that Biomega was terribly coherent, but the gorgeous art, creepy zombies, and the aforementioned talking bear with the machine gun goes a long way in satisfying me as a reader. Also: talking bear with machine gun.

Fans of craziness in comic form – cracktastic fantasy shoujo eye-candy version:

This was a really good year for shoujo. But the new series that immediately captured my attention was Demon Sacred, Natsumi Itsuki’s manga about mystical creatures from another dimension that manifest as unicorns and dragons, then take the form of super-hot idol singers when bonded to teenage girls. Add in the medical mystery surrounding the reverse-aging disease called Return Syndrome, a hot genius scientiic researcher, and angsty twin girls and you get one of the most genuinely crazy shoujo plots that I’ve seen since Moon Child. Priced at $5.99, it would be easy to pick up the first couple volumes for any fan of loopy shoujo series. While the first volume of Demon Sacred was a little dense, by the second volume I had given myself over to the craziness and I am eagerly looking forward to the third volume which is coming out at the end of the month, because I need another hit. Nope, this series isn’t addicting at all!

Shonen manga of the year:

I didn’t expect that I’d love Cross Game so much, but this slice-of-life story about a young baseball prodigy touches on issues kids face as they grow up with the baseball serving only as a backdrop. As the characters age and move up in school, they face challenges that go beyond just the baseball field. Ko is an engaging hero, and I’m genuinely curious to find out how he and his friends deal with the corrupt baseball coach at their high school. The three volume omnibus helps compensate for the slightly slow start to the series, but I appreciated being able to read a sports manga that showed time gradually passing for the characters.

Box Sets

Box sets might not be useful for established manga fans, but for newer fans who might not have collected the volumes yet, they could be a great way to get someone hooked.

Death Note Box Set (Vol. 1-13)

Vampire Knight Box Set

Fruits Basket, Vols. 1-4

As for what’s on my wish list, I’d probably want to fill in the gaps in some of the Viz signature series where I don’t have all the volumes, like getting the rest of Biomega, snagging volumes 2 and 3 of Children of the Sea, and the second volume of House of Five Leaves.

Happy Manga Shopping!

Dragon Girl Omnibus Volume 1

Dragon Girl Omnibus Volume 1 by Toru Fujieda

Some manga creators have the ability to make cliched stories so much better than they have a right to be. Toru Fujieda managed to make Oyayubihime Infinity, a convoluted shoujo series dealing with pop idols, reincarnation, and butterfly birthmarks, both involving and interesting. Dragon Girl is a fairly standard reverse harem manga mashed up with sports storylines and the always present evil student council, but the characters and situations she creates are genuinely endearing and funny.

The heroine of Dragon Girl is Rinna Aizen. She’s determined to join the Shoryu High Cheerleading Squad where her father was once a legendary captain. When little Rinna confesses her intention to a boy named Subaru, he tells her that she’s an idiot because Shoryu is an all-boys school. Years later Shoryu has been forced to go co-ed and Rinna is enrolling. She quickly finds out that the Cheerleading Squad of her dreams has fallen on rough times. The only member of the squad left is the eccentric captain Hasekura, who stalks around the school wearing his cheering uniform, along with a weedy mustache that he’s grown in an attempt to live up to his idea of manliness. The class president says that the Cheering Squad will be disbanded do to lack of members, and Rinna promptly volunteers. Hasekura is dubious about the prospect of female squad members, but Rinna is like an exceptionally cute, energetic steamroller and soon there’s a ragtag squad of students learning traditional cheers and fighting to get their club status returned. The evil student council tries to stamp out the Cheering Squad and attempts to make Rinna into a pawn by giving her “Platinum Student” status.

Fujieda has a knack for creating sympathetic but slightly quirky characters. In some ways Rinna is a typical energetic shoujo heroine, but what sets her apart is her admirable quality of total commitment to cheering, and her fearless approach to throwing herself into situations that others might find embarrassing. She approaches chicken fights, waving improvised flags, friend trivia contests, and trying to win over fellow Platinum student with the same amount of cheerful determination. Even though there’s a large supporting cast, they all had distinct personalities. Hasekura acts like a ridiculous manly stereotype, but his feelings towards Rinna evolve from grudging respect into something more. Rinna’s fellow cheer squad members include the cool Chizuri and Temari who has a pathological fear of men. Rinna’s first love Sakura makes a couple enigmatic appearances as a model-like boy who goes everywhere with his pet cat. Rinna’s antagonists include the evil student council president, a crossdressing boy who forms a rival cheerleading squad, and a Platinum student named Yaotome who deliberately holds himself apart from other people and claims to hate women.

Dragon Girl is a total reverse harem series with a large cast of cute, goofy and mysterious guys. Fujieda’s distinct and attractive character designs make the art a pleasure to look at. The details about traditional cheering were interesting, and like most Yen Press editions there were translation notes included at the end of each volume. After reading three volumes of this series I wasn’t sure who I wanted Rinna to end up with, and I could see different possibilities for a potential boyfriend for her, which I think is a sign of a good reverse harem series. It might not be groundbreaking shoujo, but for what it is Dragon Girl does extremely well. It was fun being able to dive into the story and read three volumes all at once. I will be definitely be buying the second omnibus which wraps up the series. Highly recommended if you are looking for some new fluffy shoujo to read.