The 25 Best Manga Series to read now. All of these titles are big in Japan, but many are also popular throughout the world. Highly recommended reading!
Written by: Takehiko Inoue
Year of release: 1998
Based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel Musashi, Vagabond portrays a fictionalized account of the life of Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Growing up in the late 16th century Sengoku era Japan, Shinmen TakezÅ is shunned by the local villagers as a devil child due to his wild and violent nature. Running away from home with a fellow boy at age 17, Takezo joins the Toyotomi army to fight the Tokugawa clan at the Battle of Sekigahara. However, the Tokugawa win a crushing victory, leading to nearly three hundred years of Shogunate rule. Takezo and his friend manage to survive the battle and afterwards swear to do great things with their lives. However, after their paths separate, Takezo becomes a wanted criminal and must change his name and his nature in order to escape an ignoble death.
24. Kimi ni Todoke
Written by: Karuho Shiina
Year of release: 2005 (ongoing)
Sawako Kuronuma – dubbed Sadako by her classmates for her resemblance to the character from The Ring – has always been feared and misunderstood because of her appearance; rumors around school report that she can see ghosts and curse people. However, despite her ominous appearance, she is actually a sweet and timid girl who only longs to be able to make friends and be liked by everyone else. When her idol, the popular boy Kazehaya, begins talking with her, everything changes. She finds herself in a new world, making new friends and talking to different people, and she can’t thank Kazehaya enough for giving her these opportunities. Slowly, but surely, a sweet love blossoms between the two as they overcome circumstances and obstacles that stand in their way.
23. Mahou Sensei Negima!
Written by: Ken Akamatsu
Year of release: 2003
Negi Springfield is a ten-year-old wizard from Wales, who dreams of becoming a Magister Magi (“Master Mage”), a special wizard who uses his powers to help normal people, using covers such as working for NGOs. Negi’s reason for becoming a Magister Magi is to find his father, Nagi Springfield, the legendary mage also known as the “Thousand Master”, who is believed to be dead.
After graduating from the Merdiana Magic Academy in Wales, Negi is given a duty as a cover in the real world, and training, before he actually becomes a Magister Magi. That duty is to become an English teacher at Mahora Academy in Japan. The task will not be easy, however, as Negi will become a teacher to a Middle School class of 31 older girls, each very special in her own way. The series details his time and adventures in Japan as he gains acceptance and respect from his students, helps them in their problems, and faces magical threats from inside and outside Mahora Academy. Although each of the girls has her own back story and personality, Negi’s main relationship is with Asuna Kagurazaka, his student and roommate, who dislikes him initially but later accepts him as a friend and becomes his partner, helping find clues about his father and his life.
Written by: Kentaro Miura
Year of release: 1990 (ongoing)
This manga series is written and illustrated by Kentaro Miura. Set in a medieval Europe-inspired fantasy world, the story centers on the characters of Guts, an orphaned mercenary, and Griffith, the leader of a mercenary band called the Band of the Hawk (Taka no Dan). Themes of isolation, camaraderie, and the question of whether humanity is fundamentally good or evil pervade the story, as it explores both the best and worst of human nature. Both the manga and anime are noted for their heavy violence. The series was adapted into a twenty-five episode anime series covering the series’ first story arc by Oriental Light and Magic from October 7, 1997 to March 31, 1998. A series of films were released, beginning with Berserk Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King on February 4, 2012, as part of an effort to adapt the entire manga series.
21. Hana-Yori Dango
Written by: Yoko Kamio
Year of release: 1992
Hana yori Dango (Boys [preferred] Over Flower) is the story of Makino Tsukushi, a 16 year old girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is a student at Eitoku Gakuen, a very exclusive school that is attended by the richest of society’s children. Tsukushi, shy at first, feels uncomfortable and out of place amongst the rich, snobby kids at her school and she cannot wait until the time, two years later, when she will graduate. However despite finding a new friend to talk to at school, Tsukushi’s problems at Eitoku take a sudden turn for the worse when she crosses the path of the F4.
The F4 are the 4 richest guys at Eitoku Gakuen, and for all intents and purposes, they rule the school. They wander around the campus unchallenged by teacher or student, they flaunt the school dress code by not wearing their uniforms, and never seem to go to class is a Japanese shÅjo manga series written and illustrated by Yoko Kamio. The story is set in Eitoku Academy, an elite school for children from rich families. It follows lead protagonist Tsukushi Makino, a student from a working-class family, and the members of Eitoku Academy’s elite Flower Four, commonly known as the “F4″.
20. Initial D
Written by: Shuichi Shigeno
Year of release: 1995
The story of Initial D focuses on the world of illegal Japanese street racing, where all the action is concentrated in the mountain passes and rarely in cities or urban areas, and with the drift racing style emphasized in particular. Professional race car driver and pioneer of drifting Keiichi Tsuchiya helps with editorial supervision. The story is centered on the prefecture of Gunma, more specifically on several mountains in the KantÅ region and in their surrounding cities and towns. Although some of the names of the locations the characters race in have been fictionalized, all of the locations in the series are based on actual locations in Japan. It has been adapted into several television anime and original video animations series released in 2005. Both the manga and anime series were initially licensed for English-language distribution in North America by Tokyopop (2002â€“2009). The anime license has since been picked up by Funimation Entertainment, while the manga is no longer available in English.
19. Oh My Goddess! / Aa! Megami-sama
Written by: KÅsuke Fujishima
Year of release: 1988
Published in Japanese seinen manga anthology magazine “Monthly Afternoon” since 1988, the story of Oh My Goddess! focuses on Keiichi Morisato, a good-natured, yet hapless and girlfriend-less college sophomore whose life takes a turn to the unexpected when he accidentally calls the Goddess Technical Help Line and a beautiful goddess named Belldandy materializes in his room. She tells him that her agency has received a system request from him, so she has been sent to grant him a single wish. Skeptical and thinking someone is playing a practical joke on him, he wishes that she stay with him forever, and to his surprise, his wish is granted. The Oh My Goddess! universe is fashioned loosely around Celtic/Norse Mythology; various names and concepts are recycled for humor. Three worlds exist in the Universe of Oh My Goddess: Heaven, Hell, and Earth. Heaven is the realm of the All Mighty and goddesses, Hell is the realm of Hild and demons, and Earth is the realm of humans. Reality is controlled by an enormous and complex computer system, named Yggdrasil.
18. Death Note
Written by: Tsugumi Ohba
Year of release: 2003
Created by writer Tsugumi Ohba and manga illustrator Takeshi Obata, the story of Death Note centers on Light Yagami, a high school student who discovers a supernatural notebook, the titular “Death Note”. This notebook grants its user the ability to kill anyone whose name and face they know. The series centers around Light’s subsequent attempts to create and rule a world “cleansed of evil” as “God” using the notebook, and the efforts of a detective known as L to stop him.
Written by: Ai Yazawa
Year of release: 2000
First released in 2000 NANA became a very popular manga series especially among female audiences. The manga derives its title from the name of the two main characters, both of whom are called Nana. Nana Komatsu is a small town girl who goes to Tokyo to follow her boyfriend and college friends, with the hope of having her dream life. Nana Osaki was in a popular punk band in her home town. She goes to Tokyo with the goal of making it big as a singer. The two Nanas meet on the train ride to the city. Later, they run into each other again when they happen to check out the same apartment, and the girls decide to become roommates. The series chronicles their friendship and their lives as each chases her dreams.
16. Black Jack
Written by: Osamu Tezuka
Year of release: 1973
Black Jack has also been animated into an OVA, two television series (directed by Tezuka’s son Makoto Tezuka) and two films. Black Jack is Tezuka’s third most famous manga, after Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. Most of the stories involve Black Jack doing some good deed, for which he rarely gets recognition â€” often curing the poor and destitute for free, or teaching the arrogant a lesson in humility. They sometimes end with a good, humane person enduring hardship, often unavoidable death, to save others.
Written by: Masashi Kishimoto
Year of release: 1999
The Manga tells the story of Naruto Uzumaki, an adolescent ninja who constantly searches for recognition and dreams to become the Hokage, the ninja in his village who is acknowledged as the leader and the strongest of all. Naruto is one of the best-selling manga series in history, having sold more than 130 million copies in Japan alone. Directed by Hayato Date and produced by Studio Pierrot and TV Tokyo, the Naruto anime adaptation premiered in Japan on TV Tokyo October 3, 2002, and ran for 220 episodes until its conclusion on February 8, 2007.
14. Rurouni Kenshin
Written by: Nobuhiro Watsuki
Year of release: 1994
Written by Nobuhiro Watsuki, Rurouni Kenshin has been highly popular, having sold over 55 million copies in Japan alone as of February 2012, making it one of Shueisha’s best-selling manga series. The story takes place during the early Meiji period in Japan and follows a former assassin from the Bakumatsu, named Himura Kenshin, who becomes a wanderer to protect the people of Japan. Watsuki wrote this series upon his desire of making a shÅnen manga different from the other ones that were published at the time, with Kenshin being a former assassin and the story taking a more serious tone as it continued. The manga revolves around themes of atonement, peace, and romance.
Written by: Tite Kubo
Year of release: 2001
Bleach follows the adventures of Ichigo Kurosaki after he obtains the powers of a Soul Reaper (Shinigami, literally, “Death God”) â€”a death personification similar to the Grim Reaperâ€”from another Soul Reaper, Rukia Kuchiki. After entering the soul society, a parallel world, where dangerous lost souls (Hollows) consume other souls, Ichigos’s newfound powers force him to take on the duties of defending humans from evil spirits and guiding departed souls to the afterlife.
12. GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka)
Written by: Tooru Fujisawa
Year of release: 1997
The story focuses on 22-year-old ex-gang member Eikichi Onizuka, who becomes a teacher at a private middle school, Holy Forest Academy, in Tokyo, Japan. It won the 1998 Kodansha Manga Award for shÅnen and is a continuation of Tohru Fujisawa’s other manga series Shonan Junai Gumi (lit. “ShÅnan True Love Group”) and Bad Company, both of which focus on the life of Onizuka before he becomes a teacher in Great Teacher Onizuka.
11. Fullmetal Alchemist
Written by: Hiromu Arakawa
Year of release: 2001
The world of Fullmetal Alchemist is styled after the European Industrial Revolution. Set in a fictional universe in which alchemy is one of the most advanced scientific techniques, the story follows the Elric brothers Edward and Alphonse, who are searching for a philosopher’s stone to restore their bodies after a failed attempt to bring their mother back to life using alchemy.
10. Fist of the North Star
Written by: Buronson (Sho Fumimura)
Year of release: 1983
Set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by a nuclear war, the story centers around a warrior named Kenshiro, the successor of a deadly martial art style known as Hokuto Shinken, which gives him the ability to kill most adversaries from within through the use of the human body’s secret vital points, often resulting in an exceptionally violent and gory death. Kenshiro dedicates his life to fighting against the various ravagers who threaten the lives of the weak and innocent, as well as rival martial artists, including his own “brothers” from the same clan.
9. Slam Dunk
Written by: Takehiko Inoue
Year of release: 1990
Hanamichi Sakuragi is a delinquent outcast and leader of a gang. Sakuragi, being very unpopular with girls, has been rejected by them 50 times. In his first year at Shohoku High School, he finds out that Haruko Akagi is the girl of his dreams, and is happy when she is not scared of him like all the other girls he has asked out. Haruko Akagi, who recognizes Sakuragi’s athleticism, introduces him to the Shohoku basketball team. Sakuragi was reluctant to join the team at first because he had no previous background in any sports and thought that basketball was a game for losers (also because the 50th girl rejected him for a basketball player). Sakuragi, despite his immaturity and hot temper, proves to be a natural athlete with potential and joins the team in order to impress Haruko and prove that he is worthy of her. Later on, Sakuragi realizes that his love for the sport equals that of his crush on Haruko. Kaede Rukawa â€” Sakuragi’s bitter rival (both on the basketball court and love, even when Rukawa doesn’t acknowledge Haruko’s crush on him), the star rookie and a “girl magnet” â€” joins the team at the same time. Hisashi Mitsui, an ex-junior high school MVP, and Ryota Miyagi, a short but fast player, both also rejoin the team and together these four struggle to complete team captain Takenori Akagi’s dream of making Shohoku the national champion. Together, these misfits gain publicity and the once little known Shohoku basketball team becomes an all-star contender in Japan.
8. Hunter X Hunter
Written by: Manga
Year of release: 1998 (ongoing)
The story focuses on a young boy named Gon, who discovers that his father, whom he was told was dead, is actually alive and well. He learns that his father, Ging, is a world-renowned Hunter: a licensed profession for those who specialize in fantastic pursuits such as locating rare or unidentified animal species, treasure hunting, surveying unexplored enclaves, or hunting down lawless individuals. Despite Ging having left his son with his relatives in order to pursue his own dreams, Gon departs upon a journey to follow in his father’s footsteps, pass the rigorous Hunter Examination, and eventually find his father. Along the way, Gon meets various other kinds of Hunters and also encounters the paranormal.
7. Detective Conan
Written by: Gosho Aoyama
Year of release: 1994 (ongoing)
Jimmy Kudo is a high school detective who helps the police solve cases. During an investigation, he is attacked by Gin and Vodka who belong to a syndicate known as the Black Organization. They force him to ingest an experimental poison called APTX 4869 to kill him without leaving evidence. A rare side-effect of the poison, however, transforms him into a child instead of killing him. Adopting the pseudonym Conan Edogawa, Kudo hides his identity to investigate the Black Organization.Later, Shiho Miyano, a member of the Black Organization and creator of APTX 4869, tries to leave the syndicate after her sister’s death but is captured. She attempts suicide by ingesting APTX 4869, and like Kudo, is transformed into a child. She escapes and enrolls in Conan’s school under a pseudonym, Anita Hailey. During a rare encounter with the Black Organization, Conan helps the FBI plant a CIA agent, Kir, inside the Black Organization as an undercover spy.
Written by: Hideaki Sorachi
Year of release: 2003
Set in Edo which has been conquered by aliens named Amanto, the plot follows life from the point of view of samurai Gintoki Sakata, who works as a freelancer alongside his friends Shinpachi Shimura and Kagura in order to pay the monthly rent. Sorachi added the science fiction setting to develop characters to his liking after his editor suggested doing a historical series.
In Japan, the Gintama manga has been popular, selling over 44 million volumes as of July 2013. Positive response have focused on the comedy and characters from the series, while negative responses concern the manga’s artwork.
5. Ranma 1/2
Written by: Rumiko Takahashi
Year of release: 1987
Ranma 1/2 (“Ranma Nibun-no-Ichi” in Japanese) tells a story of a 16-year old boy named Ranma Saotome who was trained from early childhood in martial arts. As a result of an accident during a training journey, he is cursed to become a girl when splashed with cold water, while hot water changes him back into a boy. The manga has a comedic formula and a sex changing main character, who often willfully changes into a girl to advance his goals. The series also contains many other characters, whose intricate relationships with each other, unusual characteristics and eccentric personalities drive most of the stories. Although the characters and their relationships are complicated, they rarely change once the characters are firmly introduced and settled into the series.
4. Golgo 13
Written by: Takao Saito
Year of release: October 1968 (ongoing)
The oldest manga still in publication. Golgo 13, also known by the pseudonym Duke Togo, is a professional assassin. His age and birthplace are unknown and there is no consensus in the worldwide intelligence community as to his true identity. Most of his jobs are completed through the use of a customized, scoped M16 rifle. Duke Togo’s past is a mystery. Although many episodes of the series have presented speculation about his origin, such episodes always cast doubt on their own theories as well â€” leaving the readers uncertain whether the information was even true. It is only known that he had a son with ex-PIRA terrorist Catherine McCall named Joey, who was killed in an accidental explosion after he ignited some explosives at a PIRA safehouse. He also has yet another living son from a random previous sexual encounter, as seen in Episode 48. With respect to the character’s age, a large number of stories are dated as they are centered around current events of the time. However, Golgo 13’s age has not increased significantly to account for these events. He has also suffered multiple injuries on his body via torture.
Written by: Akira Toriyama
Year of release: 1984
Since its release, Dragon Ball has become one of the most successful manga series of all time. Dragon Ball was initially inspired by the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West. The series follows the adventures of the protagonist, Goku, from his childhood through adulthood as he trains in martial arts and explores the world in search of the seven orbs known as the Dragon Balls, which summon a wish-granting dragon when gathered. Along his journey, Goku makes several friends and battles a wide variety of villains, many of whom also seek the Dragon Balls.
2. One Piece
Written by: Eiichiro Oda
Year of release: 1992
Volumes: 60 (ongoing)
Monkey D. Luffy, a boy inspired by his Childhood idol and powerful pirate Red Haired Shanks, sets off on a journey from the East Blue Sea to find the One Piece and become King of the Pirates. Beginning with Roronoa Zoro the swordsman and Nami the female navigator, step by Step he organizes his own crew and experiences countless adventures.
1. Shingeki no Kyojin
Written by: Hajime Isayama
Year of release: 2009 (ongoing)
Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan) is set in a world where humanity lives inside cities surrounded by enormous walls due to the Titans, gigantic humanoid creatures who devour humans seemingly without reason. The story centers on Eren Yeager, his adoptive sister Mikasa Ackerman, and their friend Armin Arlert, whose lives are changed forever after the appearance of a Colossus Titan brings about the destruction of their home town and the death of Eren’s mother. Vowing revenge and to reclaim the world from the Titans, Eren, Mikasa and Armin enlist in the Military and join the Survey Corps, an elite group of soldiers who fight Titans outside the walls.