I have been reading manga since I was in high school. When North America really started to introduce more anime shows into its programming for both children and adults, we also started to see Japanese style graphic novels being translated and published for English readers.
The first series I ever bought and collected was Wish by the all-female group of CLAMP (which was recently re-released as one omnibus volume). Back then only TokyoPop was really releasing manga, and it was difficult to keep up with releases on a teenagers budget.
I really got back into manga a couple of years ago through my local library system. While I had left manga behind for a little while, they hadn’t. They acquired and stayed on top of newly translated books by different publishers and through them, I was able to rediscover my love of the Japanese style graphic novel. And now, there are so many new and interesting stories to read that just weren’t around when I was younger, including stories with LGBTQ+ characters.
Some of the publishers to check out are VIZ Media, Kodansha Comics, Vertical Comics, and Yen Press. Viz Media has two imprints that I check often: Shojo Beat and Shonen Jump. Check out their upcoming releases section for potential books and series to find something new to read.
Below I will be listing some books I recommend and some I want to check out.
Series I Recommend:
Flying Witch: Makoto Kowata, a novice witch, packs up her belongings (including a black cat familiar) and moves in with her distant cousins in rural Aomori to complete her training and become a full-fledged witch.
Why I Enjoy It: This comedic slice of life manga is one of my favourites right now because it inserts magic into the ordinary. Those long summer days in the country, gardening with your cousins and sometimes those boring days at school can be interrupted by a visit from another witch or two familiars in search of pork cutlets. Each volume never fails to put a smile on my face.
Notes: This series is written and illustrated by Chihiro Ishizuka. Makoto’s adventures have been collected in 7 volumes. As far as my research gleaned, there are only 7 volumes.
Kamisama Kiss: Nanami Momozono is alone and homeless after her dad skips town to evade his gambling debts and the debt collectors kick her out of her apartment. So when a man she’s just saved from a dog offers her his home, she jumps at the opportunity. But it turns out that his place is a shrine, and Nanami has unwittingly taken over his job as a local deity!
Nanami has all kinds of new responsibilities she doesn’t understand, dangers she’s unaware of, and a cranky ex-familiar who’s…actually pretty hot.
Why I Enjoy It: This manga filled the void in my life that was left behind after an anime I used to watch reached its underwhelming end (i.e. Inuyasha). I was looking for something romantic and funny with gods and demons that also had a satisfying ending, and I found it with this series.
Notes: This series is written and illustrated by Julietta Suzuki. It is complete in 25 volumes.
I Hear the Sunspot: Because of a hearing disability, Kohei is often misunderstood and has trouble integrating into life on campus, so he learns to keep his distance. That is until he meets the outspoken and cheerful Taichi. He tells Kohei that his hearing loss is not his fault. Taichi’s words cut through Kohei’s usual defense mechanisms and open his heart. More than friends, less than lovers, their relationship changes Kohei forever.
Why I Enjoy It: I really liked the slow burn in the building of the friendship and the feelings between the main characters. I also really liked that both Kohei and Taichi are well-developed characters that feel real. Their struggles and their motivations are completely relatable and understandable. It was also only the second manga I read that featured a character that was hard of hearing along with subtle information about that community and its culture. A sweet love story that started out as a one-volume story but has continued to include two other volumes.
Notes: This series is by Yuki Fumino. So far, there are 3 volumes but it is ongoing. The first book is simply titled, I Hear the Sunspot.
Kimi ni Todoke: Sawako Kuronuma is the perfect heroine…for a horror movie. With striking similarities to a haunting movie character–jet-black hair, sinister smile, and silent demeanor–she’s mistakenly called Sadako by those around her. But behind her scary façade is a very misunderstood teenager. Too shy to fit in, all she wants to do is make some friends. But when the most popular boy in class befriends her, she’s sure to make more than just that–she’s about to make some enemies too!
Why I Enjoy It: This coming-of-age romance is both touching and hilarious. It doesn’t just offer you the growth of the two main characters but also that of their friends. I love so many of the characters in this manga and it was lovely to watch them flourish.
Notes: This series is by Karuho Shiina. It is complete in 30 volumes.
Natsume’s Book of Friends: Takashi Natsume can see the spirits and demons that hide from the rest of humanity. He has always been set apart from other people because of his gift, drifting from relative to relative, never fitting in. Now he is a troubled high school student who has come to live in the small town where his grandmother grew up. And there he discovers that he has inherited more than just the Sight from the mysterious Reiko.
Why I Enjoy It: This series has mystery, suspense, ghosts, and demons. It’s a recipe for an interesting time. This series is also insightful, and you will find yourself getting emotional over a few of the stories. I know I’ve shed a tear or two!
Notes: Story and art are by Yuki Midorikawa. So far 22 volumes have been translated and released but the series is ongoing.
Sweet Blue Flowers: Akira Okudaira is starting high school and is ready for exciting new experiences. And on the first day of school, she runs into her best friend from kindergarten at the train station! Now Akira and Fumi have the chance to rekindle their friendship, but life has gotten a lot more complicated since they were kids…
Fumi is glad Akira is back in her life. Even in kindergarten, Akira knew how to stand up for herself, and she was always willing to stand up for Fumi too. But Fumi’s first love recently got married, and Fumi is grappling with a broken heart and the fact that her sweetheart was another woman… Can Akira’s open heart help dispel the gloom Fumi has been caught up in?
Why I Enjoy It: In terms of manga stories about girls being in love, this one was the most realistic and simple. I have read other lesbian manga and they’re all over the top, and they come across as not being for a female LGBTQ+ audience. This one really broke the mold and told a story that I think some people will definitely relate to.
Notes: Story and art are by Takako Shimura. There are a total of 8 volumes in this series.
One-Shot Titles I Recommend:
Voices of a Distant Star: Mikako Nagamine is recruited as a pilot to fight in the interstellar war against a force of alien invaders, leaving behind her one true love. Mikako’s only connection to Noboru Terao, who continues living the life of an ordinary student, is through cell phone text messages. As Mikako travels light years away, it takes longer and longer for Noboru to receive her messages, until finally, one arrives eight years and seven months after she sent it…
Why I Enjoy It: This romantic drama is so good and so full of feeling. Not one page is wasted in telling the story of Mikako and Noburo. It’s delicate and painful and it hits you right in the heart. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it felt like to have your heart and soul pulverized into stardust, this is the manga for you.
Notes: Story is by Makoto Shinkai and art is by Mizu Sahara.
The Gods Lie: Natsuru Nanao, a 6th grader who lives alone with his mother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with the reserved and driven Rio Suzumura. Natsuru plays hookey from soccer camp that summer, and instead of telling the truth to his mother, he spends all his time with Rio and her kid brother at their rickety house, where a dark secret threatens to upend their fragile happiness.
Why I Enjoy It: This manga is one emotional ride. All the good ones usually are though, right? I just found this simple summer story about two kids connecting over their worries and struggles in growing up to be so well done, relatable and realistic in a lot of ways.
Notes: Story and art are by Kaori Ozaki.
The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story: Marie Kondo presents the fictional story of Chiaki, a young woman in Tokyo who struggles with a cluttered apartment, messy love life, and lack of direction. After receiving a complaint from her attractive next-door neighbor about the sad state of her balcony, Chiaki gets Kondo to take her on as a client. Through a series of entertaining and insightful lessons, Kondo helps Chiaki get her home–and life–in order.
Why I Enjoy It: If Marie Kondo’s book seems a little intimidating, then the manga takes all of her lessons and makes them easier to implement through the example of the character Chiaki. This manga is funny but also sweet and there’s no judgment in it. That’s right! No judgment! Because we’re all in a state of clutter and it’s a process. Remember, Marie Kondo has been perfecting her methods since childhood so it’s okay that we’re not there yet.
Notes: Written by Marie Kondo and art by Yuko Uramoto.
Stories I Want to Read:
Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san: Honda might be a skeleton, but that’s nowhere near as crazy as working in a Japanese bookstore! Whether it’s running the store, dealing with out-of-print books, or handling eccentric customers, the bookstore life is filled with laughter and tears.
Why I Want to Read It: I know some readers may see this title and scroll right past it. That’s fine. But I will say this manga deserves your attention if you work in or have ever worked in retail and suffered while there. You will find hilarious stories that you will relate to. Let the comedy heal those wounds!
Notes: Written and drawn by Honda. There are 4 volumes listed for this series.
Tokyo Tarareba Girls: “I spent all my time wondering ‘what if,’ then one day I woke up and I was 33.” She’s not that bad-looking, but before she knew it, Rinko was thirty-something and single. She wants to be married by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around in six years, but…that might be easier said than done! The new series by Akiko Higashimura erupts with sharp opinions on girls and tons of laughs!!
Why I Want to Read It: This is the first time I have ever really seen a manga series about women on the dating scene. What made it even more interesting were the 3 best friends at its center since they will have different dating experiences and have to make some tough decisions. So while this manga series looks humorous, I think it might also have the potential to speak to larger ideas of women and dating.
Notes: Story and art by Akiko Higashimura. There are 9 volumes in this series.
The Bride Was a Boy: A heartwarming transgender love story, based on true events!
A diary comic with an upbeat, adorable flair that tells the charming tale of Chii, a woman assigned male at birth. Her story starts with her childhood and follows the ups and downs of exploring her sexuality, gender, and transition–as well as falling in love with a man who’s head over heels for her. Now, Chii is about to embark on a new adventure: becoming a bride!
Why I Want to Read It: Another first with this one as it’s the first manga I have seen that speaks about a trans person. Japan can be a pretty conservative country (note: I’m probably putting it mildly) so to see a trans story that looks like it has a happy ending is something I want to see.
I hope this new wave of LGBTQ+ manga just keeps coming with better stories and representation of the diversity within the community. I also want to see more realistic stories that don’t feel fetishized.
Notes: Story and art by Chii. It’s a one-shot story and not a series at this time.