Not every manga is going to be a monster success. Creators often write and draw and produce for years before their first – or second – big hit. Even the legends of the industry have gone through this artist’s struggle, releasing smaller, quieter stories before, after or during their Narutos, their Bleaches and their Dragon Balls.
But not being known isn’t the same as not being good. Here are a few examples of lesser known manga created by the biggest names in the business.
Akira Toriyama is one of the most iconic manga creators in history. Aside from his work on Dragon Ball, one of the best selling manga ever written, he also created iconic series like Dr. Slump and produced character designs for both Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger. However, he’s also made several one-shots that have escaped wider renown.
One series that ran in the first printing of America’s Shonen Jump was a title from 2000 called Sand Land. Lasting only a single volume, the tale was set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where water is sold at a high commodity. There, a demon known as Beelzebub is recruited to find a new supply of water, bringing him in conflict with a greedy king who hoards all the water for himself.
Masashi Kishimoto has worked on his decade spanning series Naruto in one form or another for almost all of his career. So far, his only other work is the soon-to-be-concluded sci-fi action series Samurai 8. Notable for its poignant character writing and unique aesthetic, Samurai 8 is worth a quick read, clocking in at 43 chapters.
Many cite its clunky world building and dragging plot as the ultimate downfall of this short-lived series. And, though Kishimoto has his whole career still ahead of him, Samurai 8 sits squarely in the shadow of Naruto.
The woman behind Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon reinvented the magical girl genre with her iconic saga. However, Takeuchi’s other work never really took off the same way.
Among her unsung works is Princess Naoko Takeuchi’s Return-to-Society Punch!! This work is an autobiographical manga focusing on Takeuchi’s real world struggles following Sailor Moon, including a creative slump, set-backs to her career as well as her romance and ultimate marriage to Yoshihiro Togashi, the man who created Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter.
Tite Kubo is the man behind Bleach – one of Weekly Shonen Jump’s Big Three manga. The sheer style of that series propelled him to manga superstar-dom. However, Kubo had one manga that ran in Jump before Bleach: Zombiepowder.
Zombiepowder, though it received a boost in popularity thanks to Bleach, the four-volume series was cancelled due to middling popularity. It may be a blessing-in-disguise that it was cancelled, as Kubo started Bleach less than a year after Zombiepowder ended. Though it’s no Bleach, Zombiepowder is still worth a read on its own merits.
Shirow Masamune is the man who created some of the greatest cyberpunk manga of all time: Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, Dominion (later adapted into Dominion Tank Police), and Black Magic. The adaptations of these manga were staples in the early days of anime in the West.
But fewer people talk about his more recent work, and with very good reason. The real turning point in Masamune’s career was when he started working on Galgrease in 2002, a series of erotic manga. Turns out Masamune, after creating the greatest sci-fi manga of his era, decided he wanted to make hentai for the next twenty years.
Back in 1992, the creators of two of manga’s most legendary series collaborated on a single volume for the ages. Buronson, writer of Fist of the North Star and Kentaro Miura, creator of Berserk put their creative minds together for a tale simply known as Japan.
The story is a bewildering one, where a news reporter and yakuza members are brought to the future by the spirits of Ancient Carthage. Japan is flooded and the Japanese people are enslaved. It’s a story of pride and national identity, but also one of pure apocalypse. A wild ride, to be sure.
Many people know of the infamous Violence Jack OVA, but very few know the whole story of the manga and its sprawling, nightmarish depiction of a cruel post-apocalyptic future. On top of that, Violence Jack ties into Nagai’s magnum opus, Devilman – though it’s hard to tell from just the OVA. Another solid read, if you can stomach it.
Hiromu Arakawa created Fullmetal Alchemist, arguably one of the greatest manga ever written. One would expect her follow-up to be something equally bombastic and epic. Arakawa opted to write a manga about farming, instead.
Arakawa drew from her real-life experience working on a farm to write Silver Spoon, an agricultural coming-of-age story. This is one of the longer manga on this list, gaining a fair amount of popularity and even receiving an anime adaptation. However, it’s still overshadowed by Arakawa’s most well-known manga.
Rumiko Takahashi is the creator of Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha, Urusei Yatsura and many other household names among manga fans. Finding an obscure piece in her body of work is actually quite the challenge. While many fans are familiar with her horror manga Mermaid Saga, far fewer remember the time she wrote a manga about overeating, boxing, and nuns.
One-pound Gospel focuses on a voracious boxer who meets a nun, hoping to save him from his sinful gluttony. But before long, the two start to develop feelings for each other. One-pound Gospel is a boxing manga that combines Takahashi’s typical romantic flair with shonen sports action.
Of all the titles here, the fact that Phoenix is overshadowed a particular tragedy. Osamu Tezuka, the “godfather of anime,” regarded Phoenix as his greatest work. It was an epic spanning centuries, detailing man’s pursuits towards immortality.
Tragically, Tezuka could not finish his grand vision in his lifetime. When he died in 1989, Phoenix remained incomplete. On top of that, Tezuka’s work on Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Princess Knight, and Black Jack proved far more well-known. However, for a complete Tezuka epic, Buddha – his last finished work – can more than satisfy.
Even legendary manga creators have some overlooked hidden gems.