Manga is a unique medium. Full of its own quirks and intricacies, the task of creating one is worth writing a manga about itself. A manga’s story can be anything from a dark, brooding melodrama to a down-to-Earth love story to a high-flying fantasy adventure with no end in sight. Manga certainly has a lot to offer but, for someone who’s never read it before, it can be hard to know where to begin.
For a medium as old as this one, the list of classics runs extremely long and there are plenty of hidden gems. But, the black and white world of manga is truly one worth jumping into, for the purposes of this list, so here are some of the best manga for newcomers to start with. Let these must-reads be the jumping-off point for a lifelong obsession.
Eiichiro Oda’s masterpiece battle shonen is about a crew of pirates called the Straw Hats, and their quest to find the titular treasure left behind by the pirate king, Gold Roger. This ongoing manga is an epic high-seas adventure spanning many islands and chapters, seemingly prepared to stretch on forever.
One Piece is one of the longest running manga out there, with over 90 volumes covering nearly 1000 chapters. But don’t be too concerned about catching up to it, One Piece is all about the enjoying the ride. However, for those willing to accept the challenge, this manga is completely worth it, especially for those who love great worldbuilding, bombastic adventures and amazing fight scenes.
If One Piece is the king of shonen, Slam Dunk might be the king of sports manga. The story follows delinquent and basketball-hater Hanamichi Sakuragi, a young man who goes on to learn that there’s much more to sport than he initially thought after he’s introduced to the school’s basketball club.
For those who love basketball, or sports in general, this is the one to start with. Slam Dunk is not just one of the greatest sports manga, but also one of the greatest of all time. It single-handedly started a basketball craze in Japan when it first appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump in the early 90s, and still continues to amaze new readers decades after its ending.
Great Teacher Onizuka, or GTO, is about a 22-year-old ex-biker and gang leader, Eikichi Onizuka, who decides to become a teacher at a high school for perverted reasons. He’s given the duty of the being the homeroom teacher of the notorious class 3-4, known for its delinquents and hatred for teachers. However, Onizuka is not your average teacher and turns out to be just the man for the job.
The manga is equal parts comedy, drama and even action, tackling themes of bullying, domestic issues, abuse, insecurities and suicide among many other issues that young people face. While it doesn’t look it, GTO is one of the most inspirational and heartwarming manga around, as readers, who have watched Onizuka bond with and positively change the students he encounters, can attest to.
Berserk is an dark fantasy epic following Guts, a revenge-seeking swordsman out for the blood of his former friend, a power-hungry spirit king. Kentaro Miura’s stunningly drawn manga has some of the most beautiful and unsettling panels to have ever been inked. While the art is gorgeous and absurdly detailed, the true essence of Berserk lies in its brilliantly written story, one of betrayal, greed and corruption.
However, be warned that Berserk also has some graphic depictions of violence and abuse – keep in mind the detailed art. But, while the story is dark and grim, it also revolves around a message of love and perseverance. Berserk explores the human condition, including the darkest, most intimate corners of the psyche. Miura’s magnum opus is without a doubt one of – if not the – greatest manga of all time.
Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist follows Edward and Alphonse Elric as they journey to find the Philosopher’s Stone so they can regain the bodies their alchemy disfigured. On the way to their goal, they make many friends and allies as a web of government conspiracy closes in around them.
The manga strikes a great balance of serious and comedy, telling a story that will stick with its readers for a long time. Fullmetal Alchemist also has a similarly brilliant anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which is likewise a great gateway series, albeit for anime watchers.
Monster, like Berserk, explores the human condition, except with a far more psychologically macabre approach. It follows a neurosurgeon, Dr. Tenma, after his decision to operate on an ‘ordinary’ patient over an affluent and influential individual comes back to haunt him. The events that follow spins a tale of the monstrosity that lies in the deepest and darkest pits of the human conscience.
Monster explores themes of nihilism, morality, deceit and loneliness, packed into a highly suspenseful and mystery-driven thriller. Naoki Urasawa’s body of work has some of the greatest masterpieces in all of manga, but Monster is be the ideal one to start with. Its unfurling mysteries and ghastly plot developments will leave its readers stunned and awed all the way until the final page.
Never read manga before? Here are some of the best series to pick up for those looking into this amazing medium.