Although it’s a little embarrassing to admit, I love manga and have probably read around 100 different series. Typically I enjoy manga featured in Shonen Jump, a weekly Japanese collaborative comic featuring one chapter from numerous ongoing manga. Usually the target demographic consists of high school students, but I started when I was in high school so I promise it’s not too weird to be older and still remain a fan!
Typically I enjoyed the battle manga genre the most, which probably has something to do with Dragon Ball Z being one of my favorite television show/anime growing up. Even with anime gaining popularity, reading manga has always been my preferred guilty pleasure because it’s quicker to binge and I enjoy reading more than watching. The online translations aren’t the best, especially some of the older chapters, as it’s usually illegally obtained ahead of the official Japanese release and legally the good translations don’t stay online for long.
I originally started writing this wanting to post my top 10 favorite manga, but I couldn’t decide a definitive 10th and figured I have an in with the editor so I could write an extra blurb about my 11th favorite. I tended to skew manga that have already been completed higher than the ones currently still in progress. There are many manga that I am currently reading that I enjoy immensely, but because they are still in progress and could decline in quality I can’t accurately rate them at this time. While I will continue to read new manga and could see this list changing, it’s a pretty concrete for me.
I read this manga when I was in high school and it holds a special place in my heart as it had one of the best premises, unfortunately, it never reached its full potential. Imagine a world where a magic school akin to Hogwarts existed in Japan, but you didn’t get accepted! Then through an impossibly convenient set of circumstances, accidentally break into the school and get accepted on a technicality, when in actuality, you can’t use magic at all! The ruse of being incapable of using magic, but his fellow students viewing the protagonist as a genius, spawned many humorous situations that forced the protagonist to overcome magical obstacles with cleverness and brute strength. It could have been so much better, but the universe wasn’t thought out and the author wrote himself into a corner with the amount of restrictions he placed on the story early on. I think it’s safe to assume there wasn’t a definite ending in mind when the author started and Mx0 devolved into a boring high school romance manga with some magic dashed in. There were some really enjoyable moments and arcs, but in the end I can understand why the manga was canceled before being able to tell it’s full story. I enjoyed the main character despite his bland motivations and overall similar character traits to other other Shonen protagonists. It’s not a genre I usually read, but it’s one I enjoyed and wonder what it could have been if handled a little better.
Nostalgia Factor: A
10. God of High School
Technically the next two on this list are ongoing manhwa, Korean comics, and they’re a little different than Japanese manga. I believe manhwa are only published online, drawn entirely in color, and every chapter is on one long vertical page instead of the usual multiple page comic format. It’s all free and nothing shady has to occur to get English translations, so I’ve linked the first chapter in the title, but the translations are still iffy at best. It was exceedingly difficult to find a picture that could give an accurate glimpse of what the story is about, because of the vertical art format and lack of mainstream popularity, so I settled with a picture of one of the main characters. The God of High School is essentially all fighting tournaments, which is perfect for someone like me who is mainly interested in action. The story is deeper than just fighting however and can get pretty intricate at times as there were a couple of foreshadowed elements I didn’t pick up on my initial read through. The art style makes it easy to follow the realistic martial art movements during fights and the supernatural elements, while absurd and not realistic, are unique and interesting whilst also being easy to follow. People are able to borrow the power of a famous person/legend/monster and use it to give them extraordinary abilities. The main characters are a delight, all three are high school students, but they’re a little underdeveloped in terms of motivation, especially after the initial arc. They each get exceptionally stronger throughout the story, but it’s a natural progression, and their respect and love for one another feels earned and real. Undoubtedly the best part of this manhwa are the battles though, there are so many epic moments and the author is great at progressing and concluding a fight.
9. Tower of God
Personally I felt that this manhwa had the strongest start to a “manga” outside of Naruto. In perhaps the most thought out, vast, and established universe created lies the simple premise of a boy chasing after a girl precious to him. The Tower is essentially the planet and apparently at the “summit” the king will grant anyone their deepest desires, naturally everyone strives to reach the top. With a slight twist on the typical battle manga genre, many of the fights promote teamwork via games and contests. Regulars, people starting out at the bottom of the Tower, climb one floor at a time and are put through tests by people that have already successfully reached the top called Rankers. There is a history to this world, thousands of years of history, and we’re thrust into it literally running with protagonist Baam, a naive youth shrouded in mystery. The author excels at framing moments to increase the tension. The 2nd half of the manhwa has been less exciting because the stakes seemed to have disappeared and therefore the tension is gone. The cast has gotten too bloated as a result and there hasn’t been any meaningful character development in a long time. I believe things will turn around eventually and can see this moving up in the rankings, but for now I can only place it here.
This manga follows the tale of two aspiring mangaka, one person writes while the other person draws, as they strive to accomplish their dream of achieving the #1 ranking manga in Shonen Jump. This manga comes from the same duo that created Deathnote, another great manga/anime (but horrendous movie,) however, I find Bakuman more enjoyable because of it’s lighthearted tone and focus on a topic I’m interested in. I found the whole concept fascinating because it explains the inner workings of the manga industry and the struggles of keeping a story syndicated and published on the typical weekly deadline. There’s also a cute love story between one of the protagonists and his childhood friend that smoothly runs alongside the main story. I felt this actually could have had a longer run, it had a couple of forgotten story lines, and the ending felt a little rushed. I think Bakuman would be enjoyable for anyone new to manga or anyone that has read multiple manga and would like to learn more about the industry in a fun way.
7. One Punch Man
It’s interesting because this manga actually has two versions, with the original webcomic having progressed further in the story but having the art on the level of a preschooler. The popularity of it cannot be denied; the concept and humor overcame it’s artistic flaw, and it was picked up to be redrawn by one of the best artists in the business, Yusuke Murata. There is a stark contrast between the art, seen above, and the redrawn version has the added benefit of allowing the original author to add even more details to the story, when previously he could’t due to his artistic limitations. The story is aptly named, a gag battle manga where the main character is so overly strong he defeats all his enemies with one punch. It’s hilarious and somehow the trope of having main character Saitama never being recognized for being super strong by the general public is hilarious. He’s more relatable to the reader because despite his super strength he still has everyday normal problems. Saitama’s pessimistic outlook on life is something I can relate to and find his interactions with characters, and their wide range of varying levels of respect, a recipe for fantastic humor. The fights are beautifully drawn, easily it’s strongest trait, and the only reason it’s not higher on the list is because it’s still ongoing and relatively new.
6. Hunter X Hunter
This manga was first serialized in 1998, but due to the author’s frequent and prolonged breaks, the manga is short considering it’s been around for two decades. The art is…above average when the author puts in the effort to complete the chapter, but it suffers from its infrequent update schedule and multiple unfinished story lines. Story-wise it started off strong and remained fantastic for as long as 300 chapters, but then, well without getting too specific, some of the consequences for it’s protagonists were lackluster and the most recent conclusion to it’s decade long Chimera ant arc was…disappointing. It easily has the most well thought out special ability system with Nen, a good amount of restrictions and categories that make sense and keep characters relatively balanced. The power scaling is inconsistent, with the two main adolescent characters constantly being labeled as having so much potential, but then already being some of the strongest people in the world. The abilities, however, are imaginative and there is no lack of creativity and unpredictability in this manga. Sometimes there’s too much dialogue, and the current arc is…weird, but it’s clearly the work of a genius and the characters, even the side ones, seem to make intelligent decisions for themselves and not just for what’s convenient to the plot or the protagonists. I can’t be too critical of author Yoshihiro Togashi considering how much time and effort go into a manga for it to come out on a weekly basis, but his story could have been the greatest ever if he put 100% effort into it.
5. Gash Bell
At its core it’s a friendship between two “brothers.” Gash is one of the 100 demons sent from another world selected to participate in a contest to become king. Gash comes with a book that only his partner, intelligent teenage boy Kiyo, can read and grants Gash lightning powers to fight other demons. It starts off more akin to a gag manga, but quickly switches to a more battle orientated one, and even then it takes a while for it to really kick into gear. Unlike many manga, it ends off so much stronger than where it initially begins and the art improves drastically throughout the story. The maturity and growth of the two protagonists are captivating and moving. In fact, most of the relationships between the demons and their partners are fantastic. The author utilizes flashbacks effectively to elicit an emotional response from the reader and even most of the villains come off as sympathetic characters. I still get goosebumps on rereads and consider this to be the epitome of cliche Shonen battle manga. It ends on the perfect note and if people would have given it a longer leash when initially reading it I believe it would have been much more popular.
My gateway manga and probably the strongest first half to any manga I’ve enjoyed. It’s an ubiquitous story for a good reason, it’s great. Naruto was about an orphaned ninja who’s dream was to be recognized as the strongest in his village. At its core it championed that hard work and persistence could overcome any obstacle, but then at some point it lost it’s way. I wrote a little more about Naruto when it was ending 4 years ago. It’s crazy to think that it’s been that long. I consider it a must read for anyone interested in manga.
3. Eyeshield 21
It will come off as ridiculous to anyone that knows anything about football. The art started off pretty mediocre but then transformed into something beautiful. It’s one of the earlier works of artist Yusuke Murata, he currently draws One Punch Man. It’s ridiculous and fantastic and certainly gets my blood pumping when reading it. I didn’t really know too much about football when I first started, but all the Japanese high school players have abilities on Olympic levels yet talk about how the NFL contains players far better than them, which is plain silly. Main character Sena is a weak/quiet boy that is bullied to run errands everyday, which helps him develop incredible speed. He can run the 40 yard dash in 4.2 seconds. The team comprises of specialized characters that excel in only one aspect of the sport and are lead by, sometimes involuntarily, the devious and clever quarterback Hiruma. The camaraderie, the humor, and epic moments during football games are superbly told in this story. Each game seems to have a theme and feature match-ups with the other players that have satisfying conclusions and resolutions. It’s not easy to make so many characters shine, but that’s exactly what the author manages to do. While I wish the last arc could have been expanded on a little more, this manga is easily the most motivational and funniest manga I’ve ever read. I’d take this over watching the Super Bowl any day.
2. Full Metal Alchemist
An imaginative and now classic story with a diverse cast and rarely a wasted moment. The author clearly mapped out the ending before embarking and executed it to perfection. The first chapter starts off as strong as anything I’ve read and it captivates you from there. The Elric brothers have depth and an easily understandable goal in an intriguing world where alchemy exists. It still manages to be funny and the stakes and resolution for almost all the characters are fitting and perfect, especially considering their introductions. From start to finish, there isn’t a better completed manga out there. This is my go to recommendation for anyone interested in a good manga or heck just a good story.
1. One Piece
A fitting placement, One Piece ranked #1. A wonderful story of adventure that hasn’t dropped in quality nearly 900 chapters into the series. Monkey D. Luffy is a pirate that sets sail from a small fishing village in search of the legendary treasure One Piece. After eating the Gum Gum fruit his body can stretch like rubber, however, it carries the curse of being unable to swim, and ironic fate for someone who spends most of their time at sea. It’s a grand adventure that slowly develops, but everything seems to have been thought out and events connect and intersect hundreds of chapters later. Author Eiichiro Oda has had the biggest influence of any author in my life and that includes JK Rowling. He’s a master at blending humor with raw emotional scenes and framing directional action to convey fluid fights. Easily the most unique character designs and art style of any manga I’ve read. There are characters that have no business being strong because of how silly they look, but he makes it work and seem natural. The power levels aren’t ridiculous like in Dragon Ball Z where there’s always a stronger antagonist never mentioned until the current one is defeated, as the baseline is established early on in the story. I love the Straw Hat pirates and I think Oda’s use of flashbacks brings an emotional depth and connection to each one. Every week, unless the author is on break, One Piece has a way of cheering me up and it’s constantly a surprise as I never know where the story is heading, but it all feels natural. I still get goosebumps, my jaw still drops, and I can’t help but smile when I read One Piece. It’s a fun adventure and there’s no sign of it stopping anytime soon, please don’t let it’s monstrous size intimidate you from reading it as it is well worth the investment.