Top 10 Manga of 2021

While the popularity of manga ticked up sharply in 2020, it really took off in 2021. Publishers are getting the hint and bringing out new titles in familiar genres, as well as some that are new to American readers. Here’s a look at 10 of our favorite manga of 2021.

While the popularity of manga ticked up sharply in 2020, it really took off in 2021. Sales exploded to the point where some volumes sold out completely and were unavailable for months. Publishers are getting the hint and bringing out new titles in familiar genres, as well as some that are new to American readers. Here’s a look at 10 of our favorite manga of 2021.

Gaku, Keito. Boys Run the Riot, Vol. 1. illus. by author. Kodansha. ISBN 9781646512485.
Gr 8 Up– Ryo is a trans guy who is struggling to be clear with his family and friends about his identity. He feels most at ease in his favorite street fashion, and he adores the way that clothes help the wearer express their true self. He’s startled when he realizes a new classmate Jin, who he’d dismissed as a potential bully, shares his love of fashion and proposes they team up to start their own brand. Can Jin be the friend and confidant Ryo’s been hoping to find? This series from trans creator Gaku eschews the tropes and pitfalls of manga’s comedic takes on gender identity and instead presents a grounded, character-driven look at life as a trans guy in Japan. A standout title among a selection of recent manga addressing the reality of queer life, this is a must-have for teens.

Iruma, Hitoma. Adachi and Shimamura, Vol. 1. illus. by Moke Yuzuhara. Yen Pr. ISBN 9781975320034.
Gr 8 Up– Adachi and Shimamura are two misfits who cut class and hang out at the gym. The first volume of this sweet yuri romance follows the two girls through everyday moments—eating lunch, going to the mall, dealing with awkward moments with friends and family—switching from one point of view to another as each of them begins to wonder if their friendship is becoming something more.

Matsumoto, Naoya. Kaiju No. 8, Vol. 1. illus. by author. Viz. ISBN 9781974725984.
Gr 8 Up– Kaiju are giant monsters (think Godzilla), and in this story, they are constantly threatening Japanese cities, only to be neutralized each time by the fighters of the Japan Defense Force. Kafka Hibino and his childhood friend Mina Ashiro once dreamed of joining the JDF, but now that they are in their 30s, Mina is a star kaiju-fighter, while Kafka has the humbler job of clearing away the corpses. Kafka decides to give the force one last try, but before he can take the exams, he turns into a kaiju himself. Like many Shonen Jump manga, this is a fast-paced story filled with friendships, rivalries, really powerful women, and plenty of humor.

NisiOisin. Pretty Boy Detective Club, Vol. 1. illus. by Suzuka Oda. Vertical Comics. ISBN 9781647290474.
Gr 8 Up– The Hot Guy Club is kind of a shoujo staple—think Ouran High School Host Club—and this story is a great example of one. Each of the five members of the Pretty Boy Detective Club has his own particular set of talents, but the essence of the club is that they are pretty, they are boys, they are detectives, and they are a team. Their first case involves finding a star that’s apparently missing from the sky, which sounds kind of silly at the beginning, but turns into a fairly deep mystery with an action-packed final act. The story is based on a series of novels and has been adapted into an anime.

Nitori, Sasami. Wonder Cat Kyuu-Chan, Vol. 1. illus. by author. Seven Seas. ISBN 9781645058571.
Gr 5 Up– Hinata adopts a stray cat, and the two enjoy the pleasures of everyday life in this charming, sweetly funny collection of four-panel comics. Kyuu likes bow ties, his toy mouse (which he cuddles rather than chews), and food. Nothing terribly exciting happens in this slice-of-life manga, but there’s a smile on every page. This manga is printed in full color with a gentle pastel palette.

Oowara, Sumito. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, Vol. 1. illus. by author. Dark Horse. ISBN 9781506718972.
Gr 7 Up– This is one of those manga, like Paradise Kiss, where the sheer joy of the characters comes through the page, but this is a much lighter and funnier story. Three high school girls decide to make their own anime: Asakusa designs settings and worlds, Mizusaki designs and animates characters, and Sayaka dreams up schemes to make money. They form their own club, Eizouken, which constantly skirts school regulations, but nothing can quench their enthusiasm when they get together and start dreaming up worlds of their own.

Oshimi, Shuzo. Shino Can’t Say Her Name. illus. by author. Denpa. ISBN 9781634429689.
Gr 9 Up– Shino Oshima has trouble saying words that start with vowels, and when she is nervous, she seizes up and can barely speak at all. She forms a tentative friendship with the prickly Kayo, who encourages her to write rather than speak, and then gets her to sing. Kayo plays guitar but has a terrible voice; Shino seems like the logical complement to that, but when an overly exuberant boy gets involved, the fragile tissue of their friendship is torn. Oshimi, who had a similar problem growing up, tells the story with a perceptive eye for emotional detail. While most of his previous work is darker and edgier, this is a story where the protagonist’s struggles get easier when she realizes she is not alone.

Saiki, Kumiko. Kageki Shojo!!, Vol. 1. illus. by author. Seven Seas. ISBN 9781648275852.
Gr 6 Up– At the Kouka Acting Troupe, women and girls play all the roles, and as in the famous Takarazuka Revue, being a star is a lifelong dream. Outspoken and ambitious Sarasa is determined to play the leads, but she has a long way to go to get to center stage. Slowly learning to navigate the high emotions of fellow actors, Sarasa makes mistakes, but keeps her goal front of mind. This tale includes delightful callbacks to past shoujo melodramas while presenting the artistic competition and relationships that make any arts high school buzz. This series is particularly strong for younger teens, and it embraces the fun and drama of shoujo’s best traditions.

Shimada, Toranosuke. Robo Sapiens: Tales of Tomorrow. illus. by author. Seven Seas. ISBN 9781648275982.
Gr 8 Up– This collection of short stories about robots and humans echoes many of the themes of classic science fiction, manga, and novels. A robot is assigned to guard a cache of nuclear waste for the 250,000 years it will take to decay; every few centuries, visitors come in from the outside, reflecting massive changes on the earth. An aging billionaire longs for the robot he discarded 50 years ago. Robots meditate on love, sacrifice, and the complications of living longer than all the humans in their lives. These entries are done in a remarkable, flowing, linear style that is beautiful and a bit creepy.

Takahashi, Rumiko. Mao, Vol. 1. illus. by author. Viz. ISBN 9781974720521.
Gr 11 Up– Mao is a classic Rumiko Takahashi story, with a heroine who travels through time to a strange world inhabited by the supernatural creatures known as yokai. A teenager named Nanoka, looking for answers about the accident that killed her parents, winds up in a strange land with a strange young man named Mao. He fights evil yokai, heals good yokai, and solves mysteries, all the while looking for a way to lift an ancient curse. Takahashi skillfully juxtaposes the ordinary and the supernatural, creating an uncanny world where everything looks normal until it suddenly explodes into weirdness.

Brigid Alverson (l.) edits the blog “Good Comics for Kids” at­oodcomicsforkids. Robin Brenner (r.) is the founder and editor-in-chief of the No Flying No Tights site and contibutes to “Good Comics for Kids.”

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