With anime becoming increasingly popular in our mainstream media, I’ve decided to compile my top 5 manga from various genres. For those unfamiliar with anime, it’s regarded as Japanese animation in the United States. Manga is the graphic novel or comic book equivalent of anime. The majority of anime is adapted from manga, although not all. It’s very similar to how novels receive movie/tv adaptions.
Unlike comic books, manga is almost always published in black and white. Color releases are usually limited to special editions. Its format may also be confusing to first time readers. To read manga, you start at the top right panel, and end at the lower left panel: right to left. This is opposite of Western comics. However, once you’ve adapted to the change, it becomes like second nature. Like any great piece of fiction, manga can quickly suck up your time, so summer is the perfect season to start reading!
5. Maid Sama!
This was the series that started it all. I first discovered it as a pre-pubescent girl, and it had everything I ever wanted in a romance: comedy, tension, and dynamic characters. It follows the life of high-school student Misaki Ayuzawa. At school, she’s student council president (the first at a previously all-boys institution). Because of her intense dedication to changing the reputation of her school, she gains a reputation as a strict “dictator” among the boys, whilst the teachers and girls hail her as the school’s “shining hope.”
Unbeknownst to everyone, Misaki works part-time at a maid cafe to support her family’s debt, a secret she goes great lengths to hide. Her life takes an interesting turn when Usui Tamaki (a popular, handsome, and slightly irritating student at her school) bumps into her while she’s on the job.
Maid Sama is a light-hearted but humorous enemies-to-lovers story. I can’t stop myself from physically squealing with joy when I read it. It still holds up for me to this day and sets the bar for all future rom-coms I watch/read!
4. Hunter x Hunter
Hunter x Hunter draws you in with the adorably optimistic protagonist Gon Freeces. He lives his whole life under the belief that both of his parents are deceased, until one day it’s revealed that his father is still alive and is now a world famous Hunter. Hunters are licensed professionals trained to track down rare beasts, treasures, and sometimes even other individuals.
The license is only obtainable through passing the Hunter examination, which has a 1 in 100,000 success rate. With this revelation, Gon sets off to become a Hunter like his father, intent on meeting him one day. Along the way, readers meet a plethora of characters that join Gon on his journey.
Hunter x Hunter is unique because of its intricate world-building and compelling characters. Every arc introduced has a different tone and themes. It leaves readers wondering how a story that seemed so simple and wholesome at first could be this layered. The author doesn’t neglect anything— the villains are just as well-designed and well-written as the main cast.
3. Mob Psycho
Shigeo Kageyama is as unassuming as you can get— an average middle school boy, with no indication of him being anything more. Shigeo is even assigned a nickname for his lack of presence: Mob モブ, Mobu, wasei eigo for “background character.” In actuality, Mob is an extremely powerful esper, with his psychic abilities hinted as on par with a God.
Because his powers fluctuate according to his emotions, he constantly keeps his feelings on a tight leash to avoid losing control. To control his abilities, he begins working as an assistant for Reigen Arataka, a “spirit medium” con artist.
Mob desperately wants to live a normal life like his peers— but trouble continues to find him, and his suppressed emotions threaten to come to a boiling point. Mob Psycho subverts classic protagonist tropes, questioning why a child has to be the one continually bearing the burden to save the day, and the desire to not be the “chosen one.”
TW: Death, Violence, Gore, Abuse, Sexual violence.
Inspired by medieval Europe and dark fantasy aesthetics, Berserk begins with a gratuitous amount of violence, much like the birth of the protagonist, Guts. Guts’ childhood is marred by years of continuous abuse, until he kills his adoptive father out of self defense.
This action attracts Griffith, leader of the mercenary group known as “The Band of Hawk.” Together, the two form a strong camaraderie, with Griffith heavily relying on Guts for emotional support. Tragically, their friendship is destined for demise, setting Guts on a destructive path for revenge.
There is no coddling in this work. This manga seeks to display the worst aspects of humanity and asks readers how to comprehend it. It calls into question the existence of free will, the ambiguity of morality, and the cycle of revenge, just to scratch the surface.
1. Spy x Family
I’m closing my recommendations out with Spy x Family, the newest manga from this list, only published in 2019. It also recently received an anime adaption, and you can watch the episodes on Crunchyroll! It’s easy to see why it had such immediate popularity— an aesthetic style, interesting characters, and a humorous plot. This manga centers around Westlian agent “Twilight” (code-name) and his mission to maintain peace between two nations. He must gather intel on Donovan Desmond, the National Unity Party leader in Ostania.
In order to do this, Twilight must construct a family and enroll a child at the same private school Donovan’s son attends, posing as a parent. Under the alias of Loid Forger, he recruits what he believes to be ordinary individuals to pose as his child (Anya) and wife (Yor), but his choices were far from normal. Now a group consisting of a husband spy, esper child, and assassin wife must learn how to become the perfect family.
At its core, Spy x family is a fun and wholesome manga exploring the meaning of found (dysfunctional) family, with numerous spy subplots. It appeals to all audiences by mixing action, comedy, romance, and espionage.
This list is just a small glimpse into the world of manga, and all the diverse stories out there! The series I selected also have an anime adaption, so you can watch after reading (or vice versa). For a more comprehensive list, My Anime List is linked below, which sections manga off by user ratings, reviews, and recommendations. Happy Reading!