The Best Manga

by William Lobley |
Posted on

In Japan, manga's popularity, scope and availability are on a scale that dwarves the West’s comic and graphic novel tradition. For decades, English-translated manga has attempted various breaks into our marketplace with varying degrees of success and struggle. Thankfully, over recent years, the availability and popularity of these Japanese graphic novels have steadily increased. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what's brought about this change, but the mainstream appeal of excellent anime surely has something to do with it.

Thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Funimation, and Crunchyroll, anime is reaching an audience larger than ever before. And in turn, this audience may be wanting to get familiar with the source material. Whatever the cause, manga is no longer an exotic curio, but an established art and storytelling form.

If you're looking to find out a little more about manga, the correct place to start is with winning examples of the form. We've collected together a selection of the best manga series available. There's everything from swashbuckling romps with One Piece, to cyborg existential crises with Ghost In The Shell.

Note that this collection of the best manga includes works suitable for a range of ages, with certain well-known works coming from the shōnen cannon, which include content suitable for teens. Others fall into the seinen category, which is targeted towards mature audiences.


The Best Manga

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo1 of 17

Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo

In 1992, Japan was devastated by a nuclear strike. In 2019, the streets of Neo-Tokyo are ruled by nihilistic violent teenage biker gangs. A young unstable biker has inadvertently acquired telekinetic abilities and draws the attention of a secretive industrial-military complex. What follows is a tale of political corruption and power. Akira is a hugely influential manga series and an unmissable classic of the cyberpunk genre.

Category: Seinen (mature)

20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa2 of 17

20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa

Award-winning bestseller 20th Century Boys is an epic, sprawling narrative charting the remarkable life events of an unremarkable group. In 1969, young Kenji and his gang spend a long summer building a den and imagining a future in which the world comes under attack from a mysterious organisation. Cut to the nineties and a new cult is on the rise in Japan, purporting friendship but hiding a great conspiracy. When Kenji, now an adult, failed musician and store clerk, notices some stark similarities between the cult, world events and his gang’s childhood imagination, he embarks on a quest that will unite distant friends and determine the fate of the world.

Category: Seinen (mature)

Berserk by Kentaro Miura3 of 17

Berserk by Kentaro Miura

Berserk is a bloody manga, full of blood, blood, and a little more blood. Since its publication in 1989, this controversial series has earned a hardcore cult following who adore its black humour, ferocious characters, and unfalteringly disturbing plot. This dark fantasy tale follows Guts, an orphan whose life is defined by battle, torture, and death. As the bearer of The Brand, dark forces are relentlessly drawn to his presence, but Guts isn't one to give up.

Category: Seinen (mature)

One Piece by Eiichiro Oda4 of 17

One Piece by Eiichiro Oda

Eiichiro Oda's hilarious and action-packed One Piece might just be the most influential and popular manga series of the last two decades. The series follows Monkey D. Luffy, a young pirate with the power of rubber and a heart set on becoming King Of The Pirates. Along the way, Luffy is joined by a madcap brigade of thieves, pathological liars, cyborgs, assassins, archaeologists, and anthropomorphized reindeer, making a found-family dynamic that's side-splitting in its good time and heart-retching in its bad. It's a series to fall in love with, for fledgling and elite manga fans alike.

Category: Shōnen

Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata5 of 17

Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

Death Note may look like a goth dream, but in reality, it's a mature manga that explores conceptions of justice, vengeance, and morality. Light Yagami is one of Japan's brightest students and the son of a police chief, destined for greatness and bored with the world. On finding a Death Note, a supernatural notepad with the ability to kill anyone whose name is written in it, Light takes it upon himself to correct the imbalances in the world. In doing so, he sets himself up as a god for the new world, not anticipating how the old gods of death, the Shinigami, will take to his mission. The series comprises only 12 volumes, which is relatively short for a manga series (Naruto stretches to 72). However, this is to the series' benefit. Death Note is a compact and focused narrative, with a forceful and driven direction.

Category: Shōnen

Ghost In The Shell by Shirow Masamune6 of 17

Ghost In The Shell by Shirow Masamune

In many ways, Ghost In The Shell is manga's answer to the sci-fi philosophical explorations seen in Blade Runner. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cybernetically enhanced law enforcement officer, heads up a task force dedicated to bringing down hackers, who use the ubiquitous human/machine augmentation tech to turn citizens of New Port City into puppets. An encounter with one hacker, the Puppeteer, sends the Major down a psychological rabbit hole from which she may never return. This manga series spins an unflinching cyberpunk tale, littered with exciting (and unsettling) considerations of humanity, politics, progress, and technology.

Category: Seinen (mature)

Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto7 of 17

Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto

Naruto is a highly-accomplished coming-of-age story, littered with twists on Japanese culture and folklore. Along with Dragon Ball and Astro Boy, Naruto is surely one of the best-known manga titles, having been responsible for introducing many western readers to manga and anime. The series follows Naruto, an overenthusiastic youth with a simple goal – to become the most powerful and respected ninja in the Leaf Village. He's disliked by his peers, as his body houses the spirit of a powerful nine-tailed fox who once attacked the village (naturally), and hopes to prove himself by accomplishing various missions with his reluctant compatriots, Team 7.

Category: Shōnen

Neon Genesis Evangelion by Yoshiyuki Sadamato8 of 17

Neon Genesis Evangelion by Yoshiyuki Sadamato

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a thoughtful take on the Japanese kaiju-versus-mecha tradition. Humanity is on the cusp of annihilation, known as the Third Impact, and is under ceaseless threat from gigantic, otherworldly Angel attacks. Shinji is enlisted by the organisation Nerv, as a nervous-system pilot of the bio-machinal Evangelions. Despite the potentially over-the-top nature of the plot, Neon Genesis is a moody and considered examination of relationships and duty, and creatively makes use of religious, psychoanalytical, and cosmological texts.

Category: Shōnen

Battle Royale by Tokami Koshun and Masayuki Taguchi9 of 17

Battle Royale by Tokami Koshun and Masayuki Taguchi

Battle Royale is preceded by its reputation. This manga tells the brutal, horrific, and fortunately fictional, story of a Japanese high school class who are bussed to a mysterious location and forced to fight to the death, for the entertainment of The Program. Now a familiar trope, this isn't just a Japanese Running Man, Squid Game or Hunger Games. Battle Royale is persistently gory, sexual and violent in the extreme, and endlessly tests the boundaries of artistic expression and acceptability. This isn't for the faint of heart – but if you made it through Lars von Trier's The House The Jack Built, you might be okay.

Category: Seinen (mature)

Bleach by Tite Kubo10 of 17

Bleach by Tite Kubo

Tite Kubo's best-selling Bleach series is a mad paranormal romp, filled with epic battles and unforgettably eccentric characters. Teenager Ichigo Kurosaki has always been able to see ghosts, often helping them pass on into the afterlife. However, after he inadvertently drains all of the power from Soul Reaper Rukia, Ichigo's life is set on a course that will see him battle the evil souls known as Hollows, and gain entry to the supernatural realm of the Soul Society.

Category: Shōnen

Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa11 of 17

Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

Fullmetal Alchemist is manga series which has had an extensive influence on western audiences in both manga and anime forms. In a steampunk-inspired world, Edward and Alphonse Elric seek to undo their ill-fated but well-intentioned foray into alchemy, which saw one lose some limbs and the other's soul bound to a suit of armour, by locating the Philosopher's Stone. Their endeavour sees them enlisted into the military-alchemical complex, which complicates their quest and has them face off against corrupt officials, serial killers, and sinful homunculi.

Category: Shōnen

Jojou2019s Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki12 of 17

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki

Thanks to the popularity of the anime and its appearance on Netflix, the manga for Jojo's Bizarre Adventure has finally earned the popularity it's owed. The series is fragmented into eight parts, each following a different member of the Joestar family in a different era, spanning anywhere from the 19th to 21st centuries. Each member of the family has a supernatural ability and usually comes into conflict with some nefarious force. The pages are littered with inter-family disputes, oddball allies, and climactic battles. It's a saga worthy of your time.

Category: Shōnen

Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama13 of 17

Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama

Where Naruto and One Piece won over the latest generation of manga converts, Dragon Ball provided the same service to the previous generation. Since its first publication in 1984, the manga series has evolved into one of the largest Japanese franchises of all time. The story begins with the monkey-tailed Son Goku and Bulma as they travel to find the seven Dragon Balls to summon the wish-granting dragon Shenlong. It's an adventure brimming with martial arts, double-crossing, and iconic, genre-defining characters.

Category: Shōnen

Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka14 of 17

Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka

Astro Boy is an android, modelled on a young boy and infused with human emotion. His master, Umataro Tenma, created him after the death of his son. Realising that his son couldn't be replaced, Astro is rejected and sold to a circus, before eventually being adopted by the head of the Ministry of Science, Professor Ochanomizu. Though the art style and storytelling innocence may seem quaint today, it's still a fun read akin to revisiting Hergé's Tintin.

The Omnibus is a consciously retrospective compendium of Astro Boy capers, and as such Osamu Tezuka decided to add short asides and introductions to each tale, where a drawn version of himself directly addresses the reader. These charming monologues are eccentric, and vary in content, at times pointing out upcoming themes and reflecting on the creative process or offering pointed reflections on American foreign policy and the military-industrial complex.

Category: Shōnen

One-Punch Man by One and Yusuke Murata15 of 17

One-Punch Man by One and Yusuke Murata

Saitama is a superhero whose superpower is being able to defeat any foe, no matter how powerful, with a single punch. He became a hero for fun, but the lack of challenge has made his pastime boring. Saitama's ennui, world-weariness, and sarcastic wit are thrown into sharp relief against the melodramatic sincerity of his foes and followers, creating a hilarious and cutting subversion of the superhero genre. What initially began as a webcomic series has now developed into a crossover hit, spawning manga publication of the comic, along with hit anime and video game adaptations.

Category: Seinen (mature)

Attack On Titan by Hajime Isayama16 of 17

Attack On Titan by Hajime Isayama

Attack On Titan has taken the worlds of manga and anime by storm. In a post-apocalyptic world, skinless giants called Titans besiege the remains of society where the population is forced to cower behind enormous walls. As the Titans continue their endless push to consume human flesh, people find themselves threatened not only by the Titan's blight but also by political machinations and immoral oppression. This award-winning series has grown into a Japanese cultural icon, and it is not to be missed.

Category: Shōnen

Mushishi By Yuki Urushibara17 of 17

Mushishi By Yuki Urushibara

Mushishi is an episodic manga that follows Ginko, a man capable of conferring with the invisible and ancient spirits known as mushi. To know more about these supernatural forms, Ginko travels around Japan helping those who are haunted by their presence. It is these encounters that comprise Mushishi's episodes, with each focusing on the life and history of a different mushi-haunted person. Rather than a tale of ghosts and exorcisms, Mushishi is a calm manga focused on exploring human-focused concerns. It's a unique manga that won't be forgotten, a fact to which those in its cult following will attest.

Category: Seinen (mature)

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