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Manga Gift Guide

Many manga bloggers are putting together gift guides to help people with their manga shopping this holiday season. Here’s my contribution, and I hope it helps you with some suggestions for different types of manga fans that might be on your shopping list!

1. For the younger set

It can be tricky to find good manga for younger readers. For younger girls I think the fantasy series from CMX Lapis Lazuli Crown is worth checking out. If they don’t like fantasy, they might enjoy the figure-skating antics in Sugar Princess: Skating to Win. For boys and girls, Hikaru No Go is a fun choice that just might pique their interest in a classic game of strategy.

2. For the comic fan who you want to convert to the manga fold

20th Century Boys is one of the best manga that I’ve read, and the gripping mystery plot combined with political and science fiction elements will pique the interest of many readers. If you have a fan of comics on your shopping list that strenuously avoids manga I think a title like 20th Century Boys will go a long way to convert them.

3. For the realistic comic/manga fan

The post-college malaise that settles on the group of friends in Solanin is something that everyone has gone through when growing up. The realistic setting combined with occasional panels with surreal images creates an interesting atmosphere and most people can relate to the quirky characters.

Ohikkoshi by Hiroaki Samura (author of Blade of the Immortal) follows similar territory in exploring the lives of a group of art students.

4. For the vampire fan

Someone in the grips of vampire mania may enjoy these two series that are complete in two volumes; Bloody Kiss is a lighthearted romance, and Millennium Snow is a cute series from the author of Ouran High School Host Club. Vampire Game might not be at the forefront of everyone’s mind since it came out a few years ago, but this series combines fantasy, a medieval setting, a headstrong princess, and a vampiric cat to create an entertaining and humorous series.

5) For the science fiction fan

Planetes is one of the best science fiction manga that I’ve read. This story about garbage men who have to clear up space debris focuses on the lives of the characters which is refreshing in a science fiction series. It looks like this is now out of print, but it is worth hunting e-bay for an auction to see if you can pick up the complete series.

For a series that is easier to track down, you might want to try Flat Earth Exchange. I enjoyed the first two volumes and have the next two on my shopping list.

Karakuri Odette is a charming new series from Tokyopop about the school adventures of a female android who wants to become more human.

6. For the fantasy fan

Whoever selects manga for CMX always does a great job finding under the radar fantasy series. Apothecarius Argentum is a well-executed fantasy series about an unconventional princess and her relationship with her poison taster, a former assassin named Argent. The series also incorporates some interesting political maneuvering between kingdoms and the combination of politics and medieval medicine makes the series a little different than what you might expect. The six volume Oyayubihime Infinity whips up reincarnation, butterfly tattoos, secret identities, and show business into a frothy shoujo confection.

7. For lovers of romance

My favorite romance series are Boys Over Flowers and Hana Kimi. I haven’t gotten my hands on Itazura Na Kiss yet, but I’m guessing that this classic series is sure to appeal to any serious shoujo fan.

Venus in Love is a series that has plenty of subtle charm, and the college setting sets it apart from the many high school romance manga being published today. The Name of the Flower is one of my favorite recently published romance manga and it has a melancholy tone produced by the unlikely romance between two psychologically damaged people. I also can’t overlook Shinobi Life, a romance manga about a rich girl and a time traveling ninja that just seems to get better with every volume.

8. For the manga fan who has everything

Why not get them some of the earliest manga put out by Viz? While Moto Haigo works are lamentably out of print, you can easily purchase Love Song: 4 Tales By Shojo Manga Artist Keiko Nishi on amazon. Or how about the post-apocalyptic tale Grey, Vol. 1: Perfect Collection, which has some very unique character designs.

For the shoujo fan, you might want to find some of the out of print works by Tomoko Taniguchi like Just a Girl or Call Me Princess. If your manga fan who has everything hasn’t experienced the wonderful strangeness that is Moon Child, that might be a good choice for someone who has become a bit jaded with the medium.

9. Epic series

Maybe you know someone who delights in long-running stories? You can’t go wrong with shoujo classics like Red River, Legend of Basara, or Swan, my favorite ballet saga.

10. The new trend: omnibus editions

I’m happy about the trend towards larger collected editions. I’m glad I procrastinated buying the single volumes of Vagabond because now I can collect the VizBig editions.

Even someone who might already have the single volumes of series like Fushigi Yugi, Dragonball, Ruroni Kenshin, or Hot Gimmick might like the larger collected editions for the extras included.

If you know someone who enjoys beautiful men suffering, historical fiction, and Wagner perhaps they would enjoy the two oversize volumes of Ludwig II by You Higuri.

Some people might find Clover annoying for too much bad poetry. I think it does feature some of the most beautiful layouts that I’ve seen in manga and Dark Horse’s new omnibus edition might be a nice holiday treat for someone who doesn’t have the older Tokyopop volumes.

I hope you’ve been able to get a few ideas for the manga fan on your holiday shopping list!

As to what’s on my wishlist, I’m enjoying Swan so much I am thinking of going back and collecting From Eroica With Love. I’ve only read stray volumes here and there of Red River, so that’s another series I’d like to fill in. Kekkaishi is another series that I wish I’d been collecting from the beginning. I also am sporadic about buying Black Jack, which is always delightful in its own gristly way.

Bride of the Water God

Bride of the Water God Volume 1 by Mi-Kyung Yun

Does exquisitely pretty art compensate for lack of plot? Bride of the Water God tells the story of Soah, a young girl from a drought stricken village. At an early age she’s set aside as a candidate for sacrifice to the Water God Habaek. When she’s sacrificed she’s rescued instead of drowning and transported to Suguk, the land of the gods. Suguk is filled with floating islands, fish shaped hot air balloons, and an exceptionally attractive pantheon of gods.

Soah wanders aimlessly through a beautiful palace and meets her husband. Habaek appears in the form of a petulant child. At night his other form is that of a mature man, but when Soah sees a handsome fellow who looks suspiciously like her husband he introduces himself as Mui and Soah assumes that he’s Habaek’s cousin.

There isn’t much narrative urgency to the events that unfold in Bride of the Water God. The relationship between Soah and Habaek is burdened by constraints. Soah’s mother-in-law is rumored to be a vengeful goddess. Unforeseen dangers lurk in the land of the gods. This mahwa would seem dangerously inert, but it is made much more interesting by the detailed art. The world of Suguk is filled with vivid backgrounds and attractive gods wearing intricate costumes. While I wish there was a clearer narrative direction, I’ll likely check out the next couple volumes of this series to see if a plot that’s worthy of the art eventually develops.

Banya the Explosive Delivery Man and Hayate the Combat Butler

Banya the Explosive Delivery Man by Kim Young-Oh 3/5 stars (amazon.com)

Banya is a deliveryman in a historical fantasy world filled with warring tribes and strange monsters. His dedication to deliver packages at any cost finds him picking his way through a battlefield and polevaulting over castle walls. At every possible moment he likes to recite his delivery philosophy, “Fast. Precise. Secure”. This manhwa is very episodic, presenting sketches showing Banya and his two colleagues performing their jobs. Mei is occasionally violent in her protection of cute animals and Kong fills the role of scrappy younger boy sidekick. There isn’t a hint of an ongoing storyline or any theme except enthusiastic mail service and fight scenes. The art is very pretty, but it isn’t pretty enough to make up for the lack of plot and character development. I can see how this title does fit in very well with the type of manga that Dark Horse tends to publish. Banya has a sense of humor, and the fight scenes are violent and well-drawn. This volume starts with a couple full-color pages.

Hayate the Combat Butler by Kenjiro Hata 3/5 stars (amazon.com)

Hayate is having the worst Christmas ever – his unscrupulous and poor parents have stolen money from him, got him fired from his job as a bike messanger, and sold him to the yakuza for organ harvesting. He turns to Santa for help and gets nothing in return. Fed up with his previous philosophy of working hard to get ahead, Hayate decides to kidnap someone rich and hold them for ransom. He finds a rich-looking little girl named Nagi alone in the park, but she confuses his demands with a declaration of love. Hayate ends up becoming her personal butler, in a house with an attractive older maid named Maria and a strict head butler. Hayate faces his troubles with a lot of slapstick action – for some reason the butler initiation in Nagi ‘s house involves fighting a robot, tiger, and giant snake. Although it is amusing, it wasn’t laugh-out loud funny. My favorite moments involved Hayate invoking books like the A Dog of Flanders and A Little Princess when trying to come up with analogies to describe his life.

Both of these titles are ok, but I can’t see myself spending money buying future volumes.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service by Eiji Ohtsuka and Housui Yamazaki 4/5 stars (amazon.com)

“Man, it sucks being an entry-level Buddhist.”

A group of students with unique talents at a Buddhist university find that their skills make them totally unsuited for normal work, so they band together to form the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. They decide to help the dead who are trapped in their bodies, unable to move on. Kuro uses his psychic powers to speak to the dead. Tough guy Numata can dowse for corpses. Makino is a slightly ditsy embalmer who studied her trade in America. Yata channels aliens through his hand puppet. Ao is the group leader.
The manga follows a familiar episodic format. In every chapter the group finds a new corpse and they have to figure out what they need to do to give the spirit peace and hopefully get paid somehow. The interactions between the students as they start their new job are really funny. Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service features plenty of dead bodies in various stages of undress, so this is a title for mature readers. The manga also has a sound effects glossary in the back.