The Must-Read Manga of 2018 – Manga Therapy

2018 has been quite a year for anime, but it was also another year of standout manga in the West. Although it does feel like we’re about to hit peak saturation, there’s never been a better time to be a manga fan than now. Publishers have been paying more attention to the readers’ interests. From titles trending in Japan, to titles that have gotten buzz through the internet, there are a lot of titles released in English that are bound to please readers looking for all kinds of visual experiences in comic form.

As a manga blogger, I want to talk about a few titles I’ve been reading that stimulated me mentally this past year.

To Your Eternity by Yoshitoki Oima

I consider this to be a phenomenal work of art. Off the heels of A Silent Voice, Yoshitoki Oima begins with depicting the trauma of a girl with a hearing disability. It shortly evolves into the story of an immortal being who suffers the loss of their friends. The main character, Fushi, takes on the experiences of those losses to make themselves stronger as it learns what it means to feel human. The story offers glimpses of hope, but ends with a life lesson encouraging readers to process loss in order to become resilient. Perhaps more importantly, it’s loss that truly connects one another, and reminds us of our own humanity.

I consider To Your Eternity to be even better than A Silent Voice. The subject matter is very heavy, but that’s the point. I feel that sometimes we all act like we’re immortal ourselves. The world has taken steps for the better, but there’s a cost to all the convenience the modern world provides us. The world today leaves us disconnected, and unable to pass on traditions that connect one another. To Your Eternity is a reminder that we still need human connection to help us feel truly alive.

The Promised Neverland by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu

This is arguably the Death Note of this decade. The premise is about a group of children raised in an orphan house–which is more sinister than it appears. It chronicles the kids’ attempts in escaping the house, and venturing out into a world full of danger and mystery.

I love that there’s a lot of back-and-forth mind games on who outsmarts who; hence the comparison to Death Note. Readers come to find that the children are extremely resilient. Additionally, it’s fantastic to see that the main character, Emma, is a female who’s certainly not a damsel-in-distress. She’s intelligent, and has the optimistic Shonen attitude; similarly to her Shonen Jump peers (Naruto, Luffy, etc.). Emma is a standout character in the sense that she’s not there as a fan-service, which is refreshing to see.

The Promised Neverland is an addicting read full of tense cliffhangers. You can watch the stream via Funimation or Crunchyroll.

The Ancient Magus Bride by Kore Yamazaki

What the main character, Chise Hatori, goes through is very similar to someone who has had depression and suicidal thoughts. I wondered what the hype about the series was back when the anime premiered in the fall of 2017, but after reading the manga, The Ancient Magus Bride is worth the hype.

There are fantastic characters, beautiful art, and wonderful dialogue. Volume 9 of the series hit me hard as it highlighted a dark part of Chise’s past that she didn’t want to face. The volume showed how overwhelming stress tears families apart and how children end up feeling the after-effects even years later.

One of my favorite conversations from the series involves a dying dragon telling Chise that she’s not bound by her past and that she’s free to choose her path in life. I wish we were all told that we do have choices. That makes a world of difference.

Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for an Otaku by Fujita

This is one of the more refreshing reads on otaku dating. It’s neat to see a romance series focused on grown adults who happen to be otaku. Although there doesn’t seem to be too many serious moments, one stood out to me and it’s a date story where both the main characters, Narumi and Hirotaka, go to a theme park, but can’t talk about otaku interests due to a bet.

Before dating Hirotaka, Narumi experienced the hard knocks of life – rejection and heartbreak. She’s what you would consider a mature adult to most people. Hirotaka, however, has spent most of his life socializing minimally. While at the theme park, Hirotaka sees that there’s a big life experience gap the two–due to Narumi being a bit more social.

He feels that he’s left behind. I don’t know about anyone else, but I wonder about myself. It’s important to express yourself and stay true to who you are. But there are times where you have to say “Alright, I’ll let the other person have their fun.” That’s a big part of one’s social growth. I’m very knowledgeable about my hobbies, and it’s hard to witness other people interact better than me . I wonder if I’m not enough due to this insecurity.

Thankfully, in Wotakoi, Narumi assures Hirotaka that he’s just fine. I realize that the friends I do have like me the way I am. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop evolving, but I, like many others, just want to feel validated sometimes. Who says you can’t learn from wacky comedies about fandom?

Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura

This title was a big part of promoting geek girl expression. When it was first released in Japan and U.S., “female geeks” were becoming more prominent. Akiko Higashimura really created a title that’s ridiculous, serious, and full of warmth.

The main ladies of the group, AMARS, went from fujoshi who were rejected by peers to fashion designers. This type of story needs to be seen to be believed. I loved the fact that they were inspired by a cross-dressing young male, who has been rejected in life despite popularity among his peers.

Princess Jellyfish was a fun, coming-of-age story. It reminds me of the importance of friendship. But perhaps a stronger lesson the series teaches is that people who are different, are just as important. It’s those differences that open your eyes to rewarding experiences.

No one does important things alone. It takes people to help them along the way. That helps us become the princesses and princes we want to be.

Those are the titles that got me thinking hard about my mindset this year. There’s something about reading these in their original format that provides a unique experience you don’t get with anime. Reading manga helps you process how the action happens and how emotions are displayed. There are also more unique stories being told in manga compared to anime, especially in the area of mental health with certain titles like Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness (which was the 2018 Manga of the Year award-winner at the 2018 Crunchyroll Anime Awards) and Kabi’s follow-up, My Solo Exchange Diary.

Hope you enjoyed what I had to say and make it a habit to read (manga) to achieve!

Tony is a manga blogger and has been reading manga for 15+ years. After realizing how much reading manga helped his life, he started a blog that focuses on manga and the psychological aspects of the series that have captivated fans worldwide. You can read his blog at Manga Therapy. He can be reached on Twitter: @mangatherapy.

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