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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A Beginner's Guide to Manga: Single Volumes and Short Series


How much do you know about manga? Translated literally, ‘manga’ simply means comics. However, in America the term has come to be associated with black and white comics published in Japan, usually read in a right-to-left format.

Manga is popular. One-third of the entries on the New York Times Best-Selling Graphic Books and Manga list for May 2021 were manga. Demon Slayer: Infinity Train, a movie based off of the manga Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, has grossed over $499 million dollars worldwide. Many American apparel and hobby stores sell figures, clothes, and other products featuring characters from manga. For millennials and Gen Xers, some of your favorite children's cartoons might be based off of a manga! Remember Yu-Gi-Oh, Dragonball, or Sailor Moon? All based off of manga. Manga also has a reputation for being long-running. Iconic series can (and often) run for over twenty volumes. Some series can run even longer: the pirate series One Piece has released 97 volumes in English, a number that puts prolific writers like John Grisham to shame. 

But while the sheer length of the most popular manga series can be intimidating, there are plenty of smaller series or stand-alone manga that would work wonderfully as an introduction to the form. This blog post will highlight manga series, all three or fewer volumes, that could be a wonderful starting point for your library's collection or just a good point for someone who doesn't know much about manga to learn about it. The works are divided into age-appropriate categories: all ages, young adult, and adult. 

As a note, the line between ‘young adult’ and ‘adult’ is often blurred in the manga world. Many of the adult titles would be suitable for teenage readers as well. I’ve decided to place them in the adult category due to some mature themes, graphic content, and language.  

All Ages 

Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix, by Shiro Amano. Two volumes. A young boy named Sora, a court wizard named Donald, and a captain of the guard named Goofy team up to find Sora’s missing friends as well as King Mickey, king of Disney Castle. This manga is based on the popular video game series that places classic Disney characters (such as Ariel, Donald Duck, Jiminy Cricket, etc.) in a fighting game setting. You’ll want to pay close attention to the title for this one: there are a LOT of manga with different titles in the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Ironically enough considering the title, Final Mix is the one you’ll want to start with: it is an adaptation of the first Kingdom Hearts game, with a few manga-exclusive bonus chapters as well. 

Little Witch Academia, by Yoh Yoshinari, Keisuke Sato, Studio TRIGGER. Three volumes. Atsuko “Akko” Kagari has been accepted to the prestigious Luna Nova Witchcraft Academy! But as the only student from a non-magical family, she’s got a lot of catching up to do, especially if she wants to get on the same level as her idol, a magical showman named Shiny Chariot. The series details Akko’s quest to learn magic and make friends, proving all her doubters wrong along the way.

Manga Classics: Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, Crystal Chan, and Kuma Chan. One volume. Manga purists may scoff at this entry as this is an adaptation of a Canadian book made by a non-Japanese company. But for those people new to manga, an adaptation of a familiar property might help ease them into the form's style. The story follows Anne, a bright and spirited young orphan girl, who's plucky presence impacts and changes the town of Green Gables. If Anne’s adventures aren’t to your taste, Manga Classics has also adapted other classic books and plays in a manga format, such as Hamlet, Les Miserables, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  

Swans in Space, by Lun Lun Yamamoto. Three volumes. Corona and Lan are new recruits to the Space Patrol, an agency dedicated to helping those across the galaxy. With their trusted instructor named Instructor, the girls are off to explore new planets! Swans in Space is a charming series, fit for those of all ages. And, most notably, the series is published in full color! (Most manga are published in black and white)  

Young Adult  

Giant Spider & Me: A Post-Apocalyptic Tale, by Kikori Morino. Three volumes A young girl named Nabi and her giant spider friend live together in the mountains, by themselves, after the apocalypse. This absolutely charming manga is one part slice-of-life, focusing on Nabi and her spider friend as they explore the world around them, and one part recipe blog, as the manga features detailed recipes for the meals that Nabi and the giant spider eat. It’s a remarkably charming manga despite it’s large arachnid protagonist.  

Go For It, Nakamura! by Syundei. One volume. Nakamura has fallen in love with his classmate, Hirose. There are just a few problems: Hirose doesn’t know Nakamura exists and Nakamura is way too shy to confess! This comedic manga is about a boy trying to confess his love to another boy and all the pitfalls that ensue. Don’t be put off if you see the term “boy’s love” being thrown around in reviews: that doesn’t mean it’s sexual! “Boy’s love” is simply the Japanese term for books that feature men falling in love with other men. Go For It, Nakamura! focuses more on the heart-stopping feelings of first love than anything more explicit.

Kageki Shojo!! The Curtain Rises, by Kumiki Saiki. One volume. Two girls join a prestigious all-girls theater school for two different reasons: the loud and brash Sarasa Watanabe dreams of playing her favorite roles on the stage and the quiet and reserved Ai Narata simply wants to live in a world where she doesn’t have to deal with men. The two girls might have different personalities, but they work towards the same goal: standing on the stage as stars. This series is the prequel to another series, just titled Kageki Shojo, and will be receiving a televised adaptation in the next few months!  

Magic Knight Rayearth, by CLAMP. Three volumes. Three girls are brought to the magical land of Cephiro and tasked with becoming Magic Knights to save the land’s princess. Stories of teenagers from our world being brought to fantasy worlds to save it via swords and sorcery are a very popular manga trend right now. Magic Knight Rayearth serves as a short yet solid introduction to the genre, with the bonus of some giant robot fights near the end. The series has a sequel series, also three volumes.  

Uzumaki, by Junji Ito. Three volumes collected in one book. Most of Junji Ito’s work would fit wonderfully for this entry: the man is a master of horror and has published many short manga and short story collections. But out of all of them, one of his best-known works is the chilling horror manga Uzumaki. The story focuses on Kurouzu-cho, a town obsessed with spirals, and the two teenagers who try to figure out the mystery behind it. Ito’s works are not for the faint of heart, and Uzumaki is no exception. It’s a delightfully dark and macabre mystery, with a new horror in almost every chapter.  


All You Need is Kill, original story by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Storyboards by Ryosuke Takeuchi, Original Illustrations by Yoshitoshi Abe, Art by Takeshi Obata. Two volumes. Each day, Keiji Kiriya dies on the battlefield only to be revived the next day to go off and fight again. This continues for ages until he gets a message from a mysterious female ally that might lead to his salvation. All You Need is Kill is a tight, dramatic action-packed manga, adapted from the novel of the same name. And if the premise sounds familiar, that’s because the series inspired the Tom Cruise film Edge of Tomorrow.  

Claudine, by Riyoko Ikeda. One volume. Claudine follows the titular Claudine, a trans man in early 20th century France. The story focuses on Claudine’s life, his pain, and the women he loves and loses along the way. Even though this is a manga from the 1970s, Ikeda's portrayal of Claudine is sympathetic and never transphobic—in fact, the psychiatrist that Claudine sees is accepting of his gender. As a note, Riyoko Ikeda is best known for an intense, soap opera style, of which Claudine is no exception. Ikeda’s style colors the entire work, making it delightfully dramatic.  

Devilman: The Classic Collection, by Go Nagai. Two volumes. Hordes of demons have descended upon the Earth! Mankind’s only hope is Fudo Akira, a soft-hearted crybaby who has been given the powers of a demon to fight back. With the powers of a devil but the soul of a man, Akira fights back the demons as Devilman. This is a collection of re-printed Devilman manga from the 1970s, given a new translation and lovely binding. Devilman is a horror manga is gritty, gross, and not for the faint of heart. It’s also an absolute classic. Go Nagai is a titan of the manga industry, and this is Nagai at his absolute best.  

Haru’s Curse, by Asuka Konishi. One volume. After her sister Haru dies, Natsumi agrees to date Haru’s fiancĂ©e, Togo. But as Natsumi and Togo try to make their relationship work, the memory of Haru looms over every interaction. Natsumi and Togo have to sort out their complicated feelings towards Haru and towards each other. Haru’s Curse is a dramatic yet sad story, touching on grief, familial love, and two people brought together by tragedy. If you want a page-turner of a manga, this is the one for you. 

Olympos, by Aki. One volume. This manga retells the Greek myth of Ganymede, a man so attractive the gods brought him up to Olympus. The story can get a little simple and a little philosophical at times, but the artwork more than makes up for it. Aki’s gorgeous artwork is easily the highlight of this book, which provides a sensual feast for the eyes. 

Of course, there’s more short manga than what I’ve listed! I’ll close this off with links to articles listing short series or single-volume manga.  

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