April Favorites

Time moves differently when you have a baby. Though being stuck at home without seeing family and friends makes things feel sluggish, I also can’t believe that my daughter is approaching three months old in a mere few days. Maybe it’s the fact that I turned 30 at the beginning of the month, but I’m starting to feel like an old person who can’t stop saying “Where has the time gone?” Not that 30 is remotely old; in fact, I’ve been excited to reach this milestone for quite some time…though doing so while isolated has been an odd experience.

Still, some exciting things have happened this month. I’m back to recording with Manga Machinations! It’s so nice to be back talking about manga with the guys, getting a little time away from mom duties. I’m super excited that we’re doing a Yu Yu Hakusho retrospective series right now! I haven’t had an opportunity to write all my feelings about Yu Yu Hakusho (because they are vast and hard to articulate), but it’s one of my favorite series. To pique your interest, there’s an awesome promo video, as well as my reread thread on Twitter. And of course, there’s the first episode! Check it out!

Happily, I’ve been able to do quite a bit of reading this month. I’m starting to get into a good routine where that’s concerned, trying to read when Severina nurses (if she’s cooperative, which is less often lately), and then getting more reading done at night after she’s down for bed. Writing gets done during nap times — like right now, she’s sleeping on me in a sling. By the time I finish this blog post, I probably will have come back to it several times. There’s a learning curve to balancing working and parenting (and luckily I have my husband home right now to keep helping), but we’re getting the hang of it. In many ways, being at stuck at home right now is working to my benefit, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. At least there’s plenty to read!

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Happy Mania, Volume 1 — by Moyoco Anno, published by Tokyopop (out of print)

I’ve been feeling really nostalgic about manga lately. I’m wondering if this is a byproduct of no longer working in comics, and therefore not being up on everything that’s new right now at all times like I used to be. Regardless, this led me to find some used copies of old Tokyopop volume ones that I never got to read back when they were in print. As someone who came late to Moyoco Anno, it was important to me to check out Happy Mania. And as I expected, it was a riot. Protagonist Shigeta works at a bookstore and is desperate for a boyfriend. She continually keeps going out with guys who take her for granted, meanwhile her coworker Takahashi is clearly in love with her — and is a decent, dependable guy to boot. Shigeta is very much her own worst enemy when it comes to romance, and I continue to admire Anno’s willingness to depict women with glaring flaws. Her protagonists toe that line between insufferable and lovable, and as always, her frenetic artwork is a refreshing break from overly-trendy styles. It looks like there’s a sequel to this series in Japan. With the original out of print here, I doubt this new series will see the light of translation, but I can hope!

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Spy X Family, Volume 1 — by Tatsuya Endo, published by VIZ Media (available digitally through Shonen Jump, print version out June 2nd)

People have been talking up Spy X Family for a while, and I finally got on the train because it’s coming out in print, and I have an opportunity to review it for Comics Beat (which I plan on doing). This is another one of those circumstances where I kick myself for not reading it sooner; it’s way more up my alley than I had anticipated! A spy known as “Twilight” is put on a mission to infiltrate the prestigious school, necessitating the acquisition of a fake family. The catch is that his “family” cannot know about his mission, otherwise it will be jeopardized. He adopts a little girl named Anya, not realizing that she is the result of government experimentation that left her with psychic abilities. Through happenstance, he marries an assassin named Yor, who is also trying to keep her job a secret from him. Little Anya is the only one who knows the whole story, and she isn’t telling anyone! I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for found family stuff, and I especially love Twilight’s reasoning to become a spy in the first place. The first volume is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming, and I am definitely planning to continue reading.

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Wave, Listen to Me!, Volume 1 — by Hiroaki Samura, published by Kodansha Comics (digital available now, print version out May 26th)

Time to confess that I’ve never read Blade of the Immortal (and I suspect it’s not really my kind of manga). This is actually the first Hiroaki Samura manga I’ve read all the way through, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. Minare Koda is a loud-mouthed waitress who spills her drunken heartbreak to a local radio show host at a bar one night. He records her ramblings and airs them on live radio, pulling her into the world of broadcasting with his desire to harness her untrained but ceaseless voice and see what comes of it. Minare reminds me a bit of Shigeta from Happy Mania, actually, in that she’s a fast-talking lady preoccupied with her love life who goes off on wild fantasy tangents a lot. Samura is an excellent artist, so I’m really glad to be able to read something of his that doesn’t seem to rely on the, uh…torture of women. Though Minare might feel tortured to some extent in this series! There’s a current anime adaptation of this series airing right now, as well, which makes the print version’s timing excellent.

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The Art of Junji Ito: Twisted Visions — by Junji Ito, published by VIZ Media

When VIZ announced that they were going to be publishing this for North America, I was really glad I hadn’t dropped $90CAD on the original Japanese printing at TCAF last year — though it was extremely tempting. To say that it’s a gorgeous collection of paintings and illustrations is an understatement. The silver and black of the jacket is echoed on the interior pages that were originally black and white, giving the feeling that they are truly special. Most fans are used to seeing Ito’s pen and ink illustrations, and while there are plenty of those, it is exciting to see his painting work, and to learn in the interview at the back that his original intention was to be a painter and not a mangaka at all. As always, his quirky and self-deprecating sense of humor shines through in translation. This is a must-have for an Ito completionist (like myself), and a great addition to any art book library, as well.

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A Man and His Cat, Volume 1 — by Umi Sakurai, published by Square Enix

Square Enix is having a moment right now with the release of the new Final Fantasy VII remake. But a couple months back, they released their first manga as a North American publisher (having already been a publisher in Japan for many years). One of those new manga is A Man and His Cat, AKA the exact kind of thing I love to read. In it, a chubby, so-ugly-he’s-cute cat who has been ignored by shoppers at a pet store for over a year is worried that he will never find his forever home. One day, however, an older gentleman adopts him, naming him Fukumaru. The man had been living all alone after the death of his wife, and the two had always talked about getting a pet. The first volume is packed with situations instantly recognizable to those who share their home with a cat. In many ways, it reminded me of What Michael?, except there is a loose ongoing plot and far less absurdist humor. It’s sweet, it made me chuckle, and I’m looking forward to more!

If we stay in a state of relative physical isolation for much longer, all of my monthly favorites are going to be this long! Hopefully there’s something here to help you pass the time, as well. Stay safe!

March Favorites

Hey all, I hope you’re all doing well. This has been a wild month for all of us, I’m sure. For my part, not a whole lot of day-to-day has changed. I already work from home, so I’ve been meeting deadlines as usual (though I’m taking on fewer things right now as I still adjust to being a work from home mom). My husband is still on paternity leave until April 13, but it’s looking like he’s going to be working from home after that point, as well. We were already largely staying at home since Sev can’t get her flu shot until she’s 6 months old, but now the flu has been completely overshadowed by COVID-19. And of course, we can’t have any visitors now. My mother had been coming up from Connecticut weekly to spend the day with us, and we really miss her presence.

It almost feels silly to do a reading round-up, a little unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But I think a lot of people are trying to find ways to spend their time at home, so hopefully some reading recommendations won’t be amiss. And besides, sometimes it’s helpful for our mental health to try to keep some sense of normalcy in the face of adversity.

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The Golden Sheep, Volume 1, by Kaori Ozaki — published by Vertical Comics

This is one I missed when it initially came out and ended up borrowing from the library before we all had to avoid public spaces. I had read and loved Kaori Ozaki’s The Gods Lie, so I was eager to read something else of her’s. In The Golden Sheep, protagonist Tsugu Miikura is moving back to her hometown after having moved away in elementary school. She is eager to reunite with her three childhood friends, expecting that nothing would have changed between them in the intervening years. Unfortunately, she finds that tensions in the group are high, and her dream of coming home to something familiar winds up backfiring. Ozaki’s got an incredible ability to pepper her high drama stories with humor and gentleness. The simplicity of her character designs does not hinder their expressiveness; indeed, her characters are full of emotion. I may have to wait until I can go back to the library to read the second volume, but I’m looking forward to it!

Kakushigoto: My Dad's Secret Ambition

Kakushigoto: My Dad’s Secret Ambition, Volume 1, by Kouji Kumeta — published by Kodansha Comics, available digitally

I honestly wasn’t expecting to like this manga. I almost didn’t read it at all, in fact. At first glance, it can seem like one of those series where a father has a questionable relationship with his daughter. In this case, father Kakushi Goto is a mangaka who specializes in “dirty” manga. He is desperately trying to keep his career a secret from his little daughter, Hime. He wants to protect her from the embarrassment of having a father in a sleazy line of work, not realizing that everyone around him respects him and loves his work. In pursuit of keeping his secret, Kakushi gets into a lot of weird and humorous situations. But I was most struck by the fact that this really does seem to be a sweet story about a father who wants what’s best for his daughter, and a daughter who loves and supports her father no matter what. I personally also like the inside baseball stuff about the manga industry. My favorite part was the frankly absurd cameo by Kazuhiro Fujita, creator of Ushio & Tora and The Ghost and the Lady. Really fun, and available digitally — so good quarantine reading!

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Therapy Game, Volume 1, by Meguru Hinohara — published by VIZ Media’s SuBLime imprint, available June 9, 2020

This is another manga I liked more than I anticipated! This is the sequel series to Meguru Hinohara’s oneshot Secret XXX (coming out April 14), which I also had a review copy of and thought was reasonably cute. But Therapy Game has character types I like better: the aloof, beautiful, and very gay guy who is actually very sensitive, and the gentle, heartbroken guy who is trying to sort out his feelings. The story focuses on the brothers of the main characters from Secret XXX, Shizuma and Minato. Shizuma had been drinking his sorrows away in a gay bar after getting dumped by his girlfriend, and Minato happened to listen to him and then take him to a hotel room to sleep off the booze. Shizuma, allegedly straight and definitely wasted, ends up giving Minato an extremely memorable evening — which Shizuma completely forgets by morning. Minato decides that he’s going to get revenge by seducing Shizuma and then dumping him, but of course…real feelings crop up unexpectedly! It’s definitely a dramatic, sappy manga, and it leaves off on a bit of a cliffhanger in terms of the guys’ relationship. But I often feel like I have to wade through a lot of middling to bad BL, and this one stood out in character and artwork for me. You don’t have to have read Secret XXX to understand what’s going on, but a couple references might be lost on you. (I didn’t realize it was a sequel going in, only realizing it after seeing characters from the other manga.) Needless to say, this is absolutely a mature manga for readers 18 years old and over. There’s not a lot of explicit sex, but it’s definitely there, so reader beware!

And that’s March! I hope that by the end of April, we’ll all have some better news about COVID-19. In the meantime, I have to spend my birthday and Easter both at home away from family and friends, and that’s hard — but it’s necessary, and I know we’re all giving up a lot to make sure that we flatten the curve! Please be safe and responsible, and if you can, take advantage of any free time to catch up on reading, or take up a hobby, or just simply rest. And wash your hands! ;3

A Little Life Update + January & February Favorites

As promised, I didn’t update last month because I was busy being 9 months pregnant. On February 3rd, my daughter Severina was born, a little late but in good health! In the ensuing weeks, I’ve been busy trying to learn how to do this whole “mom” thing, and just generally enjoying her presence. She sleeps a lot, of course, so I’ve had a chance to get a little reading done as I ease back into work, on top of the reading I got done before she arrived. That means this is a longer “favorites” post than usual — a nice challenge for me as I get back into the groove of writing!

I’m also trying something new this month. I’ve become an affiliate of Bookshop.org, a website that is seeking to redirect some of Amazon’s book sale profits to independent bookstores. I try not to preach too much, but I have serious concerns about Amazon’s affect on the publishing industry, so I’m glad to be able to provide an alternative option to readers. Full disclosure: If you order books through my links, I will get a percentage of that sale. I am obviously very grateful if you do choose to do that — but I would also encourage you to try to do more of your book shopping through the website itself when you can’t get to your local independent bookstore or comic shop, regardless of whether it kicks back to me or not. It will benefit other affiliate bookstores and folks in the world of book retail and reviewing.

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What’s Michael? Fat Cat Collection, Volume 1, by Makoto Kobayashi — published by Dark Horse Comics

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will likely have seen some of my ravings about What’s Michael? in the past, and will know that I’m a huge lover of cats. This hilarious series is about the quirks of cats, as shown through Michael, a sort of stand-in for all orange tabbies everywhere, and his cat companions. This is also, however, a series about the quirks of cat lovers; frequently the human characters are depicted as going above and beyond what seems reasonable in favor of providing the best for their cats. My personal favorite recurring characters are the yakuza member known as K who doesn’t want anyone to know that he keeps and dotes on a cat, and his rival yakuza member M who doesn’t want anyone to know that he is horribly afraid of cats. Each man is worried about shattering his manly image, you see. Makoto Kobayashi seems to enjoy the incongruity of stereotypically masculine men loving cats, and it is clear from his keen observation that he himself is a great lover of felines. Dark Horse had originally published this series in smaller volumes back in the 90s, and I’m really, really excited that they’re bringing it back in this “fatcat” edition for a new wave of cat-loving readers!

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Our Dining Table, by Mita Ori — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I read a lot of BL, and the majority of it is…not great, honestly. I wade through a lot of excessive drama seeking out romances that are sweet, or comforting, or just plain pleasant. Luckily, those kinds of BL are becoming easier to find, and I would count Our Dining Table among them — though honestly, the romance is more of a bonus than a feature in this cozy food manga. Yutaka is a salaryman who has trouble eating around others. One day, he intercepts the young Tane, a little boy with a big appetite who becomes obsessed with Yutaka’s homemade onigiri. Through Tane, Yutaka meets Minoru, his older brother, and the three fall into a pattern of sharing meals together regularly. Obviously a romance buds between Yutaka and Minoru, but the real draw is the focus on shared meals — regardless of their quality — as a vehicle for creating familial bonds. As someone who grew up in an Italian household (and who loves food), this idea of sharing meals as a family is really important to me. I loved to see it utilized in a “found family” narrative, highlighting the importance of nourishing each other physically and emotionally.

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You Are New, by Lucy Knisley — published by Chronicle Books

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here. You Are New is actually a picture book that I bought for my daughter before she was born. But I’m including it here because it is another in an ever-growing collection of works by cartoonist Lucy Knisley about…well, babies. I haven’t forgotten my promise to write a piece about pregnancy and parenthood in comics, and I’m slowly accruing a small horde of books and links to use to that end. Knisley keeps churning out content that simply demands to be part of that future post! In this case, she speaks directly to children instead of parents, assuring them that their newness — whether it’s because they were just born or because they are meeting new people or whatever the case may be — is a wonderful gift of growth and change. We are constantly in the process of reinventing ourselves day to day, and none moreso than children. I’ve read this to Severina a few times now, both before and since she was born. Soon, she’ll be able to appreciate the lovely, bright illustrations that depict kids of all ages and backgrounds. Until then, well…she’s still very new!

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Kodocha, Volume 1, by Miho Obana — published by Tokyopop (out of print)

This also feels a bit like cheating, since this is actually a reread — though I first read this manga in 8th grade, about seventeen or so years ago! I have a soft spot for “old” shojo (stuff from the 90s and early 00s, basically), and on a whim realized that I wanted to revisit this series, which is so good at balancing absurd, slapsticky humor with intense, soap opera-style drama. Protagonist Sana is a famous actress, and she’s having trouble at school with a bully named Akito. As she tries to fight back against his classroom tyranny, she learns about his tragic past and is spurred to help his family overcome their issues through her performance in a movie that closely mirrors their experiences. It sounds trite, and perhaps in some ways it is…but there’s something so appealing about the characters that I find myself drawn in, anyway. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but if you can find old copies of Kodocha at your library or used somewhere, I do recommend checking it out, especially if you remember the good old bad days of North American manga publishing.

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Blue Flag, Volume 1, by KAITO — published by VIZ Media (available April 21, 2020)

This is one of those series around which there’s been a lot of buzz, so I was really excited to see it getting a print release through VIZ this year. In many ways, Blue Flag seems like a straightforward high school drama revolving around an uncomfortable love triangle. Protagonist Taichi is entering his final year of high school, and discovers that he’s in the same class as his childhood friend, Toma. While Toma doesn’t seem to think anything between them has changed, Taichi feels that Toma’s popularity and good-naturedness separate them, and he doesn’t really considering Toma a close friend. He happens to discover that a timid girl in his class, Futaba Kuze, has a crush on Toma. She asks for Taichi’s help to get Toma’s attention — and complications ensue. The three get along well, but Toma is hiding his real feelings about his own affections, and Taichi suddenly feels far more attached to Kuze than he anticipated, especially considering he rather disliked her at the outset of the manga. I had never read anything by KAITO before, but his artwork is absolutely lovely, and he manages to keep a high school love triangle (one of my least favorite tropes) interesting through genuinely likable characters. So far, there’s no overly-dramatic backstabbing or eyeroll-worthy declarations of romantic intention. And besides, there’s an LGBTQ+ angle here as well, and I’m curious to see how that’s handled in future volumes.

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My Androgynous Boyfriend, Volume 1, by Tamekou — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

Upon seeing my Goodreads rating of this volume, a friend with whom I didn’t think I had much discussed my love of androgynous men commented, “Oh brand.” And truly, this is a very on brand manga for me in so many ways. Wako is a hard-working manga editor who isn’t terribly interested in her own appearance, but who loves cute and beautiful things. This affection extends to her boyfriend, the fashionable and feminine Meguru. This unlikely couple loves each other fiercely, and the story mainly revolves around the misconceptions others have about their sexualities (since some people assume Meguru is a woman, or that he is gay). So far, even though Wako and Meguru both deal with some struggles in their professional and personal lives, this is a series without any malice. These two lovebirds are happy with each other, and they work hard to maintain their relationship with a great deal of mutual respect and admiration. The first volume was simply relaxing and enjoyable to read, and I look forward to seeing what future volumes have in store.

Well, there’s two months’ worth of recommendations for you, dear readers! I’ll be getting back to reviewing for Comics Beat soon, too, so continue to look for my long-form reviews there. Much as the time away has been nice (and brief!), I’m looking forward to diving headlong back into manga writing, as well as my other work. It’s important to keep the mind active, even when caring for a child! At the very least, I’ll be back again next month for another favorites post, so keep an eye out for it.

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December Favorites

It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote up my favorite comics from November, but here we are already — the last day of 2019. It’s been quite the year for me, both in terms of my involvement with comics and in my personal life. A new year and a new decade is an exciting prospect! This will probably be my last monthly favorites post for a while, since next month I’ll be getting my bearings as a mother. As promised, I’ve been trying to slowly collect comics on pregnancy and motherhood, so I hope to write about that once I have some of my own experience with this new part of my identity! And I’m thinking of trying to combine some of my parenting experience with comic recommendations, but that might have to wait until my little one is out of infancy — we shall see!

But anyway, I’m jumping the gun a bit here. For this month, I’ve got a couple goodies that deserve some recognition!

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Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, Volume 1, by Yuji Kaku — published by VIZ Media

So far, I’ve only read the first volume of this series, despite the fact that it can be read chapter-by-chapter on the Shonen Jump website. A print copy is coming out in March, so I snagged an advance review copy — and I’m glad I noticed it, because otherwise I may not have thought to read this series! Ninja assassin Gabimaru has been sentenced to death for his crimes, but the stoic executioner Sagiri has been able to discern that he wants nothing more than to be reunited with his wife. She makes a deal with him: Gabimaru can go free if he finds the elusive Elixir of Life on behalf of the shogun. The Elixir is rumored to be on a mysterious island that keeps sending back every explorer as hardly human, blissful and with flowers growing out of their bodies. I enjoyed this first volume because it combines my interest in aesthetic violence/gore, my appreciation of a supposedly unfeeling character with an emotional weakness, and a complex female character who has to overcome her own insecurities as the story progresses. There are some seriously creepy monster designs even just in this initial book, so I’m looking forward to what this strange hell island has to offer going forward!

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The Harrowing of Hell, by Evan Dahm — published by Iron Circus Comics, out March 10, 2020

It’s been a…hellish month, I guess! I don’t talk much about religion in general, but I was raised Catholic and even though I am not practicing, there are a lot of aspects of my religious upbringing that are still important to me. Chief among them is Jesus as a man, trying despite all the setbacks to preach radical peace. I follow creator Evan Dahm on Twitter, and I’ve been looking forward to his interpretation of Jesus’s descent into Hell for a long time now. The final product — or at least the advance copy I was able to get — is a gorgeous, black-white-and-red, ink-heavy, heart-heavy journey that was a pleasure to read. It spoke to me very directly as a lapsed Catholic, and as someone who appreciates seeing the humanity in Jesus more than the divinity. I think I’d like to read it again once it officially comes out to see what I’ve missed, because I suspect that the physical book will offer a more satisfying, tactile read than the digital galley. This is the second of Dahm’s works I’ve read, and I continue to be impressed by his ability to say so much with imagery. Also, I just really liked the little ribbon-like tails on the word bubbles in this volume. It was a sweet little detail that felt very special and carefully considered.

I suppose it seems odd to end the year/decade reading books about Hell or Hell-like places! It wasn’t really intentional, but these types of stories tend to be among my favorites. I’m hoping to read a lot of Jigokuraku while on my self-imposed maternity leave; in fact, I’m hoping to get a lot of reading done, in general, since I’ll have a lot of time where I’m sitting still holding/nursing a baby. Best laid plans of mice and Mo, of course — I feel as though I say I hope to read more every month.

There may be one more blog post in me after the New Year and before the baby arrives. But just in case there’s not, I hope everyone has a wonderful start to 2020, and that the year ahead brings lots and lots of manga to everyone!

November Favorites

Well, I realize we’re already nearly halfway through December, but I promised monthly favorites lists, and by golly I’m going to get one out to you! I had considered rolling November and December together, but I have a brief moment of respite between all the end-of-the-year deadlines, so I thought I’d take a few to get this done.

Like many people, my life gets increasingly hectic starting in October and ending…well, never, but at least settling down somewhat by January. November saw me baby showered, nursery tidying, having my blood pressure monitored at the hospital, celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, attending a birthing class, and just generally becoming more worn down as I entered the third trimester. Even more has happened since November, but I’ll leave that to next month’s favorites list (which might be the last one for a while).

And of course, much of my reading these days comes down to what is necessary for work, not always what is foremost on my personal interest list. I’ve gotten much more reading done this month already — somehow, being extra busy means finding creative ways to get other things done sometimes! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at two stand-out comics that I read in November!

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Nicola Traveling Around the Demons’ World, Volume 1, by Asaya Miyanaga — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I wrote a full review of this manga over at Comics Beat, but I couldn’t help but talk it up again. I have a hard time finding manga that I can unreservedly recommend for all ages, but Nicola is one of those rare books that I can hand to any kid confident that it will be fun, appropriate, and suitably weird. Obviously, parents who keenly object to sympathetic depictions of Hell might be put off, but on the whole, this is a story about a sweet little witch girl who is scooped up by a traveling Devil merchant on her quest through the demon world. She has only one magical ability: she can make a flower appear. She is proud of this, but sad that she can’t seem to get any further in her magic abilities — except that she’s had a couple big breakthroughs that she can’t replicate. The premise is fun, the characters are charming, and the sketchy quality of the artwork (printed in brown ink in the physical version of the manga) is unique and rich. I was pleased that my initial review on Comics Beat led my cousin to consider it for his daughter’s Christmas gift; it’s an excellent pick for the kid who delights in the weird but isn’t really keen on being outright scared.

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Baby: A Soppy Story, by Philippa Rice — published by Andrews McMeel, out January 14, 2020

When I announced my pregnancy, I put out a call for comics recommendations about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. The options, especially for pregnancy narratives, were very slim, and I was beginning to get disheartened. But it looks like there are a number of autobiographical pregnancy comics coming early next year, right around the time my own baby will be born! I was lucky to be able to grab an early copy of Philippa Rice’s Baby, which is both gentle and honest in its depiction of Rice’s experience with her first pregnancy. (Judging by her Instagram feed, it looks like she’s pregnant again — with twins!) I’ve read a little bit of her other work (like Sister BFFs), and I’m always struck by how similar our experiences are…and only slightly because she draws herself a little bit like how I look/used to look, all bobbed hair and red/black/white clothing, haha. This little book had me laughing, nodding, and sighing along with how relatable it is to my own pregnancy experience, and it really got me excited about bringing this new little life into the world. Her work is very sweet, so I definitely recommend looking back through her previous works while you wait for this book to come out in January!

So this month was something for the kiddos and something for moms and moms-to-be, it looks like! Next week, I’m expecting my in-laws in town for the holidays, so there’s a chance that the December Favorites will also be delayed. I am pretty keen on getting it done, however, since who knows how much I’ll be able to do once I have a tiny baby attached to me at all hours of the day. Until then, I hope everyone has an enjoyable holiday season full of warmth, tasty meals, family and/or friends, and excitement for the year ahead!

October Favorites

October is over! Can you believe it — my favorite month zipped by so quickly, just like it does every year. I love Halloween but also always get a little sad when it gets close because that means the spookiest month of the year will soon be done. But no matter, November is also lovely, and the holidays are coming up fast. I do enjoy spending the cold winter months with family — and this year we’ll be inviting a new member come late January or early February, so there’s a lot to look forward to!

This year, I helped to organize and run the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, better known as MICE. Because it was my first time helping, and because I was not as mobile as usual, I felt like I did more observing and learning than anything else. But I had a wonderful time, and I was even able to pick up a couple zines on pregnancy and motherhood! I’m slowly chipping away at my goal of writing about what I’m affectionately referring to as “mom comics.”

Other than MICE and Halloween, it’s been business as usual. I read a couple lovely things this month that I want to share with you, both very much in the spirit of the spooky season!

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The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, by Nagabe — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I actually did a full review of this manga for Comics Beat (along with a review of Cats of the Louvre), but I just wanted to reiterate how much I enjoyed it since I don’t write those reviews in the first person, and these posts on my blog are more about my personal opinions! Wize Wize Beasts is, in a word, great. It is fluffy BL romances set in a magical wizarding world full of humanoid animals. It plays with some BL and romance tropes that aren’t my favorite (like a student-teacher mutual attraction, though it doesn’t get taken too far), but it’s mostly just fun. I keep using the word “indulgent” to describe it, because it’s not pretending to be anything other than pure entertainment. And, as always, Nagabe’s artwork is wonderful — dark and whimsical, with deft character designs.

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The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television, by Koren Shadmi — published by Life Drawn (Humanoids)

Oh, Rod Serling. I had been looking forward to reading this advanced copy I had for a while, and I finally just went for it. No regrets. I’m a huge fan of The Twilight Zone and of Rod Serling as a writer and a person, so this biographical comic was always going to be my catnip. It is thoroughly and lovingly researched, and follows Serling from his days serving in World War II all the way through post-Twilight Zone and to his all-too-early death. Koren Shadmi chose to depict the entire book in black and white/grayscale, which I really appreciate. As a manga reader, I often prefer black and white comics because I like to see the use of texture and shading really pop (which is possible in color comics, of course, but less common). In this case, it also lends that old-TV look and feel, giving us the Rod Serling we all recognize from our small screen. I also love the way Shadmi used the framing of The Twilight Zone to pull a bit of a twist on the reader — but I don’t want to give anything away! Definitely give it a read if you’re interested in the show, the man, or in the television industry in the 50s and 60s. There’s a lot of really fascinating information about how writers, producers, and studios operated at the time that I think most people wouldn’t know much about otherwise — and a lot of conversation about commercialism, appealing to the “lowest common denominator” of an audience, and being subject to the whims of the censors.

And that’s October’s recommendations! Just two months left this year, and I’m way behind on my Goodreads reading challenge, which isn’t too much of a surprise. We’ll see if I’m able to make it to 250 books (an ambitious goal to be sure) by the end of December. I definitely have some really interesting manga in my to-read pile, so I’m looking forward to having more to share by the end of November. Until then, happy reading!

 

Hallowmangaween!

Halloween is my favorite holiday. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a month(s)-long revel in the joys and fears of mortality, capped by the actual three-day event (Halloween, All Souls’ Day, and All Saints’ Day — I was raised Catholic!). And every year, I tell myself I’m going to experience it to its fullest and be the absolute Halloweeniest I can be — which is almost always derailed by being involved in one too many other activities.

One of my intentions every year is to write about Halloween-appropriate manga, meaning outright horror fare, as well as titles that just generally get into the Halloween spirit. When someone asked me recently on Twitter if I was going to do a horror post for October, I realized that I really had to stop procrastinating and give it a go. And so here we are.

There are countless manga that work in a round-up like this, and countless in-depth pieces that can be written about each of them, surely. For the purposes of this year’s attempt, I’m going to pick out some of my absolute favorites and separate them into different categories in an effort to make this all easy to digest. I hope that this list provides you all with some spooky reading to accompany your horror movie marathons, costume balls, haunted hay rides, cider-sipping, candy-scarfing, and general creepy merriment!

Monster Children

As a society, we’ve decided that children are scary. They pop up in horror films both in Japan and in the West, eerie because of their unpredictable nature and the lack of reason and logic that governs an adult mind. The monster children of the manga I’ve chosen are a little different, operating more as either moral guides or as helpless, sympathetic figures who have unfortunately lost their way or been made to perform bad deeds. I’m particularly fond of this kind of narrative, which asks the reader to consider what exactly it means to be a monster. Very Frankenstein, but with the added bonus of using children for maximum emotional manipulation!

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Kitaro, by Shigeru Mizuki — published by Drawn & Quarterly

Shigeru Mizuki’s classic tales about little Kitaro, last of the Ghost Tribe, are truthfully not very scary. But they are wickedly fun, reveling in a world populated by yokai and monsters of many cultural origins. Kitaro, with help from his father, the walking eyeball Medama Oyaji, and a motley cast of yokai, seeks to rid humankind of cruel, greedy, or evil yokai. He is a superhero of sorts, one who lives between the world of the living and the world of the fantastical. Originally intended for younger readers, the Kitaro stories are rife with silly gags and cartoonish characters, laid over the lush background settings meticulously penned by a one-armed Mizuki. In fact, the legendary mangaka is credited for single-handedly bringing yokai back into the modern consciousness after the Second World War, and I highly recommend seeking out his other yokai-related works. I have a copy of his yokai artbook — a beautiful gift from my husband — which nearly made me cry with its beauty. As a creator, Mizuki embodies several of my favorite things: a love of the strange, an eye for the beautiful, and a willingness to have fun — and to tell poop jokes.

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Cat-Eyed Boy, by Kazuo Umezu — published by VIZ Media (out of print)

With the gorgeous hardcover reprint of The Drifting Classroom so fresh in everyone’s minds, I want to draw attention to my favorite of Kazuo Umezu’s works. Cat-Eyed Boy is a very me manga, starring yet another cheeky monster-child who gets tangled up in the lives of humans. Like Kitaro, Cat-Eyed Boy finds himself rescuing people more often than not, but rarely is he appreciated for his efforts. He’s not well-liked by humankind, doesn’t really fit in with other monsters, and has an all-around salty attitude toward everyone. And he’s precious. Umezu, known for both his horror and his gag manga, combines the two disciplines well in this series. His monsters are more threatening than Mizuki’s, the stakes are often higher, and there are fewer neatly-tied story bows. It puts one in mind of early, pulpy horror comics from the West, stuff like Haunt of Fear or Eerie Comics. Really delightfully naughty scary fare for the mischievous little wanker in all of us.

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Hell Baby, by Hideshi Hino — published by Blast Books (out of print)

It kills me that there are no Hideshi Hino manga currently in print. I want to recommend him to everyone who loves Junji Ito, a mangaka who has spoken of his great love for both Hino and Umezu countless times. In Hell Baby, twin girls are birthed to an excited couple, but they soon discover that one of them is hideously disfigured. Because the new dad is apparently going to win zero parenting awards, he dumps the offending child in the literal garbage, where she predictably dies. But that is not the end for this strange infant. Spirits merge above the junkyard where her corpse rots, entering it and imbuing it with new life. From there, she grows by eating carrion, drinking ditch water, and slurping up earthworms. She is a monster who grows to wreak havoc on the community, destined to get her revenge on the family and the society who spurned her. But she is deeply sympathetic as well. There are scenes of her snuggling up next to a decaying mannequin in the junkyard that make my heart ache for her. Talk about Frankenstein vibes! Hino’s artwork is gross and wonderful, full of inky blackness and never shying away from the horrors perpetrated against Hell Baby — and by her.

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Presents, by Kanako Inuki — published by CMX (out of print)

Another thing we don’t have enough of in North American manga publishing is horror series by women. A couple of Kanako Inuki’s works have come over but are long out of print. Presents could actually fall under “morality plays” too, but because the protagonist, Kurumi, is a child of sorts, it felt right to include it here. Kurumi was never given birthday presents as a child, and because of this has somehow ceased aging. It is her dark duty to wander the world giving presents to others — but these gifts are often more frightening than fun, providing the receiver with their just deserts. Inuki’s artwork is wonderfully bizarre, her characters — nearly all children — squat and bug-eyed, with over-exaggerated expressions. She utilizes a great deal of detail in backgrounds and clothing, placing her doll-like figures in realistic 90s-modern settings. Delightfully fun and creepy, and satisfying in the way it punishes only the deserving while keeping the cursed protagonist as the sympathetic character.

Ghost Stories & Possessions

It can’t be a Halloween recommendation list without ghosts! I took some liberties with what “possession” meant in this category, but basically if it involves haunting or hobknobbing with supernatural entities, and I couldn’t fit it somewhere else, I put it here!

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The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, by Eiji Otsuka & Housui Yamazaki — published by Dark Horse Comics

I have the omnibus versions of this manga, and every time I bought a new one I told myself I would only read one single volumes’ worth and save the rest for the next night. And every time I cracked one open, I devoured the entire thing in one sitting! Our protagonists are five students at a Buddhist university, each with their own special skills or abilities, including embalming, hacking, dowsing for spirits, communicating with alien lifeforms, and being able to channel the dead. Through the use of these skills, the group has created a service through which they perform the final wishes of the deceased. It’s an unusual way to make ends meet, but it seems to work for them! I love the mix of laid-back irreverence displayed by students who are supposed to be at a religious school, paired with their dedication to ultimately doing the right thing to help the dead rest in peace. This series is definitely not for the faint of heart, as there are some really disturbing deaths, but Housui Yamazaki’s clean, controlled artwork is a pleasure to look at, no matter the subject. I desperately want more people to pick this series up so that Dark Horse knows exactly what a gem of a manga it is and continue publishing it — so please, give it a try!

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The Black Museum: The Ghost and the Lady, by Kazuhiro Fujita — published by Kodansha Comics

I initially bought this series because I was intrigued by the subject (ghosts) and the artwork (which has the air of a vintage series, despite having originally come out in 2007). What I wasn’t anticipating was that it was also an historical fiction series set during the Crimean War and largely starring that most famous of nurses, Florence Nightingale. The story is told in a flashback narrated by the Man in Grey, a ghost haunting the Black Museum who had struck up a sort of deal with Nightingale, who herself was surrounded by malevolent spirits at all times, that he can kill her once she finally succumbs to despair. The series is two volumes long (Kodansha has yet to publish the other volume in the Black Museum series, about Spring-Heeled Jack), and full of rich, energetic illustrations of ghosts, mass (gross) illness, feminine grit, and plenty of dueling!

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Muhyo & Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation, by Yoshiyuki Nishi — published by VIZ Media and available in full on their Shonen Jump app

There are a few Shonen Jump series that could potentially squeak by in a Halloween round up (my two favorites, Yu Yu Hakusho and Yu-Gi-Oh! might count as “spooky” on a technicality), but Muhyo & Roji is one of those series that doesn’t get nearly enough attention, and it’s strictly about ghosts, exorcisms, and general spookiness! When I started reading this series through the then-new Shonen Jump app, I thought it was going to be an episodic monster of the week type deal (which I love), but it actually ended up having a very full story line — and an ending! A shonen series with an ending! Muhyo is a young exorcist of immense ability, and Roji is his apprentice. The two are tasked with exorcising malevolent spirits, but eventually they get dragged into a more earth-shattering issue when a former classmate of Muhyo’s becomes possessed by an evil entity. I simply adore Yoshiyuki Nishi’s inventive and weird creature designs, as well as the relationship between the two main protagonists. (Muhyo shows his affection mainly through being ornery, which is a weakness of mine!)

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Me and the Devil Blues, by Akira Hiramoto — published by Del Rey (out of print)

I had a hard time deciding which category to fit this manga under, but I wanted to make sure I mentioned it. Another historical fiction series, this one was penned by Akira Hiramoto, best known currently for Prison School — but the two series couldn’t be any more different. The manga is named after the song by blues legend Robert Johnson, who is mythologized as a man who sold his soul to the Devil in order to play guitar in the unique way that he did. Hiramoto has decided to play with that myth, depicting Johnson as a man possessed with infernal ability. The result is a gorgeous, dark, angry depiction of the American South that is surprisingly adept with its awareness of race relations and the struggles of a young black musician in the 1920s and 30s, considering it was made by a Japanese man in the 00s. I definitely want to give a warning for violence and offensive language, as the subject matter comes with a lot of baggage related to Jim Crow laws. Hiramoto utilizes an incredible breadth of artistic abilities in this manga, with chapter headers often done in charcoal or graphite, and certain sequences portrayed in brush work instead of pen and screentone. It’s a real gem of a manga, and it’s a shame that it’s out of print and hard to find. If you love gritty Southern Gothic tales, this is a good pick for sure!

Morality Plays with Beautiful Art, Beautiful Men, and Plenty of Mind-Breaking Horrors

You all must know by now that this is one of my absolute favorite genres of fiction, between my writing about it here in the past and tweeting about it all the time. But I’m such a sucker for a mysterious entity doling out prizes or punishments to the deserving (or undeserving) masses. I’m that lady who has The Twilight Zone theme song as my ringtone, so there should be no surprise about my tastes, haha. In recent years, I’ve been able to find a few more examples making their way into English, so I want to share them!

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Pet Shop of Horrors, by Matsuri Akino — published by Tokyopop (out of print)

Okay, I wrote a whole long love-letter to Pet Shop of Horrors earlier this year, and everything I said there still stands. This was the manga that started it all for me, with gorgeous art offset by horrifically detailed punishments. For those unfamiliar, Count D is the proprietor of a pet shop in Los Angeles’s Chinatown, where he provides rare and exotic animals to those seeking something beyond a mere cat or dog. Detective Leon Orcot of the LAPD is determined to bust the Count for operating a drug ring or being involved in some other kind of illegal behavior, but instead he is drawn into the mysterious world of animals who are more than what they seem. The series is unfortunately out of print, and its sequel, Pet Shop of Horrors: Tokyo, was never completed in English. You can watch the anime over on Hi-Dive, and while I don’t think it’s quite as entrancing as the manga, it will give you a good idea of the characters and the premise.

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Nightmare Inspector, by Shin Mashiba — published by VIZ Media

Soon after starting work at Comicopia, I discovered the existence of Nightmare Inspector and promptly ordered myself the first volume. I was thrilled to finally have something similar to Pet Shop of Horrors in premise; it had been so long since I had read it and I wanted to fill that niche again. Here, our mysterious entity is a baku named Hiruko, who eats the nightmares of the clients of the Silver Star Tea House in an effort to help them work through issues. Hiruko has his own dark past, of course, so there is an ongoing plot that inches forward with each new client’s problems. Shin Mashiba’s artwork is way more cutesy and mid-2000s than Akino’s sublime 90s high shojo work, but that cuteness belies many violent images and intense stories of trauma and fear. Lots of fun, worth picking up if Pet Shop is your thing!

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Yokai Rental Shop, by Shin Mashiba — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

Another work by Mashiba! This series came out more recently, in four regular-sized volumes that make it a nice quick Hallowread. In this series, regular old civil servant Hiiragi learns that his half-brother is the proprietor of a pet shop. Said brother, Karasu, is in fact the proprietor of a yokai pet shop, where he forms contracts with various yokai to help his clients meet their needs — often with a hefty price. Karasu and Hiiragi are soon embroiled in their own family fiasco, however, dealing with their cruel yokai father and his desire to create the perfect yokai-human hybrid. Mashiba’s artwork has certainly matured since she wrote Nightmare Inspector, combining digital techniques with traditional. And her monster designs remain creepy and fun, as well!

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Phantom Tales of the Night, by Matsuri — published by Yen Press

I wrote about this series as one of my favorite reads for September, and I think of the newer morality-play-type works I’ve read, it’s probably the most different. In Pet Shop, Nightmare Inspector, and Yokai Rental Shop, the various mysterious shop owners or supernatural entities are a little chaotic, but generally not outright bad. The proprietor of the inn in Phantom Tales of the Night is definitely more sinister, giving his trading in clients’ secrets a bit of a fearsome edge to it. There’s only the one volume out from Yen Press right now, so I’m looking forward to seeing where this lushly illustrated spooky train of vice takes me in the volumes to come!

Vampires

I love vampires. I can’t deny it. I love gross, hairy-palmed Draculas and beautiful, dramatic, excessively romantic vampires. I don’t really know why, but maybe it’s my love of the theatrical. Either way, I often have kind of a hard time finding vampire fiction I like, even though there’s plenty of it out there, so I get really excited when something I judge as good comes my way.

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Midnight Secretary, by Tomu Ohmi — published by VIZ Media

This is, perhaps, the “trashiest” manga I like, the most indulgent of romances I can stomach. Our plucky protagonist, Kaya, is a damn good secretary, and she knows it. When she’s assigned to work with her company’s notoriously difficult director, she takes it in stride — until she discovers that he’s a vampire, and that he as a particular taste for her blood. Despite having all the trappings of a Harlequin romance novel, there’s something about Kaya’s stalwart dedication to her job, even in the face of an absurdly steamy vampire romance, that really endears me to it. And this a surprising series in that everyone I know who has read it loves it — regardless of their gender or their other manga preferences. It’s just charming fun, something a little lighter for those of us who want to get into the Halloween spirit but maybe don’t want to indulge in a gorefest.

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Devils’ Line, by Ryo Hanada — published by Vertical Comics

A decidedly different kind of vampire romance, I like Devils’ Line partially for Ryo Hanada’s penchant for drawing characters with dark under-eye circles — another weakness of mine! But in all seriousness, this story takes place in an alternate modern era where vampire-like people called “devils” co-exist in society but must live under strict rules or else be terminated by special police forces. Anzai is one such devil who works for the police, and in the course of his duties accidentally meets and becomes involved with a young, non-devil, woman named Tsukasa. The two cannot help falling in love with each other, but their romance is fraught with Anzai’s fears about his carnal nature taking over and turning him into a monster who harms Tsukasa. Add in a bunch of government conspiracy, and this is a fun thriller with plenty of blood, action, and a good sprinkling of sex. An anime came out last year, but I didn’t think much of the pilot; I would recommend going for the manga instead.

And with that, I’m calling it quits for now. As I said above, there are countless excellent horror manga — not to mention other horror comics! — but this list has got to end somewhere. You’ll notice that I didn’t bring up body horror (even though I do really like it) or Junji Ito at all. This was partially to keep this already long post a little shorter, and partially because I think, at least in the case of Ito, not much more needs to be said. Most horror fans know about Uzumaki, and with VIZ doing an excellent job of promoting all of his upcoming work, it’s hard to avoid hearing about Ito. It’s worth noting that he actually is one of my very favorite mangaka, so don’t take this as a slight against him, please! I’m just interested in promoting some lesser-known works this time around. I’m sure there will be opportunity to discuss more horror in the future.

I would like to wish you all a very happy, haunted, horrific Halloween! Have fun, indulge in sweets and spooky media and pumpkin spice! And don’t forget — Halloween can be every day if you so choose. ;3

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September Favorites

I’m a little later than usual this month! September was a good month, full of lots and lots of writing work, visiting in-laws, and a trip to New Hampshire for some good New England-y early autumn fun. I continue to grow rounder with each passing day, and the baby has decided to set up a dance studio in my belly.

In manga-related news, I got to cover Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san and The Way of the Househusband for Comics Beat this month. I did mini-reviews of them here last month, but you can read a more detailed review if you follow the links. I’ve also officially started as one of the hosts of Manga Machinations, and it’s been so much fun. It’s really rewarding to be able to have good, engaging conversations with people about manga. And knowing that others are interested in listening to those conversations and providing their perspective is awesome, too. Aaaaaaand Selling Comics came out! My name and my writing is in a real, printed book! It’s so cool, I’m still kind of in shock.

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In terms of reading this month…unfortunately, a lot of it was for work or the podcast (and right now I’m reading a long-anticipated novel), so I only have one pick for you all. But it’s a real good one!

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Phantom Tales of the Night, Volume 1, by Matsuri — published by Yen Press

Some of you may remember my love letter to Matsuri Akino’s Pet Shop of Horrors, one of my favorite manga of all time. My exposure to that series set in motion an obsession of mine; namely, the episodic morality play that utilizes an unreliable or amoral shop owner or service provider involved in the supernatural to mete out cosmic justice — or just sate his own desires — all wrapped up in a pretty, artistic package. Phantom Tales of the Night falls neatly into that description, with a mysterious innkeeper who trades protection, information, or a room for his clients’ secrets. And like every good nameless creepy innkeeper, his origins and history appear to be less than savory, though the first volume only gives us a glimpse at his arcane abilities. I’m such a sucker for stuff like this. It’s kind of pulpy, kind of queerbait-y, definitely pure, shameless entertainment. And while nothing will ever quite move me like the artwork in Pet Shop of Horrors, this series’s creator Matsuri (a different Matsuri!) has a lovely style that lends itself equally to beauty and body horror and weirdness. Again, totally my kind of manga.

And so, I end September and begin October on a decidedly spooky note. Historically, October has been an extremely busy time for me, and this year is no exception. I have volunteered to help with the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) this year, which is one of my absolute favorite local shows. If you’re around Boston the weekend of October 19-20, you should totally check it out and say hi! In between that, celebrating the season, and getting my normal work done, I’m going to try my best to read more. I’m hopefully going to also talk a bit about my horror manga recommendations! It’s something I always want to do but never quite get around to, and I’d really like to make the time to write about one of my favorite genres of manga.

Until then, happy reading!

August Favorites

I feel as though I start every one of these entries with “a lot has happened this month!” But yet, here I am feeling that sentiment all over again. With the last installment of our four-episode podcast series on Tokyo Tarareba Girls, the Manga Machinations podcast welcomed me on as a permanent host, starting in September. A couple weeks later, I announced my pregnancy to the Internet at large. And next week, CBLDF’s Selling Comics essay anthology is coming out, including a piece that I wrote.

I was able to see an advanced copy of Selling Comics recently and I was moved to tears — only partially because of the hormones. I saw my name listed among the names of so many comics retailers and other professionals for whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration, and I was honestly so honored to be among them in this wonderful collection. One of my favorite things to do is provide retailers with tools to sell manga, and it was awesome to have the opportunity to reach a wider audience — and to be featured in a print book! That’s so cool, y’all! I’m so excited.

Even with all this excitement, I managed to get quite a bit of reading in. Now that I’ve gotten into the swing of reviewing for Comics Beat, I am trying my best to stay a little ahead of the curve so I can write about manga close to their release date. This month, I reviewed one of my all-time favorite manga, Asumiko Nakamura’s Classmates, as well as the first volume of Akiko Higashimura’s Blank Canvas, in keeping with my brand of talking up Higashimura whenever and wherever I can.

I’m also looking forward to reading a lot more now that I’m a regular on Manga Machinations! The nice thing about reading in a group is that I’m going to have to branch out and read some things I normally wouldn’t consider. I’m expecting my monthly faves to start to change and evolve to include different, unexpected genres more frequently. But until then, here’s what moved me in August!

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Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-San, Volume 1, by Honda — published by Yen Press

There was no way I was going to come away from this manga without loving every second of it. I had already seen a few episodes of the anime (which I fell behind on because I’m terrible at keeping up with anime) while I was still working at Comicopia, and I shared it with my coworkers at the time. Honda, depicted as a skeleton, works in the comics section of a large Japanese bookstore. Honda has to deal with all kinds of comics fans: Americans hunting for explicit doujinshi for their daughter, foreign BL fangirls, enthusiastic shonen manga otaku — you name it. The customer interactions are relatable enough, but it’s a lot of the nitty-gritty detail of working in book retail that really hit home. From dealing with reps and publicists, to stocking shelves, to having to adhere to street dates…it’s all too real for someone who has been in the trenches. I especially like the part where Honda admits to having difficulty carrying American comics, which are made on heavy, expensive paper and printed in color — and therefore are much, much heavier than manga. I’m also intrigued by the fact that I went into this manga assuming Honda was a man (and the anime gives Honda a masculine voice), but their gender isn’t ever stated, and there are hints that they might be a woman. Honda’s gender doesn’t particularly matter to the story, but I find it fascinating that I assume skeletons are men until told otherwise.

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Snow, Glass, Apples, by Neil Gaiman & adapted by Colleen Doran — published by Dark Horse Comics

This short story by Neil Gaiman has always, always been my absolute favorite of his works, ever since I first read it in his Smoke & Mirrors collection. As a tween, I had an obsession with fairy tale retellings (I was the generation of Ella Enchanted, after all), and as I grew older I was also interested in darker themes in my fiction. And here comes Snow, Glass, Apples, weaving my inherent love for vampires and apple-related betrayals (I have a lot of feelings about the Garden of Eden, okay?) together with a story that places the traditional villain as the victim (I’m named after Morgan le Faye from Mists of Avalon…), and rendering me completely agog at its perfection. I didn’t think I could love it any more than I already did, but Colleen Doran’s adaptation is spectacular, utilizing a sublime influence from Harry Clarke’s illustrative works and steeping this horrifying tale in gorgeous lusciousness. My favorite kind of horror is always horror that is beautiful, and this adaptation is stunning from the lines to the colors and everything in-between. I cannot recommend it enough.

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Parasyte, Volumes 1 & 2, by Hitoshi Iwaki — published by Kodansha Comics

I admittedly came to this manga really late! It was one of the early licenses that TokyoPop had back in the day, but I was too young to read or appreciate it back then. It’s one of those series where I kept thinking “I really should read this” but never got around to it — though I did watch the first few episodes of the recent anime (but again, I’m bad at keeping up with that stuff). And I am really, truly enjoying it a lot. I like well-done body horror — stuff that’s a little gruesome, but that has a point to it. I also am a sucker for intelligent entities sharing one body (thanks, Yu-Gi-Oh), as well as the struggle of main character Shinichi to determine what it is that makes him human — or what makes humans morally superior to other animals. It’s also really interesting to read about co-habitation of a body when I’m hosting my very own little parasite. Some of the things Shinichi is dealing with — a boundless appetite, new and strange emotions — are very similar to what I’m dealing with…though my baby is probably not an alien parasite bent on human destruction. I’m only two volumes in so far, but a friend of mine lent me the whole series so I’m gonna finish it all soon!

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Way of the Househusband, Volume 1, by Kousuke Oono — published by VIZ Media

I was looking forward to this so much, and I was not disappointed in the least. I got an advanced copy of this and breezed through it. I…really, really love comedies about gangsters, whether they be high school hoodlums or members of the yakuza. In this manga, our protagonist Tatsu is a former yakuza boss who has left “the family” in order to concentrate on keeping house for his wife, a careerwoman working at a design firm. I love the dichotomy of Tatsu’s tough yakuza exterior with his apparently very serious dedication to wearing an adorable apron and making cutesy bento lunches for his wife. He seems to have taken all his yakuza training and applied it to being a househusband, and the results are an endearing and hilarious romp that just leaves you feeling good after you read it. This has its official release later in September, so be sure to preorder it or keep an eye out for it on bookstore shelves!

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Komi Can’t Communicate, Volume 3, by Tomohito Oda — published by VIZ Media

I’ve actually been reading this series for a little while, starting with an advanced copy I got back in April or May. I thought the first volume was cute, but something about it compelled me to keep reading. And now, three volumes in, I’m just really enjoying it. The premise is a boy named Hitohito ends up sitting next to a girl in his class named Komi. Komi has a hard time communicating — and that’s actually an understatement. She doesn’t speak at all, but she is also beautiful and her silence leads classmates to believe she’s just a “cool beauty.” In reality, she’s an anxious mess, and somehow only Hitohito has picked up on this so far. He promises to be her friend, and to help her make 100 friends in high school. Watching Komi’s struggle with making friends is equally charming, relatable, and heartwarming, especially as her newfound friends find ways to help her overcome her communication disorder. This is another one of those simply fun manga, and I encourage anyone who feels the need for a little warm-hearted humor in their life to give it a go.

And with that, August is rapidly coming to a close. I’m always super busy in the fall, and my schedule has already started to ramp up. But I also love September and October, and as I gain baby weight I’m very much looking forward to cooler temperatures. If you’re local, you can find me paneling at LadiesCon on September 21st (some say hi!), and be sure to keep an ear on the Manga Machinations podcast starting first thing in September!

 

The Manga Maven Becomes the Manga Mama

It’s been over a week since my husband and I announced that we’re expecting a baby, and the response from family and friends has been overwhelmingly wonderful. We’re excited, and we’re glad everyone else seems to be, too! I’ll be honest, half the reason I read so little over the last couple months was because the first trimester totally knocked me out. I was exhausted all the time, and prioritized doing my paid work and then resting as much as possible. But now I’m a little over 16 weeks into the pregnancy, well into the second trimester, and I’m feeling much, much better. I’m starting to get back to organizing my time better and hopefully writing more for pleasure as well as for work.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot as I’ve prepared to get pregnant and become a mother is the state of pregnancy narratives in comics. Basically, there’s not a ton that I can find. You’ll have noticed that my last few monthly picks included titles like Lucy Knisley’s Kid Gloves and Ingrid Chabbert’s Waves (which is a hell of a thing to read when you’re pregnant and still concerned about miscarriage — so much crying). This has partially been an attempt on my part to seek out works by people who have been pregnant or written about pregnancy, in order to see different perspectives and find solace in the words of other expectant parents.

When I look for manga dealing with pregnancy, I discover that there’s not much that comes up for the English-reading audience other than Harlequin romance adaptations — which are fine in their own right, but are not going to give me the perspective I’m hoping for. Nana deals with pregnancy a bit, and Tokyo Tarareba Girls reflects on it as well. But these are both in the context of a larger story. It’s harder to find either a non-fiction confessional or a fictional story that really delves into the ins and outs of preparing for and having a baby.

So I have a favor to ask of anyone who reads this: Tell me about a comic or manga that deals with pregnancy or parenthood, something other than what I’ve mentioned already. I’d like to take a closer look at the portrayals — good, bad, and otherwise — of this time in a person’s life. I want to explore why we do or do not talk about pregnancy, even though we live in a society that is so focused on bringing children into the world, no matter the cost. And if I find enough material, you’ll be sure that I’ll be writing about my thoughts and findings on the matter.

In the meantime, I’ll try not to overtake my writing here with baby talk — though I definitely have some ideas about posts catered toward parents who are interested in introducing manga to their kids. Continue to expect monthly favorites updates from me, alongside my regular newsletter and other intermittent posts — until late January or February, when the Monster will likely choose to make its debut. ;3

Monster