My Favorite Reads of 2018

It’s that time of year again, where every single nerd news site tells you what the best-of-the-best comics of the year are.  I’m always wary of trying to make blanket statements about literature, but I did want to share a few of my favorites from this past year.  I’ve done a LOT of reading, and I feel as though I’ve branched out more than usual (or more like, there have been more titles in Western comics that have appealed to me than there have been in the past).

I didn’t give myself a limit to the number of books I chose, nor any kind of guideline as to theme, tone, etc.  I just picked the ones I felt strongly about!  These are listed in roughly the order I read them in, and by no means in order of quality.  They’re all top-notch, anyway!

cutdownontheabsinthe

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang

Prince Sebastian has a BIG secret: sometimes he likes to wear dresses and go out on the town as Lady Crystallia.  In addition to keeping this part of himself hidden from Parisian society, he has to deal with his parents determinedly seeking out a bride for him.  Enter Frances, an extremely skilled seamstress with dreams of fashion design whom Sebastian employs to outfit him for all occasions, public and secret.  The story of these two growing together and learning to be their best selves is captured incredibly in Wang’s bright, flowing artwork.  Plenty of humor helps to balance out the heart-rending moments that remind the reader to never lose sight of the things that make them unique.

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Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World, by Pénélope Bagieu

I genuinely did not expect to adore this book as much as I do.  I’m not well-versed in the non-fiction graphic novel, and I’m often suspicious of cheery, pink-emblazoned “girl power” books — not because I don’t believe in girl power, but because it’s hard to encapsulate in one book what it is about womanhood that is so unique.  That said, I was truly fascinated and enthralled by the stories that Bagieu, in her whimsical style, has presented in this hefty tome of awesome and awe-inspiring women.  Women from all backgrounds, in all types of careers, with differing needs and goals, and with all sorts of romantic entanglements and personal dramas, are presented for the reader with reverence, joy, and good humor.

 

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Go For It, Nakamura!, by Syundei

I have been seriously reveling in the increased publication of good, sweet, not-super-fetishistic BL manga this past year or so.  In this exquisite example, young Nakamura knows for sure that he’s gay, and also knows for sure that he’s in love with his classmate, Hirose.  The problem is, he doesn’t even know how to become friends with Hirose, never mind try to ask him out!  Between caring for his pet octopus, perusing questionable BL for romance tips, and just generally trying not to act overly weird, will our stalwart hero ever secure Hirose’s friendship?  A familiar story for anyone who was shy in high school, Go For It, Nakamura! uses awkwardness, hilarity, and genuine heart to create a sweet and fuzzy one-shot that will make you yearn for more.  Syundei’s artwork is adorable, and very reminiscent of that of manga powerhouse Rumiko Takahashi.

 

My brain is poison

Tokyo Tarareba Girls, by Akiko Higashimura

I wrote about my initial reaction to volume one of Akiko Higashimura’s forays into 30-something woman angst back when the print version first came out.  The series is now three print volumes in (with all volumes available digitally), and it has not stopped being maybe the most anticipated title in my pull at work.  Higashimura’s ability to poke fun at the stupidity of a woman’s society-bred anxieties while treating the same character with sympathy and understanding is so incredible to me.  I often find it hard to articulate what it is that makes this series so good, because it’s really everything.  Please…I don’t often make demands, but read Tokyo Tarareba Girls.

Claudine

Claudine, by Riyoko Ikeda

I find this manga hard to recommend, even though I love it.  It is a quick read; I read it from start to finish on my half-hour bus ride home from work one day.  But it is also a dramatic and sad read, in true 70s shojo fashion.  Our protagonist Claudine is assigned female at birth, but knows in his heart that he is a man.  Even his own father embraces Claudine as more of a son than a daughter, going riding with him and treating him like his older brothers.  Society in early 20th century France, however, is not as kind.  To the rest of the world, Claudine is a girl, and the tragedy here lies in the outmoded concept that any woman he might love will never lead a fulfilled life with a “woman” partner.  So in many ways, this is a fantastic achievement, being a trans story from 70s Japan; but it is also a story about a trans man from the perspective of a cisgender woman, writing at a time when shojo manga was about deep, dramatic personal struggles and utilizing queerness as a vehicle for those struggles.  If you can go into it with the understanding that it is a sad story (and yes, I did cry on that fateful bus ride home), it is a simply gorgeous and heartbreaking work of tragedy.

makingfriendsthwoop

Making Friends, by Kristen Gudsnuk

I’ve been in love with Kristen Gudsnuk’s work ever since I read the first issue of Henchgirl, back when it was released by Scout Comics.  Her artwork is fun, her dialogue is funny, and she makes plenty of obvious anime references that I feel are speaking directly to me and my sense of humor.  So of course I was thrilled when Making Friends came out, and I was not disappointed.  Protagonist Dany is starting middle school, where she is separated from her friends and everything that was familiar to her.  She turns inward and begins to draw in the sketchbook she recently inherited from her recently deceased great-aunt.  Soon she discovers that anything she draws in the sketchbook — including the head of her favorite anime badboy — comes to life!  She quickly devises a plan to create a new, perfect best friend.  But as we all know, magic has serious consequences, and Dany is going to have to figure out how to fix the mess she’s made.  Gudsnuk does an excellent job of keeping this story about friendship and responsibility from becoming saccharine or tropey, instead treating every character with equal weight and relying on her uncanny knack for coming at a story from a slightly sideways perspective.

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Satoko and Nada, by Yupechika and Marie Nishimori

This was absolutely one of my most anticipated titles of the year, and man oh man did it hit a home run for me.  Upon initially receiving it I was uncertain, as it is laid out in 4-koma format, which I usually find cute but not particularly compelling.  And yet in this easy gag style, with simple illustrations, Satoko and Nada manages to be a profoundly intimate story of friendship between women and across cultures.  Nada is a college student from Saudi Arabia who is looking for a roommate.  Satoko, a student in the same school, has recently arrived from Japan and chooses to become that needed roommate.  Thus begins this tale of two people from very different backgrounds as they live together and learn all about each other and about their multicultural friends.  Warm-hearted, informative, and full of meme references, this manga really surprised me in the best possible way.  I want everyone to read it!

(Just an honorable mention here: I reread two of my absolute favorite series this year: Pet Shop of Horrors, by Matsuri Akino, and The Wallflower, by Tomoko Hayakawa.  One day, I’d like to write at length about both of these series, but as they’re old and hard to find, I opted against adding them to this list.  Look forward to an analysis of them one day, because I am very attached to them both!)

As you can see, I read a lot of very heartwarming stories by or about women this year.  I have been immensely impressed by the range in stories and creators I’ve had access to, and that’s something I want to see continue to grow year by year.  My reading list has been a bright spot in what has been a very tumultuous year otherwise (personally and in the world at large), and it gives me hope that more differing voices are being tapped to tell more and varied stories.

Looking forward to reading more in 2019!

 

Pride and the Manga Market

Happy Pride! I spent yesterday dolled up as Loki, marching with various other Avengers as a part of Boston’s Pride Parade. It’s something we’ve been doing at Comicopia for the last decade now, though this is only my second time going, personally.

Marching in Pride is pretty tiring, but being there reminds me of why this kind of visibility is important for the queer community — of Boston, and of the world as a whole. I marched and screamed and smiled while hoisting the bisexual pride flag high, and I locked eyes with a small child wrapped in their very own bi pride flag. Another little one ran right out and gave me a hug, and countless people cheered as they saw me: visible and queer and there to celebrate myself and them.

But queerness isn’t visible everywhere, or at all times. It’s not allowed to be part of so much of mainstream culture, even now in 2018. In the comics world, however, it’s steadily on the rise. I have kind of accidentally read a lot of gay material this year; and while the content and quality vary greatly, that’s not something I could have said a scant five years ago.

I feel as though I can hardly scroll through my Twitter feed without someone bringing up My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, and I’m glad of it! It’s sequel recently came out, the first part of My Solo Exchange Diary. And Seven Seas has also released The Bride Was A Boy, which I have already covered; soon, they will also have released Riyoko Ikeda’s Claudine, about a transman living in 19th century France.

The yuri market seems to be expanding as well, and though Seven Seas has often taken the lead in that genre, we’re seeing Viz Media throwing their hat in the ring with titles like After Hours and Sweet Blue Flowers. And they’re going to be publishing some BL too (or perhaps the term shonen ai would be more appropriate in this context), under their normal Viz moniker, not their SuBLime imprint: That Blue Sky Feeling, coming out in August.

Volume one of Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband came out last year, and we’re expecting its sequel in the early fall. Fantagraphics recently reprinted the Massive bara anthology, which is excellent for us because…honestly, we sell a ton of Tagame and bara in general! I know that’s probably not typical, I can’t completely fathom why we’re able to move it the way that we do.

I haven’t even gotten to talking about non-manga comics, with publishers like Boom Studios and Oni Press taking the lead in queer material, especially queer material for young audiences. And a lot of those gay young people books? It’s clear that they’ve been influenced by anime and manga.

So. What does this all mean? I would surmise that someone somewhere has realized that queer content is marketable. For a long time, that market seemed to be fujoshi scrambling for yaoi, but the tides are turning a little bit. A lot of those fujoshi have explored their own sexuality or identity and found themselves identifying as something other than straight or cisgender. They’ve been joined by fudanshi, perhaps. Or maybe the strange nature of animanga has made readers flexible to ideas outside of their norm.

I can’t say, of course, that that’s how things have progressed. But I can say that for me, the animanga community has always been very…well, gay. I had a conversation with someone about the local Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) recently, and when I said I loved it because it felt like one big artist’s alley, he responded that it seemed much queerer than any artist’s alley at any con he had ever been to. And that’s when it hit me — the comic book conventions cater to a completely different crowd than the anime conventions. I mean, obviously, right? But not just in content; in age and economic standing and social status…in every way imaginable.

We’ve graduated from the yaoi paddles of my adolescence, thank God, but I can’t spit at Anime Boston without hitting a kid wearing a YAOI-emblazoned snapback. I sell out of My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and I Hear the Sunspot on a regular basis at the store, and still sell them with lightning speed at shows. I see pronoun pins on shoppers almost as often as I see character goods.

And some enterprising person (or people), perhaps queer themselves, has discovered that there is a whole group of people out there whose media is under-serving them on a daily basis. And so they’re filling that niche. That sounds cynical, and clinical, I guess, but it’s really a wonderful thing.

The first Pride march was a riot; the current Pride parades have corporate sponsorship. The nature of achieving progress in our society, as it currently stands, seems to necessitate becoming a “commercial success,” so to speak. I don’t love the coupling of business and marketing with identity; I hate the fact that my Pride marshal badge both this year and last proudly proclaimed the name of a bank sponsor. I don’t trust corporations to do better just because they choose to align themselves with a hot topic like feminism or gay rights or whatever.

But…I feel differently about the world of publishing. It’s naiive, perhaps, and maybe it’s because I know people who work in publishing that I’m able to hold on to this hope. Comics as an industry is a mess, but I want to see myself and my queer siblings as the heroes of our own stories. I want to trust that these license agreements are coming not solely from a sales point of view, but from a desire to help bolster visibility.

And while the queer stories themselves are a boon, I want to see a growing trend of stories by queer creators. I think that’s the most important way to show support — to give a voice to those who for so long have been voiceless. To allow those creators to feel safe, and listened to, and proud.

25 Otaku Facts About Me — From The Manga Hoarder!

One of the bloggers I follow, known as The Manga Hoarder, did a cute little list of 25 otaku facts about herself, which you can find here. Since she invited others to take a crack at it, I thought I’d give it a go. This blog is still fairly new, so I hope this helps to give readers some insight as to who is behind the keyboard.

Without further ado, the list:

1. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but both my first anime series and my first manga were Sailor Moon.

2. I’m pretty flexible about what genres I read, but my favorites are shonen action from the 90s, horror, BL that isn’t burdened by harmful tropes, and women writing about women’s problems.

3. I…really don’t care at all about Evangelion. I’m sorry. I can recognize its importance, but it does pretty much nothing for me.

4. Yu Yu Hakusho is my favorite series — both anime and manga. You might have been able to tell from my blog’s banner image!

5. It’s only in recent years that I’ve been interested in reading vintage manga, stuff like Hino Horror, etc. I think I was biased as a younger reading toward manga with pretty boys and protagonists that were my age. Now…I want all the weird old stuff.

6. I first watched Akira at the tender age of 9, when my best friend brought over her older brother’s VHS copy. We watched it in my basement and prayed that my grandmother wouldn’t interrupt us and demand to know what we were doing!

7. I attended my first convention — the very first Connecticon! — for a friend’s birthday in middle school. Unbeknownst to me, my current boss was also there, selling things! And now I go every year to my home con to sell manga to the next group of nerdlings — I’ve come full circle!

8. I have had several false starts at learning Japanese, but it remains a goal of mine. I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely fluent, but it would be nice to be able to hold a conversation and read some simple things.

9. The yaoi/BL/slash community and the media surrounding/that’s part of it can definitely be…tumultuous? But I’m glad it was available to me at a critical point in my life, because I think it allowed me to think flexibly about sexuality — both my own and other people’s. That’s why, while I’d still like to see better, less harmful BL books coming out, I can’t every really dunk on the genre completely.

10. I like manga better than anime, and consume it far more readily and rapidly.

11. In the last few years I’ve been in the privileged position of being able to increase my manga collection. I know it’s a drop in the bucket compared to some, but I’m hovering somewhere around 500 manga in my collection so far!

12. I desperately want the From Eroica With Love license to get rescused, and for the series to be completed in English!

13. I successfully turned someon into a manga reader by recommending A Silent Voice. She went from knowing nothing about the medium to starting her own collection and attending cons within a few months. When she told me, I was inordinately proud of myself. 😛

14. I didn’t really read any manga during college (which I hear is a common occurrence). When I got back into it, I suddenly felt like I had been missing a part of myself all along. (I felt similarly when I got back to novels after a long time away — I am one of Nature’s bookworms.)

15. I am constantly perplexed by otaku who are really into anime but have no interest in other aspects of Japanese culture. Media isn’t created in a vaccuum, so I always felt the need to delve a little deeper into the backgrounds of the stuff I was consuming.

16. I can’t hear cicadas buzzing without thinking of anime.

17. I really like reading about the manga industry, both in Japan and elsewhere. I have a huge stack of non-fiction books on the subject that I need to read!

18. I have a huge weakenss for artbooks and own a good handful, both Japanese ones and English-language ones. I have exactly zero resistance to any Yoshitaka Amano book.

19. I am also, conceptually at least, fond of boxsets, though I have fewer of those. I did splurge on the Akira manga boxset and have no regrets about that — it’s beautiful.

20. I don’t have very many anime figures, and I know what a deep hole that cam become…but I really want some more.

21. I love Vampire Hunter D, but I haven’t read any of the novels yet! I have the first one, I’ve just gotta start.

22. For Christmas a few years ago, my husband got me the Kitaro one-cup sake set. I love the concept of making collector’s items out of otherwise mundane products. Since I’ve drunk the sake (I honestly have no taste for sake), I’ve been thinking of sealing the labels so I can use the cups as little vases or juice glasses.

23. I really love Yu-Gi-Oh!, but I’m a pretty mediocre duelist. I enjoy playing, but I’m much more invested in the story, especially the ancient Egyptian plotline. I wanted to be an archaeologist for a very long time growing up, so this series was like catnip for me.

24. I don’t own a lot of physical anime. I think this is partially because when I was growing up, it was pretty expensive to collect. It’s also very easy to stream things now, so the urgency to own isn’t as great. Plus, I live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and the books are taking over all the space already! A good handful of the things I do own are on VHS, and I’ll likely never be able to update them as their license has lapsed or the company has since gone out of business.

25. I’m not always super receptive to people giving me recommendations (on anything, not just animanga) if they don’t consider who I am and what I like. But my job is essentially to give folks manga recommendations, and I enjoy doing it! Learning what other series people like and trying to connect the dots to their next favorite series is like a fun puzzle for me…so basically, don’t be afraid to ask me for recs!

And that about wraps it up! It took me a couple days to come up with all these facts. Despite the fact that I’m a pretty open person, it can sometimes be hard for me to write about myself in this way. This was an interesting challenge!

I encourage you all, once again, to go check out The Manga Hoarder; she’s often got really great reviews up, and she’s currently running a readathon and some giveaways!

Bags of BL

Last week, I went to go pick up some manga that a friend was getting rid of — several bags of yaoi, all out of print at this point. There were a lot of treasures in and among them that I hadn’t read yet, plus she tossed in a few extra manga that she had found laying around (including a hardcover copy of Shirahime-Syo, by CLAMP).

I’ve only had a chance to read two of the manga so far, Same-Cell Organism, by Sumomo Yumeka, and Say Please, by Kano Miyamoto. I enjoyed the former quite a bit; it was a collection of sweet, fluffy BL stories that I would feel comfortable recommending to just about anyone. The latter…well, I’m super exhausted by the domestic abuse tropes in yaoi, and if Say Please had left those out, it might have been perfectly fine. As it was, it was hard to believe in the “five years later” happy romance when I couldn’t stop thinking about the assault that occurred earlier in the story.

I’ve been trying to keep up with yaoi as it’s coming out these days, and I have to say…there are still a lot of problems, still a lot of harmful tropes. But on the whole, it seems as though there’s a bit more vetting going on of material that could be considered offensive or harmful. It’s been nice to see titles like Yuki Fumino’s I Hear the Sunspot get their English debut; stories that aren’t centered around sex, but around creating bonds and falling in love are more gratifying for me than straight-up porn. Even some of the saucier titles have been a real treat, though! I really enjoyed Scarlet Beriko’s Jackass, which could have so easily fallen prey to any number of horrible tropes. I’ll admit, as I was reading it, I was trying to predict how long it would take before I became thoroughly disappointed in my choice of reading material. Glad to say that disappointment never came!

I know that rummaging through the backlog of out of print DMP yaoi is going to be…challenging. I suspect there was a sort of “we’ll take what we can get” mentality about licensing at the time, and fans were so hungry for whatever they could get their hands on that they were willing to overlook some of the more egregious faults of the BL genre. But North American fujoshi are pickier now, I think. I know I certainly am! But I also think there’s a certain value in me going back and reading through this material I wasn’t able to get my hands on at the time of its publication (either because the places I shopped didn’t carry it, or because I was too young at the time to legally buy it).

I’ve heard Vassalord is…a wacky time.

Even though manga and anime are more popular and accessible now than ever before, there will always be certain series or whole genres that remain under the radar of public consciousness. I think BL is one of those genres; it’s so niche, and can be difficult to navigate. Something like yuri, I think, will continue to grow in popularity because not only will lesbian readers snap it up, but ostensibly straight men will, too, and they will pass it along to their friends and talk it up on social media. (As an aside, I remain pleasantly surprised every time I sell My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness to a man. I always wonder if they know what it is ahead of time, or if they think they’re getting a fun sexybook.) BL will never get that treatment because its main reader base is women, and in my experience women’s opinions on what is sexy are treated as less important. I don’t mean to imply that gay men should feel the need to read BL; Lord knows it’s not generally a great example of actual, genuine homosexual relationships. But BL gets put through the ringer a lot in ways that other media doesn’t, and I can’t help but think that it’s mostly because it’s something that chiefly women read and talk about and bond over.

It is my hope that in the coming years, we’ll see a lot more BL translated into English that appeals to a variety of readers. I get men in the store frequently who want BL but don’t like the painful stereotypes, or who aren’t really interested in porn as much as in gay romance. I’d like to be able to give them more recommendations than just I Hear the Sunspot and His Favorite. And I’d like to see the Western comics world tackle gay male stories, too! There have been a couple good ones lately — Taproot and Generations, both published by Lion Forge, come to mind. Let’s keep the trend rolling!

In the meantime, I’m going to try to wade through all these old books that I had to carry back to the store via the train. Anyone have any remedies for an achy shoulder..?

The resemblance is uncanny!