I've tried the long form approach to talking about manga that I've read and like. You know what I'm talking about the 'hey this is the story' and 'this is the art and character design.' Well, I'm going to change it up real quick since I've been reading a lot of good to great manga, and I've just got to say something about each. So here you go, my first attempt ad five quick summaries of five series I really think you will dig as an anime fan, a manga fan and just a good decent human … wait, that does not apply to Togari, trust me.
Sgt. Frog vol. 1 - Tokyopop: Story and art by Mine Yoshizaki.
A comedy manga targeted at the more youthful otaku, but one that this old(er) guy can't put down … at least volume 1. Space invasion of Earth gone wrong, St. Keroro finds himself stranded in Japan, captive Fuyuki and his family. Well, not really a captive since Keroro is a frog, and small, and easily thwarted on all his world domination attempts. What's so endearing about Sgt. Frog the art. There is a very Pokemon-ish, kiddie vibe to the style, but the situations and expressions relayed really make this title shine by just making one laugh. Nothing like seeing an alien invader getting all fired up for the latest Master Grade Bandai Mobile Suits (something I can relate too). I need more Sgt. Frog, and there are volumes to be had, so I'll get to it. If you're looking for funny without the perv factor pick up the Sgt. It's in a league with Excel Saga.
Gin Tama vol. 1 - Shonen Jump Advanced, Viz: Story and art by Kideaki Sorachi.
I just finished volume 1 and … it's good. Nothing about Gin Tama blows me away, but really can one expect every manga to be a life-changing event (no ok). That being said besides solid art and a solid story this manga sticks out for me because it knows it's a manga. Sakata "Gin" Gintoki is a former samurai living in Japan where aliens have long since (a few years) invaded, integrated into society and banned all samurai from carrying swords. He's a self proclaimed do it all handy-man that really does nothing. Characters in the story will point out it's a manga, or that they've not appeared enough, or a flashback needs to be longer than one page. I love this, you may not, but I do. Without it's 'I won't take myself too serious' feel I'm not sure if I'd really care for Gin Tama, but I do. I'll pick up volume 2, see where the story is going (not really a plot yet) and go from there. Where Sgt. Frog is most-def targeted at kids, Gin Tama aims a little older and rocks. Check it out, grab a copy, read it at the store if you must, but buy the damn thing and support the industry.
Togari vol. 1 - Viz: Story and art by Yoshinori Natsume.
Togari is the story of Tobei, a man … boy condemned to hell and who's been tortured for over 300 years with no signs of remorse for all the murders he's committed. Redemption is not in Tobei's mind until he's presented with just the opportunity, go to modern day Japan and defeat 108 Sins (demons attached to humans) in 108 days. So the setup is first an Edo era man being thrust into modern times, a murder out to redeem himself by any means possible and … that's it, that's the story. That is enough, and was enough to hook me. Volume 1 is intriguing in that there are times Tobei is a wild-eyed, crazy, possessed killer and others when he's a wide-eyed innocent boy experiencing a car ride for the first time. Will Togari capture the spirits needed for redemption or will he (sorry, no spoilers here). So, while Natsume delivers on a very engaging story, one that leaves the reader wanting more, he does not excel in the art department. Substance over style sometimes wins out, and Togari is that time. Take a story by Richard A. Knaak (a personal fave of mine) and wrap it around decent art and you've got a great series, but if you take the best art possible and let George Lucas write the story you're simple left with a disposable pile of clones and Gungans. What I'm getting at is if murder and mayhem are your thing, check out Togari. It's not for everyone, but it's for this guy no doubt.
King of Hell Series - Tokyopop: Story by Ra In-Soo, art by Kim Jae-Hwan, English Adaptation by R.A. Jones.
A Korean Manwha, you've got check this series out. The story of Majeh is action packed and funny as hell. I've not enjoyed a manga like this since Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. As an envoy for the King of Hell, the dead (then alive again, read, long story) Majeh is charged with bringing back to hell evil sprits who've escaped. On this journey he meets the pre-requisite friends, competes in fighting tournaments and unleashes inhuman powers. Majeh you see is one of histories greatest warriors, one who's power has been sealed, causing him to take the form of a boy instead of the man he his, but his attitude would say otherwise. Wise ass, that's what Majeh is. He knows he's good a real bad ass, and he shows no respect for opponents. King of Hell is great fun with outstanding art by Kim Jae-Hwan (Warcraft Trilogy) and an adaptation by Jones that is lined with pop-culture references and bridges the East to West gap flawlessly. Easily in my top 5 manga, and a series I will continue to follow.
Hoshin Engi vol. 1 - Shonen Jump, Viz: Story and art by Ryu Fujisaki.
Where does the love end? Four series discussed and not hate yet, what the hell … wait just a second. Hoshin Engi is here. The story of young Taikobo as he sets out to, in a nutshell, capture demon sprits released on Earth, if well told and well drawn, but it's the first runner-up to the Beauty Queen that is King of Hell (sorry Majeh, you're not a queen in that sense). When push comes to shove manga fans only have so many dollars in their pocket, and I can't recommend Hoshin Engi over better manga, four in this post. Having said that I really do want to check out the second volume. Volume 1 just left me feeling empty, like I was missing something or not smart enough to grasp the content (am I!!!). Usually I give a series 1-3 volumes to impress, touch me before I pass total judgment, and this is the case with Hoshin Engi. Don't take it off your list just yet; I'll get back to you on where it stands with me later.