Gaki Jigoku/Hell Baby
Kicking off this list on a good one, we have Hell Baby from 1987. A classic story of a misunderstood monster taking out its vengeance on society. The titular Hell Baby was the second of a pair of twins, but was heavily deformed at birth and discarded in a faraway junkyard where she died in a plastic bag.
Angry spirits resurrected the child and, for years, it survived by hunting stray and wild animals, until a vengeful voice beckons her towards the nearby city. There, Hell Baby will find the parents who mistreated her so and make them pay for what they did to her.
It’s a great story and the late-80s artstyle helps the manga feel like an homage to cheaply-made horror flicks from the good, old days. It has a healthy helping of violence and a gross-out factor that many other horror manga lack. Hell Baby is also an intriguing protagonist and I was invested enough in her story to breeze through it in one sitting. It’s not long and fans of horror are sure to enjoy it.
Gaku – Minna no Yama/Peak: Everyone’s Mountain
An award-winning manga by Shinichi Ishizuka that was, regrettably, never picked up by any Western publishers outside of France, where it goes by the title Vertical.
This series chronicles the adventures of Sanpo, a volunteer rescue worker who spends almost his entire life on mountains or traveling between them. It acts as both an advertisement for the mountain climbing sport, but also as a cautionary tale about all the deadly situations climbers find themselves in. Most chapters read like standalone stories and have Sanpo attempt to rescue somebody who is hurt or lost. However, the attempts aren’t always successful.
Sanpo is a great protagonist with a lot of passion for his hobby, but he is also a tragic character that has lost many friends over the years and frequently sees his rescue attempts turn up a corpse instead of a living person. It’s hard not to be moved when you see Sanpo’s reaction to yet another failed rescue, how solemnly he accepts such things and is able to keep moving on and remain optimistic.
It’s almost criminal that the fan-translation effort stopped very early in the story. If you speak French, it’s very much worth looking up, but I honestly hope somebody will come to their senses and get a proper publisher to translate this series to English.
Galge no Sekai yo, Youkoso! / Welcome to the World of Galgame!
This selection of manga turned out to be full of positive surprises, but nothing delights me more than a manga I had low expectations for turning out to be great. Based on a light novel of the same name, Galge no Sekai yo starts off as a seemingly-shallow wish-fulfillment harem story. Your everyday otaku receives an offer to make his favorite dating sim a reality, but things turn out different than expected.
Takenori suddenly finds that the characters from his game have entered his regular life and everybody feels as if they had always been there. Great! Except, the game featured story paths with dramatic plot-twists, some of which could even be lethal. While Takenori is confident he can complete them with his memories of the game, he soon finds that reality is changing the development of the story. The always-happy genki girl ends up being bullied by Takenori’s delinquent classmates and the childhood friend character narrowly avoids a traffic accident, just to name some examples.
Seeing how the real world alters the storylines of these dating sim characters, and how the video game side of the story sometimes returns to kick Takenori while he is already down, really makes for an interesting read with hard-hitting twists. It’s rare to see these kinds of stories that are both appealing to legit harem fans, while also turning tropes around in such a way that the work also appeals to the genre’s detractors. To me, this one came remarkably close to a 9/10.
Game no Naka ni Iru!
Sadly, the lackluster manga had to come up eventually and it’s an interesting incident that this story was an isekai too. Three girls get sucked into a Super Famicon game and accidentally get sent on the game’s quest a little too late, meaning their party leader has already left and needs to be tracked down.
It’s a 4-panel comedy series that pokes fun at video game tropes, all while having the girls slowly advance through the story of a bland fantasy RPG. Mikan and Kassis are both veteran gamers, but both are dense and generally useless, leaving it to their go-getter, non-gaming friend Matcha to carry the party to success. The comedy is hit-and-miss. A lot of it goes for the low-hanging fruit, which did make it a pleasant surprise whenever the series had a genuinely good chapter thrown in there. In particular, I enjoyed a wholesome chapter about in-game marriage in MMO games.
It’s not a stellar series and the art is very mixed, but what absolutely ruins it is a sudden and incredibly dark ending that resolves nothing and feels entirely out-of-tone. It’s the kind of ending that’s so poorly handled, it’ll even get you angry if you weren’t that invested in the story. It certainly left me in a foul mood and turned a series that was a dependable 6/10 before into a 3/10 at best.
The title says it all. This is a historical manga about the life and rise to power of the man we’d eventually come to know as Genghis Khan, and it’s written and drawn by the same man who did the phenomenal Date Masamune manga.
Everything that worked well for Date Masamune applies here as well. The manga really digs into the history of this larger-than-life hero and presents his story through intriguing visuals. The early chapters manage to forge a connection between the reader and Genghis, as we see chapters of his early life and humble beginnings. Even details like how he was never sure if he was the true father of his oldest son and how that nibbled away at him, it’s impressive stuff that makes you feel like you really understand the character on a personal level.
The manga does slow down somewhat in later chapters, which mostly chronicle the conquests of rival kingdoms and lose that up close and personal feel of the earlier volumes. Even that is still fun, however, and it really helped me better understand such an amazing part of our world’s history.
Girl May Kill
Oh dear… Girl May Kill is a bit of a heavy one with some controversial points to it. The story follows Gohongi, a dude who recently lost his job and decided to move back to his hometown. This wouldn’t be too absurd, if his hometown wasn’t a dingy Chinatown caught in the middle of a mafia war.
Gohongi takes up a job at a video store and rents the upstairs apartment from the owner, but his life changes when he gets new neighbors. When heading out to eat something together, Gohongi learns that the chipper homosexual Katsura and the adorable 15-year-old Mei are part of the mafia. In fact, they are top operatives of Lovely Hometown, as is the owner of the video store. While he is shocked and completely unused to violence, Gohongi makes the curious choice to stick around because he feels a bond between him and Mei, and desperately wants to somehow “free” the girl from her criminal lifestyle.
The story and drama are really solid, and author Azusa Itakura gets a lot of mileage out of the premise of a cute girl actually being a skilled murderer. Gohongi comes of as an idiot, but you always know why he is making the stupid choices that he does and his relationship with Katsura and Mei is deeply interesting. It reminds me of Black Lagoon in all the right ways, but with violence that feels more grounded and tragic.
I really like it, but a lot of the content that explores Mei’s character deals with pedophilia and that might be a hard no go for a lot of people, especially with how visually it is presented here. It’s also a shame that the ending is upsettingly mediocre and poorly thought-out, even if you were expecting (or hoping) it would go in the general direction that it does.
How tiny can cute girls get? Well, in Gokicha we follow the adventures of a female cockroach called Gokicha, who stows away on a ship towards parts of Japan where her kind isn’t that common. She hopes that, in unfamiliar lands, she will finally be able to befriend humans and show them that cockroaches are not to be feared. While she is cute and adorable up close, to Humans she is just a tiny, skittering critter.
Gokicha is a 4-panel comedy manga and, while it rarely had me laughing out loud, the adorable art makes this a miniscule adventure worth following. Gokicha is adorable and has many encounters with the more devilish cockroach Chaba, who only wants to torment humans, as well as the overweight cat Chocolate. It’s fun to watch Gokicha explore and comment on Human places like libraries and golf courses, as well as her encounters with animals like a trip to the aquarium. In fact, seeing other animals from the perspective of Gokicha is often hilarious because of their dopey-looking designs.
I liked it and it’s a manga you’ll breeze through quickly, so if you’re up for a cute comedy series I can confidently recommend it.
With its beautiful art, gory violence, and a story about a powerful lone wolf looking to fight back against evil, Green Blood has all the appeals of a classic Tetsuo Hara manga. A surprise then, that it actually came out in 2011 and comes from an author I hadn’t heard of before.
Green Blood takes the readers to an American ghetto where Irish immigrants work hard to live poor lives or join one of several gangs vying for power. Brad Burns is one such gang member and has become the most feared hitman in town, all while his younger brother actually works an honest job and believes Brad is just unable to find employment. Brad is in search of his father, who abandoned the two boys and killed their mother. However, his personal quest for vengeance may be delayed for a long time, as the various gangs once again prepare for war.
The American western setting is incredibly appealing and gives us a lot of gritty violence that marries the best of both American and Japanese comics. The story is full of twists and keeps you wondering how long Brad can keep his job a secret, especially when other hitmen begin to get involved.
Defying expectation is not always a good thing. When I saw the cover art of Gyaru Yuri I thought it looked hella cute and I was interested in reading a yuri story featuring a Gyaru character… until I discovered the age difference.
Erika is a beautiful, young woman who is a touch irresponsible and doesn’t do well in school, but is goodhearted and friendly. When she one day returns home, her mother reveals that the daughter of her friends will be living with them because her parents are going on a long business trip. Yuri is a middle schooler and takes an immediate liking to Erika, except she might be a little too affectionate. While Erika is reluctant to accept her role as “big sister”, Yuri is actively plotting to marry her and is clingy, weird, and even worryingly sexual.
Her romantic ambitions are played for laughs and I have to say I didn’t enjoy it much. Chapters go by quickly enough and have enough good moments to keep me reading, but I felt the characterization was weak and few of its jokes ever had much impact on me. The full-color art is a major selling point and I did really enjoy chapters about Erika’s personal issues, like her childhood and fears about the future. The manwha is at its best when Yuri helps Erika sort these out, but that also just betrays how much better the story could have been if it had more character development like this.