Random Musings: Notable in 2014

Last December, for the very first time at Experiments in Manga, I made an end-of-the-year list of titles that were, for me, particularly notable in 2013. I enjoyed pulling the list together (which probably isn’t too surprising given my propensity for making lists), and so I’ve decided to make it an ongoing feature. It’s not exactly a “best of” list, and it’s not exactly a list of favorites either, but out of everything that I read over the last year, the following releases from 2014 particularly stood out for me in some way:

Nijigahara HolographInio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph was the first work to really floor me in 2014. It’s a dark and disturbing manga that is both brutal and beautiful. Nijigahara Holograph isn’t an easy read, not just because of its heavy thematic content, but also because its ambiguous narrative structure is challenging and can be confusing. The manga is complex and layered. Open to multiple interpretations, Nijigahara Holograph is a work that holds up well to repeated readings.

In Clothes Called FatIt’s not a secret that I’m a fan of Moyoco Anno’s work but even if I wasn’t I still would have been hugely impressed by In Clothes Called Fat. In many ways the manga is an uncomfortable read, but it is also an extremely powerful examination of physical and psychological ugliness and beauty. While there is dark humor in In Clothes Called Fat, Anno doesn’t pull her punches, showing the obsessive extremes to which society and individuals subject themselves in order to obtain an arbitrary ideal.

Massive: Gay Japanese Manga and the Men Who Make ItOne of my most anticipated releases for 2014 was Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It and I was not at all disappointed by the work. The groundbreaking collection is spectacular, introducing nine of the most influential creators of gay erotic manga through photography, essays, interviews, manga, and more. Anyone at all interested in the genre, its creators, or its history needs to read Massive. Fantagraphics and the team of editors did a fantastic job with the volume.

What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 1When it comes to 2014 manga with gay themes, I was also particularly pleased to see the release of the first five volumes of What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga which has one of the most realistic portrayals of an established contemporary queer relationship that I’ve come across in fiction. It’s also a food manga, which I love. Not everyone will appreciate the amount of attention the series devotes to very detailed food preparation, though; even I’m much more invested in the characters’ lives.

My Love Story!!, Volume 12014 was very a good year for interesting new shoujo. One of the most delightful was Kazune Kawahara and Aruko’s My Love Story!!. The series plays around with shoujo tropes and expectations and is both funny and endearing. The characters, too, are lovely and charming. I’m still not certain how long the series’ basic premise will be able to be sustained, but I’ll be following My Love Story!! until its end. Just reading the two volumes that have so far been released makes me incredibly happy.

Black Rose Alice, Volume 1Another shoujo that caught my attention was Setona Mizushiro’s Black Rose Alice. Now, vampires aren’t generally my thing, especially since they’ve been so overdone recently, but the vampires in Black Rose Alice really are very different from any other vampire that I’ve encountered before. After only two volumes I don’t understand everything that’s going on yet, but there is no question that the series is marvelously unsettling, creepy, and atmospheric. I desperately need to read more.

Prophecy, Volume 1Tetsuya Tsutsui’s Prophecy was a manga that seemed to come out of nowhere for me, and I don’t think it’s on many people’s radars yet. It should be though. One volume was released in 2014, but I’m already very impressed by the series. Maybe because I work so heavily with electronic resources, I especially appreciate Prophecy‘s realistic take on information and cyber crime. The series deals with the implications of online anonymity and contemporary social issues in a very engaging way.

Vinland Saga, Omnibus 2I have been thoroughly enjoy Makoto Yukimura’s epic Vinland Saga ever since its debut in 2013, but it wasn’t until the second omnibus was released early in 2014 that I absolutely fell in love with the manga. The second through fifth omnibuses were published over the past year which amounts to well over 1700 pages of content. Yukimura’s artwork seems to get more detailed with each passing volume and the attention given to historical detail in both the series’ art and its story is superb.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 5: Char & SaylaYoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin is one of two manga that appeared both on last year’s and this year’s notable list. While I don’t have a particular interest in Gundam as a whole, The Origin continues to demand my attention. And not just because it’s one of the best-looking manga releases in English. The scope of The Origin is epic, but the attention given to characterization makes it all feel very personal. Volumes five through eight were released in 2014 and its good stuff.

Wandering Son, Volume 6Takako Shimura’s Wandering Son is the second manga to make my notable list two years in a row. To be perfectly honest, it will probably appear on every list of notable manga that I make. The series is incredibly important to me on a very personal level. Only two volumes were published in 2014, the sixth and the seventh. I wish the wait between each volume coming out wasn’t as long, but really I’m just extraordinarily happy that Wandering Son is being released in English at all.

Hotblood!: A Centaur in the Old West, Volume 1I discovered Toril Orlesky’s Hotblood!: A Centaur in the Old West while at TCAF. It was a splurge purchase of a comic I hadn’t even heard of before, but it quickly became one of my favorites. Great artwork, great characters, great worldbuilding, just a great comic. I don’t follow many webcomics as they are released online. Hotblood! is one of the few exceptions—I read each update as soon as I possibly can. So far, the first two volumes have been completed and the third is currently being serialized.

The Shadow HeroAt this point, I should probably just give anything written by Gene Luen Yang a try. Boxers & Saints was included on last year’s notable list and this year his collaboration with Sonny Liew, The Shadow Hero, made the cut. I wasn’t initially even going to read The Shadow Hero since I’m not especially interested in superheros, but that would have been a mistake. It’s an excellent comic with humor, heart, and history, inspired by an obscure superhero from the 1940s.

Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner, Volume 1Yu Godai’s Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner, Volume 1 was another surprise. I didn’t initially know much about the series except that it was related to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. But then I read it and was immediately hooked, fascinated by its setting and atmosphere as well as the philosophical and psychological development of its characters. An absorbing work of science fiction, I’ll definitely be picking up the second volume of Quantum Devil Saga as soon as I can.

Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a Little ChaosAfter two years of online serialization, 2014 saw the publication of Add a Little Chaos, the second volume of Tokyo Demons, a series of novels written by Lianne Sentar and illustrated by Rem. My obsession with all things Tokyo Demons is well-known, but the second book was phenomenal. Things get pretty dark and heavy, so the stakes for the third and final volume are incredibly high. I can’t even bring myself to wait for the last volume to be completed; I’m following the serialization this time.

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