Thank You for Reading Experiments in Manga

After a little over seven years of writing about manga, Japanese literature, and related items of interest here at Experiments in Manga, I am now largely retiring the blog. The content that’s here will remain for the foreseeable future, and I will continue to respond to any comments that are made, however I will no longer be regularly posting at the blog. It’s possible that I may very occasionally be inspired to write a long-form review or feature for Experiments in Manga, but in general my manga blogging will be moving to Manga Bookshelf proper. There I will continue participating in the Manga the Week of and Pick of the Week posts and will be contributing to the Bookshelf Briefs features as well. Another place that I will be found discussing manga and such is on Twitter, where I hope to be a little more active with my account going forward.

A huge thank you to everyone who has read and supported me and Experiments in Manga over the years! In part I started this blog as a way to connect with other people interested in manga. I am delighted that I can say I was successful in doing that. I have met so many wonderful people because of Experiments in Manga and it makes me tremendously happy to know that from time to time others found it useful, interesting, or even entertaining. To all of my friends–readers, fellow bloggers, creators, and more–thank you and thank you again. Writing at Experiments in Manga and getting to know you all has meant more to me than I can adequately express.

Random Musings: Notable in 2017

Towards the end of the year for the past few years here at Experiments in Manga, I have made a point to compile a list of some of the manga, comics, and other books that have been released during the previous twelve months that to me were particularly notable for one reason or another. It’s not a “best of” list, nor is it necessarily a list of my favorite releases from the past year (although admittedly some of them are). Instead, it’s a list of books which stood out to me for one reason or another that I both read and were released in 2017. I certainly haven’t read everything that was published in the last year, so the following titles have been taken from an already limited selection. For the sake of this list, I also decided to focus on debuts and one-shots rather than ongoing series. And while the list doesn’t include all of the noteworthy releases or even all of my favorites from the last year, I have tried to highlight one of the trends from 2017 that made me particularly happy–the continued growth and inclusion of queer representation and themes within the works being published.

The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún, Volume 1That being said, one of the manga that left the deepest and most lasting impressions on me in 2017 was The Girl from the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún by Nagabe. Both the series’ haunting story and beautiful artwork are marvelously atmospheric. Nagabe delicately balances sweetness and charm with darkness and tragedy. It isn’t unusual for horror manga to explore the monstrosity of humans and the humanity of monsters, but The Girl from the Other Side does so with incredible nuance.

My Lesbian Experience with LonelinessManga tends to be a niche within the larger niche of comics, but every so often there is a work that gains recognition and acclaim outside of the usual audiences. Kabi Nagata ‘s autobiographical My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is one example of a manga from 2017 that found a wide readership; Nagata’s authentic, frank, and honest depiction of her struggles with depression, anxiety, sexuality, and feelings of isolation resonated deeply with others’ personal experiences.

My Brother's Husband, Omnibus 1Gengoroh Tagame is an important creator who is known worldwide, so it’s probably no surprise that his series My Brother’s Husband would garner a fair amount of attention as well. Quite different in tone from Tagame’s sadomasochistic and homoerotic manga, My Brother’s Husband is a wholesome work which tackles and refutes socially and culturally ingrained prejudices–such as homophobia–through the lens of family. The manga’s message is not subtle, but it is a good one.

I Hear the Sunspot I Hear the Sunspot by Yuki Fumino is a quieter and more understated work dealing with the impact of disabilities on relationships, romantic and otherwise. It’s a lovely and thoughtful manga which treats its naturally complex characters with respect, acceptance, and understanding. I Hear the Sunspot is actually the beginning of a series, something that I didn’t realize when I first read it. The volume stands very well on its own, but I certainly look forward to reading more.

Sweet Blue Flowers, Omnibus 1My introduction to the work of Takako Shimura was through Wandering Son, a manga which is tremendously meaningful to me. I was very happy then when her other major series, Sweet Blue Flowers, finally received a proper release in English in 2017. (It only took three different publishers.) On the surface, Sweet Blue Flowers can tend towards the melodramatic, but Shimura’s layered portrayals of young women who love other young women are still emotionally convincing and compelling.

After Hours, Volume 1Most of the yuri that has so far been translated into English generally falls into the category of schoolgirl manga, so it is wonderfully refreshing to see series featuring adult women, like Yuhta Nishio’s After Hours, being published as well. It’s also immensely satisfying to see a relationship develop between two women that, while not without its complications, is largely free of angst. After Hours, along with Sweet Blue Flowers, is also notable for being Viz Media’s first real foray into the yuri genre.

Murciélago, Volume 1Yoshimurakana’s Murciélago is likewise a manga that features adult women in adult situations. But in this case, the series makes no attempt at realism. Murciélago is ridiculously over-the-top top and extreme. The manga is lewd and crass, but it can also be massively entertaining in its outrageousness. However, due to the explicit sex, violence, and gore, Murciélago is definitely not a series that can be recommended to just anyone. Predatory lesbian assassins understandably have limited appeal.

The Backstagers, Volume 1: Rebels without ApplauseThere were a great number of wonderful queer-friendly comics released in 2017, but James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh’s The Backstagers  is particularly delightful. The comic is a tremendous amount of fun, featuring energetic artwork, an entertaining story, and a marvelously diverse cast. Especially noteworthy is the series’ challenging of gender stereotypes through the positive representations of a wide range of masculinities. The Backstagers even includes a transguy as a prominent character!

So Pretty / Very RottenAnother engaging work from 2017 that deals with gender, identity, and self-expression in interesting ways is So Pretty / Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute Culture by Jane Mai and An Nguyen. The individual pieces in the collaboration vary significantly in tone and style, ranging from accessibly academic to intensely personal, but the volume is an informative and fascinating examination of Lolita culture and its influence both inside and outside of Japan.

A Small Charred FaceI don’t tend to seek out vampire fiction, so was it not for the fact that A Small Charred Face was written by Kazuki Sakuraba, translated by Jocelyne Allen, and published by Haikasoru, I might not have gotten around to reading the novel. Hearing A Small Charred Face described as being BL-adjacent certainly caught my attention, too. The novel is an unexpectedly beautiful and heartbreaking work about outsiders, found family, and the intimate connections that tie people together.

Notes of a CrocodileMiaojin Qiu was an influential lesbian author whose work has made a lasting impact on Taiwanese culture; her acclaimed novel Notes of a Crocodile is considered to be a cult classic of queer literature. The work is both metaphorical and literal in its exploration of gender, sexuality, and identity, combining fantasy and reality in a way that is tremendously compelling and at times even devastating. While not always an easy read, Notes of a Crocodile is a rich and powerful work.

Random Musings: Seven Years of Experiments in Manga

As of today, I have been writing at Experiments in Manga for SEVEN YEARS. And of those, four have been spent as a contributing member to Manga Bookshelf and its cohort of blogs. I have spent much of this past year trying to find a balance between my writing and reviewing and the multitude of other responsibilities requiring my focus and attention. I had to cut back significantly on my posting, more than I really would have liked, but was still largely happy with what I was able to achieve both with Experiments in Manga and in other areas of my life. Among other things, over the past twelve months I’ve been granted the rank of shodan in traditional Okinawan karate, was hired for a new job at a different library, and started teaching introductory taiko classes. It’s all been rather tumultuous. But perhaps most importantly, at least for the sake of this post, I am now able to celebrate the seventh anniversary of Experiments in Manga!

Unlike past years, there weren’t really any big projects or special features at Experiments in Manga this time around. In fact, much to my dismay, I actually even stopped writing in-depth reviews for a few months. However, I re-found some of my inspiration to write after reading and reviewing the eighth omnibus of Makoto Yukimura’s Vinland Saga after which I finally started to post long-form features a little more regularly again. Other reviews from the past year that were personally memorable or meaningful to me in some way include those for the marvelous children’s book Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, Yeon-sik Hong’s autobiographical manhwa Uncomfortably Happily, and most recently Kazuki Sakuraba’s soon to be released novel A Small Charred Face. I also continued two annual features that I especially enjoy, my random musings on notable releases for the year and my Toronto Comic Arts Festival adventures.

I started writing at Experiments in Manga seven years ago as a way to more actively engage with the online manga community. To some extent, I was successful with that. Not all of my experiences have necessarily been positive ones, but Experiments in Manga has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with a wide variety of people that otherwise I never would have. I especially cherish the friendships that have been fostered because of it. While I primarily write for myself, I also love sharing my excitement for manga and such with people; it makes me incredibly happy to know that at least from time to time others have found Experiments in Manga interesting, entertaining, or useful.

And so, while I am celebrating seven years of Experiments in Manga, it is with some amount of sadness that I am also announcing my semi-retirement from manga blogging. I will continue to regularly write at Experiments in Manga through the end of 2017, but once 2018 arrives I will no longer be actively posting here. However, I’ll still be a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, chiming in on the Manga the Week of and Pick of the Week features, and starting in January my quick takes on manga will be included as part of the Bookshelf Briefs. I’ll likely be a little more active on my Twitter account, too, using it as an additional outlet for my thoughts on a variety of topics. This all was an extremely difficult and even heart-wrenching decision for me to make, but while I remain conflicted, I do feel that it was ultimately the right choice. There are a number of different reasons behind it, but perhaps the most obvious is that the demands on my time only seem to increase with every year that goes by. And at this particular point in my life, I find I most want to return to my roots in music and to be able to devote more of my attention to studying, performing, and teaching taiko.

To conclude, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me and Experiments in Manga over these last seven years–my readers, colleagues, contributors, friends, family, publishers, industry contacts, the creators I’ve met, and anyone else who has taken the time to care, participate, comment, provide feedback, or share. Experiments in Manga truly couldn’t have lasted this long without your encouragement; I am incredibly grateful and appreciative of you all. Writing here has been an illuminating experience and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’m also going to miss it tremendously. Experiments in Manga and I have had our ups and downs, but I am honestly proud of some of the things that I have been able to accomplish both with and through it. Going forward I won’t be writing as much, but I will certainly be reading even more and hope to continue finding ways to share my love of manga, Japanese literature, and all of the other wonderful things that mean so much to me.

Random Musings: Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2017

TCAF 2017 Poster - Sana Takeda

©Sana Takeda

I didn’t actually realize it until I started writing up my random musings for the 2017 Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), but this year was actually my five-year TCAF anniversary! For the first two years I coordinated the trip with a friend (a different one each year), but for the last three years my TCAF adventures have been combined with a Toronto family vacation. 2017’s TCAF trip leaned a little more heavily towards family activities than in years past, but I still found the opportunity to enjoy what the festival had to offer. And seriously, TCAF has a tremendous amount to offer. It’s the only comics-related event that I currently attend, and it’s absolutely worth challenging my social anxiety and general awkwardness.

Although there are TCAF-related events throughout May, the festival-proper usually takes place on Mother’s Day weekend which was May 13th and 14th this year. As mentioned, much of the emphasis of my trip this year was on family vacationing. We made a long weekend of it, leaving on Thursday and returning on Sunday. On Thursday, after treating ourselves to breakfast at a favorite local restaurant and taking the young one to a weekly language development play group (which I hadn’t actually had the opportunity to visit before since I’m usually working when the class is held), the four of us (three adults and a toddler) piled into the car on headed out.

If we were to drive straight through from where we live in Michigan to Toronto, it would take about four and a half hours but we arrived a little over six hours after we left. Things always seem to take a bit longer when kids are involved, not to mention the fact that we also happened to stop for a leisurely picnic lunch once we were in Canada and well on our way. I don’t remember exactly what time we finally pulled into Toronto, but it was late enough that I missed the book launch party for Jane Mai and An Nguyen’s newest collaboration So Pretty / Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Culture which I had hoped to attend. Instead, we all took our time settling into the room for our stay and then ordered tasty takeout from a place that was a surprising combination of pizzeria and Asian fusion.

On Friday, the whole family spent most of the day at the Ontario Science Centre, which was fantastic. We mainly focused on the interactive areas geared towards younger ages and so certainly didn’t see everything there was to see; I would like to go back sometime and explore even more of the centre because we all had a great time. After resting up in our room for a bit, we eventually made our way down to The Distillery Historic District for dinner, drinks, and other diversions. In the past, Friday night would have been the night that I would take off for the Sparkler Monthly mixer, but this year that party was held on Saturday evening instead. (Sadly, this also meant Sparkler’s party conflicted with the annual queer mixer.)

After spending most of Thursday and Friday with the family, I was mostly off on my own on Saturday enjoying the first day of TCAF. As in years past, I started my morning off wandering the exhibitor areas before they got super crowded. I mostly explored the Toronto Reference Library,  which had three floors of exhibitors this year, but eventually made my way to the exhibitors situated in the Masonic Temple as well. I wasn’t quite as social as I have been at previous festivals, but I did make a point to at least say hello to the creator’s that I recently supported through Kickstarter who were at the festival. I spent a fair amount of time going through all of the exhibitor’s online portfolios before arriving in Toronto, making notes to myself of the tables that I wanted to be sure to stop by, but in the end I really did try to see everything there was to see. One of the things I love about TCAF is the wide variety of comics at the event, but I especially appreciate the number of queer creators and the amount of queer content present.

Ontario Science Centre Rainforest

Exploring the rainforest at the Ontario Science Centre

In addition to all of the phenomenal exhibitors, TCAF also has a strong lineup of panels, workshops, and creator spotlights. As usual, it was a tremendous challenge deciding which events I wanted to go to, especially as so many of the conflict with one another. In the end I settled on six, all but one of which were held on Saturday. There were definitely others that I wanted to attend, too, but for one reason or another (such as waking up with a migraine on Sunday morning or a cranky toddler) I wasn’t ultimately able to fit them all into my schedule.

Since I’m a musician on top of being a huge fan of comics, one of the panels that immediately caught my interest was “Sounds and Vision: Music in Comics,” moderated by Phillipe Leblanc, which explored how artists portray and convey music and sound in a visual medium. Although I haven’t actually read any of their comics (yet), I did recognize the panelists by name–Dave Chisholm, Nick Craine, Anya Davidson, Sandrine Revel, and Eric Kostiuk Williams. All of the creators on the panel had at least some musical background, formal or otherwise (Chisholm even has a doctorate in jazz trumpet), and consider music to be one of their passions. In some ways the two artforms, music and comics, are incompatible since each one requires so much time to master as an artist, but they can still be brought together. If nothing else, creators’ experiences as musicians can inform and influence the stories they want to tell. Effectively incorporating music into a comic requires more than just putting music notes on a page. As Chisholm pointed out, musical notation isn’t really music either–it’s simply ink on paper, a visual shorthand (much like comics themselves). In order to convey the intended feeling of the music, comic creators must instead rely on page and panel design to capture a sense of tempo, movement, and flow. Creative use of typography can also be effective, especially when lyrics are involved, and imaginative onomatopoeiae can serve as a device to form a visual soundscape. Often a literal representation of music isn’t what is demanded by a narrative, it’s the emotional resonance and impact of that music that needs to be seen, whether it’s the focus of a comic or simply being used as a background element to help set a scene.

After spending a little more time browsing the exhibitor areas, the next panel that I attended was simply titled “Sports!” which included Michael Nybrandt, Ngozi Ukazu, Sonam Wangyal, and Jarrett Williams as panelists and RJ Casey as a moderator. While in Japan sports comics have been immensely successful, the subgenre hasn’t thrived in the same way in the North American comics industry. Although there have been some independent sports comics with impressive followings, such as Ukazu’s Check, Please!, in general sports comics continue to be a hard sell for many major publishers. In the 1990s there were some unsuccessful mainstream attempts that basically tried to turn sports comics into superhero narratives rather than focusing on the underlying human story, something that didn’t work well at the time. There’s also the question of audience since there is a lingering and inaccurate stereotype that “nerds don’t like sports.” (Ukazu commented that it might actually be more difficult to sell sports comics to sports fans than to comics fans.) Sports stories provide ready-made and easily understood narratives which allow the incorporation and exploration of other subjects such as politics, religion, and performance of gender, making those issues more acceptable or palatable for readers. Emotional highs and lows are inherent to the stories, often directly tied to the athletes’ successes and failures in competition. Sports comics can risk becoming repetitive since the most basic story arc is the often same–someone will win and someone will lose–but while the ending may be already be determined, how the comic arrives at that ending is not. Changing the implications of winning and losing can introduce new dynamics and not all the conflict and drama has to happen within the context of the sport itself.

TCAF 2017 Haul

TCAF Haul 2017!
(minus a t-shirt and poster)

While the first two panels I went to were both held at the Stealth Lounge at The Pilot, my next three panels were located at another of TCAF’s primary event locations, the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel which allows for larger gatherings. It’s a good thing, too. Glen Downey, who was moderating “Creating While Depressed,” noted that it was one of the most well-attended TCAF panels with which he has been involved. The subject matter being discussed appeared to strike a very personal chord with many of the people in the audience, myself included. The panelists–Meredith Gran, Tara Ogaick, Meredith Park, and Shivana Sookdeo–were all very candid and open, sharing their own experiences as creators who have to carefully balance their mental health with their creative work. They talked about how damaging the idealized stereotype of the “tortured artist” is and how the romanticized portrayal of depression found in popular culture is often vastly different from actual experience. In reality, people with depression are creating despite depression rather than because of it. For them, comics can be an outlet for expression and a way to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, but at their lowest points it may be impossible for them to produce any work at all. It is at those times when communication and honesty are particularly crucial in order to clearly delineate limitations and establish realistic expectations not only for themselves but for the people with whom they might be working. The panelists also emphasized the importance of finding a supportive, close-knit community. Although they were specifically speaking as artistic creators with depression, I found that their experiences strongly resonated with my own and could be more broadly relatable.

My fourth panel of the day was “21st Century Webcomics,” featuring Michael DeForge, Blue Delliquanti, Priya Huq, Matt Lubchansky, and moderated by Tom Spurgeon. I don’t actually follow as many comics online as I used to–I find reading digital content difficult and/or frustrating for a wide variety of reasons–but I am still a huge supporter of webcomics, frequently buying print editions if they exist. As with any medium, webcomics have evolved over time especially as advances in the creation of digital artwork have also been made. Likewise, the relationship between webcomics and print comics have changed and there is less of a sense that they are at war these days. Instead, webcomics are often used to support their print equivalents. Because they are online, webcomics are inherently more discoverable and more widely accessible which helps to build an audience and further promote a creator’s work. Webcomics can also give a creator the opportunity to experiment with new methods and formats of expression that simply aren’t realistically feasible or even possible in print, such as the use of infinite canvass, animation techniques, or interactive elements. Creators have a tremendous amount of freedom when it comes to webcomics, allowing personal or experimental works to be produced and distributed that more traditional or mainstream comic publishers might initially be reluctant to take a risk on. However, while it was hoped that the Internet would allow creators to more directly deliver their content to readers and flatten out publishing hierarchies (which to some extent has occurred), the reality is that there has been a rise in intermediaries. More and more, creators find they frequently have to rely on multiple external systems and platforms like Kickstarter, Patreon, and social media to sustain their work.

“LGBTQ Comics Abroad,” moderated by Justin Hall, was the one panel that I wanted to be sure to make it to above all others not just because the subject matter had to do with queer comics but because Gengoroh Tagame was participating. (Even if someone isn’t a fan of Tagame’s works, his immense historical knowledge and experience as a gay comics creator makes his panels well-worth seeking out.) The other panelists included A.C. Esguerra, Molly Ostertag, Tommi Parrish, and Martina Schradi. Anne Ishii was also there, technically to assist with interpretation for Tagame, but she also had her own thoughts and experiences to bring to the discussion. The panelists talked about their work and the state of queer comics within their own countries (Japan, United States, Australia, and Germany) but also the challenges presented when considering international audiences. Queer identities are formed differently from culture to culture, and some of the nuances of those differences can be difficult to convey or translate, however there are still some shared and common experiences that are not limited by borders; social mores and contexts will often vary, but universal themes can still be found. The online environment has presented an opportunity for queer comics to be successful in ways that are currently difficult through traditional publishing, although the mainstream comics industry has been slowly making progress. The Internet allows for an unprecedented ease of global access to and distribution of queer content; it has been possible for numerous communities and support networks to be established which aren’t limited by geographic boundaries. But along with the good, there is also the bad–the piracy, scanlations, and extreme levels of fan entitlement present online can be hugely damaging.

TCAF 2017 Poster - Eleanor Davis

©Eleanor Davis

As mentioned, Saturday night I went to the Sparkler TCAF Mixer. I brought the little one along with me to allow the family’s other two adults to have a child-free dinner date. A good time was had by all and I had the chance to catch up with not only the Chromatic Press/Sparkler Monthly folks but some of Seven Seas’ people as well. There’s a bit of an overlap between the two groups even though the demographics of each company’s audience are currently the inverse of each other. (Interesting tidbit: According to a recent Sparkler Monthly survey, while women form the core readership, at present Chromatic Press has more nonbinary readers than male readers.) Expect some really great things and exciting announcements to come from both publishers in the near future.

Sunday ended up being a much shorter day than was originally planned (I was really hoping to attend the So Pretty / Very Rotten discussion on Lolita culture at the Japan Foundation, for one). However, I and one of my partners were able to at least make it to The Pilot for the panel “Looks Good Enough to Eat: Comics and Food” before we all headed back to Michigan. We sadly missed out 2016’s food comics panel, so we were particularly happy to be there this year. Perhaps unsurprisingly considering my well-known love of food comics, I was already familiar with the work of most of the panelists: Sarah Becan, Emily Forster, Robin Ha, Jade Feng Lee, and Kat Verhoeven. Along with moderator Lauren Jorden, the group discussed what appealed to them about creating and reading comics that prominently feature or incorporate food. The subgenre of food comics is actually quite diverse, including comics explicitly about food (recipe comics, autobiographical works, or journalistic reviews) as well as comics that use food as a theme or aesthetic. Everyone has to eat, which can make food comics particularly accessible; it’s a shared experience that can serve as a gateway into comics. Food is a multisensory experience, so it can be challenging when working in a medium that primarily relies on one. However, an important part of eating is the visual experience, so to that extent comics are a natural fit. Comics can evoke a feeling or mood that can’t be captured in the same way with photography or other visual artforms. Often there is a strong emotional component to food comics. Even when the subject matter is specifically about food, food itself isn’t just food–it’s history, community, culture, relationships, and personal expression. And comics can be all of those things, too.

And with that,  and after one last tour through the exhibitor areas, the whole family prepared to depart for home. Though I didn’t end up doing everything that I had originally planned or hoped to do,  but I still had a fantastic trip. Toronto is a terrific city and TCAF is a phenomenal festival. However inadequately, I’ve tried to convey some of that greatness here by highlighting a little of what I learned and experienced. However, there’s so much more that I could have (and perhaps should have) written about because there’s so much more to the festival. I definitely plan on attending TCAF for the foreseeable future.

Random Musings: Notable in 2016

The end of 2016 has come and, as promised, I have compiled my annual list of notable releases of some of the works published within the last twelve months. All of the caveats from previous years still apply–to qualify a book must have been released in 2016 and I must have read it in 2016. (And I certainly haven’t read everything that’s been published this year.) Additionally, this year I’ve specifically decided to focus on debuts rather than continuing series (with one exception) and am limiting the list to one book per publisher in order to make it more manageable for myself. This is not a “best of” list or a list of favorites (that would be a much longer feature). It’s not even a list of all of the noteworthy releases from the past year, otherwise I’d probably never finish writing (2016 was an excellent year for manga in particular). What this list is is a subset of releases from the last year that, for one reason or another, left the most significant impressions on me.

Orange, Omnibus 1The first manga published in English in 2016 which really made me take note was Ichigo Takano’s Orange. It’s a heartwarming but bittersweet story which deals with some very heavy topics including crippling guilt, regret, depression, and suicide. Orange resonated very strongly with my own personal experiences as someone who is both challenged by and knows others who struggle with similar issues. The manga can be heartbreaking, but Takano’s approach is immensely compassionate and life-affirming.

Goodnight Punpun, Omnibus 1Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun is likewise a heartwrenching manga that deals with very serious and troubling subject matter. However, in the case of Goodnight Punpun, that exploration ends up being incredibly dark and surreal. I find the series to be remarkably compelling and the artwork is spectacular, but it’s certainly not what I would call light reading. The tragic coming-of-age story that Asano presents is deliberately uncomfortable and even the humor tends to be extremely bleak.

The Gods LieDevastating coming-of-age stories were apparently a theme for me in 2016 because The Gods Lie by Kaori Ozaki fits into that category as well. The Gods Lie was actually one of my most anticipated releases of the year and I was not disappointed. The manga is a beautiful, emotionally resonate work with a story that is both skillfully told and drawn. Ozaki addresses themes of abandonment, desperation, and death, recognizing that solutions to bad situations aren’t always easy or clear.

What Is Obscenity?Although the subject matter of Rokudenashiko’s autobiographical manga What Is Obscenity?: The Story of a Good for Nothing Artist and Her Pussy is also quite serious—a portrayal of the circumstances surrounding her multiple arrests on obscenity charges—the volume itself is charmingly funny, sweet, and surprisingly upbeat. Rokudenashiko’s work as an artist and activist is both inspiring and empowering. I personally feel that What Is Obscenity? was one of the most important releases from 2016.

Kitaro, Volume 1: The Birth of KitaroA few years ago, Drawn & Quarterly released a collection of Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro manga which I loved, so I was thrilled when a multi-volume Kitaro series was announced. Beginning with The Birth of Kitaro, the series has been specifically curated to appeal to younger readers although the manga is still a tremendous amount of fun regardless of age. Not very many classic manga are licensed in English these days, but with my particular interest in yokai, I’m glad that the influential Kitaro is one of them.

Attack on Titan AnthologyKodansha Comics was the manga publisher that impressed me most overall in 2016 with the expansion of the range of its offerings. One of the most interesting releases actually wasn’t a manga but an original collection of Western comics inspired by Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan. Like any anthology, some of the contributions to Attack on Titan Anthology are stronger than others, but some are incredible. As a whole, the volume is a fantastic collection compiling a wide variety of styles and genres.

Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu KanekoAnother remarkable multinational effort from 2016 was Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko from Chin Music Press. The children’s book, beautifully illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri, combines a biography written by David Jacobson with a selection of Kaneko’s poetry translated by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi. Kaneko is relatively unknown in English but her work is utterly delightful, charming, and compassionate. Are You an Echo? is a lovely book and a treasure.

Human ActsTechnically, Han Kang’s Human Acts won’t be released in North America until 2017, but the English translation was first published in 2016. The novel was honestly one of the best books that I read all year. It was also one of the most devastating and haunting. Beautifully written by Kang and elegantly translated by Deborah Smith, Human Acts shows how past tragedies have long-lasting and far-reaching effects on the present and future. The novel is intensely personal, political, and powerful.

The Paper Menagerie and Other StoriesThe Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is the second book by Ken Liu to have been published. (Liu’s first book, The Grace of Kings, was actually on last year’s list of notable releases.) The collection brings together fifteen of Liu’s short stories and novellas, a combination of award-winning works and the author’s personal favorites. The volume is consistently compelling and thought-provoking—as good speculative fiction should be—each story providing a distinctive and meaningful perspective.

Tokyo Demons: Know What You WantAs many people know, Lianne Sentar’s Tokyo Demons is one of my obsessions, so I would be remiss to not mention it here. 2016 was a great year for fans of the series: Know What You Want, a provocative collection of mature side stories, was released in print, the third book finished its serialization online with an extremely satisfying conclusion, and the beginnings of the sequel series Tokyo Ghosts began to make its appearance. I’m very glad for the opportunity to see the story and characters continue to change and evolve.