Before I really get into things, I want to preface this post by saying that I have very limited experience with manga. To be honest, I’ve only been reading it for about a year and a half – though I have read A TON in that span.
I grew up on Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Dragon Ball Z anime/games/etc., but reading was never really my bag – nor did manga really appeal to me. Reading books backwards? What is this and why is it a thing that people enjoy?
Well, thanks to fellow FFA alum, @BookMeanderings, I started reading One Punch Man back in 2021 and became instantly hooked. Since then, I have branched off into Sci-Fi and horror alongside my bread and butter – fantasy.
Below, you will find recommendations from my track record of manga reads and I hope you end up loving them as much as I do!
(Click the covers to find out more information).
20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa
Humanity, having faced extinction at the end of the 20th century, would not have entered the new millennium if it weren’t for them. In 1969, during their youth, they created a symbol. In 1997, as the coming disaster slowly starts to unfold, that symbol returns. This is the story of a group of boys who try to save the world.
My thoughts: Urasawa is just absolutely PHENOMENAL. 20th Century Boys is my favorite manga not named Berserk. This story is just flat-out one of the best pieces of fiction I have ever read. HIGHLY RECOMMEND, along with some of his other series like Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka and Monster.
Alice in Borderland by Haro Aso
The first game starts with a bang, but Ryohei manages to beat the clock and save his friends. It’s a short-lived victory, however, as they discover that winning only earns them a few days’ grace period. If they want to get home, they’re going to have to start playing a lot harder.
My thoughts: Sorry about the blurb – not really a better one in the internets. It is a crazy fun series that I highly recommend. Basically, you win – you live. You lose, well, you know what happens.
Beastars by Paru Itagaki
In a modern and civilized world populated by anthropomorphic animals, there is a cultural divide between the herbivorous animals and the carnivorous animals. Legoshi, a large gray wolf, is a timid and quiet student of Cherryton Academy where he lives in a dorm with several other carnivorous students including his outgoing Labrador friend, Jack. As a member of the school’s drama club, Legoshi works as a stagehand and supports the actors of the club headed by the star pupil Louis, a red deer.
Out of nowhere, Tem the alpaca is brutally murdered and devoured in the night, setting off a wave of unease and distrust between the herbivore and carnivore students. At the same time, Legoshi has a fateful encounter with Haru, a dwarf rabbit who has been in love with Louis, and begins developing complex feelings for her.
My thoughts: Definitely a curveball compared to all of the fastballs I have been/will be throwing in this list. I have to thank Jeremy Szal for putting this one on my radar. It is high school drama with animals and Legoshi may be one of THE best characters ever written.
Berserk by Kentaro Miura
Created by Kentaro Miura, Berserk is manga mayhem to the extreme – violent, horrifying, and mercilessly funny – and the wellspring for the internationally popular anime series. Not for the squeamish or the easily offended, Berserk asks for no quarter – and offers none!
His name is Guts, the Black Swordsman, a feared warrior spoken of only in whispers. Bearer of a gigantic sword, an iron hand, and the scars of countless battles and tortures, his flesh is also indelibly marked with The Brand, an unholy symbol that draws the forces of darkness to him and dooms him as their sacrifice. But Guts won’t take his fate lying down; he’ll cut a crimson swath of carnage through the ranks of the damned – and anyone else foolish enough to oppose him! Accompanied by Puck the Elf, more an annoyance than a companion, Guts relentlessly follows a dark, bloodstained path that leads only to death…or vengeance.
My thoughts: Grimdark epic fantasy. All that needs to be said.
Chainsaw Man by Tatsuki Fujimoto
Denji’s a poor young man who’ll do anything for money, even hunting down devils with his pet devil Pochita. He’s a simple man with simple dreams, drowning under a mountain of debt. But his sad life gets turned upside down one day when he’s betrayed by someone he trusts. Now with the power of a devil inside him, Denji’s become a whole new man—Chainsaw Man!
My thoughts: It is insane-ly brilliant. Denji’s motive for everything is about as juvenile as it gets, but there is something about this manga that keeps me coming back. It is probably the incessant violence. The anime is spot-on with the manga, if that is more your bag.
If you end up enjoying the insanity that is Chainsaw Man, I highly recommend checking out Fire Punch (also by Fujimoto). If you think CM is over the top, you ain’t seen nothing.
Claymore by Norihiro Yagi
The series is set on a fictional medieval island where humans are plagued by Yoma, humanoid shape-shifters that feed on humans. A mysterious group, known as The Organization, creates human-Yoma hybrids to kill Yoma for a fee. These female warriors wear armored uniforms. The public refer to them as “Claymores”, alluding to their claymore swords, or “Silver-eyed Witches”, due to their silver eyes.
Yoma and Claymore warriors alike are powered by a demonic energy, Yoki, which allows shape-shifting and extreme strength. When warriors use too much Yoki, they “awaken”, becoming a super-Yoma called an Awakened Being. The act of awakening is likened to the feeling of sexual climax, so while both male and female warriors existed in the past only the women proved to be successfully able to resist the allure of the awakening, and so the creation of male Claymores stopped altogether.
My thoughts: Little bit The Witcher and a little bit Berserk, Claymore had me binging volumes day and night. While it can get a little repetitive at times, Yagi ramps up the insanity and bloodshed as you continue the series.
Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida
In a city so dismal it’s known only as “the Hole,” a clan of Sorcerers have been plucking people off the streets to use as guinea pigs for atrocious “experiments” in the black arts. In a dark alley, Nikaido found Caiman, a man with a reptile head and a bad case of amnesia. To undo the spell, they’re hunting and killing the Sorcerers in the Hole, hoping that eventually they’ll kill the right one. But when En, the head Sorcerer, gets word of a lizard-man slaughtering his people, he sends a crew of “cleaners” into the Hole, igniting a war between two worlds.
My thoughts: Sort of insane like Chainsaw Man but in a completely different way. The artwork is pretty great and the storyline is bananas, but Hayashida deserves WAY more attention that I believe she has gotten. I REALLY enjoy her newest series as well, Dai Dark.
Dragon Ball Z / Super by Akira Toriyama
Dragon Ball Z follows the adventures of the adult Goku who, along with his companions, defends the earth against an assortment of villains ranging from intergalactic space fighters and conquerors, unnaturally powerful androids and near indestructible magical creatures. While the original Dragon Ball anime followed Goku through childhood into adulthood, Dragon Ball Z is a continuation of his adulthood life, but at the same time parallels the maturation of his son, Gohan, as well as other characters from Dragon Ball and more. The separation between the series is also significant as the latter series takes on a more dramatic and serious tone.
My thoughts: While Super feels, at times, like Toriyama is running out of ideas (I promise it is only rarely), Z is about as perfect a manga/anime as you can get for those that enjoy monster slaying. Dragon Ball (the prequel) IMO was better as an anime, though it doesn’t hold a candle to Z.
Fist of the North Star by Buronson
A worldwide nuclear war sometime in the 1990s has resulted in the destruction of most of civilization, turning the world into a desert wasteland. The remnants of mankind fight over whatever supply of food and uncontaminated water still remaining as the strong prey on the weak. Kenshiro is the successor to Hokuto Shinken, an ancient martial art of assassination that trains its practitioners to kill from within an opponent’s body through the use of hidden meridian points. Kenshiro wishes to live his life in peace, but after he is separated from his fiancée Yuria by a jealous rival, he begins his journey to become the savior of the post-apocalyptic world, defending the weak and innocent from the many gangs and organizations that threaten their survival. Along the way, Kenshiro meets a young thief named Bat and an orphaned girl named Lin, who join him as his traveling companions and bear witnesses to Ken’s many battles.
My thoughts: Take Dragon Ball Z and mix it in a blender with Mad Max, and you are fairly close to the awesomeness that is Fist of the North Star. The artwork is fantastic, and the new VIZ hardcovers are pretty sweet. I always binge these when a new volume comes out.
Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku by Yuji Kaku
Gabimaru the Hollow is one of the most vicious assassins ever to come out of the ninja village of Iwagakure. He’s ruthlessly efficient, but a betrayal results in him being handed a death sentence. He has only one hope—in order to earn his freedom, he must travel to a long-hidden island and recover an elixir that will make the shogun immortal. Failure is not an option. On this island, heaven and hell are just a hair’s breadth away.
My thoughts: Just a flat-out fun read. I loved the artwork, the story… everything. Probably a reread in my future (once I have a bigger library and can reorganize ALL THE BOOKS).
Jujutsu Kaisen by Gege Akutami
In Jujutsu Kaisen, all living beings emanate energy called Cursed Energy (呪力, Juryoku), which arises from negative emotions that naturally flow throughout the body. Ordinary people cannot control this flow in their bodies. As a result, they continually lose Cursed Energy, resulting in the birth of Curses (呪い, Noroi), a race of spiritual beings whose primary desire is to bring harm to humanity. These Curses are shown as gruesome monsters, ghosts, and yōkai.
Jujutsu Sorcerers (呪術師, Jujutsushi, lit. “Cursed Technique Masters” or “Shamans”) are people who control the flow of Cursed Energy in their bodies, allowing them to use it as they please and also to reduce its release. High-ranking Sorcerers and Curses can refine this energy and use it to perform Cursed Techniques (呪術式, Jujutsushiki), which tend to be unique to the user or their family. An advanced form of Cursed Technique is Domain Expansion (領域展開, Ryōiki Tenkai), which the users build a pocket dimension of variable size. Inside the domain, all of their attacks will always connect and grow in strength.
My thoughts: Outside of the magic school trope, Jujutsu Kaisen is one of the most original stories I have ever read and has quickly become a day-of chapter release read. I cannot get enough of this one, even if the artwork leaves a tidbit to be desired (it is nothing like a Berserk or One-Punch Man as it has a bit of a rougher style, more akin to Chainsaw Man), but it DELIVERS.
Kaiju No. 8 by Naoya Matsumoto
Kafka hopes to one day keep his pact with his childhood friend Mina to join the Japan Defense Force and fight by her side. But while she’s out neutralizing kaiju as Third Division captain, Kafka is stuck cleaning up the aftermath of her battles. When a sudden rule change makes Kafka eligible for the Defense Force, he decides to try out for the squad once more. There’s just one problem—he’s made the Defense Force’s neutralization list under the code name Kaiju No. 8.
My thoughts: Really enjoyable. The chapters are quite short and there isn’t as much dialogue as you’d see in other manga, but the artwork is fantastic and it is great monster slaying fun. Sort of like Pacific Rim without the giant mechs.
One Piece by Eiichiro Oda
As a child, Monkey D. Luffy was inspired to become a pirate by listening to the tales of the buccaneer “Red-Haired” Shanks. But his life changed when Luffy accidentally ate the Gum-Gum Devil Fruit and gained the power to stretch like rubber…at the cost of never being able to swim again! Years later, still vowing to become the king of the pirates, Luffy sets out on his adventure…one guy alone in a rowboat, in search of the legendary “One Piece,” said to be the greatest treasure in the world…
My thoughts: Really a classic at this point, but with the new movie coming out and the new English dub hitting Crunchyroll, this one will continue to attract new readers. It is hilarious and action-packed. A must-read. Just be aware that it is LONG (currently at 103 volumes).
One-Punch Man by ONE
On a supercontinent version of Earth that has four Moons, powerful monsters and supervillains wreak havoc. The millionaire Agoni creates the Hero Association, which employs superheroes to fight evil. Saitama, an unassociated hero, hails from City Z and performs heroic deeds as a hobby. For three years, he has trained enough to defeat any enemy with a single punch, his unmatched strength leaving him bored. He becomes a reluctant mentor to Genos, a cyborg seeking revenge against another cyborg who killed his family and destroyed his hometown, after Saitama defeats a monster that defeated Genos.
My thoughts: Phenomenal artwork. Fantastic storyline. Plenty of humor. This one just has it all IMO. Can’t go wrong here, unless humor isn’t your thing.
Record of Ragnarok by Shinya Umemura
The Gods’ Council assembles once every millennium to decide the fate of humanity, deciding that mankind’s 7 million years of irredeemable history gives justification for their extinction. But the valkyrie Brunhilde proposes giving humanity one last chance to prove their worth and the gods agree to hold the tournament of Ragnarök, where humanity will be spared if they can best the gods in seven out of thirteen matches. Humanity’s representatives are the Einherjar, notable humans across history who are each granted a valkyrie who becomes a powerful weapon tailored for their user’s combat style called “Volund”, at the risk of losing her life if the user is killed.
My thoughts: Humanity versus the Gods. What more need be said? Fantastic artwork, phenomenal fight scenes, and the anime is pretty dang awesome to boot.
Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura
The Viking invasion of London has reached a fever pitch, and Askeladd and Thorfinn rush to take part in the carnage! Their goal is the capture of Cnut, the son of King Sweyn Forkbeard and heir to the throne of Scandanavia and the Danelaw. But standing in their way is Thorkell, one of the Viking world’s most daring warriors. The defeat of a living legend will be a formidable test of Askeladd’s cunning and Thorfinn’s ruthlessness, and of their ability to set aside personal grudges and fell a common enemy!
My thoughts: Enjoyed Vikings or The Last Kingdom? Then buy this and say no more.
Is Horror More Your Bag?
Anything and Everything Junji Ito
Look… Junji Ito is a MASTER when it comes to unsettling, gruesome, disgusting, disturbing horror. The originality in his repertoire is unfathomable and you are always going to get something different, no matter how many volumes you read. His best works IMO are below, but I recommend you read EVERY. SINGLE. THING. THE. MAN. PUBLISHES. if you enjoy the below recs.
PTSD Radio by Masaaki Nakayama
Carried into modern Japan from a forgotten past, the being known as Ogushi haunts and tortures humans of all kinds. Little is know about Ogushi’s curse, except that it resides in an unexpected place: human hair.
Like Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, PTSD Radio takes something everyday and weaves it into a series of chilling, cryptic, twisted, repellant, and alluring manga stories that become more than what they first seem.
An unseen hand tugs at your braid. You find an old box with only a tangled mess of dark hair inside. You open a door in your home only to witness a river of curls slinking away, an ominous lump at its heart.
These episodes and more await in this acclaimed horror series, coming to print after a successful digital run in double-length omnibus editions featuring sickeningly-textured covers. From the gleefully-twisted mind that created Fuan no Tane, PTSD Radio is a necessity for fans of the masters of manga scares such as Junji Ito, Kazuo Umezz, Shintaro Kago, and Suehiro Maruo.
My thoughts: While not as fleshed out as Ito’s stories, PTSD Radio by Nakayama still brings the scares. These tales are more jump scares that develop as the volumes go along (I’d recommend getting the omnibus editions) and I thoroughly enjoyed all of them.
The Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezz
Out of nowhere, an entire school vanishes, leaving nothing but a hole in the ground. While parents mourn and authorities investigate, the students and teachers find themselves not dead but stranded in a terrifying wasteland where they must fight to survive.
My thoughts: While not even close to as scary as Ito or Nakayama, Umezz is part of the foundation for horror in manga. The Drifting Classroom (published back in the early 1970s) pushes the boundaries in many ways but IMO is more of a mystery with some horror elements unlike the other aforementioned authors. Highly recommend it though, along with his other series, Orochi.
If these titles peak your interest, I HIGHLY recommend downloading the Shonen Jump app from VIZ. For only a couple bucks a month, you get access to thousands of chapters, and can even read chapters before they are released in the bound volumes!
VIZ | Read Free Shonen Jump Manga – Official & Simul with Japan