As manga continues to become more and more accessible through legal means, English-reading audiences are being exposed to the wide variety of series (and one-shots) being created. While our top ten and honorable mentions this year feature traditional fare, they also include manga about grieving and no less than three series featuring a protagonist with a disability.
This variety also applies to the publishers. Although none of the newer firms releasing manga made our top ten—they’ll surely break through soon though!—the full range of old reliable publishers (Kodansha, Seven Seas, VIZ, and Yen Press) are all featured on our list, which features only volumes receiving English-language releases this year.
Here they are, in alphabetical order (because any other order is too hard to decide!):
Akane-Banashi • The Comiq • Drifting Dragons (Typhon Arc Conclusion) • Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End • A Galaxy Next Door • Goodbye, Eri • Kaguya-sama: Love is War • Laid-back Camp • Play it Cool, Guys • A Sign of Affection
Like the punchline to a great joke, this Shonen Jump manga about a teenage girl striving to become a professional rakugo performer came out of nowhere, but landed perfectly. Headlining Akane-Banashi is Osaki Akane, a lovably brash tomboy who balances her frank and confrontational streak with a genuinely humble willingness to learn from whoever has wisdom and skills to share. Add in Takamasa Moue’s lively art style, which includes a rare amount of detail for a weekly series, and we have a real winner. When discussing and analyzing manga, there is a tendency to focus on how emotional, exciting, or intellectually complex it is—all valid points—but sometimes the pure enjoyment of it can be overlooked. Akane-Banashi is certainly a straightforward series, but it’s an incredibly fun read, which has kept me waiting eagerly for the next chapter ever since it debuted. ~ WacOtaku
Akana-Banashi is published by VIZ Media.
The Comiq comes from Yu-Gi-Oh creator Kazuo Takahashi, but is absolutely nothing like it. Instead, this short series is about mangaka Ryota Sakamaki, who discovers that his art assistant—whom he’d never met in person—is actually in prison. Ryota begins to notice patterns in his assistant Baba’s art that point back to the case that landed him in jail. The series reads like a detective story where every detail and the manner in which they are presented is significant, like the pieces of a puzzle. The art style is unlike anything previously seen from Takahashi, making use of an old fashioned, more simplistic aesthetic that serves to emphasize the plot really well. This story of a mangaka turned criminal investigator is an absolute gem that may have been overlooked among the flashy action-heavy series released this year, including Takahashi’s Marvel work. However, I highly recommend checking this out and am so glad it finally got an English language release, but I just wish it had been before Takahashi’s passing, earlier this year. ~ MDMRN
The Comiq is published by VIZ Media.
Drifting Dragons (Typhon Arc Conclusion)
Taku Kuwabara’s series chronicling the adventures of the crew of the airship Quin Zaza has always centered on breathtakingly gorgeous illustrations and a well-written ensemble cast. But this year, Drifting Dragons surpassed itself, proving beyond doubt that it can handle titanic action set-pieces. December’s Chapter 77 wrapped up the series’ longest arc to date, a 32-chapter storyline that started back in 2020 when Quin Zaza was ambushed and nearly destroyed by the legendary dragon “Typhon The Storm-Caller”. The crew has had other entertaining adventures along the way, but everything for the last two and a half years (irl time) has been building up to this rematch with Typhon. The final showdown pays off in spades as Takita, Giraud, Mika, Vannabelle, and all their shipmates fight for their lives against a terrifying dragon that seems closer to some ancient storm god than a mortal creature, and all during a raging typhoon no less. Drifting Dragons is often compared to Studio Ghibli’s work because of its setting and aesthetics, and in the spirit of that comparison, then this arc is the series’ Princess Mononoke: the installment that is significantly more intense and violent than what has come before, but which is able to execute that tone shift magnificently. ~ WacOtaku
Drifting Dragons is published by Kodansha.
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End
Frieren makes the unexpected decision to feature a main character whose arc has already been completed by the start of the series. Making frequent use of flashbacks, Frieren shows us how daily acts of kindness, played out in the context of meaningful and consistent friendship, can fully change the course of one’s life. Yes, Frieren, the titular elf, is sloppy, selfish, and obsessive, but in actual fact she has already come a long way! Her new comrades would not recognize the cold, lonely, lost soul she once was. The sad thing is, though, that they do not see how much care she has for her party. Yet, hope remains: just as Frieren was reshaped by the accumulation of her old friends’ goodness, so too is that goodness now rubbing off on the young adventurers who are drawn to her. And it’s rubbing off on us, too. ~ Twwk
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is published by VIZ Media.
A Galaxy Next Door
This is a series dressed up as a complicated romcom mixing together aliens, mangaka, and orphans, traversing cultures and engaging themes of parenting and family. But it’s actually much simpler than all that. A Galaxy Next Door is about two people finding love with one another when everything else in the world (and beyond) would keep them apart. Goshiki is an alien princess: beautiful, talented, and diligently guarded by her island kingdom. Kuga is caring for his younger siblings while balancing his role as guardian with a career in manga. And somehow, the two connect with each other across barriers both distant (world, country, culture—“a galaxy”) and near (as flatmates, co-workers, and eventually lovers—“next door”) in a romance that is as cute and sweet as it is insightful and meaningful. Goshiki and Kuga aren’t perfect, but they’re perfect for each other and their story gives us hope that a match “written made in the stars”, can move beyond infatuation and become permanent and lasting when pursued with understanding and commitment, no matter how unearthly the obstacles are that may get in the way. ~ Twwk
A Galaxy Next Door is published by Kodansha.
For a while, it looked like Chainsaw Man creator Tatsuki Fujimoto was on a quest to give everyone anything except for the second part of Chainsaw Man. Goodbye, Eri was one of the one shots he released during the break from his main series, and what an unusual and thought provoking one-shot Goodbye, Eri is aggressively weird, heart-felt, and cold all at the same time. The story begins with teenager Yuta Ito trying to process his mother’s death after making a movie documenting the end of her life. Ito is filled with a mix of anger, sorrow, and confusion, which is only intensified after the film is presented at his school to widespread mockery. He considers suicide before being stopped by the titular Eri, who becomes his new obsession as he seeks to make the perfect movie about her. Goodbye, Eri is an amazing character study of an incredibly flawed protagonist who processes grief through his art. In an unexpected way that ties it back to Fujimoto’s magnum opus which also has a similarly flawed young man struggling to meet his needs in a broken world. However, while Denji becomes entangled in an action-heavy world of demons just to get by, Ito wraps himself in the world of his art to process the many people he lost throughout his life. To me, what makes this one-shot all the more fascinating is how it forces the reader to constantly question the story on the page, never truly knowing what is Ito’s fantasy and what is his reality. I already pre-ordered the physical release coming in 2023 and look forward to reliving this weirdness all over again. ~ MDMRN
Goodbye, Eri is published by VIZ Media.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War
Aka Akasaka may have recently retired from drawing manga, but the English releases of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War press on, as does Kaguya and Miyuki’s relationship. And to address the elephant in the room, yes, they did it. Though, just like all the other romantic tropes this series interacts with, the subject is breached with humor, charm, and emotional clarity. Sex isn’t just another step in the Manga Relationship Formula; it’s a way to discuss and to celebrate the most intimate parts of human relationships. After all, love is only one kind of war; there’s a thousand other battles that we humans wage around the world as we struggle to understand, relate to, and live alongside one another. It’s truly a testament to Akasaka’s depth as a writer that he’s able to write characters that embody these relational difficulties in a way that feels all too familiar. “Each character has their own principles, personality and background,” Akasaka muses in the afterword of volume 22, and that’s exactly what makes this manga such a joy to read. And as the story advances towards a grand conclusion for Kaguya, Miyuki, and the other members of the Shuchiin student council, I’m confident it’ll stay that way. ~ sleepminusminus
Kaguya-sama: Love is War is published by VIZ Media.
When Laid-Back Camp debuted in 2015, seemingly just another entry in a long line of “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things” titles, could anyone have predicted that it would soon become one of the most beloved slice-of-life series of the decade? And yet, at the end of 2022, with twelve volumes and popular anime and film adaptations to its name, that’s exactly where we stand. Laid-back Camp pairs the bright and spirited Nadeshiko with the reserved and offbeat Shimarin in the lead roles, adds in a whole cast of memorable characters, and takes them all on delightful camping excursions where they encounter chirping pinecones, the thousand faces of Mt Fuji, and most importantly, delicious-looking camp grub. Of volumes 11 and 12, released this year, the former focuses on a solo camp for Nadeshiko and a camping venture for Rin and Aya, while the latter finds the remainder of the girls on their own trek. Together, these volumes demonstrate what makes this series so special: its rare combination of consistency and innovation. This year, Volume 11 is the more experimental, placing Nadeshiko and Rin in situations that push them to grow in new ways, while also affirming how far they’ve already come. Meanwhile, Volume 12 is Laid-back Camp at its most iconic: full of cuteness, charm, and hilarity. Both are a reminder that it takes serious skill to create a manga this comfy and cozy while continuing to push forward in a creative and emotionally fulfilling way. In 2022, Laid-back Camp proved it still has plenty up its sleeve—and here’s hoping that those sleeves are plenty long, with many more volumes still to go. ~ Twwk
Laid-back Camp is published by Yen Press.
Play it Cool, Guys
Episodic stories tend to be hit or miss for many readers. They can lack the overarching growth of characters who embark on life-changing adventures as they instead give a mini slice-of-life adventure within every chapter that doesn’t necessarily flow, one into the next. But Play It Cool, Guys is a series that excels at doing both! It centers on four—or rather, with this year’s Volume 3, now five!—appropriately cool and handsome guys that may seem aloof, but in actuality are super clumsy in their everyday lives. The charm and individuality of the characters, each clumsy in his own way, make this series so relatable! From rereading the same lines in a book over and over, to going to the store for an item that someone else forgot, only to end up forgetting it as well—it is these small moments that make this series so engaging. Added to this, the art style and especially its strategic use of color are just as engaging as the unexpectedly humorous lives these guys live. ~ Laura A. Grace
Play it Cool, Guys is published by Yen Press.
A Sign of Affection
When it comes to shoujosei titles, A Sign of Affection easily stands out as the best of this year. Yuki’s continuing story as a young deaf woman falling in love while attending college, is both captivating and breathtaking. Her story is written and illustrated with such care that it makes you appreciate every word and expression. Shojo manga as a whole is already known for its distinct art style with a special focus on blushing cheeks and wide, sparkling eyes, but A Sign of Affection takes it one step further by highlighting Yuki’s expressions without words, sometimes for several pages at a time and in large panels to help the reader take in every detail. And as if that was not enough, the handsome Itusomi makes you want to swoon over the care he takes to get to know Yuki more on a personal level, even learning sign language as they continue to grow closer as a couple. The preciousness and thoughtfulness that is displayed in their relationship leave a deep impression of how wonderful it is to not only read about first love in this fulfilling genre, but even more to read and be captivated by the softness that leaves your heart going ba-bump in a series that is so well-named and well-loved. ~ Laura A. Grace
A Sign of Affection is published by Kodansha.
Being tasked with selecting the ten best manga series this year is unenviable work. We each ended up leaving out some of our favorite series of the year. Our honorable mention manga, given below in alphabetical order, are mere ticks away from being listed above this line with the top ten. We recommend them all highly.
- Asadora! (VIZ Media)
- Chainsaw Man, Part 2 (VIZ Media)
- Daily Report About My Witch Senpai (Seven Seas Entertainment)
- I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss (Yen Press)
- Josee, the Tiger and the Fish (Yen Press)
- Kowloon Generic Romance (Yen Press)
- The Savior’s Book Cafe (Seven Seas Entertainment)
- The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes: Ultramarine (Seven Seas Entertainment)
- Wandance (Kodansha)
Check out our Reader’s Corner column, where each week we dive into the world of manga and light novels with reviews of both the latest releases and some older volumes as well!