Creating manga is a tradition that has been around in the east since the 12th century in the form of scroll art, though the first serialized manga, Sazae-San by Machiko Hasegawa, was published back in 1946. Since then, the art form has evolved uncontrollably in Japan and has taken hold in nearly every aspect of the culture. Manga fans can find manga about nearly anything.
From Manga about American football, basketball, and tennis to manga about superheroes, aliens, and mystical powers, the art form has truly taken a life of its own. But behind all that are the humble mangaka who have dedicated their lives to perfecting their craft and telling incredible stories. So let’s dive into some of the greatest works of art across the entire medium.
Update October 28th, 2020 by Louis Kemner: Although the word "manga" can be translated as "whimsical drawings," many manga-ka past and present have proven that this is an art style with incredibly deep potential for astounding artwork and visual creativity. Many of the best manga series are on par with top-rated American comic book titles, showing a wide range of subject matters and moods from the comic to the grisly to the horrific, or anything in between. Let's explore five more manga series that show what this popular art form is truly capable of.
15 Vinland Saga
Vinland Saga follows the story of a young Viking boy named Thorfinn. After Thorfinn sneaks onto his father’s warship to prove he’s a man ready for battle, Thorfinn lands both him and his father in serious trouble after their ship is ambushed.
With his father dead and the men responsible for getting away, Thorfinn decides to give chase, which is where his story really begins. The series is filled with violent and haunting imagery as the young Thorfinn grows up and becomes more and more of a cold-blooded killer while letting go of the boy his father raised. Mangaka Makoto Yukimura puts to paper some genuinely devastating moments that fans will not be able to get out of their heads.
After a pair of men, a teenager named Hiro Shishigami and a fifty-eight-year-old man named Ichiro Inuyashiki, are hit with an extraterrestrial explosion, their lives are forever changed. After discovering that their bodies have been altered with alien tech, the two branch down very different paths.
As one becomes a homicidal sociopath, the other begins to use his abilities for the good other the people in his community. The art in this series is both beautiful and devasting, joyful, and sickening. Manga fans simply cannot afford to miss the art or the story of these two men on converging paths.
Taking place in a version of the world ravaged by horrible monstrosities, Gantz follows a group of people who have all died and been resurrected by Gantz (a mysterious machine) in order to combat the monstrosities devouring Japan.
The series is filled with blood, violence, and some of the most horrifying creatures to have ever hit the page. The story is definitely one that needs to be read, but the art is what truly brings Gantz to the next level.
12 Goodnight Punpun
With Goodnight Punpun, artist Inio Asano tells the heartbreaking story of a young man, Onodera Punpun, as he goes from a young boy in elementary school to a young man in his twenties. There are no crazy interstellar fight scenes, no massive explosions, simply heartbreaking moments in a young man’s life punctuated by brief instances of happiness.
Though the writing is incredible, the art not only drives the story but pushes readers to experience the world of Punpun as more than just a story they’re reading. Goodnight Punpun is an experience that will stay in readers’ minds long after they close the final volume.
No list discussing incredible artwork in manga would be complete without Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterclass in manga artwork, Akira. Though Akira finished its final arc back in 1990, the series is still regularly ranked among the greatest works in manga history.
Otomo brilliantly illustrates not only some of the most massive and hauntingly beautiful scenes of carnage and destruction, but he regularly illustrates the painstaking work he’s willing to force on himself in order to remain in line with his artistic vision. Otomo crafts scenes, sometimes full splash pages, with masochistic attention to detail. Something that very few artists before or after have ever lived up to.
Vagabond, by mangaka Takehiko Inoue, is perhaps the quintessential samurai manga of our time. Beginning his work in 1998 and continuing through the present, Inoue tells the story of Shinmen Takezō, a young boy who is shunned by his village due to his violent and erratic nature.
After leaving his home at the age of seventeen, along with another boy from his village, Takezō and his companion join a fight that they are simply not prepared for. The art is both beautiful and powerful, the character designs are immaculate, and the story is something that simply cannot be missed by anyone calling themselves a fan of manga.
Berserk, by mangaka Kentaro Miura, is perhaps one of the most violent and haunting entries featured in this article. Not only is the story absolutely devasting, but the art also takes what already an incredible story and elevates to a level that few mangaka are ever able to achieve.
The violence is palpable, the monsters are horrifying and grandiose, and the adventure itself is something that cannot be overlooked. After joining Griffith and his band of the hawk, Guts is in for the truly terrifying and carnage-filled battle of his life. An unfortunately for guts, the entire thing is a marvel to behold.
Mangaka Junji Ito is known as a master of created horrifying and unsettling artwork and stories that will likely leave any manga fan sleeping with the lights on. With his series Uzumaki, Ito tells the story of Kirie Goshima and her boyfriend, Shuichi Saito. The couple lives in the town of Kurōzu-Cho, a town affected by mysterious supernatural happenings.
As the series delves deeper into the spiral curse, both Kirie and Shuichi become increasingly aware of the effect the spiral cure has on the people around them. It is causing the townspeople to become more and more paranoid and obsessed about spirals. The story is unsettling in and of itself, but Ito’s incredibly artwork is something that’d be impossible to overlook. Or even get out of the reader’s mind.
7 Kokou No Hito (Climber)
Created by mangaka Shinichi Sakamoto, Kokou No Hito (Climber) tells the story of a young man named Mori Buntarō, a boy who becomes obsessed with solo mountain climbing after being transferred to a new school. Buntarō, though introverted, finds his freedom through the act of climbing and eventually dedicates his life towards scaling the east face of K2.
The series has won multiple awards, and the beautiful and breathtaking artwork simply speaks for itself. Readers may never summit any mountain in their entire lives, but with the artwork found in this series, who really needs to?
6 One-Punch Man
Though many fans of One-Punch Man may be surprised to see the series featured in an article like this, especially considering the series webcomic origins. After Yusuke Murata, the artist responsible for the equally incredible Eyeshield-21 took the illustrating reins from creator One, the series which was already incredibly popular, absolutely exploded like a series of consecutive normal punches.
One-Punch Man has been thrilling anime fans for years now, but it wouldn’t be the series that it is today without the impressive work that Murata has added to One’s amazing storytelling.
This is a gambling manga series, and it's a new take on the "magical high school" trope. Hyakkou Academy is a private school for the sons and daughters of Japan's elite business leaders, and these students are learning how to evaluate the odds and stake it all in gambling matches. Every day, it's double or nothing.
The manga's visual style is highly detailed and dynamic, and it uses outlandish and extreme facial expressions and character postures to add extra oomph to the gambling scenes and the characters' excitement. The students here are betting it all, and they'll make a lunatic face to match.
4 Mahou Sensei Negima!
This exciting shonen series has very busy artwork, but it never quite feels cluttered. Negima! also features a huge cast of characters who all use different types of magic, weapons, or martial arts, and the creators outdid themselves with the lovely special effects from beginning to end.
The characters' visual style makes them stand out clearly from the realistic (and sometimes 3-D) backgrounds, and the art ranges from incredibly detailed trees and natural scenery to the inside of cathedrals or temples. And the creators kept this up for 38 whole volumes.
3 Tokyo Ghoul
The animated version of this seinen series can be a visual treat, but the true experience comes from Sui Ishida's original, 14-volume manga series of the same name. It's a horror-action series, and manga-ka Ishida made sure that fact was reflected in every panel.
As expected, the backgrounds are lushly detailed and realistic, and the characters are drawn elegantly but also a bit rough, to show the dual nature of humans and ghouls in the story. Generous use of shadows, jagged shapes, and maniacal expressions really bring the horror to life.
2 The Way Of The Househusband
This is a newer series, and it will even get its own anime in 2021. For now, the series has four released volumes in English, and they all feature some eye-popping visuals. This series emphasizes visual gags and lush art over complex storylines, making it a lean, fun read.
The hero is Tacchan, an ex-Yakuza gangster who settled down and learned to become a master of the domestic arts. His sinister scowls, grins, and cool poses contrast wonderfully with his missions to buy groceries, hang laundry, and more, and of course, the backgrounds are photo-realistic.
1 Girls' Last Tour
Now it's time for a quiet post-apocalyptic series that definitely emphasizes visuals over a deep story (not that the narrative isn't compelling, though). The manga series is a brief six volumes, and in that time, fans of dieselpunk and post-disaster stories will have plenty to look at.
Like Tokyo Ghoul, this series uses some rough, sketch-like drawings to emphasize the grittiness of its world, and since it's on-theme, the visuals look stylish, not sloppy. There's no forgetting the sight of two girls in a Kettenkrad vehicle, trundling through a ruined dieselpunk city littered with broken-down airplanes, inert factory machines and warehouses.
NEXT: 10 Manga to Read if You Loved Goodnight PunPun
What is the number 1 anime manga? ›
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Inoue Confirms End of Vagabond Manga by Year's End. Acclaimed manga creator Takehiko Inoue ( Slam Dunk , REAL ) confirmed on his website on Sunday that he will end his Vagabond samurai manga within the year. He had already said in April of last year that he will end the manga "within one or two years."Who is the biggest manga artist? ›
1. Katsuhiro Otomo - Akira. For many, Akira is considered the best manga ever written, due to its modern approach to dialogue, plot, and characters.