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REVIEW: Manga: The Complete Guide

manga_guideManga: The Complete Guide, by Jason Thompson. Del Rey. $19.95. 592 pages. A-.


Dear Mr. Thompson,

I can’t even imagine the effort it took to put this book together. I heard that you read one to two manga series a day, and upwards of 900 of them total to write the reviews within. The result is frankly an indispensable book for anyone interested in Japanese manga that has been published in English, not only for manga fans, but also for parents wanting to know what their little manga fans are reading. Every bookseller and library should keep one of these at their information desks. It’s just that useful.

I love the header information you give for each series: the mangaka, the original publisher and year, the English publisher and year, the age rating, and the length. It’s what I typically want to know at a glance. The reviews I scanned through in the main section were to the point, even if I didn’t always agree with the number of stars the series were granted. The insert sections on things like yakuza or sports manga were also quite informative, and I love that it gave a summary of series at the end to look up.

My only quibble, and you know there had to be one, was in having you do half the reviews for the yaoi series. Frankly, your focus here seems to be on the technical and the clinical. There just doesn’t seem to be any notice of the emotional in the reviews, and in yaoi as in romance novels, emotions are what it’s all about. This is probably why there was a kind of disconnect for me with most of your yaoi reviews and ratings, and so that portion of the book will not as useful to me as it could have been.

But really, everything else about the book is just top notch, and I can tell I’ll be using this frequently to get quick overviews of series, and for hints when I’m looking for something new to read. It is a reference everyone interested in manga should have.



reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.


  1. Keishon
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 09:32:46

    You know, the one series that I just didn’t get was Fruits Basket! Just don’t get that one. Thanks for recommending this guide. Bookstores just don’t carry all the “good stuff” that’s available out there. Just when I think I have enough to read, I buy more. I just got Vampire Knight Vol.3. I am really enjoying that series and Blood Alone. Sorry to babble. Thanks.

  2. Sandra Schwab
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 10:12:00

    Keishon, have you tried the anime of Fruits Basket? It’s one of my favourite anime series (not the least because of the Japanese voice of Kyo *swoon*).

    Jan, Thompson’s book sounds great. Thanks for letting us know about it!

  3. Jan
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 11:17:43

    I plan to review Fruits Basket sometime. People have trouble understanding it I think because the first couple volumes aren’t great. I actually started it and gave up once thinking it was typical and boring, then a friend convinced me to try the first 6 or so volumes and that’s what hooked me. I’ve now read the whole series and it’s pretty amazing.

    The anime for that really is wonderful too. All the Japanese voices are wonderful. My favorites are Kyo’s, Shigure’s and Hatori’s, all very famous seiyuu. And for once whoever did the dub did a decent job. Except for Hatori’s voice which had no emotion whatsoever. The Japanese seiyuu for him made me cry at his story, the English one left me cold. But it’s well worth watching.

  4. Sandra Schwab
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 11:52:47

    And the series has a truly beautiful intro song, too! Here’s a linkie to YouTube.

  5. Keishon
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 13:12:16

    No, I haven’t seen the anime series. I’ll put it on my Netflix account. Good to know that it’s not me who thinks that the first one is quite boring so I’ll stick with it. There are so many anime series out there that I don’t know which ones to try. Any rec’s ladies? I bit the bullet and bought Hellsing which wasn’t bad at all. Alacard is so cool.

  6. Jan
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 13:43:16

    Hmm well it depends on what you’re looking for. Are you looking for dark and realistic? Does the animation matter most or is the heart and storytelling more important? Short or long? Are you renting these I hope?

    There are things out there like Princess Tutu, which sound absolutely silly but is one of the loveliest series I’ve seen in a while (Sandra you should watch it if you haven’t). Then there are things like Gankutsuo, an artsy futuristic retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo which is pretty good, though they change the ending. Or you have Paranoia Agent which is very edgy and dark commentary about today’s society told in a strange way. Then there are classics like Cowboy Bebop which is about cool bounty hunters in space. Or Full Metal Alchemist, about two brothers who’ll give up anything, even too much, to get their mother back. Mushishi, a series a mentioned in the Halloween post, has a great anime coming out now. You’d probably like the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Or, if you want comedy, there are wide ranges of kinds of humor, like Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, though you probably need to see the original Full Metal Panic to ‘get’ it. Ah, Paradise Kiss, which I reviewed here once, has a short anime series that’s really good. There are romance series that match some of the romance manga you’ve been reading.

    A good place to catch some shows is on adult swim if you can record things off TV (it’s on the Cartoon Network starting at 11:00 pm EST). Blood+ is a pretty good one. They’ve just started repeats on weeknights. And Death Note just started 3 weeks ago on Satudays, and it’s a very good adaptation.

    Also, Anime News Network has some good reviews, especially the Shelf Life column, from which I can generally tell if I’ll like something or not. She reviews well.

  7. Jules Jones
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 15:13:44

    Ooh, and it’s available from Amazon UK as well [adds to wish list for later].

  8. Shiloh Walker
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 15:14:08

    The result is frankly an indispensable book for anyone interested in Japanese manga that has been published in English, not only for manga fans, but also for parents wanting to know what their little manga fans are reading. Every bookseller and library should keep one of these at their information desks. It's just that useful.

    Ohhhhh…. what a great idea… my oldest would probably love to get into manga, but I’m leery of letting her start stuff that I haven’t looked at ahead of time.

  9. Vernieda
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 18:05:13

    I second Jan’s recommendation for Princess Tutu and Gankutsuou. I just finished watching the former, and the latter is one of my absolute favorites of all time, even though I do change the ending of the original source material and shift the focus to Albert and his friends.

    A thinpak for Princess Tutu is slated for release on November 20, though many people (including myself) received our pre-orders early. It’s wonderful series. I do agree the premise sounds silly and maybe a little crazy but it truly is lovely and full of metatextual layers.

  10. Keishon
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 18:38:05

    Hmm well it depends on what you're looking for. Are you looking for dark and realistic? Does the animation matter most or is the heart and storytelling more important? Short or long? Are you renting these I hope?

    Yes, of course! I plan to see if Netflix has these titles. Dark and realistic is my middle name. I do catch a few anime when it’s on late at night. Titles escape me now. Thanks, J.

  11. Sandra Schwab
    Nov 10, 2007 @ 19:07:19

    Keishon, Vampire Princess Miyu is quite dark — she is a vampire on a mission to kill demons. I’ve seen a few episodes and thought the cuts and perspectives used quite intriguing.

    Jan, thanks for the rec for Princess Tutu — now I only need to find out whether the series is available in Germany. Or perhaps I should finally try to figure out whether my telly can handle the US format. I’d love to get my grubby, little hands on Anchors Aweigh, but that’s only available as Region 1 DVD. Duh.

  12. Jan
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 01:51:19

    I bought the thinpak for Princess Tutu also Vernieda. I couldn’t believe they left all of those incredibly extras on the DVDs. And I got it on sale at rightstuf for only$30. What a deal!

    Keishon, if you like the dark stuff, (why am I saying “if”? LOL), you might like things like Serial Experiment Lain, and Wolf’s Rain, and Cowboy Bebop which is tragic though it has some comic episodes, and then the older stuff like Vampire Hunter D, and Blood the Last Vampire (related to Blood+), and Akira are all pretty dark (these are all SF.) Paranoia Agent is definitely dark.

    Hmm, you know the Sanctuary manga I recommended? The artist’s Crying Freeman and Sanctuary were both made into OAVs (short multi-ep series). I’m not sure how easy to find they are. Then there’s Kino’s journey which is dark and ‘literate’. Elfen Lied which is really dark and bloody and pretty darned sick (I couldn’t watch past ep 1). Samurai X the movie is another sad one, this time historical. Neon Genesis Evangelion is more dark sf, and considered a classic by everyone but me LOL. Oh! Grave of the Fireflies – if that doesn’t make you cry you’re made of stone, and it’s terribly realistic, and considered one of the best anime movies ever by many people.

    OK, that’s all for now. ^_^

  13. Jan
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 01:58:51

    Sandra, I love the Japanese singer who did the songs for Fruits basket. It was such a loss for her to die so young.

    But you should know that she did the theme to Princess Tutu as well, and it’s just lovely. Here’s the opening on youtube (time: 1:45 min):

    And everyone else, Princess Tutu is the perfect anime for any girl on your list for Christmas. It’s very well made and very magical and emotional, and each episode has a theme based upon a famous ballet, music included.

  14. Jan
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 02:00:29

    Oh, that’s rather biased of me. Quite a few boys like Princess Tutu too. It would just depend on their tastes. :)

  15. Vernieda
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 07:35:36

    I’m not too surprised ADV left all the extras on. I know it’s not their usual M.O. but Princess Tutu was a notorious poor seller for them and it would have cost them more money to press new DVDs for the thinpak. Easier and cheaper for them to just keep the original DVDs and package them that way. I’m certainly not complaining! :D

    Though I’ll always be sad that it didn’t do better for them – probably a fault of marketing.

  16. Jan
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 20:32:02

    You’re right Vernieda. Honestly, I think Princess Tutu would appeal to all those Fruits Basket fans out there. Think of the similarities. If they had just gotten word to them. I wonder if they could have bought advertising space inside the Furuba manga. DMP and Tokyopop did it once when they each published part of the Gorgeous Carat series.

    Hmm, I’ll need to review the manga, and mention the anime, so that everyone will think about buying it for Christmas.

  17. Vernieda
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 20:45:04

    In the past month, I’ve managed to get at least three people to buy Princess Tutu and one more this past week since I’ve been blogging about the series. LOL I guess my obnoxious way of shoving series into people’s faces until they break down and watch it in order to shut me up works.

    Keishon: Another series you might want to look into is Basilisk, which I call Romeo and Juliet meets Ninja Scroll. I also just finished watching the first volume of Hell Girl, which is dark and beautiful, if a bit formulaic at times.

  18. Jan
    Nov 11, 2007 @ 21:01:17

    That’s the name of it! I was trying to remember it for her. Keishon, I watched a couple episodes of Basilisk and could tell it was going to be so dark I couldn’t watch any more. Plus so many of the character designs were just ugly. Hey, it’s right up your alley. XD

  19. Jason Thompson
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 19:22:06

    Dear Jan,

    Thanks for the review of my book! You’re right that there are some things I could have done differently in the yaoi section — I enjoy yaoi, but I did ask my friend Hannah Santiago to do a bunch of the reviews so they wouldn’t all be written by a straight man. ;) I think she did a good job, and in retrospect I wish I’d asked her to do more. For myself, apart from novelty and originality, reviewing a manga is chiefly a question of two things: “does this manga speak to me and ring (emotionally) true to me?” and “how technically well-done is this manga, how good is the art, is the story easy to follow?” Of course, maybe ringing emotionally *true* is not meant to be the defining characteristic of BL manga or of most manga, and surely I am not the target audience, but it’s the same way I look at shonen and shojo romantic manga. For instance, I thought “Level C” was very sweet from a relationship standpoint, but the art is fairly bad, so it failed for me in the second aspect. On the other hand, I found the final plot point of “Our Everlasting” to be rather annoying and predictable, to the point that it sort of ruined the whole manga for me — “Challengers” handled the same plot twist in a much more satisfying way. At least to me — there’s so much subjectivity here. I tend also to have a low tolerance for anything nonconsensual — basically, if something happens to the uke that would cause shock and outrage if it happened to a female lead in a “straight” manga, that’s a deal-breaker for me. (And yet I understand that “Love is Like a Hurricane” is really popular? To each their own…)

    Fumi Yoshinaga, Hinako Takanaga, Ayano Yamane — these are among my favorite BL mangaka, because I think they all manage to tell engaging stories and they’re pretty good in the art/tale-telling department (with their ups and downs… Yoshinaga’s art is not the best, and Yamane’s stories are pretty insane, but I do love her work). Recently I have been trying to put together a team of good BL reviewrs in recent issues of “Otaku USA” magazine. Check it out if you get the chance — starting in issue 4 we should have 4 or so pages of BL reviews in every issue, mostly written by folks like Shaenon Garrity, althoughI do contribute the occasional review.

    Many thanks! Please feel free to write if you have any questions!

  20. Jan
    Nov 12, 2007 @ 19:58:43

    Hi Jason,

    Thank you for your response. I did notice that Hannah Santiago was doing some of the reviews and they tended to be closer to my impressions. And I saw that artwork and non-con tended to push your grades down, whereas for me a series like Love Mode which does have a non-con scene at the beginning, and the art could be better (and does get better as she writes) is still a great one because so many parts of it impact me emotionally.

    A book like Our Everlasting is the same way in my opinion. Toko Kawai’s story touched me, and the scenes she wrote were very beautiful emotionally. On the other hand, Challengers, while it was witty, did not touch me that way. They both excelled in different things, and I personally grade them about the same.

    That emotional connect is, of course, a very individual thing, but it seems to be a thing many BL fans agree on. While we love great art and stories (I adore Yamane and Yoshinaga), when it comes down to it it’s all about adult romance, emotion plus a sexual relationship.

    I tend also to have a low tolerance for anything nonconsensual -‘ basically, if something happens to the uke that would cause shock and outrage if it happened to a female lead in a “straight” manga, that's a deal-breaker for me.

    I’ve found that because this is shoujo/BL manga I have a much higher tolerance for what in real life or even in movies and western prose would be entirely unacceptable to me. BL manga is so clearly romantic and sexual fantasy, and the rape fantasy is a popular one among women. So to me it’s not a deal breaker in one of these series so long as it’s playing to that fantasy (a book like Rika the Breeder would be an example of where I just can’t read it).

    Though I was just thinking today, if Yamane-sensei’s Finder series were written as a Western heterosexual romance novel I’d throw it across the room. Into a fire. Luckily for me it’s pure bad boy fantasy. ;)

    I’ll watch for upcoming issues of Otaku USA.

  21. Jules Jones
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 10:37:39

    Of course, there are also a lot of women who *don’t* like rape fantasy, including me. It’s not something that would make a book an automatic no-buy, but it would certainly be something I’d take into consideration; so for me a guidebook that clearly indicates non-con content is useful.

    And I’m sure that for my friends who do like non-con scenes, such a guidebook is equally useful. :^) (My fanfic slash fandom was one with several thriving non-con sub-genres, so I am well used to labelling intended to warn off them as doesn’t and attract them as does.)

  22. Jan
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 11:16:30

    It doesn’t really say that clearly. I just noticed that grades were lower on such series. A couple reviews mention it in text but not all. That’s actually a standard that might be useful.

  23. Jason Thompson
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 15:52:37

    I did try to mention in the text when manga had nonconsensual acts (and so did Hannah, although I didn’t specifically tell her to) but I didn’t think of it as an absolute requirement, so there’s a few reviews where it might not be clear. It’s all very relative, of course — I agree that Love Mode handled it well. Despite being highly nonconsensual in volume 1 (and, yes, horrendous if it were done as straight porn), I actually liked Finder series more with each volume. On the other hand, I couldn’t stand Selfish Love (I think such things are more jarring, to me, when they take place in the context of teenagers rather than adults… and also the hard-boiled gangster style of Finder seemed more in tune with that kind of dark element than the “ha ha, whee, molestation is funny” high-school spirit of Selfish Love or Love is Like a Hurricane. For her part, Hannah didn’t like Poison Cherry Drive, and I loved her crushing review of Lovely Sick (unlike the manga itself).

    I feel kind of smutty for discussing only the worst aspects of BL in this post. :/ There’s so many better titles…! Actually, I’m really interested in seeing more “Ladies’ Comics” manga as they come out in English, such as Aurora’s LuvLuv line. I know of course that there are many shojo/josei titles which are pretty bodice-ripping (such as the infamous Haoh Airen), and I hope that the translated Ladies’ Comics manage to be, well, both romantic and sex-positive and (at least relatively) consensual.

  24. Jan
    Nov 13, 2007 @ 16:52:48

    LOL, I was thinking of Haou Airen when I wrote that reply. It’s one of those manga that made me question, then understand why I tolerated such behavior in manga when I wouldn’t in real life or even in prose. It’s such an outrageous story that half the time I laugh at it.

    Which is, honestly, my reaction to the first chapter of The Finder series. That series is getting better, and love is subtly coming into play now as it moves into the 5th volume. Yamane actually mentioned the “L” word, albeit only in cover copy so far. But I find I can forgive a lot when that happens.

    I guess I agree with Hannah. :) I too disliked Selfish Love, more because there just weren’t any characters I liked. And while I generally like Motoni Modoru I didn’t enjoy Poison Cherry Drive. Japanese humor is very hit or miss with me, and that missed. Lovely Sick was interesting as a character study of a sick manipulative bastard and his victim, but like the other two gave me no pleasure emotionally in reading it and I found it distasteful overall. They were not romantic to me in the least, so those are three titles I’d recommend anyone interested in romance skip as well.

    But really, there are a lot fewer of those than what’s out there that’s good, and I hope to use my reviews here to bring the better ones to people’s attention as the romances they are and get them to give it a shot. I’ve already ventured there with Ichigenme, and I have a number of others lined up.

    About the josei, you know, I’ve enjoyed some titles like NANA and Tramps likes Us, but others like Happy Mania leave me cold. Many of the others I’ve managed to find seem to think for adults, romance equals a fleeting happiness but be prepared to kiss it goodbye. That’s anathema to the romance genre, defined as it is by its happy endings. Honestly, it’s why I stick with BL for romance for the most part. But I will try them so I can bring the romances among them to the attention of the people here.

    I got into manga because I wanted to find an alternative to the Western romance novel, which I felt was growing stale. So I’d really love to see series that are comparable.

  25. Lijakaca
    Dec 07, 2007 @ 16:16:13

    Sorry I’m commenting on something so old! But I love shoujo and josei manga. I only wish that more josei was available in English, because there are a lot that have happy endings, and some are just amazing – I love Oishii Kankei by Satoru MAKIMURA, and Ashita no Ousama by Emiko YACHI.

    I wonder if English publishers are wary of licensing them because the art is not nearly as pretty, so readers used to shoujo might be turned off. Lots of people like Honey and Clover, which I haven’t read but seems like a cute ensemble manga. It’s kind of in between shoujo and josei…

  26. Vernieda
    Dec 07, 2007 @ 16:30:14

    I wonder if English publishers are wary of licensing them because the art is not nearly as pretty, so readers used to shoujo might be turned off.

    Actually, the reason why josei doesn’t get licensed much in North America is because it just doesn’t sell well. Companies have tried and tried again and again and with the exception of Nana, it always flounders. My editor friend at TOKYOPOP says that josei does well in Europe though. It just might be a matter of hitting the market at the right time and here in the US, we just haven’t hit that sweet spot yet.

  27. Jan
    Dec 07, 2007 @ 16:36:31

    There is a new josei imprint starting up next year from Aurora. It’s called Luv Luv and I’m excited about it. I’ve liked most of the josei that’s been brought over here, though there isn’t much. All, really except Happy Mania. And I have to be the only one who doesn’t really like Nodame Cantible that much. But it will be really nice to have more mature titles.

    I don’t know the two you mentioned, but if they’re that good I hope someone picks them up. :)

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