I didn’t read much manga this year. Only 11 stories, actually, so I kind of struggled with whether or not I should do this list at all, but in the end decided that it’d be better to have something short and probably less interesting than most of my other Retrospect posts than to regret it later. I don’t have too much more to say about this; hopefully 2017 will bring me more time to read manga, because it’s not for lack of wanting to that I don’t, it’s definitely more a lack of time. And, as with the music, this is not just stuff released in 2016 (in fact, none of it is) — this is the stuff I first discovered this year.
1. Ao Haru Ride
3. Kabocha to Mayonnaise
4. Yunagi no Machi Sakura no Kuni
5. Taiyou no Ie
6. Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun
7. Nijigahara Holograph
8. Sekai no Owari to Yoake Mae
10. Hana no Namae
• Ao Haru Ride is probably the best shoujo high school romance manga you’ll find, or at least it’s up there. It’s beautifully drawn and has relatable, multi-dimensional characters with a really well-told story. It treads some trope-y ground on occasion, but unlike in other anime/manga where those situations often feel like thin plot devices, it just came across as more genuine here. It’s not groundbreaking and there’s probably nothing in here that would be new to most anime/manga fans, but there just seems to be more heart behind this story.
• Solanin was my entry point into Inio Asano’s work, who is probably better-known for Oyasumi Punpun (still on my list of things I need to read). There are many things about Inio’s work that are captivating, not least of which is his more realistic art style — it’s striking, and beautiful, and allows his typically melancholic stories to hit that much closer to home. Solanin is a brutally honest work about a young adult, living with and supporting her boyfriend, who hates her meaningless office job and decides to quit and live off her savings until she can find something that gives her life more purpose. It’s a short read — easily finished in an hour or two at most — but it packs a bigger punch than most 60+ chapter manga manage to in their entire run. I recommend this, even if you’re not a fan of manga, as it’s the kind of writing that can absolutely change your outlook on life, if you let it.
• Of all the manga I read this year, Kobocha To Mayonnaise may be the least known, and I only stumbled across it as a Recommendation from Solanin’s MAL page. It’s another short work — probably an hour read for most people — but like Solanin there’s a lot going on in it. It deals with the topic of infidelity, which is something rarely explored in any depth in anime or manga (outside of hentai) — moreso, it does so from the cheater’s perspective, and while it doesn’t glorify her actions, it gives insight to a viewpoint that rarely gets a voice in most types of media. If you can get past the extremely simple, raw art style, this is a unique story that is very much worth reading, regardless of whether you sympathize with the main character or not.
• Taiyou no Ie is cute and feel-good, and if you’re looking for that sort of thing it’s definitely worth a look. Probably the worst that can be said of it is that it tends to be on the “Just kiss already!” side of shoujo, so if you’re impatient then there’s probably other stuff out there that is more worth your time. Still, I really enjoyed this one, and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re otherwise stumped for something sweet and romantic.
• Nijigahara Holograph is another Inio Asano work, but is a lot weirder and a lot more confusing than anything else of his that I read. To be perfectly honest, I enjoyed this way more for the aesthetic than the execution; I would probably need to go back and re-read it multiple times to actually understand what’s going on. It flips back and forth between time periods at random and is by and large difficult to follow. Not recommended unless you’re in a quiet place where nothing will distract you, but like all of Inio’s stuff, it’s drop-dead gorgeous to look at.
• I actually think I enjoyed Undercurrent more than its ranking on this list is letting on, but it’s not a manga for everyone. Like Kabocha to Mayonnaise, it has a less-refined art style, but there’s a lot going on under the surface. The story is about a woman as she tries to run her bath house business after her husband suddenly disappears. It’s short and simple, and yet there are super interesting characters in it and this unexplainable feeling of something being “off” the entire time. I definitely liked it, but was underwhelmed by the ending — the story felt like it was building to something that never really materialized; at the same time, this is how life often works, which might just be makes this a good slice of life story.