Land Of The Lustrous (8.94)
Haruko Ichikawa’s Land of the Lustrous is a visually beautiful and creative fantasy manga. But as eye-catching as Ichikawa’s emotionally expressive art style is, it doesn’t slack on depth in the story department either. The story follows Phos, a member of a humanoid jewel-like species of beings who are deemed weak by their peers in their war against the Lunaris that want to hunt them down for their luxurious value as jewels.
As the story goes on, though, Phos discovers that their powers come with a brutally steep cost. These revelations gradually unwind in a shocking fashion, and Land of the Lustrous’ CG anime adaptation garnered special praise for accomplishing the rare feat of creating exceptional 3D animation that does justice to the artist’s source material.
20th Century Boys (8.95)
Though he’s more well-known for his work on Monster, Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys is another excellent effort by the writer/artist. Urasawa’s made himself known for stringing together equal parts intricate and engrossing mysteries at the cores of his stories, and 20th Century Boys works that in with a sci-fi twist.
The plot follows an average convenience store manager named Kenji Endo who starts to feel suspicious of the suicide of a childhood friend and a dangerous new cult on the rise. From there, 20th Century Boys spirals into a tense psychological and conspiracy thriller.
With a somewhat similar genre appeal to the likes of Vinland Saga, writer Yasuhisa Hara’s Kingdom is an equally acclaimed historical fiction and sweeping drama. Its story is a fictionalized retelling of the Warring States period of China during the 400s BC era.
Kingdom uses this setting to primarily follow a war orphan named Xin who’s on a grand quest to become the world’s greatest general to unify China in the process. The manga has been ongoing since 2006, and it’s been acclaimed for maintaining a thrilling narrative thanks to its investing characters and strikingly expressive artwork across its 64 volumes and counting.
Vinland Saga (8.99)
Despite 2019 being a stacked year for anime with the likes of Demon Slayer, Attack on Titan season 3, and more, Vinland Saga managed to be one of the best series of the year. Makoto Yukimura’s original manga is a sweeping Viking epic, with its story evolving into a philosophically and emotionally resonating journey of self-discovery for Thorfinn that explores themes of redemption, the aftermath of war, and growing past vengeance.
This series is a consistently enthralling tale as historical fiction, not needing a fantasy wrapping to tell immersive, character-driven stories. The strong reception to Vinland Saga’s first season adaptation makes Vinland Saga season 2 one of the most highly-anticipated anime of 2022.
Grand Blue (9.04)
Fantasy and high-octane action will always attract plenty of attention, but Kenji Inoue and Kimitake Yoshioka’s Grand Blue is a welcome change of pace. It’s a grounded, slice-of-life, and coming-of-age comedy revolving around college student Iori Kitahara. He’s looking forward to starting this new phase in his life, staying in a room above his uncle’s diving shop.
Iori tries to steer clear of the antics of the diving club there that’s more interested in partying than actually diving, but eventually gets roped into the group’s exploits and learns more about diving through his cousins. It’s become a fan favorite when it comes to slice-of-life manga in the seinen demographic, with an anime adaptation by studio Zero-G earning a strong reception as well.
Goodnight Punpun (9.04)
This is another grounded slice-of-life seinen manga, however, it’s one that takes a darker and more dramatic approach. Inio Asano’s Goodnight Punpun follows the life of an 11-year-old boy named Punpun Onodera as he navigates the complications of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
He’s initially a naive romantic who has preconceived notions of what romance is like, and he ends up discovering the complications of not only keeping a relationship together but the bleaker elements of those he once looked up to. Punpun realizes this after witnessing his father assault his mother, sending him into a spiraling state of fearful reclusiveness. Goodnight Punpun has been praised for being a compelling coming-of-age drama that explores dark psychological themes and social commentary.
Naoki Urasawa’s Monster is one of the few acclaimed manga that could justify a live-action adaptation should the likes of HBO take interest in it. It’s one of the best and most grounded seinen manga series out, telling a grim and riveting crime drama story that could arguably serve as a premise for the likes of True Detective.
Monster tells the story of Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese doctor working and living in Germany. His life begins to crumble when he refuses to operate on a political official in favor of a child in critical condition. Years later, things begin to unravel as that same boy returns as an elusive psychopathic serial killer. A gripping crime-thriller, Monster’s anime adaptation still stands as one of the greatest seinen anime ever produced.
Vagabond is one of those manga series that arguably can’t be adapted in a way that’s worthy of writer/artist Takehiko Inoue’s work. In addition to telling a deeply intimate character-driven story, Inoue could debatably be put on the same pedestal as the late and great Kentaro Miura of Berserk when it comes to his artwork.
Vagabond chronicles a fictionalized account of ronin Musashi Miyamoto on his journey to become the “strongest under the sun.” He gains a daunting reputation as such, but he starts to discover that such a title isn’t key to feeling whole. Unfortunately, Vagabond remains unfinished, but Inoue’s storyboards for the ending being released online should provide some closure.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Steel Ball Run (9.27)
When it comes to popularity, Hirohiko Araki’s colorfully chaotic and stylish JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has to take first place. It’s one of the most vibrant and inventive manga ever, with the series getting even more mainstream with the ingenious and iconic invention of Stands. But as esteemed as the sprawling generational adventures of the Joestar bloodline have been, Steel Ball Run still sits at the top for many veteran fans.
This seventh part of the manga takes things back to the American Old West, where Gyro Zeppeli and Johnny Joestar take part in the titular grand race for a shot at winning $50 million. The JoJo anime has excellent adaptations of the story’s arcs, but longtime fans are surely salivating at the thought of a Steel Ball Run anime season.
While it may sound cliché, there’s some merit in hearing Berserk touted as the manga equivalent of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels and HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation. Kentaro Miura will be sorely missed, and the fate of Berserk’s story is still unclear, but the late and great writer/artist leaves behind a revered legacy as having put one of the greatest dark fantasy manga to pen and paper. It’s filled with stunningly detailed art, cathartic fights, and dense fantasy worldbuilding.
It must also be said that the grueling and horrific scenes in the series are understandably not for everyone, but several of Berserk’s powerful themes of healing from trauma, letting go of the past, and the power of sheer human will at its best are timeless. Guts, Casca, and co.’s personal journeys have been punishing ones, but the story Berserk evolves past revenge and into one of inspiring perseverance and indomitable hope.