As a Japanese major in college, it was often assumed that I had an extensive knowledge of anime and manga. When I revealed to the curious people who asked that my knowledge of popular animated television shows stopped in the mid-90’s with Sailor Moon and Neon Genesis Evangelion, I would get stared down like I was from an alien planet. How could I not watch anime?

Truth me told, I was never much an anime devotee. My pathway into Japanese culture was through music, which, though more common nowadays I’m sure, was pretty obscure in 1999 (this was all pre-YouTube – oh fun). I did enjoy reading the occasional manga, which I could snag at Borders for a mere $7-10 a piece. Such easy access was a dream, and I dove into the bishoujo/magical-girl genre as an extension of my Sailor Moon-watching.

Manga isn’t just all magical girls fighting evil, though. There are genres like you wouldn’t believe, from fighting robots to romance. I’ve even spotted a number of popular books and movies given a manga-makeover lately (Gail Carriger’s Soulless, anyone?). The comic-book style is readily recognizable, and aside from some editions reading in the traditional Japanese, right to left style, easy to read. What’s more, most major book stores now carry a huge selection of manga, so you’re bound to find something!

While I’ve seriously downsized my collection over the years, I couldn’t help but snag some of my favorites (like the entire 20-some book Nana series for a mere $10) in Japan. Most of them are girly, but hey.

And it takes me significantly longer to read a teeny-tiny manga in Japanese than my host sister, who breezes through one in a matter of minutes. Who knew comics could double as Japanese language practice.


  • Sailor Moon – I’ve seen a resurgence of the series lately – probably due to the anime reboot this coming summer. You could walk into a Barnes & Noble and easily snag the whole arc from the shelf, and it’s worth it. A classic for a reason, Tsukino Usagi finds a talking cat one day that informs her she’s a superhero meant to protect the princess of the Moon and save the planet from the baddies. A team of female superheroes? Yes please!
  • Nana – Recently made into a live action movie, two girls – both named Nana – are brought together and their lives intertwine. Keywords: Friendship, love, drama, rock music. Emphasis on the awesome friendship. And rock music. And Vivienne Westwood.
  • Magic Knight Rayearth – More super-heroines, this time saving a fictional world, courtesy of the awesome writers and illustrators of CLAMP.
  • Paradise Kiss – Ai Yazawa has a very distinct illustrative style, and Paradise Kiss is just as visually appealing (and fashion-tastic) as Nana. A short series, Paradise Kiss follows one girl’s fall-in with a college fashion label and the love and friendships that ensure. The characters are quirky and lovable, an area where Yazawa really shines. Check out Gokinjo Monogatari if you want more background on the supporting characters, in a better-than-the-original prequel-y kind of way.
  • Mars – An oldie but a goodie. This might not even be in print anymore, but I remember following the high-school drama of the artistic goodie two-shoes and resident bad boy. Typically girly, full of drama, but somehow touching and addictive
  • Anything from CLAMP – These are the ladies behind Rayearth, but pick up anything of theirs and you won’t be disappointed. Not always magical-girl related, but often feature supernatural beings and fantastic worlds, there’s always something epic and fairytale-ish going on. Chobits, Clover, Wish, X/1999, Miyuki-chan in Wonderland (a bit risque, but a fun take on Alice in Wonderland)

Do you read manga?