WWAC’s Favorite Manga of 2021

Feature image of a crop from the cover of "I am a Cat Barista." The title is written in a nice font, and there is a drawing of an anthropomorphic cat, smiling. His eyes are yellow and he's wearing clothes.

This year we’ve read and wrote about a wide variety of manga: funny comics, thoughtful comics, educational manga and silly manga, longrunning series and series that just started recently. There’s sure to be something on this list of recommendations for every type of manga reader. WWAC also just got a new editor of manga reviews (that’s me, Masha!) so look forward to even more manga content from us in 2022!

My Love Mix-up!
Wataru Hinekure (writing), Aruko (art)
VIZ Media

cover of my love mix-up depicting the three main characters.I talked about it in my October pubwatch a bit but I want to talk about it more because this comic is the silly gay romcom we deserved this year and I want everyone to read it. Aruko’s art really sells the visual comedy of the characters interacting with each other and the many, many hilarious misunderstandings they experience over the course of this first volume. It’s just so funny! And the characters are likeable as they’re each trying to do what they believe is the kindest thing to do in the situation as they have incorrectly interpreted. My Love Mix-up! also got a live action adaptation this year which I haven’t seen but have heard good things about. But the comic itself is just so, so funny and fun to read.

— Masha Zhdanova

Robo Sapiens: Tales of Tomorrow (Omnibus)
Toranosuke Shimada
Seven Seas

A robot person sits quietly on a chair, surrounded by images of robots and peopleI’m the only person I know who’s read this book and I am going insane, it’s so good, please read it or I’ll cry. This is a manga that will appeal to fans of more alternative comics, especially contemporary Western alternative comics like the work published by PEOW. Robo Sapiens follows the extra-long lifespans of a few humanoid robots as human civilization evolves and collapses around them. What makes it really shine is the amount of empathy and kindness the humans have for the robots they build, an empathy that persists beyond humanity itself as the world spins ever onward. Robo Sapiens does what really great sci-fi should do and uses advanced technology to say something about people: a hopeful and optimistic message we needed to hear this year.

— Masha

I Am a Cat Barista
Hiro Maijima
Seven Seas

Feature image of a crop from the cover of "I am a Cat Barista." The title is written in a nice font, and there is a drawing of an anthropomorphic cat, smiling. His eyes are yellow and he's wearing clothes.This is truly the loveliest and coziest comic I’ve read all year. Each vignette tells the story of a lost and weary traveler in Tokyo who happens upon a very unique cat cafe. Here, though, the cats aren’t to be petted — nope, at this establishment, the barista is a cat! Maijima imbues each page with a warmth and heart that’ll immerse you in every tale. Our titular barista creates new concoctions for each customer based on their needs and by the end of this first volume, you’ll want nothing more than to be served by this charming feline yourself.

— Rosie Knight

Blue Period
Tsubasa Yamaguchi, Lys Blakeslee (English letterer), Haruko Hashimoto (English editor), Ajani Oloye (English translator)
Kodansha Comics

A person paints a red streak of paint across the 'screen' with a paintbrushI read Blue Period because a review briefly criticized the first volume for being “a bit too informative at times,” which naturally sent me straight to the library. The review isn’t wrong, per se—Blue Period is packed with information about the art scene in Japan, focused through the lens of aspiring artists trying to be admitted to Japan’s only public (read: financially affordable) art college—but that wealth of information, and the kindness of the narrative that encapsulates it, is what has made the manga one of my favorite running series. Blue Period’s characters spend time teasing out the differences and relationships between conceptual ingenuity and technical mastery while dealing with the personal trials inherent to being 17, and though it hasn’t yet been explicitly stated, it’s clear that the narrative is interested in how personal circumstances and institutional pressures affect artistic development. The artwork in the series is also incredible: Yamaguchi’s own work is expressive and dramatic in a way has only grown on me over time, and the series uses (with credit and permission) pieces by practicing artists to represent the artwork that appears in the story. The effect is beautiful and inspiring.

— Zora Gilbert

Drops of God
Tadashi Agi (story), Shu Okimoto (art)

A person in a black suit and tie pours out a bottle of red wine standing in front of a statue of Jesus on a crossOkay, this is kind of a cheat since only the very last volumes of the main Drops of God were published in English in 2021. But to be fair to me, I started reading this manga in 2011 when the first few translated volumes were published by Vertical for the first time, and they never finished translating the series. This is where Kodansha and Comixology come in, dropping all 44 volumes digitally starting in 2019 (free for Prime subscribers). 34-44 were published this May, so it counts, and I certainly read all 44 volumes this year in a pandemic fugue state.

But enough about me — what is Drops of God? It’s a manga about the layabout son of a famed Japanese wine critic and his father’s spectacularly detailed will, in which he lays out a contest that will determine who wins his prized wine collection — his own son, Shizuku Kanzaki, or the up-and-coming star and wine critic Issei Tomine, who he hastily adopted. The comic has the easy pace of a procedural; every issue a problem is somehow solvable via wine. But what’s really spectacular about this story is how the act of drinking wine is depicted on page. Shu Okimoto creates fantastical scenes, often double-page spreads, depicting the way the delicate flavors of various wines can transport these oenophiles (and us) to miraculous places — museums, symphonies, mountains, outer space, and more. Worth it for the art alone, the story of two competing young men is compelling, the wine-centered competition requiring each of them to travel the world and their own inner depths.

— Kat Overland

Dick Fight Island Volume One

Reibun Ike (story and art), Adrienne Beck (translation), Deborah Fisher (touch up art and colouring), Alice Lewis (cover and graphic design), Jennifer Leblanc (editor)
Libre Inc./SuBLime (Viz Media)

Four of the combatantsEvery four years, eight clans across the Pulau Yong’Unda archipelago choose a champion to compete in the Great Wyrm Tournament to choose who will rule as king and king’s advisor. Despite the crude title, there is a lot of heart in this story and the worldbuilding is impressive. We get to learn about the islanders and the various arts and skills of their clans, as well as the politics of the people that leads to this unique championship battle. I went into this book for the hotties and the funnies and was pleasantly surprised to find a pretty solid story and interesting characters underneath the elaborate phallus armor. Read my full review here.

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