Another few weeks have gone by and it’s time I put out another post. (I apologize that my posts/comments have been few and far between lately; it’s been a hectic semester.) Since readers seem to have enjoyed my post on shonen manga series created by female manga artists, and there are still a lot of examples I haven’t covered, I’m continuing the list this week with another round of great series.
InuYasha (犬夜叉) by Rumiko Takahashi
If we’re having a conversation about female manga artists succeeding in shonen manga, we absolutely cannot forget Rumiko Takahashi. Beloved for her iconic characters and unforgettable humor, Takahashi is one of the best known manga artists of any genre. Her work spans over decades and include a slew of popular series, from the hijinks of the boy cursed to turn into a girl when he comes into contact with cold water (Ranma 1/2), to tales of ghosts and reincarnation in her most recent work, Rin-ne. Many of her works have been translated and published in English at some point, a significant feat since we often only see a couple of works by the same manga artist make their way over to the States. With so many great shonen series in her arsenal, it was hard to choose which one to discuss here, but I’ve decided to discuss her award-winning shonen series InuYasha because of the huge popularity it had in the U.S. during its run.
InuYasha takes Takahashi’s talent for romantic comedy and puts it in a crazy adventure where past and present meet, injected with a fine dose of Japanese mythology. We start in modern-day Japan where 15-year-old Kagome lives with her family at the shrine her grandfather runs. One day, however, a horrific creature springs forth through the sealed well on their property and drags the girl back down the well with it. Yet Kagome doesn’t hit the bottom of the well. Instead, she falls right back to feudal Japan, where she awakens a strange boy–half dog demon, half man to be exact–who was put into a deep sleep for decades after a fight with a powerful priestess. Now that he’s awake, he’s convinced that Kagome is the priestess and wants revenge! But when a magical jewel with great power gets shattered and scattered across the land due to Kagome and InuYasha’s actions, the two are charged with collecting the pieces before those pieces make their way into the hands of evil.
Opening up a volume of InuYasha is like being enveloped in a pleasant batch of memories for me. Takahashi’s distinct style has a special charm and her comedic faces are top-notch. She spends time on the protagonists’ adventures, diverging from the main plot to explore the many side-adventures that occur on their journey in an episodic form. She is a master at creating a cast of characters that you just can’t help but root for, from the dutiful Sango and the womanizing monk, Miroku, to InuYasha’s powerful (and slightly terrifying) half-brother, Sesshomaru, who goes on his own emotional journey over the course of the story. If you’re looking for a classic adventure series with loveable characters and a good mix of comedy, romance, and action, check out InuYasha. While you’re at it, check out some of Rumiko Takahashi’s other works as well! You really can’t go wrong with any of them.
D. Gray-Man (ディー・グレイマン) by Katsura Hishino
Turning from a twist on historic Japan to one on industrial England, we have Katsura Hishino’s D. Gray-Man. Katsura Hishino is perhaps best known by her instantly recognizable artwork that finds a balance between cool and beautiful, art that has been highly praised. She puts it to excellent use in D. Gray-Man, masterfully expressing the mix of the grotesque and horrid alongside great fragility that exists both in the world and the characters she has created.
Set in an alternative version of the nineteenth century, the world is under attack by killing monsters called “Akuma,” an attack put into action by the mysterious “Millennium Earl.” Allen Walker, a polite teen with a dark past and present, however, is not about to let the Earl have his way. When his beloved foster-father Mana died, the boy foolishly made a deal with the Earl to bring Mana back to life. Instead, Mana’s tortured soul was resurrected under the Earl’s control, forced to kill and possess the resurrector to become an Akuma. Luckily, Allen was born with an arm infused with “Innocence,” the only means of fighting Akuma, but the incident leaves the boy emotionally scarred and cursed. Ever since, he’s been able to perceive the otherwise invisible souls that have become Akuma. After training for years with a master, Allen embarks to join The Black Order, a worldwide organization of Innocence-wielding exorcists and humankind’s only hope.
While exorcists, demons, and “humankind’s last hope” are nothing new in the world of action/adventure, Hishino adds spice with a unique, and sometimes downright bizarre, cast of characters, from Allen’s morally questionable master who racks up debt wherever he goes to the Earl who, despite his ominous role, often appears smiling and twirling an umbrella. The story can go off on seemingly random tracks at times (although these usually lead to the discovery of new comrades), but when the plot moves forward, D. Gray-Man becomes addicting. And if the good vs. evil plot leaves you wanting more complexity, rest assured that Hishino knows how to mix things up. Characters who enter the story aren’t always what they seem, not even Allen himself, although you have to be patient and wait for those plot twists to come. As a bonus to those who stick to the series, Hishino’s art goes from nice and stylish to an absolute gorgeous feast for the eyes! Unfortunately, the series has gone on and off hiatus several times due to various injuries and illness, but Hishino nevertheless continues to draw D. Gray-Man.
Nabari no Ou (隠の王) by Yuhki Kamatami
Nabari no Ou is a lesser known shonen series that I discovered back when Yen Press published it in their manga magazine, Yen Plus. Like ultra-popular shonen series, Naruto, Nabari no Ou takes the idea of the ninja on a wild imaginary ride, but this series is no cheap Naruto knock-off. Instead of a ninja world, Kamatami re-imagines our modern world with a shadowy underbelly, where ninja clans have secretly preserved their arts and kept their identities as ninja hidden for generations. Miharu is an apathetic 14-year-old who knows nothing of this other side of the world until he suddenly finds himself attacked by a couple of ninja. To his surprise, his classmate and teacher come to his rescue as ninja affiliated with the Banten Village, who explain to Miharu that he holds a power known as the Shinra Banshou in his body, making him a target of the Grey Wolves, a group of ninja who plan to use the Shinra Banshou to fulfill their wish. His teacher, Tobari, vows to protect him until they can remove the mysterious power from Miharu, but Toabri and Miharu’s classmate, Koichi, soon discover that helping such an apathetic child will be more challenging than they had anticipated. Add to the mix a bold samurai girl with revenge on her mind, a ninja with a death wish who has every intention of getting the Shinra Banshou, and many other people all with their own affiliations and individual desires/secrets, and Nabari no Ou starts to heat up.
One of the things that I really enjoy about this series is that although the characters at first seem rather uninteresting and flat, spouting justice and good vs. bad, those bland speeches end up crumbling away in each case to reveal more complex personal motivations. Lines become blurred between “good” and “evil” as each group Miharu meets presents themselves as justified in one way or another, including the Grey Wolves, who Miharu’s allies initially paint as the bad guys, proclaim good reasons for wanting the Shinra Banshou. Yet questions always remain about whether those proclaimed reasons are the true goals, leaving Miharu, and readers, at a loss as to who to really trust. Miharu’s most trusted ally turns out to be the person one least expects. Nabari no Ou is not perfect, especially at the beginning, but stick with it and you’ll witness the simplistic film around the truth slowly give way to a dark plot with characters whose fates you’ll want to stick around to find out.
Black Butler (黒執事) by Yana Toboso
Finally, Yana Toboso’ s Black Butler gives us yet another dark version of England in the 1800s. The series currently spans 18 volumes, many of which have ranked on the top-selling list in Japan, and is the inspiration for a number of anime adaptations, a live-action film, and even a musical.
The story follows Ciel Phantomhive, who is by no means a normal 12-year-old boy. After the sudden death of his parents a couple of years ago, young Ciel inherited a massive fortune and responsibilities of the noble Phantomhive family. Yet his outward responsibilities are not the only unusual thing about this rather grim-looking boy. In that incident two years before, Ciel’s parents were murdered and he was taken captive. At that time, the boy made a contract with a demon, promising his soul in exchange for vengeance. Now that demon accompanies him under the guise of the perfect butler, Sebastian, granting Ciel’s every need until the boy’s revenge is complete.
While he searches for clues that will lead him to those behind his kidnapping and his parents’ murders, Ciel acts as the Queen’s eyes in the underworld, policing the many unseen illegal activities in England. Although Ciel looks anything but threatening to thugs, they have another thing coming when the boy’s all-too-perfect butler makes a move–Sebastian isn’t about to let Ciel’s precious soul be stolen before he gets a hold of it!
Toboso’s twisted manga about equally twisted characters is oddly addicting. Like the beautiful Sebastian himself, her artwork draws readers into a world of elegant mansions, stunning Victorian fashions, and eye-catching characters only to reveal a chilling (and often violent) underside hidden beneath that pretty surface. At the center of it all lies Ciel and Sebastian, whose relationship keeps the readers on eggshells. It shifts between a tense servant-master relationship, with Sebastian’s true demonic intentions peeking menacingly from beneath his complying exterior, while simultaneously acting almost like a solid partnership, as Sebastian saves Ciel in times of need, and Ciel likewise trusts that his demonic butler will have his back. Yet the thoughts of Ciel and (especially) Sebastian remain clouded from the readers’ view. So, if dark Victorian intrigue mixed with the supernatural and warped characters with the faces of angels is your cup of tea, try Black Butler.
That’s it for this round of shonen manga created by female manga artists! I know there are still plenty more to get to, including CLAMP (Tsubasa) and Akira Amano (Hitman Reborn), which I will try to cover in a future post. As I said last time, if you have any shonen series written by women that you would like me to write about, please leave me a comment!