I’ve mentioned before how much I love the comics on WEBTOON. So, it’s only natural that, since I also love anime, I would take a dive into the realm of manga and see how I like it. A while back, I tried my very first manga series, and I got pretty hooked. (I especially like how I can read one volume in one hour; it’s nice and simple.)
Some of these are series that I have read and some are series that I’m currently reading (but I can confidently say that I love it so far). I have complicated feelings about the last one on this list, but let’s not worry about that right now. I would absolutely recommend any of these to those who are new to manga and are looking for recommendations to get started.
Fullmetal Alchemist (writer and illustrator Hiromu Arakawa)
Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric only wanted to bring their mother back to life. In their desperation, they turn to alchemy and make a doomed attempt at human transmutation — but they ended up losing even more: Edward’s arm and leg, and Alphonse’s entire body. Now, the brothers are on the hunt for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone, the only thing that can restore their damaged bodies. But their journey leads them further and further into a tangled plot involving murder, humunculi, government intrigue, and more. It looks like Ed and Al have once again bit off more than they can chew, but neither are willing to stop until they have corrected their mistake.
This is anything you could ever want in an action-adventure story: drama, magic (of a sort), amazing characters, complete characters arcs for those awesome characters, exciting fight scenes, scary villains, acts of heroism, etc., etc., etc.
I’ve mentioned this manga before in one of my favorite book lists, and I’ll mention it again here: Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the best fantasy adventure stories I’ve had the pleasure of watching/reading. As an added bonus, if the manga isn’t your cup of tea (though I don’t see why it wouldn’t be; it’s very, very good), this story actually has two anime adaptations. They start in the same way but diverge pretty radically, and it’s interesting to compare how the different endings play out.
The creator of the manga, Hiromu Arakawa, does a superb job fleshing out her characters, and not just the protagonists either. Even villains (of which there are many) have their own satisfying endings. Heck, minor characters also get their moment in the sun! I’m such a big fan of this series if only for those little character details that wrap everything up and must have taken a long, long time to plot.
I can rave about this story all day because it’s one of my favorite manga (and its adaptation, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is my all-time favorite anime), but I’ll leave it here for now. Absolutely go check out this series!
Attack on Titan (writer and illustrator Hajime Isayama)
Eren Yeager has always felt penned in by the walls surrounding his tiny hometown — the very walls that keep everyone protected from the monstrous, man-eating giants, known as Titans, roaming around outside. But one day, a Titan larger than any other breaks through the wall, and Eren’s life changes forever. Following the tragic events of that day, Eren enlists in the Scouts, a branch of the military devoted to venturing beyond the safety of the walls in search of freedom and some semblance of hope for the dwindling numbers of humanity. But this hopeless world holds many secrets — and the truths yet to be revealed could spell destruction for everyone.
Popularly known as the Game of Thrones of manga, Attack on Titan is action-packed, gory, mysterious, and loud. The twists and turns in this story are so strong and so well-executed (not all, but most) that the mysterious element is one of the leading factors as to why the manga is so engrossing.
For such a plot-heavy story and fight-heavy story, it’s surprising that so many of the characters (yes, much like Fullmetal Alchemist, there are many) are unique, memorable, and fascinating (Eren being the most notable as the series nears its conclusion). There are a few characters who exist only to be killed and there are others who you no doubt never notice until they suddenly become plot relevant, but the main ensemble cast each have their own demons to overcome. That is, if they can survive long enough to face them.
The creator of the manga, Hajime Isayama, truly created a work of art when he tossed all these characters into the hellish nightmare that is the world of Attack on Titan. Part-horror, part-mystery, part-action, part-war-story…the manga is a lot of things, and it’s no surprise that it’s become as popular as it has.
Noragami (writer and illustratpr Adachi and Tokashiki, aka Adachitoka)
Yato is a god…a god who is basically unknown at this point. While he has dreams to one day have his very own shrine with numerous worshippers, for now Yato must live with the daily grind of earning his way to the top through daily laborious tasks, like finding lost kittens. But when a human girl tries to save his life and literally gets the spirit knocked out of her, Yato becomes connected to the curious Hiyori. Together with her and his new weapon, Yukine, Yato continues earning his way to the top while battling evil spirits and stronger gods.
Yato is absolutely hilarious as the goofy trash god who can’t even afford food and squats in the shrines of other gods. Yet, there’s an underlying danger surrounding him — Yato is a god, after all — that juxtaposes his silliness with the serious situations he finds himself in. He, Hiyori, and Yukine make a great comedic trio, and they care about each other deeply too, something that gives the manga a very wholesome feel. The greater cast of characters, including other gods and weapons (called shinki) are colorful too. In the first few arcs, there’s a really interesting emphasis on the relationship between a god and their weapon and how they can hurt and help each other.
This is a series that I just started reading (mainly because the anime lasted only two seasons with no third season in sight). That being said, I’m already hooked and devouring the story volume by volume.
The two-woman team working under the pen name Adachitoka (character artist Adachi and background artist Tokashiki) make great use of visual comedy to brighten each scene that the characters share together.
The Promised Neverland (writer Kaiu Shirai, illustrator Posuka Demizu)
In the peaceful Grace Field House orphanage, 11-year-old Emma spends time studying and playing with her siblings and never wanting to leave. She and her two best friends, Norman and Ray, live a happy life thanks to their loving caretaker, Mama Isabella, and congratulate their siblings when they get adopted. But then, on a late-night run to return a toy to their little sister, Emma and Norman discover a dark secret about the House. In order to escape, Emma, Norman, and Ray must use their genius-level smarts to come up with a plan before their time runs out.
When you have three super-intelligent protagonists and one terrifying premise (that I can’t say much about or else I’ll spoil it), you’re in for one wild ride. The mind games in the first arc alone are absolutely brilliant, and on top of that they’re paired with great character work that highlights each person’s strengths and weaknesses and how they rely on each other — sometimes too much, and sometimes too little.
It’s so hard to say much more about this series in a way that won’t spoil everything. And since the first arc is the strongest (in my opinion), I don’t want to give away anything beyond that. Just know that The Promised Neverland will scare you, comfort you, make you cry, make you laugh, and put you through a roller coaster of emotions and mind games that you are in no way ready for.
I will say, however, that there are…issues, with this manga. This is one of the series that I’ve read from beginning to end, and while the start of the story is unshakably strong, the last few arcs are less so. I wouldn’t even say it’s a problem with the writer, as Kaiu Shirai is proven to be a masterful storyteller, especially with the first several arcs. It mainly feels like the ending is massively rushed, which is a shame.
But the parts that aren’t rushed…are fantastic. If Fullmetal Alchemist is my favorite manga series, then The Promised Neverland could have given it a run for its money if it had stuck the landing. Definitely give this series a read, especially if you watched Season 2 of the anime and were disappointed. This manga is smart, horrifying, charming, heart-pounding, and triumphant all at once.
Well, I hope you have a look at these four manga. If you’re new to manga and want to know where to start for action-packed stories, these four are definitely a great place to start.
Photo by Miika Laaksonen on Unsplash