It's a few weeks late, but here is the first in my series of YEAR-IN-REVIEW 2008 posts. I'm splitting things (perhaps unduly, so sue me) to the following categories: BEST MANGA! BEST COMICS! BEST BLOGS! and MOST ANTICIPATED IN 09! This is similar to what I did last year, except I smooshed all my best of 2007 lists into one post.
Since we're almost into the third week of 2008, I'll keep this short and get right to the list... I'm most interested in hearing your thoughts on my thoughts and what stuff I stupidly left out. I'll see you guys in the comments!
12. Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi
Aside from the exterior book design/cover (which I still find sorta wretched), Drawn & Quarterly treated this gekiga and impressionistic book with love and care. Less of a narrative graphic novel than an experiment and whirlpool of gut-sucking malaise, I found myself depressed and worn-out by the end of the book. Now when do we get Tsuge's Nejishiki in English?
11. Suppli 2 by Okazaki Mari
Maybe it's a sign I'm moving through my mid-twenties and onto my late-twenties in the next little while, but I really was FEELING the female protagonist Minami. The depictions of work and office life, the subtle sexism of the corporate sphere and the angst about meeting and starting a real relationship with someone new is great in this series, volume 2 especially. What the fuck Tokyopop, don't kill this one off!
10. Monster 14 by Naoki Urasawa
The entire last half of Monster was a blur of excitement and shocks and-- dude, Urasawa! You are introducing new characters every 20 pages!?! While some folks balk at the ending (I wasn't so frustrated by it, myself), volume 14 was a high point in seinen drama, with Nina's discoveries at Red Rose Mansion (and the creepy-ass Velkooky Velkousty kid's book) give way to details on the night of Johan's shooting as a young boy. IN-TENSE. I love you, Urasawa.
9. Parasyte 3 by Hitoshi Iwaki
Volumes 4 and 5 are solid as well, but #3 is where the unraveling of Shin's humanity began to dawn on me and freak me out. The school battle in the second half of the book is brutal, with soupy gore covering an entire floor of a school. A dense and extremely satisfying book in which Iwaki finally started to poke the reality of the surrounding world. Also, a parasyte woman using the volcan death grip on her 2-month old baby?? PRICELESS. Iwaki has this thing under control, my friends.
8. Dororo #2 by Osamu Tezuka
First off, another round of applause to Peter Mendelsen for great book design work on this series. The entire series (while unfinished by Tezuka) weaves period drama with yokai folklore without making it bland or cheesy. The opening scene of Dororo's unabashed emotion at the samurai executions was surprisingly poignant. I also am down with any book that includes bad dads, moth demonesses and knife-wielding gender-bending.
7. Travel by Yoichi Yokoyama
Yokoyama is an alien, who speaks in a multi-dimensional language that is beyond the reach of our language-processing cortex. I can get why this book was a hard sell for some people, but I think it's one of the most interesting and important manga titles to be released in the last few years. Yokoyama depicts 3 dudes buying tickets, boarding a train, watching the scenery and finally, arriving. That's it, and it's jaw-dropping, a super-charged visual bunker buster that I keep coming back to.
6. The Drifting Classroom 11 by Kazuo Umezu
This is how all great series should end: reunited friends, psychic preschooler daisy chains, transdimensional surgery, dynamite teleportation, anarchist subtext, dismembered limb claw attacks, child-like hope and... NO SALVATION. Well goddamn, Umezu-san. That's it then. I bow down to you, sir.
5. Nana 8 by Ai Yazawa
Nana has reserved a place for itself near the top of my all-time favorite series (of any kind, in any medium) list. The entire recent run has been fantastic, but issue 8 marked the beginning of the end for Nana & Hachi's normal(?) life. The scene with Hachi & Shin killllllled me. This is some good shit, right here.
4. Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby by Takashi Nemoto
What is wrong with you people? Why haven't more people bought this book? I need to do a proper write-up sometime in the next few weeks, but PictureBox put their necks out with this gem (poopsicle?) of REAL, HONEST TO GOD, 100% UNDERGROUND MANGA. While it's easy to gross out friends with the depraved baby in the womb fucking mommy while getting pegged by daddy scene (And you thought you had seen it all before?), Monster Men is an extremely righteous and layered piece of heta-uma gold. Nemoto has the goods to make even me squirm a bit, but in this book he's also systemically taking apart and doling out commentary on class, the comics medium and contemporary Japanese society. A MUST-HAVE for Same Hat readers.
3. Goodbye & Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
The top 3 are unshakable and golden manga classics, the best of the best and a rare treat to get so many quality, thick books like these in one year. Goodbye is the third in D&Q's (hopefully) continuing series of short story collections of Tatsumi's work. My GF and I were split about if this surpassed Abandon The Old in Tokyo in terms of raw power and literary merit (she says it's her favorite of the Tatsumi collections), but Goodbye & Other Stories is a triumph. I've read the first 100 pages of this year's A DRIFTING LIFE (the 830pg Tastumi autobiography) and I guarantee it will be at the top of all of our best of 2009 lists.
2. Black Jack #1 by Osamu Tezuka
BJ, the king of cool, came back into glorious print again. So far we've had two volumes, with 4 or 5 more volumes on the way in 2009. Black Jack is Tezuka at the top of his action and drama game, and this first volume was distilled goodness (with a few dashes of retarded Tezuka's patent over-indulgence and gooeyness). This book is like a super-concentrated formula of all things great about comics as a medium. Thank you for bringing this beautiful bad boy back, Vertical!
1. Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma
I read Azuma's funny and bleak autobiography about life as a manga artist in one full sitting, on an airplane heading home for the holidays. The story is served up to us in 4 sections, corresponding roughly to Azuma's own cycles of addiction, madness, and exhaustion. I never stopped feeling the tug of these sad episodes, even as Disappearance Diary broke into some utterly funny, and often mundane, daily episodes from Azuma's "disappeared" weeks and months . Other reviewers have done a better job explaining this book's greatness, but it was the manga that moved me most in 2008.
After School Nightmare by Setona Mizushiro
I am not caught up with the most recent volumes, but I think After School Nightmare is one of the most fluid and intriguing series being published right now. I was put off by the cover and art for a long time, but when I finally sat down to read it I found a psychosexual and honest high school drama that I really could get into.
Solanin by Inio Asano
God, what kind of manga nerd am I? This would be up above on the list except I haven't finished reading it and made up my mind about this book. I'm actually about 200 pages into it, right now... Some folks loved the angst and floating nothing depiction of post-graduation life, while other mangasphere folks thought it was aimless and boring. I'm hooked right now, but need to see where we end up going (if anywhere) before I figure out exactly how I feel.
Cat Eyed Boy by Kazuo Umezu
While I loved Cat Eyed Boy, it couldnt quite compare to the raw madness of Drifting Classroom, or the more subtle and historical action-take on yokai in Dororo. That said, this 2-volume monstrosity it blissful and revolting, depicting a juvenile (but at times, intensely GROSS and CREEPY) series of unfortunate events. I feel like Viz has a few more Umezu series up their sleeves (Makoto-chan? My Name is Shingo? Baptism?) and I can't wait.
Tokyo Zombie by Yusaku Hanakuma
I can't in good conscience put a book Evan and I worked on into my "best of-" list, but I sincerely think this was one of the most pleasurable reads of the year (even after the 60+ times I read the book). Our first published translation/adaptation, Tokyo Zombie will always be near the top of my favorite manga list, of any year.
COMING VERY SOON: Best Comics! Best Blogs! and Most Anticipated 2009!