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Searching for the Perfect 'Beginner' Manga

Answering the question, "What is the best manga for beginners?"

Otherside Picnic manga chapter 1
Otherside Picnic by Iori Miyazawa, Eita Mizuno, and Shirakara

"What is the best manga for beginners?"

It's usually asked by someone wanting to "get" into manga or someone wanting to get their friend/someone else into manga. Here's the thing. When you ask,

"What is the best manga for beginners?"

The only real answers are,

"What do you like to read?" and "What do you want to read?"

For people that don't read, look to the other mediums—say anime—for example. Which of these descriptions gets you more excited? (Shamelessly ripped from the English manga publisher.)

Description A

"When political conspiracies abound, preserving the peace is no piece of cake. It's up to one deceptively aloof hero to sniff out corruption in this atmospheric thriller."

Description B

"She's a professional hitman. And also a professional hitman. And she's his target. Caught in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, will she fall first...or will he?"

Love of Kill anime screenshot; Chateau's back is against the door to a storage unit; she has a gun in her hand and a listening device in her ear
Description B.

If you said, Description A, then congrats. You'll enjoy the ACCA-13 anime based on the manga by Natsume Ono. However, if you said, Description B, then congrats. You'll enjoy the Love of Kill anime based on the manga series by Fe. If you're intrigued by both descriptions, then congrats. You have excellent taste.

So, with that said, I pose this question to you:

"What anime do you enjoy?"

If you're coming into manga from anime, like a lot of budding otakus, then start there. The anime. What anime do you enjoy?

Pretty Boy Detective Club?

Otherside Picnic?

Summertime Rendering?

All of these started out as manga (and/or light novels) before becoming anime, and if you enjoy the anime adaptation, you'll probably enjoy the manga too. On the flip side, if you didn't enjoy the anime adaptation, then perhaps you'll enjoy the original manga it's based on.

Now, most manga-to-anime adaptations are 1:1 straight adaptations, but personally, that hasn't stopped me from enjoying such classics as Death Note and Case Closed (aka Detective Conan). In some cases, I prefer manga over anime and vice versa. At any rate, reading the manga adaptations of your favorite anime is one way to start enjoying the medium. Also, reading manga is sometimes the only way to conclude a series.

man sitting on a couch sitting incredulously at his phone; manga panel from The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window
The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window by Tomoko Yamashita

Likewise, a lot of ongoing manga have incomplete anime adaptations, and some of those include In/Spectre and The Apothecary Diaries. Others get the live-action-only treatment like Do Not Say Mystery. Few get both a live-action and anime adaptation like The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window. Finally, many get no adaptation whatsoever like Usotoki Rhetroic and Arisa.

But perhaps, just reading the manga adaptation of your favorite anime doesn't satisfy you, and just merely picking manga by the genres and themes you like doesn't do it for you either. Maybe you just want a list, straight up.

A good general beginner's list should have variety. Book Riot's A Beginner’s Guide to Manga and 50 Best Manga You Must Read Right Now are great examples of this. Additionally, I like the New York Public Library's take on beginner guides. In addition to packing in a lot of variety, the guides explain the basics of manga in a quick, clear, and easy manner. If you're completely new to manga, check out A Beginner's Guide to Manga, and if you're interested in old and influential manga, consult A Beginner's Guide to Classic Manga. Finally, while it's an old article, I like Kotaku's list because it adds a further reading section to each entry so you can find other similar stuff to enjoy.

King in Limbo Japanese cover
King in Limbo by Ai Tanaka

Now, if you ask me for beginner manga recs in general. I'd say dig through Rumiko Takahashi, Clamp, or Yuu Watase's catalog. You're bound to find something to enjoy. However, if you enjoy mystery stories, you'll want to look into Kei Sanbe, Naoki Urasawa, or Clamp. If tasked to create a general list of manga for beginners, I would strive for recency and accessibility. In other words, the manga is in print, and you can grab it off the shelves of major bookstores.

Additionally, I'd include some popular manga and manga that got adapted to anime. (Not always one and the same.) When I got into anime, new episodes of Inuyasha, the OG Full Metal Alchemist, Naruto, and Bleach, were airing on Adult Swim. Inuyasha was ultimately what got me into anime and manga. So, if I had to craft a similar list but for manga-first readers, I'd include the following series (in ABC order):

  1. Chainsaw Man by Tatsuki Fujimoto (action, fantasy, comedy, horror)

  2. Embrace Your Size by Hara (autobiography, slice-of-life)

  3. Given by Natsuki Kizu (drama, romance, boys' love, music)

  4. Honey Lemon Soda by Mayu Murata (drama, romance, school life)

  5. Kageki Shojo!! The Curtain Rises (oneshot prequel) and Kageki Shojo!! (series sequel) by Kumiko Saiki (drama, slice-of-life, school life)

  6. Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan by Gaku Kuze (comedy, slice-of-life)

  7. Is Love the Answer? by Uta Isaki (drama, slice-of-life, LGBTQ+)

  8. MAO by Rumiko Takahashi (action/adventure, fantasy, supernatural)

  9. March Comes in Like a Lion by Chica Umino (drama, slice-of-life, sports) - to be released in late 2023

  10. Moriarty the Patriot by Ryosuke Takeuchi and Hikaru Miyoshi (historical, mystery)

  11. Nicola Traveling Around the Demons' World by Asaya Miyanaga (adventure, fantasy)

  12. Noragami by Adachitoka (action, supernatural, battle themes)

  13. Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts by Yu Tomofuji (fantasy, romance)

  14. Sazan and Comet Girl by Yuriko Akase (action/adventure, sci-fi, space opera)

  15. She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Sakaomi Yuzaki (romance, slice-of-life, girl's love)

  16. Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo (action, comedy)

  17. Tokyo Aliens by NAOE (action, sci-fi)

  18. Versailles of the Dead by Kumiko Suekane (action, horror, historical, supernatural)

  19. Wotakoi by Fujita (romcom)

  20. Yona of the Dawn by Mizuho Kusanagi (action/adventure, fantasy, romance)

Manga pages from Lost Lad London
Lost Lad London by Shima Shinya

If I had to cobble together a list for people who love mystery or want to jump into it, I'd cheat a little and add some digital-only stuff and some old but good stuff. I'd present them with this list (in ABC order):

  1. ACCA-13 and ACCA-13 Territory Inspection Department P.S. by Natsume Ono (drama, mystery, adventure)

  2. Arisa by Natsumi Ando (drama, mystery, school life)

  3. The Apothecary Diaries by Natsu Hyuuga and Nekokurage (historical, drama, mystery, romance)

  4. Case Closed by Gosho Aoyama (mystery)

  5. Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata (supernatural, drama, mystery)

  6. Do Not Say Mystery by Yumi Tamura (drama, mystery) - to be released in May 2023

  7. Erased by Kei Sanbe (drama, mystery, sci-fi)

  8. In/Spectre by Kyo Shirodaira and Chasiba Katase (action, mystery, romance)

  9. King in Limbo by Ai Tanaka (sci-fi, drama, mystery) - to be released fall 2023

  10. Lost Lad London by Shima Shinya (action, drama, mystery, political thriller)

  11. Love of Kill by Fe (action, drama, mystery, romance)

  12. Love & Heart by Chitose Kaido (horror, mystery, romance)

  13. MW by Osamu Tezuka (drama, mystery)

  14. The Girl From the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún by Nagabe (fantasy, mystery, supernatural)

  15. The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window by Tomoko Yamashita (horror, supernatural, mystery, drama, boys' love) (digital-only; available digitally where books are sold; drm-free via SuBLime's website; website is NSFW! Get it here.)

  16. Otherside Picnic by Iori Miyazawa, Eita Mizuno, and Shirakaba (sci-fi, mystery, girls' love)

  17. Pluto by Naoki Urasawa (sci-fi, drama, mystery)

  18. Pretty Boy Detective Club by NISIOISIN and Suzuka Oda (comedy, mystery, school life)

  19. Summertime Rendering by Yasuki Tanaka (supernatural, horror, action, mystery)

  20. Usotoki Rhetoric by Ritsu Miyako (historical, drama, mystery, romance)

Plenty of manga to explore beyond what I have listed, but hopefully, something from the list piques your curiosity.

Arisa v. 1 book cover shows two twin girls on a purple background; light purple and violet-blue flowers adorn the corners
Arisa by Natsumi Ando

If all else fails, just go to a big box bookstore or your local public library and browse the shelves. Start with 'A' and move down the aisle. If anything stands out to you—the spine, title, cover, mangaka, whatever—pull it off the shelf and inspect it. Flip through the pages. Read the back description. Maybe look up some reviews. If it looks and sounds good to you, take it home. Read it.

Congrats, you now have your perfect first manga. Happy trails, fellow hunter.

Happy Trails.

Manga panel from In/Spectre; A woman wearing a dress sleeps on a bench next to a man reading a book.
In/Spectre by Kyo Shirodaira and Chasiba Katase

Looking for more recs & tips? Check out my So, You Want to Be a Manga Collector? Guide.

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