Here is a list of some of the best comics that made it onto the Comics Grinder radar. Best-of-the-Year lists are useful in many ways for book publishers, comic book shops, academics, librarians, and even play a role in determining awards for the following year. One of the best sources for analysis on all these lists is from comics scholar Jamie Coville’s annual master list. I have yet to compile anything so comprehensive as a list that closely follows the various potential categories and subgroups involved but I have picked up a few things along the way as a comics journalist and comics creator. For example, here’s an insightful nugget: I really don’t think children’s books are quite a right fit but I don’t completely rule them out especially since there’s a push to include them in the conversation and sometimes it really makes sense. Basically, I don’t rule anything out as you just never know what you can learn from casting a wide enough net.
Catching up on obscure manga has never been easier. Nowadays, there are tens of thousands of manga titles available online through platforms like Kodansha and izneo. And if you’re having a hard time picking which ones are worth checking out, here are 10 of the best manga you’ve likely never even heard about.
Using powers granted by his guardian angel, young student Mirai Kakehashi enacts revenge on his foster parents who were responsible for his real parents’ deaths. Mirai soon finds out that he is among the 13 candidates to replace God, who’s retiring in 999 days, and that the other 12 are coming to kill him. A gratuitous action-packed fantasy by the writer-artist tandem behind Death Note.
Also known as A Bride’s Story, Otoyomegatari is a gorgeous portrayal of the 19th century customs, cultures, and brides of a tribal town along the Silk Road near the Caspian Sea in Central Asia. A poignant romance based on real customs and traditions from the 1800s, Otoyomegatari has won several international awards.
Whether it’s the original 1973 manga by Go Nagai that has spawned its own anime or Yu Kunutani’s tributary Violence Jack 20XX which launched early in 2021, this title features a shapeshifting anti-hero who gets his name for his signature 40cm jackknife. It’s one of the first mangas about a weird saviour dealing out justice in the post apocalypse.
While riding the train, bored city cop Shintarou Jagasaki encounters a monster which he instantly kills when his right hand inexplicably transforms into an energy gun. Shintarou sets out on a journey to kill the fractured monsters – former humans transformed by the same force that gave him his new powers. Every kill results in a frog, which he collects in order to be granted a single wish.
Written and illustrated by Nobuyuki Fukumoto, one of the most prominent creators in manga history, Akagi is the 36-volume tale of a Mahjong poker prodigy who gives the Yakuza a run for their money. This manga has also been adopted into arguably the most intense Mahjong poker anime of all time. While a lot of manga tackle Mahjong drama, Akagi is hands-down the best one.
Alongside his two brothers, Hiroshi Nikaido inherits 100 million yen, and whoever makes the best use of the money gets the rest of the family business. Hiroshi takes the money and proceeds to have the best time at some of the most famous poker rooms in Las Vegas, where the stakes are high, the players are serious, and 100 million yen can only get you so far. It’s one of the few mangas that explores the wild side of sin city.
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
The five graduates of a Buddhist college – each with their own special skill or supernatural power over the dead – form a business that helps people find out and enact the last wishes of their recently deceased loved ones. In this must-read dark comedy, every chapter is named after a Japanese pop song and every story is an entertaining exploration of mortality.
This manga is a unique take on the life of Gautama Buddha by writer-artist Osamu Tezuka, the brains behind Astroboy. Winner of several Eisner awards, Buddha is a fresh and in-depth account of the Enlightened One’s well-known spiritual journey.
Human-devil Hybrid Denji merges with his Chainsaw Devil dog Pochita to kill the Yakuza members who betray him. He’s then recruited by the state’s Public Safety Division as a devil hunter, eventually pitting Denji against the legendary Gun Devil. Dark humor and creative violence abound in this insane new shonen manga.
Blood on the Tracks
Slow-burning thriller Blood on the Tracks has been hailed as one of the greatest psychological horrors manga of all time. Filled with unique stories tackling the mundane lives of ordinary people, Blood on the Tracks effortlessly achieves what so many horror titles aspire to but never pull off. It’s an absolute must-read for the most jaded horror fans.
You know you’ve found the right thriller movie when it’s full of suspense, tension, excitement, and a compelling plot. One of the more offbeat and unusual examples of this is the 2017 movie, Hangman, starring Al Pacino, Karl Urban and Brittany Snow, which lived up to its promise of keeping audiences on the edge of their seats.
So, let’s take a look at some of this year’s highly anticipated thriller films.
Vivarium (March 27)
Vivarium (Credit: Variety)
Ireland’s famous director Lorcan Finnegan will be showing an unconventional and sinister portrait of marriage through his latest film, Vivarium. In the film, Tom and Gemma, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, are looking for a place together. In their search, they find themselves in a suburban neighborhood of never-ending rows of eerily identical houses with no person or car in sight. After their realtor suddenly disappears, the couple soon realizes that there is no way out of the village. Screen Daily’s review of the film highlights that the low-key science-fiction thriller confidently executes the hells of aging, commitment, and parenthood in the most unconventional way possible. Have a look at their mind-boggling trailer:
Swallow (March 6)
Swallow (Credit: Roger Ebert)
While many consider pregnancy as a miracle or gift that should be celebrated, it made life even more miserable for Haley Bennett’s character, Hunter, who may seem to have it all. As the pressure of her controlling in-laws’ and husband’s expectations weigh her down, Hunter develops a dangerous disorder called pica – a condition that has her compulsively swallowing inedible and life-threatening objects. Rotten Tomatoes’ write up on Swallow outlines how the film directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis tackles the unfortunate ways people try to reclaim independence in the face of an inescapable and oppressive system. Here’s a clip to give you a peek at some of the things Hunter swallows:
The Card Counter (Early 2020)
The Card Counter (Credit: The Hollywood Reporter)
Oscar-nominee Paul Schrader’s next film is the revenge thriller The Card Counter. It will star Oscar Isaac as William Tell, a gambler who just wants to play cards, and Tiffany Haddish as a mysterious gambling financier named La Linda. The movie will follow Tell as he sets out to reform a young man seeking revenge and help him win the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas with La Linda’s aid. While regular audience members might not be able to aim as high, CardPlayer Lifestyle’s review of PPPoker explains that casual players can participate in online tournaments and clubs to seek their next thrill. The popularity of online gaming is sure to drive a lot of the interest for this film; however, unfortunately, Paul Schrader reported that they had to stop production after one of the actors tested positive for the novel coronavirus. With the filming abruptly halted, no poster or trailer has been released yet, but rest assured that the filming will commence once the pandemic dies down.
A Quiet Place 2 (March 20)
A Quiet Place 2 (Credit: Insider)
After surviving the deadly events at home, the Abbott family must now face the outside world where monsters that hunt by sound and many others can be found. Entertainment Weekly’s preview of A Quiet Place 2 expressed that the movie will also provide viewers with a sense of what the world and the family were like before the nightmarish events happened. As the family realizes that there are other survivors out there, the movie will touch on how far an individual in distress can extend a hand to others in the same situation. Emily Blunt, who plays Evelyn Abbott, shared that it is important that the movie talks about the fractured sense of community that’s happening right now on a global scale. See the new creatures that will haunt your dreams through this trailer:
The Woman in the Window (May 15)
The Woman in the Window (Credit: Sinefesto)
Based on The New York Times bestselling book The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn, the film of the same title, starring Amy Adams, will be a psychological mystery thriller you should definitely look forward to. The film follows Adams’s character Anna Fox who is a child psychologist consumed by a case of agoraphobia and a hefty amount of wine and pills which leads her to obsess over her neighbors. One day as she looks outside the window, she witnesses what looks like a murder. Coming off as a closed-off drunk, the police didn’t believe Anna when she reported what she saw. The rest of the movie will revolve around unearthing the truth behind Anna and her claim. With its Oscar pedigree cast and addictive plot, Pop Sugar’s spoiler feature highlights how the film will be just as big of a hit as the book it was based on. Watch the trailer and see for yourself: did Anna really witness a murder or was it just a product of her hallucinations?
Don’t underestimate the power of that which can unite and that which we share in common. We all want family, friends and community, right? We all want good health. We all want to be inspired. So, here’s a list of that which can unite us and that which most, if not all of us, have in common one way or another as the USA celebrates the 4th of July in 2019:
Plants: Trending now in a big way are plants! Opening a boutique shop? Consider plants. Plants have become the new hot item to post on your Instagram.
Gardening: Right along with plants, think gardening. The farm to table movement has taken root all over by now!
Pets: Pets are beloved in the USA. Movies have been dedicated to pets. People carry them in baby carriages and dress them up in outfits. You can’t walk for long without spotting a dog and human strolling together.
Family: Blood is thicker than water, as they say, and there are all kinds of family. Office family. Step-family. Bi-racial family. Adopted family. You need your family!
Health and Fitness: Cross-Fit. Vegan. Carnivore. Weight Watchers. Noom. Fitbit. Paleo. Keto. Watch your step and buyer beware. But, whatever you do, stay active!
Pizza: Dominos. Grocery store bought. Wood-fired. But let’s get serious, you really want a New York slice!
Comics: Now, more than ever, comics has the power to entertain, to inform, to be inclusive and to inspire. Beyond the superhero genre, comics can take on any subject in a variety of formats and styles.
Movies: No doubt, we all have of favorites. Superhero movies are still going strong and, if the trend holds out, there is still much more to explore. The actual comics, ironically, are not nearly as popular.
Home Entertainment: Netflix. Hulu. Amazon. HBO. There’s a lifetime of new entertainment no further away than your couch and, in 2019, we’re still in a golden age.
Music: We round it out with perhaps the best way to unite people: the power of music! Yes, music can help create goodwill and send you soaring to new heights.
The Comics Journal is an essential source for reporting on and discussing the comics scene. I am honored to be included in its annual Best of The Year in Comics feature. You can see my list highlighted below. And you will be amazed at the vast selection of suggested reading from various notable critics, creators and publishers. Take a look at this year’s Comics Journal feature right here.
Amongst the Liberal Elite by Elly Lonon and Joan Reilly
For a comics critic who also both writes and draws comics, I am confident in sharing with you what sets Ms. Leong apart. If the cartoonist is particularly driven, the transition can be made from bohemian poet to career path. In this ideal case, the work retains that same idiosyncratic vibe and integrity.
In a fit of petulant bravado, Mr. Kessler will take a gob of primary colors and fling them like a bolt of lightning. A blast of these harsh basic colors will blow up some characters to bits. Others will be saved for a proper decapitation. All in a day’s work.
This work does indeed compare favorably with the best of the original Twilight Zone. That’s a tall order but this is an exceptionally unique work. I don’t take such comparisons lightly and I have no problem striking down false claims that occur quite often. So, yes, this is the real deal with its finely modulated pace and attention to detail.
Alpha, our main character, while symbolic of all immigrants struggling against the odds, readily engages the reader with his own set of specifics. In this way, the creative team truly gives a face to a problem demanding our attention.
The Dead Eye and The Deep Blue Sea by Vannak Anan Prum
My parting thoughts for 2014: I always end up warming up to these end-of-year lists. This is based upon the batch of work that got reviewed here at Comics Grinder this year, what ranks as notable for one reason or another, with links included. I look forward to keeping to a quirky and offbeat path and see where it leads us this time next year.
I have separated things out into three main categories: Graphic Novels, Comic Books, and Small Press/Indie. I hope you will find this list useful as you look back on the year and consider what lies in store for us in 2015.