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The 2010 Great Shoujo Manga Gift Guide

A few days ago, as I was shopping at Borders, I heard my first Christmas music of the season. Now Christmas music usually makes me want to kill people, but instead of taking it out on the checkout clerk, I decided it would be a good time to start writing this gift guide instead.

Yes, I am a total scrooge when it comes to Christmas, but there are other holidays coming up and this gift guide will be useful for all of them. But before we get started, I would like to remind you that you can find out more about the 2010 Great Manga Gift Guide here and also view other 2010 gift guides.

Now onto something that makes me much less grumpy…shoujo manga! (And some josei too, of course.)

The Prettiest, Shiniest Thing You Can Buy For That Special Someone Who Likes Pretty, Shiny Things

You guessed it! I’m talking about Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. Oh yes, this is 288 pages of hardcover, gold embossed shoujo from a classic master of shoujo manga. Even better, while supplies last, you can get your giftee a copy with a signed plate from Hagio herself when you order the book from Fantagraphics directly. Filled with short stories that span Hagio’s career, this book isn’t for children, but anyone from your mature older teen (if you feel comfortable with them reading about issues like abortion and suicide attempts) to adults who still love a good shoujo fix, classical manga or just something different from the norm. It makes a fantastic read and an excellent coffee table book for someone who loves manga.

For The Naughty Girl

So maybe you’re looking for a manga for that special someone who just happens to be heavily into hilarious smut. If that’s the case, look no further than Butterflies, Flowers. There are very few raunchy shoujo or josei titles that get published in English and this is one of the few that does it successfully without turning the heroine into a pawn of the men vying for her. The relationship between the heroine, Choko, and her romantic interest, Masayuki, is very give and take. Choko used to be the daughter of a very rich family where Masayuki was a servant. Now their roles are reversed as she is a poor, lowly secretary at a real estate company and Masayuki is a high-class executive who likes to sexually harass her openly. But Choko doesn’t let him get away with jack squat if he embarrasses her and Masayuki’s teases are beyond humiliating sometimes. It’s like watching that really cute couple that always makes half-joking, but pointed comments at each other in manga form.

For Someone Who Likes The Cute (or Yotsuba&!)

The obvious choice for this category would be Otomen, but if you know your giftee is already collecting that series, what do you do? They’re going to get themselves the next volume anyway and you’d like to gift something they haven’t read so you can get that “OMG I LOVE THIS MANGA! Thanks for giving it to me! Is there more?” feeling. That’s why I suggest Bunny Drop, an adorable story about a 30-something office worker who decides to spontaneously adopt his 4-year-old aunt when his grandfather dies. (That’s where the Yotsuba&! part came from, if you were wondering.) Bunny Drop is mostly about Daikichi learning the ins and outs of caring for a young, emotional child, he also takes time to connect with her and learn about her mysterious past. Rin, however, steals the show with her cuteness. And, in my opinion, Bunny Drop is the best josei to come out this year.

For The Romantic Who Wants to Be Swept Away

Stepping on Roses by Rinko Ueda is classic romance novel fodder. Poor girl needs money, poor girl meets rich man who just  happens to need a stand-in wife that he doesn’t want to love, money exchanges hands and they wind up falling in love reluctantly. I seem to be one of the few bloggers who actually likes this series, most others think Sumi is a total limp noodle. When I first read it, I too was hesitant because of what other people had said. I was surprised that Sumi wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Sure, she’s clueless about the lifestyle of her rich husband, illiterate and much more, but she sticks to her guns and takes the opportunity to learn and do her job. I felt like Sumi was an English major suddenly stuck into an advanced engineering class. She has the pep and the ability to learn, but feels lost compared to the other characters who grew up in that environment. The important part is she never really loses her resolve. Perhaps I just really like Rinko Ueda’s manga, but she creates an awesome Meiji era/Victorian romance with lots of drama, a cheery heroine and awesome (albeit historically inaccurate) fashion.

For Your Future Astronaut

Twin Spica is like a dramatic space-age shoujo manga. That’s saying a lot because Twin Spica actually ran in a seinen magazine. Still, it reminds me a lot of the shoujo classic To Terra…, without the dramatic racial politics and the super-advanced civilization, of course. With the cute school girl heroine and the competitive astronaut school drama, it’s something any shoujo manga or scifi fan can enjoy. At the same time, it’s a great gift for someone who isn’t a fan of all the normal shoujo cliches and wants something a little bit more mature and original. It’s a little bit heavy and sad at times, but if your giftee isn’t the Arina Tanemura manga type, then a couple volumes of Twin Spica will make an excellent gift.

For The Graphic Novel Purist

Got someone in your life who you want to share your passion for manga with, but they’re more about the graphic novels? Perhaps you should pair Fumi Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters with Natsume Ono’s Not Simple. Both are fantastic manga that focus more on the craft of storytelling than keeping the story going like many manga do. Any woman with a mother can relate to All My Darling Daughters and Not Simple’s tragic story is intriguing. They’re both great ways to show the reluctant reader that manga isn’t all just about ninjas and magical girls, but has a lot of titles to fit different tastes.

For The Fangirl

I know I shouldn’t do this because I worked on the series… I’ve been trying so hard not to, but…Hetalia: Axis Powers. There! I said it! If your giftee doesn’t already have it, then get it for them! If they didn’t like the anime, don’t take this as a bad sign. I’ve heard tons of people saying they liked the manga way more, but hated the anime and I can see why. The anime was fujoshi-fied in order to make more money, but the manga is a lot less overwhelmingly cutesy and more about the political/historical relationships. If all else fails, TOKYOPOP has a lot of charming shoujo manga in their catalog. But I shouldn’t say anymore! NRGH, THIS IS SO HARD!!!! Seriously, they’ve put out some great shoujo in the past few years. I just don’t feel right pimping more than one recent title.

For The Shoujo Fan Who’s Read Every Single Japanese Manga You Can Think Of

Have an extensive shoujo collector to shop for? Get her started on sunjeong manhwa! There’s plenty of cute titles out there like 10, 20, 30, X Diary and Please, Please Me from Netcomics. Yen Press has a pretty substantial sunjeong manhwa catalog and TOKYOPOP has a ton of out of print manhwa that were very under-appreciated, so you can probably find some in a bargain bin somewhere. (Sadly, but at least it’s cheap, right?)

For Your Shoujo Manga Fan/Foodie

There are actually a lot of manga that fit this category out there, but I love Mixed Vegetables the best. It’s about two kids in a culinary high school who have dreams to be a pasty chef and a sushi chef, but the one dreaming of being sushi chef is the daughter of a pastry chef and the one dreaming of being a pastry chef is a son of a sushi chef! Obviously, they team up to help each other achieve their dreams, but along the way there’s a lot of romance, drama and focus on delicious sushi and pastries! Nummers. It’s a typical shoujo manga in a lot of ways, but at the same time, a bit like a shounen manga where the protagonists are fighting to reach their dreams.

For The One Who Still Stumps You

I’ll always recommend this as long as I live: gift cards. If you truly have no clue, there is nothing better than a good chunk of money (at least $25) on a bookstore gift card. Or a local comic book store gift card (assuming they have a substantial manga section) or a Right Stuf gift card. That way, your giftee will get the money to spend on whatever manga they want and you will know they will be satisfied with that next volume or two of their favorite series.

In case you didn’t find what you were looking for with this list, you can also check out my Shoujo Manga Gift Guide from last year. Happy shopping!

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Ten REALLY GOOD Ways to Buy and Not Steal Manga

There’s been a lot of debate going on lately about plagiarism, piracy and scanlations in the manga world. No doubt you’ve heard of the recent trouble Nick Simmons has gotten himself into. With everyone up in arms and the conversations starting to turn to the feelings of entitlement amongst fans who feel it is right to steal, I came up with a few ideas on how to not steal manga and ruin things for the rest of us who actually do buy manga.

1. Go to the library:
Some people have some misguided ideas about how libraries work and think that it’s akin to reading scanlations. WRONG. At some point the library either had to buy the book or it was donated by someone else who had bought the book. Also, if a book is worn out from frequent use, the library will (more likely than not) buy a new copy to replace the old one. Most, if not all, libraries are free. All you have to do is sign up and you can borrow manga for free! FREE!!!!!!!

2. Make Friends, Borrow Their Manga:

Again, unless your friends are kleptos, they bought the manga at some point, so it’s not like scanlations either. Not only does this method allow you to read manga for free (FREE, YOU GUYS!!!), but it encourages you to read manga that you may not have read before because your friends suggested it or something. And it’s always good to have friends, especially ones with similar interests. If you’re still not convinced, look at your mom. Does she lend and borrow books from her friend? If so, you see anyone getting upset over it? Nope. Why’s that? Because this method of sharing allows word of mouth to spread and word of mouth is a GOOD thing for publishers.

3. Watch for deals and sales at retailers that stock manga:

I buy a LOT of manga. I have to save money somewhere, right? Right. So I sign up for every reward benefit thing at every store I go to that sells manga. Barnes & Noble gives members a little bit off each purchase and coupons; Borders often has coupons or buy 4, get 1 free deals; the local comic book shop in my hometown takes $1 off every $10 spent; RightStuf has amazing deals every single week and a well-stocked bargain bin. Those are only a few examples, but most every retailer uses such tactics because they know you’re more likely to come and buy one or two books from them if you have a coupon in your hand.

4. Contests and giveaways:

Let’s start with TOKYOPOP because I know them best. They keep giving away free copies of their new releases if you follow them closely on twitter. There’s plenty of other contests through their website. DMP also gives away free previews online manga to their followers on a regular basis. I’ve seen a number of manga blogs do the same thing. I’ve already gotten a few manga this way myself. VERY USEFUL. Even if I don’t enjoy the manga, I’ve read something and kept myself from being bored for awhile. Again: FREEEEEEEEEEEE!

5. Publisher-endorsed online manga:

Publishers are getting the hang of the whole online manga thing. Viz has it’s SigIkki website, as well as Rin-ne and Arata: the Legend. I know TOKYOPOP is already releasing a few chapters of manga here and there (most notably Re:Play) and is looking interestedly into getting digital rights to put more online. Netcomics has everything online for pretty low prices. So does DMP. Vertical has previews up (the glory of their print editions really demand that you purchase the hard copies, however.) Even Marvel is putting more comics online. Not all of these online manga are free, but most of the prices are pretty reasonable in my opinion.

6. Used Book Stores:

There are a number of used manga book stores in my area, but I’m lucky because there are large populations of Asians in Los Angeles and Orange County. Still, when I lived in my small college town, I was able to find used manga every once in awhile in the many used bookstores the town held. You might have to be pretty diligent, but I think it’s worth it for cheap manga.

7. Go to Cons:

Cons are great places to buy manga because retailers always have great deals going on so you’ll buy THEIR manga. In fact, I just went to Long Beach Comic Expo a few Saturdays ago and got some manga for $1. That’s an AMAZINGLY GOOD DEAL. Sure, it was a little hard to find something I was interested in, but my friends who got there before me kind of cleaned the place out of stuff I really wanted. I also got 40% some hardcover graphic novels! At Anime Los Angeles, I bought so much manga, the retailer gave me an even better discount than posted and gave me a box to carry it all in. Any manga fan who knows where their towel is will be walking out of a con with armfuls of deeply discounted manga.

8. Learn Japanese:

This is the most expensive and time-consuming way to buy and not steal manga, but it has other non-manga related benefits. If you are around the average age of manga and anime fans (high school- or college-age), then you could actually do with a foreign language in your repertoire. A lot of colleges and certain jobs really really like bi- or multi-lingual people, so it’ll increase the chances of you getting hired in the recession. Hey! You could even get a job in the manga publishing industry. Wouldn’t that be a dream?

9. Turn off your computer:

Being on the computer a lot is actually really bad for your health. It deteriorates your eyes and causes a lot of joint problems in your hands. I know so many people who are slowly going blind or have carpal tunnel from too much computer time. These are pretty young people too. So you might as well save a little bit on your health care bills by turning off the computer and reading a print edition of something.

10. Feed me:

By buying manga you are essentially allowing me to eat. Since you’re reading this blog, I assume that you might care whether or not I live or die. Since I’m currently working in the American manga publishing industry, buying manga (TOKYOPOP manga, but I won’t judge if you buy Viz) inevitably puts food on my table. Now just think of all the hundreds of other employees like me who publish  manga in order to buy their daily bread. If all of  you keep reading scanlations all the time instead of buying the manga, the companies we work for will STOP PUBLISHING MANGA. Sure you may think that’s a good thing, but just wait until you want to read your favorite series and the scanlation group has decided to disband, leaving you in the dark. And what if no other groups take it up? Huh? Well, guess what: publishers (YES, EVEN TOKYOPOP) try REALLY REALLY hard not to do that to you. Yeah.

I’m not going to lie: I don’t really have problems with anyone reading scanlations of unlicensed series. That’s one of the very few nice things about scanlations, you can read some manga that aren’t licensed yet or might never be licensed in the U.S. BUT IT’S NOT COOL TO STEAL FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE JUST TRYING TO MAKE A LIVING. (Trust me, very few people in the industry are raking in the dough.) If you insist on doing so, I’m going to haunt you when I die from starvation. Just so you know. No high horse here. I don’t think I’ve ever read a licensed scanlation, except for one time when I read one in order potentially promote the legit licensed version because I was short on time. I felt so dirty afterward, I definitely don’t want to do THAT again.

If anyone has any other suggestions on how to buy and not steal manga, let’s hear them!

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The Great Manga Gift Guide- SHOJO STYLE!

So it’s that wonderful time of year again and it’s about time for me to shrink into a little ball and wait for Christmas to be done with.

Yeah, I don’t like this time of year, but DO I really like getting presents. Who doesn’t? I find giving presents to be a lot of fun too because you get to see the delight on someone’s face when you give them the right gift. But there is that problem of knowing WHAT gifts to get someone, especially if they’re into manga. There’s a Jewish saying about opinion that goes: for every five Jews there’s at least eight synagogues.  For manga fans, it’s for every five manga fans there’s probably about two dozen series they’re currently reading and about four dozen more they’d love to start reading!  While that kind of does help widen the search radius, it doesn’t make manga fans easy to shop for. ESPECIALLY shojo fans…

So you’ve got a girl (girls really like manga, what can I say?) that you need a gift for. There’s a TON of shojo titles on the shelves, then there’s josei series, even sunjeong manhwa titles and not to mention non-shojo series that girls also like to read. (But I’m not even going to touch non-shojo.) So I’ve compiled here a little list of good shojo manga to get for girls.

Kare KanoFor the budding fan: Sometimes it’s good to start someone off slow. Kare Kano is a good manga to start with because it doesn’t have a lot of complicated references to Japanese culture that could throw off a beginner. Plus, Kare Kano is a very simple, but very engaging romance. There’s plenty of comedy mixed in with drama and, most importantly, it’s very realistic and easy to relate to. Even better, it’s a pretty good manga for younger teens as well as older readers because it starts off light and by the time you get to the more mature later volumes, you’ll probably have a few years on you.  Tokyopop is re-releasing the series in omnibus editions, so you can pick up the first three volumes a lot cheaper than you could individually!

For the comedy-lover: There are plenty of shojo rom-coms out there, but never have I seen more love for Love*Com and its unique sense of character dynamics. Sure, the series is pretty typical when it comes to the cliches of shojo manga, but you will never see another couple quite like this. Also, Aya Nakahara has a fantastic sense of design which really shows in her art.

For the one who likes her shojo unusual: I picked up a copy of Love Attack! Junai Tokko Taicho! by Shizuru Seino yesterday and enjoyed it a lot. It’s basically about two kids who aren’t afraid to throw punch falling in love with each other, but what really gets me is the two of them acting like a bunch of thugs. Every once in awhile, one of them would pull a face or react to something and suddenly don a “yakuza” face. I couldn’t stop laughing. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Black Lagoon lately…

For the guy who LOVES shojo: What a small percentage of the manga-reading population! I wish more men read shojo, if only to be able to talk to guys about my favorite kind of manga more. Otomen by Aya Kanno has recently stolen my heart, especially since male protagonists are rare (the only other shojo mangaka I can think who uses male protagonists regularly is Ai Morinaga and another manga further down on the list.) Instead of going Morinaga’s usual route of hilarious character torture, Kanno makes Asuka Masamune pretty relatable. He tries really hard to be manly in order to fit in, but deep down he’s super-girly at heart. The series is hilarious and says a lot about self-acceptance and being comfortable in one’s own skin.

For the history lover: Does your giftee looooooooove history? Well, shojo manga usually tosses aside history in favor of romance and whatnot, but Red River by Chie Shinohara is still pretty damn cool. History fans will drool over the detail of her drawing, especially in jewelry and scenery, and be satisfied by the way her characters strategize and factor in the technology of the times. Plus, Shinohara pays some lip service to famous historical figures like Nefertiti and Ramses I (known as User Ramses in the manga.)  It’s not totally accurate historically, but it’ll get a history/shojo fan’s juices flowing.

For the fantasy lover: Technically, Red River falls under fantasy too, but since I’m a huge history nerd, I wanted to have two separate categories. For fantasy, I’m going with another pick from an older manga artist, Kyoko Hikawa’s From Far Away. I cannot even tell you how much I adore this story. The relationship between Noriko and Izark is so tender and enthralling to watch. You get totally swept up in their heart-wrenching story and it’s got pretty good action as well.  Unfortunately, this one might be hard to find because Viz finished publishing it a few years ago. BUT IT’S SO WORTH IT!!

For more mature reader: Please, Please Me by Kisun is a fantastic josei-style (is there a manhwa term for josei?) manhwa that’s pretty good for someone who is more mature in what they read. It follows the stories of two roommates looking for love in some odd places. Unlike some josei manga, which tends to follow the romantic exploits of office ladies, Please, Please Me‘s main characters don’t have typical office jobs, which is delightful and makes them a bit more relatable in my opinion. This manhwa, however, is online only. It’s extremely easy to get an account and buy some manga to read, but if you’re looking for a hard copy gift for a josei fan, go with Suppli by Mari Okazaki instead.

For a light-and-easy read: Land of the Blindfolded by Sakura Tsukuba is an excellent choice if you just want to give your shojo manga fan something to just plain enjoy reading. There’s a lot of drama involved with the different powers of the characters, but they are able to overcome it and learn to have more normal lives. I think what really makes the series a good read is the warm sense of community the characters have with each other. They really bond over their experiences and you can feel it as you read. Again, the series has ended, so it might be hard to find, but you’ve got plenty of time before most of the gift-giving holidays start.

For the manga fan who says they don’t like shojo: Are you shopping for someone who says they don’t like shojo,  but you think otherwise? Sometimes it takes the right series, but I think it also helps to ease them into it. Here’s where Mad Love Chase comes in. This new Tokyopop release about a demon prince trying to escape an arranged marriage by Kazusa Takashima, who is better known for her yaoi than her shojo. Mad Love Chase is undeniably funny and features a male protagonist to trick your giftee into thinking it’s not shojo. (But it is.) Anyway, the characters are fabulous and make up for the fairly weak storyline and all the times where the protagonist slips out from under his pursuers way too easily.

For the impossible giftee: Despite this list, you’re stuck on what to get as a gift. The solution? A gift card to their favorite bookstore or comic book store. No seriously. My friends apparently ALWAYS have trouble getting me gifts (I find this hard to believe) even though I’ve told a number of them to just get me a $20 gift card every time. Gift cards are impersonal, you say? Mm, maybe. I say they just give the giftee the choice to get what they want. You don’t always have to gift something that you’ve picked out for someone. If you still feel it’s too impersonal then get them a large sum gift card. That way you’re saying that YES, I may not have picked out something JUST FOR YOU, but I’ve given you enough to buy yourself something awesome. Any serious manga fan will dash straight for the graphic novel/manga section and stock up on their favorites.

I really hope you enjoyed reading this list and that it helps you give great gifts to shojo manga fans! I’d also like to thank David P. Welsh over at Precious Curmudgeon for suggesting this idea after both the NY Times and the Onion failed to deliver any manga suggestions on their own gift guides.

If you’d like to see more manga gift guides (in case you need more than just shojo) check out other Great Manga Gift Guide participants here and here.

Have a happy non-specific holiday season you guys!

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