Japanese manga fans in the US are probably lamenting the relative stagnancy of the market nowadays compared to its heyday about a decade ago. While American bookstores still stock a large selection of manga and The New York Times publishes a manga section on its bestseller list, it’s about time for a new series to take the US by storm again. The staff of niconico news recently asked one Mr. C, an American veteran of both the Japanese manga industry and DC comics who currently resides in New York City, to share his thoughts about some series that could become big hits if English-language versions were released. Read on to find out his top five manga picks that have the potential to become breakthrough hits in the USA. Who knows, maybe one of these works will usher in a new manga boom in the near future!
5. I Am a Hero
Author: Kengo Hanazawa /Publisher: Shogakukan / 2009-ongoing
I Am a Hero follows the story of a mentally-disturbed manga artist who views himself as the protagonist of a manga and begins to see hallucinations. He eventually becomes embroiled in a zombie apocalypse after witnessing a car accident and his girlfriend transforms into a hideous monster (don’t you just hate it when that happens?). The fast-paced story and visuals combine to make for one thrill of a read. Mr. C even calls it “an unparalleled manga of the last five or so years,” and “a zombie work to surpass all others.” If this series were to be brought to America, it would likely amass a large following in the form of legions of Hollywood zombie enthusiasts.
4. Kill la Kill
Manga adaptation: Ryo Akizuki / Publisher: Kadokawa Shoten / 2013-ongoing
This is not your typical story about a high school student council. What started out as an innovative anime series last October has gained enough popularity to spawn its own manga adaptation. Involving a plot with special school uniforms that grant supernatural powers to their wearers and a quest to find a murderer from the past, Kill la Kill boasts a fresh storyline that is reminiscent of action flicks from the 1970s. Furthermore, the anime is currently licensed in North America and is being streamed through online channels, so why not capitalize on this exposure and bring the manga over, too? Mr. C even thinks that it has the potential to turn into another massive hit like last year’s Attack on Titan.
3. I’m in the Beatles (Boku wa Beatles)
Authors: Kaiji Kawaguchi and Tetsuo Fujii / Publisher: Kodansha / 2010-2012
One look at the title should be enough for you to figure out who the target audience of this one would be. Indeed, a manga about The Beatles could appeal to a much larger demographic than the usual manga fans. In fact, it’s kind of a mystery why English publishing companies haven’t already grabbed it up! The story follows two friends in a Beatles tribute band who end up falling back in time to 1961, the year before the Beatles debuted. Instead of wanting to meet the future superstars, they instead decide to actually become The Beatles, giving the original Fab Four a run for their money! Hmm, I wonder if Yoko Ono would approve…
2. Fist of the North Star (Hokuto no Ken)
Authors: Buronson and Tetsuo Hara / Publisher: Shueisha / 1983-1988
You might be surprised to see this one on the list. Yes, this is the same Fist of the North Star which is already very popular on an international scale and has a well-known, long-running anime series. In fact, the manga has even been published in English twice – originally by Viz Communications in 1989, and then by Gutsoon! Entertainment in 2003. However, the original Viz edition was published at a time before the manga boom had taken root in America, and neither version was fully printed in its entirety. Consequently, Mr. C believes that if this post-apocalyptic martial arts series were to be published in a new collector’s edition in the present, its nostalgic value could entice fans of the older generation and without a doubt rise to the top of the New York Times Best Seller List along a similar path as other classics such as Mobile Suit Gundam and Sailor Moon. Wouldn’t it be great if Kenshiro’s epic catchphrase “Omae wa mou shindeiru” (“You are already dead”) became a classic in English, too?
1. Saint Young Men (Seinto Oniisan)
Author: Hikaru Nakamura / Publisher: Kodansha / 2006-ongoing
Manga artist Hikaru Nakamura of Arakawa Under the Bridge fame received the prestigious Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2009 for this manga in the Short Work category. It’s a bestselling series in Japan, and our Mr. C believes that this is the work most likely to become a breakout hit if it were released in America. Chock-full of humorous situations and gags, it has inspired the creation of two OVA series and an animated film. Oh, and did we mention that the two main characters are none other than Jesus and Buddha, reimagined as modern versions of themselves in 21st century Tokyo?
Take a few minutes to wrap your mind around that story premise. It may seem incredibly far-fetched, but Jesus and Buddha’s attempts to understand modern society without exposing their true identities and occasional opposing personalities lead to lots of giggle-inducing moments. While there’s a chance that some religious Americans may be less than pleased with the light-poking fun at religion within the story, Mr. C feels that the majority of the liberal American youth would be very amused to read this series. But until (or if) this manga makes its way overseas, you can get an idea of how Jesus spends his free time by reading about his entry in the Tokyo Marathon last month.
Well readers, which of the above works do you think has the greatest chance of becoming a breakout hit in the States? Do you have any suggestions of your own?