Manga Recommendations

I decided I'll make some recommendations for old or little-known (at least compared to modern works popular stateside) manga I've read, as well as favourites! It's mostly shoujo lately, but there's also kodomo and shounen woks, particularly Osamu Tezuka's.

Title: Rose of Versailles
Author: Ikeda Riyoko
Length: 13 volumes
Genre: historical, drama, romance, tragedy, shoujo

Another classic work from the 70's, this is a very well-researched story, based on historical events and figures from the French revolution and the period leading up to it (with a few fictional characters, namely Oscar, the second lead of the manga/principle lead of the anime), focusing on the story of the tragic Austrian-born Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, from childhood until death.
Oscar François de Jarjayes is a fictional noblewoman raised by General de Jarjayes, who, after being disappointed with only having daughters until the end, chose to give her a man's name and raise her as a man to lead the Royal Guard... unlike the playful and easily-misled Marie, Oscar is disciplined and sharp-witted, always assisted by her servant and childhood friend, Andre... the anime was dubbed into Arabic as ليدي اوسكار.

Rating and Content Warnings: (older children to teens in Japan, I would say older teens to adults for the original; a poor child tries to sell herself for money to treat her sick mother (but Oscar stops and aids her); another child is nearly married off too young to an adult man to tragic ends; the main character is threatened with rape on several ocassions; a sympathetic character who later becomes a genuine love interest nearly forces himself on a main character at his lowest point but stops, is ashamed, and never repeats it; there are suggestive scenes towards the end, but never anything detailed or explicit, one of the extra chapters is more drawn out however)

Title: Black Jack
Author: Osamu Tezuka
Length: 17 volumes (but the stories are episodic and can stand alone, they're even compiled out-of-order, instead arranged by theme)
Genre: medical drama, thriller, crime (at times), shounen

Black Jack is a one-of-a-kind work, starring a black-market doctor who works for exhorbitant fees or sometimes for simple favors, he has a dark history and grim appearance, his doll-like assistant nurse who looks like a child also has a complex past of her own... each chapter, he encounters a new case, many rooted in real medical conditions helped by Tezuka's medical background, and a few stories with fantastic elements, showcasing both medicine and tales of humanity, sometimes moralistic, other times, thought-provoking and open-ended...

One of Tezka's most popular works, it has been adapted multiple times: a fairly-accurate, but lighter and softer, kid-friendly early 2000's TV series exists, preceded by The 4 Miracles of Life specials (closest to the manga in tone and with the style of later chapters), and followed by Black Jack 21, a more thriller/mystery-centric take with a unique anime-only overarching plotline concerning Black Jack's family and the bomb incident that scarred him... there was also a very somber and stylish OVA and film in the 90's directed by Osamu Dezaki.

Rating and Content Warnings: older children to teens in Japan; despite cute style, the operations are faithfully rendered, blood, violence, and nudity, primarily in a medical context, rarely suggestive.
Despite Tezuka being anti-racism and tackling racism against Japanese and African Americans in various chapters, there are some unfortunate character designs inspired by darkie iconography: Tezuka-sensei was inspired by 1920's western animation and without access to information on those portrayals in 70's Japan and as a fan of comical exaggeration (he draws many of his good characters "ugly" with oversized noses like pickles, like Black Jack's mentor and savior Dr. Honma, and even Tezuka's own self-insert), he was probably unaware of the inherent racism of those designs... you'll see more normally drawn Black characters and ones that look like racist iconography in the same work.

(Scan from animarchive.)
Title: Alpen Rose
Author: Akaishi Michiyo
Length: 13 volumes
Genre: period drama, romance, mystery, adventure, shoujo

The story of Jeudi, a amnesiac girl found in the Alps and taken in by Lundi's aunt and uncle and given a name to match (Jeudi is Thursday and Lundi means Monday), whose only clue to her identity is a song called Alpen Rose; pursued by a cruel count obsessed with Jeudi, and together with cockatoo Printemps, Jeudi and Lundi go on a journey across Europe to uncover Jeudi's past, even as World War II breaks out.

It's not very period-accurate, but the characters do meet some historical figures, and it's a tale full of charm, excitement, good messages, with a very sweet and innocent love story. This was dubbed in Arabic twice, as زهرة الجبل and as أغنية أبي

Rating and Content Warnings: older childen to teens in Japan; this story, particularly animated, is just about all-ages friendly, aside from alcohol references (a villain drinks to excess) and one scene towards the start where the two leads were huddled together undressed to share warmth for survival, with typical shoujo doll-like undetailed nudity... the couple is very young and innocent in all respects; in the manga, Jeudi flees her job at the start because the master she was sent to work with tried to force himself on her; in both anime and manga, she's pursued by an evil adult).

Title:Ikoku Meiro no Croisee (Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth)
Author: Takeda Hinata
Length: 2 volumes
Genre: historical, slice-of-life, comedy, light romance, drama, seinen

This is a sweet and simple story of a young, reserved Japanese girl travelling to work in France in the late 19th century. She encounters cultural shocks and meets some people who misunderstand her (either rejecting her and her different way of life entirely or comcially misunderstanding her culture while obsessing over its aesthetics). She gets to know the world around her, makes mistakes, and learns from others around her.
This story is not as well-researched as more serious works like Rose of Versailles, but the anime elevates it with beautifully detailed settings and a gentle score (although Alice shrieks most of her lines!!), but the manga is much more about conveying warm feelings and sweet moments, as well as a sense of changing times (class differences and resentment towards the bourgeois)... it's a very heartwarming story.

Rating and Content Warnings: it's mostly fluff, but there's some dark themes (Claude's complicated feelings towards his dead father, namely... Alice also walks in on her brother with a lady having a very suggestive conversation), there is a fire in which Yune suffers some burns in the manga, and the last chapters end in an unfortunate situation with the fate of the main characters left in the air (the author passed away before completing the story). The anime stops before the heaviest chapters, so it feels soft and sweet all the way through, just scratching the surface of Claude's issues with his father and the Grand Magasin.
There are some hint towards a romantic future (but nothing concrete, as the characters are both rather young presently and have a more older brother/younger sister-like bond) between a pair of characters with a bit of an age gap (Yune's around 13-14 and Claude's 16-17, although Yune is very petite and the art style's quite moe, so she looks a lot younger ^^;). There is a suggestive scene featuring Alice's older brother and a woman he's trying to make a business deal with that Alice accidentally sees. Talk of adultery (more like, someone suggesting it to someone as a way to get around class difference not allowing them to marry, and the idea being rejected entirely).

Title:The Chronicles of the Clueless Age
Author: Otsuichi, art by Furuya Usamaru
Length: 2 volumes
Genre: psychological, drama, coming-of-age (kind of?), light urban fantasy

A collection of short stories, each one following a different teenager with some sort of problem (one girl has delusions of being a six year old magical girl who transformed older and got stuck that way, one boy feels isolated from his friend, another girl has an eating disorder, etc.), that come together in a final chapter. Some start to heal in their story, others need more support which they get at the end, but overall, it's a beautiful and moving story, although it's very short.

Rating and Content Warnings: I'd say 13 or 14+? It tackles problems teens face... warnings for eating disorders, violence, some blood, child sexual abuse (fortunately, the incident is not depicted at all, so no chance of sexualizing it, we only see how the event affected the character), ableism, bullying, some body horror (the artist often draws horror, it shows in the surreal chapter images), and mild nudity in a chapter cover.

Title:Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro
Author: Satoko Kiyuzuki
Length: 7 volumes
Genre: psychological, fantasy, drama, metaphorical,

A story about a mysterious traveller who carries a coffin on her back, as she travels in hopes of finding a cure. At first, she is accompanied only by Sen, whose body is made up of a thousand bats, but she soon picks up two very young girls who were experimented on and gives them a new purpose. Similar to the Kino's Journey light novels and associated media, to the point a lot of the main characters have counterparts (although Kuro is a proactive character rather than an impartial observer like Kino), Kuro often the lives of those she meets, and she is likewise changed by those she meets.

Rating and Content Warnings: I'd say 13 or 14+? The art style is cute and story book-esque, but there is still death, trauma, some bloody scenes, body horror, and some creepy attempts at psychological manipulation. The little girls (Nijuku and Sanjuku) are young and naive and fondly remember the man who used to experiment on them

Title:Satoko and Nada
Author: Yupechika
Length: 7 volumes
Genre: slice-of-life

A warm and genuine series of brief vignettes in the lives of two college roommates studying in the States, a Japanese girl called Satoko and a Saudi Arabian girl called Nada. They learn about each other's way of life and are close friends, despite differences. The comedy comes from Nada's bluntness and Satoko's fretting about various things rather than misunderstandings or culture clashes between the two, giving this a more mellow and gentle atmosphere! The art is rather rough and the comics are all in 4koma format, but the story feels very genuine and honest.

Rating and Content Warnings: they're college-aged girls, but I don't recall anything remotely offensive. Discussing arranged marriages and such?

Title:Magic Pencil
Author: Fukuyama Keiko
Length: one-shot (1 chapter)
Genre: slice-of-life, recovery, light drama, light romance

An old, short story by one of my favourite artists and a big inspiration to me, Fukuyama Keiko! A little girl from a bad home gets scolded by her teacher, then finds a pencil with a note claiming the pencil is magic and can make her wishes come true if she writes them on it! Sadly, this manga is untranslated, but holespoles has summarized it for me (I can only read a few lines!) and for those who can't read Japanese, I'll sum it up on a page dedicated to it here. If you can read Japanese, please read the manga yourself here.

Rating and Content Warnings: while conveyed in an innocent and clean way (typical of Fukuyama Keiko's work!) that is approachable for children and adults, it IS the story of a neglected child with alcoholic/addicted parents. Bottles litter the floor and parents smoke in her presence. They speak to her harshly.

Title:Plant Doll (Dolls)
Author: Kawahara Yumiko
Length: 4 volumes (officially translated, there are some extra chapters that were never translated)
Genre: slightly futuristric urban fantasy, supernatural, psychological, romance, drama, jousei

Plant Doll (released as Dolls stateside) is an assortment of short stories about highl expensive, living dolls that subsist on love, warm milk, and cookies; they are quiet and eternally youthful (... well, most of them). They sleep until they choose an owner and usually won't let go once they pick someone!

The stories are very varied and remind me of Pet Shop of Horrors (but with more happy endings!), in that there is a mysterious shop with an equally mysterious seller, selling odd "pets" or companions, and each chapter follows the experiences of humans who buy or otherwise come into possession of these dolls.

The fable-like stories range from heartwarming (a woman becomes more hardworking and successful because she loves having a doll waiting for her at home to care for; a poor man bonds with a doll over both of them having been abandoned; a sickly little boy takes a doll for a companion and starts to thrive & play;), others are darker and more unsettling stories (some would even kill for the dolls; some stories have troubled children who act more like dolls than the dolls do; one defective doll seems to delight in her owner's despair), and some are tragic, others are comedic, and some are a bit of both!

Rating and Content Warnings: older range of shoujo—jousei as it is geared towards adult women. There are some creepy stories with death (including that of children), murder, themes of adultery, child abandonment. Ableist slurs briefly used in one story with an implicitly autistic child who was abandoned by his mother. There is some undetailed nudity and like two suggestive scenes. One story has incestuous themes (a man purchases a doll that resembles his daughter and is attracted to said doll—it's chapter 3 of Vol. 3, skipped it, personally!). Each volume has an extra story unrelated to Plant Dolls, including ghost stories!

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