Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Diversiverse: Manga Recs

Banner reading A More Diverse Universe 2015, October 4-17, #Diversiverse. The banner's background is a muted red, while an icon of a brown hand with a star on its palm appears beside the title.

A More Diverse Universe (aka Diversiverse) is a two-week reading period centred on books by people of colour. Organizer Aarti challenges participants to read and blog about at least one qualifying title between October 4-17.

No matter what you like to read, POC write it. As Aarti always says:

Reading diversely may require you to change your book-finding habits. It ABSOLUTELY does not require you to change your book reading habits.

Book-finding is, of course, the kicker. Save for a select few titles, books by white people get far more of a marketing push than books by POC.

Recs lists and word of mouth can be vitally important when you hunt for books by non-white writers and artists, so I want to highlight a few of my favourite titles as we count down to the event’s official start date. Let's start with manga, a form that's become dear to me over the last couple of years.

Manga is Japan's comics tradition, though I'll caution you not to assume every mangaka (manga creator) is Japanese. Many original English language manga are created by white people, so make sure you google everyone before you count them as diverse.

That said, mangka create manga for everyone from high-powered business executives to preteen kids. It runs the gamut from fluffy to horrific, sometimes within the same title. Most manga is published serially in anthology magazines like Sh┼Źnen Jump before it’s collected in numbered volumes, a strategy western comics aficionados are well used to; however, manga story arcs are often much longer than the four- to six-issue runs western comics employ. With some of the more involved series, arcs can stretch across four to six volumes.

This being the case, I recommend you check your local library for manga with several volumes already published in English so you can get a good feel for whether or not you’ll like the story. The following four series all fit the bill and would be a good place to start--and as an added bonus, they’re all written and drawn by women.

Cover of A Bride's Story Volume One, featuring a young Central Asian woman dressed in a long, embroidered coat and a pair of loose trousers. Her arms are spread wide, like she's dancing.
A BRIDE’S STORY by Kaoru Mori - 6 volumes in English (ongoing) - review

While Kaoru Mori is perhaps best known for EMMA, her Victorian romance about a maid and a wealthy young gentleman who fall in love, I want to push you towards A BRIDE’S STORY during Diversiverse because it’s about people of colour.

At twenty, Amir is practically ancient for a bride along the Silk Road. Still, she’s determined to make her new marriage work, and to adjust to the bustle of a town after a lifetime on the steppes. If only her birth family would let her settle in in peace…

A BRIDE’S STORY is wonderful on every level. It’s a quieter tale, focused on the smaller moments that shape peoples’ lives. Women’s work takes centre stage, as do the experiences that turn individuals into a community. And the art… oy. Central Asia has a rich tradition of iconographic embroidery, and Mori records it in painstaking detail detail. Each panel is gloriously elaborate.

Mori also slips away from Amir from time to time to examine how marriage and family life work in other towns around the region. It’s a real treat if you’re at all interested in social structures. And given Mori’s reputation for thorough, even exhaustive, research, I think it’s safe to view the information herein as accurate.

Cover of Fruits Basket Vol 1, featuring a Japanese girl wearing a sailor suit-style school uniform. She kneels, surrounded by red orbs that each contain a figure from the Chinese zodiac.
FRUITS BASKET by Natsuki Takaya - 23 volumes in English (complete)

FRUITS BASKET is a bit of a cheat because I haven’t actually finished it yet, but I’m enjoying it too much to leave it off this list.

Orphan Tohru Honda has nowhere to go until the wealthy Sohma clan invites her into their home. It doesn’t take Tohru long to realize the Sohmas are more than just generous rich people: thirteen of their number are cursed to embody the Chinese zodiac, and Tohru finds herself entangled in their adventures and sorrows alike.

FRUITS BASKET surprises me on a regular basis. It’s sweet and adorable thanks to its relentlessly optimistic protagonist and the large variety of cute animals her friends turn into, but everyone in the cast deals with serious issues. Tohru is still grieving for her mother. Her non-cursed friends get tangled up in gang violence. And the Sohmas themselves cope with a large amount of familial strife, some of it abusive, as they grapple with the curse that keeps them from leading fulfilling lives.

Basically, it’s my favourite blend of "Awwwwww!" and "Nooooooooo!"

There’s an anime adaptation, but I haven’t seen it and I understand it ends differently than the manga.

Cover of the first Chobits omnibus, featuring a Japanese girl with overly large ears seated atop a metal contraption with her knees held tight against her chest. She wears a pale dress just a little lighter than her skin.
CHOBITS by Clamp - 8 volumes in English (complete)

I always used to see CHOBITS toted as the manga (a distinction FRUITS BASKET also holds in some circles), so I sought it out right after I decided to explore the form in a little more depth. It didn’t let me down.

In the nearish future, everyone uses personal computers that look like people. Hideki Motosuwa is far too poor to afford one, so he’s thrilled when he finds a female persocom abandoned in an alley. Chi (so named because that’s the only thing she can say) soon proves herself to be more than simply a machine, though, and Hideki is forced to question what she means to him as he searches for the truth behind her origins.

Fear not; CHOBITS is deeply concerned with interrogating its squicky premise (yes, some people have sex with their persocoms), and it does so via a series of elegant twists. The text occasionally becomes a haunting, peculiarly relevant children’s book as Chi tests the boundaries of her world and considers the nature of love. At its heart, CHOBITS is about what it means to be a person; a preoccupation that makes it a great pairing with Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna’s ALEX + ADA (a western comic that's also a potential Diversiverse pick).

Here, too, there’s an accompanying anime I haven’t yet seen.

Cover of the first Skip Beat omnibus, featuring a Japanese girl with short red hair. She wears a frilly pink outfit and his punching towards the viewer, dark pink ribbons floating around her fists.
SKIP BEAT! by Yoshiki Nakamura - 35 volumes in English (ongoing) - review

SKIP BEAT! isn’t just my favourite manga; it’s my favourite comic, full stop. I am Very Serious about how much I want you to read it.

Kyoko Mogami follows her crush, Sho, to Tokyo when he tries to make it as a singer. She’s happy to bend her life around his as his star rises--until she overhears his true opinion of her and realizes he’s been using her all along. Enraged, Kyoko vows to get revenge by beating Sho in showbiz, but vengeance would be a lot easier if she didn’t have to work alongside Ren Tsuruga, Japan’s most popular actor, who does not approve of her motives in the slightest.

This series is everything. It’s about an angry, damaged, ultimately loving girl determined to discover who she is away from her abusive relationship. And it’s about a guy who used to be a terrible person and who never, ever wants to be that way again but who keeps backsliding because change is a process. And it’s about the people they bond with as they harness their talents and become their best selves.

Some of these people are actually grudge monsters Kyoko unleashes on her enemies. It’s that kind of a series.

It’s adorable, and silly, and sobering, and furious, and emotional, and nuanced, and packed with the wildest scenarios you ever did see outside of fanfic. There’s a romantic component, too, but it emerges slowly and never overshadows the personal side of Kyoko’s emotional journey.

I’ve seen the anime for this one, and it’s every bit as good as the manga (if rather shorter). You can find it for free on CrunchyRoll.

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