Manga is an art form that has always allowed for a deep amount of creative expression you don’t typically see in a lot of western media. That freedom has allowed for some of the best stories in fiction to arise and carve out their own fan bases. So, in no particular order, here are the top 10 manga for new readers.
1. Fairy Tail
Coming hot off of Rave Master (which you should also check out), famed Mangaka Hiro Mashima created a manga that popularized the genre as we see it in the west today. The story follows Natsu Dragneel, wizard of the Fairy Tail magic guild, as he searches for his adoptive father, Igneel. But the title goes on to become so much more than that.
Whether you are following the adventures of the core group: Natsu, Happy, Lucy, Gray, and Erza, or the wider Fairy Tail guild members, Fairy Tail is about a dysfunctional family in a world fueled by magic.
Throughout Fairy Tail, Hiro Mashima balances his fantastic artwork with his storytelling ability. In every chapter, the reader is kept intrigued not just by the artwork and story at hand, but also by the mystery drip-fed to you. There is more than enough content in Fairy Tail to keep the reader intrigued through all of its 63 volumes.
2. Ouran High School Host Club
Following the adventures of Haruhi Fujioka as a member of the titular Host Club, this manga was relatively ground-breaking for the time it was released. Introducing concepts such as the Androgyny and Gender Ambiguity, although not new at the time, make for interesting additions to the narrative.
Being a romantic comedy, it does follow some of the tropes, but at the same time satirizing clichés and stereotypes typically presented in Shōjo (girl) manga. This makes for a really fun and exciting read.
After breaking an 8,000,000 yen vase during her first day as a transfer student, Haruhi is mistaken for a boy due to her short hair and is put to work by the club as their errand boy. However, once the club finds out her true gender and her natural affinity for entertaining the girls that the host club has as clients, they promote her to full host status.
Ouran High School Host Club features well written, fully formed characters, and an engaging story that makes you want more. This is perhaps the least intense manga on the list but is definitely something new readers can easily sink their teeth into.
3. Death Note
Being an amalgamation of the mystery, psychological thriller, and supernatural thriller genres, Death Note follows teen genius, Light Yagami. Light stumbles across a notebook called the Death Note which he learns belonged to a Shinigami named Ryuk, and it also grants the ability to kill anyone whose name is written in the book.
Building something of a messiah complex, Light sees himself as something of a hero. He uses the death note to kill those he deems morally incompetent and unworthy of living. Light creates his own persona named Kira, as he builds a new utopian world without crime.
While we as the reader know the whole time who Kira is and what his end goal is, at least to some extent, there is a deep mystery woven into the narrative we are presented. The introduction of L, the Sherlock to Light’s Moriarty, formulates a story shrouded in mystery as you sit on the edge of your seat wondering if Light will ever be caught.
4. My Hero Academia
Taking heavy inspiration from superhero fiction such as Marvel and DC, My Hero Academia has built itself in such a way that many fans consider it to be one of the successors to the “Big 3” (Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece).
While being one of the more forefront Shōnen manga in circulation today, My Hero Academia still does enough to set itself apart and make for an interesting superhero story. In a world where superpowers (called quirks) are very commonplace, Izuku Midoriya, usually referred to as Deku, is one of the unlucky born without a quirk. Luckily, he is soon chosen by the hero All Might to become the newest wielder of One For All, a quirk that uses all of the previous inheritor’s strength in one mighty burst.
My Hero Academia develops into quite a good character piece, with each character feeling unique so that as you read they feel like fully-formed 3D characters.
Being one of the big 3, Naruto is always likely to pop up in a lot of lists as a good gateway manga/anime and is one of my personal favorites. Written by Masahashi Kishimoto, Naruto follows the titular ninja who dreams of becoming the strongest and breaking away from the shadows of his father.
Arc after Arc, Kishimoto shows how strong of a writer he is. Fleshing out the wider shinobi (Ninja) world, introducing other shinobi (Ninja) villages, and of course, adding great depth to all the characters so that they all feel unique. Naruto is definitely one of the more entertaining and action-packed mangas on the market.
6. Deadman Wonderland
How do you make a prison story unique? Make it a theme park story too, obviously. Beginning 10 years after most of Tokyo has been destroyed due to an earthquake, Ganta Igarashi is having an ordinary day at school when a floating man covered in blood appears outside his class window and proceeds to kill the entire class aside from Ganta while grinning the whole time.
After being falsely accused of committing the mass murder, Ganta is sentenced to death at Deadman Wonderland, a theme park as well as a prison. The manga places a rather pleasing variation on the usual prison stories that we see. Prisoners can earn cast points by taking part in games at the theme park and use it to buy a variety of different things.
This even includes the antidote they must buy in order to survive, and combat the poisonous collars they must wear in prison.
7. Fullmetal Alchemist
Taking heavy inspiration from the Industrial Revolution of Europe, Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in the fictional world of Amestris where Alchemy has taken precedence as the leading science of the world.
Following the brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, on their quest for the philosopher’s stone, we learn instantly that the reason they are doing so is because they defied the laws of alchemy trying to resurrect their mother. This resulted in Alphonse losing his body, and Edward losing his leg, but then sacrificing his right arm to bring back Alphonse’s soul and bind it to a suit of armor.
From heavy worldbuilding (like the country of Xing), the mystery of the homunculi as well as beautiful characters, Fullmetal Alchemist is not only one of not only the best Manga ever written, but also one of the most tightly written pieces of fiction ever created.
8. Dragon Ball
Even if you are not an anime or manga fan, you would of at least heard of the name Dragon Ball. First created by Akira Toriyama in 1984, the Dragon Ball manga follows Goku from his childhood through to adulthood. Toriyama took heavy influence from martial arts movies such as Enter the Dragon and Drunken Master as well as the novel, Journey to the West, with Goku taking the place of Sun Wukong. It is also worth noting that the main structure of Goku’s origin also shares heavy similarities with that of Superman.
While most western audiences will have been introduced to Goku from the Dragon Ball Z anime, that does a disservice to the rest of the story Toriyama wrote. Although at times it can be slightly questionable with every constant powerup Goku gets, but Dragon Ball boasts a very well written and entertaining story.
Goku along with Bulma, Vegeta, Piccolo, and all the other characters are used by Toriyama to strike a powerful balance between worldbuilding, raising the stakes, and character development. Dragon Ball has become one of the top 20 media franchises of all time and is the second best-selling manga series in history.
There is a reason why Dragon Ball has lasted over 40 years. If you only read one manga in your life, this should be it.