Must Have: Manga for Teens

Our criteria for this list, our first in a sequence of Must Have lists, is simple: these are the titles that are solid additions to your teen collection.  We’re not necessarily talking rich language or literary merit — these are the titles that are proven, through circulation and reader enthusiasm, to be engaging and popular with teen readers.  Think of it as similar to YALSA’s Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults — popularity is the key.  The titles must also be readily available, so you’ll see only titles you should be able to purchase via library vendors.

Everyone here at NFNT contributed ideas to the list, but special kudos are due to Jennifer, Emma, Jennifer W., Jenny, Bonnie, Allen, Nichole, Matt (Morrison), Nic, Snow, Abby, and Russ for contributing annotations and helping brainstorm titles.

13th Boy

by SangEun Lee
Yen Press, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Appeals to: fans of slightly fantastical realistic, dramatic, and comedic high school romance (one character has supernatural powers that, among other things, result in a cactus / human roommate for the protagonist), complicated love quadrangles, and stubbornly proactive heroines.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Beatrice, the cactus, has a tendency to shift into his human form in his birthday suit, but it’s tamely dealt with; a character kills another anthropomorphic character, but it is later revealed that it was unintentionally so and the victim doesn’t hold too much of a grudge; the protagonist’s amusing dating history occasionally drifts into the creepy (at least one of her “boyfriends” was an older boy and a would-be pedophile who got in trouble with the law before she cluelessly became a victim). This is manhwa (Korean.)

 

Afterschool Charisma

by Kumiko Suekane
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: seinen
Appeals to: Readers who enjoy historical connections (after all, it is all about clones of famous figures from history), unsettling questions about fate and scientific ethics, all mixed together with high school angst.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: The creepier side of this story increases as the volumes progress, although frequently it is more unsettling because of the idea rather than any explicitness on the page.

 

Arata, the Legend

by Yuu Watase
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: fans of slightly edgy romantic fantasy, world-crossing , role-/identity-swapping
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: See Robin’s notes regarding Watase’s pushing genre boundaries with authentic voices, only the other way around as it’s published in a boy’s magazine but with appeal for girls; some rather dark violence on the part of the baddies.

 

Azumanga Daioh

by Kiyohiko Azuma
Yen Press, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: readers who enjoy awkward comedy and silly, short episodes rather than a longer story arc or wit-driven humor.  Azuma has a great knack for expressions and comic timing, as is true of his series Yotsuba&!  It’s also a solid example of 4-koma manga, or comic strip adventures related in 4 (typically vertical) panels.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: All of the characters are high school age, and thus the humor and activities reflect what high school kids might get up to in their day to day life, including smoking, petting cats, and making mischief.

 

Bakuman

by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: Manga fans who dream of creating their own manga someday.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: The main characters, both teenage boys, have some ideas about women that might come across as dated or old-fashioned to American audiences.

 

Black Bird

by Kanoko Sakurakoji
VIZ 2009-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of romantic melodrama, prophecy, and human / supernatural-being pairings
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: One of the major plot points is what will or won’t happen to the human female protagonist if she sleeps with her tengu (crow demon) lover (or if a rival demon gets ahold of her first); occasional violence as the different tengu clans vie for power and influence.

 

Black Butler

by Yana Toboso
Yen Press, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: Fans of cosplay, dark humor, and bloody mayhem.  Less melodrama and more humor, but similar style to Kaori Yuki’s Godchild.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: There’s a significant amount of bloody violence in this series which keeps it most appropriate for teen collections in public libraries and generally not in school libraries.

 

Bleach

by Tite Kubo
VIZ, 2007-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: readers who’ve enjoyed Naruto and want to sink their teeth into something a tiny bit older (but not by much.) Features strong female characters and a wonderfully complex mythology, so for fans of figuring out a supernatural world’s rules and codes.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: There’s a fair amount of human on creature violence in Bleach, and it will get icky when it needs to.  There’s also a bit of fan service when it comes to the ladies, but nothing off-putting or inappropriate for the age range.

 

Blue Exorcist

by Kazue Kato
VIZ, 2011-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: Fans of magical boarding school stories, humorous sibling relationships, and cool battle scenes.  Also has some fun, accessible touches of Japanese culture, like characters who love manga.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Some bloody violence, and frequent less-bloody violence, as the characters fight demons.

 

Bride of the Water God

by Mi-kyung Yun
Dark Horse, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
Appeals to: fans of atmospheric, gentle romance and supernatural surroundings. It’s not a nail-biter, but instead a slow build, with absolutely stunning art.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: The main character is sacrificed to appease vengeful gods and the gods are a rather petty and backstabbing, but beyond that there isn’t much violence or sexual content. This is manhwa (Korean.)

 

Cactus’s Secret

by Nana Haruta
VIZ, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of light-hearted romances that don’t skimp on the melodrama but never get too grim
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Given that the premise of the series is that the heroine’s object of affection is too dense to realize she’s confessing her love to him, and thus she whacks him upside the head out of frustration, there’s a good bit of comedic violence.  The intention is never serious, but the knocking about is certainly visible and repeated.

 

Case Closed

by Gosho Aoyama
VIZ, 2004-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: fans of detective stories, adults who’ve turned into kids (you know it’s not that rare a plot point), and unbeatable optimism and smarts.  Great for readers who want an episodic, crime-of-the-week experience, a la CSI or Law & Order.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: There is violence depicted in the crimes solved, but rarely anything too explicit.

 

D. Gray-man

by Katsura Hoshino
VIZ, 2006-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: fans of supernatural action adventure a la similar titles on this list (like Fullmetal Alchemist), especially given the alternate ninteenth century setting
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: The lead character is an exorcist, which leads to various ceremonies and alternate versions of religious and supernatural machinations.  Violence is generally supernatural but can be gory, especially as the series veers into horror territory in later volumes.

 

Death Note

by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
VIZ, 2005-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: readers who enjoy thrilling mysteries, clever chases, supernatural touches, and a good strong dose of suspense combined with complex ethical questions
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Death Note is famous for being challenged because of its very premise — that one teen takes over the power to kill and uses it to make what he believes is a better world.  Death is everywhere, but the violence is minimal and mostly off screen.  What makes Death Note unsettling are the ideas more than the images, but the questionable ethics on display that do make it a bit much for younger teen readers.

 

Dengeki Daisy

by Kyousuke Motomi
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of romantic thrillers, tragic pasts, and secret identities / guardian angels
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Female high school protagonist is in mutual (though so far unacted on) love with twenty-something janitor at her school (who often suffers the “pedophile” jokes of his other adult friends); bad guys will stoop to murder if necessary.

 

Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z

by Akira Toriyama
VIZ, 2008- (new edition)
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: readers looking for crazy action plus amazingly elaborate hair styles.  Rife with potty humor, random nudity (but not sexual nudity), and wise-cracks, this series is light, silly, and full of ridiculous fights.  Sometimes, that’s just what you want.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: The jokes based around nudity and genitalia, which work because one character is completely innocent of the differences between the sexes and thus investigates, have caused raised eyebrows over the years.  Dragon Ball Z has zero content like this, while Dragon Ball has a fair amount, if you only want to get one part of the series.  The new VIZBIG editions are a great way to collect this classic series.

 

Fairy Tail

by Hiro Mashima
Del Rey, 2008-2010, Kodansha USA 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: T (Ages 13+)
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: fans of the more slapstick adventures including Trigun and One Piece, Fairy Tail is a rollicking adventure full of humor, grand quests, and references to indigestion and scatological humor.  The art style is so similar to One Piece that many readers presume it’s the same creator, but it’s not.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: The female characters are blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with the usual buxom physique and tight clothing of many a teen shonen manga, but they are also kick-butt characters and their attitude generally negates the jiggle factor.

 

Fullmetal Alchemist

by Hiromu Arakawa
VIZ, 2005-2011
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: readers who love rich world-building, family portraits, complex politics mixed with personal stories, and a strong emotional through line.  The brothers in this series are remarkable and vulnerable, and the way the story expands is like any rich fantasy series. Would appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series and similarly steampunk universes, but also just works as a portrait of the price one pays for over-reaching.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Supernatural violence, some occasionally revealing clothing, and harsh situations.

 

Fushigi Yugi

by Yuu Watase
VIZ, 2009- (VIZBIG edition)
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: readers looking for fairly traditional fantasy adventure, complete with magical circumstances, hot guys vying for the lead heroine’s attention, and a good dose of angst.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Anything by Yuu Watase will push the boundaries of shojo a little bit, and she frequently includes nudity, violence, and sexuality on par with prose novels like Kristin Cashore’s Graceling.  She won’t talk down to her readers, or presume they’re not experiencing desire or trauma, but she does it in a visual medium, though rarely explicity.  Her authentic voice, however, is what makes her so popular.

 

Hana Kimi

by Hisaya Nakajo
VIZ, 2004-2008
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of cross-dressing, gender-benders, high school romance
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Teen admirer disguises herself as a boy and rooms with her high-jump idol at his all-boys school, with all the expected awkward situations and orientation humor / confusion.

 

Inuyasha

by Rumiko Takahashi
VIZ, 2008-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: Fantasy readers who like historical settings for their magical battles and anyone who likes strong female characters.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Nudity and violence.

 

Kamisama Kiss

by Julietta Suzuki
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of Japanese folklore, supernatural romance
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: Fox spirit Tomoe indulges in women and booze when he goes off the rails early on; he and the protagonist, his teen female master, seal their contract with smooches.

 

Kekkaishi

by Yellow Tanabe
VIZ, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: fans of fantasy action with depth, some giggles, and a wee bit of romance
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: The author’s not afraid to kill off characters the readers know and love if it truly serves the story; some of the baddies are pretty scary, cold, and violent.

 

Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You

by Karuho Shiina
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of slow, gentle, high school romance and stories of misunderstood shrinking violets learning to bloom
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Teen side character’s boyfriend(s) is / are less than role model material (which she wisely realizes and breaks it off) and the story jokes around about setting her up with an amusingly annoying teacher.

 

Library Wars

by Kiiro Yumi
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: library lovers, romance readers, and militant supporters of the freedom to read who don’t mind a little (or a lot of) unintentional cheese with their plot
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Lots of guns, some of which get used; social / political commentary that leans decidedly left.

 

Maoh: Juvenile Remix

by Kotaro Isaka
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: fans of moral grey areas, social / political intrigue, and hints of the supernatural
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Real-world and fantasy violence (including assassins), messiah complexes, and those moral grey areas.

 

Millennium Snow

by Bisco Hatori
VIZ, 2002
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of paranormal romance, vampires, and melodrama
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Terminally ill teen tries to convince a depressed, cynical vampire to drink her blood and make her his partner so she can keep him company for the next 1000 years.

 

Muhyo & Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation

by Yoshiyuki Nishi
VIZ, 2007-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: fans of snarky, dark, supernatural mysteries and investigative teams
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Fantasy violence and assassins.

 

 

Naruto

by Masashi Kishimoto
VIZ, 2010
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: Readers who like classic shonen action with a touch of comedy and lot of character drama.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: There’s a good amount of violence and some slight gross-out and sexual humor.

 

Natsume’s Book of Friends

by Yuki Midorikawa
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of Japanese folklore, talking yokai kitties, and (mostly) quiet, heartwarming, melancholy yet hopeful stories of the mundane and supernatural worlds mingling
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Natsume may be as warm and gentle as they come, but some of the yokai, and some of the humans, he encounters share none of those qualities and the series flirts with real / fantasy violence (and every now and then comes right out with it); his kitty’s pretty sloshed pretty often.

 

Negima

by Ken Akamatsu
Kodansha, 2011- (Omnibus edition)
Publisher Age Rating: OT (Ages 16+)
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: readers seeking out the cartoon equivalent of raunchy teen comedies like American Pie.  Very funny and filled with awkward moments, it’s a harem manga (i.e. hapless hero surrounded by a bevvy of beautiful young ladies vying for his attention), so that target audience of teenage guys are the one’s that will most likely check it out.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: There’s a lot of jiggle on display, though our hapless hero is more embarrassed than suave in his interactions with the ladies.

 

Nura, Rise of the Yokai Clan

by Hiroshi Shiibashi
VIZ, 2011-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: readers who enjoy Japanese folklore (in this case, yokai or demons/monsters) mixed in with their reluctant hero action adventure
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Although the violence is magical, it is prevalent, as this is a fighting series at its core.

 

One Piece

by Eiichiro Oda
VIZ, 2003-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: fans of ridiculously over the top humor, pirates with a significantly weird twist, and brilliant caricatures.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Stylized violence.

 

 

Oresama Teacher

by Izumi Tsubaki
VIZ, 2011-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of feisty, athletic heroines, former delinquents, silly alter egos, and comedic school stories
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Teen protagonist realizes her wise  bully of a teacher is her childhood gang boss / idol, further muddying the waters concerning with whom she may or may not develop romance–she could just as easily steer clear of matters of the heart all together, but there’s always the possibility she won’t.

 

Ouran High School Host Club

by Bisco Hatori
VIZ, 2005-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: Fans of romantic comedy, Japanese culture, and pretty, pretty boys.  Or indeed, pretty art in general:  the gorgeous costumes and scenery are also a treat for the eyes.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Frequent allusions to romantic love between a pair of twins in the Host Club (played up for the club’s female customers); some suggestive talk and behavior.

 

Rosario+Vampire

by Ikeda Akihisa
VIZ, 2008-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: readers looking for humorous horror/fantasy adventure, stories about magical high schools, and light romance - especially of the ‘many girls all interested in the same average guy’ category
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Set in a high school for monsters, this title doesn’t shy away from bloody and graphic violence.  It’s also definitely from the the ‘harem manga’ tradition, where many cute girls vie for the attentions of the main character.  So there are lots of semi-sexual situations played for laughs, romantic mix-ups and innuendo, and plenty of fan-service which, while not overly graphic, is prevalent both in the comedy and action sequences.

 

Sailor Moon (aka Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon)

by Naoko Takeuchi
Kodansha Comics, 2011-
Publisher Age Rating: T (Ages 13+)
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of magical girl stories such as Cardcaptor Sakura who want to read one of the classics of that genre
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: The main character is air-headed and somewhat disrespectful of authority and there is some comedic violence.

 

Sand Chronicles

by Hinako Ashihara
VIZ, 2008-2011
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: readers looking for the manga equivalent of Sarah Dessen. Realistic relationships, complete with overwhelming emotions and foibles, make this series feel true and refreshingly free of the contrivance common in shojo manga plots.  Best of all, it’s complete in ten volumes, so you can get the whole series!
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Like any solid examination of teens growing up and entering into relationships, sex and sexuality are presented.  None of it is adult-level explicit, but it is more than just blowing curtains.

 

Shugo Chara!

by Momo no Tane
Kodansha USA, 2007-
Publisher Age Rating: T (Ages 13+)
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: readers who enjoy gentle adventures with a touch of magic, as well as charming magical creatures.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: This series is aimed at the younger end of teen, so it’s suitably innocent in its content.

 

Skip Beat!

by Yosiki Nakamura
VIZ, 2006-2012
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: girls who love romance, but who are tired of female character who act like doormats to their men
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: There is a good amount of comedic violence, particularly when Kyoko’s temper gets the better of her; Kyoko is living with Sho with no parents after having dropped out of school, though it isn’t clear if they are sleeping together. This is for the most part a clean read, although it has been hinting at Ren’s dark and probably violent past.  Kyoko, despite her scary hatred of Sho, is pretty naive and sweet.

 

Story of Saiunkoku

by Sai Yukino
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of fantasy-tinged historical fiction, strong young women with ambitions who aren’t afraid to challenge the “man’s world” in which they live, romance, and court intrigue
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: A principal character is pretty open about having had physical relationships with both women and men in his past; attempted assassination, manslaughter in self-defense, and other incidents of violence.

 

Tegami Bachi

by Hiroyuki Asada
VIZ, 2009-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: readers who enjoy stories set in a detailed fantasy world with its own magic, culture, and creatures, as well as tales of heroism, heart, and never giving up
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: The action centers around the exploits of ‘letter bees’ – couriers who have to traverse dangerous territories as part of their delivery routes.  There are some battles with insect-like monsters called Gaichuu, but the letter bees’ weapons carry ‘heart’ and not bullets, so the battle scenes feature sparkly stars more like a kids’ video game than a blood bath.

 

Tokyo Mew Mew

by Reiko Yoshida
Kodansha, 2011
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: readers looking for light, magical adventure without too much angst or violence
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: As with Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew was one of the first magical girl manga translated here in the US, and it still has a strong appeal for girls looking for adventure.  The new editions from Kodansha will be welcome to the younger readers who want their heroines sparkly.

 

Twin Spica

by Ko Yaginuma
Vertical, 2010
Original intended audience: seinen
Appeals to: Anyone who dreams of being an astronaut!  Plus anyone who sympathizes with being new to a school, struggling with tough tests, figuring out frenemies, and dreaming big.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: Thus far there is nothing in this series that really warrants a note, although readers should know that the tests the students go through in astronaut training can be grueling psychologically as well as physically.  On top of that, the continuing thread of Asumi’s mother’s accidental (and traumatizing) death does lead to some wrenching moments.

 

Vampire Knight

by Hino Matsuri
VIZ, 2007-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of vampire love triangles, political intrigue, and dark, twisty melodrama
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: The blood-drinking can be a little suggestive, the politics and love triangle are quite bitter, and the violence takes no great pains to be light.

 

Wallflower

by Tomoko Hayakawa
Kodansha USA, 2004-
Publisher Age Rating:
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: Anyone who likes romantic comedies or beautiful boys in manga.  Especially those stories that turn expectations on their heads.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Horror images used for humorous effect. Some discussion of sexual situations, rampant nosebleeds (indicating feeling turned on), cartoon violence, physical objectification of characters.

 

Yu Yu Hakusho

by Yoshihiro Togashi
VIZ, 2003-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: fans of paranormal investigation stories, tournament stories, comedy
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: Fantasy violence.

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