Must Have: Manga for Teens 2014 Update

Our criteria for this list is simple: these are the titles that are solid additions to your teen collection.

We’re updating the original list posted in December 2011. We went through and removed series waning in popularity and add in new favorites.  In order to help librarians predict how much shelf space and funding they’ll need, we’ve also added an annotation to each entry to let you all know whether the series is complete, and if not, how many volumes the series currently has in print.  We’ve marked series still running as such, and if they are complete in Japan, how many volumes we have to go until the end.

As with the previous list, 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 be readily available, so you’ll see only titles you should be able to purchase via library vendors.  We’ve also noted when omnibus (like the VIZBIG editions) printings are available, though keep in mind the binding on omnibus editions has generally proven to be weaker than with traditional length volumes.

Everyone here at NFNT helped brainstorm the list, but special kudos are due to Jennifer, Emma, Jennifer W., Jenny, Bonnie, Allen, Nichole, Matt (Morrison), Nic, Snow, Abby, Russ, Gretchen, Michael, Jessikah, Thomas, Renata, and Marissa for contributing annotations and updating title entries.

13th Boy

by SangEun Lee
Yen Press, 2010-2012
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.)
Series status: Complete in 12 volumes

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 9 volumes)

 

AliceintheCountryofHearts1Alice in the Country of Hearts

by Quinrose
Art by Soumei Hoshino
Yen Press, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: Teen fantasy/romance fans, fans of other Alice in Wonderland adaptations
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: A bit of violence.
Series status: Complete in 3 omnibus volumes.

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 18 volumes)

 

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.
Series status: Complete in 1 omnibus edition.

 

Bakuman

by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
VIZ, 2010-2013
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.
Series status: Complete in 20 volumes

 

Black Bird

by Kanoko Sakurakoji
VIZ 2009-2014
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.
Series status: Complete in 18 volumes

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 17 volumes)

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 60 volumes). Also available in VIZBIG editions.

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 11 volumes)

 

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.)
Series status: Still running (up to 14 volumes)

 

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.
Series status: Complete in 4 volumes

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 51 volumes)

 

ChildrenoftheSea1Children of the Sea

by Daisuke Igarashi
VIZ, 2009-2013
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen
Original intended audience: seinen
Appeals to: Anyone who enjoys Satoshi Kon’s Tropic of the Sea will also enjoy this.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: Some blood, although the violence is largely between war machines. Occasional male character acting perverted around female officers with suggestive humor.
Series status: Complete in 5 volumes

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 23 volumes)

 

Death Note

by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
VIZ, 2010-2011, Black edition
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.
Series status: Complete in 6 volumes in the Black edition.

 

Dengeki Daisy

by Kyousuke Motomi
VIZ, 2010-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus, for older teens
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: fans of romantic thrillhttp://noflyingnotights.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=23544&action=edit&message=10ers, 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.
Series status: Still running (up to 14 volumes)

 

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.
Series status: Dragonball complete in 16 volumes. Dragonball Z complete in 26 volumes. Both titles also available in the VIZBIG editions.

 

Eyeshield21v1Eyeshield 21

by Riichiro Inagaki
VIZ, 2005-2011
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: Sports fans, slapstick comedy fans.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: Slapstick humor. One of the football players often bullies other students into playing/training on the team sometimes with the gag of firing a machine gun at them.
Series status: Complete in 37 volumes

 

Fairy Tail

by Hiro Mashima
Kodansha USA 2012-
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.
Series status: Still running (up to 37 volumes)

 

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.
Series status: Complete in 27 volumes. Also available in VIZBIG editions.

 

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.
Series status: Complete in 6 VIZBIG volumes.

 

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.
Series status: Complete in 23 volumes. Also available in VIZBIG editions.

 

HikarunoGov1Hikaru no Go

by Yumi Hotta
VIZ, 2004-2011
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: This series turns the strategic board game of Go into a team-centric hero’s journey that can match any shonen for heightened drama and competition. It has been particularly popular with middle schoolers at my library. It has general appeal for boys and girls of various ages. Great coming-of-age story with likeable characters. However, teens looking for a series with non-stop action may want to look elsewhere.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: High quality, “clean” series. No violence or romance. Includes a few flashbacks to Japan’s past, but always with context for the reader.
Series status: Complete in 23 volumes.

 

Inuyasha

by Rumiko Takahashi
VIZ, 2008-2014
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.
Series status: Complete in 56 volumes or 18 VIZBIG volumes.

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 15 volumes)

 

Kekkaishi

by Yellow Tanabe
VIZ, 2010-2012
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.
Series status: Complete in 35 volumes

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 19 volumes)

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 11 volumes)

 

Maoh: Juvenile Remix

by Kotaro Isaka
VIZ, 2010-2012
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.
Series status: Complete in 10 volumes

 

Millennium Snow

by Bisco Hatori
VIZ, 2002-2014
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.
Series status: Complete in 4 volumes, with the final volume due out December 2014.

 

MobileSuitGundamv1Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin

by Yoshikazu Yashuhiko
Vertical, 2013-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: Those who love giant robots and their pilots.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: Some blood, although the violence is largely between war machines. Occasional male character acting perverted around female officers with suggestive humor.
Series status: Still running (up to 4 volumes) in hardcover.

 

Muhyo & Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation

by Yoshiyuki Nishi
VIZ, 2007-2010
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.
Series status: Complete in 18 volumes

 

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 66 volumes). Also available in 3-in-1 editions.

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 16 volumes)

 

Nausicaa+Vol.+1-650Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

by Hayao Miyazaki
VIZ, 2004 (softcover), 2012 (hardcover)
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Appeals to: Fans of the anime film, environmentalists, anyone with a pulse.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: Violence, scenes of war that include dead bodies and blood.
Series status: Complete in 7 volumes (softcover) or 2 volumes (hardcover)

 

 

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.
Series status: Complete at 38 traditional volumes, still running in omnibus edition (up to 9 volumes.)

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 21 volumes). Will be complete in 25 volumes.

OPartsHunterv1O-Parts Hunter

by Seishi Kishimoto
VIZ, 2006-2009
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: Naruto, action/adventure Manga.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: Some fan service and slapstick humor. Content draws heavily on Kabbala as well as Abrahamic religion and demonology and, less frequently, Japanese folklore and mythology.
Series status: Complete in 19 volumes

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 71 volumes)

 

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 16 volumes)

 

 

Ouran High School Host Club

by Bisco Hatori
VIZ, 2005-2012
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.
Series status: Complete in 18 volumes

 

Rosario+Vampire

by Ikeda Akihisa
VIZ, 2008-2014
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.
Series status: Complete at 10 volumes. The sequel series Rosario + Vampire Season II will be complete in 14 volumes in 2014.

 

Sailor Moon (aka Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon)

by Naoko Takeuchi
Kodansha Comics, 2011-2013
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.
Series status: Complete in 12 volumes

 

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.
Series status: Complete in 10 volumes

 

Shugo Chara!

by Momo no Tane
Kodansha USA, 2007-2011
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.
Series status: Complete in 12 volumes

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 32 volumes) Also available in VIZBIG editions.

 

soul-eaterSoul Eater

by Atsushi Okubo
Yen Press, 2004-
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: Fans of Naruto and Fairy Tail will feel right at home here.
Suitable for middle school? No.
Content notes: Some violence involving ninja weapons can be a bit bloody.  There is also some suggestive humor, especially when the character of Blair is introduced.   Maka’s father has a bit of a wandering eye when it comes to the ladies.
Series status: Still ongoing (up to 20 volumes)

 

Story of Saiunkoku

by Sai Yukino
VIZ, 2010-2013
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.
Series status: Complete in 9 volumes

 

StrobeEdgev1Strobe Edge

by Io Sakisaka
VIZ, 2012-2014
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shojo
Appeals to: Big fans of romance and the rush of finding your first love.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: None! A clean manga romance
Series status: Complete in 10 volumes.

 

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.
Series status: Still running (up to 16 volumes)

 

Tiger&Bunnyv1Tiger & Bunny

by Mizuki Sakakibara
VIZ, 2013-
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
Original intended audience: shonen
Appeals to: Although the superhero team is largely male, the series has broad appeal.
Suitable for middle school? Yes.
Content notes: One of the female superheroes wears a revealing costume. This is an adaptation of an anime series, rather than the usual pattern of the manga inspiring an anime series.
Series status: Still running (up to 4 volumes)

 

Tokyo Mew Mew

by Reiko Yoshida
Kodansha, 2011-2014
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.
Series status: Complete in 3 omnibus volumes. Extras volumne Tokyo Mew Mew a la Mode complete in 1 omnibus volume.

 

Vampire Knight

by Hino Matsuri
VIZ, 2007-2014
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.
Series status: Still running (up to 18 volumes). Will be complete at 19 volumes in 2014.

 

Wallflower

by Tomoko Hayakawa
Kodansha USA, 2004-2013
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.
Series status: Complete at 31 volumes

 

Yu Yu Hakusho

by Yoshihiro Togashi
VIZ, 2003-2010
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.
Series status: Complete in 19 volumes

Must Have: Anime for the Uninitiated

Japanese anime can feel like an intimidating medium to tackle for new viewers. It’s easy to get put off by the sparkles, extreme caricatures, and manic behavior on display. Thus, the NFNT staff put their heads together and decided to put together a list of recommended anime titles for viewers who may have seen Howl’s Moving Castle or My Neighbor Totoro but aren’t really sure what to pick up from there.

First, a few notes: we all certainly DO suggest folks check out the best of Hayao Miyazaki’s films if you haven’t already. Many know My Neighbor Totoro, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. These are all magical, lyrical fantasies that succeed with a wide range of audiences, and may well work because they are in line with what US audiences expect from animated films. There’s a good reason the majority of my teens know Miyazaki’s films better than the previous generations’ Disney classics.

Sadie also reminds readers that you may well have been watching anime all along but didn’t know it. Speed Racer, Voltron, Pokemon, and Digimon are all anime even if we got to know them first via dubbed versions aired on US television.

Feature films are easier to digest than television series, so we’ve made sure to include a fair number of self-contained stories. As Andrew notes:

As an anime novice, I’m much more likely to enjoy a movie than a series. Maybe that’s more about my personal taste, but the stuff that I have trouble with in anime generally, which mostly boils down to pacing, is less likely to be a problem in a movie. Admitting again that I’ve not watched a ton of anime, several of the series I have tried move really slowly, giving lots of time to introspection, tense silences, awkward glances, and over-long conversations (or, in the case of Dragonball Z, over-long yelling sessions).

Without further ado, here’s our list of anime that are a good place to start for new viewers. I’ve left in our discussions and annotations to illuminate why we’ve chosen these particular titles for the list. Keep in mind what genres you already like, and give one of these titles a try. If there is a trailer available to embed, I’ve added those for each title.

FEATURE FILMS


Akira

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
Based on manga by Katsuhiro Otomo
1 disc, 125 minutes
MPAA: Rated R for graphic violence and brief nudity
Bandai Entertainment, originally released 1988, 2004 (DVD), 2009 (Blu-ray)

Allen: This film is often considered to be one of the cornerstones of Japanese animation. Not only was it the most expensive film they have produced, it features a lot of mind bending and intriguing ideas of humanity’s place in the future as well as the role of hyper-advanced science.
Sadie: I’m not sure I would give Akira to the uninitiated. Just because I was initiated with Akira and it put me off anime for a loooong time. Then I gave it another shot with Ninja Scroll and was also put off. I now appreciate and kind of love both of those but as a first go, it was a little much.
Robin: I watched Akira when I was 13, and it completely freaked me out even as I was massively intrigued, so there is a place for strong reactions. Sadie — I noticed you commented that Akira may not be a great one to give first time viewers, and…I rather agree. It’s very anime, and very dense, but it’s very off-putting for anyone not used to the slow pace and intentional lack of explanation. I think of Ghost in the Shell as kind of the same type — it’s a memorable, vivid film, but it’s also tough to take if you’re not expecting what you get. It’s a bit like giving people Watchmen as a first try for a graphic novel — works for a few, but also is totally forbidding to many who won’t like the grim sci-fi or be yet able to appreciate its importance in the anime landscape.
Allen: As for Akira, it was the first anime I saw and it was love at first sight, which is why I recommended it.
Jenny: I’m on the fence about recommending Akira, too, just because it is so intense. It was one of the earlier films I saw and it scared me a bit (but Cowboy Bebop and Big O and Gundam Wing had me in their clutches, and I was all over the Vampire Hunter D movies, so I couldn’t walk away). Maybe it would be a good introduction for folks who are already fans of dark, high-drama, high-concept, apocalyptic sci-fi? I love it now, but all that flesh-tech creeped me out the first time around. That scene in the hospital room with the stuffed animals and the music…wow.
Russ: I think many of us like Akira for the same reason I still like the now-showing-its-age Robotech: You never forget your first time. And, like someone else mentioned, though Akira is absolutely brilliant it is kind of the Watchmen of anime.


Galaxy Express 999

Directed by: Rintaro
Based on manga by: Leiji Matsumoto
1 disc, 135 minutes
Company Age Rating: 13+
Section23 Films, originally released 2009

Allen: One of my top favorite films is about a boy who travels to Pluto to get a robot body and experiences all sorts of adventures with each stop. The side stories are exciting and the characters interesting.


The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda
1 discs, 98 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
Bandai Entertainment, 2008

Sheli: A science fiction romance, it tells the story of Makoto. Just an average highschool girl, things start to change for her when she discovers a mysterious invention.
Jenny: I second The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Just lovely.


Grave of the Fireflies

Directed by IsaoTakahata
1 discs, 89 minutes
Company Age rating: 13UP
Sentai Filmworks, 2012

Bill: This might be my favorite Studio Ghibli movie. Emotionally brutal and completely believable, it is one of the best examinations of the devastation caused by the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II. Isao Takahata never gets the same widespread attention as Hayao Miyazaki in terms of credit and admiration, but I think his films are actually my favorites from Ghibli.
Jenny: I was thinking of Grave of the Fireflies, too. It’s beautiful and harrowing. And all the more tragic for being based on a very personal reality. WWII Japan was not an easy world to live in for society’s most vulnerable members.
Russ: Though completely different in how they achieve it, I think some comparison could be made with Schindler’s List as far as the effect on the viewer. It really makes you wonder how humans could do the things we do in wartime.


Millennium Actress

Directed by:Satoshi Kon
1 disc, 87 minutes
MPAA rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, violence and brief mild language
Dreamworks Entertainment, 2003

Bonnie: A feature film documenting the life of an aging actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. As she tells her story to the film crew, they are pulled back in time with her, witnessing her life and taking part in her films. Fiction and fact blur, so that you aren’t always sure what’s part of Chiyoko’s life or part of her acting career. A moving story with beautiful visuals and an exploration of Japan’s history.
Robin: If you have it in your collection, I also recommend checking out the Hitchcockian thriller Perfect Blue from Satoshi Kon. It’s thrilling, incredibly unnerving, and features the same extraordinary animation. It’s no longer available for purchase, but seek it out.


Summer Wars

Directed by:Mamoru Hosoda
2 discs, 120 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
Funimation, 2011

Jenny: A boy agrees to accompany a classmate home for a family gathering at the same time a hacker takes over the country’s most ubiquitous virtual reality game and begins to affect real world infrastructure, endangering lives in the process–and it’s up to the kiddos to make it all right before it’s too late. Solidarity and the power of both one and numbers are major themes. There’s a pleasant visual contrast between the traditional family home and the awesomely animated virtual world, and it all builds to a riveting climax.
Bonnie: I have to say this movie was a huge hit at my teen summer reading program. A normally noisy crowd of almost 40 teens was hushed for the final scenes (with the countdown). I could hear a pin drop. That’s NEVER the case when I show anime normally.


Sword of a Stranger

Directed by:Masahiro Ando
1 disc, 103 minutes,
Funimation, 2017

Sheli: When Chinese forces seek out a young boy, No Name is the only warrior who comes to his defense. Set in feudal Japan, Sword of the Stranger is a superbly animated movie. The fights scenes are gorgeous, but are well complemented by the plot of the story. Should probably be considered R for all of the bloodshed.
Jenny: Ooh, yes, Sword of the Stranger is beautifully animated. The nuance of everyday little things, like the hair-washing scene, is simply impressive.


Tokyo Godfathers

Directed by:Satoshi Kon
1 disc, 91 minutes,
MPAA rating: PG-13
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, 2004

Robin: This one is especially lovely during the holidays, as it’s a story that centers around Christmas and is full of the idea of finding family and forgiveness. It’s also directed by Satoshi Kon, already rightfully mentioned for Millennium Actress and Paranoia Agent, but it’s so much sweeter than his usual. The sharp wit and observations on character are just as potent, but this very ordinary adventure of three homeless people who find a baby on Christmas Eve is poignant without being maudlin and funny without being too manic.


Whisper of the Heart

Directed by:YoshifumiKondo
Based on manga by Aoi Hiiragi
1 disc, 111 minutes
MPAA rating: G
Studio Ghibli/Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2006

Sheli: One of the only Studio Ghibli movies not directed by Miyazaki (although he did author the screenplay and storyboards), Whisper of the Heart is slice of life. It tells the story of two high school students and their adorable budding romance.


TELEVISION SERIES


Azumanga Daioh: The Animation Complete Collection

Directed by:HiroshiNishikiori
Based onmanga by:KiyohikoAzuma
6 discs, 650 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Company Age Rating: 13+
Section23 Films, 2009

Allen: What makes this series so appealing to me is that it’s just good fun. Incredibly light hearted in tone, endlessly silly and cute, it is the perfect show to watch if you ever need to smile or unwind.


Case Closed

Directed by:Kenji Kodama
Based on manga by Gosho Aoyama
4 discs, 600 minutes, Episodes 1-26
MPAA rating: 13UP
Funimation, 2009

Jennifer H.: Sherlock Holmes type detective with a little sci-fi thrown in as the main character is a teenager who has been transformed into a little boy.


Le Chevalier D’Eon

Directed by:Kazuhiro Furuhashi
4 discs, 600 minutes, Episodes 1-24
Company Age rating: TV14
Funimation, 2010

Snow: Le Chevalier d’Eon is a rather strange blend of historical fiction and body-swapping horror. After his sister is killed the d’Eon becomes possessed by her spirit and caught up in a mystical plot to take over the French throne of Louis XV. I liked that the characters were distinct enough for me to be able to easily tell them apart — good for when you’re new to anime — and I enjoyed the political thriller aspects of the story.


Cowboy Bebop

Directed by:Shinichiro Watanabe
6 discs, 650 minutes, Episodes 1-26
MPAA rating: 13UP
Bandai Entertainment, 2006

Bonnie: For people who like detective stories and jazz. A short series (26 episodes) that mixes action, science fiction, noir, and comedy. Excellent voice work and music.
Jenny: Yup, yup, Bebop is cool beans. Groundbreaking for its merging of traditional and CG animation, it was my gateway drug into anime. And Yoko Kanno creates some of the best soundtracks (and just music in general) out there. Bebop‘s is all jazz and blues and funkiness and is great listening all by itself.
Robin: This one was MY first anime in the sense of a show I had to sit down and watch in order once I caught an episode on Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network. I was hooked from the get go.


Fullmetal Alchemist

Directed by:Seiji Mizushima
Based on manga by Hiromu Arakawa
4 discs, 625 minutes, Episodes 1-25
Company Age Rating: 13UP
Funimation, 2010

Jenny: In a vaguely between-world-wars Eastern European setting, two young brothers sacrifice more than they realize when they try to use alchemy to bring back their dead mother. In their quest to right their mistake, they uncover a dark history hinting at a still-in-motion plot that threatens their whole nation. Military matters and alchemical magic in a story about love of friends, family, country, and all that is right. Another of my favorites, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the second version of the story, is equally excellent once you get a few episodes in.
Robin: This one has particular appeal, IMHO, to fantasy novels fans. It includes much of what is best in fantasy — slow character development, gradual and impressive world-building, a web of politics, and a strong reflection of our own history and world turned just a bit on its head.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOm_PAI2goo


Fruits Basket

Directed by:Nagisa Miyazaki
Based on manga by Natsuki Takaya
4 discs, 580 minutes, Episodes 1-26
TV rating: TV PG, 13+
Funimation, 2004

Sadie: Though I’m not sure Fruits Basket is for the uninitiated in that I’ve found that Tohru is a hard character for western people to like right off the bat and some of the cultural stuff – valentine’s day, etc. can get lost. However, my husband who HATES anime liked this series because of the humor.
Sheli: Fruits Basket was one of my first anime, and I still adore it.


Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Directed by:Mahiro Maeda
4 discs, 600 minutes, Episodes 1-24
TV rating: TV MA
Funimation, 2009

Robin: This one may seem a bit of an oddball recommendation, but I’ve had a lot of luck introducing people to the way anime mishmashes many types of story together. For librarians and book folks, they are intrigued by the idea of a sci-fi Count of Monte Cristo and spinning the story around to be told from Albert’s point of view rather than the Count’s. For everyone, the incredible visuals — it’s like a kaleidoscope on screen much of the time, and thus does take some getting used to, but it is glorious — are immediately immersive and impressive.


Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Directed by:Kenji Kamiyama
Based on manga by Masamune Shirow
7 discs, 650 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2008

Russ: Ghost in the Shell? The movie is another Akira. DENSE with ideas and atmosphere, and another hard sell. But I think the Stand Alone Complex series is much more approachable, like a Sci-Fi CSI or another police procedural. Plus more Yoko Kanno music!
Robin: Russ, I’m totally with you on Ghost in the Shell: SAC. It’s much more accessible while still being about the themes the original manga addressed: humanity, AI, and just what makes a soul. It does lack that fantastic treat of a credit sequence from the original, but it also doesn’t require the bizarre suspension of disbelief that Kusanagi runs around completely naked most of the time.


Glass Mask

Directed by:Mahiro Maeda
Based on manga by Suzue Miuchi
4 discs, 650 minutes, Episodes 1-26
TV rating: TV PG
Section 23, 2010

Jennifer H.: About a girl who wants to be an stage actress and how she becomes her role.


Gurren Lagann

Directed by:Hiroyuki Imaishi
6 discs, 775 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Aniplex, 2013

Jenny: Simon and his big “brother” Kamina escape their isolated underground village and join with other misfits on the surface to discover the truth behind their world, the universe, and everything. I don’t normally find mecha a draw, but I love this show anyway. It includes mild fan service that, refreshingly, is somewhat balanced between the sexes.


Last Exile

Directed by:Hiroshi Nagahama
4 discs, 625 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Company Age Rating: 13UP
Funimation, 2011

Jenny: Two kids who usually deliver air mail get caught up in a major conflict when their latest package turns out to be a very special little girl. Great animation, airships with cannons, and spunky youngsters.


Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Directed by:Kenji Kamiyama
8 discs, 650 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Company Age Rating: 13UP
VIZ Media, 2014

Jenny: A lone spearwoman is secretly hired by one of the Mikado’s wives to protect her young son, who is believed to be the bearer of future misfortune for the kingdom. Nice though oddly flat animation, a strong female lead, and creative world-building. I didn’t care for the rather stiff dub, but the sub is fine and the story involving.


Mushi-shi

Directed by:Hiroshi Nagahama
Based on manga by Yuki Urushibara
4 discs, 625 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Company Age Rating: 13UP
Funimation, 2010

Snow: Mushi-shi follows the travels of Ginko, a “mushi master,” one who can see and work with mushi, proto-organizisms that can cause problems for humans when disturbed or disordered. The subtle fantasy/horror setting is gentle enough that I’d recommend it to viewers skittish about scary stuff and it is beautiful enough to keep them glued to their seats. I especially enjoyed the environmental message and the stunningly gorgeous art and music.
Robin: I’ve found this to be a good bridge for folks who really enjoy Miyazaki’s strong environmental and mythical topics but are looking for something a bit older, and a bit more spooky at times.


Naoki Urasawa’s Monster

Directed by:Masayuki Kojima
Based on manga by Naoki Urasawa
3 discs, 330 minutes, Episodes 1-15
VIZ Media, 2009

Jenny: A genius young doctor ostracized for saving the life of a child over that of a society bigwig begins to feel responsible for the consequences when he suspects the boy may be a cold-blooded serial murderer. This series is methodical, tense, and engrossingly complicated. I’ve read the whole manga series which the anime follows very carefully: chills and moral dilemmas aplenty!
Robin: This anime is in many ways a classic police procedural — creator Urasawa excels at those, and this series hits all the necessary notes. Give it to folks who really enjoy BBC mysteries and serial killer thrills like Wire in the Blood or the various inspector series (Inspector Lynley, Morse, Lewis, and so on.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yM0gjM96nxk


Ouran High School Host Club

Directed by:Shinichiro Watanabe
Based on manga by Bisco Hatori
4 discs, 600 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Company Age rating: 13UP, TV14
Funimation, 2010

Bonnie: This series may be a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated, but it’s a bit like jumping into a cold pool – you’ll warm up to it quickly! This romantic comedy parodies many anime/manga stereotypes and styles, serving as a great introduction to a variety of genres.


Outlaw Star

Directed by:Mitsuru Hongo
Based on manga by Takehito Ito
6 discs, 650 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Company Age rating: 13UP
Bandai Entertainment, 2006

Jennifer H.: Galactic treasure hunt!


RahXephon

Directed by:Yutaka Izubuchi
8 discs, 770 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Company Age rating: 16UP
Section 23, 2009

Russ: For those who want to include Neon Genesis Evangelion, but think it’s too hard for newbies to understand I would recommend RahXephon. Same cool techno-alien enemies, same cool “what’s really going on?” vibe, and same touch of the surreal… but without going completely existential at the end. I’ve always thought this one got overlooked.


Red Garden

Directed by:Kou Matsuo
4 discs, 600 minutes, Episodes 1-22
Company Age rating: TVMA
Funimation, 2009

Robin: This one is, I think, a more rarely seen series, but I’ve found it’s a great recommendation for fans of series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Complicated, strong teenage heroines and a good strong dose of creepy horror. The violence is pretty key, so it’s for older teens and adults (much like Buffy was). The animation is beautiful and incredibly disturbing when warranted (undead folks need to be super-creepy, right?) and the credit sequence is jarringly upbeat and perfect for the series.


Robotech

Directed by:Robert Barron
17 discs, 878 minutes, Episodes 1-85
A&E Home Video, 2011

Russ: I’d add this to the list, mainly because Harmony Gold edited (some would argue butchered) it so it was easier for American audiences to get. As an adult, I’m not sure mashing together 3 separate anime series into one US conglomeration is entirely successful, but as a teen I just didn’t know or care. People driving vehicles that turn into mecha, along with a soap-opera-ish story and no robots running things like in Transformers? I was SO THERE.
Robin: I know many purists will argue with this being included on such a list, but I do know it remains a cultural touchstone for many viewers.


Samurai Champloo

Directed by:Shinichiro Watanabe
7 discs, 650 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Flying Dog, 2011

Jenny: Orphaned Fuu enlists two polar-opposite ronin, dignified Jin and rule-less Mugen, to help her search for the samurai who smells of sunflowers. Hysterical and moving in turn, with beautifully animated action and characters you can’t help but love from the very first episode. One of my favorites.
Robin: I’ve got to agree with Jenny on this one. The combination of hip hop culture and samurai culture is energetic and startlingly perfect, and the animation is gorgeous. This series grabs you from the first episode and doesn’t let you go. The violence keeps it for older teens and adults, though.


Samurai 7

Directed by:Toshifumi Takizawa
7 discs, 600 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Funimation, 2011

Jenny: A re-imagining of Kurosawa’s classic with sci-fi elements and nicely done CG that manages to keep the spirit and pathos and humor of the original while being its own attractive, dramatic, complex little beasty.


Trigun

Directed by:Satoshi Nishimura
Based on manga by Yasuhiro Nightow
4 discs, 650 minutes, Episodes 1-26
Company Age rating: 13UP
Funimation, 2010

Jenny: Trigun is a nice transition into anime for western audiences because it has so much western appeal. For one thing, it’s actually a western. Sort of. Sci-fi with dusters and fancy guns, lots of giggles, and a few tears. (Wolfwood and Vash sitting on that couch just kills me every time.) Peacenik Vash “The Stampede” has a habit of leaving a wake of destruction (and big insurance claims) in his wake, so the insurance company for the region sends two agents out after him to reign him in and keep him out of trouble (and their money in their coffers, where they like it). But they discover pretty quickly that he’s just finding the trouble and not making it. An old-school space dramedy anchored to a post-apocalyptic wild west. “Love and peace!”

Bonus titles

A number of NFNT folks recommended titles that are currently unavailable on DVD, but if you’ve got these in your collection, it may well be worth a spin in the DVD player. Additionally, Jenny recommends three titles to keep an eye on that are currently streaming and hopefully will be available for purchase in the future.

Hanasaku Iroha

(available streaming on Crunchyroll)

Jenny: Teen Tokyo girl gets shipped off to strict grandmother’s traditional inn in the country when irresponsible mom decides to run off with boyfriend of the moment. Lovely, funny, and sweet as Ohana learns the value of work, family, friends, and finding your own path. There’s a bit of mild fan service.


Inuyasha

Based on manga by Rumiko Takahashi

Bonnie: Time-travel, school girls battling demons, and star-crossed lovers. When I think of your stereotypical anime, I often think of Inuyasha. It’s epic fantasy and romance, mixed with weird bits of humor and action. For the uninitiated, you don’t have to watch all 167 episodes and four films to get the Inuyasha experience. However, it’s a great way to get your feet wet and see a classic shonen series.


Natsume’s Book of Friends

Based on manga by Yuki Midorikawa
NIS America, 2014

Jenny: After being shuffled about from one distant relative to another, spirit-seeing Natsume finally finds a stable home and begins to accept his lot in life as he deals with local yokai and his deceased grandmother’s shrouded past. This series is heart-warming even when it’s melancholoy, always thoughtful, often funny, and occasionally scary. Watching Natsume connect with other people for the first time in his life, and especially watching him interact with his mouthy “white pig” kitty guardian, makes me so, so happy.


Paradise Kiss

Based on manga by Ai Yazawa

Robin: For all those fans of romantic coming of age stories, and those Nana fans who can no longer get Ai Yazawa’s first series since Tokyopop went kaput, this anime is a great adaptation. Ai Yazawa is known for telling tales of girls that hit many of the traditional romantic notes: good girl falls for a disreputable boy, finding friends and allies with the misfits. At the same time, Yazawa treats the journey seriously and, without giving too much away, acknowledges that even the most delicious bad boy may not be what a girl truly needs once she’s grown up. For a manga that was based in the world of fashion, all of the clothes are a treat, and it’s especially wonderful to see all of those fantabulous outfits rendered in color in the anime. Whenever I watched this anime (in my iPod, for a while there) I would always, always just let the end credits roll between episodes so I could dance around on the subway platform to Franz Ferdinand’s “Do You Want To.”


Roujin Z

Allen: Mindless, hysterical fun involving teens who must come to the rescue of an elderly man who has inadvertently taken control of a robotic caretaker bed that has taken on the personality of his dead wife. It’s funny, it’s charming and honestly, how can that plot NOT intrigue you?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvJHirH8vnE


Tiger & Bunny

(available streaming on Hulu, VIZ currently has an English dub underway)

Jenny: For something with western-hemisphere (as opposed to western-high-noon) flavor that’s more recent, Hulu’s streaming the swell superhero action series Tiger & Bunny. Quality writing, fun personalities, accessible stories, and well-integrated CG animation make this a great introductory series for people who think all anime is about teenagers, for teenagers. The characters are adults (one even has a kid) and the plots center around the day-to-day protection of their city as well as their back stories (which do not always stay in the past). Great buddy-cop chemistry and there’s more on the way. Not sure on the rating, but I’d say older teen and adult, mostly due to violence and antagonist Jake’s vocabulary.

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.

Please check out our updated list as of April 2014 over here!

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.