Transformers: The Manga Vol. 1

Here we have a 1980s classic Transformers manga collection of three stories available for the first time in English. All written by the original author for the G1 series Transformer comic in Japan. The three stories, “Fight! Super Robot Life-Form Transformers”, “The Story of the Super Robot Life-Forms: The Star Transformers”, and “The Great Transformers War” tell us all about the origins of the autobots, decepticons, and how they face off with each other, on planet Earth. Despite these stories being written in the 1980s they do not feel dated, and could easily be enjoyed by children nowadays. 

Each story is quite short and often features full page images, or battle scenes that involve a lot of action words and not a lot of genuine dialogue. The plot of each of these tales is very shallow and unfortunately, don’t expect to see the unique personalities that you may be familiar with from more recent Transformers television shows, or movies. Bumblebee isn’t driving around making joke after joke. Instead the robots are all serious about fighting each other. These stories take place in and around Japan, instead of America, and feature the human character, Kenji. A Japanese boy who is made into an honorary autobot as he helps fight the bad guys too. A lot of silly sounding “curse you’s” are thrown in, making it a fairly repetitive line throughout. Overall, the stories would be better enjoyed by younger audiences who aren’t looking for as much depth, and instead can enjoy the artwork and action. 

Illustrator Magami, also known as the dynamic artist, did a wonderful job of creating action filled and exciting panels. These read from right to left, in typical manga fashion. Characters have expressive faces with typical manga style of large eyes and loud emotions. Action verbs explode out of panels. The book’s artwork starts off with a few glossy color pages explaining the basic background of who the transformers are, and ends with a large section of glossy pages featuring a mix of color and black and white images called Illustration Works. This features all kinds of magazine artwork from the mid to late 1980s. The three stories found in between this, are all in matte black and white. There are many scenes of the robots fighting each other, so do expect to see the transformer’s guns out, shooting bullets, airplanes getting shot down, etc. However it isn’t excessive, it is not gruesome, and it doesn’t contain anything more than what you would see on the animated television show or anime movie. 

This is a well-done translation of the original Transformers manga produced in 1986 by Japan. The stories are silly, and shallow with beautifully done detailed artwork. This series is recommended for readers aged 12-17 but I would recommend it for the youngest of that age range only. The entire series is already out, so if you purchase this one I would recommend completing this Transformers: The Manga series by buying volumes two and three.

Transformers: The Manga Vol. 1
By Masumi Kaneda
Art by Ban Magami
ISBN: 9781974710560
VIZ Media LLC, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 12-17
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Highlights: Japanese
Related to…: Classic to Comic

Manga Classics: Anne of Green Gables

The Manga Classics series has done it yet again with an excellent adaptation of Anne of Green Gables; turning the classic literature into an easy to read, and easy to understand story that put Prince Edward Island on the map. The book starts off with a beautiful quote, “Dedicated to all the children who dream…” and the family of original author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, provides their seal of approval with a foreword written by Montgomery’s granddaughter, Kate Macdonald Butler.

Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are siblings who decide to adopt a boy to help them manage their farm, Green Gables. By accident, a girl; Anne Shirley is sent instead of a boy. Anne is full of wonder, flowery language, and so much excitement at the thought of being adopted that Matthew decides to overlook the mistake and brings her home with him. Initially, Marilla and Anne have many differences to overcome, giving the story tension and comedic points. Anne has been raised as an orphan and has never been taught the social graces expected of a lady. Nor has she ever had to reign in her wild and colorful imagination that flows continuously from her. 

Crystal S. Chan works wonderfully with illustrator Kuma Chan by providing him with details of how certain scenes should be drawn to ensure their accuracy; including seating charts for where students are sat at Avonlea’s school. She includes an interesting section on this at the back of the book for readers to enjoy a bit of how a huge project like this came together. Kuma Chan’s style is true to manga style with this black and white book reading from right to left, and characters feature big eyes, small lips and dramatic hair; which is quite fitting for Anne’s famous red locks. The backgrounds are realistic and set to the time period of the story, keeping it more on the accurate side rather than the fantasy side, which is often the setting for manga novels. This would be appreciated by any reader who is looking for an adaptation that stays true to the original work. 

This is a very well done adaptation of the original Anne of Green Gables story. The medium of manga allows for a different interpretation of what’s happening in the story as we have visuals featured more prominently than simply text. Thought bubbles are shown as characters are having conversations, which gives the reader a full experience of what’s going on in a particular social interaction. As the author rightly points out in her notes at the end of this novel, it aids events in making them more clear and vivid. As a lover of the original story, however, I do have to admit that the flow of flowery language that is what Anne’s character is loved so much for doesn’t quite have the same feeling as reading through the original book. I highly recommend enjoying this manga version paired with the original version to truly enjoy how magical this story is.

Manga Classics: Anne of Green Gables 20
By Crystal S. Chan
Art by Kuma Chan
ISBN: 9781947808188
Manga Classics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 13-16
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits:
Creator Highlights:
Related to…: Classic to Comic

Betty and Veronica: The Bond of Friendship, vol.1

Betty and Veronica have come a long way in their 80 year history. From being each other’s biggest rivals, to now being each other’s BFFs, we have a whole new series of stories in this first original graphic novel. This series features a new artistic style, as well as brand new stories that haven’t appeared in any other Archie Comics

Riverdale High School has a career fair that has all the students buzzing. Betty and Veronica initially have quite different strategies for tackling the day, but quickly find themselves so awe struck by all the amazing role models that they decide to take in the presentations together. Veronica, the affluent and well networked one had very low expectations for what the first speaker, a female senator, had to say. However, once she hears the incredible struggle she went through to get where she is today, she becomes excited to learn as much as she can. There are great lessons of challenging your expectations, not making assumptions, and taking risks to try out new ideas. The story takes fantastic turns as the girls are shown as actual politicians, singers, models, superheroes, and astronauts. It’s a positive story that emphasizes to young females especially, that they can do anything they set their mind to. 

Illustrator Brittney Williams does an amazing job of reinventing the world of Riverdale. In this series, we find the town is full of a diverse population representing all different backgrounds. Betty and Veronica have big, dramatic eyes that are often used to emphasize emotions. There is a wide variety of panels to keep things aesthetically interesting, and functionally, to set the tone for that segment. Action scenes with words popping out of the page, sepia-toned memories from the past, and brightly colored story panels will keep readers engaged. Betty and Veronica do show off their bodies a bit. There are some short skirts, and cleavage included, as you would find to be typical of their outfit choices in other Archie Comics. There isn’t anything overtly sexual, the language is clean, and the fighting scenes when the girls are super heroes aren’t excessively violent. 

This is an Archie comic, however it is quite a different style of writing and drawing from what you may be used to if you’ve read them in the past. There are a lot of modernizations added to this new version of the Riverdale gang, for example, cell phones, social media usage such as YouTube make-up tutorials, and The Hills (MTV television series that ran from 2006-2010) are thrown in. The illustrator does a wonderful job of including diverse characters that show different religious beliefs, races, and backgrounds. And, of course, the characters don’t just stick around Riverdale anymore, they get to explore outer space and all kinds of different roles that they wouldn’t have done before. 

The only criticism I have is that the humor really fell flat or just wasn’t there. Archie Comics are known for being funny and this one just really wasn’t. This book does feature a lot of positive female characters who are in leadership positions, and in careers that are typically male dominated. Overall, if you are looking to add a comic book that showcases diversity and strong women, this would be a good series to start adding to your YA collection. 

Betty and Veronica: The Bond of Friendship, Vol. 1
By Jamie Lee Rotante
Art by Brittney Williams
ISBN: 9781645769859
Archie Blue Ribbon, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 12 – 17
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits:
Creator Highlights:
Related to…: Classic to Comic

Manga Classics: The Jungle Book, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Les Misérables, Hamlet

Adaptations of classic literature seem to be a logical step in the normalization of graphic literature in education. Manga Classics has cornered the market on manga adaptations, and deservedly so. Though I am not typically a fan of many graphic novel adaptations, I was thoroughly impressed with the work of Manga Classics. Manga Classics are not just for the young adult reluctant reader. They are fun, engaging ways for all to experience favorite classic novels. With the intention of making classic literature more accessible, a small team of story adaptors and artists have worked tirelessly to bring this project to life and, quite frankly, it shows. 

Let’s take a look at just four of the over sixteen titles currently adapted: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, adapted by Crystal S. Chan and illustrated by Julien Choy; Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, adapted by Crystal S. Chan and illustrated by SunNeko Lee; Hamlet by William Shakespeare, adapted by Crystal S. Chan and illustrated by Julien Choy; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, adapted by Crystal S. Chan and illustrated by Po Tse. The first noticeable similarity among all four volumes is the consistency and quality. The ability to adapt texts accurately and adequately across almost 300 years is a testament to Chan’s talent as a writer and story adapter. 

Of these adaptations, Les Misérables and The Jungle Book are particularly impressive. That Chan manages to condense Les Misérables, a novel clocking in at over 1000 pages, into less than 350 pages, without losing any of the context or emotion of the original text is a great indication of the works yet to come from the Manga Classics team. The primary difference? A manga adaptation is much less daunting than the original, behemoth book. Similarly, Chan makes The Jungle Book, a relatively dense text for modern readers, charming, fun, and accessible to a new generation of readers.

Fans of manga, both of new generations and old, will certainly enjoy the artwork throughout Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The fantastical premises of these works, rife with ghosts, fairies, and mythological figures, lend themselves to visual interpretation. Julien Choy and Po Tse bring these works to life through vivid imagery and beautiful character drawings. Tse’s interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s act two, scene one is nothing short of stunning. It takes a particular artistic skill to bring illumination and movement to black and white drawings, yet Tse is thoroughly successful. Choy is equally triumphant in bringing life to the ghost of Hamlet’s father. The artwork throughout all of these volumes is sure to appeal to manga fans everywhere. 

I cannot recommend volumes from the Manga Classics series enough. These volumes are fun, easily digestible, and clearly made with care and intent. Though I only reviewed four volumes of this series, I am confident that any volumes your library system selects from this series are a good investment. These volumes will fit on the shelf perfectly next to the rest of your library’s manga collection.

Manga Classics: The Jungle Book, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Les Miserables, Hamlet
By Crystal S. Chan
Art by Julien Choy, Po Tse, SunNeko Lee


The Jungle Book9781772940190
A Midsummer Night’s Dream9781947808102
Les Misérables9781927925164

UDON Entertainment Inc., 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 14+
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Indian
Creator Highlights: Chinese-American
Related to…: Classic to Comic

Opera Manga

19-CoverThis book, created by Vancouver Opera, contains short retellings of fourteen operas in comic form. A note at the beginning explains that these comics were originally printed in Japanese and put out in Japanese newspapers to promote the opera to Vancouver’s Japanese population – the operas chosen for the project were those performed by Vancouver Opera in 2005 through 2010. They were then translated and colored, and this book was released to celebrate Vancouver Opera’s fiftieth anniversary.

There is, as you would expect, a lot of tragedy here: Carmen, Madame Butterfly, Rigoletto. But, if I can be forgiven a bit of facetiousness, the thing that really made me sad was how poorly the book was put together and edited.

One of the first things I noticed in reading this was that the creators failed to account for the gutter at all. This means that whole words are lost in the crack between the pages, and I became frustrated trying to force the book open wider so that I could read these bits. There are also rampant misspellings and, in a real triumph of oversight, the last five pages – one and a half opera stories – are simply repeated. The book goes from The Marriage of Figaro to Madame Butterfly to . . . the middle of The Marriage of Figaro, followed by Madame Butterfly!

Despite the name, the art is not all done in a manga style. It varies from story to story. Many are drawn in a kind of simplified manga style, with panel backgrounds empty or extremely spare and little detail in the characters; a few, however, are done in loose paint and pastel styles, and one is drawn in distinctly American-style cartoons. I find these to be more skillfully done than the manga ones, which feature a lot of stiff poses and awkward facial expressions.

The language has been updated, and characters speak in modern, casual phrasing. This helps to make the stories accessible; it also injects some humor that, while perhaps not always present in the original work, is a fun little addition.

Obviously, any faults with the stories’ plot cannot be laid at the doors of this book’s creators. Still, condensing the operas so much can make their events blunt and sudden, rendering complex tragedies almost funny. I’m not a huge opera buff, but I did know some of these stories already; as far as I can tell, the summaries do capture, on the most basic level, the events of the operas they cover. This could be useful for someone who wants to understand in just a few minutes what is going on in a particular opera. The brevity of each story does not, however, allow for much characterization or emotional impact.

There’s quite a bit of violence, as you might imagine, but nothing grotesque. If a reader doesn’t mind the blood-splattering suicide scene on the cover (um, spoilers for Madame Butterfly?), there’s nothing gorier inside. There isn’t much sexual content, either; plenty of kissing, but no nudity. Not that’s shown, anyway; Salome squeaks by with the placement of her hair and veils.

The concept behind this book is a neat one, not unlike the Manga Shakespeare titles. I am left disappointed that the poor execution of it is impossible to ignore.

Opera Manga
by Todd Denis, Neil McBean, and Roy Husada
Art by Roy Husada, Fiona Meng and Jerry Cai
ISBN: 9781897548837
Arcana, 2010

The Hardy Boys: The New Case Files, vol. 1-2: Crawling with Zombies and Break-Up

Hardy Boys New Case FilesPapercutz branches out from their graphic novel continuations of the classic Hardy Boys adventure, Undercover Brothers, with the New Case Files. As advertised in the press releases and in the publicity contained in the books, “legendary comics writer, Gerry Conway and artist, Paulo Henrique, take the world-famous teen sleuths in a bold new direction that’s sure to thrill and possibly shock all Hardy Boys fans!”

I happen to be one of those Hardy Boys fans, as a collector of boys’ adventure series. I also have plenty of Hardy Boys readers at my library, mostly boys and girls ages 9-11 who enjoy the original adventures. A few of them also like the Undercover Brothers series. But I would have a hard time handing them this new series.

Frank and Joe, now working for ATAC (American Teens Against Crime) aren’t such a good team anymore. Joe is tired of Frank’s insistence on being the leader, making plans, and never jumping into the action. Frank is tired – and worried – about Joe’s heedless plunges into situations he hasn’t studied and his impulsive and reckless behavior. They’re both rubbing each other the wrong way and spend more time arguing than solving, or at least investigating crimes.

In Crawling with Zombies, Frank and Joe go undercover to find out why teen flash mobs masquerading as zombies are apparently losing control of their minds. They split up after an argument and Joe and their friend Chet plunge into a flash mob, where they promptly come under the influence of the mysterious mind control. Frank and his friend Belinda meanwhile, have discovered the source of the mind control chemicals, although not the person behind it all, and Frank’s last-minute arrival saves Joe and the other teens.

In Break-Up, there’s still no final solution for the previous mystery, but the boys are already moving onto a new problem; who is causing the dangerous and even fatal accidents on the reality show Break-Up, where teams of siblings compete in dangerous stunts? Joe’s impulsive behavior gets them into trouble, but he manages to gather important information and the two work together to get themselves out of a deadly trap. However, the shadowy figure behind it all is still a mystery. The story ends with the boys’ parents insisting on more family time so the boys can stop arguing.

The art definitely has a manga influence, with exaggerated facial expressions when the boys get excited or surprised, big eyes, and long flowing hair, especially for Joe, whose hair seems to grow and shrink on its own. Aunt Gertrude, now Aunt Trudy, looks about fifteen and the attempt to match her traditional disapproval of the boys and old-fashioned ideas with a new, updated character strikes a ridiculous note. There’s quite a bit of action and movement throughout the stories, with races, stunts, zombie mobs, police, and criminals, but the stories are dominated by Joe and Frank’s interpersonal problems and most of the artwork reflects this in close-ups of their faces with varying emotions.

What I find most difficult to swallow in these new stories is the intended audience. The Hardy Boys has always been a middle grade series and repeated attempts to update and make the stories interesting to an older audience have mostly failed. These stories seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of superhero comics with their attempt to “shock” readers with startling new personalities and out-of-character adventures for well-known protagonists.

Both Joe and Frank seem younger than their traditional ages of 17 and 18 with Joe’s naïve attempts to attract girls and Frank’s shyness and obvious discomfort with the idea of a girlfriend. However, the level of violence and the overall atmosphere of the stories seems aimed at a teen audience; in Crawling with Zombies, one of the main suspects is shot in front of the boys and Break-Up ends with another suspect stabbed in the back. At times the boys and their friends seem very young, especially when they’re squabbling, but then Chet pops up with a diagnosis of the boys’ problems that makes him sound like an adult. While it’s easy to suspend belief and imagine a couple teens pursuing mysteries in the original stories, it’s much harder to believe in a contemporary secret organizations employing teens to fight crime – and a modern father who would allow them to do so.

I wouldn’t put these in a juvenile graphic novel collection because of the violence and more mature themes, but I have trouble picturing a teen interested in picking up an updated Hardy Boys graphic novel, especially one that has too much violence for readers looking for an emotional read and too much emotion for those looking for an action story. If your library has a lot of teen fans of superhero comics, Gerry Conway (who’s well-known in that area) might pull in readers, but otherwise I don’t see a strong audience for this series. Stick to the original Hardy Boys series for middle grade readers who want mysteries and the Undercover Brothers series from Papercutz for older readers who want a graphic novel version.

The Hardy Boys: The New Case Files, vol. 1-2: Crawling with Zombies and Break-Up
by Gerry Conway
Art by Paulo Henrique
Vol. 1: Crawling with Zombies ISBN: 9781597072205
Vol. 2: Break-Up ISBN: 9781597072434
Papercutz, 2011