You’ve probably heard of these three.
PARASYTE (Hitoshi Iwaaki, Vol. 1-5)
The sudden Parasyte resurgence (anime adaptation, two-parter live movie, spin-off) almost two decades after the manga was first published remains a mystery to me. Not that I’m complaining, mind. I haven’t sampled any of the new content, but I’m now enjoying Iwaaki’s original manga re-printed by my local publisher. I’m already familiar with the story through an illegally published version some years ago, and now that the legitimate version exists I figure I’ll have to pay my dues.
Parasyte presented the plight of its teenage protagonist Shinichi against invasion of shape-shifting aliens, made even more complicated by his uneasy symbiotic relationship with one such species (“Migi”) that has taken over his right arm. Shinichi’s physiological and psychological transformation formed the thematic backbone of this series, as he struggles to maintain his humanity while having to deal with deadly enemies, Migi’s survivalist philosophy, and the reality that he’s been transformed into a living weapon and half-alien hybrid. Hence, a metaphorical journey of male adolescence, but Iwaaki’s story-telling always has certain distinctness that sets his work apart from the likes of other seinen manga, superhero comic, and young adult novels that explored the same theme.
The dynamics between Shinichi and Migi is the most interesting aspect in the series, which also epitomized how the invading aliens are depicted. They’re pragmatic and amoral, but not necessarily evil. It’s fascinating to see the many different Parasytes in the story, the way their individual qualities emerged, and how they react and adjust to the world they’re integrating themselves into (most prominently Migi, but also ‘Reiko Tamiya’, an enigmatic Parasyte that took over the body of a woman and gave birth to a human child). I also appreciate how Iwaaki showed the post-Parasyte society that grows increasingly aware instead of being clueless, and even used it as source of humor amidst all the body horror and decapitations (e.g. the end of Volume 4, where people pull off each other’s hair to determine they’re not Parasyte).
I and my friends affectionately refer to Iwaaki’s art work as ‘old-school’, and it’s been amusing to see fans of the anime adaptation gotten surprised once they read the manga. It can indeed be jarring when compared to modern action manga like, say, Naruto. Speed lines are much less frequent, background details aren’t as intricate, and as a whole the economical action scenes feel relatively static. It can also provide some unintentional comedy through the stare-off-into-distance look and overly dramatic faces that Iwaaki’s characters often adopt, which elicited plenty of chuckles from me. I definitely enjoyed the art though, as it complemented the narrative nicely in a unique combination of morbid fun, grotesqueness, and genuine emotional moments.
TOKYO GHOUL (Sui Ishida, Vol. 1-2)
Another entry to the ‘gory cat and mouse seinen starring young male protagonist with newfound body issue’ genre. TG is one of the most popular seinen series in recent years, and I can see why upon reading the first volume: it’s immediately gripping, with the kind of plot and character dynamics that would immediately stoke your curiosity. Almost right off the bat, main character Kaneki went from a dream date to a complete nightmare as he’s turned to a Ghoul—in this manga, human-devouring beings that co-exist in the society by masquerading as normal human. There are already familiar shounen-esque elements at play (fighting style, power hierarchy, factions, and customized outfits), but the main focus of these first two volumes is Kaneki’s painful transition.
I’m guessing that the manga will eventually chart Kaneki’s growth from a ‘herbivore’ into a bad-ass Ghoul. Not exactly an unfamiliar territory as far as seinen protagonist goes, but it’d be intriguing to see the process of getting there. It’s done a great job in gradually fleshing out the inner workings of Ghoul society and presenting a lot of stand-out moments already: Touka’s (main female character) outburst toward Kaneki’s prejudice against ghoulish lifestyle, the gut-wrenching loss in Volume 2, and the dietary hardships of Kaneki (simply put, every scene with regular food in it is superb).
On a related note: I’ve talked about the first two volumes of Ajin, and while I don’t dislike it, I’m dropping the manga for now in favor of TG and Parasyte. These three are being published simultaneously, and they largely occupy the same genre wheelhouse. Technically, there’s nothing wrong in following all three series, but I always want to diversify my manga shopping list and open up room for other type of works. So, why Ajin? It does have the best art work of the three (with especially striking line work and tone) and the most action-packed, but based on what I’ve seen from the admittedly small sample size, both TG and Parasyte offer stronger characterization and thematic. I may eventually get back to the manga or just Netflix’d the anime adaptation, although the latter option seems to present a significant downgrade in terms of aesthetic…
HAIKYUU!! (Haruichi Furudate, Vol. 1-3)
Having watched the anime, I was honestly a bit unsure about how good the manga is without the audiovisual strengths and dynamism that define the adaptation. Well, apparently I’ve underestimated Furudate’s capacity; this is not a case where an adaptation significantly elevated a so-so source material, it’s one where the latter already has a remarkable foundation to build upon. Characters are well-defined in terms of design and narrative roles, and it’s blindingly obvious from the very start that it belongs to the upper tier of its genre. Trust me, you don’t often get this level of art work and this kind of impact panel from the first volume of a sport manga.
Nevertheless, I must stress that Haikyuu!! also has its share of weak points. While I appreciate the busy and detailed look on each page, it can be too verbose for my liking (characters really like to explain basic things and say whatever on their mind at any point). The humor is repetitive, and there’s barely any notable content outside of characters playing/thinking/talking about volleyball. Still, these first three volumes are a lot of fun, establishing the egotistical rookies, traumatized seniors, and compelling rivals in snappy and effective manner (*the moment where Asahi broke through his mental barrier and demand for the ball may still be my favorite moment in the entire series).