We’re stuck in the middle of a heatwave and a pretty fine summer (everyone’s finally getting out for vacation!). Why not spend some time curled up with some good manga while you cool down and plan your next getaway trip?
Kirby Manga Mania Volume 1 (VIZ Media)
Man, we never really got the crazy Nintendo manga back in the 90s, huh? In the vein of Super Mario Manga Mania, here are a few stories featuring everyone’s favorite pink puffball. Much like the other anthology, this one has a normally silent protagonist talk, and it’s… a mixed bag. I think I’ll grow into this interpretation of Kirby in time, but for now it’s just a neat little time capsule with what Japanese mangaka could get away with in terms of using Nintendo IP.
Like Super Mario Manga Mania, this is not a complete collection of Kirby stories, but rather a greatest hits package of the series. However, unlike that volume, this one relies on more standalone capers rather than a strict game adaptation. (If there are any, I wouldn’t know since they aren’t included here.) This means that King Dedede, Kirby, and friends can be as non-canonical as they want, and it won’t really matter! This type of freedom works for a gag manga, since continuity is something that usually doesn’t work in something like this. I also like how Kirby uses “pepoh” as a verbal tic (not the trademark “poyo” we know and love, but close enough).
I’m going to draw another comparison to Super Mario Manga Mania, but this feels like Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo on steroids in some chapters; the first story here is about Kirby literally getting drunk… erm, loopy with loopy juice. (It’s an all-ages manga with adult beverages, go figure.) Most of the stories are basically Kirby annoying King Dedede to no end, much like Spongebob pestering Squidward. In all honesty, this anthology works since it doesn’t rely on decades of franchise history, though it does help if you’re a fan of the Kirby series since a lot of mechanics and gags are references to the Game Boy, NES, and SNES titles.
It’s weird seeing Kirby… talk, but thanks to the butchered anime edit in the west, it feels a little more natural than the Super Mario Manga. We also get a brand-new chapter (or at least a few new pages that took place after the manga series ended). It also helps that this one is getting a volume 2 in the west this year, so I can appreciate this a bit more. As it stands though, it’s a weird book for fans but delightful, nonetheless.
Rating: 3 out of 5 UwUs
No. 5 Volume 1 (VIZ Media)
A long while ago I watched Tekkon Kinkreet, an anime film which is based on Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkon Kinkreet: Black & White. It was a visual treat (if incomprehensible at times), and even though the art style was rough and wildly inconsistent, it was a great film to watch. I can see the influence in his recently re-released No. 5, which does have the same inconsistent art style and a strange premise that I want to continue to read, even if it goes over my head the first time around.
In No. 5, the world is kept safe through the superhuman Peace Corps, with the Rainbow Brigade running the military through 9 different officers. Unfortunately for them, however, No. 5 (the character) has defected and efforts to retrieve him have fatal results, as seen with No. 9’s almost immediate death. He has the mysterious Matryoshka in tow, an otherwise normal woman with whom No. 5 has a connection. This omnibus chronicles the hardships that No. 5 has to endure in a fight for freedom against former friends in a strange world.
I went through this omnibus twice and determined the plot is rather simple, but unfortunately the art style doesn’t have a cohesive theme to it. I can see the narrative significance to this; it’s as if every officer has their own unique style which is reflected within the chapter’s art. However, it largely works to the narrative’s detriment rather than benefit. That said, it’s not an easily digestible read and if you’re not willing to pick it apart, you might end up disappointed. (It’s somewhat telling that the original American release of this series got cancelled after two volumes.) I think the audience for this type of avant-garde experimental manga is there, and I’m definitely excited to see future volumes, but this one is hard to recommend unless you’re really into the sci-fi stylings of Matsumoto.
Rating: 2 out of 5 UwUs
Undead Unluck Volume 2 (VIZ Media)
Hey, remember the last time when I reviewed Undead Unluck Volume 1 that I was excited for future volumes? Well, here we are now! I’m still cautiously optimistic about where the series is headed, but for now it’s at a level that I can give this a solid recommendation.
After a couple of harrowing battles, Andy and Fuuko are now in the Union, a legion of superpowered individuals with “Un-“abilities. It’s explained that the Negators of the Union are at odds with the monstrous UMA, and both factions fight one another in order to fulfill their goals. If one side wins, an advantage is given towards humanity or UMA, with one of the worst punishments being a total UMA invasion. Andy and Fuuko decide to work with Shen to apprehend UMA Spoil, a vicious being that’s capable of turning a town into zombies. It’s up to the trio to try and detain the monster while also trying not to become mindless undead creatures themselves.
It seems that the series has finally found its groove in the double-digit chapters, as the interactions with Andy and Fuuko are a lot more grounded (i.e. less inherently creepy). The “touch Fuuko’s body to activate power” mechanic is still prevalent, but it’s way more subtle and creatively used here. I also enjoyed how Andy continues to act as a Japanese Deadpool, using his Undead power against even more undead monsters while maintaining a jovial personality. Well, jovial until his secret comes out near the last few chapters here, but I’ll let you figure that out later. There’s still a bit more balance that needs to come with the action and comedy, but it’s a fun ride that you should definitely follow now that more volumes are coming out.
Rating: 3 out of 5 UwUs
By the Grace of the Gods Volume 2 (Square Enix Books)
Sometimes you want your Isekai to be an overwhelming power fantasy, and other times you just want it to be a slow burn (with powerful characters, but you know what I mean). By the Grace of the Gods is the latter, and while it does end with a conflict brewing, it’s a rather relaxing series to chill out and just have a fun time.
After dying and being reincarnated into another land, systems engineer-turned adventurer Ryoma Takebashi is settling into the world as a young child. After helping the Jamil family with his army of slimes, he decides to travel with them as he enters his first town and even joins the nearby Tamer guild in order to increase his rank and train. His conversations with the gods who reincarnated him have also forewarned him not to stick out too much, so this volume is how Ryoma adapts to social surroundings and interacting with people in general.
It’s refreshing to see such a pure and goodhearted take on Isekai, even if the end result is something that doesn’t progress as much in terms of the plot. Ryoma and Eliaria (the Jamil family’s youngest adventurer) have a nice chemistry together, and this volume deals a bit with the lore surrounding those who have been reincarnated. In fact, the Jamil family’s descendants were actually from earth, which means this is a periodic event.
Again, at this point in the series, By the Grace of the Gods isn’t hitting you with action-packed battles or high-stakes arcs, just some good clean slice-of-life action featuring a few sparring moments. It does help a bit that Ryoma is pretty skilled with almost everything he does (owing to his salaryman past life), but even if he’s overpowered, it doesn’t feel like it’s a detriment to the story. There isn’t anything exceptional this volume does, but it’s still a fluffy read in the sea of bloodbaths of shonen and seinen series.
Rating: 3 out of 5 UwUs
A Man & His Cat Volume 3 (Square Enix Books)
A Man & His Cat was my personal pick for cutest manga series probably ever, and this third volume of Mr. Kanda and his cat Fukumaru is still as adorable as ever. While the second volume of the manga started to get a little stale with its one-trick pony adorable angle, this volume creates a more serious conflict that the duo have to overcome, along with the series’ trademark cuteness.
Like the previous volumes, these chapters include the slice-of-life adventures of elderly music teacher Kanda and his homely but adorable cat Fukumaru as the former becomes attached to his newfound feline friend. The author explains that around this time, the series was moving to other magazines, which means the four-panel structure that was prevalent in the first two volumes started to diminish in its frequency. Instead, we have longer chapters with storylines that reference the duo’s past lives before they met each other in the pet store. We also get some character development with the younger Moriyama (whose relationship with Mr. Kanda feels a bit ambiguous at the moment) as he tries to invite Kanda to a recital.
It turns out that Kanda has some inner demons with his past career as a pianist, and it’s during this time where we truly get to see A Man & His Cat shine. Its blend of lighthearted comedy mixed with equally emotional drama works well, as now the story focuses on Kanda sorting through his past trauma with losing his wife and love of performing music. Oddly enough, even Fukumaru gets some more dramatic flair attached to him, as the story introduces the rest of his family litter. We’re going to see more of the cat’s family, and I can’t wait to see the series flesh out this development.
Really the only thing I can say negatively about this volume is that the remnants of the four-panel days are still here, which feels a bit jarring after some emotionally charged storylines. Still, this is one of the cutest manga on shelves, and it’s a great read for anyone who’s ever felt the love of a pet.
Rating: 4 out of 5 UwUs
Ya Boy Kongming! Volume 1 (Kodansha Comics)
Oh hey, reverse Isekai, my favorite! As a fan of the Dynasty Warriors series, I have a passing knowledge of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I also like wacky anachronistic hijinks, which means the first volume of Ya Boy Kongming! was basically made for me.
We begin our story with Zhuge Liang, also known as Kongming, on his deathbed, the Shu empire facing defeat. As he draws his final breath, he’s whisked away to Japan, where he’s younger but still out of place because his dynasty outfit sticks out like a sore thumb. Thankfully, he’s plopped in the middle of a Halloween party in a club, and people love his “cosplay”. It’s here where he meets Eiko, a struggling part-timer who sings when she can. After a chance interview with Kobyashi (the owner who serendipitously adores The Romance of the Three Kingdoms as well), Kongming gets a job as a bartender and swears allegiance to helping Eiko with her singing career.
Honestly, the premise is what got me hooked from the first page. Kind of like Stitch and the Samurai, the fact that you have a serious master strategist going up against EDM beats and Instagram followers in a legitimately entertaining story is awesome. While the art can be a bit simplistic at times, the character designs (specifically of Kongming himself) are fun and dazzling. The main draw here is in its writing, and adapting concepts like using the Stone Sentinel Maze to make clubgoers stay inside the venue is pretty ingenious. I like the client relationship Zhuge Liang has with his mentee Eiko, and the absurdity of it all has enough staying power for at least a few volumes before it needs to change. Quite simply, Ya Boy Kongming! is like a song that I would put on repeat for months and not get bored.
Rating: 5 out of 5 UwUs
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 5 Volume 1 (VIZ Media)
I never followed the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure hype back when it was gaining traction a few years back, but I started reading the manga back in 2019 and now I understand why it’s so darn loved by many. It’s dripping with hypermasculine action that’s flashy and has pretty inventive battles, and I’m glad we’re getting a Stone Ocean anime soon. In the meantime, VIZ Media’s been re-releasing the manga in the west for the first time with the deluxe versions of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure hardcovers, with Part 5 chronicling the Golden Wind arc. The only part of the series we’ve had in manga form was Stardust Crusaders, so it’s refreshing to see these oversized deluxe versions grace the shelves.
Giorno Giovanna has a dream: To become the most infamous mafioso in Italy. Not the most noble of goals, but this volume shows that he has a moral compass guiding his decisions, similar to the rest of the Joestar clan. Unlike his ancestors, however, Giorno is a bit more harsh as this volume chronicles his journey to infiltrate Passione, a seedy Mafia group.
Oh right. He’s the descendant of DIO BRANDO, the series antagonist and generally bad person.
Thankfully, he’s got his trusty Stand, Golden Wind, to help him out of a bind. These first few chapters highlight a few introductory (but still flashy) fight scenes between him and fellow Stand user Bruno Bucciarati. It can get a bit nauseating and claustrophobic with the fight between him and Bruno, but overall it’s a great debut. (You also get that signature scene with Bruno’s tongue. You know the one.)
While all the parts are pretty standalone, I feel like Golden Wind is the first one where you need to read previous parts, to the point where Diamond is Unbreakable’s Koichi Hirose is a focal character for the beginning and the end of this volume. (His Stand, Reverb, has some pretty cool scenes here as well.) I would recommend picking up the Stardust Crusaders and Diamond is Unbreakable hardcovers first if you want to make sense of the deeper narratives here, but if this is your first JoJo adventure, you’re in for a bizarrely fun time.
Rating: 4 out of 5 UwUs
Versus Fighting Story Volume 1 (ABLAZE Manga)
I’ve only recently gotten into some of ABLAZE Publishing’s released works (mainly because I tend to shy away from more mature-themed media), but I didn’t realize they have a steady stream of manga releases in the pipeline. One such title is the debut of Versus Fighting Story, a surprisingly heartfelt tribute to the competitive fighting game eSports scene that mixes some awesome Street Fighter V gameplay with an adventure that’s a mix of goofy antics and serious stakes.
Versus Fighting Story centers around the cocky protagonist Maxime Volta, who gets kicked off his uncle’s eSports team after a humiliating Street Fighter V performance at Capcom Pro Tour 2016. Due to his unprofessionalism against Japanese opponent Saizo, Eric Volta disbands the Arkadia team and Max is resigned to a life of dead-end sidejobs. Thankfully, game store employee and daughter of the famed TKO the Destroyer Inés gets Max out of his funk as the two try to create a new team for Capcom Pro Tour 2018. In the meantime, team politics are pressuring Eric Volta’s new Team Arkadia as new groups are trying to steal the newly acquired Saizo from the entrepreneur’s roster. What will happen to Max and Saizo’s fated rematch?
Versus Fighting Story excellently switches between a lighthearted eSports story and surprisingly competent fighting game primer on the fly, as the characters take their reputation and dedication for fighting games as seriously as, say, Yu-Gi-Oh or Ready Player One. Characters will spout combo strings and advanced attacks on the fly, and some characters have goofy personalities to match their stage presence. (One character from the new Arkadia team literally thinks he’s Guile due to him maining the fighter.) It’s a weird tale that got me hooked after the first chapter. It may turn off some people that don’t enjoy the subject matter, but honestly this is a great portrayal of the glitzy glamor and harsh setting that eSports can have.
If there’s one thing that Versus Fighting Story does right, it’s that it explains fighting game jargon without being bogged down by too much explanation. You’ve got basic terms like reversals and stances to more technical ones like okizeme and meaty attacks, plus Street Fighter V-specific techniques like the V-gauge. If you’re completely new to the game and don’t know the history of it, then you might get lost but the manga does an excellent job of putting notes within the pages to briefly explain what’s going on. I also enjoyed the fighting guide at the end of the volume that explains some of the more technical aspects of what was going on in the matches.
For those that love Street Fighter V, you’ll be happy to know that Versus Fighting Story does a cool job blending the in-game graphics with the manga art style, with it being a mish-mash of screenshots and in-game models together with different backgrounds. It’s not like they’re blowing up gameplay onto a screentone panel, there’s a lot of effort going on in portraying the gameplay accurately but also to fit the manga format. It’s not in color, which makes this a surprisingly great conversion.
All in all, Versus Fighting Story is a wonderful eSports manga and a definite winner for those looking for a refreshing take on the fighting game scene. I’m definitely keeping my eye on what ABLAZE manga puts out next!
Rating: 4 out of 5 UwUs
Crueler Than Dead Volume 1 (ABLAZE Manga)
Look, zombie media has been reaching a critical mass at this point, and with juggernauts like The Walking Dead basically finished at this point, I think it’s fine to cool down on the undead for a bit. Well, unless you can freshen up the subgenre at this point, which the new series Crueler Than Dead hopes to do. I had a surprisingly good time with this one, and can’t wait for the next one soon!
University student Maki Akagi mysteriously awakens in a medical facility, not knowing how she got there. After escaping a zombie ambush, she’s told by a dying soldier that she and the child next to her (nicknamed Shota) were actually infected by the zombie outbreak that’s currently plaguing Japan. Serendipitously, scientists created a vaccine that they tested on multiple subjects; they are the only two who survived and have returned to normal, with the ability to harness the strength that comes with zombification. Tasked with delivering the remaining doses back to Tokyo Dome (apparently a place where survivors are holed up), the duo need to survive the journey in order to help save the world.
The fact that both Maki and Shota are able to voluntarily use their undead strength when the situation calls for it reminds me of King of Eden, and that’s something that I wish more zombie-centric media could try in the future. There haven’t been many comic or television series where people can get cured of zombification (even The Walking Dead had a more ambivalent approach to life post-infection at the end), so the fact that this outbreak could be resolved if only the protagonists arrive on time is a refreshing premise.
As is the case for most works that deal with the undead, there’s a ton of gore and hapless victims of the infection. The art is a bit rough at times, and both Maki and Shota look a bit off-model when becoming part-zombie, but other than that this first volume is a great beginning to an ambitious zombie manga.
Rating: 4 out of 5 UwUs
Missed last month’s Manga Minis column? Check it out here, and stay tuned for more news here on Gaming Trend.