We’re back for the last chunk of the series I’m reading in Shogakukan’s anthology Weekly Shonen Sunday, organised by my enjoyment of them. Once again, none of the order is to say that the series at the bottom of the list are *bad*, just that every other title above them is one I love more than it. It’s a list of love. I’m full of love.
Also I’ve played with the format a bit to make it a bit easier to both explain the series and why I love it. Readers of the previous version of the site will find it passingly familiar, so it’s *almost* like I’m learning again.
9. Hatsukoi Zombie by Ryo Minenami
What is it?: A strange romantic comedy about a boy called Tarou, who after getting hit very hard in the head can see the floating noncorporeal ‘zombies’ of boys’ first loves, including his own bizarrely talkative one, Eve! Hijinks ensue, aided by Eve, the person she is the zombie of, Ibusuki, and his busty and powerful friend, Ebino.
Why I love it: There’s so many ways this concept could go wrong, and it actually does so in a few ways, but it consistently saves itself by being one of the most charming and interesting rom-coms I’ve ever read. Making first loves such a big deal, to the point that not getting together with your first love can leave the zombie hanging over you forever in a state of catatonia, or worse, they can become evil creatures out to damage you emotionally and mentally for straying from your first desire, is an unsettling decision, but one that I think must speak to its intended audience of teenage boys quite powerfully, and I appreciate that about it. It’s incredibly well-designed as a book in the shonen demographic, with a great sense of weekly storytelling (the cliffhangers totally nail that desperate need for the next chapter to come out!) and character designs that are incredibly cute and recognisable instantly.
There’s… There’s something to be said for how Tarou seeing male characters’ first loves that is uncomfortably reinforcing of the outdated idea of a gender binary. You could argue the case that not every comic has to be as open-minded as I would personally like, but when you have Ibusuki, [SPOILERS] a woman presenting herself to almost everyone around her as a boy, it feels like there was at least room for *something* affirming.
I feel like I’m talking myself out of loving Hatsukoi Zombie a bit here, but I think it speaks to the quality of this comic that I can have quite large criticisms of the series’ core components whilst still having it be one of my most essential reads every single week. It’s a good comic. It could just be so much more.
10. Detective Xeno and the Seven Locked Murder Rooms by Teppei Sugiyama (art) and Kyoichi Nanatsuki (story)
What is it?: An amnesiac genius helps solve a series of impossible ‘locked-room murders’ set up by a deceased architect, all in the hope that this will aid him in retrieving his long-lost memories. A girl who isn’t very good at killing people for money is his assistant.
Why I love it: Detective Xeno is just a good old-fashioned murder mystery comic, in just about the purest form I’ve seen one in a good while. Making each major mystery a locked-room puzzle gives it the sort of structure going in that makes it a joy to play along with, and when you actually have some of the mystery’s solution correct it’s a joyous feeling, like you’re on the same level as Xeno himself. There are very few ass-pulls, and each murder room so far has been constructed well enough to have a bit more complexity to it than your normal fare.
It’s also kind of ugly. I know that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but the scratchy and occasionally deformed art gives everything this ever so slightly gritty edge befitting a murder mystery comic, and even does well to distance itself from Sunday’s big cheese, Detective Conan, which was always going to be the big challenge facing our creative duo. Of course it helps that Conan is on hiatus right now, but that shouldn’t detract from how well the creative team have done making themselves stand out against one of the biggest behemoths in comics.
11. Marry Grave by Hidenori Yamaji
What is it?: An immortal member of the undead with a kind heart travels a fantasy land, collecting the ingredients necessary to revive his true love, Rosalie, who is in turn the person who revived him from his grisly fate in the first place. Oh, and he carries her corpse and the ingredients for the revival in a giant coffin on his back. That seems important.
Why I love it: If you were to ask me to close my eyes and imagine what a Shonen Sunday comic is, this is one of the first things that comes to mind. It reminds me of past gems like MÄR and Artist Acro, joyous fantasy adventures with wide-eyed enthusiasm and carefully constructed fantasy worlds with a depth to them that only seems to grow deeper as the series goes on. It might be substantially far down this list, but its quintessential in terms of the magazine it’s running in. Riseman Sawyer is a fantastic Sunday protagonist, full of love and compassion for the people he crosses in his journey to revive Rosalie, a self-sacrificing sort ready to throw his undying body into the fray to protect others, even as he knows that he *must* go on if he’s to bring his love back. He even has that goofy smiling face you really want this sort of hero to have, optimistic in all he does.
12. Komi-san has a Communication Disorder by Tomohito Oda
What is it?: A beautiful and small-mouthed girl has quiet and cute comedy adventures, usually with our viewpoint character Tadano, as well as a selection of peculiar and dysfunctional classmates.
Why I love it: There’s this storytelling style in western comics that tends to get called ‘widescreen comics’, where most panels are stacked vertically and sized like that of a widescreen television or cinema screen, with the level of decompression one would associate with cinema. I loathe this more often or not, it becoming a crutch for creatives not interested in using the full capabilities comic books afford us in the name of matching a far more limited creative field. There can be good comics told in this style, but mostly it’s… crap.
Komi-san is a beloved exception to this rule, using the same layout and style, but making the type of story suit the format, the sort of sedate slice-of-life stories that are aided by having the same panel repeat with minor changes over a page, leaving breathing room for the amazing physical acting of Komi-san herself, an excellently designed character whose every physical motion has to be paid attention to to truly understand her, at least whenever her notebook isn’t there to fill in for her lack of speech.
It’s also unbearably cute. By being so slow, so deliberate, it’s able to take romantic tension to levels that make your heart explode in your chest. At least, that’s what it does when it hasn’t got one of the more unusual female classmates trying to perv over Komi-san at any given opportunity.
13. Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle by Kagiji Kumanomata
What is it?: Princess Syalis just wants to have a good sleep. She will do anything to get that sleep, no matter where, no matter when. Including dying. Also she’s been kidnapped and is living in a castle full of demons who must suffer under her tyrannical desire for rest.
Why I love it: A part of my enjoyment of Sleepy Princess is simply that it’s incredibly hard for me to read. Gag comics always tend to challenge me a lot more than other comics, and my language skills are already incredibly poor, so any successful attempt to read the comic feels like the most rewarding moment in that week’s issue of Shonen Sunday.
To just say that would be to massively underrate a very funny comic, though. A particular chapter in recent memory, and one that I alluded to in the last section, has Syalis dying over and over, to be revived by the demon cleric over and over again, much to his chagrin. Each revival has a different greeting, playing with multiple languages, from a German guten morgen, to a sleepily uttered English g’mornin (followed by the cleric’s own BAD MORNING), and by the end I was dying from laughter. Kumanomata-sensei has a real good sense of visual comedy, which helps sell every single one of these moments to the reader something fierce.
But you don’t have to believe me. In July of this year Viz Media will actually begin releasing this comic in English, and I intend to be selling you all quite hard on the comic at every given opportunity upon release, and even before, if you end up following the link directly below this paragraph leading to the preorder page on Amazon (though please, if you have a better avenue to order the comic from than this oversized behemoth that underpays its staff, then please do so).
14. Shinobi no by Rokuro Ogaki
What is it?: Set at the end of the Edo period of Japan’s history, this comic follows aging ninja Sawamura Jinzaburo (an actual ninja from history, it seems) as he faces the changing face of his country, whether from the shinobi fading away, or the approach of the black ships, bringing with them the forceful introduction of the west. Its opening story deals with said ships, but since then it’s opened up into a more general tale of said ninja and his apprentice.
Why I love it: Being both an alternate history comic and a comic starring an elderly man in the leading role sold me on this early on, and the latter really can’t be overstated when it comes to a shonen comic; elderly people aren’t the easiest people for teenagers to relate to, after all, but the biggest thing that’s drawn me in is how phenomal Ogaki-sensei’s art is. Ninja by nature are supposed to be covert shadow operators, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the most spectacular and grandiose visuals, but it’s in the smaller actions, decidedly deadly ones at that, that the comic really opens up, making something as simple as a defending strike against an opponent look like the most amazing attack in the world. Ninja in comics tend to be a bit over the top, at least when you get to the biggest examples of them like Naruto, so something that can play with them in their more historical context while making what they do look amazing is certainly a comic worthy of anyone’s attention.
It also came out with a clear plan and story frame for its first major arc, executing it neatly within that space, showing the kind of confident, competent storytelling that isn’t always there when a series is starting out. Usually an author would go for a series of smaller tales before hitting the big stuff, but Ogaki-sensei strolled out with a fantastic complete tale that took up months of the book’s opening time. That takes guts. It takes effort, and we all know how I feel about that word.
15. Yokai Giga by Satsuki Satou
What is it?: Different things at different times, Yokai Giga alternated between an ongoing story about a Yokai called Kuro, serving his master (whether he’s aware of it or not) and helping him find love and a future, and episodic tales of a variety of other yokai.
Why I love it: I feel like this is a pretty hard one to answer. I’m a fan of episodic stories that teach you something, even if it’s just about different sorts of yokai, and they go a long way to me adoring this comic, even if they’re increasingly rare compared to the main story of Kuro, which is a surprisingly affecting tale in itself.
Mostly I think it comes down to the art. The yokai are drawn with such care that blends the classical depictions of them with a more modern and mainstream manga-friendly design sensibility, down to putting goofy faces on… so very many of them, while rendering the bodies in the hyper-detail of classical art. Satou-sensei is an incredible talent, and by being (pretty much) the last thing you read every week, Yokai Giga makes sure that you remember it. It’s a very, very good comic.
And that’s the list! I hope that you pick up some of these comics if I’ve made them sound even somewhat interesting to you, and if you’ve enjoyed my writing, consider dropping me a few pennies over on Ko-Fi. Comics are cheap, but they add up, and I’m not the flushest with cash, so any support goes directly into me getting more comics to write about on the site. And if you can’t help out, just know that by reading these articles you are appreciated.