Did we reach peak manga sales in 2022 – or has 2023 been an even more amazing year? Certainly, there’s never been so much available to read legally in translation, whether it’s light novels, manga and manhwa or Webtoons, danmei and manhua and that’s got to be good for fans. New publishing ventures have been appearing like the upcoming collaboration between Udon Entertainment and Mangasplaining. However, prices for physical books have crept up this year and some publishers offer much better rates for digital editions than others. What about legal online services, like VIZ, Renta, Mangamo and Book Walker, are they still viable as alternative ways to get your manga fix? Manga Planet swallowed up (sorry, merged with) Futekiya this year to offer a wider variety of ways to subscribe which we’ll discuss below. And it seems that Amazon has finally swallowed up ComiXology.
So, what titles caught the attention of our writers this year? Read on to find out…
There’s one manga that had a massively anticipated debut this year, that went on to be the source of one of the most impactful anime debuts this year, with a movie-long pilot that has started a new trend in the anime industry. I’m of course talking about [Oshi No Ko]; it’s wild to me to think that the first volume came out JUST a few weeks before the anime, and now we have four whole volumes that cover the entire first season of the anime (Thankfully, Season 2 has been announced). But the first volume isn’t just the start of a fantastic story, but a rollercoaster of drama, emotions, gut-punches and breaking through audience expectations. The anime made the correct decision to adapt the whole volume into a movie, instead of separate episode, because it’s one ride you can’t just experience a part of and then stop, it just keeps building and building until it hits the hit in the most brutal way. The debut then gives way to an equally brilliant story with an intense and thorough examination of the entertainment industry, with equally enthralling characters. So yeah, [Oshi No Ko] is the best manga of 2023 for me.
I also want to give a shout-out to Moon on a Rainy Night which was one of my most anticipated releases of this year, and it did not disappoint. The debut volume was amazing from cover to cover and I hope the series continues to be so (at the time of writing, I’ve yet to read the second volume).
For me, 2023 was a year of returning titles, but these returns take on different forms. Sometimes it comes in a simple rerelease, such as with Yen’s publication of the new “Premium Collection” editions of CLAMP’s Tokyo Babylon. It was good to see Yen bring out a title which is now over 30 years old [back to] English-speaking readers, and it will be interesting to see how modern readers will react to the social commentary CLAMP made back then.
Regarding other returns, there were also new volumes of old titles that had been gone for a while. This year witnessed the first new volume of the surreal comedy Nichijou in six years, and there were still plenty of laughs despite the long wait.
Then there are those manga which are sequels and spin-offs to existing titles. These include K-On! Shuffle, a spin-off to the original music manga, but following girls setting up a band at a different school. This series is fine, but it is always going to have the problem in living in the original’s shadow.
This has been a surprisingly varied year in the world of physical manga. No new publishers to speak of (perhaps thankfully?), but still plenty of interesting developments. Denpa finally released Volume 1 of March Comes in Like a Lion, Square Enix brought over Hiromu Arakawa’s latest work Daemons of the Shadow Realm and Kodansha brought over Wistoria: Wand and Sword which excited me as a DanMachi fan! However, my two favourite titles to make it to print this year are Wind Breaker (which Kodansha had been releasing digitally prior) and Magical Girl Incident from Yen Press.
While Wind Breaker looks like a bog-standard shonen series, there’s a lot of heart among this group of delinquents who have teamed up to protect the town they call home. Protagonist Haruka Sakura is used to being by himself, but having transferred to Furin High School in Makochi Town he’s about to find plenty of like-minded individuals to become friends with. Meanwhile, in Magical Girl Incident, we meet Hiromi Sakura, a burnt-out salaryman who finds himself transforming into a magical girl. This one subverts many of the magical girl and gender-bender tropes we normally see in this kind of work and is honestly just great fun if you like the genre.
2023 has been a great year for continuing series as my personal favourites Kowloon Generic Romance by Jun Mayuzuki and Shadows House by Somato (Yen Press) and Blue Period by Tsubasa Yamaguchi, Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama and Twilight Out of Focus by Jyanome (Kodansha) have continued to intrigue, surprise and delight.
Pick of the year would have to be divided into three for me, with the deeply disturbing and fascinating The Summer Hikaru Died by Mokumokuren (Yen Press) slightly pipping the other two to the top spot. Is it horror? Is it folk legend? Is it Boys’ Love? It’s none of these and yet elements of each come together to result in something unique and addictively readable. A late-November release, Lord Hades’s Ruthless Marriage by Ueji Yuho (Yen Press), is a dazzlingly drawn reimagining of an Ancient Greek myth – and a great read. Lullaby of the Dawn by Ichiko Yuna (Tokyopop) has fulfilled early expectations; it’s engagingly written as well as convincing as a dark-edged fantasy… Volume 3 is due out early in 2024.
Boys’ Love deserves its own pick of the year – and for me, it has to be Sagan Sagan’s delightful and insightful Old-Fashioned Cupcake and its sequel Old-Fashioned Cupcake and Cappuccino from SuBLime. This is a series that quietly demonstrates how far BL has evolved from the old-fashioned stereotypes that are so often brought up as ‘bad yaoi’. It shows a relationship that slowly develops between a couple of salarymen when the elder of the two is feeling his age (39!) and the younger suggests trying some of the eateries featuring on social media as popular with the young for a change of pace… Meticulously drawn with beautiful attention to detail and believable characters, Sagan Sagan’s series stands out as a surprisingly realistic meditation on getting older and making the most of life – as well as being an engaging read!
Digital manga has been through a bit of an upheaval this year. Crunchyroll has announced they’re scrapping their Manga catalogue as of December, Kodansha removed simulpubs from their publishing partners (like Azuki) and launched K-Manga, a US-only service. Likewise, VIZ Media launched a US-only app that offers more of their catalogue for a small monthly subscription. Meanwhile, we’re all feeling a bit forgotten here in the UK.
But grumblings about digital services aside, my favourite digital manga this year has to be That Time the Manga Editor Started a New Life in the Countryside. The series follows Yohei Sakuma, a manga editor who has gotten sick of his job and living in the big city and decides to start anew in the countryside. This manga is an emphatic look at what it means to struggle with burnout, as well as making such a life-changing decision. It’s also quite relaxed and easy to flip through without being overly dramatic or doom and gloom. Being a seinen series this one is perfect for a slightly older audience who will be able to empathize with what Yohei has been through, but it’s still a perfectly entertaining read generally speaking.
When futekiya launched as a dedicated online Boys’ Love subscription service in 2019, it was welcomed as it brought many titles and mangaka to English translation for a very reasonable monthly subscription. Unfortunately, for reasons (financial, probably) futekiya merged with its big brother Manga Planet this year and introduced a points system (like Renta and others) alongside its Manga Planet Pass (the subscription model). To read half of the material uploaded (apart from the free first chapter) you now have to buy points even if you already subscribe, which is confusing and messy. They also have still not reintroduced the short synopses telling you what each new manga is about. They also have not reintroduced the short summaries/ synopses telling you what each new manga is about. I’m not happy with this new model, especially as many of the new titles are already available (and have been for ages) on other platforms, including Amazon (to buy), BookWalker, and Renta. (Update!13.12.23 they’ve just announced that the summaries – not all – are mostly back.)
Nevertheless… futekiya have still brought us some titles that are really worth having this year (not by points) especially An Extremely Haphazard and Weak-Willed Kiss by Koshino which is the probably the best (and quirkiest?) omegaverse manga I’ve ever read. Koshino was briefly published in the West by June (DMP) before things went pear-shaped for DMP back in 2013 and her work is very popular in Japan (rightly so). Nevertheless, her style needs a little getting used to as it seems at first glance to be sketchy and angular – but she’s very good at characterization and her BL stories have always rung true in a way that many more conventionally drawn BL (which look pretty) don’t.
For me, this year was a treasure trove of manhwa. Back in 2022 Yen Press launched Ize Press, an imprint dedicated to manhwa, but it was this year that the ball started rolling. The publisher launched so many new titles such as A Business Proposal and Not-Sew-Wicked Stepmom, and continued with some fan-favourite such as Solo Leveling and Why Raeliana Ended Up at the Duke’s Mansion, with the latter two also being turned into animated series. My favourite new manhwa of the year is definitely A Business Proposal. As a huge reader of rom-com books, I was pleased to see the way this manhwa brought everything I love about this genre of books into an illustrated version that made me cry from laughing so hard. When deciding which series I wanted to continue, I realised I couldn’t choose one—Solo Leveling and Villains Are Destined to Die take the first place. Both titles are based on video games settings. In Solo Leveling our main character Jinwoo needs to raise his hunter rank to fight monsters in dungeons before they take over the Earth. Villains Are Destined to Die instead goes down more the shojo route, where our main character Penelope wakes up as the villainess in a game she used to play and now she needs to make sure the love interests of the game’s original protagonist don’t kill her. This video game trope has become quite popular in manhwa, and I’m sure we’ll see more titles based on it.
Looking back at 2023 I’ve spent a lot of the year reading and reviewing titles that were released in 2022; that’s the problem when you have a backlog as big as mine is! And unfortunately of the new titles I did read, I found that they struggled to compete with new volumes for series like My Happy Marriage, Your Forma or The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady. And maybe that’s simply the answer for me; nothing released physically in 2023 that I read has proved strong enough to be a new firm favourite. I’m sure some are waiting in the wings to be discovered going into 2024, but I’m just not there yet.
However, I will give Yen Press a shout-out for once more providing us with a very varied selection of titles throughout the year. And I was pleasantly surprised when they released The Samurai and the Prisoner, a novel by Honobu Yonezawa which I’m currently reading. Readers will recognise Yonezawa as the mind behind Hyouka. And more than that, Yonezawa is a celebrated mystery author in Japan so I’m hoping this will prove a gateway for getting more of his works released here in the West.
Yen Press also finished off A Sister’s All You Need. with the release of Volume 14, a series that I’d been reading and reviewing for almost 5 years at that point. It’s a story that meant a lot to me, it was often silly but had moments of being incredibly heartfelt so I was sad to let it go but also filled with a sense of satisfaction. And that is part of why I’ve struggled with new titles this year, I think, because how do you top one of your all-time favourites ending?
I’m not a huge fan of light novels but this year I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by several well-written series, two of which are related to TV anime series: Raven of the Inner Palace by Kouko Shirakawa and The Case Files of Jeweler Richard by Nanako Tsujimura (both from Airship). If you enjoyed the anime series, you’ll be delighted – as I was – to find that the novels not only go into much greater depth of characterization but continue beyond the end of the anime (both only twelve episodes in length). My only regret is, given the attractive cover art, there are no interior illustrations which would have been a much-appreciated bonus!
Digital Light Novels
Digital light novels fared better for new titles I think, maybe because J-Novel Club who dominate the space have been keen to push a bigger variety that’s not just your bog-standard isekai or fantasy story. One of my favourites has been A Pale Moon Reverie, a comparatively new title even in Japan and from the author of Unnamed Memory: Kuji Furumiya. This supernatural series is steeped in mystery with a mixture of Western and Chinese inspirations for both the setting and story. It’s something that doesn’t really exist elsewhere and capitalises on the growing popularity of Chinese novels in the West.
Also worth a look are You Were Experienced, I Was Not: Our Dating Story and Earl and Fairy (a classic shojo series) which are also published under J-Novel Club. The company has also announced they’ll be bringing Chivalry of a Failed Knight to the market once again after rescuing it from the now defunct Sol Press.
Seven Seas have opened up a new market: their hugely successful collection of Chinese BL novels/danmei which – in their attractive illustrated paperback copies (and digital as well) – have been selling in shedloads since late 2021. As the first and best-known, Heaven’s Official Blessing (by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu (MXTX) reaches its eighth and final volume this autumn, other authors and titles are doing well – and novels set in contemporary settings are beginning to appear too: I’ve enjoyed reading the first volume of Guardian: Zhen Hun by priest (Stars of Chaos) and can recommend it for those who like urban supernatural mysteries. In the new year, we’re promised Case File Compendium: Bing An Ben by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou, the author of The Husky and His White Cat Shizun.
What to look out for in 2024…
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card ended its run a few weeks back, but I’m avoiding spoilers until the final collected volumes comes out in the UK, which will hopefully be next year. It’ll be great to see how this rollercoaster of a sequel ends. Speaking of CLAMP; thanks to Ian Wolf’s book on the group, I FINALLY decided to give their series X a go…only to see that VIZ Media’s print of the omnibus is impossible to find. In Japan, brand-new premium editions have been announced, and we got the premium edition of Tokyo Babylon in the UK via Yen Press so I’m holding my fingers crossed for them picking up X so I can finally experience this series for myself.
Firstly, thank to Darkstorm for mentioning and reading my book. Indeed, I too hope that a publisher will follow on from Yen’s release of Tokyo Babylon and rerelease X too – all 18.5 volumes. Yeah, 18.5. It’s been on hiatus for 20 years and still counting. One thing we do know regarding CLAMP is that they are bringing back another series from hiatus in 2024, xxxHOLiC: Rei. There is no word, however, about a possible English translation.
As for titles we know are coming out next year, a quick look shows some intriguing properties. VIZ Media is bringing out one of the more recent releases by Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkonkinkreet, Ping Pong). Tokyo These Days (January 2024) follows a retiring manga editor who finds himself dealing with a creator who refuses to work with anyone else except for him. Meanwhile, among Yen Press’s titles are Whoever Steals This Book, about a book-hating girl who must venture into stories to save her hometown; and My Gemini, where one of a pair of twins dies and a boy tries to find out which one is still alive. (My Gemini is by Yuu Morikawa, the talented mangaka of Mr Villain’s Day Out, published by Square Enix Manga. Ed.)
Looking into 2024 I’m hoping to see the market start to diversify from the fantasy and isekai we’re been getting for years. I mean at the end of the day, the isekai boom is done in Japan in terms of new works and our Western publishers can’t pull from that forever. I hope both VIZ and Kodansha will launch their respective apps in the UK, too. In terms of titles, I’m really looking forward to Babel a light novel from author Kuji Furumiya. And for manga, I’m eager to get my hands on Ako and Bambi from mangaka HERO.
There are two manhwa that I’m really excited about for 2024. The first one technically comes out this month, but since I won’t get my hands on it until the new year, let’s cheat and consider it a 2024 title. Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint started as a digital manhwa on Webtoon, but with 3 million subscribers and over 280 million views, Ize Press has licensed it to release it in print format. It follows a video game-like trope, where our main character Dokja finds his world turned into the world of the novel he’s reading. With constellations sponsoring humans to overcome trials where monsters cannot miss, Dokja needs to reach the end of the story. To do what afterward I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out. The other manhwa I’m super excited about is See You in My 19th Life. Also an original series from Webtoon, which is now a K-drama on Netflix, this time we get a contemporary romance vibe with some supernatural elements. Jieum Bam remembers her past lives. Usually she stays clear of her previous family, but on her 19th life she can’t help but get closer to the people she used to know in her 18th life, especially the boy who made her heart beat faster. I hope Ize Press and other publishers will delight us with more manhwa releases in the second half of the year.
Tokyopop have been going from strength to strength, especially with their enterprising and wide-ranging LGBTQIA+ list, relaunched in 2023 as LoveLove. They release the manga in digital form first, followed c. 3 months later by the physical edition. Intriguing titles for 2024 include Since I Could Die Tomorrow by Sumiko Kari which, unusually, deals with the onset of the menopause for a forty-two-year-old single woman and how it makes her rethink her priorities in life (February 2024) and on the Boys’ Love side, thought-provoking My Beautiful Man by Yuu Nagira will be released in both the manga version and the original light novel.
A tempting joint venture coming in 2024 is Mangasplaining (the podcast) linking up with Udon Entertainment to bring out Nami Sasou’s No Roses Without Thorns: My Life As a Shojo Manga Assistant (Bara wa Shaba de Umareru: 70-nendai Shōjo Manga Assistant Funtōki) manga in English in 2024 – and Veil by Kotteri (to be translated by Jocelyne Allen). Veil will be released as a two-in-one full-colour edition which will be a treat as Kotteri’s art is so elegant!