Best of "Manga" list
With the big three manga in Japan: Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece all placing firmly in the action-adventure camp, there’s no denying that this dynamic genre is one of the cornerstones of modern Japanese pop culture. Good action manga takes immersion to a whole other level, with its lovingly-drawn fight sequences to its gut-punchingly strong dialogue- it’s easy to see why this school of manga dominates in readership polls, both in Japan and around the world.
This article counts up the top 10 most acclaimed action manga series of recent times, giving a short blurb on what makes each of these stories as wildly popular as they are:
What happens when humanity is on the cusp of annihilation at the hands of a mysterious extra-dimensional threat that can only be combatted by a team of highly-skilled female soldiers enhanced with cybernetic technology? Freezing happens. At face value, Freezing reads like another fan-service-riddled “plot” with very little substance. Its breast-to-page ratio can be a bit high for more prudish readers, which is why it often gets a bad rep. Hold out though, and you’ll find a story of heartbreak, insecurity, perseverance, and betrayal. The character and plot development will take you on a rollercoaster ride in the past, present, and future light as humanity fights for survival against the “Nova.”
A gullible, talentless country hick sets out into the big city to make a name for himself and becomes part of the most notorious den of assassins in a country riddled with corruption and finds himself falling for the distant and non-expressive female protagonist from which the manga gets its namesake. Akame ga Kill starts off as a run-of-the-mill medieval fantasy manga but quickly escalates into a story of strife and struggling against overwhelming odds. Beautifully drawn and breathtakingly violent at times, this manga is not for the faint of heart.
A weak, meek highschool student gets thrust into the underbelly of the martial arts world when he joins a dojo run by the world’s most formidable masters in Kung-Fu, Karate, Muay Thai, Jujutsu, and Ninjutsu. HSDK is an action manga with a bit of something for everyone. From comedic bickering between Kenichi’s masters as they work him literally to death sometimes, to intensely emotional declarations of resolve, HSDK has a uniquely captivating plot that’s like no other. This manga ran for nearly 600 chapters and features character development the likes of which you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Leaning more on the adventure side of things than the action side, the immensely popular One Piece is nonetheless chock full of breathtakingly intense action sequences, especially in later chapters. The facial expressions are particularly magnificent, accentuating the immense resolve of the heroes and villains alike as they duke it out for dominancy of the high seas. Weighing in at a whopping 800 and some-odd chapters, One Piece is not a casual read, but is worth every second spent in reading it.
No action manga list would be complete without Bleach Tite Kubo’s anthology into the world of the dead and the living. Bleach follows the story of high schooler Ichigo Kurosaki, a punkish, psychically gifted high-schooler who ends up getting tangled in the affairs of the “Shinigami,” or gods of death, and inadvertently ends up becoming an ad-hoc Shinigami himself. The plot can be a bit slow at points, but when it does spring back, it does so with a vengeance, leading readers down intensely rendered fighting sequences that feature swordplay, magic and everything in between.
Dragon Ball Z is one action manga that hardly needs any introductions. The series is so critically acclaimed, even mainstream media is in love with it. The story is loosely inspired by journey to the west and follows the efforts of the Son Goku and his unruly team of warriors as they defend earth against overpoweringly strong aliens and supernatural foes. Watchers of the anime would do well to read the manga, which has some interesting additional tidbits and side stories that flesh out the DBZ universe and do away with the needlessly long “power up” sequences for which the anime is infamous.
Attack on Titan doles out a wrecking-ball of an action manga experience as it tells the story of humanity’s vicious struggle against a race of flesh-eating giants against which conventional weapons are utterly useless due to the giant’s ability to regenerate. How does one fight giant, regenerating zombies, you ask? With the most interesting application of steam punk technology around- a gas-powered harness that shoots and retracts hooks to allow titan-hunters to swing around trees and sling urban landscapes targeting the single kill point located at the back of neck of these nefarious foes as they pull off heroic feats that would put Spider Man’s webslinging antics to shame.
Perhaps a lesser-known action adventure manga, Psyren tells the story of a group of high school students that get transported to a mysterious wasteland and start developing psychic abilities that allow them to pull off some unique and amazing feats. This manga is another that might seem rehashed at first, but its amazing character development and intriguing plot will undoubtedly leave you wanting more. The best part is unlike many of the manga on this list, Psyren doesn’t leave you hanging- it ties up loose ends beautifully well and ends on an amazingly fulfilling high-note.
The last of the big three that no top-ten action adventure manga would be complete without. Naruto follows the story of a young, shunned, mischievous orphan in a ninja village as he makes his way to greatness. Naruto’s development as a character shaped an entire generation of manga readers. There are few other manga that can match it in the sheer number and immensely satisfying depth of the characters it presents. This manga is one for the ages.
Magic, science, political intrigue and some of the most memorable characters of all time- Full Metal Alchemist remains one of the most beautifully written manga of all time. This story’s action sequences are not only beautifully drawn, they’re also beautifully told- with motivations, subterfuge and brilliant counteractions to seemingly unbeatable characters. FMA sits at the apex of action manga on a lot of lists, and for good reason.
Honorary Mention: Claymore
A beautiful, maiden with stark white hair that’s half human and half monster- Claymore mixes amazing action sequences with fantastic story telling. While this manga has since been completed in 2014, it still persists as a chart topper in the fantasy and action/adventure genre even to this day. Grim to the point of bleakness at some times, Claymore is intended for a more mature audience.
There’s no shortage of amazing action manga, and this list is hardly the do-all-end-all, with new manga cropping up every day. Some of the newest contenders that have started spreading like wildfire include One Punch Man, Rakudai Kishi, and Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei (the Irregular at the Magical Highschool) all of which also have superb plots and beautifully polished action sequences. Action manga remains as one of the hallmarks of Japanese pop culture, and has inspired spin-off anime series since the dawn of animation.
Note: Guest post by Moe.