May 13, 2007
by: Serdar Yegulalp
A preview of Del Rey's ambitious consumer guide to manga.
Del Rey provided us with an uncorrected reader’s proof of Manga: The Complete Guide, and despite it still being in its semi-final stages—some images missing, a few formatting errors, etc.—it promises to be just the sort of buying and critical guide that English-language manga readers need now, more than ever. With all the manga out there, a knowledgeable overview of the subject helps, and this is shaping up to be a good one—the sort of book to have on your shelf next to many of the products by Stone Bridge Press (e.g., Gilles Poitras’s The Anime Companion). I was concerned it would be something on the order of Taschen’s Manga coffee-table book, which was big and had that snazzy DVD in the back, but wasn’t particularly deep. This one’s so meaty it’s practically a beefbowl.
The vast majority of the book deals with just the manga—hundreds of reviews of titles available both domestically and only as imports, cross-indexed by author/artist. The bulk of the book is unapologetically biased towards what’s in English right now but there’s enough hints about titles not yet in translation, and the differences between English and Japanese editions of titles, to further pique interest. Each book gets a star rating, from zero (worthless) to four (essential) in half-star increments, although a number of titles that couldn’t be fully reviewed at press time are marked “NR” and are simply listed for reference.
The book also doesn’t just concentrate on the mainstream: yaoi and adult titles get broken out in their own section in the back and evaluated on their own merits. It’s a smart move, since both have devoted fandoms, and what makes a good adult or yaoi title isn’t always what makes a good mainstream title. Interstitial segments discuss subgenres like horror, shojo and shonen, seinen, guro, magical girls and so on, and there’s a broadly educational opening section that talks about the history and business of manga both domestically and in its native Japan. In short, if you know little about manga and want the crash course, this is not a bad place to start. And even if you already know a fair amount, it’s a good way to bulk up your awareness even further.
As contributed by editor Jason Thompson (formerly of Viz’s American arm) and a host of other editors, the reviews themselves are smart and free of snobbery or pretense. They’re not afraid to praise a popular title that deserves it (Naruto, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure), boost less-famous books that could use the exposure (Tezuka’s Buddha and Phoenix), or slam the worst of the worst without apology (Eiken, which I couldn’t even pick up without rubber gloves and a hazmat suit). Even folks who consider themselves broadly literate about manga will be surprised at the depth and breadth of the coverage in here; I walked out from just the preview copy with about a dozen books to look up. The final version ought to be well worth adding to any manga/anime reference shelf. Mine included.