Search on SLJ.com ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Good Comics For Kids
Inside Good Comics For Kids

The best kid-friendly manga of 2008

Katherine Dacey

List-making is an occupational hazard for reviewers—it seems like every holiday, event, or milestone demands a list, from Inauguration Day to Halloween. The end of the year provides the most obvious time for reflection, inspiring legions of critics to name and rank their favorite books from the previous twelve months. Though I’ve read dozens of lists celebrating the best manga of 2008, I haven’t found too many kid-friendly titles making the cut. To some extent, that’s a reflection of who writes and reads comic-oriented blogs; it’s easy to dismiss manga for young readers as formulaic, obvious, or just plain dumb when contrasted with more sophisticated titles such as Disappearance Diary, Me and the Devil Blues, NANA, or Sand Chronicles. It’s also a reflection of quantity; the lion’s share of licensed titles are rated Teen, Older Teen, or Mature, with just a tiny percentage earning an All Ages designation.

To help parents, teachers, and librarians separate the wheat from the chaff, I’ve compiled a list of 2008’s best kid-friendly manga. I used three criteria in choosing titles for my list. First, I sought books that were free of graphic violence, gratuitous sexuality (implicit or explicit), or strong language. Though some titles on the list are rated “Teen”—generally indicating mild fantasy violence or a hint of romance—I believe strongly that all of these books are suitable for readers 10 and up, and several are suitable for readers as young as 8. Second, I aimed for variety, reading books with videogame or merchandising tie-ins (yes, I read Pokemon: The Rise of Darkrai and The Legend of Zelda), books with literary aspirations, and books whose primary aim was to entertain. As I compiled my list, I tried to strike a balance between titles with strong kid appeal and titles that adults think should appeal to kids, looking for books that were fun and well-executed, even if they addressed more serious themes. Third, I limited myself to titles that were widely available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and comic book stores, as well as many public libraries—no sense in recommending something that’s impossible to find!

I hope readers will find this list useful, and would welcome feedback and additional suggestions. So without further ado, here are 2008′s best new manga for kids!

cowa The best kid friendly manga of 2008COWA! (Akira Toriyama, Viz)
One of the only kid-friendly titles to appear on numerous best-of lists, COWA! is a genuine charmer. The story focuses on Paifu, a little boy who’s part vampire, part were-koala. When his village is threatened by an outbreak of the monster flu, he and his best friend Jose leave home in search of a cure, aided by Mako Maruyama, a taciturn wrestler with a secret past. Akira Toriyama’s one-volume tale is briskly paced, tightly plotted, and visually arresting; his winsome monsters are sure to appeal to tweens and adults alike. Though the story celebrates important virtues—courage, perseverance, loyalty—Toriyama employs a light touch, freely mixing teachable moments with broad physical comedy, thus inoculating the story against preachiness or sentimentality.

(Reviewed at Good Comics for Kids on October 21, 2008.)

Publisher’s Age Rating: A (All Ages)
Recommended for 8+

haridama The best kid friendly manga of 2008Haridama: Magic Cram School (Atsushi Suzuki, Del Rey)
Kokuyo and Harika are a pair of wizards-in-training who enroll in cram school to prepare for their magic certification exams. Though neither is especially adept at sorcery, the two discover that their combined powers can subdue a variety of monsters and demons. But will they be able to collaborate on their big test and become full-fledged wizards, or will they fail? You don’t need powers of divination to guess how this one-volume story turns out, but Atsushi Suzuki earns points for making the journey fun, mildly suspenseful, and largely free of speeches extolling the importance of teamwork.

Publisher’s Age Rating: T (Teen; Mild violence)
Recommended for 10+

Kiichi and the Magic Books (Taka Amano, CMX)
This poignant coming-of-age story will resonate with anyone who’s felt conspicuously different from his peers. The hero, Kiichi, is a young oni (a one-horned demon) whose lonely existence is transformed by a chance kiichi The best kid friendly manga of 2008encounter with a traveling librarian. Inspired by the information in one of Mototaro’s books, Kiichi decides to leave his village in search of others like himself. Kiichi’s journey brings him into contact with a variety of people, many of whom seek to harm or profit from his unique abilities, or who simply fear his appearance.

Taka Amano never shies away from the darker implications of her story, showing us just how unscrupulous, ignorant, and venal people of all ages can be. Yet Kiichi and the Magic Books is never mawkish or didactic; the fantasy elements add considerable interest and charm, while Kiichi proves emotionally resilient in the face of prejudice and mistrust. Tweens more accustomed to the look and feel of Naruto may not initially respond to Amano’s starkly beautiful pen-and-ink drawings. Encourage them to try Kiichi anyway, as this series offers the same degree of complexity, imagination, and emotional authenticity as an Ursula LeGuin or Phillip Pullman novel. Ongoing; three volumes released so far.

Publisher’s Rating: T (Teen; Mild violence)
Recommended for 10+

sugar The best kid friendly manga of 2008Sugar Princess: Skating to Win (Hisaya Nakajo, Viz)
This two-volume series reads like a manga version of The Cutting Edge, pairing a naïve but talented new skater with a jaded champion. Maya is the newbie; though she’s never had a lesson, she’s a quick study, learning complicated jumps and turns from watching TV. Shun, her partner, lost his sister to cancer and can’t stomach the thought of skating with anyone else. Their oil-and-water chemistry undergoes a predictable metamorphosis as they begin preparing for a high-stakes competition that will decide whether their local rink stays open or closes for good. If the story teeters on the brink of implausibility, the characters seem grounded in reality as they juggle schoolwork and training, find the money for costumes and coaches’ fees, and cope with stage fright. Hisaya Nakajo’s clean, simple layouts make the story easy to follow, even for readers unfamiliar with manga’s right-to-left orientation, and her button-cute character designs are sure to appeal to young female readers.

Publisher’s Age Rating: A (All Ages)
Recommended for 8+

suiheilbe The best kid friendly manga of 2008SUIHELIBE!
(Naomi Azuma, CMX)
Hijinks and misunderstandings abound in this fast-paced comedy about a ditzy alien girl who befriends an earnest earthling. Each has a problem: the girl needs to recapture dozens of extraterrestrial critters that escaped from her care, while the boy needs to recruit new members for the Biology Club, lest it be shut down by the student council. SUIHELIBE’s plot and characters are wafer-thin, but its snazzy visuals and terrific sight gags more than compensate for its pedestrian aspects. Two volumes.

(Reviewed at Good Comics for Kids on October 11, 2008.)

Publisher’s Age Rating: E (Everyone)
Recommended for 8+

Two Flowers for the Dragon
(Nari Kusakawa, CMX)
The premise of Two Flowers for the Dragon sounds like pure romantic fluff: a princess must choose between two handsome suitors, one who’s serious and plays everything by the book and one who’s impetuous, twoflowers The best kid friendly manga of 2008impertinent, and harbors a mysterious past. What redeems this clichéd scenario is the princess herself, a feisty, courageous teen who transforms into a dragon whenever she’s upset. (Parents may find this portrayal of adolescence more persuasive than tweens and teens.) Though the plot revolves around the question of marriage, Shakuya’s feelings are expressed in an age-appropriate manner; she blushes and frets and occasionally loses her composure, but never exchanges more than a chaste kiss with either beau. Nari Kusakawa’s simple yet distinctive visual style is another plus; it’s a pleasant change of pace from the more generic, anime-influenced character designs prevalent in shojo and shonen manga. Ongoing; three volumes released to date.

Publisher’s Age Rating: T (Teen; Mild violence)
Recommended for 10+

share save 171 16 The best kid friendly manga of 2008
Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

Comments

  1. Esther Keller says:

    I thought Cowa was fun but didn’t think much of it, but boy do my students like it. Evne the 7th graders! They keep asking me when V. 2 is coming out.

  2. &! fan says:

    No Yotsuba&!…?

  3. Katherine Dacey says:

    I agree that “Yotsuba&!” is a terrific title for kids, but didn’t include it because this list focuses on new series and one-shots that debuted in 2008. No new volumes of “Yotsuba&!” were released last year; volume five was released in October or November of 2007. Let’s hope ADV sells the license to someone else so that the series can continue!

  4. Katherine Dacey says:

    Update, 2/8/09: I’m happy to report that Yen Press has acquired the licensed to “Yotsuba&!” and will release volume six in September. Don’t be surprised if it appears on next year’s list of the best kid-friendly manga!

  5. Gabs says:

    Yotsuba is one of my favorite mangas mainly because it doesn’t have make-believe gods, or voilence, or anything like drugs and whatnot for this i favor it!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This poignant coming-of-age story focuses on Kiichi, a young oni whose lonely existence is transformed by a chance encounter with a traveling librarian. Inspired by the information in one of Mototaro’s books, Kiichi decides to leave his village in search of others like himself. Kiichi’s journey brings him into contact with a variety of people, many of whom seek to harm or profit from his unique abilities, or who simply fear his appearance. Though Taka Amano never shies away from the darker implications of her story, showing us just how unscrupulous, ignorant, and venal people of all ages can be, Kiichi and the Magic Books is never mawkish or didactic; the fantasy elements add considerable interest and charm, while Kiichi proves emotionally resilient in the face of prejudice and mistrust. Readers more accustomed to the look and feel of Naruto may not initially respond to Amano’s starkly beautiful pen-and-ink drawings. Encourage them to try Kiichi anyway, as this series offers the same degree of complexity, imagination, and emotional authenticity as an Ursula LeGuin or Phillip Pullman novel. CMX’s best title for readers under the age of twelve. (Originally reviewed at Good Comics for Kids on 1/23/09.) [...]

  2. [...] This two-volume series reads like a manga version of The Cutting Edge, pairing a naïve but talented new skater with a jaded champion. Maya is the newbie; though she’s never had a lesson, she’s a quick study, learning complicated jumps and turns from watching TV. Shun, her partner, lost his sister to cancer and can’t stomach the thought of skating with anyone else. Their oil-and-water chemistry undergoes a predictable metamorphosis as they begin preparing for a high-stakes competition that will decide whether their local rink stays open or closes for good. If the story teeters on the brink of implausibility, the characters seem grounded in reality as they juggle schoolwork and training, find the money for costumes and coaches’ fees, and cope with stage fright. Hisaya Nakajo’s clean, simple layouts make the story easy to follow, even for readers unfamiliar with manga’s right-to-left orientation, and her button-cute character designs are sure to appeal to young female readers. –Originally reviewed at Good Comics for Kids, 1/23/09 [...]

  3. [...] This poignant coming-of-age story focuses on Kiichi, a young oni whose lonely existence is transformed by a chance encounter with a traveling librarian. Inspired by the information in one of Mototaro’s books, Kiichi decides to leave his village in search of others like himself. Kiichi’s journey brings him into contact with a variety of people, many of whom seek to harm or profit from his unique abilities, or who simply fear his appearance. Though Taka Amano never shies away from the darker implications of her story, showing us just how unscrupulous, ignorant, and venal people of all ages can be, Kiichi and the Magic Books is never mawkish or didactic; the fantasy elements add considerable interest and charm, while Kiichi proves emotionally resilient in the face of prejudice and mistrust. Readers more accustomed to the look and feel of Naruto may not initially respond to Amano’s starkly beautiful pen-and-ink drawings. Encourage them to try Kiichi anyway, as this series offers the same degree of complexity, imagination, and emotional authenticity as an Ursula LeGuin or Phillip Pullman novel. CMX’s best title for readers under the age of twelve. (Originally reviewed at Good Comics for Kids on 1/23/09.) [...]

Speak Your Mind

*