If you’re reading this at the beginning of 2021, then chances are that you’re stuck at home because of a second or even third wave of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Welcome to the new normal! Whether you’re furloughed from work or simply have a bit more time on your hands thanks to losing your long commute, you may be using this time to catch up on the manga that you missed from 2020: so much came out, and finding a good manga to read amongst all the choice can be very hard indeed.
Presented below are our top five picks for good manga that either debuted or got an English release in 2020, most of which are available to read right now. With any luck, you’ll be able to find at least one series that tickles your fancy across a wide variety of genres and demographics, although this author doesn’t read josei or shoujo manga. So there’s nothing related to that.
Click the links in the description to be brought to the relevant sites where you can either read each series digitally, or order the physical volumes, if that’s how you like to do it. Happy reading!
Kaiju No. 8
Author(s): Naoya Matsumoto
Genre(s): Action, science fiction
Following an explosive viral debut, Naoya Matsumoto’s Kaiju No. 8 is one good manga that you should definitely catch up from 2020.
There are several good reasons why it broke so many records for Shueisha’s Japanese-language Jump Plus service: its inventive character designs coupled with a relatable protagonist made for a compelling first chapter, which it then used to calmly and carefully build up a competent power system to flesh out the series’ giant monster-ridden world. Standing at only twenty-three chapters as of the time of writing, it is honestly incredible to see how much momentum it has managed to gather in such a short space of time.
In many ways, it reminds this author of World Trigger: a series with an incredibly compelling premise that is quickly channeled into tamer and slightly more sustainable structures. Much like Daisuke Ashihara’s series, Naoya Matsumoto is feeling no pressure at all to rush the story along; that may be a source of frustration, depending on how you are as a reader. It is undoubtedly the hottest manga on this list, however, and many people appear to be enjoying it.
Author(s): Inio Asano
Genre(s): Drama, psychological
Available from: VIZ Media
You probably know Inio Asano, but this single volume release from the beginning of last year may have slipped you by.
Despite being already well known for such seinen-oriented works as Goodnight Pun Pun and Solanin, Downfall is a little different as it feels so personal. Following the life of manga artist Fukazawa Kaoru, the title suddenly starts to make sense when his life starts to fall apart: his wife leaves him, his most popular manga comes to an end, and his relationship with the prostitute Chifuyu starts to take on an obsessive dimension. It’s hard not to Asano’s own struggles and insecurities reflected in the story, although he is seemingly happily married to Akane Torikai, another mangaka.
Much like every other Inio Asano manga, Downfall suffers a result of its excessive darkness, failing to offer anything meaningful beyond the general sentiment ‘Life’s a bit crap, isn’t it?’ Still, that’s just my opinion, and the success of Asano’s previous works in the English language suggests that many readers may consider it a ‘good’ manga from 2020 – even if I don’t.
The Dangers in My Heart
Author(s): Norio Sakurai
Genre(s): Comedy, romance
Available from: Seven Seas (July 2021)
This one’s a bit of a copout as it isn’t available in English yet as of the time of writing, but it’s honestly too good not to conclude.
The Dangers in My Heart by Norio Sakurai is one of the best love comedies I’ve read in a very long time, as it avoids all the typical pitfalls of the genre. For starters, the characters are anything but typical: our protagonist is Kyoutarou Ichikawa, a reclusive middle school student who is obsessed with death, skulls, and the occult. He deludes himself into thinking that his feelings for the most popular girl in school, Anna Yamada, are just ‘bloodlust’ and the ‘bad parts of [his] heart,’ often imagining killing her or those that surround her. Yet, it turns out that Anna’s just as odd, retreating to the library every lunchtime to secretly eat sweets and snacks.
That sounds like the premise to a love comedy that could go on forever, constantly resetting to the same status quo and playing out the same story over and over. Even so, The Dangers in My Heart is refreshing precisely because it doesn’t do this: even by end of the first volume, real progress has been made in the two characters’ relationship, and the story continues to go from there.
For anyone who likes romance stories but hates love comedy, this is the series for you. It’s a good manga that got licensed in 2020, but isn’t out yet.
Author(s): Naoki Urasawa
Genre(s): Thriller, historical
Available from: VIZ Media
Naoki Urasawa needs no introduction: he’s the two-time Tezuka Award-winning voice of a generation, pioneer of the medium, and ambassador of the artform. Yet, Asadora! is worth spotlighting because it sees the legendary creator get back on track.
There is no denying that Urasawa’s previous series, Billy Bat, had a rather spotty release schedule. What arguably came from this was an unfocused story with half-baked ideas; interesting characters but a muddled ending. It appears as if Urasawa has learned the lessons from that series this time around, however, as Asadora! has hiatuses built in and only releases sporadically in Weekly Big Comic Spirits.
Perhaps because of this newfound formula, Urasawa has been able to hit it out of the park from the very beginning with this one. Tightly constructed with a strong hook (as we’ve come to expect from the great master), it also explores the fascinating setting of post-war Japan even more keenly than such previous series as 20th Century Boys. Focusing on a female protagonist for once is refreshing, too, and makes it one of the best – not just a good – manga from 2020.
Author(s): Hiroyuki Takei
Genre(s): Adventure, supernatural
Available from: Kodansha Comics
How about using your newfound spare time in a new lockdown to get caught up with the classics? Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura also just got a new deluxe edition from Dark Horse last year, which is honestly gorgeous, but Shaman King by Hiroyuki Takei is arguably more momentous.
This is because Kodansha Comics’ new rerelease brings the last couple of volumes into English for the very first time, thus bringing the story to an end for overseas fans after so many years and decades in the wilderness. The original anime, too, stopped short of adapting the whole manga, so this might be the first time you get to discover what actually happened to Yoh and co. by the end. The upcoming anime remake will probably change all of that, however.
If you’ve never read or watched Shaman King before, then it is considered a ‘cult classic’ of the shonen demographic for several reasons. While it never reached the heights of Naruto or Bleach, it arguably stayed much more consistent and inventive than them across its entire run. The manga also got way too dark for Weekly Shonen Jump towards the end, which is why it faced an early conclusion and eventually got its copyright transferred to Kodansha.
The physical omnibuses aren’t out just yet, but the digital versions all are. It’s a good manga that finally got rescued in 2020.