U.S. fans aren’t unaware of Takehiko Inoue. Vagabond is something of a cult classic manga in the English speaking fandom and anyone who’s ever been to the Kinokuniya in New York City has seen its characters hand-painted on the walls by Inoue himself.
However despite it being his masterpiece, Vagabond is not nearly his most famous when taking Japan and the rest of the world into account. In Asia, His basketball Slam Dunk was a close second to Dragon Ball in terms of popularity when it was coming out in the early 90s in Jump.
Selling over 100 million copies, it remains a title most people in Japan have some familiarity with even if they aren’t anime nerds.
What Makes Takehiko Inoue Art Incredible
Takehiko Inoue has one of a kind art. You know his style as soon as you seen whether he’s doing more traditional linework like in Slam Dunk or experimenting with heavy ink brushes and watercolors in Vagabond. It all comes off as very intense and, lacking a better way to say it, he doesn’t have a very ‘anime’ style.
Maybe his works aren’t photo-realistic, but he definitely strives to draw people that look like people. He’s a master of composition, which you only need to read Vagabond to find out. He’s also quite good at depicting bodies in motion; When you are in the middle of a Slam Dunk Basket-Ball game, you feel like you’re running up and down the court too.
A master of technical competency and a style all his own, Inoue has one of the best pen games around.
Essential Manga By Takehiko Inoue
Being one of the greatest, Inoue has a few titles under his belt that any and everybody should read. Unfortunately, like your Kentaro Miuras and Yoshihiro Togashis, Inoue’s output has been very slow for the better part of the decade. Both Vagabond and Real have yet to be finished despite both starting in the 20th century, but he’ll put chapters out occasionally.
Someday all our favorite manga will either finish or the creators will die, leaving us with their empty husks. You have a chance to catch up either way though! Let’s talk about his three series any and every manga fan should give a go.
The most popular sports series everywhere outside The United States / Great Britain / Australia otaku population. Slam Dunk followed a moron named Hanamichi Sakuragi who joined his school’s basketball team to impress his crush.
He doesn’t start out caring about the sport nor having some insane special talent but somehow he gets more and more into the sport as he goes on. As Hanamichi falls in love with basketball, the reader falls in love with Slam Dunk. You start caring about who wins or loses because you feel the effort Hanamichi and his teammates put into practicing and perfecting their teamwork. It’s the quintessential sports manga.
Slam Dunk is underrated in the sense that there are entire countries worth of anime fans who don’t give it the attention it deserves. More broadly speaking though, Real is the Takehiko Inoue manga that more people everywhere need to be reading.
The tale centers around the game of Wheelchair Basketball, which is a unique enough premise already, but instead of being a traditional sports manga it delves deep into the feelings of people who have been permanently injured. What their lives were like before, how they begin to adjust and reintegrate into society post paralyzation, and finding something that gives them joy and drive.
Real tackles situations and feelings we haven’t seen in any other manga and crafted by a master’s hand, it’s truly a one of a kind comic.
As we said, Vagabond is Takehiko Inoue’s masterpiece. We don’t necessarily mean it’s his definitive best or personal favorite, because you could make an argument for all three series here. However Vagabond is certainly his biggest and most artistically ambitious title. Retelling the life of the famous samurai Miyamoto Musashi, who routinely meditates on the nature of battle and why people fight.
There’s a number of great samurai duels here but it’s not a battle manga at the end of the day. Where Vagabond really succeeds is in its more esoteric observations of the world and how those are reflected through the lens of ‘becoming strong’.
The series also features incredible art in every chapter, with Inoue incorporating Sumi-E, watercoloring, and calligraphy techniques not normally incorporated into manga. Capital “A” art.