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Best Japanese Comic Books of All Time

Japan is one of the world’s largest comic book markets, and while international franchises are popular with fans there, it is home-grown creations that tend to generate the most attention.

The manga scene has become well known elsewhere in the past couple of decades, but it can still seem impenetrable to anyone who was brought up on a diet of western comics.

If you want to get into manga but don’t know where to start, this quick guide to the top titles of all time should give you an idea of what to check out first.

Image Source: Pixabay

Black Jack

Part of the problem with many of the more established manga series is that they are long, sprawling and complex, raising the learning curve for foreign readers.

Black Jack, created by master comic book maker Osamu Tezuka, is almost the opposite; the stories are compact, the narrative arcs are universal and the moral lessons delivered in each are pleasingly wholesome.

First published in the early 1970s, this manga has spawned TV shows, movies and various spin-offs. And while the name is coincidentally similar to the famous card game – see ライブブラックジャック (live blackjack) – you’ll soon realize that they have very little in common. 

Fist of the North Star

If you want action and excitement out of your comic books, then Fist of the North Star delivers both in spades.

Its stoic hero Kenshiro prowls a post-apocalyptic landscape, with only his mastery of a particularly potent form of martial art for protection.

Ultra-violent imagery and over-the-top plotting are abundant here, but that’s really part of the charm, and it’s a publication that influenced endless other imitators in the ensuing years.


Inky-black in tone and interestingly inspired by the kind of fantasy tales that originated in Europe rather than Japan, Berserk has been a staple manga for over three decades.

Guts, its appropriately-named protagonist, is a warrior who bears an improbably large greatsword, which he wields against all comers with brutal deftness.

The intricacy of the artwork alone makes this worth checking out, along with the often compelling stories that are told in this blood-drenched comic universe.

One-Punch Man

If you haven’t encountered this franchise in its Netflix incarnation, then heading back and reading the comic book version first is probably sensible.

Unlike the manga mentioned so far, One-Punch Man has a totally tongue-in-cheek tone, and is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It focuses on Saitama, an average-looking dude who happens to have a big secret up his sleeve; he is so powerful that he can slay almost anything or anyone with a single punch.

This may sound like a concept that could get old quickly, but the manga is consistently imaginative and willing to poke fun at the genre it exists within.

Death Note

Blending horror, thriller and action-adventure elements, Death Note is a boundary-pushing Japanese comic book that emerged in 2003 and continues to receive critical acclaim to this day.

The title refers to the odd artifact discovered by a boy named Light Yagami, the power of which means that anyone whose name he writes on it will be sentenced to certain death.

Death Note is oozing with supernatural chills and has a wonderfully twisted sense of what makes its readers tick, allowing it to subvert expectations time after time. It may not be for the faint-hearted, but the gothic sensibilities will really click with a certain readership. 

With many adaptations made, it is one of many amazing manga stories that you can enjoy in a variety of formats, depending on your preferences for consuming comic book tales.

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