My final rankings for new anime of the Winter 2010 season.

  1. Durarara!! – great ending to a strong first half earns Durarara!! the season’s top honors… fitting ep12 titled “Everything is Interconnected” shows the best aspects of the series.
    (Mar. – still my favorite show of the season…starting to see how more of the characters are related to each other and ep8 ending throws surprising twist.
    Feb. – kickass Baccano!-like OP… somewhat episodic but interesting and well linked by unique character ensemble.) [impressions]
  2. Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu – returning to ‘class battles with summoned beings’ concept, series ends S1 well by balancing comedy with shounen theme of overcoming obstacles through hardwork, determination, and love as motivation… akihisa yoshii = best new male character of the season… looking forward to upcoming S2.
    (Mar. – has done well over last few eps to continue working with previously established jokes and good romantic comedy moments…will be looking for new material in coming eps.
    Feb. – surprisingly enjoyable despite stupid premise… ep3&4 have pretty funny moments.) [impressions]
  3. Hanamaru Kindergarten – overall a pleasantly surprising series that worked the light-hearted slice of life comedy well… the series ends right at the best time after tapping out all the little stories and relationships it had to offer and before becoming repetitive… ep12 closes with the most charming ending possible for the series.
    (Mar. – moving up #5–>#3: has stayed strong with new side characters, amusing parodies and references, and moe chibis… Hiiragi is awesome.
    Feb. – cute and funny enough so far, but I wonder just how long it can stay fresh…)
  4. Dance in the Vampire Bund – felt a little unpolished at times with cutout animation and sometimes imbalanced pacing, but would have been epic if Shaft could have taken its time and fleshed out the series in 24 eps…fight with shapeshifter in ep11 ends badass… overall pretty enjoyable and I will check out the manga for the series down the line.
    (Mar. – problems with Shaft in ep7 for missing scenes and delayed ep8; also has been hard to understand plot and characters’ motivations in recent eps.
    Feb. – strong start so far… was highly anticipated series and is living up to hype.)
  5. Omamori Himari – for whoever didn’t anticipate the ending that Yuto’s love for Himari would give her the strength to beat the two boss youkai characters, this must have been your first harem, supernatural action anime, and btw the romantic comedy resolution is the Himari + rest of harem ending. surprise! … still, decent animation, voice acting, and production quality.
    (Mar. – nothing ground-breaking, but decent animation and quick plot advancement make standardness acceptable.
    Feb. – following generic harem building introduction.)
  6. Ladies vs Butlers! – perfect example of what is wrong with the anime industry: great animation quality, but for what? the series was all ecchi, no story writing, and horrible ending that doesn’t resolve the overall problem. The entire harem cast laughs/sighs over how dumb Akiharu is to cue the end credits, while the viewer feels just as dumb for enduring the series. {i endure not by choice, but by commitment so i can critique}
    (Mar. – stupid storylines and hard to believe situations to force feed ecchi scenes, many of which sound like setups belonging in hentai; if I drank a shot for every panty shot in ep9, I would have been drunk by the end credits.
    Feb. – high animation quality, but proving to be uninspired ecchi smut as advertised.)
  7. Ookamikakushi – I would have bumped this higher b/c the revelations for the overall plot aren’t bad and the resolution and afterwards in ep11 is pretty acceptable. It felt like a visual novel with some high points lost in a slow, dragging plot.  But then ep12 came along, and it is so mind-numbingly bad that it could be one of the worst extra episodes that I have ever seen. I hope the game itself was pretty good, but the anime is most def. not.
    (Mar. – precipitous fall #4–>#7 reflective of how much I’ve lost interest in boring and slow plot; I usually like mysteries and “wtf is going on” anime series, but just don’t care about revelations and explanations beginning to be revealed in ep8.

    Feb. – intruging mystery, but ep 4 plagued with snail-like pacing (not much really happened until the last 3 minutes!)  and notable production quality declines.)

Sora no woto – on hold… didn’t I just finish K-On! last season? first few eps were fine if you can believe that those girls are part of the country’s military, which is asking a lot.

Seikon no Qwaser – dropped at ep2, too ridiculous a premise and massacred by censors… maybe retry when uncut version released, but unlikely.

Chu-Bra!! – dropped at ep1, I could can’t care less about the content.

*I do not own any part of the poster presented. Thanks to the creators at chartfag.wordpress.com for their amazing work for the anime community.

“Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu” brings idiots, tests, and summoned beasts together into a surprisingly funny romantic comedy that overcomes its seemingly ridiculous premise. The anime is based on the light novel series by Kenji Inoue and Yui Haga, which has steadily climbed over the last three years to #1 in the 2010 Kono Light Novel wa Sugoi! annual rankings. It shares good company in those rankings, including notable and successful anime adaptations like Toradora!, Spice and Wolf, Bakemonogatari, and the Haruhi series.


Quick Synopsis:
Akihisa Yoshi has the worst grades in his class. In a school where students are divided into classes based on their test results and where the summoned beings that the students battle each other with have a power level also based on test results, Akihisa is the Ultimate Idiot. He is joined in the F class by Yuuji, his best friend, Himeji, the girl he likes, Minami, a tomboyish tsundere, Hideyoshi, the bishounen who looks like a girl, and Mutsuri, the camera-wielding pervert. Himeji is actually one of the smartest students in the school, but she collapsed during the placement exam due to a fever. Because the F classroom is in such bad condition, Akihisa is concerned for Himeji’s fragile health, and he convinces the F class to challenge other classes in summon being battles for their rooms and extra privileges. As the Ultimate Idiot and Punishment Inspector, Akihisa’s summoned being has the special ability of being able to touch real objects, but any damage it takes is also transmitted to Akihisa.

Notable Seiyu:
Akihisa Yoshi = Hiro Shimono (Kannagi – Jin Mikuriya, RahXephon – Ayato Kamina)

Before watching the first episode, I really had my doubts about the premise behind the show. Let’s face it, who wants to see a series about battling with chibi characters based on your test results. I’m not a nerd! [yes, I am…] But ep1 actually went by pretty painlessly and with the “battles” being so ridiculous and unserious and with Akihisa being such a funny idiot, I really enjoyed watching the episode. Thankfully, they don’t really dwell on the fighting concept between summoned beings and the “battles” consist really of over the top shouting and comedic dramaticism. The series has actually moved away, at least for now, from the whole class hierarchy and challenging for supremacy premise that the early episodes introduced.

Baka Test really begins to hit its stride in the third episode by bringing in and focusing on more elements of romantic comedy. Akihisa likes Himeji, but he misunderstands circumstances and thinks she likes Yuuji. Himeji and Minami both like Akihisa but they can’t express their feelings to him because the pure and innocent Himeji is too shy and Minami acts tsundere half the time and is interrupted by her yuri admirer the other half the time. The love triangle all go on a date and get into funny situations. The good flow of the jokes for each episode is one of the strong points of the series. Because Akihisa is forced to spent all his money on dates with Himeji and Minami, other jokes in ep3 build on how he has to save money with his meals. Splitting ramen, Kubo’s dropped piece of bread, sharing crepes, and further splitting ramen are spaced and executed well in the episode, and Akihisa’s meals become just one of the many recurring jokes throughout the series. Other staples include Shouko’s abuse of Yuuji, Minami’s breast size, Hideyoshi as a girl, and Himeji’s cooking.

For the romance in Baka Test, the plot developments to progress the relationships will likely be relatively non-existant, which would be expected in a gag comedy. Here, the love triangle situation feeds the comedy, so it probably stay static for as long as it can, whereas in a romantic comedy like Kimi Kiss or Ichigo 100%, the love triangle becomes the major problem the male protagonist needs to make a decision on, emphasizing the drama aspect of the series. If the show were to end pushing towards a resolution, between Himeji and Minami, I would say Himeji has the edge because most of the major flags are for her route – Akihisa’s standing up for her when she collapsed during the placement exam, wanting to change classroom for her sake, the misunderstanding with the love letter. Despite the focus on comedy, the few relationship scenes that Akihisa does have with Himeji and Minami are done pretty well and keeps the audience satisfied with leaving the romance with just that. Akihisa reminds me of Harima Kenji in that they may be idiots most of the time, but every now and then they manage to do the right thing to make the girl happy, even if they don’t realize it.

Bottomline Impressions:
Baka Test – A, many funny aspects and recurring jokes flow together into a well executed romantic comedy that will surprise viewers doubtful of its ridiculous premise.

Reminds me of: School Rumble, both have casts with baka characters and likable heroines, episodic situations and romantic relationships driving comedy, and recurring jokes that the devoted audience will continue to appreciate.

Director Takahiro Omori and production studio Brains Base reunite for a spiritual successor of sorts to Baccano! (2007) in the Winter 2010 release of Durarara!!, adaptation from the light novel series by Ryohgo Narita (author of Baccano!). Like Baccano!, the series begins with a fantastic OP featuring the vast ensemble of characters whose seemingly unrelated lives will be weaved together into the overall story plot. Slated for a good 24 episodes, Durarara!! shows promise to be one of the top new shows of the early 2010 anime.

Quick synopsis:
Durarara!! takes place in modern Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, reknown for its large commercial and entertainment businesses. Mikado Ryugamine has just moved from the dull countryside to Ikebukuro, where he hopes to change and have an exciting lifestyle filled with adventure. He reunites with his old childhood friend Masaomi Kida, who warns him that living in Ikebekuro will be easy as long as he avoids Shizuo Heiwajima, Izaya Orihara, and the mysterious gang called Dollars. Mikado also witnesses the urban legend going around Ikebukuro about a Rider on a black motorcycle. The Rider saves a girl from being tricked and kidnapped by a group of thugs. During the fight, the helmet of the Rider is knocked off, revealing that the Rider is headless as rumored, with just a cloud of black smoke coming out of the jacket. Just who or what is the Headless Rider?

Notable Seiyu: (many, to name only a few…)
Selty Sturluson = Miyuki Sawashiro (Galaxy Angel – Mint Blancmanche, Canaan – Canaan)
Masaomi Kida = Mamoru Miyano (Death Note – Light, Gundam 00 – Setsuna)
Izaya Orihara = Hiroshi Kamiya (Zetsubou series – Nozomu Itoshiki)

For all its comparisons to Baccano!, I want to first preface that I have not seen any of Baccano! except for its pretty famous OP, “Gun’s and Roses” by Paradise Lunch. From reviews I’ve read, I get that the story is pretty episodic with a large set of characters rather than the traditional focus on fixed protagonists and that there is a lot of interweaving for form the overall grand story – through the first few episodes of Durarara!!, I can definitely see how the format may parallel. A lot of what I’ve read so far about Durarara!! points to it doing all the good things that Baccano! did. That’s fine and I imagine Baccano is a pretty good series that I’ll have to get around to, but I don’t have that reference point, so I want to assure you that you don’t have to have seen Baccano! to appreciate Durarara!!. That said, when I got started on the series, the OP for Durarara!!, “Uragiri no Yuuyake” by Theatre Brook, got me pretty psyched going into the first episode. Cool song. Cool animation sequence. Introduction of all the unique characters during the OP, multiple potentially interesting stories, and good quality of animation and voice acting (I love the way Masaomi talks) all got me pretty hooked to the show by the end of Ep1. And come on, how cool is it that they’re carrying around a billboard of Horo (Spice and Wolf)?


There is a recurring mechanism of the different characters using online chat messages to discuss rumors and gossip circulating around Ikebukuro. It’s an interesting concept as the different screen names keep identities anonymous among the characters, allowing talk between odd pairs of characters. Unfortunately, for people with limited Japanese reading skills, this may not be easy to figure out exactly what each screen name says and I’m not sure if they’ve revealed who’s screen name is whose yet without resorting to Wiki. Until I actually figured out who was talking to who, the online chat scenes were kind of confusing and limited my interest.

In Ep4, Shinra Kishitani, an underground doctor in Ikebukuro, reveals who/what the Headless Rider actually is and tells the story about his relationship with the Rider, Selty Sturluson. I think this is a pretty cool supernatural element in the series, and its similar to the existence of immortality found in Baccano!. It also makes me think about a possible connection to another character in the series, but I’ll refrain from elaborating for sake of not spoiling the plot. After wondering about it for the first three episodes, Durarara!! picks a good point into the series to reveal  the secret of who/what the Headless Rider is – after three episodes, the mystery has accomplished its goal of sucking in and gaining viewers’ interests and now it can move on with it to build what will likely be the main encompassing story.

Bottomline Impressions:
Durarara!! – A, unique and interesting characters drive story, good animation and voice work, and awesome OP + ED = great start to my current favorite new show of Winter 2010.

Reminds me of: Baccano! for a lot of reasons discussed above.

Since I started Allison & Lillia first, you’d think I’d get to ep3 and write about it first, but I had a free morning and decided to start another series. Here’s First Impressions of Shugo Chara!, the hit shoujo series that crunchyroll.com ranks as one of the top ‘all-time crunchiest anime’. Pink-haired girls are popular this year.

Quick Synopsis: Hinamori Amu is a recent transfer student at Seiyo Academy elementary school and has quickly become popular thanks to her punk goth appearance and “cool and spicy” personality. However, that exterior hides her real shy and bashful personality, and she wishes for courage to change and show her “would-be” self. One morning, three eggs appear, each containing a Guardian Character that is a reflection of a part of her true self, and as they hatch, each chibi guardian helps Amu bring out different parts of her personality. Of course, in true shoujo fashion, there is love interest, and Amu’s is the ‘princely’ Hotori Tadase, the leader of the school’s student council, the Guardians, a group of four students who also have Guardian Charas. Their goal is to protect the Guardian egg sleeping inside everybody from becoming corrupted and turning into an X-Egg. There is also a group of “bad guys” whose goal is to find the Embryo, a special wish granting egg, by extracting peoples’ sleeping eggs.

Notable Seiyu:
Hotori Tadase = Takagi Reiko (Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan – Kusakabe Sakura, La Corda D’Oro ~primo passo~ – Hino Kahoko)
Tsukiyomi Ikuto = Nakamura Yuichi (Macross Frontier – Saotome Alto, Clannad – Okazaki Tomoya)

First, Shugo Chara technically started in 2007, but it went 51 episodes well into 2008 and it seems its been renewed for a second season starting this October. Secondly, its always surprising whenever a big name series asks a relative newcomer to voice the main protagonist, so I’ll mention that Amu is voiced by Ito Kanae. I imagine it can’t be easy when you’re just starting out, but I really liked Amu’s character and her voice effectively conveyed the moods she was in. She’s very cute when she’s flustered by silly things or when she’s calling herself ‘baka’.

So let’s break down this shoujo anime starting with Amu. Compared to the other pink haired lead females so far, Amu seems to have the most dimensions as a character. Lala is primarily cheerful and playful while Moka is caring and kind hearted, but Amu is sometimes “cool and spicy” when showing her exterior, sometimes cute and klutzy, sometimes the “maiden in love” as with Tadase, and sometimes argumentative and combatative as while annoyed by her chara or (I think) potentially later with Ikuto. I think deep down, she’s always caring and good natured, even if she doesn’t show it – when her charas told her they’d disappear if she didn’t believe in them, she was totally tsundere. Personally, I think her punk goth looks good (better than her magical girl clothes) and I liked her initial “cool and spicy” personality, except its not very apparent in the later episodes even if people are still descibing her that way. Her cuteness from her ‘baka’ side and from acting insincerity with her feelings make her likability on par wth Lala’s, even when her chest size isn’t (and that’s impressive when ecchi doesn’t have to be thrown around to boost a character’s appeal). And the character’s desire to change herself is universal enough for viewers to relate to easily.

The first three episodes introduce Amu’s charas, and each one brings out/adds some special abilities, especially when she character changes. Ran is cheerful and energetic and makes Amu more honest and athletic, Miki is stubborn and easygoing and makes Amu more level-headed and artistic, and Suu is clumsy and girl and makes Amu more caring and better at domestic skills. The transformations resemble some of the outfits from Cardcaptor Sakura, but some of the actions while transformed, like the purification of X-eggs, feels more like Sailor Moon. Add in the two potential love interests – the ‘princely’ Tadase and the ‘wild and free’ Ikuto – and you’ve put together all the best parts of shoujo anime, which speaks to how popular this show is. And even as a guy probably too old this this kind of show, I’ll admit I wouldn’t mind continuing this show casually. The first three episodes went by quickly without much effort, I found some parts funny, and I’ve watch my share of similar shoujo anime – Cardcaptor Sakura and Full Moon – and liked it, so I won’t mind that this show isn’t in my ideal genre.

Bottomline Impressions:
Shugo Chara! – B+, the appeal of this show to its target audience is pretty clear, and the likability of the main character easily pulls other viewers into the show. Continuing happily.

Reminds me of: Cardcaptor Sakura with Powerpuff girl guardians and Sailor Moon-like special moves.

PS. Thanks Crunchyroll.com for the screenshots (until you tell me to take them down >.<). All readers are encouraged to check out their site to an excellent variety of videos for online viewing.

I can’t believe it took me so long to finish another series after Vampire Knight took about a day and a half, but I finally got through To love-ru. Let me rephrase that…I finally got through the second half of To love-ru. Let’s reflect.

We left off with the show firmly establishing the Rito-Lala-Haruna love triangle in the first few episodes and shot down Rosario to Vampire after making some comparisons between the two shows. Starting with about ep6, To love-ru begins introducing its harem cast – the rich and haughty Tenjouin, the gender bending Ren/Run, the sexy alien school nurse Mikado, the strict but caring discipline committee leader Kotegawa, and the Eve (from Black Cat) lookalike assassin Golden Darkness. And even though the formula is standard and repetitive, the episodes are still relatively watchable from the entertaining situations, quality female character modeling, and because Lala is still so cute and likable. Of course the ecchi and fan service are still pumped out regularly, and I’m pretty sure the animator for the series has a thing for tentacle play. And clothes dissolving monsters. The example below is not the only instance. :p

So where did things go wrong? Episode 15. The premise of the episode itself wasn’t great, but the real killer was the very un-dramatic scene of revealing to everyone in the school that Lala was an alien. You’d think people would at least be shocked or in disbelief, but the general attitude was more like “Oh, well that makes sense. Now go off in your spaceship and do your thing. Oh, and its totally cool if Haruna flies up with you too.” What…? In literally a minute, the writers successfully blew up one of the biggest premises behind the show – Rito having to keep Lala’s secret about aliens while still enduring all of her crazy situations. Thats just baddecisions.com right there. And as the episode goes on, it feels more and more like a filler. A bad filler. I check Wiki to read for any differences between the anime and manga versions when I read this bomb, “The anime uses characters and general themes from the original manga, but is for the most part original story material after the first episode.” WTC! Now, I should elaborate that I’m fine with an original story in anime. Conan does it all the time. But it has to be quality and it can’t just be various episodic filler stories. And by episode 15, I’ve gone too far to just drop the series, so I endure eps 15-23 slowly (very slowly) over 2 weeks. I finally finished ep26 tonight. The struggle is over.

As disparaging in quality the first half and second half of the series was, the last two episodes return to a proven harem anime standard for series ending. A final problem is introduced that keeps the protagonist and the main girl apart, and its up to everyone from the harem group, even the odd piece of the love triangle who must choose to give up on her own wishes, to help the guy overcome the obstacle and reunite with the girl. In To love-ru, Lala’s father takes back Lala and challenges Rito to fulfill his promise of becoming the number one man in the universe by racing to his ship as he throws obstacles in his way. Rito asks Haruna to wait on hearing his true feelings, then goes off to make it to the Deviluke king’s ship to bring back Lala and prevent the earth from being destroyed, with everyone helping him along the way. The ending does take an interesting and unique turn when Lala decides that she can’t marry Rito just yet and uses an invention to erase everyone’s memory of her so that Rito can meet and fall in love with her again as a normal person. At least it would have if the anime went through with that choice, but like all her other inventions, it doesn’t work and she returns to school with everybody and the status quo remains unchanged. So they don’t take the ambitious ending, but if the anime writers didn’t want to make a decision, they could have tried pushing the threesome ending where Rito can’t choose between Lala and Haruna and they both accept sharing his attention. Instead, they lame out and leave things unsettled in the Rito-Lala-Haruna love triangle. That’s typically my least favorite ending for a harem anime, and that’s too bad because with an original story, writers could have pushed one way or the other regardless of the ongoing manga.

PS. I’m at least happy that they brought back the first ED song in the last episode since I wasn’t too much of a fan of the second ED. I think I’ll also pickup the manga version whenever I get the chance.

I’ll start with a quick story on how I got to this topic. So this weekend, I went paintballing with some friends in NYC, and on the 40 min subway ride back from Queens, we started talking about Naruto and Geass. Friend A asked me and Friend B what our Top 5 Anime were, and Friend B listed Full Metal Panic (a solid series), Gundam Seed (meh…), H2, then he wasn’t sure and needed to think about it. In fact, Friend B was the guy who introduced me to H2 (also to Ichigo 100%, as mentioned previously), and I enjoyed the series enough to pick up a couple other Adachi manga series – Touch and Katsu!. So I got home Monday afternoon, and after doing some studying, I was looking for something to do to avoid having to watch Allison & Lillia Ep3 (so I didn’t have to write a First Impression page) or struggle through the rest of To love-ru (more on that in its Reflections page when I finish). I decide to wiki our old buddy Adachi and found out he’s currently working on a series called Cross Game, which just finished its second story arc and is on hiatus until spring 2009. 140 chapters later (with more studying and going to work and class in between), here I am trying to get some thoughts down on Adachi-style sports/romantic comedies.

The interesting thing about Adachi’s works (at least the four I’ve read) is that he reuses the character models for the main protagonist and his primary love interest in each of his stories. Here are some pictures of his works:


From top left going clockwise (and also in series creation order): Kazuya, Minami, and Tatsuya from Touch; Hideo, Hikari, Hiro, and Haruka from H2; Mizutani Katsuki and Satoyama Katsuki from Katsu!; Koh and the Four Tsukishima Sisters: Momiji, Ichiyo, Wakaba, and Aoba from Cross Game.

The main character, Tatsuya/Hiro/Katsuki/Koh in their respective series, all play the same “baka, lazy, and unreliable except in their sport and in caring for their childhood friend/love interest” type characters. They oversleep and are late for school, unwillingly train hard during practices, tease and get teased by the main heroine, can never clearly admit that they like the main girl until late into series, and always shoulder some burden (usually of their respective girls) as motivation for their sport. All are pitchers except for Katsuki as Katsu! is a boxing manga, and none were exceptionally good at their sports at the start of each series. Romance is always complicated by love triangles that ultimately resolve themselves very lightly; there is never any gut-wrenching over-drama like in other romances. And although the main girl is always pursued by other characters, the main character never receives an unhappy ending.

In fact, the best way to describe Adachi’s work is “lightness”. His drawing style is simple and clean (possibly a reason why I’ve never found fault with reusing his character models – the recurring basics of the protagonist serve as a foundation for the specific character development in each series) and writing is never long and dragged out. Dialogue is typically light and witty with puns, situational jokes, teasing between the main pair, and self-satire as the main forms of comedy. Often times, Adachi has his minor characters complaining about screen time or characters breaking the 4th wall to advertise other works or refer to previous chapters in the series. Adachi himself appears as a mangaka always trying to meet deadlines or appealing to his editors for more time.

But Adachi does add aspects of sadness and tragedy to his works, and the stark contrast between those moments and the light moments adds great depth to the emotions of heartbreak and disappointment his characters face from time to time. And even in those scenes, Adachi employs a lightness in minimalism, trying to use as little as he can to drive the sad scenes without weighing down the reader. For example, in Cross Game, after the initial tragedy that sets up the story, instead of depicting scenes with everyone crying and hysterically sobbing and going through all of Koh’s feelings, he leaves it simply with Koh sitting alone on a street with some tears starting to roll down his face. As a reader, I was as shocked as Koh by the suddenness of the event and then felt the same catharsis as Koh began to let his emotions out (the first point when I thought, ‘man, that sucks…’). So while Adachi’s works are generally very light and easy to read through, its not to mean that they aren’t as full of emotion as other heavier works can be.

As which series to begin with, H2 is likely the best bet if you want a finished conclusion. His baseball work reads a lot better than his boxing (and Hajime no Ippo is a much better boxing manga to look for) and casual readers may be put off by the old feeling of his earlier animations (Touch began in 1981 and the animation-style isn’t as comparable to his other work until later in the series – the last few chapters of Touch looks contemporary to the beginning of H2). But personally, I’ve really liked Cross Game so far and am happy to have gotten to it just after he ended part 2 and went on hiatus. It still is clearly Adachi’s drawing style, but higher production values add to its more modern sense. The story is moving along well too, as the main girl seems to only be beginning to notice feelings for the main character, while the introduction (or re-introduction) of another main girl has Adachi setting up for more focus on romance in the coming part next spring.

Well, people are probably reading them, but these 5 manga just don’t seem to have as much popularity as their quality would suggest (well, one is somewhat popular already). I kinda wish that these series would already be finished so I could enjoy their awesomeness in full, because English releases just don’t come out regularly enough for some reason or another – like if the releases in Japan are monthly or manga fansub groups just don’t get around to them (and that’s probably because they give other more popular series higher subbing priorities) . So in no particular order, here are “the 5 underappreciated manga series that you may not have heard of or read, but in an ideal world should be bigger hits because they’re that good”.

Gantz (2000 – ongoing)

Of the five, this one can be considered already somewhat popular having about 270 subbed chapters, a 26 episode anime (though it ends very early in the series), and an American license with Dark Horse Comics (less of a manga company and more graphic novels like Hellboy, Sin City, and 300). The manga started way back in 2000, and even though it has one of the most interesting premises for any anime series I’ve come across, its popularity doesn’t come close to other big name shows in comparable genres like Deathnote, Monster, Hellsing, or Full Metal Alchemist. One of the biggest positives of this series is how mortal the characters can be – unlike many other action series, death is always a possibility for every character (even the main characters), and creator Hiroya Oku does a good job of building suspense through the unpredictability death adds to fight scenes.

As oversimplification of the plot would be that a group of characters (that is always changing) is sent to hunt a group of aliens with the goal being that a character must survive through some amount of missions before they no longer have to participate. But in actuality, its the various rules and circumstances dictating their missions and the interaction among characters that makes the plot so interesting, especially after Oku adds further possibilities by changing the rules late into the series (Sorry for writing as vaguely as possible, but the premise is simply so interesting I don’t want to spoil it). I picked up the series last spring and read up to the end of the first arc (ch237) in about 2-3 days, then decided to break due to the irregularity of releases and because plot-wise, it was at a huge crossroads. Kurono Kei becomes an awesome action hero (despite having to suffer a bit of a Simon-Kamina Complex from Gurren Lagann), and Reika is one of the most beautiful female characters that I’ve seen that I actually like. Oku does an excellent job with his female characters, blending ecchiness into his drawings with interesting character development. In fact, most of the main group of characters are well designed, and while reading this series, a part of me was always hoping that this character or that character didn’t die.

Addicted to Curry (2001 – ongoing)

A manga series dedicated to cooking curry at first sounds about as weird as a series about baking bread, but with Yakitate!! Japan being as awesome as it was, I decided to give this one a read and was disappointed only with that fact that only 40ish chapters had been translated at that point. And surprisingly, Curry started a year before Yakitate in 2001! The basic plot of the series is that Sonezaki Yui is trying to run her father’s curry shop after he leaves to train his skills, and even though business is going poorly, she doesn’t want to close the restaurant because she loves her father’s curry. Koenji Makito, whose life was saved by Yui’s father, comes looking for him and decides to repay him by helping Yui save the curry shop. Like Yakitate, the series features various curry recipes (that are a lot easier to make in real life than the bread in Yakitate) and spaces big cooking battles between smaller side character problems solved by introduction of a relative curry dish. Koenji has the same love of curry as Azuma does for bread in Yakitate, but he is also like GTO’s Onizuka with an ecchi personality and the willingness to go to extremes to help others. While Yakitate utilizes puns and outrageousness in its comedy, Curry employs more ecchi and situational comedy, but both are equally inspiring when the main characters show their passion for cooking.

Team Medical Dragon (2002 – ongoing)

Team Medical Dragon is one of the extrodinarily few manga/anime series I’ve seen that deals with doctors and medicine (Blackjack is the only other that comes to mind), and as someone who wants to become a doctor himself, I’ve gotta say that sucks. In a world of schoolgirls, giant mecha, and chakra/ki/spirit energy/reiatsu/dying will flame attacks, maybe the content is too close to reality or it requires too much additional research, but Team Medical Dragon leads (or should be leading) its own genre to provide a novel and refreshing alternative to the world of anime (like Phoenix Wright and Trauma Center did for video games). Asada Ryutaro is a brilliant doctor who gave up on medicine in Japan until Dr. Katou Akira recruits him as the lead surgeon for her thesis on the Batista operation, a surgical heart procedure of the highest difficulty. Asada accepts the position, but his unorthodox approach that goes to extremes in order to save lives challenges the foundations of rotten, hierarchy-based Japanese university medical centers. While fighting this feudal system, Asada recruits members for his Batista team through helping them with their own respective problems and instilling them -and the readers- with what it means to be a great doctor: the willingness to never give up on a patient.

High School of the Dead (2006 – ongoing)

Like Gantz, High School of the Dead boasts action filled with both gore and suspense. Death lurks around every corner as you’d imagine in any survival horror game, and the possibility/inevitability that one of the main characters will die is both dreaded and anticipated. Even a simple bite by a zombie will become fatal, and the series handles the mortality of its main cast very well. Also like Gantz, High School of the Dead features some very well-illustrated fan service that is never in poor taste nor does it ever drag or slow the pace of the series. In fact, it contributes to the quality of the series in two ways – firstly, as expected of a post-apocalyptic setting, law and order have become displaced by more carnal instincts like violence, lust, and sin, and the non-romantic fan service (shredded sailor uniforms, torn skirts, exposed skin) add to this atmosphere of desperate survival; secondly, more romantic fan service is employed between action/ suspense sequences during “break” sequences to give the reader the same sense of relaxing and unwinding that the characters are feeling during the sudden unstressful period. But unlike Gantz and almost all other manga/anime series, High School of the Dead is the only series I’ve seen that takes on the zombie survival horror genre as well as games like Resident Evil or House of the Dead.

The basic plot is as simple as a group of high school students escape their suddenly zombie-infested school and try to survive the following apocalypse, and many basic survival horror aspects are included such as weaponry ranging from the basic (metal baseball bat, wooden poles, revolver off dead policemen) to the unrealistic (sniper rifles, modified shotguns), the search for food and shelter, and salvaging of potentially useful items. The main cast consists of a kendo swordswoman, a gun/military otaku, a school nurse, a genius student, the would-be leader, and his main love interest. The female character models are amazing, and the characters themselves are well developed, especially in their handling of typical emotions like fear, guilt, and (interestingly) euphoria as they walk the fine line of maintaining their humanity and surviving by any means.

Mr. Fullswing (2001 – 2006)

Mr. Fullswing is a Shonen Jump baseball manga, but for a Jump school sports series, you’d think it’d be somewhat popular with the success of series like Prince of Tennis and Eyeshield 21, but there are currently only 30 subbed chapters available and the series remains unlicensed in the US. So what gives? Its by no means a short series – 24 volumes is easily franchisable. And the premise isn’t ridiculous at all. Like plenty of high school student male characters, Saruno Amakuni is a bit of a pervert and has a long history of rejection in his attempts to find a girlfriend. He hates school sports clubs because athletes get all the girls, but he meets the baseball club manager, Torii Nagi, and decides to join to impress her with his skills (like a certain red-haired Shonen Jump basketball player). Although Saruno isn’t as good as his enlarged ego makes him think he is, he does possess a lot of strength and potential, and Nagi believes that the full-swinging Saruno can carry the team to the championship just like a lengendary high school slugger did for their school 20 years ago.

Compared to other baseball manga, Fullswing is closer to Ookiku Furikabutte in its focus on the relationship with teammates than to Mitsuru Adachi’s baseball works, Touch and H2, which focus closer on the main character’s pitching success and romantic life. Unlike Ookiku, other characters on the team each have their own specialties along the lines of Prince of Tennis (a softball-style pitcher, a jet-like baserunner, etc), and the main character’s strength is in hitting, not pitching. This is a pretty crucial distinction as pitchers are generally associated with dominating or clutch performances while hitters can be built up for a single miraculous play like a walk-off grand slam. And aren’t these kinds of come from behind victories the basic driving point behind shonen sports series? Returning back to the point of this show’s lack of popularity. With only 30 chapters out, its hard to see where the series might go wrong, but the various training exercises up to Ch30 have been pretty funny and the entry test match was as entertaining as any other Jump sports series. The only possible minus for the series might be that a lot of the jokes Saruno uses outside of the situational comedy are based on puns and Japanese culture that would be difficult to understand for a Western audience without proper explanation. Still, you’d imagine Shonen Jump would jump on any chance to add one more to their list of big name franchises by pushing the popularity of this quality series.