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.

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