No shortage of good manga in 2021.
This year didn’t only bless us with terrific anime, but also with wonderful manga. Thank goodness for that! Here is our list of the best manga of 2021.
Keep in mind that the list isn’t limited to new manga that debuted this year, but includes ones that were published in 2021—whether that was in serialization or published volumes. The manga are listed below in no particular order.
(Full disclosure: My first two books were published by Kodansha.)
Story by Muneyuki Kaneshiro, art by Yusuke Nomura
Sports manga can feel same-y with firmly established genre conventions. But Blue Lock is unlike any sports manga I’ve read. It’s like Squid Game, but with soccer—minus all the killing.
The manga, which debuted in 2018, picks up after the Japanese national soccer team came in 16th in the FIFA World Cup. Believing that the country’s soccer program lacks a world-class striker, the Blue Lock program was created to find the best of the best out of hundreds of top, young prospects. The catch is that those who are disqualified can never represent Japan in international soccer. The one who comes out on top will be a legendary striker that can lead Japan to World Cup victory!
Filled with INTENSE art and INTENSE characters, the whole premise is completely ridiculous, but absolutely wonderful. Some of the commentary on Japanese soccer is absolutely scathing.
Story and art by Gege Akutami
If 2020 was the year of Demon Slayer, then 2021 was the year of Jujutsu Kaisen. The supernatural manga was not one of this year’s biggest titles, it was this year’s biggest title, outselling everything in Japan. But is it any good? Heck yeah.
Jujutsu Kaisen centers on Yuji Itadori, a student who transfers to Tokyo Prefectural Jujutsu High, a school for sorcerers, after a paranormal event at his previous school. He and his classmates battle evil and try to locate cursed fingers for Yuji to consume. The manga wears its influences on its sleeve, but does a nice job of balancing action, humor, and the supernatural.
Story by Kanehito Yamada, art by Tsukasa Abe
Frieren starts where other JPRG-type stories end: the Hero and his party return after a decade-long adventure in which they defeated the demon king. For Frieren, an elf mage, ten years is a short period of time—like a weekend hanging out. But for the human members of the party, their adventure was a big chunk of their lives.
After being confronted by the mortal passage of time, Frieren ends up going on another quest, and in the process learns more about humans. This is a moving, bittersweet manga that plays off tropes and genre conventions, while underscoring just how precious time spent with others is.
Story and art by Yukinobu Tatsu
Schoolgirl Momo Ayase believes in ghosts and not in aliens. Schoolboy Ken Takakura (no, not that Ken Takakura) believes in aliens and ghosts. What starts off as a way to change each other’s minds sets off a truly buck wild series. The result is funny, often lewd, and never boring. What keeps Dandadan from tumbling into self-parody are smart characters with heart, even as the lunacy and blue-humor kick into high gear. And do they ever.
Story and art by Hajime Isayama
Can you believe it? Eleven years ago, Hajime Iseyama’s Attack on Titan debuted, and this spring, the manga called it a day. After a decade plus, Attack on Titan has come to a conclusion.
Whenever a long-running movie, TV show, or, here, manga, come to an end, people are bound to be disappointed. And some fans of Attack on Titan are, well, disappointed. After so long, they might have their own ideas as to how the Attack on Titan manga should finish. But in the manga’s meaty conclusion, Iseyama had his own ideas on how to bring the saga to a close, crafting a fitting, yet imperfect, end to his magnum opus.
Story and art by Ken Wakui
The manga tells the story of Takemichi, whose life hasn’t turned out how he expected. On one fateful day, he travels back in time to when he was a junior-high hoodlum. The time-traveling Takemichi isn’t trying to relive his youthful glory, but rather, trying to prevent the future death of his then girlfriend. The manga deals with themes of growing up, friendship, young love, sacrifice, and second chances.
Tokyo Revengers is heading towards its conclusion, and the story is reaching a fever pitch. I cannot wait to see how this ends.
Story and art by Tatsuki Fujimoto
Life is hard for Denji. He will do anything to earn a buck or two to pay off his father’s debt. Things change when he fuses with his chainsaw dog Pochita, turning into Chainsaw Man. Now, with chainsaws coming out of his arms and head, he’s ready to hunt devils in this surreal, gory manga.
As much as Denji is a tragic hero, he’s not even the most tragic one in Chainsaw Man. The pathos coursing through this manga elevates it beyond a mere splatter fest. It’s got a lot of heart and humor.
While the last of the first eleven Japanese volumes were published this year, the English versions won’t conclude until next June. With Mappa’s anime-adaptation hitting the airwaves in 2022 and the manga’s second arc kicking off next summer, this is a perfect time to get into Chainsaw Man.
Story and art by suu Morishita
Yuki, a deaf college student, has a chance meeting with another student who’s cosmopolitan and speaks multiple language. However, he does not know Japanese Sign Language. There’s an attraction, and a relationship between the two grows.
A furtive expression. A glimmer in the eyes. A slight blush. Romance manga tend to focus on shared glances, but here those looks feel even more important. The manga does an interesting job of balancing the ways Yuki communicates, whether that’s through sign, text messages, or inner monologues. You feel even closer to the heroine as the romance unfolds.
Story and art by Naoya Matsumoto
Set in a version of Japan that’s battling kaiju outbreaks, this follows 32-year-old Kafka Hibino who dreamed of joining the country’s defense force to fight the monster pests. However, since he repeatedly failed the entrance exam, Kafka has been relegated to being a monster sweeper, cleaning up the carcasses of dead kaiju. It’s gross, thankless work. However, Kafka’s seemingly dead-end life changes after he ingests a parasite that gives him the ability into a kaiju.
A clever riff on kaiju movies and superhero comics, dang, this is a good manga. The art, the action, the characters, and the story are all fantastic. If this year was the year of Jujutsu Kaisen, near year could very well be the year of Kaiju No. 8
Story and art by Tatsuya Endo
Debuting in 2019, Spy x Family continues to be one of the most interesting and enjoyable manga around. The story follows a super spy, who must make a fake family to go undercover and get the bad guy. So, he must adopt a child and marry a wife. Sounds simple, no? Things are complicated after he adopts a young girl with telepathy and marries a deadly assassin. All three characters have their own baggage and stuff they need to work through. They’re dysfunctional, sure, but isn’t every family?
Story and art by Yuto Suzuki
Sakamoto Days follows Taro Sakamoto, the greatest hitman of all time. At the height of his powers, he fell in love and gave up his career as a professional killer for that of matrimony and fatherhood. After a few years pass, Sakamoto, a few pounds heavier, is managing a convenience store when his past catches up with him...
But Sakamoto made a no-kill promise to his wife, so he must defuse situations in creative ways. The characters—the good guys and the bad guys—are all interesting and entertaining. The art does a good job of selling the humor. Think John Wick, but light-hearted and silly.