Welcome to the Multiversity Year in Review for 2020! While this has been, by many accounts, a terrible year, there were a number of fantastic comics released in 2020, and over the next ten days, we’ll be highlighting our favorites across 25 categories. If you want to give your thoughts on our picks or share your own, feel free to do so in the comments!
It’s pretty incredible how accessible Japanese comics have become. They’ve long been popular in the US, but there was a time when they were hard to find. No longer! Every comic shop and library has shelves filled with manga. We at Multiversity have multiple columns dedicated to Japanese comics. That’s why this year, manga has become its own category. No longer will Japan dominate our best international books; this year, manga will only compete with other manga. Here are our top five picks for the best manga of 2020.
5. Witch Hat Atelier
With volumes 5 and 6 of “Witch Hat Atelier” this year, Kamome Shirahama focused on bringing a renewed sense of wonder to the series. Rarely would a chapter go by without exploring some glorious new location, or without a character having a deep revelations about their motivations and life purpose. As Richeh learned that she could retain her sense of self while incorporating the ideas of others, and as Agott found a sense of purpose in making people happy, we were treated to visuals of ancient undersea castles and gold golems melting away on a giant underground bridge.
On a purely aesthetic level, Shirahama creates a world that had me in awe just as the characters were, woth several stand-out panels in every chapter. The overall aesthetic, calling back to 19th century European illustration, allows her to go in directions rarely seen in manga. And on a deeper level, she has a command over comics storytelling mechanics that rivals any other writer-artist working today. There is nuance in just about every panel, in the direction characters look, in the detail or lack of detail in backgrounds, and baked into the designs of each character. No line is without meaning to Shirahama.
“Witch Hat Atelier” deserves all the praise it’s gotten, and I hope Shirahama keeps it going as long as she can produce work of this quality.- Nicholas Palmieri
4. My Hero Academia
“A World without smiles and humor has no bright future…”
The quote above from Lemillion from a recent “My Hero Academia” chapter very much captures the spirit of the manga. It is hard not to compare “My Hero Acadamia” to the superhero fare of the U.S. comics market. That brighter future quote brings to mind DC’s “Legion of Superheroes,” and oddly that is the comic that I think of when I read Kohei Horikoshi’s high energy and deeply heartfelt manga.
The cast in “My Hero Acadamia” is amazingly vast. Even though this recent story arc has been one long-running battle, Horikoshi managed to give multiple characters time in the spotlight. Whether hero or villain is front and center, he somehow creates the space for them to be the main character in the story. Deku, Bakugo, Shirigaki, and Endeavor take up a lot of the story, but many other get to shine as the narrative unfolds. In addition to playing a major role in the various fights, Horikoshi communicates how all characters – – main and supporting – – feel in these moments, even if they have no major dialogue in the story.
In the last few weeks of the year Horikoshi has turned the tale on its head and changed the focus from one battle to an entirely unexpected one focusing on the current number one hero Endeavor. Endeavor is certainly not an easy character to like. But, like many of his amazing cast of villains, Horikoshi makes us care and feel for them. The creative team have certainly made me care and empathize with so much of the cast, and that helps keep the story from falling flat.
Another thing that makes “My Hero Acadamia” work so well is the timelessness of the characters. If you remove the quirks that are unique to the manga, the core elements of the story and characters still work. Deku can still strive to be something he was never born to be. Bakugo can still be the skilled one who learns to respect others. Aiwaza can still be the strict but caring teacher. Endeavor can easily be the driven man who does terrible things for what he sees as a greater good. All Might even has motivations that go beyond his powers.Continued below
Lemillion’s attitude is right – – I think we need to believe in a brighter future so that we can work towards it. “My Hero Acadamia” dips into some very dark and emotionally heavy places but it doesn’t do so with the darker tone that’s prevalent in U.S. comics. All Might always saved people while smiling brightly and laughing – – and the world we live in right now needs more smiles and laughter to get us through things. – Greg Lincoln
3. One Punch Man
While season 3 of the “One Punch Man” anime is still a ways away, the manga has been going nonstop. ONE and Yusuke Murata have consistently crafted a manga that’s just as engaging story-wise as it is visually, while leaning into a combination of action and comedy that just doesn’t get old.
The story has been pretty consistently sticking to the Monster Association arc this year, which has given us no shortage of unique characters, hero and monster alike. This has expanded the world, introduced us to a wide range of heroes, and built a more engaging story. Saitama does get a few opportunities to show off how overpowered he is, but that hasn’t taken anything away from Garo’s journey or King’s own struggle to survive against his own reputation.
Yusuke Murata brings amazing artwork to ONE’s series. Each action scene is drawn with amazingly flowing movement, intense motion, and crisp but carefully detailed art that captures every bead of sweat and scratch. Whether it’s a multiple page scene showing a monster getting defeated or a darkly-shaded image of a hero about to unleash their full powers, the artwork is spectacular. Each character has a unique and memorable design, from the heroes like Puri Puri Prisoner and Child Emperor to enormous, monstrous entities like Phoenix Man and Lord Orochi.
Actually, most of the chapters that came out this year have focused less on Saitama himself and more of the rest of the Hero Association. This is to the manga’s benefit, as it allows us to see more variety in the action scenes and get actual drama where we can’t be sure our heroes will win. Yes, Saitama will always defeat his foes with one punch, but when he isn’t around, we get to see epic, back-and-forth fights. No matter which character the chapter is focusing on, it’s sheer adrenaline-pumping excitement mixed with a fair bit of comedy (where appropriate).
Whether you’re following each chapter on the Shonen Jump app or buying the graphic novels when they hit the stands (or both), this has been a good year for “One Punch Man.” -Robbie Pleasant
2. One Piece
I’m the guy who read 900 chapters of “One Piece” in the year 2020, so I think I can say with relatively little fear of recency bias that Eiichiro Oda has delivered some of his most career defining work this year. Oda kicked this year off with a bang in chapter 967, giving us the climax to Kozuki Oden’s journeys with Gol D. Roger and their quest to reach the mythical final island. That final page was so spectacular, so audacious, that it prompted an entire reread of “One Piece” on our very own Multiversity Manga Club.
The Oden flashback continued on in 2020, culminating in one the most emotionally powerful moments of the series as Oden courageously sacrificed himself for the sake of his friends. The Oden flashback stands out as one of the finest pieces of storytelling in “One-Piece” so far, dethroning even the Robin flashback and Marineford arcs in my mind.
Back in the present, the Straw Hats, Ninjas, Samurai and Minks prepared for their assault on Kaido’s fortress. Oda masterfully moves characters and plot threads around in a game that is years, literal decades in the making, while still managing to surprise with new characters and new connections. The debut of Yamato, daughter of Kaido, in particular shows that Oda is not wanting for imagination and creativity.
Moving outside the text, this year saw Oda confirm that he is moving towards the final arc of “One Piece.” Though, true to form, it thankfully will still be several years before we reach that conclusion. The fact that this book can still feel so rich, so urgent, and so exciting 20+ years is mind boggling. Ok, so maybe my recency bias is showing, just a little. However, I’m extremely excited to be on Oda’s wild ride for the final stretch of this journey and would encourage everyone to come along. It’s not too late to hop aboard ship for one of the finest shonen manga out there. – Zachary WilkersonContinued below
1. Dr. Stone
It didn’t take long during quarantine to feel like we had run out of things to watch or read and reaching out to friends probably resulted in a mix of good and bad recommendations. One of the better recommendations for me was a series called Dr. Stone. I grabbed the first volume digitally and hooked into the world and the premise of the story pretty quick. Everyone on the planet is turned to stone, petrified, for 3,700 years. As some of them start to depetrify, the world is no longer the place they left. Civilization is gone, and they need to rebuild it.
The themes of medicine and petrification are ever-present, but what I really like is this idea that civilization, as we know it, has ended. Given the knowledge and ability to rebuild humanity, but also the foresight to see the road that our previous achievements paved, do we want to do it again? How can we correct the mistakes of the past civilization in pursuit of reconstruction? Do we allow some of the more destructive and devastating inventions to be recreated? Should we build the atomic bomb again?
The series deals with survival and the tools necessary, from creating fire to hunting wild game. As things progress science becomes essential to following the evolution of technology as Senku re-invents everything from soap to gunpowder. He later goes on to create magnets, computers, automobiles, and aircraft. As well as basic needs like food and medicine. He even goes so far as to make a cellphone for his closest friend and ally, Taiju.
There are a million other things going on in the series, and there is a lot to appeal to every type of reader. But I think the moral and philosophical questions inherent in the initial premise is something that I think about often. And I think others do as well because this is a common theme in several mangas and comic book series I am currently reading. I think Dr. Stone is asking some great questions and makes it a solid read for 2020 when it feels like our world is falling apart and only someone with Senku’s talents can put it back together. -Ryan Pond