For a beginner reader to manga, it can be pretty daunting to pick up a volume. The pages are read right-to-left, there are panels and busy pages wherever you look, and sometimes it can even be a minefield knowing exactly where to start! So I’ve decided to pull together a list of some really fantastic manga series’ that are just perfect for readers looking to start reading for the very first time!
Now, I will admit that I’m not an expert in manga at all, but I wanted to pull together a synopsis list for a reader who may not know where to start at all. Manga got me back into reading as a teenager, and has given me some stories I will cherish forever, so I wanted people to see it as something brilliant to read rather than something daunting.
What is manga?
Manga is, quite simply, Japanese comics. That’s the simplest definition you can get, and really the only thing you need! Instead of being like our usual comic books, manga books are about the same height as a standard paperback. The illustrations are usually all in black and white too, although some books will include special coloured pages right at the beginning!
Manga also has a few different genres they fit into, the most well known being shonen and shojo, but also includes seinen and josei. I’m pretty sure that the majority of the books I’ve included on my list fall into the genres of shonen and shojo though!
Shonen is usually targeted towards teenage boys, and will most often be centered around a male protagonist. These are often action-packed mangas, and will always include a squad of friends who boost each other up and help the main protagonist reach his goal. Shonen books also tend to include a lot of good-vs-evil.
Shojo is more targeted toward teenage girls, and can also be seen as ‘slice-of-life’ style books – more contemporary! Quite often these are in a school setting, but most often this genre tends to shift focus on the understanding of emotions and also relationships – friendships, partnerships and family relationships are all important in shojo.
Fifteen year old Ichigo Kurosaki can see ghosts, which also allows him to see and meet Rukia Kuchiki, a Soul Reaper whose job it is to usher souls from the living world to the Soul Society. When Rukia is severely injured fighting a corrupted soul known as a Hollow, she transfers her powers to him so that he can defeat the creature. Now, Ichigo must take on the position of Soul Reaper himself, protecting both the living world and the Soul Society, all while trying to juggle his school work.
Bleach is an action-packed adventure with tons of humour too – Ichigo is hotheaded and the supporting characters are truly excellent! Pick this one up if you adore lengthy battles of good-vs-evil and impressively huge swords! Good for ages 14+.
When teenage genius Light Yagami stumbles upon a notebook, he has no idea what truths it holds. As soon as he picks it up, it becomes clear that the book is a Death Note, which gives the user the supernatural ability to kill anyone who has the misfortune of having their name written in the book. Light decides that he will use the book to wipe out criminals, and is soon on a terroristic streak of mass murder, thinking that he’s right.
Death Note is definitely for readers who enjoy darker books, and is a truly interesting story of morality. Pick this one up if you enjoy dark stories, supernatural entities, and stories of power gone wrong. Good for ages 14/15+.
Naruto Uzumaki is a young ninja, desperate to prove himself and become the next Hokage, the leader of the village. He becomes part of a team of other young ninjas, notably Sasuke Uchiha, his rival, and Sakura Haruno, whom he has a crush on. However, things in the village can never remain all fun and games when there is an escaped criminal on the loose…
Naruto is really a perfect beginner manga for young readers, but has plenty of older fans too! Although I don’t enjoy this series myself, I can definitely appreciate how many fans it brings to the table! Pick this one up if you like friendships, characters sticking to their guns and, obviously, ninjas! Good for ages 12/13+.
Tohru Honda lives on her own in a tent; after her mother’s passing and her grandfathers home undergoing renovations, Tohru decides to stick it out on her own. One day, she stumbles upon the house of the Sohma family, where classmate Yuki lives. Unexpectedly, she finds herself moving in but by doing so discovers that the family is possessed by the spirits of the animals in the Zodiac. Tohru is determined to break the curse, but will this bring around more harm than good?
By far my most favourite manga, Fruits Basket is a wonderful tale of friendship, emotions, and the effects of hardships on others. It also covers abusive families, Zodiac history and magic. Pick this one up if you like emotional moments, magical forces and lifelong friendships. Good for ages 13+.
Student Usagi Tsukino befriends a mysterious talking cat named Luna, who gifts her with a magical brooch. Said brooch allows Usagi the power to transform into Sailor Moon, a soldier who is destined to save Earth from all forces of evil! Together, they pull together a team of Sailor soldiers to find the Silver Crystal, the most powerful magical artifact in the cosmos.
Sailor Moon is absolutely beloved by many people, and it’s not hard to see why. A group of powerful girls taking on the evil in the world makes for an excellent story! Pick this one up if you love girl power, good-vs-evil and super cool transformations! Good for ages 12/13+.
Ouran Highschool Host Club
Haruhi Fujioka is a scholarship student at the prestigious Ouran High, a school for incredibly rich kids. When trying to find a quiet place to study, she find a seemingly empty music room which is actually where a group of teenage boys run a ‘host club’, where they entertain female students with tea, cakes and chat. When Haruhi accidentally destroys an expensive vase, she must work off her debt running errands for the club. But what will happen when Haruhi gets mistaken for a host?
This is such a great manga! It’s funny, the art style is unique and it’s such a classic that many manga fans love. It’s also known to be a parody on otaku culture, which is hilarious! Pick this one up if you love slow burn romance, comedy and awkward moments! Good for ages 14+.
My Hero Academia
In a world where superpowers, known as Quirks, are prevalent, Izuku Midoriya dreams of becoming a Hero to the city he lives in, despite being unfortunately Quirkless. After trying to save his high school bully from a villain, a famous Hero known as All Might trains and bestows Izuku with his power. However, using a Quirk that isn’t truly yours can be tricky, especially when Izuku is enrolled in a high school that cultivates new Heroes and must prove that he belongs…
I’ve only been reading this series recently but I’ve really enjoyed how enjoyable and accessible it is! Everyone dreams of being a superhero! Pick this one up if you love superheroes, teamwork and loveable protagonists! Good for ages 12+.
In the world of Amestris, alchemy is one of the most practiced sciences, mainly by use of transmutation circles, to create anything the alchemist desires. After the death of their mother, Edward Elric and his brother Alphonse use a forbidden type of alchemy to bring her back, with devastating effects. The story follows their attempts to find a Philosopher’s stone to bring back their original bodies, all while sinister forces are at play in Amestris…
I will admit that I’ve only watched the anime adaptation of this series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but it was absolutely phenomenal. The stories are so excellently woven together, and it’s very much an edge of your seat drama! Pick this one up if you love alchemy and science, nail-biting fight scenes and stories of groups of people against government bodies! Good for ages 14/15+.
Tokyo Mew Mew
When Ichigo Momomiya attends an exhibit for endangered species, she doesn’t know that it will change her life forever. After an earthquake, Ichigo and four other girls are bathed in light that infuses their DNA with that of the endangered species’, giving them magical powers and allowing them to transform into Mew Mews. Ichigo and the group must now protect the planet from aliens.
This one sounds bizarre, but is actually super-cute, good fun and is perfect for younger readers! You should definitely pick this one up if you love magical girls, cats and tons of magic! Good for ages 11+.
One Punch Man
Saitama is bored. Bored of being an unstoppable hero. Every villain that tries to defeat him can be beaten in just one punch, taking all of the challenge and enjoyment out of fighting them in the first place! Saitama decides to make it his mission to find somebody he feels is a worthy opponent!
Read this just for the backstory alone of how Saitama became a hero, which is absolutely brilliant! But then, read the rest for a truly immersive series with a pinch of humour thrown in by Saitama himself. Pick this one up if you love huge battles, villainous monologues and deadpan humour. Good for ages 14+.
Hinata Shouyou has a newfound love for volleyball and is eager to play and compete, despite being quite short compared to most players. Determined to end up just like his volleyball hero, who is also short, Hinata joins the school volleyball team. After a crushing first defeat, he vows not to give up and wants to beat his rival, Tobio Kageyama. But what happens when they end up on the same team?
Haikyu!! is one of the most popular sports mangas – which seem to be a genre all on their own! They’re action-packed and tons of good fun too. Pick this one up if you like sports, teamwork and edge-of-your-seat tense moments! Good for ages 14+.
Rin Okumura and his twin brother Yukio have been raised by their father, Shiro, who is a demon Exorcist. One day, the boys learn that they are actually the sons of Satan. When Shiro dies protecting Rin, he draws a demonic sword that allows his powers and demonic features to surface. Rin now vows to become a powerful exorcist and defeat his true father, Satan.
I absolutely love this series! Despite the dark synopsis, the story can actually be quite good fun and the art style is beautiful. Everything is illustrated beautifully, and the cover art for each volume is excellent! Pick this one up if you like supernatural stories, demons and an underdog protagonist! Good for ages 14+.
I hope this list helps you on your journey into manga! If you’ve read any of these already, what did you think of them? I’d love to know! If you want even more of a list, and more of a look into the seinen and josei genres, check out this handy list on Book Riot!