World building is one of the foundations of storytelling that is just as important as the plot and the characters. You can have the most thrilling plot and highly compelling character development, but if they’re not grounded in a believable world, then everything will quickly fall apart.
Most people think that world building is only necessary for fantasy or science fiction stories. While it is true that those particular genres require a carefully constructed world, the truth is that every story needs good world building - even those that are set in the real world. With that in mind, here are the 5 manga with the best world building.
5.Otoyomegatari (A Bride’s Story)
- Authors: Mori, Kaoru
- Genres: Romance, Drama, Historical, Seinen
- Volumes: 13+
- Published: May 2011 - Present
Let’s begin with a story that is set in real life. A Bride’s Story is the tale of Amir and her young husband, Karluk. They are a part of the people who lived in the rural areas of Central Asia during the 19th century.
The story begins with Amir and Karluk, but it quickly expands into an extensive look into the region and its culture through the eyes of an ensemble cast of characters. Their journey, the places that they visit, and the people that they encounter… these all become the ink that helps paint a vivid description of how life was back then.
An Englishman who travels with his Arabic guide from town to town to document the culture and the tradition of the people there; a nomadic warrior who has to gather the forces of the other tribes in order to go against the foreign invaders; young newlyweds who frantically cook all kinds of foods and decorate their house because an important guest will come later that day; Karluk’s nephew who pays close attention to an old man who uses a traditional technique to carve a piece of wood. These are the pieces of the rich and textured world that is presented in the pages of A Bride’s Story.
- Authors: Itagaki, Paru
- Genres: Action, Romance, School Life, Shounen
- Volumes: 18+
- Published: July 2019 - Present
From the past, we move on to a fictional version of the present. The world of Beastars is basically identical to our modern world. There are highly decorated school buildings, public transportation in the form of complicated train networks, skyscrapers, and rundown cheap apartment complexes.
The one simple fact that changes the details of the world is the fact that rather than humans, it is a world of anthropomorphic animals. Big and small, herbivores and carnivores, avian and aquatic - all of these differences become the foundation on which our familiar world is rebuilt to suit the needs of the bipedal animals who live in it.
The trains have special tiny rows of seats on the upper part of the train where tiny passengers can sit, and there’s even a passenger car dedicated solely to herbivores. A restaurant will have different sets of tableware according to the size of their customers, and there’s a black market where carnivores can purchase all kinds of herbivore meat.
These kinds of details on top of a world that looks highly similar to ours makes it so much easier for the author to construct an extremely believable world.
3.Hakumei to Mikochi (Hakumei & Mikochi: Tiny Little Life in the Woods)
- Authors: Kashiki, Takuto
- Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Slice of Life, Seinen
- Volumes: 9+
- Published: July 2018 - Present
Hakumei & Mikochi is a relaxing story about the lives of tiny people in the woods. For world building, it takes a relatively similar approach to Beastars. That being said, if Beastars created a modified version of our reality, Hakumei & Mikochi shrinks everything down to a matter of a few inches.
The world of Hakumei & Mikochi is not a technologically advanced one. They already use iron tools like saws and hammers, and they also have a relatively deep knowledge in building houses with bricks. But there is no electricity or any other technology that relies on it yet.
Hakumei & Mikochi live underneath a piece of tree bark, but they will occasionally visit the town for shopping, and maybe hang out for a drink at the local bar. When they’re among their people, it’s easy to forget that their world is a tiny one, which is why there will be things that quickly remind you about that fact, such as when Mikochi cuts one shiitake mushroom, which is bigger than herself, and uses it to feed lots of people. Or when they are in a hurry, they will use a little bird as a means of air transportation. It is remarkable how Kashiki-sensei manages to make a world that feels both grand and normal at the same time.
2.Tongari Boushi no Atelier (Witch Hat Atelier)
- Authors: Shirahama, Kamome
- Genres: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Seinen
- Volumes: 9+
- Published: April 2019 - Present
Now we’ve come to the fantasy stories that rely heavily on world building. This second spot goes to Witch Hat Atelier. As the name suggests, this is a story about witches and their magical world. In Witch Hat Atelier, the world is separated into witches and regular people.
However, unlike other titles that have used similar concepts before, such as The Ancient Magus’ Bride, normal people here often come into contact with witches. They even use magical devices that are created by witches.
Witch Hat Atelier tells a story where the lives of the wizards and witches are intertwined with regular people. Some wizards are even employed by regular people to solve difficult problems, such as providing clean water to every house or helping with post-disaster clean up.
Some rich folks even hire wizards to make custom magical devices for them, such as floor tiles that will light up whenever they step on them. In a way, the witches in this series are quite similar to the engineers in our world. They can freely bend the laws of physics, but their primary duty is to offer help and provide solutions to the problems of the world.
That is a really unique way to build the world. Because it’s not the world that is amazing, it is the people who can freely shape the world as they see fit. Those are the ones who turn the world of Witch Hat Atelier into such a wonderful place.
1.Made in Abyss
- Authors: Tsukushi, Akihito
- Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Horror, Seinen
- Volumes: 10+
- Published: January 2018 - Present
Made in Abyss is a manga that has arguably some of the best world building ever. The concept of The Abyss is just so intriguing and also absolutely crucial to the story. The concept of a colossal hole in the ground that goes to at least 20,000 meters deep into the earth, and has its own life forms, ecosystem, and is filled with mysterious treasures, is just so compelling that you could literally write all kinds of stories based on this setting alone.
As if that’s not enough, Tsukushi-sensei also adds the concept of “the curse of the abyss” into the mix. This curse dictates that everybody can dive into the Abyss. Be it 10 meters or 10,000 meters deep, they should be fine. Granted, there are all kinds of things that can hurt and even kill them along the way, but the descent itself shouldn’t pose that much of a problem. It is the ascent, however, that can kill you.
There are six known layers of the Abyss, and each layer has its own distinct curse that will activate whenever somebody tries to go up. From just slight nausea in the first layer to the loss of humanity or death in the sixth layer, everybody who dares to enter the Abyss will be badly hurt on their way back.
This is a truly clever concept that not only makes the Abyss so thrilling and interesting, but it also presents a difficult question to the characters. Should they go deeper into the Abyss to obtain world-altering treasures at the risk of never going back to their old life ever again? These multi level roles are the reason why Made in Abyss has the best world building in manga.
World building is one of the most overlooked concepts in manga. Countless people praise the story and the characters, but neither of those can work as they should without proper world building. The five titles mentioned above are some of the cream of the crop when it comes to this. If you want to experience some stellar world building, you should give any one of them a try.
Have you read any of the titles in this list? If you have, what do you think about them? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.