For today’s manga recommendations, we are covering Ryoichi Ikegami. Originally born in Fukui prefecture, he would move to Osaka after graduating from junior high. Before he became a manga artist, he was an artist for advertising billboards. In the 1960s, he found his way into manga by becoming an assistant to Shigeru Mizuki, who is legendary for GeGeGe no Kitaro. As the decade progressed, Ikegami-sensei would make his break out as a solo artist with Otoko-gumi, a manga about teenage boys fighting each other. As his career progressed, he would eventually become a manga professor at an art university in Osaka.
While most manga artists tend to draw with the well-known use of big eyes, sharp chins, and whacky hair, Ryoichi Ikegami is one of the very few artists that draws his manga as realistic as possible. With Asian characters, he will draw their physical features as realistic as possible. Despite his approach, he can still do stories about the real and the supernatural and find ways to have his art compliment the backdrops. So what are some of his best mangas? Check out this list to find out!
- Genre: Super Power, Action, Shounen
- Volumes: 8
- Published: Jan 1970 – Sept 1971
Though Spider-Man would have his own tokusatsu series in Japan in the Age of Disco (and with a car and robot) towards the end of the seventies, a little prior to that, he had his own manga adaptation (and the two series are by no means connected). The foundation of the series takes from the original source material and makes it as Japanese as possible. In place of Peter Parker, we have Yu Komori, who shares many of Peter’s base qualities. And the circumstances of what leads him to getting his powers are the same as Peter’s, but they do not have Uncle Ben themes that motivate them to use their powers for the right reasons. And in the first few stories, he does fight Japanese counterparts of famous villains of the times such as The Lizard, Electro, and The Kangaroo.
But after that, Spider-Man The Manga starts to take its own unique direction that hardcore Spider-Man fans that are not familiar with the world of manga are probably going to find very confusing due to cultural reasons. The manga dives into very taboo issues that you would never see in an American comic back in the 1970s such as the very dark sides of juvenile delinquency, rape, incest, prostitution, and much more. Yu doesn’t go to the same school of hard knocks Peter has so his journey as Spider-Man does have its own distinct twists and turns.
Peter chooses to stay in his nerd shell after he gets his powers so nobody will know he is Spider-Man. With Yu, he progressively stops giving a crap and even beats up bullies for framing him for rape and goes on a few teenage emotional rampages. Spider-Man may be a familiar icon, but when reading this manga, you have to read this with a very open mind because of how different this manga is from the usual image audiences have of Spider-Man through established comics, cartoons, games, and movies. Let’s just say this series takes the themes of with great power, there must also come great responsibility to a whole new extremity.
- Genre: Political Thriller, Crime
- Volumes: 12
- Published: 1990 – 1995
Nobody wants to make a change more desperately than Akira Hojo and Chiaki Asami. As children, they were witnesses to the Cambodian killing fields in the 1970s and after returning to Japan, they vowed to make the change the country. So what is their master plan for change? Akira would join the yakuza to become a Kaichou (meaning the ultimate don), while Chiaki would become a politician with the aspirations of becoming Prime Minister. By gaining positions of power in both the underworld and in politics, they can do it to the max! However, Kyoko Ishihara, a hotshot detective is on the hunt for Akira and is trying to explore his connections to Chiaki. If caught, their plans would fall apart!
Though this manga was published over 20 years ago, many of the issues explored in this manga are still relevant to both Japan and some parts of the world. The series does an excellent job of portraying the world of politics and the yakuza in Japan. Chiaki and Akira know they are taking big risks but their breakout upbringing allows them to be strategic, swift, and patient. The series in a way also serves as a critique where the elderly have dominant positions not only due to cultural reasons but also due to them being the majority.
An elderly majority where they have the most powerful voice tends to be very discouraging to younger people, who refrains them from being active in politics, and this series does a very excellent job of directing that to readers. Chiaki and Akira know that the young people are the future and they should have a say. So if you want part political thriller and part crime drama, this is the series we strongly recommend.
- Genre: Action, Drama, Crime
- Volumes: 17
- Published: 1999 – 2004
Heat is the ultimate they hate us cause they ain’t us kind of story. It revolves around a mysterious young man named Tatsumi Karasawa and is taking Shinjuku’s night district of Kabukicho by storm. He starts off as an owner of a host club and suddenly, he has the mafia at the tip of his fingertips and the old-timers aren’t going to take it. So it is now a power struggle of who can become the king of Kabukicho.
Try to imagine the ultimate crime thriller about Japan and this is it. It dives into the politics, the strategy, betrayal, and culture of the infamous yakuza and the inner dealings of the businesses in Kabukicho. The series also talks about relations with the Koreans and the Chinese and their roles within the Japanese underworld. Like Sanctuary, the series tends to have a pro-youth of Japan message to be more active. Due to today’s youth not having the same experiences as their parents who grew up during the bubble era between the 1970s and 80s, they feel powerless. But when someone like Tatsumi comes along taking the initiative, success is possible no matter where you find it. If there’s something you want, sometimes you just gotta take it.
2. Crying Freeman
- Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery, Romance
- Volumes: 9
- Published: Mar 1986 – May 1988
All Yo Hinomura wanted was to be a simple potter. However, an organization of assassins put some incriminating evidence of their activities into his pots and he manages to find them. After being non-compliant with their demands, they kidnap him and make him the best assassin in the world. Despite his skills, every time he kills, he sheds tears and wishes for freedom, which is the meaning behind the title of this series. But one day, a painter named Emu witnesses one of his missions and he has to kill her. However, Emu and Yo fall in love and she joins the 108 Dragons.
Though the covers are very explicit with the nature of the manga, but as the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. It is a very distinct story about redemption, honor, and discovering and making one’s own destiny. Not only does the series focus on the relationship between Yo and Emu, the series does a very great job of developing Emu’s character. Though she starts out as rather ordinary, her time with Yo and the 108 Dragons takes her on a journey to become one of the strongest women in the world. The art is very complimentary of Ikegami-sensei’s style that he is very realistic and yet dramatic. Though some of the action sequences can get a little ridiculous, they are still very exciting and bring an appropriate sense of danger.
1. Mai (Mai, The Psychic Girl)
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Supernatural, Mystery
- Volumes: 6
- Published: 1985 – 1986
Mai Kuju is your typical junior high school girl except she has telekinesis (despite the English title saying she is psychic). Though she loosely uses her powers to humor herself, the consequences of such seemingly innocent actions have gained the attention of an evil organization known as the Thirteen Wisdom Alliance, who wish to use her abilities to take over the world. Out of fear, she must run to avoid capture. During her run, she will make some new friends and she will learn from them how to responsibly control her powers.
For some of you younger readers that probably don’t know, Mai was one of the first mangas fully published in English. For starters, a good percentage of the art style of this manga does come across as a little cartoony compared to the realism that Ikegami-sensei is famous for. Mai is drawn in a more “traditional” anime/manga style, but it is a great way of demonstrating that she is young and still shows some of the other traits that Ikegami-sensei is known for such as his Dacascos use of eyelashes and hair strands.
As for the other characters, a good mix of them are in conjunction with Ikegami-sensei’s style. Thanks to artwork not being too stereotypical of anime and manga, it was chosen to be one of the first. In the end, this story along with Mai achieves what the manga Spider-Man fails to do, and it is to teach the readers that with great power, there must also come great responsibility and this manga takes it all kinds of extremities.
A good number of his works have gone on to become anime ova series and live action movies. For example, both Crying Freeman and Sanctuary have been given both while Heat only has a live action version. Crying Freeman was a European/Canadian production while Sanctuary was Japanese only. Crying Freeman stars martial arts sensation Marc Dacascos (a mixed-race Hawaiian) in the role of Yo Hinomura.
Though other core characters are westernized such as Emu (renamed Emu O’Hara), the core of its story is very true to its source material dealing with both the Chinese and Japanese mafias at war with each other. For Sanctuary, it co-stars an up and coming Hiroshi Abe as Chiaki and today, he is one of Japan’s hottest actors. For the past twenty years, Mai, The Psychic Girl has caught the eye of some Hollywood big names such as Tim Burton, but other projects have taken priority (such as Nightmare Before Christmas) which has made it stuck in development hell.
Could an anime adaptation be possible? It took 20 years to make one for Parasyte, so never say never. Considering that anime has a wider base than manga, so hopefully, an anime adaptation to Mai, The Psychic Girl can revitalize interest.