There’s no question that manga is a global force in the entertainment industry. Many of Japan’s best and most famous manga almost assuredly find an audience somewhere else in the world. This success has contributed to not only Japan’s own growth as a cultural influencer, but reignited interest in the comics industry in general.
That being said, most of the time, those of us in the West only get to see a very small fraction of the ocean of manga that resides in Japan. There are hundreds of series that are big hits back home that see a quiet release to almost no fanfare when brought overseas, if they even come at all. Let’s take a look at 5 of the biggest manga that you probably don’t know about!
- Authors: Kariya Tetsu (story), Hanasaki Akira (art)
- Genres: Drama, Slice of Life, Seinen
- Volumes: 111
- Published: September 1983 - ongoing (on indefinite hiatus since 2014)
If you’ve ever browsed a Barnes & Noble, you might have at least noticed the name Oishinbo and just kept walking right on past due to looking absolutely unremarkable. After all, there’s nothing about it that stands out. The US covers even make it look like it’s an illustrated cookbook.
Yet Oishinbo might just be one of the most influential pieces of entertainment in Japan, manga or even otherwise. You know how Japan is seen as one of the culinary capitals of the world? We can partially thank Oishinbo for that, as it helped kick off interest in gourmet food in Japan and kickstarted the long tradition of gourmand entertainment, specifically in manga.
- Authors: Akiyama George
- Genres: Comedy, Historical, Seinen
- Volumes: 112
- Published: 1973 - September 2017
If you couldn’t tell, Japan is a nation that is extremely proud of its heritage. People, to this day, continue to idolize a simpler era when there only existed honorable men and women who worked hard and didn’t succumb to idle pleasures. Not like today, where we have a Japan that has lost its way due to globalization.
Of course, naturally, the Edo period was nothing at all like people today envision it. That’s what gives Haguregumo its charm. Cloud, the hero of the story, is just a lazy dude and does everything in his power to avoid doing any work. His family even helps find new ways to slack off! It’s commentary on how nostalgia clouds people’s judgment on modern times must be what helped it run for over 100 volumes worth of content!
3. Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen-mae Hashutsujo (This is the Station in Front of Kameari Park)
- Authors: Akimoto Osamu
- Genres: Comedy, Slice of Life
- Volumes: 200
- Published: September 1976 - September 2016
If you’re a Shonen Jump diehard, you might have noticed several Jump authors like Eiichiro Oda drawing the same police officer as a tribute a couple of years ago for some reason. Or maybe you tried out that weird cop back in 2014 if you played J-Stars Victory Vs+ just to see what the heck he could possibly do.
That was Kankichi Ryotsu, the hero of Kochikame (you’ll forgive us if we stick with the shorthand name), and the longest running continuous manga of all time, with a single run starting in 1977 and finally ending in 2016. Some authorities on manga use The Simpsons as a comparison piece to describe Kochikame, as it’s mostly a set of serialized stories about the weird adventures Ryotsu gets into while positioned at Kameari Koen, which is a real location in Tokyo where you can actually take a tour to visit various statues based on different characters from the series. It is the absolute biggest Jump series that just never caught on due to how much of its sense of humor is decidedly Japanese.
4. Yawara! (Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl)
- Authors: Urasawa Naoki
- Genres: Comedy, Romance, Sports, Seinen
- Volumes: 29
- Published: September 1986 - August 1993
Most avid manga fans are extremely well acquainted with Naoki Urasawa. He’s made a name for himself as one of the great thriller writers with a knack for genre-blending with Master Keaton, Monster, 20th Century Boys, Pluto, and Billy Bat having all been both critical and commercial smashes.
So you might not expect that Urasawa’s first major hit was a completely down-to-Earth, no-nonsense story of a young woman training for the 1992 Olympics. It struck a chord with Japanese audiences at the time, with Yawara being a rebellious young woman who is being forced by her selfish grandfather to practice judo to bask in his own personal glory. It definitely helped that at the 1992 Olympics, Japan actually took 2nd place in women’s judo, and the fighter even got dubbed Yawara-chan by her fans, solidifying Yawara’s legacy.
- Authors: Mizushima Shinji
- Genres: Sports, Shounen
- Volumes: 48
- Published: March 1972 - March 1981
Before Slam Dunk, before Hajime no Ippo, and, heck, before even Captain Tsubasa, there was Dokaben, one of the very first sports manga ever written and which remains one of the most influential and beloved of all time in Japan. Based on the character design, you might think Hinomaruzumou was written to be a spiritual successor, but Dokaben’s actually about a ragtag bunch of baseball players. It’s also set the record for the most volumes ever written for a single series, clocking in at an absolutely Herculean 205 volumes (though this only counts later sequels to the story, which the author likes to do every now and then). And, unlike Kochikame, it is one continuous story to boot! If you’ve got a year off of work, you just might be able to squeeze it in if you’re interested!
Due to the language barrier, there is so much more about the history of manga that those outside Japan will just never know. The above series are some of the most influential within Japan’s own pop culture, but there are still so many more gems left for us to discover.
Do you know of anything else that Westerners are sleeping on? Let us know in the comments below!