Whether you are walking through a bookstore or browsing the stacks at your local library, chances are you have come across a certain type of comic book called “manga.” Manga are comics and graphic novels that are published in Japan. Unlike their American counterparts, manga is printed in black and white and read from right to left. What makes manga so appealing is that no matter how old you are or what your gender is, there is a title out there for everyone.
Choosing what manga to read is ultimately the readers decision based on their personal tastes or how it is marketed. For example, it’s likely children will read manga that’s for children while adults will read manga that’s for adults. The same is true for teens but they will encounter a greater pool of titles for their demographic and generally will be separated between Shonen titles (manga aimed at boys) and Shojo titles (manga aimed at girls). However there is no rule stopping a boy from reading a girls manga or vice versa.
As a librarian I do readers advisory, a service where librarians suggest book titles based on what the reader has read, and I often do this for middle schoolers who are interested in manga. If I was to recommend a manga title to a middle schooler in grades 6-8 these are the titles I would pick:
💥 My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi
Overview: In a world where 80% of the human population have super powers called “Quirks,” those who make use of their abilities to help people are called Heroes while those who make use of their abilities for criminal purposes are called Villains. Izuku Midoriya dreams of one day becoming a hero like the world’s greatest and his idol, All Might, however he is one of the very rare few who has no quirk of his own. Despite what his schoolmates, bullies and his own mother think of him, Midoriya still wants to become a hero no matter what. However, when he gets roped into an incident with a villain involving his childhood bully and All Might himself, Midoriya gets a chance to prove himself which results in him getting a Quirk and the opportunity to attend a special school where he learns how to be a hero.
Why I Recommend: My Hero Academia is a fresh spin on the superhero genre showing that through hardwork and determination anyone can become a hero. This series captures the fun of having superpowers, from the mundane to the extraordinary, and the relatable natures of the main cast which makes it exciting, personal, and easy to follow.
💥 Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya
Overview: After the death of her parents, high school student Tohru Honda is left to live with her grandfather but becomes homeless when the house needs renovations. With nowhere to go Tohru is invited to stay at the home of classmate Yuki Sohma and his family as housekeeper for room and board. Not long after, a fight breaks out amongst the family and the moment Tohru makes contact with Kyo, Yuki’s Cousin, she discovers that he can turn into a cat. It seems as though members of the Sohma family are under a curse and can each turn into an animal from the chinese zodiac. After discovering their secret Tohru decides to stay with hopes of breaking the curse and healing the wounds that affect the family.
Why I Recommend: Fruits Basket is a heartwarming series about friendship and how someone can change someone's life for the better. It teaches positive messages about respecting others and their differences and no matter what difficulties one may have, it can be overcome with the relationships you form with the people you care about.
💥 Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto
Overview: The Hidden Leaf village of Konoha in the Land of Fire used to be a peaceful nation until one day a powerful fox spirit known as the Nine-Tails appears destroying much of the village and taking many lives in the process. In order to stop the evil spirit the leader and greatest ninja of the village, known as the Hokage, uses his power to seal it inside a newborn baby, Naruto Uzumaki. It’s been twelve-years since that attack and although the fox spirit is gone the memories still live on and that animosity is directed towards Naruto, who doesn’t know the spirit is inside him. In order to be acknowledged by his fellow villagers Naruto vows to one day become a great ninja and become the next Hokage.
Why I Recommend: Naruto is an action packed and emotional story about what it means to be a ninja and how important the bonds you make with other people are. The idea that friendship can overcome tragedy is a constant theme throughout the series and paired with an excellent set of characters and amazing fight scenes makes this a great read.
💥 Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi
Overview: Kagome Higurashi is a 15 year old girl who gets whisked away to Sengoku period Japan from the modern day when a demon appears from an old well and drags her in. Confused by her new surroundings Kagome realizes how much trouble she’s in when she realizes the demon is after something inside of her: The Shikon Jewel, a magical object that grants the user one wish. In order to save herself Kagome frees Inuyasha, a half human, half demon boy who defeats the demon however interference from another demon causes the jewel to shatter and scatter itself across Japan. Now it’s up to Kagome, Inuyasha, and their new friends to collect the shards to prevent them falling into the wrong hands.
Why I Recommend: Inuyasha is an entertaining fantasy series that blends the thrills of action and adventure with the whimsy of romance. The imaginative ways of how demons and magic are introduced and how teamwork can overcome these obstacles makes this an enjoyable story.
💥 One Piece by Eiichiro Oda
Overview: There once lived a man who achieved everything the world had to offer: wealth, fame, and power, known as Gold Roger, the King of the Pirates. At his fateful execution Roger’s last words drove everyone out to sea looking for his fabled treasure, the One Piece, starting the Great Pirate Era. It’s been over 20 years since that day and no one has been able to find it leading people to wonder if it actually exists. Our protagonist Monkey D. Luffy is up for the challenge and should be too considering he’s been dreaming to be a pirate all his life and ate a cursed fruit that turns his body into rubber. Luffy sets out to sea with dreams of forming his own pirate crew, finding the One Piece, and become the next King of the Pirates!
Why I Recommend: One Piece is an action packed adventure combining comedic and serious moments to tell a thoroughly engaging story. Every character and location feels alive and ready to jump off the page making it more engaging for the reader as the story draws you in. It’s for these reasons and more why One Piece continues to be my personal favorite manga series of all time.
💥 Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi
Overview: Usagi Tsukino is a carefree middle school girl who despite being an underachieving, crybaby has a well-meaning heart. One day Usagi encounters a mysterious black cat with a crescent moon on its forehead named Luna who gives her a magical brooch. Once Luna explains how the brooch works, Usagi uses it to transform into the “Soldier of Love and Justice” known as Sailor Moon. Now tasked with protecting the Earth from evil, it is up to Sailor Moon and the rest of the Sailor Soldiers to find a missing princess and a mysterious artifact known as the Legendary Silver Crystal no matter what villains appear to thwart them.
Why I Recommend: Sailor Moon is an exciting story of young female superheroes with a strong emphasis on girl power, teamwork, and never giving up. The story excels in both character and style showing the battles of good against evil in a captivating way.
💥 Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama
Overview: Son Goku is a monkey-tailed child who lives alone in the mountains after the death of his Grandpa Gohan. He spends his days training in the martial arts watching over a memento of his grandfather, an orange orb called a Dragon Ball. One day Goku meets a teenage girl named Bulma who is searching for the Dragon Balls and reveals that there are seven of them and if all of them are gathered a wish-granting dragon will appear. From childhood to adulthood, Goku’s journey takes him all across the world (and universe) making friends, battling enemies, and honing his martial arts skills in pursuit of the Dragon Balls.
Why I Recommend: Dragon Ball is a classic series that defined a generation for every manga that came after it and for good reason. Between the characters, action, humor, and storytelling, all of these elements make a very entertaining and memorable experience especially if you are familiar with the anime.