[UPDATE: added 9 more lists – Hollywood Reporter, Comicbook.com, AiPT, ComFor, Comicgate, Comic Report, Unwinnable, 2× WWAC, plus some comments below.]
[UPDATE: added 8 more lists – ANN, The Beat, CBC, Entertainment Weekly, Major Spoilers, PW Graphic Novel Critics Poll, Tanuki Bridge, The Verge; arrows next to entries indicate that their rank went up or down compared to the previous version.]
Another year draws to its close, and that means: best-of lists! Once more I’ve compiled all the comics lists I found online into one ‘master list’. This time I’ve only applied my own ‘weighted’ method that takes into account the rank of a title on each list by assigning points from 1 to 30 (see last year’s list for a more detailed explanation), but I have included the number of lists on which a title is found in brackets for fans of the ‘traditional’ method (and used this number to break ties). Sources are indicated at the bottom of this blogpost. Please note that this post will probably be updated a couple of times as new lists are published.
THE TOP 25 COMICS OF 2017:
- My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris (335 points / 19 lists)
- My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Nagata Kabi (210 / 10)
- The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui (197 / 12)
- Boundless by Jillian Tamaki (178 / 10)
- Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads (152 / 8) ⇧
- Spinning by Tillie Walden (151 / 8) ⇩
- Batman by Tom King et al. (119 / 7) ⇧
- S’enfuir. Récit d’un otage by Guy Delisle (117 / 8) ⇩
- Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston (116 / 6) ⇩
- You & A Bike & A Road by Eleanor Davis (112 / 6) ⇧
- Shade The Changing Girl by Cecil Castellucci et al. (104 / 8)
- Sex Fantasy by Sophia Foster-Dimino (95 / 4)
- Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang (90 / 4) ⇧
- Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun (88 / 5) ⇧
- The Mighty Thor by Jason Aaron et al. (88 / 4) ⇩
- Coquelicots d’Irak by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim (79 / 4) ⇧
- My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame (75 / 5) ⇧
- Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka et al. (71 / 5) ⇩
- Everything is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell (63 / 4) ⇩, tied with
Siúil, a Rún by Nagabe (63 / 4) ⇩
- Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero by Michael DeForge (63 / 5) ⇧
- Golden Kamuy by Satoru Noda (60 / 3) ⇩
- Black Bolt by Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward (59 / 3) ⇩, tied with
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (59 / 3) ⇧
- Le Rapport de Brodeck by Manu Larcenet (59 / 2) ⇧
Two observations from further down the list:
- It doesn’t seem to have been a particularly great year for (the international recognition of) German comics – the only one in the top 50 is Nick Cave by Reinhard Kleist (45 points / 3 lists) at #37. Part of the problem is that it takes so long for some German comics to be translated into English; if e.g. Ulli Lust’s Flughunde / Voices in the Dark would have come out in the same year in both English and German instead of 4 years later, it would have ranked much higher. The same is true for French and Japanese comics, of course.
- Speaking of Japanese comics: with only 4 of them in the top 25, there’s still a clear divide in comics readership. Manga on lower ranks include Yakusoku no Neverland / The Promised Neverland by Kaiu Shirai and Posuka Demizu (50 / 2) at #33, and Fumetsu no anata e / To Your Eternity by Yoshitoki Ōima (49 / 2) at #34.
The following lists were evaluated: Adventures in Poor Taste, Amazon.com, Anime News Network, A.V. Club, Barnes & Noble (“new manga”, “comics”), The Beat (multiple mentions only), CBC, Chicago Public Library, ComFor (German), Comicbook.com, Comicgate (German), Comic Report (German, multiple mentions only), Entertainment Weekly, Forbes, Goodreads, Gosh (adult, kids), Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter, io9, Kono manga ga sugoi (English translation – male, female), Major Spoilers Podcast, NPR, Paste (kids), Publishers Weekly (Critics Poll), School Library Journal, Syfy Wire (ongoing), Tagesspiegel (German), Tanuki Bridge, Unwinnable, The Verge, Vulture, Washington Post, Women Write About Comics (big press, small press).
In this second part of a two-part blog post (read part 1 here) I’ll review two more manga from 2016, the widely acclaimed A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ōima and the ‘dark horse’ Yona of the Dawn by Mizuho Kusanagi.
A Silent Voice (聲の形 / Koe no katachi) vol. 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Yoshitoki Ōima
Publisher: Egmont (originally Kōdansha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2013)
Number of volumes: 4 so far (completed with vol. 7 in Japan)
Price: € 7
This is it. This must be the best manga of 2016. While I can’t claim to have read all manga from last year, it’s inconceivable that another manga could be as good as A Silent Voice.
As with Orange, the synopsis didn’t sound that exciting though, which is usually given as something along the lines of ‘deaf girl is bullied by her new classmate but then they get to know each other better’. However, apart from the first 8 pages of a framing narrative, the girl (Nishimiya) doesn’t even appear until page 50. This gives us a lot of space to get acquainted with the compelling character of Shōya, a sixth-grader who (similarly to e.g. Bart Simpson) does evil things without really being evil. Everything he does is motivated by his desire to ‘defeat boredom’ by all means. It’s impossible not to like him when he exclaims, “I declare this day a triumph over boredom!”, and it’s understandable how he immediately sees his new classmate Nishimiya as a remedy for boredom and desperately tries to make use of her to this end.
They way Ōima crafts her story is simple but couldn’t be more effective. By contrasting Nishimiya’s ultimate kindness with Shōya’s ever-increasing meanness while at the same time evoking the reader’s sympathy with Shōya, we experience their conflict as a gut-wrenching lose–lose situation. It can’t get more emotionalising than this. And even though the manga goes on for 6 more volumes, it’s not even all that important whether Nishimiya will ever be able to forgive Shōya – the story as told in vol. 1 is already perfect in itself.
While the script would have been strong enough to work well even if it had been drawn by a lesser artist, the opposite is also true: Ōima could probably illustrate the proverbial phone book and it would still look good. The art of A Silent Voice is absolutely on par with the writing. Of particular ingenuity is the device of repeating panel compositions of certain scenes (Shōya and his mates hanging out in his room, Shōya getting told off by his teacher, Shōya talking at Nishimiya) – not copy-and-pasting but re-drawing them with myriad background details (the amount of which is incredible in many panels anyway) changed.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ●
Yona of the Dawn (暁のヨナ / Akatsuki no Yona) vol. 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Mizuho Kusanagi
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Hakusensha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2009)
Number of volumes: 3 so far (22 in Japan)
Price: € 5
With vol. 1 released in both Germany and the US and vol. 20-22 in Japan last year, plus a popular anime adaptation the year before, I would have thought Yona to be the most talked-about manga of 2016. Instead, I found it on only one best-of-2016 list. Does that mean it’s not actually that good?
Yona is marketed as a fantasy story for the shōjo demographic, which is an interesting niche – although ‘fantasy’ might be somewhat misleading, as there are no supernatural elements (at least in vol. 1), so it’s more of an alternate history story in a vaguely medieval East Asian setting. This genre mix means that the manga has to deliver not only on drama and romance but also on ‘swordplay’. While the drama/romance part works out fine (could there be anything more dramatic than Yona’s father getting killed by the man she is in love with?), the few action scenes seem stiff, especially when compared to manga by masters who appear to feel more at home in the ‘samurai’ genre such as Sanpei Shirato, Gōseki Kojima, or Hiroaki Samura.
Another problem of this volume is its slow pace: at the end, Yona flees from her father’s murderer and embarks on a journey that will surely end in another dramatic confrontation with said killer. It’s palpable that this is the beginning of what will eventually become an epic and probably very exciting and good story – but in vol. 1, we’re simply not there yet.
Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○
To sum up, in my humble opinion, A Silent Voice is the best manga of the year 2016. However, there are several other strong ongoing series with which I have yet to catch up to their 2016 volumes, so maybe there’s going to be a third review post later this year.
Are the manga that almost everyone put on their best-comics-of-2016 lists really so awesome? (Spoiler: yes, they are.) Or was the actually best manga a completely different one that was overlooked by most? In this little two-part blog post [EDIT: read part 2 here] I’ll review two titles from each of those categories.
Orange (orange) vol. 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Ichigo Takano
Publisher: Carlsen Manga (originally Shūeisha and Futabasha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2012)
Number of volumes: 3 so far (completed with vol. 5 in Japan)
Pages: ~190 (+ 30 pages backup story)
Price: € 8
Orange is the highest-ranked manga in the aggregate ranking of 2016 year-end lists, so it certainly is the most popular among critics. But is it also the best? If you only go by its synopsis, you wouldn’t think so: 16-year old Naho mysteriously starts receiving letters from the future, written by herself at age 26. The letters are mainly concerned with Naho’s new classmate Kakeru, who will die next year, and adult Naho wants teenage Naho to prevent this.
Magically travelling back to one’s teenage days is not a particularly original premise for a manga – cf. the recent ReLIFE by Yayoisō and 31 I Dream by Arina Tanemura, and of course Jirō Taniguchi’s 1990s masterpiece, A Distant Neighborhood. The new spin in Orange is that 26-year old Naho doesn’t travel back in time; she only sends letters but can’t control what her 16-year old self does, and 16-year old Naho doesn’t know anything about her future except for what she reads in the letters.
This makes for an ideal starting point for the compelling exploration of a theme that was also central to Taniguchi: regret. One could even argue this works better in Orange, because although 16-year old Naho knows what she is supposed to do (according to the advice in the letters), she often can’t bring herself to do it, or decides against it, or simply misses the opportunity. The letters don’t change who she is; they don’t turn her into another, more courageous, person.
Add to that some gorgeous artwork (masterly use of screen tones!) and you get an almost perfect manga. Almost, but not quite: what took me by surprise was that the story is partially set in the time of adult Naho, and – not unlike the much-reviled epilogue to the final Harry Potter novel – I don’t think this works all that well. While the manga demographic terms of shōjo and josei are often problematic, this distinction might be at the core of the problem here: a reader can identify with either Naho the wife and mother or Naho the high schooler, but probably not both.
Another potentially problematic element is the unlikely plot device of sending letters back in time in an otherwise realistic setting, which as of vol. 1 hasn’t been explained yet. An unconvincing explanation at the end can still ruin a series that had been good up to this point (I’m looking at you, Nobuaki Kanazawa), so we’ll have to wait and see how this is handled in the four remaining volumes of Orange.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ○
Knights of Sidonia (シドニアの騎士 / Shidonia no kishi) vol. 14
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Tsutomu Nihei
Publisher: Egmont (originally Kōdansha)
Year: 2017 (originally 2015)
Number of volumes: 14 so far (completed with vol. 15 in Japan)
Price: € 7.50
Ostensibly, this penultimate volume of Knights of Sidonia has little to do with 2016: the original Japanese tankōbon was published in 2015 already and this German translation only this year. However, the 15th and final volume, which is yet to be published in German, came out in the US last year, so I would have thought the conclusion of the series would make a bigger impact on the Western manga scene.
Instead it seems to have gone by unnoticed – it wasn’t on any of the best manga/comics of 2016 lists -, which is a shame because of the historic significance in the field of science-fiction manga that this series has already earned itself due to its scale (surpassing Tsutomu Nihei’s earlier magnum opus, Blame!, by 5 volumes), its ambitious genre-bending, and its modernisation of the venerable mecha genre.
I’ve sung the praises of the series before, but how does a a single volume hold up when judged individually? In the case of vol. 14, it’s an above-average volume because many exciting things happen in it: there’s an alien infiltrator aboard the mothership Sidonia, Mrs Hiyama the talking bear makes several appearances, we get to know the enigmatic captain Kobayashi better, we even learn something about protagonist Tanikaze’s origin, Tanikaze gets a new mecha model, etc.
That being said, Knights of Sidonia might be a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts – or rather, being precisely the sum of its parts, with each new volume adding to the enjoyment of reading, rather than merely replicating it. For each awesome scene, there’s a sequence where it’s hard to figure out what’s going on (particularly the space fights), or an unlikely twist that’s only there for shock value. But put together, there’s a lot of awesomeness over the course of this series.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ○
[UPDATE: added 2 more lists – Chicago Public Library and AiPT.]
[UPDATE: added one more list – Comicgate.]
[UPDATE: added 9 more lists – Autostraddle, 3× Barnes & Noble, The Beat, ComFor, Comic Report, ComicsAlliance and Odyssey.]
[UPDATE: added 3 more lists – Amazon, Graphixia, and Rob Clough’s -; thus the strikethrough text in the comments and the little arrows next to some comics to indicate that their rank went up or down compared to the previous version.]
Towards every end of year (and shortly afterwards), lots of people publicly share their opinion on what the best comics of that year were in the form of best-of lists. Aggregating these lists into one ‘master list’ or ‘meta list’ might yield, if one believes in the ‘wisdom of crowds’, the best of the best.
For 2015, such lists were compiled by Multiversity Comics and ICv2, and their straightforward method was to simply count in how many best-of lists each title appeared, and then to rank the titles by that number. So I did that too, but I’m not quite satisfied with this method, and thus also offer a new kind of ranking below. Here’s the top ~25 according to the ‘old’ ranking method first:
1.) The Vision by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire (on 16 out of 36 lists)
2.) March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (14)
3.) Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson (12)
4.) Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (10)
Patience by Daniel Clowes (10)
6.) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (8)
Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden (8)
Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart (8)
9.) The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew (7)
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (7)
11.) The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson (6)
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (6)
13.) Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze and Laura Martin (5)
Dark Night by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso (5)
Faith by Jody Houser, Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage (5) ⇧
Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano (5) ⇧
Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt (5)
Mooncop by Tom Gauld (5)
Orange by Ichigo Takano (5) ⇧
Panther by Brecht Evens (5)
21.) The Fix by Nick Spencer, Steve Lieber and Ryan Hil (4) ⇩
Hellboy in Hell by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart (4) ⇩
I Am a Hero by Kengo Hanazawa (4) ⇧
The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg (4) ⇩
Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura (4) ⇧
The Sheriff of Babylon by Tom King and Mitch Gerads (4) ⇩
A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ōima (4) ⇧
…and then there would be lots of titles found on three or fewer lists.
The problem with this ranking method is, it gives equal weight to a comic that is ranked #1 and one that is ranked #20. With unnumbered best-of lists, the problem is that a comic included on a top 5 list is given equal weight to one in a top 30 list. Therefore I suggest to assign points, based on the list with the highest number of comics (in this case, NPR and B&N Comics with 30 each). For titles on numbered lists, each title is given 30 points minus the respective rank, plus 1 because otherwise a comic on #30 would get no points at all. So e.g. a comic on the top spot gets 30 points, a comic on #7 gets 24 points, and so on. For unnumbered lists, all comics get 30 points minus the total number of comics on the respective list, plus 1 because otherwise no points would be given for a top 30 list. Each title in a top 10 list, for instance, gets 21 points, while a comic in a top 20 list gets 11 etc. Here’s the top 25 ranking based on this ‘new’ method:
1.) The Vision by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Jordie Bellaire (295 points)
2.) March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (245)
3.) Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson (221)
4.) Patience by Daniel Clowes (190)
5.) Rosalie Lightning by Tom Hart (170)
6.) Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (162)
7.) Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (152)
8.) Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden (139)
9.) Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (129)
10.) The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew (128)
11.) The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson (126)
12.) The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson (109)
13.) Panther by Brecht Evens (102)
14.) Orange by Ichigo Takano (93) ⇧
15.) The Sheriff of Babylon by Tom King and Mitch Gerads (89) ⇩
16.) Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano (88) ⇧
17.) The Fix by Nick Spencer, Steve Lieber and Ryan Hil (85) ⇩
Hellboy in Hell by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart (85) ⇩
19.) A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Ōima (84) ⇧
20.) Dark Night by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso (77) ⇩
21.) Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt (73) ⇩
22.) Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam by Simon Hanselmann (66) ⇩
23.) Un océan d’amour by Wilfrid Lupano and Grégory Panaccione (63) ⇩
24.) The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillon (62) ⇩
25.) Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro (61) ⇩
Midnighter and Apollo by Steve Orlando, Fernando Blanco and Romulo Fajardo Jr. (61) ⇩
The advantages of this second meta list become apparent: there are fewer ties, showing that e.g. Patience is far more popular than Monstress even though they are both on the same rank on the first list. Rosalie Lightning and Monstress even swap their relative positions, because the latter was included in more lists but on lower ranks. The biggest surprise, though, is that Megg & Mogg
makes almost makes the top 20 in the 2nd meta list – it is found on only three lists, but always on high ranks – whereas Black Panther disappears (or more precisely, drops out of the top 25 to rank 27 28).
Personally I find it interesting (and rather sad) that only
six seven lists (Goodreads, Derek’s at The Comics Alternative, Amazon, Graphixia, Comic Report, Comicgate and Chicago Public Library) included a manga along with non-manga comics. Apart from Orange, Punpun, and A Silent Voice, the only other manga further down on the meta list, due to their inclusion in two or three lists four or fewer lists, are Princess Jellyfish (35), Assassination Classroom by Yūsei Matsui (36), One-Punch Man by Yusuke Murata and One ( 34 37), and Wandering Island by Kenji Tsuruta (49) I Am a Hero (40), plus a few others that didn’t make the top 50.
two three highest-ranked German comics just missed the top 30: Madgermanes by Birgit Weyhe ( 32), Röhner by Max Baitinger (tied for 32), and Didi & Stulle by Fil ( 34 37).
These are the lists I considered:
Adventures in Poor Taste (manga), Amazon, Autostraddle, Barnes & Noble: New Manga / Ongoing Manga / Comics & Graphic Novels, The Beat (multiple mentions only), Best and Worst Manga of 2016 Results – Comic-Con International (first 4 categories only), Chicago Public Library, ComFor (German), Comicgate (German), Comic Report (German; multiple mentions only), ComicsAlliance, The Comics Alternative (counting Andy’s and Derek’s as two separate lists), Forbes, Goodreads, Graphixia (first 2 categories only), The Guardian, High-Low (Rob Clough), How To Love Comics, io9, NPR, Odyssey (Rachel Freeman), Paste, Publishers Weekly (Best Books 2016, ‘Comics’ category), Rolling Stone (German), School Library Journal, Sumikai (German), Slate, Tagesspiegel (German), Unwinnable, Vox.com, Vulture, Washington Post, Women Write About Comics.
Did I overlook a noteworthy list? Tell me in the comments.
Something slightly off-topic for the end of the year: this is a translation of a post originally published in German at Perlen der Popgeschichte on December 18.
The historical scholarly disciplines often shy away from judging the immediate past. In contrast to journalism: usually already in December, a lot of magazines publish year-end reviews, e.g. the current issue of Musikexpress (cover-dated January 2014, published on December 12, 2013: “Das war 2013” [“this was 2013”]). Apart from a 29-page chronology and a 12-page list of the “50 records of the year”, it also contains, albeit only on one page, “the songs of the year”.
Which one was the song of the year, actually? In comparison to the previous year, which brought us two all-time hits with “Somebody That I Used to Know” and “Call Me Maybe” (both of which already came out in 2011, but didn’t achieve worldwide fame until 2012), 2013 gives a less clear picture. Possible candidates are, among others, “Thrift Shop” by a rapper named Macklemore (single of the year according to Billboard), “Blurred Lines” by a Robin Thicke (“bestselling single of the year” according to Musikexpress) and “Do I Wanna Know?” by the apparently still existing Arctic Monkeys (ranked 1st in the aforementioned Musikexpress charts).
A lot could be said about those songs and their reception, but there is another song that is maybe still a little bit more entitled to the title “song of the year 2013”: “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk feat. Pharell Williams. “There is no question that Daft Punk have penned the summer hit of the year 2013” (my translation), says Musikexpress and ranks “Get Lucky” 2nd in its year-end charts, after all. For some, that song is timeless, for others (i.e. me) it’s quite an old-fashioned disco funk tune, which nevertheless has somehow proven to be catchy. Perhaps that’s a sign of the times in which errors in taste from the 70s and 80s have almost become acceptable again.
More interesting than the song itself appears to be the accompanying music video. Or is there an official “Get Lucky” video at all? A legitimate question in times of alternative distribution methods. On the one hand, there’s the advertisement clip shown at the Coachella festival for the album Random Access Memories, in which we see, among other things, the two Daft Punk musicians with guest guitarist Nile Rodgers and guest vocalist Pharell Williams, seemingly performing “Get Lucky”. However, this clip only covers 1:40 of the 4 minutes of the song. On the other hand, a 47-second preview for the video of the official remix was published on the YouTube channel of the record label. It shows a crowd dancing in the moonlight and, again, the Daft Punk robots. This means there were several video shootings in the context of “Get Lucky”, although they weren’t used for a regular video clip.
I think such a video clip exists indeed, albeit not always recognised as such and instead referred to as “pseudo video” or even only as “Audio”. Even though this video is a stroke of genius. Similar to a record cover (indeed similar to the cover of the “Get Lucky” single), the silhouettes of the four musicians are set against the evening sun in this video, motionless. (Whether that is actually a reference to George Lucas’s directing debut THX 1138 or not, the similarity can’t be denied.) Only in the second half of the song, at the beginning of the vocoder break, subtle movement is brought into the image, by means of which it can now be clearly identified as a video and not as a still image. Then the figures freeze again, and with this static image (which now exactly matches the single cover) the clip ends.
The ingenuity of this video clip is that it imitates other timely manners of visual accompaniment of music through the appearance of a still image: the displaying of record covers in MP3 player software or streaming services, as well as the usage of static images with audio files illegally uploaded on YouTube. Furthermore, the video runs counter to the notoriously short average attention span of the internet audience, as nothing “happens” in it for two minutes. Thus the “Get Lucky” video plays wittily with the recipients’ expectations – and may well be the music video of the year. At the same time, the question arises how valid the traditional 1:1 relation between single and video clip still is these days.