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Manga 101

A Primer for Beginners

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • June 07, 2021

Welcome to the magical world of manga! This wide and varied form of literature has some of the wildest and most imaginative stories in comics. But it can be intimidating to the uninitiated. For one thing, the books run "backwards" (right to left) and the conventions and characteristics may be different from the comics you are used to. Not to mention the sheer volume of options available! So here's a primer to help you get started. We break it down into the five main genres of manga, along with some recommendations of good titles to start with.


This is probably the most mainstream genre of manga. It is described as being targeted toward teenage boys (though we think it is fun for all sorts of people). The stories typically feature a male protagonist and lots of action—although as with all of these genres, there is lots of variety within it.

Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama
Launched in the 1980s, this long-running series is often thought of as the prototype of Shonen manga. An assorted cast works to gather the seven titular dragon balls to summon a magic dragon able to grant any wish.

Hunter X Hunter by Yoshihiro Togashi
Despite his Aunt Mito's protests, country boy Gon decides to follow in his father's footsteps and become a legendary Hunter. This decision launches him on an epic journey with other Hunter hopefuls.

Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto
Naruto is a ninja-in-training with a need for attention, a knack for mischief, and sealed within him, a strange, formidable power. His antics amuse his instructor Kakashi and irritate his teammates.

The Promised Neverland by Kaiu Shirai
First published in 2016, this one represents a more modern take on Shonen manga. The series follows a group of orphans who, after learning a dark truth about their existence, decide to escape their sinister orphanage.

One-Punch Man by ONE
This masterfully written comedy and action manga is supported by gorgeous artwork. The titular antihero looks like an average Joe—bald head, unimpressive physique—but he can beat any opponent with just one punch.


Targeting teen girls, there is a misconception that Shojo manga is all romance, but that's not true. There is certainly a bit of that, but just as in all of these categories, there is a wide variety of people who fit into this demographic and there are titles for all kinds.

Skip Beat! by Yoshiki Nakamura
When her love interest heads for Tokyo to pursue his music dreams, Kyoko quits high school to follow and support him. But soon, being in the big city makes Kyoko realize that she has show business ambitions of her own!

An Incurable Case of Love by Maki Enjoji
After witnessing a handsome and charming young doctor save a stranger's life five years ago, Nanase decided to become a nurse. But when she meets him again as his coworker, she finds him to be aggravating and obnoxious.

Not Your Idol by Aoi Makino
In the wake of an assault by one of her fans, Nina Kamiyama, a former idol in the group Pure Club, changes her identity and starts dressing as a boy. When fellow high school student Hikaru recognizes her, the drama begins.

Love Me, Love Me Not by Io Sakisaka
Fast friends Yuna and Akari are complete opposites—Yuna is an idealist, while Akari is a realist. When lady-killer Rio and the oblivious Kazuomi join their ranks, love and friendship become quite complicated for these four friends.

The King's Beast by Rei Toma
In this smoldering fantasy of romance and revenge, Rangetsu disguises herself as a man to avenge her twin brother, killed in the service of the Prince. But once she works her way into the palace, she finds things are not what she expected.


This genre is aimed at adult men, 18 and over. It contains similar themes and storylines to shonen manga, but may present a darker tone and more adult content such as sex, violence, and explicit language. As with the other genres, it has a broad range of topics and storylines.

Vinland Saga by Makoto Yukimura
At the turn of the 11th century, the North Sea is in the grip of Viking terror. Clever Askeladd leads his band of mercenaries into London, with the aid of the ruthless young Thorfinn. But Thorfinn has secret plans of his own.

Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine by Tetsu Kariya
This adventure follows culinary journalist Shiro Yamaoka and his partner Yuko Kurita on epic quests for the ultimate gastronomic experiences. The title combines two Japanese words: oishii (delicious) and kuishinbo (someone who loves to eat).

A Bride's Story by Kaoru Mori
This historic drama, set in Central Asia during the late 19th century, is about Amir, a young woman who travels from a distant village to marry Karluk, a man eight years her junior. The series follows their blossoming relationship.

Goblin Slayer by Kumo Kagyu
After being rescued by an enigmatic warrior called Goblin Slayer, a young priestess joins his mission to exterminate all goblins by any means necessary. But as rumors of the Slayer's feats spread, there's no telling who will come calling next.

Monster: The Perfect Edition by Naoki Urasawa
Dr. Kenzo Tenma is a surgeon on a quest to get to the bottom of a series of murders for which he feels he bears some (indirect) responsibility. Urasawa's clear and compelling art and storylines are great for manga newbies.


This category of manga is aimed at—you guessed it!—adult women, ages 18 and older. Again, it has a lot of the same themes as Shojo manga, but with content for a more mature audience.

QQ Sweeper by Kyousuke Motomi
Fumi is a homeless 16-year-old girl with amnesia squatting in an unused room in school. But when she's found by Kyutaro, a student with a knack for "cleaning," she begins to realize some things are amiss.

Yakuza Lover by Nozomi Mino
When feisty college student Yuri is attacked at a party, she's saved by Toshiomi Oya, the underboss of a yakuza syndicate. Irresistibly drawn to him, she surrenders to a dangerous love affair that threatens to consume her.

The Crimson Spell by Ayano Yamane
Prince Vald is struck by a curse that turns him into a demon! In search of guidance, he appeals to the powerful sorcerer Halvi, and the two set out on a quest to break the curse. But there are things the prince doesn't know about his condition.

Karneval by Touya Mikanagi
Thrown together at an eerie mansion, where they are entrapped and framed, Nai and Gareki join a defense organization called Circus in hopes of finding an elusive man named Karoku.

Happy Marriage?! by Maki Enjoji
In order to help her father, Chiwa agrees to an arranged marriage with the company president, a man she doesn't know. Chiwa believes the arrangement isn't binding, but her new partner seems to think otherwise.


Our final category is manga for kids. These series will tend to be cutesy, moralistic, and fun. Here are some great kid-friendly options (that go beyond Pokémon).

The Complete Chi's Sweet Home by Kanata Konami
Chi is a mischievous kitten who wanders away from her family and gets lost. Found by a boy and his mom, they bring her to their apartment (no pets allowed!). As they try to find her a home, she wriggles her way into their hearts.

Barakamon by Satsuki Yoshino
Technically a shonen manga, this is a story about a young prodigy calligrapher who makes a career-ending blunder and retreats to a remote island to lick his wounds. As he gets to know the locals, he finds he has much to learn from them.

Yo-Kai Watch by Noriyuki Konishi
Nathan is just an average kid until the mysterious Whisper gives him a device that allows him to see the invisible Yo-kai. Now, armed with the Yo-kai watch, Nathan, Whisper and new friends embark on a supernatural adventure.

Splatoon by Sankichi Hinodeya
The Turf Wars have started in Inkopolis, and the team that inks the most ground will be crowned the winner. Based on a video game that's kind of like paintball gone wild, characters fight for territory by spreading colored ink.

Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma
Yotsuba is a green-haired five-year-old girl who lives with her adopted father and is extremely curious about everything! Even though the series was originally written for adults, the story has a clean linear style, easy for kids to follow.

This should get you started on your way to becoming an otaku (an obsessive fan)! Let us know if you have any favorite manga of your own. Sayonara for now.

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Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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