The 11 best manga of 2021

In the photo, characters from Dandadan, Jujutsu Kaisen and Sakamoto Days.

There is no shortage of good manga in 2021. Image: Viz.com

This year has not only blessed us with great anime, but also with wonderful manga. Thank goodness for that! Here is our list of the best manga of 2021.

Keep in mind that the list is not limited to the new manga that debuted this year, but includes those that were released in 2021, either in serialization or in published volumes. The manga are listed below in no particular order.

(Full disclosure: My first two books were published by Kodansha.)

A close-up of Isagi, who has an intense expression on her face.

Muneyuki Kaneshiro story, illustration by Yusuke Nomura Image: © 2021 Kodansha USA Publishing. All rights reserved.

Sports manga can feel alike with firmly established genre conventions. But Blue Lock is unlike any sports manga I’ve read. It’s like Squid Game, but with football minus all the killings.

The manga, which debuted in 2018, picks up after the Japanese national soccer team placed 16th in the FIFA World Cup. Believing that the country’s football program lacks a world-class striker, the Blue Lock program was created to find the best of the best among hundreds of top young prospects. The catch is that those who are disqualified can never represent Japan in international football. Whoever emerges as the winner will be a legendary striker who can lead Japan to World Cup victory!

Filled with INTENSE art and INTENSE characters, the set is utterly ridiculous, but absolutely wonderful. Some of the comments about Japanese football are absolutely scathing.

Yuji is in the foreground and is surrounded by hands reaching out to him.

History and art by Gege Akutami Image: Viz.com

If 2020 was the year of Demon Slayer, then 2021 was the year of Jujutsu Kaisen. The Supernatural Manga wasn’t one of the biggest titles this year, it was this year’s biggest title, selling better than anything in Japan. But is this correct? Damn yeah.

Jujutsu Kaisen centers on Yuji Itadori, a student who transferred to Jujutsu High School in Tokyo Prefecture, a school for wizards, after a paranormal event at his previous school. He and his classmates fight evil and try to locate the cursed fingers for Yuji to consume. The manga wears his influences on its sleeve, but does a good job of balancing action, humor, and the supernatural.

The characters are shown in their youth.

Histoire de Kanehito Yamada, art de Tsukasa AbeImage: Viz.com

Frieren begins where other JPRG-type stories end: the hero and his party return after a ten-year adventure in which they defeated the Demon King. For Frieren, an elven mage, ten years is a short period of time, like a weekend hanging out. But for the human members of the group, their adventure was a big part of their life.

After being confronted with the deadly passage of time, Frieren ends up embarking on another quest, and in doing so, learns more about humans. This is a touching, bittersweet manga that plays on tropes and genre conventions, while also emphasizing how precious time spent with others is.

Momo and Ken are looking at us directly.

History and Art by Yukinobu Tatsu Image: Viz.com

Schoolgirl Momo Ayase believes in ghosts, not aliens. Schoolboy Ken Takakura (no, not that Ken Takakura) believes in aliens and ghosts. What starts off as a way to change each other’s minds sets off a really crazy series. The result is funny, often obscene, and never boring. What keeps Dandadan from slipping into self-parody are clever characters with heart, even as the madness and blue humor shift into high gear. And do they ever do.

A close-up of the first volume shows a Titan moving in.

History and Art of Hajime Isayama Image: © 2021 Kodansha USA Publishing. All rights reserved.

Can you believe it Eleven years ago, Attack on Titan by Hajime Iseyama debuted, and this spring the manga called it a day. After more than a decade, Attack on Titan has come to an end.

Every time a long movie, a TV show, or here a manga ends, people are bound to be disappointed. And some Attack on Titan fans are, well, disappointed. After so long, they might have their own ideas for how the Attack on Titan manga should end. But in the manga’s meaty conclusion, Iseyama had his own ideas of how to wrap up the saga, creating a fitting, but flawed, ending to his magnum opus.

A thoughtful-looking young Takemichi is getting ready.

History and Art of Ken Wakui Image: © 2021 Kodansha USA Publishing. All rights reserved.

The manga tells the story of Takemichi, whose life did not turn out as he expected. One fateful day, he travels back in time to when he was an undergraduate thug. Time-traveling Takemichi doesn’t try to relive his youthful glory, but instead tries to prevent the future death of his then-girlfriend. The manga deals with the themes of growth, friendship, young love, sacrifice and second chances.

Tokyo Revengers is heading towards its conclusion and the story comes to a head. Can’t wait to see how it ends.

Denji holds a chainsaw while his chainsaw dog climbs on his back.

History and art by Tatsuki Fujimoto Image: Viz.com

Life is tough for Denji. He will do anything to earn a dollar or two to pay off his father’s debt. Things change when he merges with his chainsaw dog Pochita, transforming into Chainsaw Man. Now, with chainsaws sticking out of his arms and head, he’s ready to hunt demons in this surreal, gory manga.

As much as Denji is a tragic hero, he is also not even the most tragic of Chainsaw Man. The pathos that runs through this manga elevates it beyond a simple splash festival. There is a lot of heart and humor.

While the last of the first eleven Japanese volumes has been published this year, the English versions will not finish until next June. With the anime adaptation of Mappa hitting the airwaves in 2022 and the manga’s second arc kicking off next summer, now is a great time to step into Chainsaw Man.

Yuki and her handsome boyfriend are surrounded by flowers.

Story and art by suu Morishita Image: © 2021 Kodansha USA Publishing. All rights reserved.

Yuki, a deaf student, is fortunate to meet another cosmopolitan and multilingual student. However, he does not know Japanese Sign Language. There is an attraction and a relationship between the two develops.

A furtive expression. A gleam in the eyes. A slight blush. Romantic manga tend to focus on split looks, but here those looks seem even more important. The manga does an interesting job of balancing the ways Yuki communicates, whether through signs, text messages, or inner monologues. You feel even closer to the heroine as the romance unfolds.

Kaiju No. 8 clenches his fists.

History and art of Naoya Matsumoto Image: Viz.com

Set in a version of Japan battling kaiju epidemics, it follows 32-year-old Kafka Hibino who dreamed of joining the country’s defense forces to fight harmful monsters. However, since repeatedly failing the entrance exam, Kafka has been relegated to the rank of monster sweeper, cleaning up dead kaiju carcasses. It is rude and thankless work. However, Kafka’s seemingly hopeless life changes after ingesting a parasite that grants her the ability to become a kaiju.

A clever riff on kaiju movies and superhero comics, dang, this is a good manga. The art, the action, the characters and the story are all fantastic. If this year was the year of Jujutsu Kaisen, the next year could very well be the year of Kaiju # 8.

Here are the three main characters of Spy x Family.

History and art by Tatsuya Endo Image: Viz.com

Debuting in 2019, Spy x Family continues to be one of the most interesting and enjoyable manga around. The story follows a super spy, who must start a fake family to infiltrate and catch the villain. He must therefore adopt a child and marry a woman. Sounds simple, right? Things get complicated after you telepathically adopt a young girl and marry a deadly assassin. All three characters have their own baggage and stuff they need for work. They are dysfunctional, of course, but aren’t all families?

Sakamoto holds a gun in one hand and a barcode reader in the other.

History and art of Yuto Suzuki Image: Viz.com

Sakamoto Days follows Taro Sakamoto, the greatest hitman of all time. At the height of his powers, he falls in love and abandons his career as a professional killer for that of marriage and fatherhood. A few years later, Sakamoto, a few pounds heavier, runs a mini-market when his past catches up with him …

But Sakamoto made a no-kill promise to his wife, so he needs to creatively defuse situations. The characters, good guys and bad guys, are all interesting and entertaining. Art does a good job of selling humor. Think John Wick, but light and silly.