Manga is tricky to give as a gift. If the person you're buying for already reads manga, they probably already own every book they want, while those who don't read it regularly have trouble getting past the stylized look and the right-to-left orientation. Fortunately, publishers are offering lots of extras this year, as well as a wide range of stories that appeal to many different types of readers.
So we will start this year's gift guide with manga you could give to almost anyone, and we will wind up with some gifts for the manga fan who has everything.
For the Disney fan…
Princess Knight, by Osamu Tezuka (2 volumes)
Princess Sapphire disguises herself as a man and wields a sword to defend her country. She's smart and strong but also sweet, and she loves to relax in the forest, surrounded by adorable animals. In other words, she's a Disney princess, she just doesn't know it yet. The bad guys are more comical than criminal, and the dialogue is punctuated with gags and asides in this loving (and deliberate) homage to Disney by Osamu Tezuka, the godfather of modern manga. This story is a classic that first ran in the early 1950s (this particular version is a revision that Tezuka did ten years later) but it has a timeless feel.
For the lover of beautiful things …
A Bride's Story, by Kaoru Mori (3 volumes, 2 out so far)
Kaoru Mori's A Bride's Story is set in middle Asia in the 19th century, and she fills every panel with rich detail—patterned fabrics, wood carvings, or the simple beauty of the harsh landscape. The story of a 20-year-old woman who marries a 12-year-old boy to cement the alliance between their tribes, it starts out as a domestic slice-of-life drama but becomes more exciting in the second volume, when the bride's tribesmen try to force her to return to them. (Read our review of vol. 1.)
For the wine connoisseur…
The Drops of God, by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto (ongoing, one volume out in English)
Like Falcon Crest with an all-bishie cast, Drops of God combines wine tasting with a soap opera, the story of a young man who must prevail in a multi-part wine-tasting contest in order to inherit his father's collection of rare wines. The drama may be fiction, but the wines are real, and some of them got a sales boost when they were mentioned in this series in Japan and Korea. Pair it with a volume of the 2009 foodie manga Oishinbo for a special treat.
For the youngsters…
Chi's Sweet Home, by Kanata Konami (8 volumes, 6 out in English so far)
Chi's Sweet Home is an all-ages manga about an adorable cat who is too good-natured to be afraid of anything. Unlike most manga, Chi is in full color, and it is published in left-to-right format, making it an easy sell to the manga-averse. Each of the six volumes is filled with a dozen or more sweet short stories about the adorable kitten and the family she calls her own. (Read our review of vol. 6.)
For literary types...
Tesoro, by Natsume Ono (one volume)
Tesoro is a beautifully produced collection of Natsume Ono's short stories, little slices of domestic drama set in Italy and Japan. Each one is sharp and sweet at the same time. "Tesoro" is Italian for "treasure," and the book has a precious quality to it; it is printed in chocolate-colored ink on cream-colored paper, and the cover is designed to look like parchment. Ono is the creator of Gente, Ristorante Paradiso, and House of Five Leaves, and her style is clean and elegant, very different from the stereotyped manga style. This single-volume work is a perfect gift and an excellent introduction to her work.
For sentimental types...
Bunny Drop, by Yumi Unita (9 volumes, 6 out in English so far)
Who doesn't love a good story about a bachelor who takes in a small child with humorous consequences for his work and romantic life? Yumi Unita's Bunny Drop takes that plotline and makes it uniquely Japanese, with a thirtysomething salaryman playing surrogate father to his grandfather's six-year-old daughter after the rest of the family rejects her. The book is unflipped, and the story runs across nine volumes, but Unita's clean-lined style is easy for even manga novices to follow, and the characters are extraordinarily likeable.
For the 11-year-old-girl in your life…
Sailor Moon, by Naoko Takeuchi (12 volumes, 2 volumes out so far)
With magical girls, evil villains, and amazing adventures, Sailor Moon is winning the hearts of a second generation of girls, and Del Rey's new edition presents the story unflipped, with a new translation and a larger format than the original Tokyopop/Mixx edition.
For young-adult readers who love a good story...
A subscription to Yen Plus digital magazine
Yen Plus is an online magazine published by Yen Press, which features both Japanese manga and manga-style adaptations of young adult prose novels. The current lineup includes the James Patterson stories Maximium Ride, Daniel X, and Witch & Wizard, as well as Gwen Carriger's Soulless and the girl-group gag manga K-ON! Yen Plus, which is available worldwide and not just in North America, is breaking new ground by publishing new chapters of Soul Eater Not simultaneously with their Japanese release.
For the hard-core shonen fan…
A subscription to Shonen Jump Alpha digital magazine
Shonen Jump Alpha Viz's digital relaunch of their Shonen Jump print magazine, will put legally translated chapters of Naruto, One Piece, and four other series online within two weeks of their Japanese release. It allows new readers to get fresh content on a weekly basis and scanlation users to go legal. The magazine doesn't go live until January 30, but you can fill the gap with a few digital volumes of Naruto and Bleach, which Viz is releasing early on their Vizmanga.com website and iOS app.
For shoujo fans with a sense of humor…
Mangaman, by Barry Lyga and Colleen Doran
Mangaman is the story of a manga character, Ryoko, who is transported to an American high school with all his manga characteristics intact. Lyga and Doran have a lot of fun with manga conventions, from speedlines that suddenly appear and then fall to the ground to the tendency for whatever Ryoko is thinking about to appear in the air behind him. The story is romantic and also thought-provoking, with a lot of sly digs that only manga insiders will get.
You can't go wrong with art books, and Viz has been doing a nice job with these; either one of these would be a wonderful gift for a fan of the series. A lot of manga publishers do art books and fan guides, so if someone you know is addicted to a particular series, check the publisher's site to see if one of these is available as well.
For the fan who has everything…
A subscription to JManga.com
The online manga site JManga.com doesn't offer gift subscriptions, but you could set someone up with a subscription with your own credit card. That will get them 1,000 points per month, enough to buy at least one volume of manga. The JManga folks are doing a pretty good job of populating their site with interesting titles that haven't been here before, and they are also bringing back a few whose licenses have lapsed, so it's a good bet for someone who has read everything currently on the market.