The manga wave hit France about the same time it arrived in the U.S., and manga has been well represented in recent years at the biggest comics event of the year there, the Festival International de la Bande Dessinee in Angoulême. This year is no exception, with a healthy handful of manga among the 58 nominees for four different awards: Best Comic (Sélection Officielle), Best Heritage Comic (Sélection Patrimoine), Best Youth Comic (Sélection Jeunesse), and Best Crime Comic (Sélection Polar). Some of the manga are already available in English, but others aren't, and that suggests an opportunity for readers who might find French an easier language to learn than Japanese; the French editions are available via online booksellers, although the prices are a bit high.
Here's a look at the manga that were nominated in the four different categories; click the link for a short preview of each one (en Francais, bien sur!)
Best Comic (Sélection Officielle)
Saint Young Men (Les Vacances de Jesus et Bouddha), by Hikaru Nakamura
Incredibly, this gag manga about Jesus and Buddha taking a vacation from their celestial duties to live in an apartment in Tokyo has not been translated into English, although it won the Osamu Tezuka cultural prize and is one of the top selling manga in Japan. Perhaps publishers are worried that people will be offended by the humor, but the bits I have read have been pretty good-natured. Jesus parts the waters... of a swimming pool; Buddha can't sleep because birds keep landing on him; Jesus and Buddha debate whether they can get a senior citizen's discount at the amusement park. Khursten Santos has a good introduction to the series at Otaku Champloo.
Takemitsuzamurai (Le Samurai Bambou T7),by Issei Efuku and Taiyo Matsumoto
Those who are familiar with Matusmoto's Tekkonkinkreet and GoGo Monster may find this manga to be a bit different; it's the story of a samurai who exchanges his sword of steel for one of bamboo. This review at the blog It Can't Be Helped describes it as being like a slice-of-life story about the ronin, but with plenty of action and some interesting visual twists.
A Drifting Life (Une Vie dans les Marges) by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
The presentation of the French edition is very different from the starker, black-and-white cover of the American version. The American edition reflected the darker, gekiga side of Tatsumi that we know from manga like The Push Man, but A Drifting Life is a lighter book, a lengthy autobiographical story of Tatsumi's development as a manga creator and the politics and commerce of the times in which he lived. "There is little of the despair that marks Tatsumi’s other work, and the little that is present has more to do with deadlines and the attempt to create meaningful art than dire poverty or sexual perversion," said Chris Mautner in his review of the book at Robot 6.
A Bride's Story (Bride Stories), by Kaoru Mori
I reviewed A Bride's Story earlier this year, and it was one of my picks for Best Manga of the Year. It's beautifully drawn and skillfully told, and Yen Press's American edition more than does it justice with a beautiful hardcover presentation. It really is one of the best manga out there.
Suna no Tsurugi (Soldats de Sable), by Higa Susumu
There isn't much information available about this in English, but according to the French text it is a story of the powerlessness of civilians in the face of the cruelty of war, set on the island of Okinawa in the spring of 1945.
Heritage Award (Sélection Patrimoine)
Boku no Manga Jinsei (My Manga Life/Sous Notre Atmosphere), by Osamu Tezuka
The French text says this is about a gallery of different characters who have little in common; other sources say it's Tezuka's autobiography. Maybe it's both. Whatever, it looks interesting and Tezuka really knows how to deliver the goods. If someone (hello, Vertical!) licenses it in English, I'm all in.
Shotaro Ishinomori pretty much invented the sentai superhero concept (teams of transforming superheroes like Kamen Rider or Power Rangers), and his best known manga in English is the classic Cyborg009. He was a student of Tezuka's and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the most prolific comics creators of all time. The Ryu books are about time travelers, and since they don't seem to have been translated into English anywhere (even by scanlators), that's all I can tell you. But I do think the English-speaking world needs more Shotaro Ishinomori.
Youth Award (Sélection Jeunesse)
Chi's Sweet Home (Chi: Une Vie de Chat), by Konami Kanata
Oh, please! Who doesn't love Chi? Admittedly, she's best taken in small doses, but that's how these charming full-color manga deliver the stories, in brief, adorable chapters. Vertical is doing a great job of publishing these in English; here's my review of vol. 6.
Crime Award (Sélection Polar)
Soil, by Kaneko Atsushi
Think of a modern planned community, a picture-perfect town, set in the middle of a desert. Now add in disappearances, murders, and other chilling events, and you have what Xavier Guilbert describes as a "lynchian mystery." Atsushi sounds a bit like Naoki Urasawa, using the disappearance of a local family to set in motion a complicated plot, enhanced by a quirky set of characters.