There are a lot of interesting manga out this week, but there is one event that commands our attention first: The last volume of Fullmetal Alchemist.

The series winds up with the final attack against "Father," and the possibilities are teased pretty heavily in the promotional text: "But to claim victory, some may have to make the ultimate sacrifice. And when the dust clears, will a happy ending await our favorite characters in the final volume of Fullmetal Alchemist?" I'm inclined to think the answer is "yes, after all they have been through, Edward and Al deserve to get their bodies back," but I guess I'll have to read the book to find out if that's right. Read More...

With the holidays coming up, manga publishers are offering some good deals to help you spend your gift money and iTunes cards—and even some free comics.

Last week I noted that Viz was offering 20% off on all volume 1's in their digital store; this week they announced they have expanded the sale to all volumes and extended it through midnight (PST) on January 8, 2012. The sale includes new volumes of Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece that aren't available in print yet, as well as full runs of older series like Death Note, Absolute Boyfriend, and Dragon Ball. Since most volumes are regularly priced at $4.99, the sale price is now $3.99, which is about as cheap as it gets (that's what shipping alone costs to buy physical secondhand copies on Amazon).

The digital manga service JManga is offering a special deal: Sign up for a new paid subscription (either $10 or $25) and they will throw in a digital copy of vol. 1 of Sherlock Holmes for free. This is, of course, not the familiar Sherlock Holmes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories but a new manga version, in which Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, fight supernatural shadow-creatures in a London that is wracked by crime. Just be aware that you are signing up for a subscription, so you will be billed monthly until you cancel. Whether or not you bite on that deal, JManga has another free offer with no strings at all: Downloadable manga wallpapers featuring selected JManga titles. Both offers last until December 27.

Ken Akamatsu launched the Japanese manga site J-Comi a while ago with the idea of putting old, out-of-print manga online for free. The ads that run on the site provide income for the creators, who have all given their permission for the manga to be used—and he launched it with his own series, Love Hina. This week, he announced an English beta, although it's not the most user-friendly site. There's a list of titles with English subtitles on the J-Comi Facebook page, but be aware that the English is machine translated (so it's one step up from complete gibberish) and isn't placed in the word balloons but is in a separate window that overlays the bottom of the page. This site is probably most useful to people who know a little Japanese, but hopefully it will evolve into something wonderful that we all can use.

Related Posts:
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December is a month of endings, and this month sees the end of two long-running manga series, Fullmetal Alchemist and Black Jack. That got us to thinking about what other series reached their final volume this year, and the list was surprisingly long. Here's a look at some of the series we won't be scanning the bookshelves for in 2012.

Fullmetal Alchemist

Yes, you read that right: Next week Viz will release vol. 27 of Fullmetal Alchemist, and the saga of the Elric brothers will come to an end. There's a climactic final battle, of course, and there will be sacrifices—maybe even the ultimate sacrifice. Will Edward and Alphonse get their bodies back? After 27 volumes, I certainly hope so, but you'll have to wait until next week to find out for sure. Read More...

This week's list is a mix, with no new series or standout titles but a number of interesting new volumes, including the ending of two Yen Press series.

This week is the big week for Yen Press, and it includes a bittersweet note: Volume 4 of K-ON!, the last volume (at least for now) of the charming gag manga about four high school girls who start their own band, undeterred by their lack of experience. Read More...

Remember Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo? It mocked the cliches of shonen manga with a story about people fighting over hair, and although the anime ran on Cartoon Network for a while, it was never a chart-topper in the U.S. In Japan, on the other hand, it was popular enough to earn a sequel, and now it is getting a new spinoff, Fuwari! Don Patch, which will launch in the January issue of Saikyou Jump. Saikyou Jump is a sort of companion magazine to Shonen Jump that is going from quarterly to monthly with this issue; it also features the Naruto spinoff Rock Lee no Seishun Full-Power Ninden. Read More...

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

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Viz continues their Shonen Jump Digital Warp by publishing the next four volumes of One Piece digitally this week and next: Volumes 59 and 60 came out this week, and volumes 61 and 62 are due out next week, bringing the American releases to within two volumes of the Japanese edition. The reason: Next month brings the debut of Shonen Jump Alpha, the weekly digital magazine that will publish six Shonen Jump series within two weeks of their Japanese counterparts. Since the American editions have lagged the Japanese releases by a lot more than that, Viz is shifting into high gear, releasing digital translations ahead of print.

Viz is also running a sale on their digital manga for the next five days, offering 20% off all volume 1's in their digital store. The sale ends at midnight PST on December 12. Read More...

Last week was a slow week for manga, but this week we have a rich variety of new manga releases, with a big stack from Viz, two outstanding volumes from Vertical, and a couple of cute manga from Kodansha.

Let's start with Vertical, which has two very different Osamu Tekuza manga, both of which are well worth picking up. Volume 17 of Black Jack (which actually came out last week) is the last volume of the series, which may explain the test pattern on the cover. Besides the usual assortment of crazy-imaginative stories about the rogue surgeon (Black Jack actually operates on himself in this volume) and his childlike sidekick Pinoko, this final volume includes an appendix that lists every Black Jack story Tezuka ever wrote, in order of release, so if you have all Vertical's volumes (which were not arranged in chronological order) and you're crazy obsessive, you could sit down and read the whole series from start to finish (except a few stories that were held back from collected editions both here and in Japan). They also have vol. 2 of Princess Knight, which wraps up this edition of Tezuka's children's adventure tale. If you like cute, Disney-eseque animals, fairy tales, and girls who dress as boys, this charming series is for you, and Vertical makes it easy to read by putting it into two elegant omnibus-sized volumes. Read More...

Hisae Iwaoka's Saturn Apartments takes place in a ring-shaped apartment complex orbits the earth, 35 kilometers above the surface—high enough that the air is thin and the earth is a distant ball, but not quite in outer space. Inside, the building is divided into levels that correspond with the levels of society: Wealthy people live in airy, naturally lit apartments in the top level; the middle level is dedicated to commerce and agriculture; and the working classes live a dark, cramped existence on the lower level. The difference is not just aesthetic: The lack of natural light causes immune system deficiencies in the lower level, making the inhabitants weak and shortening their lives. This seems to be the only place where people live; the planet earth has been declared a nature preserve and is off limits to humans.

The main characters in this manga are the people who maintain the outer shell of the apartment complex. Most are window washers, who stare down into the spacious apartments of the rich, and one is an inspector, who tramps about, with her dog, looking for flaws in the outer skin of the structure.

Mitsu, the main character, is a second-generation window washer. His father, Aki, disappeared while washing windows on the lower side of the structure, an area where the windows are seldom washed—partly because it is more dangerous there (gravity still exerts its pull this close to the earth) and partly because the lower-level denizens can't afford luxuries like clean windows. Everyone assumes that Aki fell to his death, but Mitsu is not so sure, and the tantalizing possibility remains that he might be still alive on the earth's surface. Read More...

Viz Media unveiled the cover of their new Shonen Jump Alpha online magazine yesterday, and they are continuing to speed up releases of new volumes of Naruto and Bleach so the digital magazine can be synced with the Japanese releases when it launches in January.

Shonen Jump Alpha, a weekly digital magazine that will replace the monthly print magazine Shonen Jump, will carry six series: Bakuman, Bleach, Naruto, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, One Piece, and Toriko. Chapters of each will be published two weeks after they appear in Japan.

Since Viz's print volumes lag the Japanese releases by a considerable margin, Viz is speeding up the digital releases of two series, Naruto and Bleach, publishing new volumes digitally far ahead of their print releases and, in the case of Bleach, skipping ahead to the current story arc.

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2011 was a good year for manga, with some solid shonen and shoujo series making their debut alongside more literary manga aimed at older readers. Here's my hand-picked list of the best manga of 2011, all series that launched either this year or in late 2010.

Gate 7
By CLAMP

Gate 7 has its flaws, no doubt about it—the story takes a while to get moving, and it's not at all clear what's going on at first. The setup—a student who stumbles into a magical realm and turns out to have the greatest powers of all—is not new. What saves it is CLAMP's graceful art and an intriguing storyline that weaves together past and present, all set in the historic district of old Kyoto. (Extensive endnotes help explain the many historical allusions.) By the end of the first volume, CLAMP has brought the ghosts of the past to life and launched an ambitious story. Read More...

It's always interesting to look across the ocean to what creators and publishers are doing in Japan, because much of what happens over there ends up over here as well. Here's a quick roundup.

New Legend of Zelda manga: With the release of the latest Legend of Zelda game, Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, comes news that the two-woman creative team known as Akira Himekawa will draw a new Legend of Zelda manga based on the new game. The manga will be published by Shogakukan, which is one of the parent companies of the American publisher Viz Media, so it's a good bet that Viz will eventually publish this one as well; they have already published ten volumes of Legend of Zelda manga.

Shoulder-a-Coffin, Kuro to come back after two-year hiatus: Shoulder-a-Coffin, Kuro, a light supernatural fantasy tale told in mostly 4-koma (four-panel gag strip) format, was licensed by Yen Press a few years ago, and the first two volumes were well received. After that there were no new volumes because the series, which ran in Houbunsha's Manga Time Kirara magazine, was on hiatus while creator Satoro Kiyuduki worked on GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class (also licensed by Yen). But there's good news for Kuro fans this week, and it came in the form of a note on the wraparound band on GA: Kiyuduki is back at work on Shoulder-a-Coffin, Kuro, and the series will resume in February. In addition, the third collected volume will be available in Japan in January. Read More...

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is a fairly quiet week for new manga. Viz has finished their manga releases for the week, and Kodansha is holding off on a few until next week. That leaves one very interesting new title from Yen Press and a handful of new volumes in series that have been chugging along for a while.

This is the week when Yen Press releases its November books, and they have a new series debuting this month: The Innocent, a supernatural-mystery series about a detective who was wrongly executed for crimes he didn't commit and who now seeks to save other innocents from a similar fate. If he succeeds, he will have a chance to return to his old life, but he must struggle against his need to seek revenge against those who framed him. This looks like an interesting read for the long weekend. Read More...

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)

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A handful of teenagers are left in a bleak landscape and set upon by killer robots. Who will survive? Psyren, the newest Shonen Jump manga from Viz, does not shy away from cliche, but the story also has a few twists to keep it interesting.

Right from the beginning, we know Ageha Yoshina is a tough guy with a heart of gold; on page two, he singlehandedly clobbers a guy twice his size who was stalking a friend of his. (He charges a fee, but it's clear he's not in it for the money.) He's a pretty typical Shonen Jump kind of guy, good-hearted, not a deep thinker, henpecked by his older sister but capable of kicking serious ass when the occasion calls for it. "Ageha Yoshina. He's rowdy. but kind," one character says of him. Just the kind of guy you want by your side in a deadly game of survival.

The mystery begins when Ageha hears a pay phone ring and, in his helpful way, picks it up. Some sort of mysterious creature appears, holding a cell phone, then vanishes, and when it is gone, Ageha finds a phone card marked Psyren in the phone booth. Having no idea what to make of this, Ageha pockets the phone card and heads home. Read More...

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