Over the last week, many manga bloggers have been writing gift guides in response to the NY Times’s decision to include no manga in their own Graphic Novel Gift Guide. David Welsh has a roundup of the posts thus far over at Precocious Curmudgeon; you can also find links at the Twitter hashtag. So here’s my own tardy contribution.
I should start by admitting that I don’t often give manga, manhwa, or manhua as gifts. My friends who are also sequential art readers tend to know what’s out there and just buy what they want for themselves. So trying to find books that they haven’t already bought or decided they don’t want is tricky; I am chasing after a constantly moving target. This is probably why we lend books to each other a lot, but when we give gifts, they’re often gift certificates.
As for my friends who are not sequential art readers, well, I try not to assume that my liking something makes it a good gift for another person. (I have made that mistake in the past.) And that’s true of anything, not just sequential art, though I have had better luck giving and receiving random music and prose fiction than I have with manga.
So perhaps the best recipients of sequential art gifts are casual fans: people who have read and liked some sequential art but don’t necessarily keep track of what’s on the market. They’re the most likely to be both surprised and delighted by receiving such a present. That said, it seems cruel to hook someone on a long, expensive series if they don’t have the resources to buy the rest or access to a good library system. That’s something to keep in mind when you think of who should get what. And there are some gifts that will even make hardcore fans’ days.
All that said, here are my suggestions and ideas. It starts with the usual book recs, and then goes off on some big tangents.
Collections and reissues
There’s nothing sadder than discovering one of your favorite series has gone out of print…especially if your collection has gaps or your copies are falling apart. (I remember being terribly upset when Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark trilogy went out of print a few years ago because the binding was falling apart on my paperback copy of the second book, The Kestrel; I snapped up the reprint editions as soon as they came out.) If you have a friend in this situation, cheer them up by getting them shiny new copies of the reissues, whether the single volumes or omnibus editions.
Everyone knows that Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma is back in print this year, thanks to the wonderful people at Yen Press; a nice matching set of the series would be a great gift. (True otaku could then have lively debates on whose edition is better and why.) Azuma fans will also like Yen Press’s new omnibus edition of Azumanga Daioh. I confess I am not personally a huge fan of 4-koma, but everyone else loves it.
The new omnibus edition of Clover by CLAMP is also gift-worthy. Even if your friend already has the previous editions, the omnibus edition has extra color pages that will make it a treat for serious CLAMP fans. This one was out of print for quite a while, which also makes this reissue special.
Finally, any of the VIZBIG editions could be good gifts for the right readers. The larger trim size and bonus color pages are big selling points for any of them. I’ll especially point out the Rurouni Kenshin VIZBIG editions. I’d be tempted to only get the ones for the Kyoto arc, though!
Many readers I know are wary of committing to long series. They’re expensive to collect, the long waits can be frustrating, and some artists have a history of leaving series in indefinite hiatus. (CLAMP, I am looking at you!) Avoid taunting your friends and give them short and complete reads: single-volume works, short story collections, and series of four or less volumes.
The VIZ Signature line is a favorite among manga bloggers for its great series and its great production. Try Solanin by Asano Inio for the quarter-life crisis crowd.
Several works by Fumi Yoshinaga are short and sweet; try Antique Bakery or Flower of Life (both four volumes). Of, if don’t mind giving a rain check or are planning ahead, try next year’s short story collection All My Darling Daughters. But be careful; I tend to find Yoshinaga’s work very hit-and-miss, and your recipient’s mileage may vary.
I’m instinctively a completist. So when I start reading a manga series, even an episodic one, I’m usually in for the long haul. However, other people have different reading habits; they’re happy to read a couple volumes of a series without feeling the pressure to track down the rest.
I’ve already mentioned Yotsuba&! above, but it’s also a great example of a high quality slice-of-life series with no overarching plot; someone who only reads a couple volumes will not be left on a cliffhanger. (Though really, who will want to only read two volumes of Yotsuba&!? It’s pure reading joy.) Another example might be Oishinbo by Kariya and Akira. It’s a great choice for foodies, but make sure you give it to someone who won’t be offended by the Japanese nationalism. It rubs me the wrong way sometimes, but I’m Korean-American (short version: Korea + Japan + colonialism = sensitive topic) and have very different ideas about food.
Untranslated manga, manhwa, and manhua
Don’t limit yourself to books in English. Give the multilingual/bilingual/language learner friend in your life a gift in one of their other languages. Series featuring everyday language tend to be better bets than historical or fantasy series for improving vocabulary, if that is a goal, though sometimes what we want to read and what is good to study are two different things! And the original editions of the works are often quite different from the US editions–if they are even available in the US–with more color pages and other extras. Even my friends who don’t speak any second languages sometimes collect non-US editions for this reason.
If you want specific recommendations, try Saiyuki Gaiden (4 volumes) for all those Minekura fans who are wondering why this spinoff series is in licensing limbo. I own the first two, and the editions are gorgeous; the color pages alone are worth the price. Or give the manhwa Fly, the new 1-volume short story collection by Kim Yeon-joo (김연주). Some of Kim’s work has been licensed in the states, like Platina and Little Queen, but her current best-selling series, Nabi, is not. I’m not including the latter as a gift suggestion simply because it is long. The Sunjeong Manhwa (순정만화) short story anthologies would also be a great gift.
And don’t miss the reissues and special editions in the original language. For example, the VIZBIG Rurouni Kenshin is nice…but not nearly as cool as the recent Japanese wideban reissues, that feature new artwork by Nobuhiro Watsuki on the dust jacket and on the book covers themselves. The “complete edition” versions of Hikaru no Go also look pretty shiny. If you want a gift that gives you geek cred, this would be it.
To find these books in the states, visit your local Koreatown, Japantown, or Chinatown; drop by a Kinokuniya if you are near one; or try ordering online from sites like YesAsia.com.
Pricey, but gorgeous. The few artbooks I own are some of my favorite items in my book collection. Some have been licensed and can easily be purchased online. I know the Bleach and Fullmetal Alchemist ones are published by Viz, and Del Rey is releasing Tsubasa ALBuM De REProDUCTioNS this month.
When buying artbooks, I gravitate toward creators with really distinct styles. I personally like Minekura Kazuya, CLAMP, and Yazawa Ai; the fan in your life might prefer Kubo Tite, Arakawa Hiromu, or Inoue Takehiko. Most of the big manga artists have released at least one.
For non-licensed artbooks, again try your local Asian bookstore or online bookstores.
(If artbooks are too pricey, you can also look into calendars. They are often, though not always, cheaper. Every year a few big manga artists put them out. I know there’s a Yotsuba&! one for 2010!)
Experiences and consumables
The older I get, the less I want to give and receive stuff for holidays and birthdays. I have too much stuff, and I can get what I need for myself. So here are some experiences and consumables that you might consider giving:
Con memberships: Is there a local manga and anime con your friend might like, or a non-local con they regularly attend? Purchase their membership/registration for next year’s con. The people I know who go to cons really like cons. This is a thoughtful gift that won’t end up being sold to the local used bookstore.
Fan fiction, fan art, and fan vids: Many fans love works inspired by their favorite series. But finding fanworks for a small fandom–and lots of manga fandoms are small ones–can be tough. If you have a fan in your life, try writing them a piece of fan fiction about their favorite character or creating a piece of fan art or a vid. Not sure what this fan fiction and fan art is all about? Visit sites like Archive of Our Own or DeviantArt.
Other: Teach a Fruits Basket fan how to make onigiri. Take an Oishinbo fan to the local izakaya or sushi house. Make a point of visiting any exhibitions coming through your town in the next year. Bay area folks are lucky to have Viz and New People, but you never know what might be coming to your area. The possibilities are endless–they just depend on you and your recipient.
Happy gift giving!