When a Manga Can't Go Wrong

I've always considered that American comics lacked a certain dose of originality when it comes to creating twists in a story or an end that isn't predictable. But, sadly, Japanese comics also have their downsides because of the way manga is categorized. When you pick up a shonen manga you know that it will end with the once weak protagonist saving the world alongside his loyal friends. Many shojo mangakas always end their stories with the shy girl getting together with the boy of her dreams, and even though it's good that it follows a pattern, it can get pretty boring and predictable, no?

But luckily there are plenty Japanese comics out there that have avoided certain cliches... (a.k.a here are some examples that I think have managed to get further away from the stereotypes)

(The text can be slightly spoilerific, so beware!)

When Imagination is in Order:

Writing about the daily lives of two students sounds boring, doesn't it? But this is where Yankee-kun to Megane-chan brings a healthy dose of imagination that gives the manga a comical effect like no other. How would you feel about reading a scene where characters literally fall through their school desks when they're presented with shocking news? Or how about a marathon that literally goes through people's living rooms? The artist's style goes incredibly well with these ridiculous events that help create a unique and equally hilarious manga. I think the message that the mangaka would wish to send is to let out your crazy side once in a while because it can be incredibly fun.

Even though it's categorized as shonen, Ga-rei has many outrageous incidents that would better suit this manga as a comedy. Every so often the mangaka goes further way from the usual serious battles with the bad guys and puts the emphasis on the crazy world around them. When the protagonist finds himself without a sword one of his companions gives him... an electric iron (yup, one of those you use to iron clothes). Just imagine our hero trying to fight his way through monsters and ghosts with an iron... And the boy doesn't even seem to be the one in charge - when the tables turn and he's kidnapped by an evil woman what does our hero think to himself? "Oh no, I'm princess Peach!"

I'm tired of vampire stories where the characters are handsome males that seduce young women. But Hitsuji no Uta takes the idea of vampirism to a whole new level when the mangaka explains that it is a rare disease that is hereditary in an ancient Japanese family and still affects their children. The catch? The characters don't know when or if they will get it, so they're constantly horrified by the idea of turning into a beast without control. In this manga, the people that eventually turn into vampires first suffer seizures similar to heart attacks; and the mangaka puts an emphasis on the malevolent, "uncool" side of vampires - they're basically creatures that can't be controlled and can hurt others.

When Realism is in Order:

I Wish... takes a much needed step away from the known shojo cliche by making the girl protagonist a witty confident girl that doesn't aspire to fall in love. Instead, the mangaka puts the emphasis on other people's stories and the way magician K grants their often selfish wishes. Again, the artist doesn't resort to the "happy end" for ever story, but often ends them with the characters saddened by a loss and learning a life lesson. I have yet so see another shojo manga resort to such techniques and I think it's a breath of fresh air much needed in the genre.

Although the times are pretty rare, Katekyo Hitman Reborn serves a nice dose of realism that sometimes reminds you that physics and death also apply in a make-believe world. An example is the mangaka's way of showing that you don't always win every battle even though you have the protagonist on your side. You'd think that the battle for the rings would end with the good guys winning? Well, they actually lose, all of them get gravely injured and one of their members almost dies. I think it's a nice twist in a genre that has it's emphasis on the protagonist constantly winning.

Akuma de Sourou contains most of the cheesy shojo elements we see everywhere, but it's one of the few Japanese comics that takes the time to explain why the protagonists' crush is an aloof and overemotional guy. The mangaka explains in detail about his past and the fact that during his childhood he was constantly overshadowed by his younger brother and never got any attention from his parents. And the artist puts a lot of effort into these details thus eliminating the chance of it getting dull to read.

Categorized as a mystery manga, The Hour of the Mice wastes no time to make it a point that realism can creep in everywhere. In a facility created to secretly train genius children the artist shows the reader that even kids can be affected and suffer, sadly just like in real life. One of the characters is weak, feeble, and often gets in the way of others. When a group of children become aware of their surroundings and try to escape, the little girl foils their plan and proves that even a well-thought plan can fail just as easily as it can in reality. It's a sad manga, but it's the artist's determination to portray reality what makes this Japanese comic original.

I'm not saying that more 'stereotype' Japanese comics are bad, but it's nice to see when some prefer to try something original and surprising. Here's hoping that someone that has never heard of these titles will pick one up and read it. ^_^