katmic (Level 10)

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A few weeks ago i might have been able to make a pretty strong argument about the central importance of a story to a manga over any aesthetic elements; in other words the art matters little so long as the story and characters are awesome.

Then i tried to read Attack on Titan, just out of curiosity, and dumped it two chapters in. That is how bad this manga is; not average, not passable, but down right terrible. Truth be told if not for the anime, i don’t think 90% of otaku raving about Shingeki no Kyojin would have ever known of its existence.

And unless they intend on proceeding with the series in the anime, i don’t think i will bother following its progress in the manga. That’s how bad it is. Seriously though, why the hell is SNK monthly in the first place; because by the time i am willing to wait four weeks for a manga chapter, its because i know great effort is being placed into creating some breath taking art works. What’s SNK’s excuse?

What’s that got to do with anything? Well, for one thing i am forced to admit that art is indeed a crucial element of great manga. More importantly that is what this blog post is about, looking at the Manga and Manhwa that i thought were most aesthetically pleasing to read in 2013.

Now i suppose this least will be somewhat restricted as it only takes into account what we have read, which largely consists of shonen/seinen action series; yet i believe those are the best kinds of manga and manhwa through which to judge one’s artistic abilities.

Anyone-maybe not anyone-can produce beautifully drawn manga about high school kids struggling with daily life in a slice of life genre; it’s a totally different ball game trying to depict great gods partaking in epic battles.

Anyway, the top ten best drawn manga of the year as i saw them are as such:

1. VINLAND SAGA (MAKOTO YUKIMURA)-

Vinland saga is a masterpiece in so many ways, not only in its story telling but the art, the series containing the most vivid images i came across in all the manga i read in 2013.

Most manga try to tell stories; not all of them can do so purely through art as Vinland saga will do, the facial expressions of its characters considerably unique, the environment rich and dynamic, each scene infused with the sort of violent life that the Vinland saga story tells.

I like reading manga and being able to recognise characters even without their favorite sword clanking behind them or that special scarf they always wear; and Vinland saga is surprisingly good at creating characters that are distinct not only mentally but physically.

One would think that a series like Feng Shen Ji would automatically top a list like this; and while it is indeed more beautiful than Vinland saga, it fails to achieve the life and mobility of this series.

Vinland saga is without a doubt the most impressively drawn manga of 2013. No competition in fact, at least as far as i am concerned.

2. THE BREAKER: NEW WAVES (PARK JIN-HWAN)-

Noblesse should have taken this spot, if i wasn’t being objective. Yet if i am to consider all matters at hand, it is difficult to deny just what this manga does without the advantage of color that Noblesse has.

If we are looking at this topic purely from the angle of action, Breaker is only challenged by Vinland saga. The fact is the action in Vinland saga is so beautifully drawn its scary.

Yet placing it aside nothing comes close to the madness of breaker, which not only presents to the readers amazingly sharp backgrounds, but makes the bone breaking, flesh tearing moves in the series so vivid they seem to pop off the page.

Truth is Breaker will rise even a step further than Vinland, if only considering how explosive the series’ battles can be, the way each fist seems to tear out of its panel, each explosion so….explosive. Basically what Breaker has mastered is the art of creating IMPACT in its fights, without sacrificing the detail of its characters and their surroundings.

3. NOBLESSE (LEE GWANG-SU)-

I won’t deny it, i am a little crazy about Noblesse, have been for the past three or four months since i began reading it; yet i can’t say i hype it for no reason, as Noblesse has some of the best art i have ever seen, largely because of how eye popping the colors are with regards to the action scenes and the amazing abilities displayed.

Noblesse does what makes Manga and Manhwa so great, allowing one scene to flow into another so organically, each strike, dive, swipe sinuous as to seem real, always easy to follow and to marvel at.

And that doesn’t take into account just how amazing the unique capabilities displayed in the Manhwa look, the richness of the blood and the glowing eyes of the nobles as they so elegantly do their thing. Noblesse is a must read if only to marvel at its artistic successes.

4. THE GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL (PARK YONG-JE)-

This was probably the first Manhwa to blow me away-well, maybe the second after Veritas which i read years earlier. Really looking specifically at the action scenes, specifically the martial arts, GOH is only inches behind Breaker in the masterful way it presents its art.

Looking at both series it is difficult to determine which is the superior work; because as amazing as Breaker is in displaying impact in its fights, it is nowhere near as inventive as GOH is in allowing us a glimpse into the intricacies of Martial arts.

And maybe that could be described as the crux of GOH’s success, its ability to base its story around real martial arts techniques and methods-The breaker taking a more mythical theme- which should prove difficult to adapt, bringing complex martial arts forms to the page.

GOH however benefits from the inventiveness of its author, the means through which he displays each move and strike, or really a sequence of moves so fast as to fuse into one, like nothing i have seen anyway.

Truly GOH is inspired artistically; admittedly in terms of color its rather simplistic, the detail within the images nothing to gasp over, certainly not within Noblesse’s league. Its backgrounds and even martial arts scenes aren’t nearly as vivid as those of Breaker or Vinland saga, but that doesn’t take anything away from this amazing series.

5. NARUTO (MASASHI KISHIMOTO)-

Since i have made it abundantly clear what i think about Naruto-basically my favorite series of all time, without a doubt- this might seem a bit biased; except its difficult to deny the true skill that Kishimoto possesses in displaying some of the most amazing yet most complex structures of battle in manga-and the fact that i didn’t place this at number 1 proves that i am being objective.

2013 has been Kishimoto’s year to really bring forth the grandness and epicness of the naruto universe, the images that much sharper and the message that much easier to translate, making for an absolutely brilliant story.

6. FENG SHEN JI (TANG CHI FAI)-

It seems a little crazy, placing a Manhwa like Feng Shen Ji so low on this list. If you haven’t read Feng Shen Ji, trust me when i say you will be hard pressed to find a manga so beautifully drawn. Even i couldn’t ignore it, despite my reservations over its execution.

Sure the Manhwa is AMAZING aesthetically. However its also a little stiff for my taste; also arranged a lot like a western comic book, with speech bubbles crisscrossing all over the place. And as such the panels simply do not flow as they would normally do in any given manga or Manhwa.

Basically i am not entirely impressed with the structure, and the battle scenes are simply too immobile for my tastes. Yet that doesn’t take away from how alluring the series is to read, how beautiful the colors are blended to make some impressive landscapes, the uniquely designed characters, the attractive attacks and impressive looking techniques, many of them so epic and so grand in scale yet so powerfully presented.

Simply put Feng Shen Ji is the best drawn series i have ever read-well, Vinland saga would probably be superior if its was colored. It simply suffers in several places in the static manner of its execution and story telling.

7. SUN KEN ROCK (MUJIK PARK AKA BOICHI)-

There isn’t much i can say about Sun ken Rock, mostly because it isn’t the most intriguing story i have ever read. As with most Manhwa i have read-precluding two or three titles- its overly simplistic, be it dialogue or narration, in a manner than just turns me away.

Yet i cannot deny how brilliantly drawn this Manhwa is, the shading so masterfully applied as to perfectly translate to page the brutality of the story; i specifically appreciate the presentation of the characters, the uniqueness and ‘heftiness’ of their features.

I don’t know if i would recommend Sun Ken Rock as a story, but its art is certainly something to gawk at.

8. DEADMAN WONDERLAND (KONDOU KAZUMA)-

It really irritated me that just as i began to read this manga-having just given up on the return of the anime adaptation-it suddenly ended. Though maybe it wasn’t that sudden, considering how events were progressing.

Deadman wonderland has always been rather aesthetically pleasing and 2013 was no different, this manga bringing to life the rather violent world of the deadman wonderland theme park with clean, sharp and pleasing images.

It wasn’t just the impressively presented surroundings that did it for me this year, as they were being torn apart, but the expressive nature of each character’s face, the bloody format of each unique power and ability so convincingly presented even without the luxury of color. A tragic story so vividly constructed.

9. ONE PUNCH MAN (MURATA YUUSUKE)-

Any first time reader of one punch man will quickly dismiss it for its rather tame look; and they would be right, because One punch man would be number two on this list if it could only be a little more consistent.

But i don’t think this is a failing on the author’s part, merely his choice with regards to the level of effort he chooses to apply to each chapter. Because when he determines to let loose, to truly show to use what he can do, One punch man becomes amazing.

And most of the time it’s quite good; because if you pay close enough attention, you will realize just how detailed and impressive some very basic and tame looking scenes really are.

But the best parts of One punch man, like that 20 page chapter that was nothing more than 1 second of a battle between two combatants, the initial strikes unleashed by either side; those portions of the manga make you want to scream, at the unnaturally realistic looking yet uncolored images, at the fluidity of the events playing out in each panel, the vividness of each character, explosion, beam of light…

Some sequences in one punch man are so skilfully drawn they are basically only awaiting animation to begin moving.

10. AREA D (YANG KYUNG-IL)-

I don’t know if i have said it before, but i am not a fan of Area D. It’s been a while since i actually read it, since August 2013 or somewhere along those lines; so maybe it might have undergone a few changes.

But last time i read it, the story didn’t impress me, in fact seeming somewhat too rushed for my tastes. That doesn’t change the fact that the author knows what he’s doing when he draws his characters and the impressive presentation of their generic yet uniquely displayed abilities.

Area D is indeed worth reading if only to admire how sharp and attractively the story is displayed, if a little lacking in detail and over all presentation.

WORTHY MENTIONS:

--WITCH HUNTER (CHO JUNG-MAN)-

I have said it before, that Witch Hunter, kind of like GOH actually, sets its self apart not through the clarity and sharpness but uniqueness of its art; each character is designed, expressed, curved, in way i haven’t really seen anywhere else, and this always translates into some amazing action scenes, always sinuous and gorgeously presented.

--TERRA FORMARS (TACHIBANA KENICHI)-

Terra formers is in the same category as Feng Shen Ji, another series so brilliantly drawn it should stand at the very top of this list; yet the way the story is translated by the art is somewhat…lacking. I find myself incapable of being impressed by what i have seen.

Then again i only read five chapters of the series before i dropped. Truth be told this is rather subjective opinion. I will say that that artistically, Terra Formars is what i thought the Attack on Titan manga would look like.

I think its the great art that makes this manga so bloody disturbing in some places, or maybe its the cockroaches-which i am not a big fan of.

--BE BORN AGAIN (LEE CHANG-JUN)-

Relatively recent manga, still showing little more than potential but worth reading considering the efforts the mangaka injects into making this story as visually stunning as possible.

And that’s it from me with regards to what we thought of as the best drawn manga and manhwa series of 2013. What were yours?

N:B-Bleach probably deserves a mention. Kubo is nothing if not unique in his artistic approach to the manga.

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