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I love manga. It’s my favorite type of sequential art. But even I, a diehard manga advocate, must admit that the format can be intimidating. For many people, it’s the wide variety of options. The ability to choose from many different genres is both fabulous and overwhelming for the new manga reader. For others, it’s the sheer length of the biggest titles. Superhero blockbuster My Hero Academia is 26 volumes and still counting. The now-classic ninja series Naruto might be complete, but it’s 72 volumes long. And let’s not get into One Piece. That’s where single-volume manga come in.
Let’s face it. Long series are an investment on several levels. Thankfully, single-volume manga titles exist for those of us who are series-phobic and want a story that’s one and done. And while not every suggestion on this list began as standalone manga in Japan, they’ve been released as a single complete omnibus in North America. Perfect reading for a lazy weekend afternoon.
Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa
One of the biggest titles during the manga boom of the early 2000s, Paradise Kiss fell into limbo for some time. But a couple years ago, Vertical rereleased it in this gorgeous, new package. Full of beautiful art and stunning fashion, the story explores discovering your life’s passion, shifting relationships, first loves and heartbreak, and the bittersweetness of growing up.
I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up by Kodama Naoko
We’ve seen this romcom premise before, haven’t we? A young, professional woman is tired of her parents nagging her to get married. Enter the best friend, who agrees to a fake relationship to stave off the heroine’s family. But oh my god! The fake relationship reveals something real. That’s what you get here — except the best friend is another woman and the ensuing romance is queer.
Lovesickness by Junji Ito
The undisputed master of horror manga, Junji Ito has created some of the most seminal works in the genre. But while Ito is most well-known for his series like Uzumaki, his shorter works have just as much impact. “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” anyone? Lovesickness features short works that fall along two connected storylines — one about a town with a localized urban legend and the other about a very strange family.
Sneeze by Naoki Urasawa
Continuing the short story collection theme, let’s move on to another creator of some modern classics. Naoki Urasawa has written many stellar examples of seinen manga, and the short stories in this collection feature many of the qualities that fans have grown to love. Eclectic and far-ranging, you’ll get a little bit of everything here.
Dororo by Osamu Tezuka
Osamu Tezuka created so much manga during his lifetime, and his work laid the foundation for the format as we know it today. First published in 1967, Dororo tells the story of a Japanese feudal lord who sacrifices his infant son to 48 demons in exchange for promised prosperity and wealth across his territory. You’d think this would lead to the baby’s death, but you’d be wrong. A doctor saves the infant using prosthetics and alchemy. And when that baby grows up, he begins hunting down the demons to retrieve the stolen body parts he lost due to his father’s pact.
I Want to Eat Your Pancreas by Yoru Sumino and Idumi Kirihara
Don’t let the title fool you. This manga is not about an organ-eating monster. It is, however, about a high school student who discovers his classmate is dying of a pancreatic illness. Not the lightest read, but if you’re in the mood for something meditative and cathartic, I recommend checking this one out.
Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki
We return to the world of fashion with this descent into psychological horror. It’s hard to stay at the top, especially in such a competitive and youth-loving industry. Lilikoi doesn’t plan to relinquish her title of top model anytime soon. She’ll go to any length to keep her spot, even if it means cosmetic surgery — not just on her face but on the rest of her body.
She and Her Cat by Makoto Shinkai and Tsubasa Yamaguchi
Makoto Shinkai is famous for his films, Your Name and Weathering With You, both of which have manga adaptations. This title, however, adapts his first film, about a young woman learning to live alone as an adult and the cat who adores her. Manga is full of works about cats. You could say it’s a sub-genre. So it’s great to be able to include a single-volume manga that falls into this beloved category.
Goth by Otsuichi and Kendi Oiwa
Another manga adaptation, this time of a mystery novel by Otsuichi. Goth follows the unexpected connection between two high school students who bond over murder and the macabre. I recommend this one to fans of true crime since that’s essentially where these two teenagers’ interest lay. Mostly. If you like this manga, I suggest picking up the original novel because that work fills in a significant gap that’s not addressed.
Claudine by Kiyoko Ikeda
You might have heard of Ikeda’s other work, Rose of Versailles. This lesser-known title delivers the intensity Ikeda is known for in a single-volume manga. Claudine follows a trans man in early 20th century France and all the women he loves throughout his life, as well as the pain of being trans during that time.
Clover by CLAMP
While CLAMP is probably better known for their other series — like the supernatural tale xxxHOLic or magical girl fantasy Cardcaptor Sakura — this experimental work remains my favorite. In a future where children with special powers are kept under tight control by the military, the most remarkable of these subjects — a girl named Su — dreams of freedom. CLAMP is famous for their beautiful art, but they outdo themselves here with Clover‘s art deco cyberpunk aesthetic and stunning panel arrangement.