Today's blog post from me is a little different. It isn't a book review. It is in relation to my 2011 Manga Reading Challenge. People have asked for recommendations, so I sent an email out. I thought that it might be nice to post it here, to help introduce people to the wider world of manga and anime. There is an anime/manga suitable for everyone - there are funny ones, violent ones, steam punk ones. Hope you enjoy the selection, and let me know if you get to read/watch any!
I'm glad that I'm able to help give suggestions over some manga to read. Magic Bean, seems like you already like the genre with Fruits Basket!
Here is a list of the manga I think you'll enjoy. Now, I haven't read most of them - I've only really watched the anime. The ones I have read are in Japanese so are taking me a bit longer to read :) As far as I'm aware, I believe most can be bought on Amazon uk.
The first one I'd like to introduce you to is the Aria series. This is one of my absolute favourite anime/manga of all time. As you can see in the wiki link, it is set on a world in the future, which is similar (in a few ways) to Venice in Italy. I loved how female orientated the show is. It's an idealistic world where there is no violence, no crime, although there is quite a bit of paranormal activity - some of the anime is really freaky, (only 2-3 episodes). It's sweet how the president of the gondolier companies is a cat - they each have their own individuality. The girls form a close friendship between themselves and also with their mentors. They experience the trials of life, about working hard, and also how to deal with people.
Then there is Angelic Layer. This is the first anime I ever bought, and also the first manga I ever bought. I loved it because Misaki is plunged into a world of fighting dolls that she's never experienced before. Little does she know that her mother is the champion. I can't quite remember the manga, but it's a little different to the anime (most are, most follow a slightly different storyline or take plot elements in different angles). I particularly like it because Misaki's mother is dealing with chronic illness. In this I think the anime is quite different (don't quote me on this). In the anime you get to see flashes of what life was like for her mother before she went away to the city. I'm in tears every time I watch it. I cry over the last episode when the two fight each other through their dolls. And yes, I wish we could have Angelic Layer dolls!
Another all time favourite (I have many!) is Read or Die the TV series (not sure why they added the last bit, but they did). It's about a group of non-related sisters who are detectives. Their secret weapon is paper! Each has an individual skill which aids them on their adventures with a novelist :) The anime is extremely cool, and the manga follows a slightly different story line (still with the same information). I remember there is one or two blushable scenes in both the anime and the manga (...personally neither were necessary but there you go) otherwise like Aria & Angelic Layer, it is relatively clean content-wise and little/no swearing.
The anime I'm reading at the moment is Maria Watches Over us. This follows the life of girls at a Catholic school in Japan, where most take on a little sister (by giving them the older sister's rosary). It is a funny anime, sort of like Aria in the friendships, really exploring all the trials of being human. Unlike Aria the world isn't perfect and confusion and misunderstanding happens (and people get emotionally hurt). I haven't read all the manga yet (Japanese version). The anime touches briefly on girl-girl relationships (very briefly with the odd romance scene, tastefully done). I think the manga explores this in a little more detail, but again I haven't read them all so can't comment on that. Um, just looked for it on Amazon and can't find the Manga! Still a good anime to check out!
Elemental Gelade is another all time favourite. I think its because I love the power that Ren has (and her outfits). The whole concept of a species of girls turning into weapons is pretty neat. Cou is a bit dense in the anime and makes a lot of mistakes - leading to him and Ren parting ways for a little bit. But his heart is in the right place, and he is determined to help Ren reach her destination. I've gone and ordered the manga to read for this/next month!
For an indepth and quite emotional anime/manga series, try Haibane Remnei. These girls with halos and wings are 'born' into the world in an egg full of watery substance. I haven't read the manga, but I adore the anime. It follows Rakka from her birth in Old Home (where she lives). In some places it is quite dark in the issues it looks at. There are a lot of light moments, although you will need tissues when some of the girls leave the world. I hope to read the manga this year :) I like the concept of how the girls (and boys in the other areas) help out the town by taking on jobs for them, how they in turn can 'buy' things using their reward books.
Someday's Dreamers is another growing up anime/manga, this time involving magic! Yume is undergoing magic training in the city. She ends up living with her instructor, who is male (she thought he was female). The magic used in the anime is pretty cool - and hard work. Yume learns that magic requests can't always be fulfilled or that sometimes they just won't work. Haven't read the manga, but intend to :)
Sakura Wars is a classic anime and manga. It was hugely popular in Japan (I think it got its own stage production). I love how the girls get to fight in giant robots (well, sentient robots) which give them powers. The anime can be quite dark - it's tough fighting evil and putting on performances for the public as a theatre company (their cover story). Sakura is dedicated in her sword fighting (and really good at it). She tends to rush into things, and always tries to put her wrongs right. It takes a long while for the rest of the troup to warm to her. I haven't read the anime.
Fruits Basket is a very well known anime/manga in Japan. There are an awful lot of volumes to it (over 20). It involves the 12 animals of the Japanese zodiac, plus the cat. Members of the family change to their creature when they are hugged by a member of the opposite gender. It proves hilarious as they try to keep it a secret from Tohru, who ends up living with them and falling in love with Kyo, the cat.
Gunslinger girl is another favourite of mine. I would place it at Young Adult range, just for the issues it covers. Young girls who suffer severe psychological and physical trauma are taken by the agency and turned into assassins. They train under the care of a handler. Not all handlers like their charges, but some give them presents. The weapons the girls get to use are pretty neat (for some reason I love weapons :) Must be because I love video games!). They aren't perfect and they do make mistakes. Sometimes it is because they get emotional - something the agency would rather they didn't do. The anime is rather violent, often sad and also emotionally touching. I hope to read the manga this year.
Another awesome anime/manga series (there are so many!) is Shakugan no Shana. I've seen the anime, and I'm going to be starting the light novels (a type of novel in Japan, there is manga for it too). This anime is really indepth. There are lots of elements to it, ones which I'm still unraveling on my 3rd/4th time of watching it. Shana is funny - initially she's focused on her work and doesn't care for Yuji. Over time as he helps her out, she does begin to care for him. She gets jealous if he pays attention to other girls at school. This is a confusing time for Shana, because that's not how a Flame Haze should behave. I love the power she has, how her hair goes form black to read (with sparks) when she transforms. I love Alastor, who gives her good advice and also helps Yuji too. There is some blushable content.
Azumanga Daioh is a funny anime/manga series, following the lives of girls at school. There is a child genius among them, who they all love and get to know well. Two of the teachers are friends and rivals - which makes sports day a very entertaining time. There are heaps of laughs in the anime - especially when one of the teacher drives them around. I love it for the humour, and for the trials and happiness friendships have. Content wise there are a few borderline scenes (blushable), and I haven't read the manga, but otherwise it's pretty gentle.
Other manga worth a mention:
Strawberry Marshmallow: follows the life of a group of girls as they grow up (and try to get an older sister to quit smoking) - it's cute and funny. Sadly the anime is currently very pricey so I've only read some of the manga.
Yotsuba& is a brilliant manga. It is so funny, the girl with green hair (on the front covers) is quite simple in some respects, and acts as though she might not be from this world. It's a great manga to read if you're learning Japanese because the language isn't overly complex and it touches on all areas of every day life. It hasn't been made into an anime, and probably won't be. It is available in English - I first read it from my local library.
Anime that hasn't been turned into manga (that I know of)
Last Exile. There is so much to this anime. It is steam punk, and follows two childhood friends who come across the young girl Avi on a mission. They try and protect her, which places them in lots of danger and leads them to discover the truth of the Guild who dominate the skies.
Noir. I love this anime. It belongs in the same category as Gunslinger girl, but is about two girls whose paths cross. Both are expert assassins, one by choice, the other by accident. Kirika has amnesia, and doesn't know who she is or why she is so good with weapons. Mirielle is determined to kill Kirika when they eventually discover Kirika's identity (yeah, not the friendliest of girls...). They are constantly persued by those who wish to kill them. Their meeting turns out not to be accidental, and there are some pretty major plot revelations. What I like so much is the different skills the girls have. They are pretty inventive in how they protect themselves, and their fighting moves are slick. They use anything at their disposal, especially if they don't have weapons to hand (including a fork. A normal eating fork.). It's pretty violent, and I adore the theme tune Canta per Me (or something like that). Highly recommend it. There are a few blushable scenes.