Manga has been a worldwide phenomenon for decades. In Japan, manga is considered an art form. The beautiful stories have inspired generations of young people.
Thousands of manga exist, but only a handful stand out from the rest. These are the best of the best. They move readers, entertain fans, and keep you on the edge of your seat.
The 20 manga on this list all have amazing artwork, captivating storylines, and entertainment value that puts them head and shoulders above the rest. Reading manga in Japanese is also a great way to learn Japanese too! If you want to learn Japanese, my highest recommendation is the online lessons at Japanesepod101. Or check out our list of the best books for learning Japanese.
20. Fruits Basket (Natsuki Takaya, 1998 – 2006)
Life is tough for Tohru Honda. She’s only in high school but already lost her mother.
She went to live with her grandfather, but her relatives treated her poorly. To get away from the situation, she decided to live in a tent in the forest.
She struggles to get by until she moves in with the most popular guy in school – Yuki Sohma.
She discovers the Sohma household has a secret. The members of the family are cursed. They become a form of the Chinese Zodiac when they’re tired or embarrassed. Each family member transforms into an animal representing one of the Zodiac signs.
Fruits Basket is the story of a simple girl in a hard situation. The plot is beautifully paced, and the story is masterfully intelligent. It keeps the ambiance light-hearted while sinister things happen in the background.
You’ll enjoy the comic portrayal of everyday life, while the dark undertones create a sense of danger. You never know what you’ll get from each chapter.
Check out the first volume on Amazon here: Fruits Basket Collector’s Edition, Vol. 1
High school aged detective Shinichi Kudo is a genius. He solves difficult crimes for the police.
A notorious criminal group, the Black Organization, tries an untested poison on Shinichi. Why? He almost caught several members of the organization red-handed after solving a crime.
Instead of killing him, the poison changes the high school detective back to a 6-year-old child. Unaware of who his assailants are, he disguises himself as an elementary school student. He must find out who attacked him, stop them, and get an antidote.
Detective Conan, also known as Case Closed, is underrated by many for being a shonen (boy’s) manga. Don’t let that deter you… the delightful animation and dark mystery keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Detective Conan is suitable for all ages. It’s comparable to Sherlock Holmes and the Agatha Christie mystery stories.
It’s not a mystery why Detective Conan is among the best of the best. He closes cases nobody else can. He’s Detective Conan!
Fans of all ages will enjoy this headstrong manga.
Check out the first volume on Amazon here: Case Closed, Vol. 1
The supernatural has always been a part of Ichigo Kurosaki’s life. He can see ghosts. Even so, he’s a brash and impulsive guy.
His abilities allow him to meet Rukia Kuchiki, a Shinigami (Soul Reaper). Rukia assists dead souls on their way to Soul Society (the afterlife).
Ichigo sees what he isn’t supposed to see: Rukia defending him from Hollows. Hollows are lost souls in monstrous forms. They harm the living and the dead alike.
Rukia gets wounded and gives Ichigo her powers to allow him to fight in her place. Ichigo goes from your average hot-tempered guy to heroic protector of souls. Ichigo is now tasked with hunting down Hollows and making sure they don’t cause trouble.
Bleach is very popular among manga readers. It’s known for good action sequences, smooth story flow, and strong art. Bleach was one of the best-selling manga and anime of the 2000’s. It consistently makes many top manga lists.
The stories have strong character development. Bleach focuses on major and minor plot points with superb attention.
Bleach brings exhilarating action comparable to a summer blockbuster film. Each volume explodes with page-turning power.
Buy the first 3 volumes on Amazon: Bleach (3-in-1 Edition), Vol. 1: Includes vols. 1, 2 & 3
Nobita Nobi is your typical boy: he’s lazy, has poor grades, and gets bullied.
His descendants are tired of their lives. They blame him. They send a robot back in time to assist Nobita when he was younger… a blue cat robot missing his ears and afraid of mice named Doraemon.
Doraemon and Nobita work hard to get Nobita’s life together for the sake of his future… but will they?
Doraemon is one of the best-selling manga in Japan. It’s a cultural icon among the Japanese. The manga gets praise for its silly humor and simplistic (in a good way) art. Readers love the way the series portrays the olden days of Japan.
Doraemon is a favorite among readers of many ages. He’s among the most recognizable animated characters ever.
Funny, child-like, and kind, this manga is something a reader of any age will enjoy.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Doraemon: Gadget Cat from the Future, Vol. 1
The world has been devastated by nuclear war. Only 30% of mankind survived. In the post-apocalyptic world, only the strong survive since resources are scarce.
Kenshiro finds himself in a village while searching for clean water. He and an orphan girl named Rin wind up fighting a biker gang attacking the village.
Little does the gang know Kenshiro knows Hokuto Shinken. Hokuto Shinken is an ancient and deadly martial art used for assassinations.
After fending off the gang, Kenshiro goes on an odyssey, meeting more and more enemies as he goes.
Fist of the North Star is a masculine, macho manga. It’s packed with action and adventure; each page is a testosterone filled fight fest. The manga immerses the reader in each fight.
There’s little not to like about this martial arts adventure manga. The invigorating, bone-crushing action commands your attention. Your heart pounds with excitement as you read each chapter.
For more details on the first volume, check Amazon here: Fist of the North Star: Master Edition, Vol. 1
In the magical world of Earth-land, wizards form guilds. Guild membership sharpens a wizard’s skills and helps them find jobs.
Lucy Heartfilia wants to join the Fairy Tail Guild. This guild is infamous for its misadventures and crazy members.
Lucy joins the guild through the invitation of the fire dragon wizard Natsu Dragneel. He seeks his missing father — a dragon.
Lucy, Natsu, and the gang go on great escapades. They fight powerful wizards and save the world as they make the Fairy Tail Guild a legend.
Reviewed as the best new manga of 2006, Fairy Tail is adventure comedy at its finest. It features cute and funny art only Hiro Mashima could bring to life.
Fairy Tail’s in your face action gets you on the edge of your seat. You turn each page faster and faster. Fairy Tail shows you what a true shonen manga is and could be.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Fairy Tail 1
The world is threatened by the Dark Bring stones. These stones give unparalleled magical abilities to their users.
The Raregroove Kingdom uses the Dark Bring stones in a war against the Kingdom of Symphonia. Symphonia uses five powerful Rave Stones to defend themselves.
During the battle, an explosion destroyed a tenth of the world. The explosion spread the Rave Stones and their guardian dog Plue around the world.
50 years later, Haru Glory, an energetic young man, finds Plue. Haru goes through a series of ordeals to find the missing stones and earn the title of Rave Master.
Rave Master is often called the elder brother of Fairy Tail. Fans love it for breaking out of its shonen manga shell after a slow start.
The beauty of this manga comes from the distinct maturity found throughout the scenes. Strong character development, robust plots, and tight-knit storylines make Rave Master a manga worth reading.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Rave Master, Vol. 1
Bad boys don’t always get the girl. Eikichi Onizuka knows this first hand. He’s an ex-gangster with all the works, but he’s still a certified virgin.
He almost slept with a girl one day, but she left him for her teacher. This gives Eikichi an idea: teachers have power over girls… and he’s going to be one!
He goes to college and learns he’s a good guy after all. Eikichi falls in love with teaching. He sets out to do one thing: become the greatest teacher in the world. He wants to be a positive influence on his students.
Great Teacher Onizuka, or GTO, has spun many adaptations. The series has a cult following.
Dumb, brazen, and funny, GTO is a breath of fresh air in a manga industry saturated by cute stories. It plays on the idea of a person doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
The detailed art dazzles the reader, and the stories follow pop culture trends. GTO is the perfect mix of humor and social commentary.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, Vol. 1
In a future where robots and humans live side by side, Dr. Tenma makes his best creation yet — a human analog android named Astro.
He creates Astro to help him grieve the loss of his son. Astro was made in his dead son’s image.
Dr. Tenma tries his best to love Astro. He can’t. He just can’t fill the emptiness in his heart.
Astro gets sold to a circus and made to perform. While performing, the new head of the Ministry of Science, Dr. Ochanomizu, finds Astro and takes him into his care. The doctor discovers something amazing about the robotic boy: he can learn emotions.
He’s also incredibly powerful. Astro becomes the shining light of good as he fights crime and destroys evil.
Astro Boy is penned by the father of manga and anime, Osamu Tezuka. It’s a perfect manga for younger kids. The dark stories often take a lighter turn.
The manga is a masterpiece of social and moral commentary. Complex and heartwarming yet easy to read, the manga’s age doesn’t take anything away from the beautiful story of Astro Boy.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Astro Boy Omnibus Volume 1
Ippo Makunochi is a young pacifist. He wants to be left alone.
He works hard helping his mom with their boating business. Unfortunately, his school has bullies and they torment him every day.
The bullying goes way too far one day. Pro boxer Mamoru Takamura finds the barely conscious Ippo on the ground. He takes Ippo to his gym to heal.
As Ippo comes to, Takamura tells him to take out his frustrations on a punching bag. Ippo sends the bag flying — with one punch. He decides he wants to learn how to box, but it’s not easy to learn. It takes hard work.
Higime no Ippo is one of the longest running manga series. The character-driven writing humanizes each character to a whole new level.
Hajime no Ippo has had many anime adaptations. All are well-liked for the characters and pacing.
Hajime no Ippo is the best sports manga ever. The stories are action-packed, scintillating, and engrossing. All elements push the limits. The manga boasts chapter after satisfying chapter of well-crafted plotlines. Only a handful of sports mangas can even come close.
Check out the massive 109 volume set on Amazon: Hajime No Ippo: The Fighting! 1-109 Volume set (Weekly Shonen Magazine KC comics) Japanese Edition
The Joestar family has always been destined for greatness.
Something odd happens once in several generations. A family member discovers a secret gift for the supernatural; they have powers that decide the fate of the world.
Starting with Jonathan Joestar, each successor learns of a looming evil. Only the chosen Joestar and his companions have the ability to thwart the evil. The world needs someone to save them and a Joestar will always be there to fight. Evil will never win… not while a Joestar is alive!
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is the epitome of a macho manga. Injected with lots of testosterone, JoJo’s art is of a quality you’ve never seen before. Crisp, earth-shattering action gives fans something to relish.
The manga is considered an essential element of any top 10 manga list. The macho characters and plots endear Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure to its fans.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Part 1–Phantom Blood, Vol. 1
At the end of the Edo era, an assassin known as Hitokiri Battousai has earned infamy. He has legendary fighting abilities, and he’s a cold-blooded murderer.
It’s now the early years of the Meiji Era in Tokyo. The old ways have been cast aside and samurai are displaced.
A wanderer finds kendo (Japanese fencing) instructor Kaoru Kamiya in a pickle. A murderer, using her family’s sword style, claims he’s Battousai and attacks her.
The wanderer defeats the murderer. He states that he, the dirty wanderer with a cross-shaped scar on his face, is the real Battousai of the legend. Over the course of the series, he casts off his old, evil ways and becomes a great hero.
Rurouni Kenshin gets acclaim for its flowing story and beautiful art. The story appeals to both men and women. Kenshin belongs among the top manga heroes of all time. The supporting characters mesh well, and the subplots are tight.
Rurouni Kenshin is a samurai romance. It’s a must-read for anyone who loves good stories, great villains, and fantastic characters.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story, Vol. 1
Gon Freecss enjoys a wonderful childhood on a quiet island.
One day he meets a stranger who tells him his dead father is actually alive. His father is a world-class, top-level Hunter.
Hunters are privileged people in the world. They achieve great things through their adventures. Gon Freecss leaves his peaceful island, determined to find his father. He dives into the mysterious world of Hunters.
Armed with a fishing rod, good friends, and bottomless determination, he goes on an endless adventure. He must become a Hunter and find the father he never had.
Hunter x Hunter has been continuously praised for its characters and intricate plot. A lot happens at the same time, but Hunter x Hunter never loses track.
It’s filled with an assortment of crazy people in unusual situations. Missing one small detail leaves an empty spot in your heart… a tingling sensation you missed something.
The story imparts strong moral values. You’ll smile with satisfaction after every chapter you read.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Hunter x Hunter, Vol. 1
Uzumaki Naruto lives in the Ninja Village of the Hidden Leaf. He’s a mischievous orphan with no good qualities. He’s troublesome, hyperactive, and dumb. A bad student who nobody likes, he has only one dream in life… to become the village leader (the Hokage) someday.
Naruto doesn’t know a nine-tailed fox demon lives inside him. The fox is a relentless being of pure energy that devastated the village 12 years ago. The monster was sealed inside him by his dead father, The Fourth Hokage, to protect the village. His father hoped Naruto would someday become a hero who leads the village.
Naruto is on a quest to fulfill his dreams. He wants to prove to everyone he’s capable of becoming Hokage.
Naruto has been a household name for the past decade. It’s the 3rd bestselling manga in history.
The Naruto character is magically annoying… yet likable at the same time. The stories are well crafted, and the art is topnotch. The fights can get unbelievably absorbing.
The manga is filled to the brim with characters, but each one has a purpose. They come alive in every frame. Naruto’s balanced plot and action hook the reader until the end.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Naruto, Vol. 1: Uzumaki Naruto
Hanamichi Sakuragi is a bad guy and a gang leader. He resolves everything with his fists and is unpopular with women.
One day he meets Haruko Akagi, a beautiful young girl. She asks him if he plays basketball since he’s extremely tall. Trying to impress Haruko, he pretends to be a basketball genius. He tries to perform the coolest move in basketball: the slam dunk. He fails miserably.
After a string of wild events, Hanamichi decides to join his school’s ailing basketball team. He works hard at developing his skills. He tries to learn to play basketball and become the great player Haruko would love.
Slam Dunk is the most influential sports manga in history. It’s inspired a generation of Japanese youth to play basketball.
Slam Dunk is still popular in Japan. Inoue’s art is a modern marvel with its consistency and realism. The graphics show how much each character – hero or antagonist — loves basketball.
For the love of the game and the girl, Slam Dunk is a once in a generation manga. Everyone should read it.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Slam Dunk, Vol. 1
In a world of chaos, bloodshed, and unending warfare, Guts is sick of it all. He’s been raised by an abusive mercenary, and now goes out on his own.
He becomes a wandering mercenary in the medieval countryside. He’s forcibly recruited by Griffith, the leader of the Bank of the Hawk mercenary group.
His fate changes once their team fights Nosferatu Zodd. Zodd defeats both him and Griffith. Zodd warns Guts his friendship with Griffith will be the source of his death. But will it?
Berserk is a dark fantasy action adventure manga. It’s acclaimed for the action-filled frames and the unrelenting story of sadness and war.
It explores the concepts of hate and crushing despair. The reader sympathizes with the characters, however contemptuous they may be.
Berserk is not your usual manga. Reading the story makes you feel like a wrecking ball just crashed straight into your heart.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Berserk, Vol. 1
Dr. Kenzo Tenma is a benevolent doctor and brain surgeon. He’s tired of the political bias towards certain classes of people in the hospital where he works.
In the wake of a massacre, he tries to change how things work. He takes care of fraternal twins Anna and Johan. Johan has a gunshot wound to his head. The bullet was meant for the mayor of the town. Johan is saved but the mayor dies.
Tenma is vilified by his co-workers. They wanted him to save the mayor before saving the young, low-status Johan. Everyone who antagonizes Dr. Tenma in the hospital gets murdered one by one, and the kids are nowhere to be found.
The Police think he’s the killer, but they have no evidence. Who is the cold-blooded killer?
Who is this… monster?
Monster is masterful suspense thriller that keeps you guessing. The manga is a top shelf crime-suspense experience. Every scene is a glut of misinformation. You can never tell what might happen next.
The art is cinematic and calculated. Every stroke of the brush is meticulous, and the expressions are never exaggerated. Each page is perfection itself. The character’s expressions show each emotion subtly, without overdoing it.
Scenic perfection: These two words describe Monster’s art better than any other phrase could.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Monster, Vol. 1: The Perfect Edition
The Dragon balls are seven golden balls that have the ability to grant a wish. They summon Shenron, the wish dragon. Teenage girl Bulma is on a quest to find them all. Accompanied by a monkey-tailed boy named Son Goku, they go on adventures around the world.
Goku undergoes a relentless training regimen under the legendary Master Roshi. His goal is to fight in the Tenkaichi Budokai Martial Arts Tournament. As Goku gets stronger, more evil comes his way. Eventually, he and his friends must save the earth from invaders from outer space.
Dragon Ball is one of the most, if not the most, beloved manga of all time. Still read decades after its run, it’s the most influential manga of all time.
Dragon Ball is humorous in tone… but the plot can get sinister. The action entices young boys everywhere.
Dragon Ball is an icon. It’s an enduring story that became an epic franchise. Ask any anime fan what Dragon Ball is and they’ll tell you tales of their childhood.
Check out the first volume on Amazon: Dragon Ball, Vol. 1
Edward and his brother Alphonse are the main characters in this amazing manga. They work for the state as alchemists. Both were badly injured in an experiment gone wrong. Edward lost two limbs, and Alphonse became trapped in armor. They try to put their dark past behind them until they have the power to reverse it.
Edward and his brother investigate various problems for the state. This leads them into a web of government conspiracies and secret organizations.
The duo pushes the limits of their ability to solve the mysteries behind alchemy. They long to make themselves normal again.
Fullmetal Alchemist is a dark science fantasy story. It deals with real-world issues like war, genocide, and government corruption. It’s a shonen manga to the core.
Even so, it’s praised for the strong female characters and smart action sequences. The occasional light-hearted drama scenes add a nice change of pace.
The manga matures with its audience. Fans have raved over Fullmetal Alchemist for years.
FMA treats its audience as smart. It offers fantastic, cleverly thought out adventure on every page.
Buy the 27 volume set on Amazon here: Fullmetal Alchemist Box Set
Gol D. Roger, the king of the pirates, has been caught. He’s about to be executed. In his final moments, he challenges his fellow pirates to find a treasure he hid, the One Piece. The pirate who finds it will become the king of all pirates.
Two decades have passed. The plucky nitwit Monkey D. Luffy sails the oceans and searches for the treasure. He ate a fruit that gives him the ability to stretch like rubber. Luffy assembles a team of misfits, and together they seek the legendary One Piece.
One Piece is the bestselling manga in history; its popularity is through the roof. Readers of all demographics and genders love the story. Even non-manga fans follow One Piece with cult-like enthusiasm.
One Piece offers simple, yet enjoyable art, endearing characters, and a balance of action and adventure. There’s heavy development of all the characters, including the extras. Each chapter is a page-turner.
You won’t be bored for a single second. One Piece is hands down the best.
Check out the first 3 volume set on Amazon: One Piece: East Blue 1-2-3
Or the first 23 volume set here: One Piece Box Set: East Blue and Baroque Works, Volumes 1-23
What is Your Favorite Manga?
Have we missed any manga you think we should include on the list? If so, what did you like about them? Let us know in the comments.
Don’t forget to share this article with your manga loving friends. Also, share it with your friends who don’t know much about manga. They just might fall in love with the coolest, most entertaining form of art you can hold in your hands. They’ll thank you for it.