Megalo Box (manga 2018–present / anime 2018)
Manga written by Chikara Sakuma, published by Kodansha. Anime directed by You Moriyama, written by Katsuhiko Manabe and Kensaku Kojima, with TMS Entertainment.
Megalo Box is a modern re-imagining of the 1968 manga series Ashita no Joe by Ikki Kajiwara. In the not so distant future, boxing matches are fought with partial exoskeletons; making punches faster and much, much harder.
The series follows the fighter, Junk Dog, and his drunk coach Nanbu, competing in shady underground Megalo boxing matches. But when a chance encounter pits Junk Dog against Megalo Boxing champion, Yuuri; the defeat spurs the pair in an attempt to qualify for the Megalonia Championship.
I’m not familiar with any of the original Ashita no Joe material, but Moriyama has captured the authentic feel. The illustration has a 1960s look with gritty texturing and a beautiful colour grade, but with slick modern animation and excellent composition.
While commenting subtly on inequality and class divide, the plot is enjoyably straightforward, and the lack of cliche lines is refreshing; though there’s an exciting twist in episode four.
Simulcast Fridays on Crunchyroll
Golden Kamuy (manga 2014–present / anime 2018)
Manga written and illustrated by Satoru Noda. Anime directed by Hitoshi Nanba, written by Noboru Takagi, with Geno Studio.
Golden Kamuy is a historical, action, mystery set in the Hokkaido region, a short while after the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05). The story follows former soldier Saichi Sugimoto, and young Ainu Asirpa; in their search for a cache of hidden gold rumoured to be worth around ¥800 million. The catch is, the map is tattooed on the backs of 24 escaped prisoners from the infamous Abashiri prison.
Historical fictions usually aren’t my bag, but I couldn’t resist the unusual premise — Golden Kamuy is now a firm favourite. Noda has a compelling style of storytelling and does a fantastic job of vilifying, and then redeeming characters. I found myself warming to the extended cast’s charming quirks. Not to mention, they’re seriously fucking funny.
Some studios tend to overuse 3D, but Geno Studio has struck the perfect balance between traditional animation and visual effects. The hand-painted background’s capture Hokkaido’s wilderness beautifully, and create a dramatic contrast with the character design. The restrained and subtle use of VFX to generate fire and animal fur, raise the bar high for a TV series — even though I’m up to date with the manga, watching will be a delight.
Though for me, what makes this series great is Noda’s use of historical facts and research. Hiroshi Nakagawa, an Ainu language linguist from Chiba University, supervised production. Noda also included many historical, flora and fauna notes in the manga; which helps tremendously with the culinary sub-plot, where Sugimoto and Asirpa eat absolutely everything they get their mitts on. Literally every chapter they’re enjoying a new dish, and going by the amount of detail included in the books — I’d bet these are legitimate recipes. Hinna! Hinna!.
Episode one aired April 9. The anime looks incredible; I highly recommend watching the season and picking up the manga where it leaves off.
Stream on Crunchyroll
Kokkoku: Moment by Moment
Manga written and illustrated by Seita Horio. Anime directed by Yoshimitsu Ohashi, written by Noboru Kimura, with Geno Studio.
Kokkoku is a time travel, mystery set in present-day Japan. It follows Juri Yukawa, a young woman struggling to find a job while living with her family. But when a cult kidnaps her brother and nephew, she learns her seemingly ordinary family has the ability to stop time — but what awaits them in the motionless world of Stasis?
The idea of being able to move around in a single moment captured my interest immediately. I love the depth of the thinking behind interactions and physics within the world. Frozen objects aren’t immovable; they can be moved, used and left floating mid-air; water can’t flow and forms a space-like jelly; fire doesn’t burn, so you’re unable to prepare food.
Horio’s storytelling is compelling, as he covers the family’s underlying internal struggles, the motivations of a cult leader and its followers; all while unfolding the mystery behind Stasis and the grotesque monsters that lurk within. While I felt the ending was a little ‘convenient,’ the direction the series takes from the fourth act is unexpectedly refreshing.
Stream from Amazon Prime
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell (1995 film)
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, written by Kozunori Itō, directed by Mamoru Oshii with studio Production I.G.
Ghost in the Shell is a political, cyberpunk, action-thriller set in 2029 Japan. Technology has advanced to a point where the body can be replaced with cybernetic parts or the brain encased in a mechanical shell with network connectivity. We follow Major Mokoto Kusanagi, a full cyborg and leader of Public Security Section 9 of New Port City.
The film balances story and action exceptionally well, the dynamic sequences are short but have exceptional choreography. Though where it truly shines is the level of detail throughout, from the intricate cyber bodies to sprawling urban landscapes; the film gives you plenty of time to enjoy them. Some of my favourite moments are the simply observing the futuristic city.
While other iterations of Ghost in the Shell don’t quite match the perfection of this film, they are worth a look.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004 film)
Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, written and directed by Mamoru Oshii with studio Production I.G.
Apparently, Innocence isn’t a sequel as much as a separate work, though it’s set after and references the original as well as parts of the manga. The plot isn’t as straightforward as the first film and leans heavily into psychological mystery. While looking like something from the Ghost in the Shell universe, Oshii has given Innocence a distinctly different feel. 3D and visual effects are blended with traditional techniques to produce a beautiful animation style. City scenes and Batou’s apartment are gorgeous, and the way reflective surfaces are treated particularly stand out. Despite the mixed reception, I like Innocence and feel it fits well into the overall series.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002–05)
Written and directed by Kenji Kamiyama with studio Production I.G.
The TV series includes two seasons and a bunch of specials which will take too long to cover here, but they’re worth watching if you enjoy the films. The character design resembles the manga a little more, and the animation quality is typical of a series. Personally, I prefer season one over two; I found storyline more engaging. The series also spends plenty of time telling the backstory of supporting characters as well as a fun side plot with Tachikoma.
Ghost in the Shell: Arise (2013–15)
Written by Tow Ubukata and directed by Kazuya Nomura with studio Production I.G.
Arise is the latest adaptation set two years before the original film and the formation of Section 9. On paper, the series order is a little confusing. Arise can be watched two ways; start with the five OAVs (Border 1–5) or the ten-part series (which is each OAV split into two episodes); then watch Ghost in the Shell: New Movie to wrap it up — see, confusing right? I don’t think Arise takes the series anywhere new, I found it underwhelming, and the character designs were a little bland — the Major, in particular, had lost her edginess.
AKIRA (1988 film)
Based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga. Directed by Otomo, written by Otomo and Izo Hashimoto with studio TMS Entertainment.
Technically, this was the first anime I watched; my uncle played it for me when I was around 7-years-old, and it scared the shit out of me. I’ve viewed it more times than I can count and it’s still an incredible film that holds up today.
AKIRA is a dystopian sci-fi set in post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo, a city simultaneously rebuilding and falling apart after WWIII. It follows Kaneda, a high school dropout and leader of a motorcycle gang; and his friend Tetsuo who acquires telekinetic powers after the military performs tests on him.
The film is complex, gritty, violent and gorgeous. The trailing tail lights and explosions during the opening motorcycle chase, look spectacular thanks to the 160,000+ animation cells used to create the film’s super-fluid motion. The fully realised, futuristic urban landscapes are painted with incredible detail, you can tell the ¥1.1 billion budget was put to good use. AKIRA has had a lasting effect on the industry and pop culture, many famous scenes have been parodied in everything from music videos to South Park.
I suggest watching the film, then read the manga. If you don’t fully understand all the psychic stuff — you’re not alone. It can take a few viewings to get your head around it, but the manga does a better job of explaining it. While the film can be considered an abridged version of the book, there is a whole lot more to the story that can’t fit in two hours.
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 series)
Created by Hideaki Anno with studio Gainax and Tatsunoko Production.
I still remember the night I flicked channels and landed in the middle of a Neon Genesis fight scene — I was immediately hooked — to this day it’s one of, if not my favourite series.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a sci-fi, mystery, mech thriller set in 2015, fifteen years after a global cataclysm wiped out a significant portion of the population. Now the UN and secret organisation NERV, are trying to prevent monstrous giants called Angels from wiping out humanity with another disaster. We follow Shinji, an introverted teenager with daddy-issues, who pilots the bio-mech weapon Evangelion into battle with the Angels. I still consider the EVA designs to be some of the best in the genre; they have a bestial quality that adds a disturbing undertone.
The series gets pretty dark; it uses theology derived from Kabbalah, Christianity and Judaism which adds an excellent level of mysticism. I find appropriation of religious text makes for good fictional lore; especially when combined with scientific elements — for example, the Human Instrumentality Project is referenced early on and serves as a source of intrigue throughout.
The original series is wrapped up by two films, Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion. The films were created after fan outrage as the final two episodes of the series are hugely disappointing — you’ll see why.
Evangelion was rebooted in 2007 with Rebuild of Evangelion, a four-part film series with an alternate story and ending. The final film is yet to be released, but as of April 2017 it had resumed production; hopefully, we’ll see a 2019 release.
One Piece (1997–present, manga, anime and films)
Created by Eiichiro Oda.
One Piece is a pirate, action-adventure and the best-selling manga series in history. The One Piece world is covered mostly with ocean and filled with many different races, from humans to fishmen to giants to humanoid animals and various types of monsters; and of those races, many become either Pirates or Marines — essentially criminals or authority.
The series follows the journey of 17-year-old Monkey D. Luffy, who sets off to build his crew, find the mysterious treasure ‘One Piece’ and become ‘King of the Pirates.’ He’s also a Devil Fruit user, which means Luffy’s body possesses the properties of rubber (after he ate the Gum-Gum Fruit). Devil Fruits are a staple of the series and eating one grants weird and wonderful abilities like morphing into animals, controlling fire or ice — or the utterly ridiculous skill ofbe a candle.
I’ve been watching One Piece for many years now, and while I’ve mostly outgrown the genre, it’s my absolute favourite shōnen anime. After watching over 800 episodes, what keeps me coming back is the absurd humour, I don’t think another anime has me rolling with laughter as much as One Piece. Oda’s illustration style is unique and after twenty years of developing the series along with hundreds of characters; I’m still surprised with the ideas for storylines, new characters and Devil’s Fruit abilities.
The manga is only a little ahead of the anime, so you can go with either; personally, I prefer the anime. I know 800 episodes seem daunting, but you can get through them quickly compared to other series because One Piece is notorious for wasting about 5–7 minutes on multiple opening and ending sequences and recaps — so there’s only about 15min of actual content per episode. You can also skip a bunch of filler episodes if you’re in a hurry, just take a look at this list.
I also recommend watching the movies where they fall within the series, generally, films are non-canon (as in don’t follow the main story), but if you skip too far ahead you might reveal spoilers. The animation quality is a lot higher than the series since they have a film budget. Take a look at the complete One Piece episode list.
Cowboy Bebop (1998 series)
Directed by Shinichirō Watanabe, written by Keiko Nobumoto with studio Sunrise.
Cowboy Bebop is a space-western set in 2071 and follows the bounty hunters Spike, Jet and their crew travelling on the ship, Bebop. The series draws heavily from western film and music and contains references to John Woo, Midnight Run, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien. Pinning Cowboy Bebop as just a ‘space western’ is a disservice, the overarching plot can be described as a detective caper, but throughout the series, multiple genres intertwine from comedy to action to film noir.
Bebop has one of the most iconic opening sequences in history, backed by the track Tank! The soundtrack plays a crucial role in the series and is highly regarded by critics and fans. It was composed by Yoko Kanno and performed by blues and jazz band Seatbelts. The soundtrack was one of the first aspects of the series to begin production, even before elements of the story had been finalised — Watanabe was even inspired to create entirely new scenes after listening to it.
There aren’t many series I recommend watching in English, but this is one, the dubbing is flawless. The series has 26 episodes and four specials, but you can ignore three of them. The special Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (otherwise knows as Cowboy Bebop: The Movie), is a feature-length episode that takes place between episode 22 and 23.
Welcome to CURANIMANGA
So WTF is CURANIMANGA? Well, it’s relatively short, curated anime and manga reviews (spoiler free) for grown-ups with taste and no time to waste. Okay, but what does that mean and why am I doing it? Good question! I’m a thirty-something, white dude — and no, I’m not a fucking weaboo — just a regular Aussie guy with a long time interest in anime, manga and donburi.
Find @curanimaga > Tumblr > Instagram > Medium > Imgur > Are.na
My interest in the genre started in the 90s. The West only had access to a handful of syndicated anime, always English dubbed and on VHS. Fortunately, that small selection has what are considered some of the most ground-breaking and influential anime ever created. But as the speed of technology increased, so did the number of animations and comics; and while a lot of great titles were created; so were the number of crappy ones. Now having spent the last twenty years watching thousands of episodes, fewer shows pique my interest.
So what about manga? I’ve only been reading the manga for the past six or so years, after I realised, when an anime ends the story often continues in the manga (obvious I know). For those who don’t know, the majority of anime is created off the back of a manga serialisation. Most long-running series (One Piece, Naruto, Fairy Tail) are also long-running manga. Sometimes the anime keeps true to the comic, but sometimes it doesn’t — Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA is a great example.
What CURANIMANGA will do
My goal is to share old and new titles that have fresh stories, fun quirks or new takes on old tropes — so you don’t watch five episodes and realise it’s rubbish. I believe there’s a community of people like myself whose taste in anime has refined as they’ve matured. They’d like to see an adult protagonist instead of a 15-year-old, a series set outside a high school, more depth and complexity, and less working hard to powering up — hell, I know I do.
What CURANIMANGA won’t do
Except for one post, I won’t cover classics because you can throw a rock and hit a top ten list with these titles. We all know Studio Ghibli films are fucking great; you don’t need me to tell you that. But if you’re new to the genre, classics are a great place to start because they’ve been hugely influential in the industry and pop culture.
So, where can you watch and read this stuff legally outside Japan?
Fansubbed anime and scanlated manga were largely responsible for bringing it to the Western mainstream — but I do encourage you to support the artists and industry so they can keep making it. Here are a few of the popular online sources for both, I’d recommend trialling a few before handing over money.
There are a few good streaming sites for around half the price of a Netflix subscription. The selection varies by region and service, but most will have the popular titles. Many will have mobile, tablet, game console and TV apps.
Crunchyroll has an excellent anime range, and the subscription also comes with access to manga (but the selection is limited).
AnimeLab has a solid collection of anime, with many classics and a few obscure titles I’ll cover at some point.
Funimation (US, Canada, UK and Ireland)
Funimation also has an excellent collection, while there is no free service, you can try for free.
Manga is a tougher to come by, a few services will give you subscription access to a limited selection, but you’re going to have to buy most of it.
By far the best for comics in general and many good manga titles are included in the subscription.
If you can’t find something at Comixology, try VIZ, they have a very small selection of free manga you can read.
And if you’re entirely out of luck, go here. MangaRock aggregates many of the online scanlated (pirated) manga, and their mobile apps are probably the best on the market. Scanlations are a double-edged sword, you can read a lot of manga for free, but you’re relying on fan-groups to spend their own time to scan, clean, translate, typeset, edit, proof, redraw, check and distribute — quite a lot of work for a hobby — this means releases can be delayed, differ in quality or be poorly translated. Often long series will be covered by different groups, so interpretations of Kanji will often change; sometimes you’ll find a character’s name will change halfway through a series. But remember, scanlation and fansub (anime) groups are doing this for free, so don’t be an arsehole and complain about it.