Now when it comes to manga there is a ton of great choices in the modern age, whether it’s a near endless Shonen series or a range of other genres to really sink into. There is no shortage of quality manga in the modern age, which is why digging through the trenches of the past can be an overwhelming task. After all, who has the time to dig through quality manga from every era? It’s hard enough to collect and read through the likes of 90s classic Rurouni Kenshin or the wealth of volumes that make up the Dragon Ball/Z manga. I mean, that’s just going as far back as the 80s… but manga goes all the way back to the 1950s! Is it worth going that far back? Oh absolutely.
It’s a remarkable journey to experience the beginnings of manga firsthand, and to realize it wasn’t just good “back in the old days” or “better now than the outdated stuff”, but that manga always has and will be amazing. The god and creator of manga, Osamu Tezuka (1928 – 1989), embodies the timelessness of the manga art form. You may know him for Astro Boy, one of the most influential and iconic properties in Japanese pop culture.
There is nothing quite like exploring an amazing body of work by someone who is quite literally, the father and god of manga as we know it. Osamu Tezuka was a fan of Walt Disney, and honestly if you’re one of those Otaku elitists who scoffs at Disney animation then you need to realize that manga wouldn’t exist without Mickey Mouse! No doubt Tezuka created the Japanese pop culture art form that we all know love, but after all he too needed an inspiration and someone to look up to, and for the late great Osamu Tezuka that was Walt Disney.
Tezuka not only founded manga, but he quite honestly created nearly all the genres: Shonen, Shojou, Mecha, political science fiction, historical biography, and heck even Ecchi (Tezuka had a very cheeky sense of humour to say the least!). Every genre we know today, even sub-genres like cross-gender, can all be traced back to Tezuka’s massive bibliography. Tezuka had a knack of creating magical adventures to appeal to the imagination of a child, while at the same time some of his more adult works presented shocking depictions of human depravity and desire.
We’re hardly experts or pundits, but we thought we’d share our discoveries. This article barely scratches the surface, but there’s some amazing recommendations here if you want to start reading some Tezuka manga. In fact, there’s a great deal of Tezuka’s catalog that is still awaiting an official English localisation, and so if you were to get into his works now, you’d have some new localisations to look forward to.
Without further ado, let’s explore the works of the great Osamu Tezuka. This article doesn’t include the more renowned classics like Astro Boy and Buddha, those monumental works are worth diving into if you haven’t already. We explore some of his other classics, and there’s something here for every type of manga fan.
This was the first real Tezuka manga compilation I purchased and read, long after I had see Astro Boy anime and many other anime adaptation of his works, such as the excellent Buddha movie adaptation.
Ayako is a deep and provoking story for sure, exploring the dark reality and politics underlying family life in rural Japan. Battles over inheritance, land and property disputes, and above all sexual scandals of the most scandalous nature. The manga focuses on the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the life of a girl named Ayako, an innocent maiden who constantly pays for the mistakes and sins of her family.
It’s dark, it’s disturbing, and consistently tragic… it really isn’t the best place to start if you are exploring the works of Osamu Tezuka for the first time, but certainly a fine work for those willing to stomach the realities of human depravity.
The Mysterious Underground Men
This short and sweet adventure certainly makes for a fine collectible given the labour of love gone into its international release. One of Tezuka’s earliest works that was thought to have been lost, The Mysterious Underground Men is a fun adventure that depicts the fascination of exploring the underground depths of planet Earth during the 1940s-1950s. The best part is that this book successfully recaptures the vintage look and feel of comics from that era, with rusty brown pages that make it feel like something uncovered from a time capsule. The Mysterious Underground Men is an action packed adventure with a meaningful message on friendship and acceptance.
Those looking for a dark political thriller will enjoy MW, which centers around an elaborate conspiracy involving biological weapons of mass destruction. It’s a dark theme that is (sadly?) as relate-able in our time as it was when the manga was first published during the 1970s, back when the world was still recovering from the effects of war and tensions were still abound with developments in military warfare. Definitely one of Tezuka’s more notable efforts for his adult readers.
Captain Ken feeds off the fascination that the world had with planetary bodies during the 1950s, evoking the imagination of the reader by realizing the pipeline dream of someday,somehow travelling to (and occupying) planets other than Earth.
The planet Mars fascinates us to this day, and Captain Ken presents a future where humans have occupied the red planet, but at the expense of the Martians. What we end up getting is a powerful, striking, and thought-provoking commentary on racism and colonization, all packaged as a sci-fi wild west action adventure set in Mars. Colonization and racism remain the biggest skeletons in humanity’s closet, and Captain Ken confronts the reader with a depiction of Humans overtaking Martians that often hits very close to home.
Striking political and social commentary aside, Captain Ken is still a gun slinging epic set comfortably within the red planet to create a fusion of science fiction and old westerns. The idea of cowboys in space has always been of interest to pop culture, and Captain Ken presents a hero who starts a social revolution on Mars, fighting for peace and equality between Humans and Martians. The plot progression is intriguing with a twist that will keep you second guessing till the end.
Personally, I would consider this book to be my second favourite out of all the Tezuka books I have had the pleasure of reading. My favourite? Well that comes a little later in this article…
Before Dr. Gregory House from the TV show House, there was surgeon extraordinaire Dr. Black Jack of the manga Black Jack. Black Jack had a brief resurgence a few years ago in a prequel anime of sorts, where he was excessively handsome and constantly felt the need to go topless. Well, in the Black Jack manga he is a grizzled, pudgy veteran who doesn’t get overly dramatic… nor tears his top off to add drama to a situation.
Black Jack is an engaging series to follow, with the localisation spread across several volumes that makes it a good long-term manga to sink into. Dr. Black Jack works medical miracles as he comes across unusual medical conditions, in fact there is one surgery where he uses his skills to fix a computer of all things!
If you’re into medical dramas and TV shows then Black Jack will tick all the right boxes. Did we mention that there’s Black Jack x House fanfiction out there?
Ode to Kirihito
Another political thriller, this time involving horrors and crimes committed by science. Ode to Kirihito is a commentary on the horrors of human experimentation that is all but gone in this day and age. A striking and confronting read much like MW, and for those looking for something mature and adult.
Triton of the Sea
Triton is an action adventure much like Captain Ken but instead of planet Mars it takes place under the sea… down where it’s better down where it’s..(not really).
The vast waters of the Earth have become a literal dumping ground for humanity, and not to mention the countless sea creatures extracted in order to fuel Sushi Trains. Triton follows the adventures of a merman named Triton, as he manages both his land and sea friends to find a compromise. It’s a pretty fast paced and entertaining adventure, not to mention the weird pacing and development of Triton’s romantic life. Not as good as Tezuka’s other action adventure epics, but certainly a solid read with its own unique premise going.
Princess Knight is a real gem in Tezuka’s massive catalog, mainly because of how forward, meaningful, and magical the whole experience is. Princess Knight was certainly ahead of its time, as it not only set the bar for subsequent female heroes in manga, but was also pretty much the first cross-dressing themed manga that challenged gender tropes. Feminism, equality, and gender identity, these are the topics that Princess Knight eloquently explores without getting too political or preachy. All these themes are presented in a meaningful way all while delivering a magical action adventure.
Anyone who has ever loved the Shonen genre… be it One Piece, Fairy Tail, Rurouni Kenshin, Dragon Ball, Bleach, or even Naruto… and has ever wondered where it all came from (the proverbial origin if you will) needn’t look back any further than the legendary Dororo by Osamu Tezuka. This is it, the manga that created the epic genre that is Shonen. Any fan of Shonen needs to read the masterpiece that is Dororo, which to me is the greatest manga in Tezuka’s entire catalog.
An epic samurai road adventure where you follow the journey of Hyakkimaru and his sidekick Dororo as they go against a colorful cast of villains, demons, and antagonists. This is an epic adventure from start to end, with battles aplenty featuring some of the best drawn and paneled fight scenes you will ever witness in a manga. Tezuka’s approach as a manga artist was that of an animator, and so the fight scenes in Dororo have a beautiful fluidity about them.
Dororo is the reason why Shonen exists today, and also a reminder of why we love the action-packed genre so much. I urge any Shonen fan to embark on the adventure contained in the pages of this epic, and trace the DNA of their favourite Shonen manga back to adventures of Hyakkimaru in Dororo.
What is Love?
Many scholars and philosophers, including Haddaway, have pondered through the ages to answer this question. Osamu Tezuka attempts to contribute to this timeless discourse and does so with great metaphysical depth in his manga Apollo’s Song. Here we witness a human travel through time and space, to experience various scenarios and situations throughout history, where he can appreciate the infinite depth of love.
Romantics and aspiring philosophers absolutely need to read Apollo’s Song.
Recommendations for newcomers
- Princess Knight
- Black Jack
- Captain Ken
- Apollo’s Song