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The Rough Guide to Manga (Rough Guide Reference) Paperback – October 19, 2009
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The middle section includes the essential "canon" of fifty titles. Of course, it is impossible to please everyone when you can only pick fifty titles. But I applaud the author for including a diverse range of titles in the canon. There are titles for younger readers (DragonBall, Fruits Basket) and titles for adults (Lone Wolf & Cub, Ghost in the Shell). There are historical titles (Barefoot Gen, Vagabond), mecha, fantasy, horror, etc. I especially appreciate the large number of shojo/josei titles (Love Roma, Banana Fish) included, which is something that other volumes on manga have neglected. The entries for each of these fifty titles average about two pages in length and are somewhere in between summaries and reviews, often including plot/character analysis and interesting publishing trivia. There are no ratings given for quality (although I'd have to assume all fifty titles should be considered highly recommended by virtue of their inclusion in the book) and relatively few illustrations. There are some cover shots and excerpts but all are in black and white. If you really want something in color, consider 500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide which lacks the factual information but does have an attractive presentation.
The last third of the book includes discussions of anime, live-action films, video games, and major publishers -- including some interesting profiles of now-defunct publishers. You have to be a true otaku to enjoy the degree of detail in this book, but if you're ready to learn more about manga, this is guaranteed to teach you something new.