Great thread! I really like reading other people’s favourites as a way of getting to know them better. Or, well, I at least like the idea of it.
If manga counts, since I am still reading my first novel, then it’s between MONSTER (series) | L34 and バガボンド (series) | L28. I am incapable of choosing.
There are a few others that I think have the potential to be good candidates, but that I’ve only read a small part of, such as Berserk and 不滅のあなたへ.
Monster (edit: the following section spoils the beginning of the story, but since it is the premise for the actual story, it’s arguable whether it’s within spoiler territory or not) tells the story of a Japanese neurosurgeon working in late 20th century Germany, while the Berlin wall was still standing. One night, he gets an emergency call and needs to head into the hospital straight away to undertake a surgery on a young boy who’s sustained a gunshot wound to the head. Just as he’s about to start, the chief of the surgery department rushes into the operation room. The mayor has suffered a heart attack and is being brought to the hospital at this moment. Because of our MC’s skills, the department head wants to pull him out of the room and have him prepare to operate on the mayor instead. After all, he’s an important person, and the implications it would have on their hospital if they were to save the mayor’s life… well, priorities and all that. But who will take care of the boy? Oh, this other team will deal with him, don’t worry about that. Seeing who the other team consists of, our MC knows that the boy will not survive. He’s a neurosurgeon, specially trained to perform surgery on people’s brain. They are not. So he refuses. A life is a life, and the boy came into the hospital first. So he operates on the boy. The boy lives, the mayor dies.
This got a bit longer than I expected. I got carried away, sorry. But, the boy turns out to be a serial killer, or so it would seem. A few of the hospital staff, including our MC’s closest ‘competitor’ for promotion, conveniently die, the boy disappears, and the suspicion naturally falls on our MC. He decides to run away, making it his mission to find the boy and ‘right his wrong’, feeling responsible for what he has done, and that’s what the entire series is about. As he is hunting the boy that seems to leave corpses in his wake, the series explores themes of morality, what makes a person good, what makes them bad, and dances along that very grey, fuzzy line between the two, where things get really interesting, and does so while we watch how far our MC is willing to go to correct something he feels responsible for. It is thought-provoking, to say the least. Since the particulars of the plot are never explicitly stated, the reader is left to put together the narrative on their own. I had a lot of fun with this, coming up with several theories, some pretty insane, about what was actually going on.
Monster has stellar writing, and arguably the most realistic characters I have ever seen. The art is also really good. It’s very expressive, and the backdrops are great, with lots of detail, setting the scene.
Vagabond is the story of arguably the most famous Japanese swordsman in history, Miyamoto Musashi. Most people that know about him, know him as a wise old man who wrote the famous work The Book of Five Rings, but in his youth, he appears to have been aggressive, hotheaded, and wild, which is the era that the series explores. The series is based on 宮本武蔵 (series) | L45 by Eiji Yoshikawa from the 30s. It obviously mixes in quite a bit of fiction, but it draws a lot of inspiration from real events, and figures.
The story follows a young Musashi as he becomes consumed by his quest for the right to call himself ‘unparalleled under the skies’, the ultimate swordsman. He gets so consumed by it, in fact, that we end up with interesting commentary on the meaning of winning (or being right), especially to the exclusion of all else, such as how that in itself can be an obstacle to getting there.
It’s almost unreal how good the art in Vagabond is. It’s so good that almost any panel is worth framing in and hanging on the wall. The author will from time to time also experiment with brushes and watercolour, especially for his coloured chapter panels. He is also a master of expressing motion, blowing life into the images. He also has a knack for framing his drawings in an interesting way. Combined, it’s no wonder I often found myself staring at panels, mesmerised.
The series has unfortunately been on hiatus since 2015, but the last book that has been released thankfully finishes the arc it is a part of, and so it doesn’t feel like it stops in the middle of things.
Is that perchance a reference to the old name for October … ?