Manga style graphic of a girl sitting with headline "Animated Films & Manga to Check Out Now"

Recommended Reads

What to read & watch if you’re a fan of manga and anime


Apr 23, 2024

In the U.S., anime and manga (Japanese cartoons and comics) have gone from being a niche section of entertainment to a cultural force that drives fast food ad campaigns. Part of anime and manga’s enduring appeal is that they offer not only light-hearted family films, but also complex stories targeted at adult audiences. If you’d like to check out some titles with more mature themes and literary sensibilities, here are a couple recommendations to borrow from your library in the Libby app’s manga catalog and Kanopy’s curated collection of anime films.

The Garden of Words

📽️ The Garden of Words, directed by Makoto Shinkai

From the outstanding filmmaker Makoto Shinkai, this film tells the story of 15-year-old Takao and 27-year-old Yukari. Both are going through hard times; Takao is skipping classes he’s barely passing, and Yukari is avoiding work for undisclosed reasons. Both take refuge in the Shinjuku Gyoen gardens, where they enjoy a series of chance encounters. While Takao and Yukari are both deeply lonely, their shared immaturity hinders them from forming a genuine connection.

This film has a moving story that proceeds with the subtlety of a poem. The plot is reinforced by incredible animation and sound design, particularly when the rain is featured. The combination makes for a must-see film.

No Longer Human📚 No Longer Human by Junji Ito

Junji Ito is an Eisner award-winning author and illustrator of horror comics. In 2019, his adaptation of No Longer Human was published in English. Though primarily known for his works of supernatural and cosmic horror, Ito tackles Dazai’s semi-autobiographical classic with comparable skill.

The book is a first-person account of Oba Yozo, who even as a child feels alienated from the rest of humanity. Hiding himself behind a mask of “clowning,” Oba is terrified of being exposed as the bad person he disparagingly believes himself to be. The novel follows a downward spiral as Oba’s internal terror and alienation spill over into the real world with catastrophic consequences.

Fair warning, the content of this book is very disturbing. Ito takes a dark and nihilistic novel and renders its underlying psychological terror in stark, minute detail. Though a difficult read, it offers a brilliantly executed and largely faithful adaptation of one of Japan’s most enduringly popular novels.

Genius Party

📽️ Genius Party directed by Atsuko Fukushima, Yoji Fukuyama, Hideki Futamura and others

This film and its sequel Genius Party Beyond are collections of short, experimental films directed by prominent figures in the anime industry. Featured directors include: Shōji Kawamori, the creator of the Macross franchise; Masaaki Yuasa, director of several really cool anime series including The Tatami Galaxy and Ping Pong the Animation; and Shinichirō Watanabe, director of the extremely popular Cowboy Bebop and Samrai Champloo series. The project offered these artists a chance to work on some wildly inventive and visually striking short films. The collection is terrific and not to be missed.

The Ghost in the Shell📚 The Ghost in the Shell, Volume 1.5 by Shirow Masamune

Deep into the 21st century, the line between man and machine has been inexorably blurred as humans rely on the enhancement of mechanical implants, and robots are upgraded with human tissue. In this rapidly converging technoscape, the cover-ops agents of the fictional intelligence agency Section 9 are charged to track and crack the most dangerous terrorists, cybercriminals, and ghost hackers the digital future has to offer.

Also be sure to check out The Ghost in the Shell, Volume 1. This dystopian tale by Masamune Shirow is a sci-fi manga first published in 1989. The story’s protagonist is Major Motoko Kusanagi, operative for Section 9. Due to a childhood accident, the Major’s body is entirely prosthetic and her brain fully computerized. While technical enhancements greatly expand the potential of the human brain, it also leaves people vulnerable to hackers who may seek to control them.

With this setup, Ghost in the Shell offers compelling spy narratives paired with social, political, and philosophical commentary. It's is a fascinating, beautifully illustrated work that influenced such sci-fi classics as The Matrix and remains relevant over 30 years after its initial publication.

On-Gaku: Our Sound

📽️ On-Gaku: Our Sound, directed by Kenji Iwaisawa

Here’s something a bit lighter. On-Gaku: Our Sound is an indie comedy that follows three high school “delinquents” who randomly decide to start a band. The film boasts dry absurdist humor enhanced by a brilliantly minimalist art style and juxtaposed with high-energy musical interludes. It’s hilarious and charming; it’s a great pick for movie night or a relaxing night in.

Mushishi📚 Mushishi by Yuki Urushibara

This is a highly acclaimed series from the amazing Yuki Urushibara. The manga is a loosely connected anthology series; it follows the travels of Ginko, a man who wanders from town to town, protecting people from mysterious, supernatural beings known as Mushi. Appearances and effects of the Mushi vary widely, giving the tales great variety.

The stories presented are concise, thoughtfully put together and unique, making Mushishi feel a bit like a book of short stories or collection of fables. The gorgeous illustrations complete the package, highlighting both breathtaking natural landscapes and the bizarre appearances of the Mushi. Mushishi is an all-around stellar manga and well deserving of its strong reputation.

*Access to films and books may vary by library and region.

Download the Kanopy and Libby apps to start watching and reading these recommendations, thanks to your local public library.

RELATED READ: The most popular manga in the Libby app


About the Author

Kyle Lewis is a writer for Libby Life and technical writer at OverDrive. Studying philosophy in college, Kyle developed a particular appreciation for short, clear writing. When not scribbling, he can most often be found reading weird fiction, playing cards, or wandering the metro parks.


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