Hopefully without coming off as snobbish, I want you to know that coming of age is one of my favorite genres. In cinema, yes, but also a genre of manga that I feel is severely underappreciated. There has always been something fascinating about the stories and lessons learned in manga, one of my favorite mediums that have a coming of age lean of young people growing up, maturing and learning about the world. Because you wanted another manga list, here I am delivering the good word!
Here’s a list that includes manga series with up to six volumes in total. It is not a bunch of twenty plus volume runs that may overwhelm you. This list is meant for manga readers new and old who are looking for shorter series to get into that are acclaimed, coming-of-age feels being talked about in enough circles that can be your signal to finally start reading. Note: the manga on this list lean to the teen and older teen audiences to my last pick that has a Mature rating for readers 18 and up.
Boys Run the Riot
Shout-out to one of the best manga debuts of 2021! A trans coming of age tale with a lot of heart mixed with a love for street fashion and that age old pursuit of wanting to express and prove yourself! Rounding out at just four short volumes, Boys Run the Riot was created by Keito Gaku, and this English version was brought to life with the help of translation by Leo McDonagh. The creative team includes lettering by Ashley Caswell, editing by TIFF Joshua TJ Ferentini, and this edition’s book cover is designed by Phil Balsman. Street fashion becomes the escape that trans teen Ryo uses to escape the pressures, expectations, and disappointments of his everyday life.
Boys Run the Riot has strong coming of age vibes, and those who love series set in high school will appreciate the narrative of Ryo coming into his own. The series created by a trans manga creator centers a trans teen looking to escape the frustrations and anxieties that comes with his circumstances. It is with his clothes that he feels freedom to express himself and be comfortable in his own skin. When he meets Jin, a new kid at school, they find that they have the same taste in clothing and boom: their budding fashion brand is born!
We are in a time where we’re seeing more and more manga with and about trans, nonbinary and genderqueer characters getting their due and not in the background. I love the ripples Ryo and Jin make to where their efforts reach others like some of their classmates and even older folks like established professionals and parents. These teens’ struggles and triumphs really moved me; they were inspiring others to be more courageous and stand up for themselves and others in a world that often punishes individuals for standing out. Boys Run the Riot never loses focus on Ryo and his struggles and pulls readers into this beautifully heart wrenching and hopeful story about finding your true self and the unexpected allies and truths you find along the way. I really liked the narrative threads that included social media and the art of visibility, especially the volumes that leaned into the story of the LGBT+ friendly blogger and how exposure can often hurt more than help.
I love all the care that went into the English release of this manga: Kodansha not only hired an all-transgender localization team to edit and translate the manga but also released the first chapter of Boys Run the Riot free to read online on March 31, 2021, in honor of International Transgender Day of Visibility. Boys Run the Riot found its way to many eyeballs and many lists including being nominated for a Harvey Award in the Best Manga category in 2021. The first volume of the series was listed as one of the top 10 manga of 2021 by The School Library Journal and YALSA even listed the first three volumes in its 2022 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Top Ten list. Included in the fourth and final volume is the one shot story that inspired this series that also features a trans character centered dealing with identity and school.
Recommended for: For fans of LGBTQIA characters, School Life, Drama, Fashion
Satoko and Nada
Home is Where Your Friend Is! Satoko and Nada is a short but sweet manga series about a pair of foreign exchange student roommates who meet in America: Satoko from Japan and Nada from Saudi Arabia. Created by Yupechika, this slice of life manga series’ script advisor is Marie Nishimori with Jenny McKeon credited as translator for helping to bring this English version to life. The creative team includes Lianne Sentar credited with adaptation duties, lettering and retouching by Karis Page, and book design by KC Fabellon. This endearing four volume manga series published through Seven Seas Entertainment about how friendship is precious and can be found and nurtured anywhere leans in with comedic approach with its 4-Koma format.
As a series, Satoko and Nada celebrates friendship between women: our titular characters are young women who at first don’t think that they have anything in common. Satoko is from Japan, Nada is from Saudi Arabia. While they do in fact come from vastly different places, the joy is getting to see them on the page learn about each other. These two go from new roommates tiptoeing around each other to the best of friends who take the time to learn about each other’s cultures and protect each other. I love that they are college students as I feel that I don’t read enough manga set in college.
As foreign exchange students centered in a narrative, I feel this adds another layer to their diverse story that’s not often seen much in manga. As an ode to friendships between women, I love that this manga places Satoko and Nada as individuals who see each other as precious. Food is a great common denominator between the two and the pages of them discovering the best dishes from each other’s home countries and sharing new faves togethers are always some of my favorite pages of the manga. If you’re looking for a manga series with coming-of-age energy focusing on a diverse friendship that honors differences with great humor, you’ve found Satoko and Nada, a worthy choice.
Recommended for: Fans of 4koma, Comedy, Slice of Life, works by female mangaka
The Golden Sheep
Growing up means being impatient with the world. Growing up means learning how to reinvent yourself. Growing up means finding your way and hopefully becoming someone you are proud of. The Golden Sheep created by Kaori Ozaki is a three volume manga series that takes to a set of childhood friends when reunited as teens who find that nothing is as easy as it all once was. Published by Vertical, an imprint of Kodansha, this English version was brought to life with help from Daniel Komen with translation duties, with Risa Cho and Lorina Mapa credited with production duties. When rock and roll loving Tsugu moves back to the small town she was born to attend high school she’s reunited with the three childhood friends she loved dearly and soon finds trouble.
Now as a teenager, Tsugu finds that Sora, Yuushin, and Asari aren’t the sweet kids she remembered having so many adventures with long ago. In fact, they have all become people she doesn’t even recognize! A few big intense moments serve as the catalyst for change, temporarily separating them as they all search for answers in this emotional ride about friendship, maturity, and figuring out who and what needs reinvention and redemption. What this series really, really gets well is the messiness of relationships and the recklessness that comes with youth. This is the pick on this list that is my problematic fave. While I think the story is worth reading, I acknowledge the content is trigger warning happy and includes very intense moments like bullying and a suicide attempt that is stopped by a friend.
I’ve been following Ozaki’s more recent work that has been translated into English and while this series might not be my favorite, it is still a worthy read that is as thought-provoking as it is heartfelt–totally her brand of manga. Even if the ending might cut it too close with not enough closure for some or some readers think certain characters don’t deserve forgiveness, The Golden Sheep still strikes me as a true, messy tale of being a teenager. I think there’s enough commentary in the series about the failures of parents, self-loathing, indecisiveness, and how our actions affect more than just us.
The Golden Sheep was one of twelve manga series to make the 2021 Young Adult Library Services Association’s top 126 graphic novels for teenagers list which make sense as it is a narrative about the lives of teens. A cool bonus: included in the third and final volume is one of Ozaki’s one-shot stories, Love Letter about a soul who chooses to constantly be reincarnated to interact with the mother in its first and brief life that just emotionally devastated me.
Recommended for: Slice of Life, Romance, School Life, Drama
Our Dreams at Dusk
Simply put: Our Dreams at Dusk is a manga about community, safe places, and the people who fight to make those places available for those who need them. Created by Yuhki Kamatani, this English version was brought to life with help from Jocelyne Allenwith translation duties. The creative team includes Ysabet MacFarlane who aided with adapting this edition of the manga, lettering and retouching by Kaitlyn Wiley, and KC Fabellion with cover design of this book. Published by Seven Seas Entertainment, this queer coming of age tale with magical realism sprinkled in every volume illustrates that everyone is looking to be loved and looking to figure out who they are in a world that is unkind.
This short four volume manga series revolves around Tasuku Kaname, a gay teenager who meets other LGBT people at a drop-in center/small community building after being involuntarily outed at school. This place becomes a sort of haven for him, and he meets other folks who are just looking for peace and acceptance in the world. It also becomes a place where he constantly finds himself challenged by views he’s always had of others in the world. At times poetic, other times heartbreaking and always illuminating, Our Dreams At Dusk about coming out and coming into the light with those who love and support you.
Nominated for a Harvey Award in the Best Manga category in 2019, this series features a broad LGBT+ community that certainly isn’t a one size fits all with members of all ages and different backgrounds. It all makes the series one to behold. In a world where rejection abounds, Tasuku finds a place where no one is rejected, and it is one that saves his life. His new found family include: Someone-san, a mysterious person comes and goes at her pace, middle school student, Misora, and an older man who loves classical music, Tchaiko. Harujo, Saki, and Utsumi are other members of the drop-in center that become a part of his new found family and also have challenges of their own.
For a narrative that explores coming out for a closeted teen, this manga includes others in different stages of their lives figuring out what gender, sexuality, and self-expression mean to them. Another tale of self-discovery while finding your people, your community, this is a manga that I can never not recommend simply not just for the dreamy artwork but the beautiful story about creating bonds that hopefully last a lifetime. This series was included in a selection of “outstanding works that tackle diversity and inclusion issues” by The Japan Media Arts Festival in their 2020 online exhibit: Manga, diversity, and inclusion. Created by a manga creator who identifies as X-gender and created this amazing manga with thoughts of their turbulent teenage years dealing with their own identity struggles, I’m so grateful such a queer masterpiece exists and can be reread again and again.
Recommended for: For fans of LGBTQIA+ characters, School Life, Drama, Found Family
Sex Ed 120%
I love a good gag manga! I also have been loving being able to ride the wave of more sex positive manga that’s being translated and published nowadays. Sex Ed 120% is such a series that I adore brought to us by the creative team of writer Kikiki Tataki and illustrated by Hotomura. Published by Yen Press, this manga was brought to life with Amanda Haley translating and Sara Kinsley’s lettering duties. The series follows the enthusiastic efforts of Gym teacher Tsuji-sensei in her mission to modernize sex education in the health class she teaches at an all girl’s high school. She believes that Japan is terribly lacking in the sexual education department, and she wants to ramp things up to be inclusive and helpful. She’s hyped to make a difference, and she knows exactly where to start: the classroom!
Luckily for Tsuji-sensei, she has curious students who aren’t put off by her approach nor are they ever not asking questions. The group of girls that end up coming to her the most are three friends: the school’s biggest BL lover, a girl who only cares about cats, and a girl who has a girlfriend but who hasn’t come out yet. In the school, this teacher also has an ally in the school nurse, Nakazawa-Sensei, who tries her best to bring her back down to reality when she senses the lessons are veering too far off topic. It’s such a fun dynamic between the friends and the two adults–learning about the lives of the students is fun, but the adults steal the show again and again! There’s a lot of laughs to be had, dirty jokes, and random trivia to be found, but what I love the most are these students finding that their school is a safe place. For the girls: Tsuji-sensei and Nakazawa-Sensei are adults who can be trusted, and that’s way more than most young people have in real life, to be honest.
At only three volumes, the Sex Ed 120% covers a wide range of topics including LGBT-friendly couples (and the prejudices they face), the pressure media puts on girls’ appearances, consent, and so much more. While I think readers of any gender could appreciate reading this series, I am delightfully happy with the woman-leaning narrative as girls and women are so often left out of educational texts, especially sex education material. The humorous approach is really just a breath of fresh air. I didn’t think I’d learn how many vaginas female sugar gliders have or how to pick up a love hotel in Japan’s most popular areas, but I know now!
In just a few short volumes, I’m pretty sure I learned more than I picked up in my middle school and high school health lessons which is a shame. I can totally see this manga series being very educational and instrumental in a young person’s coming-of-age into adulthood which makes the publisher’s decision to print with a Mature rating unfortunate. Regardless, Sex Ed 120% is charming and another great addition to more manga that’s sex positive and more in the realm of comics available that educate on topics that are still very much taboo.
Recommended for: Fans of Humor, Sex Positive Manga, School Life, Yuri/GL
And that’s it for this list of manga, folks! Next time we are focusing on a Josei lineup of manga with some messy, messy titles that I love rereading!
The manga series featured here can be found both digitally and physically where comics and manga can be found.