Mysteries, murders, detectives, and amazing reveals–the manga version! Here’s a short sampling of a few manga series for the lover of detective stories that aren’t the long running, beloved Great Detective Conan aka Case Closed series. Included here on this mini list is Shojo, Seinen, sci-fiction, and even historical offerings! Note: all manga series mentioned here have age ratings ranging from Teen to Older Teen 16 and up.
Don’t Call it Mystery
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Creator: Yumi Tamura
Translation: Caroline Winzenried
Lettering: Aila Nagamine
Availability: Print and Digital
Adapted to Anime: No
Ongoing or Completed: Ongoing (Vol. 5-6 Omnibus volumes now available)
I have to start this list off with this underrated recommendation: Don’t Call it Mystery, also known as Do Not Say Mystery. Created by shojo manga creator Yumi Tamura (mangaka of my beloved Basara, and 7SEEDS) this is a super delightful, thought-provoking mystery manga series centering Kunou Totonou: a twenty year old college student who stands out—both for his curly hairdo and his finely-honed abilities of observation and deduction. The first chapter jumps right into a case where Totonou is accused of murder! When he puts his skills to work to find the real killer, he ends up with a local police department upheaval, and he emerges as a character to watch by different parties who need a critical eye. While some of the artwork and character designs lean a little rough, the story more than makes up for it in a well-paced feat of sleuthing and emotional intelligence on display.
Don’t Call it Mystery is intriguing as Totonou isn’t a detective, crime scene investigator, lawyer, psychic, or reporter yet, but he can’t avoid getting caught up in one mystery after another. He’s an introverted fellow who just wants to get home to his curry or go to the museum in peace yet, his keen insight keeps getting him involved in strange happenings where looking at the smallest of details makes him a star in getting to the truth of the matter.
Seven Seas Entertainment is publishing this series in omnibus volumes meaning readers will get to read a whole chunk of this series (two volumes) at a time to see coded messages, interrogations, family connections, surprise reveals, and more drama to come! Totonou with his (not an afro but also not a perm?) trademark hairstyle slowly endears himself to the readers and characters on the page alike with his blunt, but gentle, way of trying to make sense of the world, who has to use fast thinking to often get himself and others out of dangerous situations. Fun fact: if you love J-dramas, there was a 2022 live action adaptation of the manga series!
Recommended for fans of: Crime & Mystery, Drama, a really funny and interesting protagonist, and great plays on several mystery tropes
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka
Creators: Naoki Urasawa & Osamu Tezuka (Co-Authored with Takashi Nagasaki with the cooperation of Tezuka Productions, Supervised by Macoto Tezuka)
Translator: Jared Cook & Frederik L. Schodt
Letterer: James Gaubatz
Availability: Print and Digital
Adapted to Anime: Yes, 1 season on Netflix.
Ongoing or Completed: Complete (8 volumes)
Pluto has long been on my list of manga to read and it shot up to the top last year when I heard word of an anime adaptation set to air some fourteen years after the manga came to a close. I picked up the first volume to find an ideal world where man and robots coexist in the near future. I quickly found out that in this world full of order where robots are seemingly unable to kill humans–someone or something has destroyed the powerful Swiss robot Mont Blanc. Investigator Gesicht takes the case to find the perpetrator who has demolished a robot loved by all the world over. Elsewhere, a key advocate for robot rights, a human is murdered…no traces of a human can be found at the crime scene. Gesicht continues to uncover gruesome crime scenes after the next and soon starts on a trail of true terror the world has never faced before. Pluto as a manga series starts off deceptively simple and evolves into a masterclass of a story of purpose, grief, power, and heartbreak.
Gesicht, with ties to the robot community, is assigned to this most strange and complex case – and he eventually discovers that not only are the seven great robots of the world in danger, but he is too. The best takeaway I have as someone who has been slowly making my way through the manga (and even paused watching the anime adaptation) is that Pluto perhaps best asks the fascinating and terrifying question: what if robots and humans were more alike than we’d like to admit or acknowledge?
As our investigator travels to warn the potential targets, readers are treated to robots and their lives, their families, their life’s work, and the humanizing ways they come to live in the world. This daring reinvention of “The Greatest Robot on Earth” story arc from Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy series, Pluto is both darkly harrowing and a series I haven’t been able to put down for its stunning narrative hold on the sacred of life, both human and not, and the killer who strives to wreck a world that held up the importance of both.
Recommended for fans of: The original Astro Boy series, science fiction, robots galore, and a dark noir type of storytelling
Lost Lad London
Publisher: Yen Press
Creator: Shima Shinya
Translator: Eleanor Summers
Letterer: Abigail Blackman
Availability: Print and Digital
Adapted to Anime: No
Ongoing or Completed: Complete (3 volumes)
“Because…it seems like the right thing to do” is what Detective Lenny Ellis tells Al, a university student after they first meet, creating a turning point in both their lives. The whole city of London is shocked when the mayor is found dead on an underground train, but perhaps none more than university student Al Adley. He remembers that he took the Tube that night, at the time of the mayor’s fatal stabbing, but he doesn’t remember seeing anything unusual—certainly nothing to explain how a bloody knife found its way into his pocket. The veteran detective, who has seen better days and is currently on the mend from a few injuries, pops up at Al’s flat to ask a few questions. Haunted by an older case gone wrong, the good detective believes Al, in spite of this damning evidence and decides to work with him to conceal his involvement at the scene for now and eventually help clear his name. Lost Lad London works as a compelling mystery-driven story set with lots of twists and emotional links that took me by surprise and kept me hooked in reading.
Part of the charm of mangaka Shima Shinya’s work here is their artwork: it flows on the page in an almost abstract fashion with most of the set pieces, backgrounds, and locations standing out or concealing information on the page. This works tremendously with the black and white scheme of the manga format. Paired with intentional placement of certain characters in panels and spreads, Shinya makes the most of creating physical and emotional distance between them in a really effective way. (Also, there are some really humorous faces that Al and Ellis that shouldn’t be missed) Detective Ellis and Al pair up to clear Al’s name and find a mysterious network of shadowy forces working together against them.
The detective and student discover surprising family connections, disguised murders, and the repeated emphasis on how a single event can change one’s life. Lost Lad London is full of suspense set in a place we often see in manga: London featuring two main characters of color: Black and South Asian leads that again, we don’t always see in manga. As much as I wish I could have read this series earlier, I am equally wishing for an adaptation of some kind: animated or live action. While only a short three volumes, I love the thoughtful themes of Lost Lad London that include the dangers of “othering” people, bias, and how racism plays a part in policing–a reminder of just how easily a life can be condemned or saved in today’s world.
Recommended for fans of: Unique artwork, shorter manga series, and crime dramas heavy on the suspense
My Dear Detective: Mitsuko’s Case Files
Creator: Natsumi Ito
Translator: Samuel R Messner
Letterer: Barri Shrager
Ongoing or Completed: Ongoing (3 volumes collected so far)
Adapted to Anime: No.
If you’ve been following my writing on manga on this site, you’d know that I am no stranger to My Dear Detective: Mitsuko’s Case Files. It is a newer series on the Azuki app that I’ve come to write about and spotlight for several reasons: its historical setting, its commentary on the world around us and in the past, and now the way it features detectives in its narrative. With an intriguing premise: the fictional adventures and misadventures of Mitsuko, Japan’s first fictional woman detective in the turbulent 1930s, Natsumi Ito’s ongoing manga series continues to bring readers new and old into the fold. Previously I’ve written about what best comes across in these pages detailing Mitsuko’s case is heart. When she and her assistant Saku, a younger male university student, start investigating, the person involved brings so much to the table: childhood memories, traumas, failures and forgotten dreams.
Readers will read stories of people who need help changing their lives for the better in the Showa period (1930s) of Japan where ideals, technology, and different world views are starting to change society. From the first chapter in, I could tell that this was a deeply researched manga from the detailed set pieces and locations often explained in translation notes after each chapter. Later chapters slowly give way to more and more glimpses of who both Mitsuko and Saku were before they ever consider detective work. (The way I nearly dropped my phone when I realized we readers were finally getting a chapter about Mitsuko’s mother!!)
More recent chapters have alluded to how a more recently disabled person in this time period might have a literary career and how a survivor of the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923) might attempt to salvage a family heirloom previously thought lost. My Dear Detective: Mitsuko’s Case Files makes this list as it continues to be a stellar ongoing series with cases with terrific emotional payoffs as well as clever writing with a cast of interesting characters with connections that matter. As a longtime reader of the series, I have come to love that this series in its historical setting is teaching me about a time period of Japan that I’ve come to love with each and every new chapter–being far more illustrative than a textbook could ever be.
Recommended for: Fans of historical settings, folks who love odd ball duos in manga, lovers of DRAMA
The Apothecary Diaries
Publisher: Square Enix Manga & Books
Creator: Natsu Hyuuga and Nekokurage; Story Developed by Itsuki Nanao; Character Designed by Touco Shino
Translator: Julie Goniwich
Letterer: Lys Blakeslee
Availability: Digital & Print
Adapted to Anime: Yes on Crunchyroll
Ongoing or Completed: Ongoing (10 volumes collected so far)
Does The Apothecary Diaries along with the previous title mentioned above, My Dear Detective: Mitsuko’s Case Files, mark an entry on this list in my attempt to include more women led manga series? Yes. Are both manga series I’ve covered before on this site? Yes. Lastly, are they both series that I truly enjoy and find worthy to recommend and write more and more? Yes. So, with that out of the way, this series is one that will catch readers of manga who enjoy the historical, romance, and mystery genres in a delightful, adored series that recently aired what I hope is just the first season of its anime adaptation.
The premise is simple: Maomao, a young woman trained in the art of herbal medicine, is forced to work as a lowly servant in the inner palace. After breaking a “curse” on the imperial heirs, she is thanked and is promoted up the ranks from food taster to maidservant just as the palace produces more mysterious happenings. As I elaborated here, Maomao is a refreshing protagonist to see moving around and out the inner palace. She is a disrupter, making waves as she goes. The Apothecary Diaries features enough political intrigue that runs hand in hand with lots of little surprises and conspiracies that boil to the top and make it perfect for fans of thrillers and crime. Maomao comes across mysteries waiting to be solved involving alleged ghosts, family heirlooms, those with failing health, missing corpses, and so much more.
The more that I read of the The Apothecary Diaries manga (adapted from a light novel series) the more the plot grew legs and kept me coming back for more. Jinshi, the good looking, and quite popular eunuch who takes a liking to Maomao and sees beyond the facade she places up in the palace–becomes more than her employer. He becomes her partner in crime so to speak. Their destinies are more entwined at this point, and as later volumes hint at and slowly reveal of their origins and circumstances that make them stand out as polar opposite sides of society. More recent volumes of the manga introduce scandals and adventures that take them both outside of the palace: long-awaited merchant caravan, foreign envoys, and more! And yet Maomao continually is drawn back to the palace and curses and dangers of the Inner Court that must be dealt with. The Apothecary Diaries hasn’t lost its touch and continues to be a captivating series to read that has only gained more popularity with its anime adaptation.
Recommended for fans of: Light Novel tie-in, mystery & thriller reads, historical settings, and some romance thrown in
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