Unique Manga Cover Spotlight

Some years ago, I was reading manga and gave some serious thought to the book covers–on what made a manga volume’s design stand out? The colors or lack of? The posing and placement of the characters and so on and so on. I was already halfway with reading what was currently Akiko Higashimura’s latest series to be published with an English translation, Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey .

I remembered I tweeted about how much I loved what was happening with the manga covers and how they just made the series, an autobiographical look back at the mangaka’s youth, just visually refreshing and striking enough to standout even before opening up a single volume. Little did I know that some years later after just a few rereads, I would come back to write about how this particular series would be among a few with unique covers that stayed on my brain. Here are a special spotlight of unique and worthy manga covers that stand out and give readers food for thought on cover design and all the different elements that make a manga cover a wonderful addition to the manga itself and more!

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey

By Akiko Higashimura
Translated by: Jenny McKeon
Editor: Jean Grunigen
Production: Ysabet MacFarlane (Adaptor), Lys Blakeslee (Letterer), KC Fabellon (Designer)
Published by Seven Seas Entertainment Available in print / digital

Years ago when collecting the physical volumes of this series, I pondered via then on Twitter (X) and about the book’s design. I tweeted out that “It’s visually really brilliant for the theme of a memoir of a manga artist who went to art school for painting.” The bright colors and white background of the manga covers with the characters– Higashimura’s much younger self throughout the years and ending with her teacher on the front covers really stood out for me. The the first volume features the mangaka is a student still in her uniform–rushing with a paintbrush in her mouth (reminding me of the toast of tardiness anime and manga trope) and the “story and art by Akiko Higashimura” is carefully placed on the sketchbook she’s holding. (The translated logo and font of the series title? Chef’s kiss. And the way it is partially colored on the front covers and spine of the manga volumes?! Just fantastic!)

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Kakukaku Shikajika) is the autobiographical manga series by Eisner-winner Akiko Higashimura, the creator of Princess Jellyfish and Tokyo Tarareba Girls, about her high school dream to become a manga creator. I wrote before “that absolutely falls into the auto-biographical manga category and yet I’d describe it as part coming of age, part drama, and hilarious comedic timing again and again that is Highashumura’s trademark style”. I loved this short series and also wrote that it serves as an illustrative example of what memoir can look like in manga form as it retells a story of youth, the start of Higashimura’s career, and her unusual way that she got there–going to art school producing paintings and sculptures. 

I really appreciated KC Fabellon’s work on these covers especially with the wrap-around covers with the different colored paint splatters in different places on the back covers. The white space of the background on the front cover and back really emulated an actual blank canvas in a visual way to remind readers of the mangaka’s journey to not just become an artist but also an adult. When the last volume was released, I was surprised at first to see the image of her first art teacher–her unconventional Sensei who guided a young, cocky, selfish teenager into the career path and artist she would later become. Later after finishing the series, I loved that he was on there and in a sense, he would forever be guiding and looking over his student, Higashimura. 

Lost Lad London

By Shima Shinya
Translated by: Eleanor Ruth Summers
Production: Abigail Blackman (Letterer)
Published by Yen Press, Available in print / digital

Lost Lad London is a series that I recommend for fans of: unique artwork, shorter manga series, and crime dramas heavy on the suspense. I initially included Shima Shinya’s manga in an editorial that I made for folks who want manga series to check out if they like detective stories. The series’ premise banks on the mayor of London being found dead on an Underground train and a university student, Al Adley, finds himself with the murder weapon. In spite of the damning evidence found, Detective Ellis believes Al’s claims of innocence and works with him to uncover the truth and the real killer. Lost Lad London works as a short, yet compelling mystery-driven story set with lots of twists and emotional links that took me by surprise and kept me hooked.

Lost Lad London plays up the attractive nature of the mangaka’s artwork and that includes the covers of the manga volumes as well. Mangaka Shima Shinya’s artwork 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. 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. After reading the series in its entirety, I came back to study each volume’s cover design. For volume one: both Ellis and Al stand together but apart (with feet in different directions) from each other–that makes sense. They are only just meeting in volume one and learning about each other after agreeing to attempt to figure out things.

Lost Lad London volume two finds the detective and student walking towards and in the same direction with both of them possibly looking at each other. Finally the conclusion of the series, volume three features the two walking away from each other, the mystery solved but at what cost? In this final volume, Al’s future hangs in the balance with mounting pressure and a pile of false leads and dead ends leading the way. I love this series for the surprising family connections, disguised murders, and the repeated emphasis on how a single event can change one’s life. I also really appreciated the other subtle details on the covers: like the cage-like structures on volume one, the trees on volume two and then, the most important, also a motif in the series–the birds in flight. All masterfully point to the progression of the narrative and even the positioning of the shadows on each cover could possibly point to this as well.

Assassination Classroom

By: Yusei Matsui
Translated by: Tetsuichiro Miyaki
Editor: Annette Roman
Production: Bryant Turnage (Adaptor), Stephen Dutro (Touch Up Art & Letterer), Sam Elzway (Cover and Interior Designer) Published by Viz/ Available in print / digital

Created by Yusei Matsui, Assassination Classroom is a series that went the distance with twenty-one volumes, two seasons of an anime adaptation, a live action film, and a sequel too! Covering the action-adventure, comedy, and science fiction genres with ease, the manga series covers the adventures of a pathetic class of misfits and their alien teacher’s technology, bizarre powers and…tentacles?! The premise of an intelligent alien life force blows up the moon and threatens to do the same to Mother Earth–unless Earthlings take him out first? He ends up with outcast junior high students under his tutelage and their mission is to be successful in killing him to save the world. Along the way, he teaches them all life lessons along the way through assassination skills–with a side order of students’ tattered self-esteem.

Koro Sensei, as his students call him, eventually becomes the best teacher these misfits kids ever had, and the series hits some wholesome feels as the students discover hidden talents, raise their grades, and learn to work together to achieve goals. Their mission is still to take him out and save Earth, and they have a pressing deadline and a cool reward to look forward to: $100 million from the Ministry of Defense! Pick up this series for a long-running series for an engaging story that will keep you invested with a whole cast of characters that readers will get to know that help flesh out a story about underdogs and the importance of mentoring the youth.

Each volume features the simple designs of Koro Sensei’s minimalist face in different colors and designs. They also function as mini-Easter eggs that point to his different moods and different training events which are fun to see with each newer volume to read. Kuro Senesi’s turns a certain color when he is relaxed, he has this facial expression when this secret is revealed, etc. The complete box set also returns to the iconic, classic bright yellow that Koro Sensei is introduced as–his default coloring. The boxy shape of the manga with the eyes and elongated grin makes me that Sam Elzway had a fun throughout the series with bringing this back to the OG volume. I found an older blog post on the Viz website on how he chose the layout of the back covers, the fine details readers may have missed, even how the English and Japanese covers differed, and going to show a labor of love to making the simple covers stand out via color and fine details.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service

Story by: Eiji Otsuka, Art by: Housui Yamazaki
Translated by: Toshifumi Yoshida
Original Cover Artist: Bunpei Yorifuji
Production for the first 12 volumes : Carl Gustav Horn (Editor and English Adaptation), IHL (Lettering and Touchup)
Published by Dark Horse Comics/ Available in print / digital

[Hopefully no one throws me under the bus for including this series on this list as it is an older one, the English translated version of volume one was released back in 2006 and there has been a hiatus in the last several years by the creators in Japan and also on English translated releases of the manga. The publisher announced in 2019 that it would continue to release the manga in omnibus form. Dark Horse has recently begun releasing the series again. The publisher will release the sixth omnibus October 02, 2024.]

Five spiritualist students at a Buddhist college in Japan realize the job market is too tough these days…among the living, that is! But the dead need jobs done too, so the five form the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, and the adventures of zombies, serial killers, séances, headless horseman, Japanese folklore, and more carry the group of young adults through gory and sometimes whimsical journeys through Japan. The odd bunch include Kuro: a psychic who can relay a corpse’s words through touch, Sasaki who might be a hacker or just the brains of the operation, and Makino the embalmer. The group’s talent rounded up with Numata the dowser who can’t find water but finds corpses with ease, and lastly, Yata–the one with a puppet with a foul mouth who claims to be an alien from outer space–and gives out helpful insight from time to time–who IS his own character. They are a bunch of weirdos traveling around trying to put the dead at peace and make a buck at it while they are at it. It makes for a wild ride only for mature readers, of course

At its heart, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a horror-comedy and that makes its manga cover designs so fun and unique. I always found the covers a testament to not quite minimalist and not quite abstract but also busy in an organized way. The manga volume covers are juxtaposed with the top half of the cover with cover artist Bunpei Yorifuji’s artwork with a row of illustrations of the Kuro and crew by artist Housui Yamazaki at the bottom continuing on the back. A bold strip of color lines the bottom and is added in the fine details at top. Each volume presents most of the Kurosagi staff in different positions and in different themes: volume nine features puppet versions of them and another volume features profile images of them.

Bunpei who works as a graphic designer, book designer, and illustrator in Tokyo, Japan created an iconic marriage of text, color, and images here on these covers from the front to the back. (The delightful Spoon & Tamago blog that focuses on Japanese art, design, and culture has several short posts about this body of work that I loved reading) While each volume originally came shrink-wrapped and with an 18+ content advisory, the covers lean towards the subtle side hinting at the bloody, messy business the students get themselves in. I love that the visual theme carries on the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service omnibuses editions as well as I cosign on the ‘if it ain’t broke. Don’t fix it” mindset–with each volume of the series that I finished I looked forward to reading the next and seeing what the cover of the manga brought to the table. Strange but captivating and off beat book cover design for a manga series serving all of that more!

River’s Edge

By Kyoko Okazaki
Translated by: Alexa Frank
Editor: Ajani Oloye Cover Design: Becky Cloonan
Production: Risa Cho, Pei Ann Yeap, and Lorina Mapa
Published by Kodansha/ Available in print / digital

The long awaited and hotly anticipated English language translated version of River’s Edge by Josei manga great Kyoko Okazaki is a perfect end to this editorial about some of my favorite–and unique manga covers. Explicitly for adult readers, this single manga volume covers the intertwined relationships of six high school students and the sins, tragedies, and very few wins that occur when a dead body is found by the river near their school. Betrayals, bullying, inflicting trauma on themselves, and others mark the pages of this manga with flourish. I took note that the very first page of the manga mentions and characterizes the river that runs through the city near the high school the teens attend.

In Rivers’ Edge, the river is a filthy, smelly body of water alongside underdeveloped land that is not looked after and taken care of. That land has overgrown Canadian goldenrod masking a number of things like trash, cigarettes, and eventually a corpse. This place is also infamous for all the bad rumors with who and what ends up there. With the river in this work being characterized as part of the cast, I was left mesmerized by Okazaki’s trademark handling of this dark tale of teens at not only the cusp of adulthood but also at the proverbial edge of the river where they constantly came in contact with the worst and best of humanity.

Reading through Rivers’ Edge, I kept seeing the overwhelming circumstances and actions of the teens sinking them lower and lower as their morale compasses were thrown to the wind. This book cover design is bold in its own way. The orangey-red color sets an unsettling color and tone almost like a siren or the fiery depths of what one might associate with hell. Becky Cloonan’s artistic decision here to include art from the manga of a character seated amongst the overgrown grass and goldenrod along with the wavy graphic of water pops with the dark city in the background. With all that continuing to the back cover of the manga, the river humanized visually looks like it could go on forever. It is a jarring and beautifully haunting cover that does the story inside–justice and instantly tells me that Cloonan understood the assignment and tone for the incredibly intricate and dark tale.

Love reading manga? See more on our site!

Want to get Black Nerd Problems updates sent directly to you?
Sign up here! Follow us on TwitterFacebookYouTubeTwitch, and Instagram!


  • Carrie McClain is writer, editor and media scholar. Other times she's known as a Starfleet Communications Officer, Comics Auntie, and Golden Saucer Frequenter. Nowadays you can usually find her avoiding Truck-kun and forgetting her magical girl transformation device. She/Her

  • Show Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *