Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s I was an avid reader. I loved the wild ride a great book would take me on. Getting swept up in a grand adventure from the coziness of my bed was largely appealing. Whenever I wasn’t gaming or hanging out with my childhood best friend, my nose was most likely buried in a (scary) book. In 2019, after years — nay, DECADES — of not caring much for books, I got back into reading in a big way. I started off collecting all my favorite childhood books, as well as the ones I never read but had always wanted to. It was eerily similar to my SNES resurrection from 2006. History was indeed repeating itself. But then I started branching out from simple chapter books. I got into collecting pulpy horror paperbacks, sci-fi, and eventually the odd graphic novel here and there. Outside of a few comics back in the day, I never really delved into the comic medium. My wife used to joke, “Please don’t ever get into manga or comics.” Exactly one year ago, I somehow did. This article will highlight my descent into manga madness over the past 365 days. But first we have to start from the very beginning. Let’s see now… ahhhh, it all started when…
Although I loved illustrations growing up, I actually didn’t read much comics outside of Garfield as a kid. That and an old Chinese comic series by the name of Old Master Q. I didn’t know how to read the language, but my uncle was more than eager to turn those comics into story time. I fondly remember many Saturday nights in the late ’80s chilling in the backyard on a cool crisp night as my uncle would read the comics to my brother and me.
Old Master Q was created by Alfonso Wong (1925-2017) and is considered a legendary Chinese comic for its long running history. These simple comics often consisted of single page six panels, with limited text. A lot of it was pretty universal so that even a little kid who didn’t understand a lick of Chinese could enjoy. I’m not even sure if my uncle could read it; he might have just used his imagination to fill in the blanks. Regardless of his method, my brother and I ate it up. It was a wonderful way to spend a lazy Saturday night back in those good old days of late 1980s suburban life.
Old Master Q comics were sold at lots of random little places. We always bought them at a local Asian grocery store. I remember the ducks hanging in the window right as you walked by. Believe it or not, it still exists to this day — that picture was taken just last week and brought back a wave of nostalgic memories! I hadn’t been back to that plaza in at least 25 years.
Of course back then there were no translations. Apparently “scanlations” (as they call it) now exist. But as I said, the illustrations usually spoke for itself, so the language barrier did not matter as much. And with a crazy uncle dramatically filling in the blanks, it was almost better than movie night. Old Master Q was just really fun. I loved it whenever they featured supernatural elements. Some of those ghostly images are burned into my brain 35+ years later!
This is where one might think I fell in love with comics and became a lifelong fan. Actually, I mainly stuck to chapter books and somehow never got into the comic or manga scene. But Old Master Q definitely made me appreciate the comic medium, and I’m sure somewhere deep down it became a dormant love that would one day naturally sprout. And sprout it did…
Saturday, August 21, 2021. I just completed my first teaching week back at school for the first time since that fateful day of March 13, 2020 (coincidentally a Friday the 13th) when news broke that we would be shutting down (as did all schools across the country) due to the lethal wide spread of COVID-19. As luck would have it, my class had a case that first Thursday, so on Friday August 20th my class was shut down for the day. I had to do contact tracing with my principal. It was weird and a difficult time. The following day, my wife and I decided to get out of town for a little bit. We drove out an hour to grab some lunch and visit a board game store she had been meaning to check out. There was a Half Price Books nearby, so I dragged her along reluctantly. Normally I never bother to browse the manga section, but for whatever reason my feet led me there that day. It was a decision that proved to be a game changer, for better or for worse. There on the shelf I spotted a beautiful thick spine (I’m a sucker for such things, you see). It was omnibus volume 1 of Samurai Executioner by Kazuo Koike.
I quickly pulled it off the shelf to further inspect it. It was a 750+ page monstrosity. It looked so badass and immediately piqued my interest. It was like one of those “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?!” moments. I marveled at all the amazing black and white illustrated panels. Other than Garfield, I had never read any comic books or manga in my entire life. For whatever reason, I just never dipped my toe into that ocean. It was as though comics and I were two ships passing in the night. Maybe now it was time to change that. Still, I remained hesitant. Mainly because it had a sticker price of $29.99. Even after my 10% teacher discount, that would be $30 for a book that originally retailed for $19.99.
I was at a loss for words. I had never seen a book at Half Price Books priced as anything more than half the cover price. Hence the store name of Half Price! So this told me right off the bat that Samurai Executioner was a different kind of breed. I stood there holding the book for what felt like 20 minutes, talking myself into it and then out back and forth. In the end, I found myself placing the omnibus back on the shelf. I just couldn’t justify the $30 price tag. I couldn’t pull the trigger.
But I did pull the proverbial trigger on Infinite Kung Fu, which was an oversized graphic novel by Kagan McLeod. It was only $12 and that was a bullet I was more than willing to bite. I saw Infinite Kung Fu as sort of compensation for not buying Samurai Executioner.
Of course, over the next few days my decision not to buy it dominated my every waking moment. By Monday night I had decided I had made a mistake. To rectify that, I was going to drive the long two hour journey (both ways) to pick it up. Tuesday evening, August 24, 2021. After getting out of work late due to a staff meeting and getting my classroom in order for the following day, I arrived at Half Price Books a little after 7 PM. I eagerly ran to the manga section to pluck Samurai Executioner off the shelf. This time I would not blink. (It also turned out that $30 at that time was actually a decent price for it compared to the going rate online). But a pit in my stomach swelled as I glanced at the shelf and saw it was no longer there *insert dramatic gasp*
I looked up and down the shelves three times, going through the five stages of grief in my typical overly dramatic fashion. It was worse than a gut punch. It felt like I had been decapitated. (Sorry, as stated I tend to have a super dramatic mindset from time to time). In the end, I realized I was simply too late. I regretted not biting the bullet the previous Sunday. Should have known once I left the store that day that it wouldn’t still be there a few short days later. That’s just how these things go. I started to browse other aisles when I saw a guy (probably in his early 40s) carrying a basket. And in that basket — sure enough, because the manga gods have a cruel sense of humor — was that very $30 Samurai Executioner copy! And that’s when I went through the five stages of grief AGAIN for a second time all within 10 minutes. Adding insult to injury, now I knew on top of being too late that I was late by no more than probably 10 minutes! If ONLY I had gotten to the store EVEN JUST a measly 30 minutes earlier… UGH! I was really kicking myself then and there.
Things got bleak and almost took a dark turn. I got so desperate that the thought of tailing him around the store, hoping to see if he might remove the copy from his basket due to a change of heart, crossed my mind. In another scene, I envisioned myself snatching it from his basket once he put it down and got distracted browsing for more books to buy. That’s when I knew I had to go home. Just the thought of that made me feel disgusted with myself. I cannot and would never sink so low. I made the long hour drive back in defeat and disappointment.
It was a hard lesson learned: sometimes you just gotta pull the trigger because you might not get a second shot. At least in the wild. Thankfully, with the internet, unless a book is out of print and super rare, odds are you can buy almost anything your heart desires. Sometimes you need a little patience and a lot of money of course, but life is what you make of it. I eventually bought all four omnibus volumes of Samurai Executioner within the month and my little Half Price episode became a distant memory.
MY FIRST MANGA
Samurai Executioner wasn’t my first manga purchase, however. Back in 2019 when I was going on my crazy Sunday Goodwill runs with my girlfriend (now my wife), I came across The Gods Lie. At the time I didn’t care for manga whatsoever but it was in great condition and at $1.99 it was hard to pass up on. That and it looked like something I would enjoy reading one day if I ever made time for it.
On another Goodwill run, I ran across Triton of the Sea omnibus volume 1. There was a considerable blemish affecting the cover and the first few pages but the rest of it was unmarred. The back cover revealed that it was a Kickstarter project retailing for $19.99. At $1.99 it was a no-brainer buy, even though my interest in manga was very minimal. I picked it up with the idea that it would be fun to read one day and who knows, maybe I will get into manga at some point. And if not, it was only 2 bucks. The back cover also boasted that Triton was created by Osamu Tezuka, the legendary mangaka of Astro Boy. I heard of Astro Boy over the years and had some faint understanding that Tezuka was sort of the grandfather of manga. That’s good enough for my $2.
In a moment of sheer serendipity, after developing a passion for manga in August of 2021, about a month later I ran across a copy of Astro Boy omnibus 1. I did some Googling and found out that the entire series was published over 7 thick omnibus volumes from Dark Horse. I bought all 7 volumes in my first transaction off Mercari.
Osamu Tezuka created many classic manga series, such as Phoenix, Black Jack and the aforementioned Astro Boy. I’ve read a few of his works already; they truly are time machines to a bygone era. His work can feel a bit archaic at times, but they are also timeless in many ways. Ah, so many great manga waiting to be read and so little time!
THE THRILL OF THE HUNT
The internet can definitely be awesome. Over the past year I’ve gotten so many good deals on manga. Early on, particularly those first five months from August to December of 2021, endless packages were arriving nonstop. Things were getting crazy. I was brand new to the hobby and there was so much I wanted that it was easy to find something new I wanted. A slow day would consist of receiving three packages! I suddenly became very familiar with the mailman just like during my Sega Saturn and Super Nintendo days when I was buying them left and right. Few things are as satisfying as waiting on some big packages and seeing that FedEx truck pull up in your neighborhood. It’s a glorious sight, indeed. But buying online will never match the thrill of finding things for cheap in the wild. Whether it’s at Half Price Books, Goodwill or local used book stores, finding a (rare) manga series on the cheap can’t be beat! Here are just some of my more memorable finds…
Almost found a full set of Hana-Kimi at Goodwill for only $1.99 each! They were in amazing condition as well. I was a little disappointed it didn’t include volumes 1-3 but that very same day just mere hours later…
Love visiting Half Price because you never know what you might find in the manga section. Some series can be seriously scalped online for ridiculous prices, but Half Price usually sells them for half off. That’s how I was able to find many of the beautiful Shaman King singles for cheap.
I say usually because some Half Price locations can be shady and scalp their manga at ridiculous prices, sometimes even higher than what they go for online. I always chuckle when I see such crazy prices. It all depends on the manager and the person pricing the manga. Most are cool but some can be very greedy. As a general rule of thumb, be patient and don’t spend more than you’re willing. Most manga will eventually be available for a more reasonable price.
Definitely not rare by any means, but picked up Bakuman 11-20 for $4.50 each. I love that instant collection feeling when you find half (or more) of a series in one go.
There are currently 27 volumes of D. Gray-Man. Was so lucky to run into these for cheap. Like I said, there’s nothing like the thrill of the hunt. You never know what you might find any given time you enter a book store. And it’s all about being at the right place at the right time.
Occasionally I’ll run into a random series that I might not be interested in buying online, especially at some of those insane prices, but if I see it for cheap in the wild I’m more willing to give it a shot! See Kitchen Princess. Besides, you know I’m just a sucker for those thick spines and omnibus editions! As a fun aside, did you know that Squid Games was based off Kaiji: Gambling Apocalypse?
I’ll buy manga once in a while from Barnes and Noble as well. I love that educators get a 20% discount. Twice a year during teacher appreciation week we even get 25% off. Man, did I pick the right profession or what? Earlier this month I discovered a new series (actually an old series finally translated to English) by the name of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou. It’s supposedly one of the most beloved manga series ever created, ranking in the top 50 currently on the website MyAnimeList. I cannot wait to delve into it!
I also shop on RightStufAnime, which is a famous website for manga lovers. They used to sell manga at a 25% discount rate with free shipping and no tax. Sadly, over the past year the site kept going downhill with some unfavorable changes. 25% discount got reduced to 20% and now tax is charged depending on the state you live in. Bummer. It hasn’t been the same since.
I have fond memories of hunting down all 18 volumes of Inuyasha the VizBig editions back in late 2021. The hardest to find volumes were numbers 8, 14 and 16. I drove 2 hours and 15 minutes to a Barnes and Noble to buy those 3 harder to find volumes right around Christmas time. It was well worth the drive.
On that same trip I picked up Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service omnibus volume 4. It was the last copy within a 250 mile radius and the first 3 omnibus volumes were already costing an arm and leg online. So I didn’t want to miss out on volume 4! Volume 5 is finally being released later this month on August 30, 2022, so it’s been a good while between releases. Once again, I’m a sucker for thick spines and omnibuses.
Barnes has these little blurbs on certain manga series. I always love reading them and admiring the love and passion the staff members put into making them. Dorohedoro is a series I can’t wait to jump into!
This was my best find so far. Mushishi volumes 8, 9 and 10 for under $15. This copy sells for north of $200. Like I said, you never know what you might find walking into a book store. And right place, right time. Timing is everything in life.
SOME COLLECTION PHOTOS
I don’t always display my manga by alphabetical order. Sometimes it’s based on fit. Ranma ½ is another classic that I’m excited to eventually read one day. Cross Game is slice-of-life and based around baseball, so I know I am going to love that. Heard a lot of good things about it!
Love when a series fits a shelf perfectly, as seen here with all 37 volumes of Magi. Found Magus of the Library for half off at Half Price and Made in Abyss for cheap online. I rarely pay retail for manga. Great deals are out there if one is willing to exercise a little patience! Heard a lot of praise for these 3 series. Definitely eager to jump into them one day…
This was my first manga shelf that I ever put up, so this one holds a lot of sentimental value for me. I love the way Barefoot Gen (what a beautiful little series that is) fits in perfectly with the first volume of 20th Century Boys (a fun and wild story)! I’ve since acquired Children of the Sea volume 4, however, and bought more volumes of Maison Ikkoku as they were released, so the shelf no longer looks like this. Love the sturdiness of most manga and how lovingly well crafted they are. The stories inside are usually pretty fantastic, too! The good ones have this incredible way of making me feel like a little kid on the inside all over again. Almost as if I’m hanging out in the backyard with Uncle Jimmy reading Old Master Q on a lazy Saturday night back in the late ’80s. A very satisfying hobby!
Getting into the manga scene over the past year has been super fulfilling and enjoyable. I can’t believe how I went from never really caring about it for most of my life to it now being my biggest hobby. It seems as though my young son is a fan in the making as well! The little guy is absolutely enthralled by all the illustrations and daddy’s voice reading the dialogue. Thanks for joining me on this very nostalgic trip down memory lane of my manga journey over the past 365 days. I acquired a ton over the past year, so for year number 2 I wish to spend more time reading instead of shopping. My wife certainly shares the same wish! But yeah, in a nutshell that’s been my descent into manga madness over the past year. Thanks a lot, Samurai Executioner! From should I buy it to… all this. What a rabbit hole ride it has been! Looking forward to reading all the amazing stories just waiting to be read and discovered