Sporadic Sequential
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Gotta Get 'Em All!

My latest manga obsession has been Ranma ½ by Rumiko Takahashi. It's a fast-paced, hilarious, and completely addictive manga series. As soon as I finish one volume, I can't wait to pick up the next one. Luckily, there are two things in my favor: (1) the series is complete, so I don't have to wait for long publishing gaps between volumes; and (2) my local library has all thirty-six volumes "in stock," so getting the next volume is as easy as submitting a new request online. I've made it through the first six volumes so far and have requested through book seventeen so I have a large stack on hand to plow through.

The palpable excitement and impatience I experience between volumes of Ranma caused me to reflect on other manga series that were similarly addictive. For example, I distinctively remember buying the first four volumes of Death Note in one bunch and being unable to stop reading (and re-reading) them. And I remember buying a full set of Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M off eBay after I got hooked reading the first volume from the library. (And once I got the books I remember reading the whole series over a feverish weekend.)

All of which makes me wonder: What is the most compulsively addictive manga series? I've listed some of my top contenders for The Most Addictive Manga, EVER in the poll below, but feel free to write in your own vote.

*** UPDATE: If you're curious what series people are writing in for "other,"
I've exported the full results here and I'll update intermittently. ***

**** UPDATE 4/16: 64 votes so far, half of which are write-in suggestions.
here to see all the other series readers can't put down! ****

***** FINAL UPDATE 4/19: 75 votes, 37 for other series.
(Well, one write-in was for Akira, so 36 "other" votes.)
here to see the full list of suggested series.
One Piece was the most popular write-in, with 5 votes.*****

What qualities make a manga irresistibly addictive? Having the entire series available at your fingertips definitely helps fuel a relentless reading binge, but here are some other factors that help make a series helplessly habit-forming:
  1. Cliffhangers. The most addictive series know how to hook readers with great cliffhanger endings. For example, in the latest volume of Bleach, we're left with Orihime facing one of the most relentless Arrancars all by herself. How will she protect herself? How will she even manage to survive? Arrrrrrgh! It's going to be a long wait until June 2nd!!

  2. Exciting art. Compelling series also feature dramatic, energetic art propels you along as you read the story. Once again, look at Bleach as an example: Go back and look at how Tite Kubo ratchets up the tension and urgency of action scenes by tilting panels, layering on the speed lines, and zooming in on key aspects of the fights.

  3. Sprawling cast of characters. This might seem counterintuitive, but I believe that series with larger casts are actually more likely to engage readers' imaginations than those with smaller casts. I'm not sure why this would be, but here are several possible reasons:

    1. It's more immersive. Adding a large, well-defined cast of characters makes a series feel like it takes place in its own real world.

    2. It allows multiple entry points into the series. Having multiple characters gives you multiple perspectives on events in the manga, so you're not just stuck seeing everything from the grim loner's point of view.

    3. It allows the creator the flexibility to play around so he or she doesn't grow bored. If everything had to be from one character's perspective, that could get old fast, so having lots of characters allows the manga-ka to try different things and stretch his or her creative muscles every now and then (especially if said manga-ka is fond of coming up with crazy character designs).

    4. It keeps you reading for the next appearance of that obscure, single-appearance character you fell in love with back in volume four. When are we going to see more of Don Kanonji, huh?

    5. More pairings for your fanfic. Well, not necessarily just for fanfic, but having a large cast of characters allows for endless possible match-ups (in multiple senses of the term). For example, in Ranma, I was amused when all of Akane's wannabe suitors ganged up on Ranma. And it was fun to watch Shampoo's great-grandmother Cologne train Ryoga in order to defeat Ranma. Related to the first sub-point, it extends a series' believability/plausibility when you can imagine the various characters interacting with each other in various ways. (OK, get your minds out of the gutter! Sheesh!) Of course, the danger is that things can become too complicated, requiring a flowchart just to keep all the characters and their relationships with each other straight.

  4. Modulating moods. Many long-running manga series are able to successfully move from action to comedy to romance and other varied moods. Again, this might seem counterintuitive — won't the shift to comedy antics dilute the intensity of the action? — but I believe if done well, such variations in tone actually help a series prolong its appeal. After all, if a series is nothing but non-stop fighting, how do you continually up the ante? Stopping to engage in some romance or drama can help keep the action feeling fresh. If you never stop to catch your breath or focus on quiter character moments, you'll probably grow exhausted with endless battles.

  5. A great hook, plus plenty of satisfying subplots. All of the addictive manga have a great core concept that you can easily boil down to a single sentence or two. Boy genius finds magic notebook that kills anyone whose name you write in it and proceeds to eliminate evil from the world. Star martial artist is cursed to switch genders when doused with cold water, which leads to complications when living with his betrothed fiancee and her family. It also helps if the series mixes long-running storylines with shorter subplots to be developed and explored later. (Series that offer more stand-alone chapter-sized stories, such as Mail or Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, are great but generally not as addictive as manga that have long-running arcs threading through the entire series) Again, varying things up will likely hold reader interest longer over time.
What other attributes make a manga impossible to put down and cause you to count the days until the next release?

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