Asano Inio has blown up over the last 5 years or so thanks to the huge success of his manga Oyasumi Punpun. We’ll talk about this title more in specific later on, but just in case you haven’t heard of it, it’s been consistently regarded as one of the best manga of the 2010s decade, and many people put it in their top 10 best of all time lists.
Oyasumi Punpun is not his only work, though. In fact, Asano is no rookie – he has many published titles, none as successful, but just as good. Indeed, he is one of the kings of seinen manga. In this list I’ll talk about his 3 best works, and I’ll put them in the order that I think would be best to read them in.
Solanin is much shorter than Oyasumi Punpun, but it’s unquestionably Asano-ish, which is why I recommend reading it before getting into Punpun’s story. It’s only two volumes long, but it perfectly shows everything this mangaka is a master at: Well paced slice of life manga, masterful art and realistic, appealing characters.
The story follows two recent college graduates, Meiko and Taneda, as they try to find their way in the adult world. It’s a great story about finding your own place in the world, even if you don’t have anything in particular that you want to do. It’ll strike a chord with any young adult in a similar situation.
It also deals with tragedies in a way that most manga fail to do. In this medium, when a big sad thing happens, it’s shown as a huge deal or dragged out over several chapters. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it sells. Secondly, people don’t want to think that bad things happen for no reason. Human beings, and mangaka are no exception, want to believe that if something bad happens to them, there has to be a meaning behind it, or something good to come out of it.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Sometimes, bad things do happen just because, and this is a reality that every person has to face at some point in their life and accept. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot learn from a bad experience, or move forward, as we learn from Asano Inio and his great character development in Solanin.
Read it – it’s only 28 chapters long.
2) Oyasumi Punpun
If you’re a fan of artsy works, then Oyasumi Punpun might just be the title for you. Asano Inio uses art in a very interesting way in this manga.
In Punpun’s world, the level of detail in the art defines how close to reality something is. If it doesn’t contrast much, and if it feels realistic, you can probably bet on it being real. Things drawn as doodles, or that have a sharp contrast with the background, you cannot be sure of. They can be interpreted as being part of a character’s imagination, or as being real. We, as the readers, cannot be sure and can only try to speculate. Most characters are extremely detailed, as are the backgrounds. However, Punpun himself, the protagonist, is drawn as a small bird-like doodle.
This is a psychological manga following Punpun’s strange life, and it’s a very good showcase of mental illness such as depression. Punpun is a very ill person, and he doesn’t feel like he fits in, which is why he’s drawn as a doodle as well – he is not a part of the world, he is not the same as everyone else.
He doesn’t just stay as a small bird doodle, either – as the manga progresses and he grows older, the shape of his doodle changes, based on his state of mind. At one point he becomes a weird triangle, for example.
Oyasumi Punpun is a manga that manages to impose a certain state of mind on the reader, which reminds me of the webtoon Annarasumanara in a sense. It makes you think about mental illness and empathize with the main character, and the entire cast. As for the characters, the manga is very main-character based, but there are quite a few supporting characters that are very well created. Multidimensional, realistic personalities, all that jazz.
This, and the fact that is also manages to incorporate romance into the story (very well, too: It made my top 10 romance manga list) definitely makes Oyasumi Punpun one of the best manga out there.
3) Nijigahara Holograph
Considering the nature of the last two titles, this is remarkably Asano’s strangest work. It’s only 12 chapters long, so it is certainly worth a read, but if someone tries to get into this one before reading this mangaka’s other works, I’m afraid that they would be put off by the weirdness and not try Oyasumi Punpun or Solanin.
If it’s even possible, it’s darker than it’s successor Punpun, and it deals with topics such as the selfishness of human beings and just how mean some people can be. The atmosphere of this manga could perhaps even be called uncomfortable. It’s not a pleasant read at all. I don’t mean that it’s not good, however. It’s absolutely brilliant, one of the mangaka’s best works.
He manages to create this off-putting, heavily ominous feeling that left me exhausted when I finished reading it, even though it was only like an hour, in a good way: Any good tragedy book is supposed to leave you exhausted at the end.
I think that this is the title in which Asano started experimenting a little bit more with art. He was always extremely detailed and a wonderful artist, but with Nijigahara Holograph he unlocked the next level, one that most manga illustrators, even the most skilled ones, never achieve: He manages to tell the story mostly through his art. He tells the readers the messages he wants them to learn through visual cues: the perspectives, the butterflies, the characters’ appearances, and well-timed panels. He makes every situation in the manga clear to the reader without using many words. The only mangaka that could match Asano Inio at this is Ashinano Hitoshi, author of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, although that is a very different kind of read.
Asano Inio is one of the few mangaka focused on seinen that understand what the demographic can do in comparison to shounen: A lot of people just use the exact same stories that they would do in a shounen magazine, the only change being more blood and more fan-service (this recycling of ideas is one of the biggest problems in manga, which I ranted about in this article).
On the contrary, Asano manages to tell mature stories, using adult characters, based on the hardships that his demographic of young adults faces on the regular, and making a compelling story that people of all ages can read (except children, of course). When he portrays sex, he does it in a realistic manner, to actually show something and make the characters human, and not to attract readers.
In the beginning of this article, I said that Asano is the king of seinen manga. I firmly believe that this is true, and his immense success gives me some hope for the future of the manga industry.