It’s been hard to compile a list that contains just 5 of the best mangaka ever. The medium has had so many geniuses, extremely skilled storytellers and artists, that it was almost impossible to settle on only 5 names.
You might get angry at me for leaving out a huge mangaka, or forgetting someone, but believe me, I’ve put a lot of thought into this. In my opinion, these are the 5 that have had the biggest impact on the industry so far, and the fact that every one of these has created at least one masterpiece is unquestionable.
I managed to squeeze it down to 5, but don’t ask me to put them in any specific order. These guys are all so good that I simply cannot choose a best and a worst. Read the list and decide for yourself!
5) Toriyama Akira
Best known for: Dr. Slump, Dragon Ball
Even if you don’t like shounen battle manga, or if you’ve never watched or read Dragon Ball (what are you doing here?), you have to admit that Toriyama must have a guaranteed spot in this list. The impact Dragon Ball has had on the industry is so huge it’s hard to boil down to just a few things.
The “Big Three” (Naruto, One Piece and Bleach) were all heavily influenced by Dragon Ball. Every single shounen battle manga cites Dragon Ball as their main inspiration, and if they don’t, they’re lying. This title was basically the pioneer of all your favorite action titles. Toriyama pretty much created a genre of manga that’s been topping the sales charts for the last two decades (besides school life moe stuff, I guess).
4) Endo Hiroki
Sorry, no picture!
Best known for: Eden: It’s an Endless World!, All Rounder Meguru
Alright, putting this one on the list might be a little bit subjective from me. I understand if you wish to criticize my choice, but I truly think that Endo Hiroki is one of the greatest mangaka to have ever lived. He hasn’t produced many works, but every single thing he puts out is an absolute masterpiece.
Eden: It’s an Endless World! is one of the best manga ever made. It’s one of those manga that truly feel “alive”. The story flows so naturally and things happen as they happen, not as the plot dictates. Kind of like real life, in a way. The character development, one of the top signs of a good manga, is amongst the best I’ve ever seen in literature, period.
The context the story is set on is so well explained with so few words. Endo Hiroki’s beautiful, detailed art tells an entire story on its own in a way that few mangaka can. Usually, a manga that adds too many scenery shots and too many panels without dialog can suffer from slow pace and become boring. We all know the feeling of waiting a whole week for a new chapter of our favorite manga, only to be presented with filler that doesn’t progress the storyline. This man managed to find the perfect balance and you won’t be bored for a single second while enjoying this gorgeous manga.
These two masterpieces, and the hopefully many more this still young mangaka will produce, were enough for me to put him on the list.
3) Fukumoto Nobuyuki
Best known for: Akagi, Ten, Gambling Apocalypse Kanji, Legend of the Strongest Man Kurosawa, Gambling Emperor Legend Zero, and many more.
The king of psychological manga and the original “Life-or-death game” mangaka. This man has produced so many classic, must-read works that it’s hard to believe. Just check out his Wikipedia page. He literally has 37 published works. Some of these have been ongoing for many years and have hundreds of chapters.
He’s the proof that manga is more than just pretty art. If you’ve ever read anything he’s written, or seen any panels, then you know what I’m talking about – the art style may be unconventional for modern manga, but it does the job. If you’ve ever been turned off by it, please reconsider. This man tells some of the best stories ever told in the genre.
Those interested in starting to read some Fukumoto can check out my article about him.
For the Fukumoto experts: here’s a title you might not have read: Buraiden Gai. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s quite different from his other works. It’s also nice and short, perfect for a Sunday afternoon. Read it and let me know what you think!
2) Inoue Takehiko
Best known for: Slam Dunk, Real, Vagabond
Inoue is one of the undisputed kings of manga. He has written two of the greatest modern masterpieces: Slam Dunk and Vagabond. Perhaps his most notable skill is his art. There are very few mangaka that can say they’re as good at drawing as Inoue Takehiko.
If you don’t particularly care about art: Good for you! He also tells some of the best stories. Slam Dunk is the greatest Sports manga of all time. And Vagabond is one of those manga that feel like a true piece of literature, something that should be on the shelf of any person who calls themselves an avid reader, manga or western or whatever.
Vagabond is like one of those good looking people that also happen to be aeronautical engineers. It has extremely beautiful art and also tells a deep, compelling story that will not only make you feel for the protagonist, Musashi, but also introspect and reconsider your priorities in life.
With Slam Dunk, Inoue Takehiko established himself as a talented mangaka. But with Vagabond he showed us that he can also teach us, his readers, the lessons that he learned throughout his life. Teaching is the ultimate goal of art, and he’s one of the few in this medium that have achieved it.
1) Tezuka Osamu
Best known for: Buddha, Black Jack, Phoenix, Astro Boy, The Amazing Three
The father of manga himself. This man has had the greatest impact in the industry by far – he actually created it. Being the original mangaka is enough of a reason to put him on the list, but his works have also remained through the years as some of the best ever produced.
The manga he called his life’s work, Phoenix, is a masterpiece composed of many short stories. In Buddha, he tells his version of the story of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) impeccably. The pace is so well set, the characters interesting, and the art does the job well enough. You can’t hate the art – he was the first one to do it in Japan and was inspired by Walt Disney.
For those just starting out with Tezuka’s works, definitely read Buddha first. One of my favorite manga. Like the previous entry in this list, he mastered the art of teaching us through his works, and Buddha is the clearest example of this. It’s hard to argue that Tezuka isn’t the best mangaka of all time.