Growing up, finding yourself, learning what role you want to play in the world — it’s a process I wouldn’t exactly want to relive in the full intensity of when it happened, but it’s certainly also a precious phase of life that I treasure. I definitely don’t seem to be alone in this opinion, since coming-of-age stories remain universally and perpetually popular. And they’re especially popular in manga. The best coming-of-age manga capture this time in all its beauty and emotion and drama with earnest stories and thoughtful illustrations, demonstrating so well the strength and value of the medium.
When I first started thinking about the best coming-of-age manga, I was absolutely overwhelmed with choices. Because there are just so damn many of them out there! As those familiar with the medium can probably attest, young protagonists coming into their own in some way or another is a huge theme in manga, so you can imagine my plight in narrowing it down. I’ve undoubtedly left out some gems as I just couldn’t include them all, but I’ve done the best that I can, dear reader, to include a good variety in these best coming-of-age manga picks. And I do hope you enjoy!
Best Coming-of-Age Manga
Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue
I have to start here, with one of the most seminal sports manga of all time. I remember growing up seeing my cousin’s collection of every volume displayed in his room, and I continue to hear it mentioned or referenced on a regular basis. An entire generation grew up on Slam Dunk, and its influence is still palpable in Japanese culture to this day. The manga tells the story of Hanamichi Sakuragi, the leader of a high school gang who joins the school basketball team to impress a girl, but quickly discovers a genuine love for the sport itself.
Though I didn’t have room to include them all here, so many sports manga are also coming-of-age stories, so be sure to check out this list of the best sports manga for more!
Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto
A classic of the “young boy sets off on a journey of growth and self discovery in his pursuit to become the best [fill in the blank]” genre, Naruto follows our titular character on his mission to become the most skilled ninja and leader of his village. The story is based in traditional Japanese culture and mythology, and is a wonderful introductory series for newer manga readers.
Goodnight Punpun by Inio Asano
Punpun Onodera is a young boy dealing with a dysfunctional family, young love, and mental health struggles. The slice-of-life series begins with Punpun in elementary school and continues into his 20s. Though human, Punpun and his family are depicted as simply-drawn birds, allowing the reader to project themselves onto and identify with Punpun and his experiences. The manga doesn’t shy away from dark subject matter, with failure and melancholy being strong themes throughout.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba by Koyoharu Gotouge
No manga list these days is quite complete without Kimetsu no Yaiba, the biggest hit of recent years. Tanjiro Kamado is a kind and compassionate young charcoal seller in Taishō-era Japan whose family is slaughtered by oni. His sister Nezuko, though spared, is turned into an oni herself, but Tanjiro is luckily able to help her hold on to enough of her humanity before transforming fully. The series follows Tanjiro and his companions as they learn to become demon slayers and face fierce enemies, all while looking for a cure to turn Nezuko back into a human.
Blue Period by Tsubasa Yamaguchi
Yataro Yaguchi is a popular student who excels at school, but he feels dispassionate and empty inside. One day he wanders into the art room at school and a painting sparks his fascination. Though he has never had experience in painting, he joins the art club, finds a true passion, and develops a new goal to get into the Tokyo University of the Arts.
Boys Run the Riot by Keito Gaku
Written and illustrated by a transgender creator, and translated into English by an all-transgender localization team, Boys Run the Riot is one of the best and most thoughtful coming-of-age manga of the past few years. Ryo Watari is a transgender high school student who doesn’t feel like he has anyone he can talk to honestly about his identity. However, he is able to find an outlet to express his authentic self through street fashion, and finds a friend in Jin Sato, a fellow outcast who shares this interest. Together, the boys set out on a journey to launch their own fashion brand.
Komi Can’t Communicate by Tomohito Oda
Everyone at school admires the beautiful and stoic Shoko Komi, but underneath the cool exterior is just a girl with extreme social anxiety who finds it hard to talk to people. Hitohito Tadano is seated next to Komi on the first day of school and learns of her wish to improve her communication skills and make 100 friends. Though also a reserved wallflower himself, Tadano makes it his mission to help Komi reach her goal.
My Hero Academia by Kōhei Horikoshi
In a world where 80% of the population develops superpowers, or “quirks,” middle schooler Izuku Midoriya is one of the few who is completely quirkless. Despite this, his dream remains to become a hero somehow, with his idol being the great All Might. Izuku’s determination to do right even in the face of danger catches All Might’s attention, and leads him to choose Izuku as the successor of his quirk, a unique power that can be inherited. Thanks to this turn of events, Izuku is able to enroll in U.A. High School, a prestigious school that trains future heroes, and embarks on the road to achieve his superhero dreams.
Voice Over! Seiyu Academy by Maki Minami
In Japan, voice acting is a unique art form and a huge industry in and of itself, and this manga gives us an accurate and enlightening peek into that particular world. Hime Kino dreams of being a seiyu for her favorite anime series, and has been accepted into the voice acting department of a prestigious arts school. Unfortunately, Hime has a low, gravelly voice, earning her the disdain of her teachers and classmates. But Hime is determined to prove everyone wrong and become the top seiyu she knows she can be!
Silver Spoon by Hiromu Arakawa
Best known for her wildly popular dark fantasy series Fullmetal Alchemist, this manga gives us another side of Hiromu Arakawa’s work. Yuugo Hachiken, a city boy and top student, enrolls in a rural agricultural high school after failing the entrance exam for his first choice high school and to escape his demanding family life. At first, Yuugo believes agricultural school will be a breeze, but soon learns there is much more to it than what he initially believed.
Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani
Tasuku Kaname is a closeted high school student who is thrown into great despair when he is possibly outed by his classmates. But just as he reaches his lowest moment, he has a chance encounter with a mysterious person who owns a “drop-in center” where people dealing with similar struggles gather. With beautiful art, light supernatural elements, and nuanced portrayals of various LGBTQ+ characters, Our Dreams at Dusk is a gorgeous and heartfelt series that realistically and compassionately depicts Japan’s queer community.
In This Corner of the World by Fumiyo Kouno
In 1943, 18-year-old Suzu, a young woman and artist from Hiroshima, finds herself receiving a proposal from Shūsaku, a man she doesn’t know. Shūsaku, however, has always remembered Suzu after a chance meeting once as young children. The two marry, and Suzu moves to live with Shūsaku and his family in Kure, a port city and important naval base. As living conditions worsen due to the war, Suzu comes into her own as a strong, compassionate woman, finding the hope and motivation to continue surviving despite the tragedy around her.
BEASTARS by Paru Itagaki
Who says coming-of-age stories all have to be about humans? In BEASTARS, we are transported to a world of anthropomorphic animals. In this society, carnivores have all taken up vegetarianism and are able to live in relative harmony with their herbivorous friends and neighbors. One night, an alpaca named Tem is killed and eaten, ostensibly by one of his carnivorous classmates, at the elite boarding school Cherryton Academy. In the wake of the brutal event, tensions rise between the herbivores and carnivores, even as they continue to attend school and participate in extracurriculars side by side. Though told in a unique framework, this story explores many common coming-of-age themes like friendship, love, and finding one’s place in the world.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi
In her late 20s, aspiring mangaka Nagata Kabi evaluates her life, feeling alone and unfulfilled. Determined to turn things around and start living before it’s too late, she hires a female sex worker to take her virginity. In this award-winning autobiographical manga, Kabi digs into her sexuality, mental health, and experiences of growing up and learning to accept herself.
March Comes in Like a Lion by Chica Umino (Denpa, January 31, 2023)
Unfortunately you’ll have to wait a while for this last one, but here’s a popular and acclaimed series that is finally getting an English release! Teenager Rei Kiriyama is a highly skilled shogi player, having gone pro in middle school. He lost his family in an accident as a child and left his foster family once he was old enough so as not to burden them, and now lives a quiet, isolated life. After meeting three sisters — Akari, Hinata, and Momo Kawamoto — Rei begins to learn to build relationships and have a life outside of shogi, and develops both as a player and a person.
For more coming-of-age manga recommendations, check out some school life manga or slice-of-life romance manga, both of which often have coming-of-age elements. And if you’re still itching for more, be sure you’re all set to get your reading on with the best manga reader sites and apps and then hop over to our huge list of must-read manga in general!