Wow, how about that last year and a half? It’s certainly been a ride. We relied on our Netflix subscriptions. We learned how to bake bread. And, for many of us bibliophiles, our reading habits changed. But regardless of the changes the past several months brought us, one thing remained constant: new manga kept being released. Lots of new manga. Some of which people would consider to be the most anticipated and best new manga.
I’ve always said that manga’s greatest strength is that there are so many different kinds of stories to pick up. There’s a manga series for everyone, no matter your age or preference. There are even standalone manga titles for people who don’t want to commit! Expand your horizons to include light novels — manga’s quick-read prose cousin — and the possibilities are endless.
But because of that much-lauded variety, putting together a recommendation list can be tricky. For 2021, I wanted to curate a list that features selections that are significant, that have flown under the radar, that appeal to manga enthusiasts, that a casual reader can pick up, that are intense reads, and that are comforting reads. It’s a tall order! No single list can accomplish all of that, but we still must try.
So to that end, here are some of the best new manga and light novels to add to your TBR pile.
Solo Leveling by Chugong
You might have seen online chatter about this Korean webnovel phenomenon. It’s one of the most popular series to ever come out of East Asia. Solo Leveling takes place on an alternate Earth where portals have appeared, linking our world to a parallel dimension filled with monsters. Jinwoo is a hunter who fights these monsters — except he’s weak. The weakest hunter in the world, actually. But when a raid goes awry, he wakes up from a coma to find he’s been equipped with a “system” that helps him get stronger. (Prefer comics? There’s a manhwa adaptation!)
Recommended for: LitRPG fans, readers who love gaming fantasies, and people who like seeing weak characters get stronger through hard work.
Jujutsu Kaisen by Gege Akutami
Jujutsu Kaisen isn’t a new manga. The first volume wasn’t released this year or even last year. It launched in Japan in 2018, but the anime adaptation was one of the biggest hits of the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 seasons. It follows Yuji Itadori, a seemingly average high school student who has the misfortune to eat a cursed object. Because of that, he now has one of the greatest evil spirits living inside his body and to contain the threat, Yuji must join the violent and restrictive world of the Jujutsu sorcerers.
Days on Fes by Kanato Oka
Sometimes we don’t want to read about demons or pick up a series packed with nonstop action. Sometimes we want something with low stakes that is relaxing and chill. Days on Fes follows a teen girl who’s introduced to the world of music festivals by her best friend.
Recommended for: slice of life fans, casual manga readers, and people who love music and outdoor festivals.
The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent by Yuka Tachibana
Isekai — the genre in which the protagonist transmigrates to another world — dominates the light novel category. The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent puts a new spin on this familiar premise when office worker Sei is summoned to another world as its would-be savior. Except she’s not the only one summoned, and her new hosts prefer Sei’s cute, teenaged counterpart. Unable to return home, Sei devotes her time to cooking, brewing potions, and making cosmetics — a certified vacation compared to her old life! Alas, it soon becomes apparent that her summoners might have picked the wrong girl as their new saint. (Prefer comics? There’s a manga adaptation!)
Recommended for: isekai fans who want a change of pace from the pervasive male protagonists and their harems, readers who like relatable heroines, and people who love cottagecore aesthetics.
Fist of the North Star by Buronson and Tetsuo Hara
VIZ has released this classic 1980s manga in a new gorgeous hardcover edition. The series follows Ken, a practitioner of a deadly martial arts technique known as the Divine Fist of the North Star. He wanders across a nuclear wasteland, bringing justice to a lawless world.
Recommended for: classic manga fans, readers who like post-apocalyptic stories, and people who love the Mad Max films.
The Apothecary Diaries by Natsu Hyuuga
Maomao works as an apothecary in the red light district until she’s kidnapped off the street and illegally sold into service for the imperial palace. Left with few options, she plans to keep her head down and fulfill her contractual term. Alas, she can’t help meddling in palace affairs and ends up attracting the attention of Jinshi, the head eunuch who oversees the rear palace. She soon becomes a lady-in-waiting to the emperor’s favorite consort and begins solving various mysteries around the palace. (Prefer comics? There’s a manga adaptation!)
Recommended for: fans of mystery and court intrigue, readers who love prickly, quirky, and intelligent heroines, and people who like characters with secret identities.
And Yet You Are So Sweet by Kujira Anan
Don’t think I forgot about the romance fans! In this series, Maaya finally summons up the courage to confess to her crush. But not only does he reject her, the jerk proceeds to make fun of her on social media. Her humiliation continues when the most popular guy in school overhears her woes. The guy — Chigira — then proposes an interesting solution: make him the object of her unrequited affections. Maaya takes him up on the offer, but she absolutely has no intention of truly falling in love with him. Yeah, good luck with that.
Recommended for: fans of cute romance manga, readers who love the “popular boy befriends an unpopular girl” trope, and people who like stories where the guy has been in love with the heroine from afar for a long time.
Boys Run the Riot by Keito Gaku
Trans teen Ryo has no one to confide in about his gender identity. Not his friends. Not his family. But he then discovers an unexpected ally in Jin, the new transfer student. Ryo initially dismissed the other boy as just another thug, but it turns out they have the same taste in fashion! Now, they’re teaming up to launch a clothing line called, what else, Boys Run the Riot. If you can only pick up one manga title this year, this is the one.
Recommended for: everyone.
Many manga titles and light novels are released each month, so it can be overwhelming to choose. Not to mention, hard on your bank account. Hopefully, this selection of best new manga and light novels gave you a good place to start.