Holiday Recommendations 2011: Anime & Manga

Time for our anime and manga recommendations for this holiday seasons. Find some newbies and some old favorites for any anime and manga fan, and maybe even something new to check out for yourself!

Excel Saga

World Conquest isn’t easy. In fact, conquering a city district is pretty tough for the super-secret ideological organization, Across. When you look at Across’ crack team (all 2 members) and their leader however, it’s no surprise. Senior agent Excel’s hyperactive and impulsive nature keeps any progress from holding up and junior agent Hyatt is too anemic to stay alive for an entire episode. The two agents fail so badly in fact, that all they have for their food budget is their pet dog/emergency food supply Menchi.

It doesn’t matter if their leader, Lord Ilpalazzo equips plans with robots, high tech weapons, or other convoluted schemes, things end explosively bad for Excel and Across. However, it’s not all their fault. With a well-equipped (yet apathetic) city defense squad (that coincidentally lives next door, hoards of hypnotically cute aliens called Puchuus, and a living Deus ex Machina floating around resetting plot points, things are pretty crazy.

Despite being silly and off the wall, the humor in Excel saga tends to be twisted, dark, or raunchy, making this a gift for Mature Audiences Only. If you or someone you know however is a seasoned anime fan fond of madcap humor rich with twisted satire and slapstick, Excel Saga is worth looking into.

Angel Beats!

Angel Beats! takes place in a type of purgatory for teenagers set up like a high school. People in this purgatory are supposed to attend classes, socialize and try to live a semi-normal life. The idea behind this is that doing so helps the people stuck in purgatory with lingering regrets and emotion to move on. Many of the students follow this plan and proceed to be reborn. However, one group is united in defying the rules and regulations of this world to make it their own.

This group, The Afterlife Battlefront decides to remain in the purgatory and fight against transcendence. They view the lives they were given as cruel or unfair and decide to rebel against purgatory, and by extension rebel against God. Through their shared experiences, the Battlefront pick up the pieces of their previous existences and live more fully than when they were among the living. Their main enemy and obstacle is the student body president; a girl the Afterlife Battlefront dubs Angel whose motives and meaning are unknown. She is there at every scheme, trying to bring them down. As the story progresses however, certain questions rise to the surface. Is she truly an Angel? Why does she enforce the rules? How come she never initiates the conflict with the Battlefront? And where, if he exists, is God? The answers come out in a brilliant conclusion.

Angel Beats! features a great story that is told in an engaging, mature fashion. The show is further enriched with gorgeous animation and a strong, memorable soundtrack. Angel Beats! is an anime that has something for everyone: action, humor, depth, and style. A must-have for anime fans.


The year is 1999. Kamui has returned to Tokyo, and the end of the world draws near as two groups of people with supernatural abilities assemble. It has been prophesized that Kamui is the deciding factor, whatever side he chooses will win and both sides of this war compete to win him. The Dragons of Heaven want to save the world from Armageddon and protect humanity. The dragons of Earth wish for death and famine so the Earth can be cured of the plague of humanity. Kamui has chosen to side with the Dragons of Heaven, to protect his childhood friends, but at what costs?

X is captivating in both manga and anime form. The art is beautiful and the characters have soulful depth that pulls readers and views in.  The whole mythos in the X universe is well thought out and borrows bits and pieces of Judgment day mythology, compiling it all into something unique. X can get pretty violent, so it isn’t for the faint of heart. This one is highly recommended to those who appreciate smart action.


There really isn’t anything like FLCL. FLCL is one of those shows that can’t really be explained, it has to be experienced. It’s chaotic, seemingly random, overly blunt, emotional, and beautiful all at the same time. On the chaotic side there are robots, space police, arson, and an alien girl who smashes her way through problems using her bass guitar as a weapon. On the beautiful/emotional side of FLCL there are themes and things like first love, loneliness, neglectful parents, parents that try too hard to connect, and all the feelings/ fears of change and entering adolescence. Behind all the chaos and eccentricities, FLCL is a coming of age story about a boy and the reckless adults in his life as he examines the different views of childhood and adulthood.

FLCL has an excellent voice cast that really brings home the crazy and sentimental feelings. The artwork is diverse and beautiful. The styles range from watercolor to street art and it pulls you in even before you have a grasp of what is going on.  For about five years FLCL was out of print, but in February Funimation re-released all 6 episodes on one DVD.

Cardcaptor Sakura

Sakura Kinimoto is a fairly average ten year old girl. She goes to school, hangs out with her best friend, and lives peacefully with her teenage brother and professor father. That is, until she stumbles upon a magic book and accidentally releases a set of magic cards. Now, it is her duty as a Cardcaptor to track them all down and get them back. This isn’t easy, as every card has unique abilities and personalities, and to top it all off, the cards can take on alternate forms when activate. With help from her best friend Tomoyo and the cards guardian Cerberus, Sakura does her best to work through these fears and challenges while maintaining a normal life on the surface.

Cardcaptor Sakura stands out from other magical girl series due to its unique magic system and venerable character development. The magic system Sakura and the cards use are unique and it’s exciting to see what card’s magic she will use and how.  For example, she can use the shadow card offensively or to sneak around at night. The characters form complex relationships with each other and really drive the series along well.

You may think you know Card Captor Sakura as Cardcaptors, which aired on the WB in the North America, but you would be wrong.  That version was hacked and edited to bits and doesn’t reflect the quality of story and attention to detail of the original. The best way to experience this story is to read the manga, which is currently being re-released in omnibus format. Cardcaptor Sakura is an excellent gift for people just getting into manga of all ages.

Sgt. Frog

After a fumbled invasion plan, The Keroro platoon is stranded on earth. Each one is stuck living with humans, and their leader, Sgt. Keroro has it the worst, stuck doing all the household chores. This doesn’t stop this squad of frog-like aliens from trying from plotting to take over the world …poorly. When plans aren’t blowing up in their face, their resolve does. It’s not easy conquering Earth.

Sgt. Frog is cartoony in the best possible sense. Everything is over the top. Because stories rarely carry over from one episode to the next, (in fact there are usually two stories per episode,) the show never has to hold back. Buildings blow up, dimensions merge, and space plants eat people, but it always resets. This openness combined with quirky characters leads to fun for anyone who can appreciate madcap comedy.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle is an anime move that anyone can enjoy, whether they are super nerds or can’t even pronounce anime correctly. It’s charming story and presentation have won over critics all over, and was even nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2006. Loosely based off of the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle is a treat to watch in every way. Sophie is a timid and shy eighteen year old girl. One day, she encounters the vain and mysterious wizard Howl, as he helps her out of a small jam. Later that night, The spiteful witch of the Witch of the Waste, puts a curse on her, turning Sophie into a ninety years old unable to tell anyone of the curse.  Sophie soon sets out on a journey to break her curse and ends up staying in Howl’s mobile castle. Returning to normal won’t be easy for Sophie, as Howl’s own adventure intertwines with her own.

With Gorgeous visuals, excellent music and a talented voice cast, it’s no surprise that Howl’s Moving Castle attracts so many fans.

Sailor Moon

(Sailor Moon 1, 2 and Codename: Sailor V by Naoki Takeuchi)

Usagi Tsukino is as normal of a teenager as she can be. She hates her homework, she’s always late for everything, and she spends most of her time dreaming about boys. So when she meets a talking cat named Luna who tells her that she is actually Sailor Moon, the leader of a powerful group of female warriors destined to find and protect the moon princess – well, she’s a little less than enthused. In fact, she’s really freaked out. But at least fighting evil comes with the perk of fighting alongside Tuxedo Mask, the hottest man to ever use roses as a super power (and probably the only).

This re-released version of the classic manga can be found on Amazon for only around $6-$7.00. Book one became available back in September and Book two (which introduces the second Sailor Scout, Sailor Mercury) came out in November.  Simultaneously released with Sailor Moon Book 1 was the US premier of Codename: Sailor V, following the life of Minako Aino as she also is visited by a talkative feline who informs her that she must fight as Sailor V until she can be reunited with the other scouts.

The new version of the Sailor Moon manga includes an entirely new and more accurate translation, new never before seen (in the US) cover-art, the original Japanese character names, and detailed translation notes.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

If you watch anime, there is a very strong possibility that you know of Fullmetal Alchemist. The FMA series is one of the most popular of all time, and for good reason. Originally, Fullmetal Alchemist was released on Adult Swim back in 2004 – 2006. Four years later, the award-winning series released a second anime, which more closely followed the manga than its predecessor. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was as good as, if not better, than the already legendary original.

Alchemy is an advanced science wherein the alchemist can break down the composition of an object, and create something entirely different. But, as with everything in our world, it is governed by laws. The alchemist can convert raw material into objects using these laws.  But it is considered taboo by alchemists to experiment with life. Specifically, human transmutation is one of the greatest sins that can be committed.

The show is about two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, two very intelligent, gifted alchemists. From an extremely young age, the two practiced alchemy. Unfortunately, one day an illness takes their mothers life. Despair inevitably leads the two to research human transmutation, to revive their mother. As the transmutation commences, they are filled with hope as things seem to be going well. But disaster befalls their experiment as Alphonse entire body is enthralled by the rampaging transmutation as well as Ed’s leg. In a desperate attempt to bring back his brother, he calls out, demanding the return of Al and draws a seal from his own blood on a nearby suit of armor and forfeits his arm to bind his brother’s soul to the armor. The story continues with them searching for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, all the while with Ed feeling obligated to restore his brother’s body.

All episodes are available on DVD and Blu-ray from FUNimation so go ahead and gift them to someone, or to yourself this holiday season; they are definitely something to own.

Death Note

Death Note is another one of those very popular anime series you may have heard about and if you haven’t seen it yet, you are missing out. This psychological thriller will leave you saying, “are you kidding me?” as you follow Light Yagami in his quest to reform and become the god of the ‘new world’. One day at school, genius Light Yagami is looking out the window daydreaming when he notices something drop from the sky. After class he begins to head home and notices a mysterious notebook on the ground with the title Death Note on the cover. Inside the cover is a page of ‘rules’ which he reads out of curiosity. Apparently, if anyone’s name is written in the book with their face in mind, that person will die. He scoffs at the idea and considers it a lame prank, but for some reason keeps it and takes it home.

As his curiosity starts to eat away at him, he decides to test it, for kicks. On the TV is live footage of a hostage situation. The assailants identity is reported on screen so he figures, if he should test it, it should be on a criminal. He writes the man’s name down and waits. At first, nothing happens, so he figures he confirmed the book was a prank. But suddenly, the hostages start running out of the house and they report the hostage taker has died of a heart attack. Light is shocked. He has to test it again. After obliterating another criminal, he confirms the books authenticity and is corrupted by its power. He meets the books previous owner, a shinigami (death god) names Ryuk, who explains to Light that the book is his and he may do what he will with it. That begins Light’s rampaging murders of criminals, he seeks to rid the world of crime and become the god of the new world.

Not long after Light begins his killing criminals, the number of inexplicable deaths of criminals catches the attention of the International Police Organization and world famous detective known only as “L”. L, a super-genius teenage detective, begins investigating into the super-genius serial killer Light, dubbed “Kira” by the Japanese populace (for their pronunciation of the English word “killer”) and a ridiculously intense and suspenseful game of cat and mouse begins. The methodology and unimaginably complex tactics the two use to catch and elude each other will leave you wanting more each episode. You will not be disappointed. Read a full review here. (


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