2022 may be more than halfway through at this point, but there are still quite a few manga series that debuted in 2021 that are worthy of discussion. From the breakout hit that was Spy X Familyto the sustained success ofOne Piece, 2021 was an important year for manga readers.
MyAnimeList includes 10 of the best manga of 2021 in their overall rankings by score and popularity. Given that boost inprominence that some of these series have been getting, fans are suspecting that it's only a matter of time before those that haven't received anime adaptations get their time in the spotlight.
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Updated on July 26th, 2022 by Tanner Fox:With the second cour of Spy X Family, the sixth season of My Hero Academia, and the debut of Chainsaw Man, there's quite a bit to be excited about in the world of anime at the moment. That said, dedicated fans of these and other series shouldn't forget how impactful the original manga were, particularly over the last year.
2021 was a huge year for manga; from the continuation of established heavy-hitters like One Piece to the debut of efforts such as Dandadan, it's not too late to catch up on the most important stuff that was released last year.
Kaiju No. 8 (7.80)
Although it went down as the best-selling new manga series of 2020, the success ofKaiju No. 8continued into 2021, as the series sold in excess of 5.5 million copies by December of that year.
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Kaiju No. 8tells the tale of Naoya Matsumoto, a washed-up thirty-something who never managed to follow his dreams of joining the Japanese Defence Force and battling the monsters plaguing the country. However, when he encounters a parasitic kaiju, he is transformed and gains fantastical powers that grant him one last shot at living out his long-held ambitions.
Sakamoto Days (7.84)
Relative to manga likeSpy X FamilyandChainsaw Man,Sakamoto Daysis something of an underrated release. Still, it received a good bit of acclaim when it debuted in 2020, and the series' first official volume was compiled and released in 2021.
Sakamoto Daysfollows Taro Sakamoto, who was once a nigh-on unkillable hitman who retired in his prime in order to settle down and start a family. However, his past has come back to haunt him, but a promise made to his wife to abstain from killing forces him to take care of business in unorthodox and sometimes hilarious ways.
Thoughitisn't as highly ranked or as popular as these other ongoing manga onMyAnimeList,Dandadandeservesrecognition among 2021's best manga series for its early quality relative to how its popularity has risen. Unlike many of these other manga series,Dandadanstarted less than a year ago in April 2021, making its rise especially impressive.
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It's been catching the eyes of many fans since the author, Yukinobu Tatsuki, is a former assistant of Tatsuki Fujimoto, the author of the belovedChainsaw Man. So far,Dandadanis garnering strong critical reception for its compelling story that explores darker, personal themes with its characters through a supernatural and occult-themed lens—much likeChainsaw Man.
Blue Lock (8.42)
Sports is another popular genre within the manga and anime communities. Some of the acclaimed greats over the years includeSlam Dunk,Hajime no Ippo, andHaikyuu!!;andBlue Lockmight be the next big thing.Blue Lockfocuses on European football/soccer, but it doesn't have any of the grounded slice-of-life elements of the former.
It's a bombastic manga that's closely described as a "battle shonen" but with sports, and it wears that on its sleeve. Isagi Yoichi is a high-school footballer that enters the cutthroat Blue Lock training facility in hopes of becoming Japan's top "egoist striker" in time for the next World Cup. The manga has been gaining increasing popularity and sales over the last year, with ahighly-anticipated anime coming in 2022.
Jujutsu Kaisen (8.56)
TheJujutsu Kaisenmanga had been gradually gaining traction in the pages of Shonen Jump for two years before MAPPA's anime adaptation debuted in 2020. Even in the face of the rushing train that isDemon Slayer,Jujutsu Kaisenhas earned the praises of fans around the world on a similar scale.
The anime has only bolstered the overall IP's popularity, as more and more audiences are discoveringJujutsu Kaisen's clever blend of the best aspects ofNarutoandBleachwhile shedding all the things that made those manga drag. Its thrilling action, endearing characters, and occultTokyo Ghoul-like setting and premise make Yuuji Itadori's world a worthwhile one to invest in.
Spy x Family (8.68)
As popular as Weekly Shonen Jump is,their Jump+ digital magazine has hosted some welcome surprises.Spy x Familyis among them, and the source material gives it the potential to be one ofthe best upcoming anime for 2022.It began publishing digitally in 2019 and quickly became one of the most popular ongoing series.
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It's a satisfying and feel-good spy-thriller/comedy focusing on the theme of found family. Agent Twilight is tasked with an incredibly delicate politically-charged mission, but he has to create a fake identity and family to see it through. The art style is both clean and stylish, with each of the cast being extremely likable in their respective ways.
Blue Period (8.71)
Amid all theover-the-top action in severalpopular anime and manga series,Blue Periodtells a grounded personal story about finding one's purpose. The manga began publishing in 2017 and is currently ongoing, with an anime adaptation that recently finished airing.
Blue Periodis a slice-of-life manga seriestelling the story of Yatora Yaguchi; a high schooler who performs brilliantly in school but has become apathetic to his academic life and his unambitious friends. He goes on to discover his passion forpainting, as well as the hardships of the profession and the external forces that are cynical of the medium. The series has been praised for its intimate coming-of-age storytellingand theme of finding a fulfilling life ambition.
Chainsaw Man (8.73)
The seventh-highest-selling manga series in Japan in 2021, the first run ofTatsuki Fujimoto'sChainsaw Manskyrocketed in popularitylast year, and that's without the help of an anime adaptation. While MAPPA is set to debut an anime adaptation in the latter half of 2022, the manga series achieved an unprecedented level of success worldwide well ahead of its debut.
When the indebted Devil Hunter Denji is murdered by the Yakuza, he makes a deal with a demon named Pochita and is revived as a devil-human hybrid. Set in an alternate-history world in which human fears manifest as powerful devils, it's a surreal, supremely sanguine series on which shounen fans must not miss out.
While more under-the-radar thanBerserkandVinland Saga,Kingdomis another acclaimed seinen series. LikeVinland Saga, this manga is another gripping historical-fictionmanga that came out shortly after it. Since its debut in 2006,Kingdomhas built up an excellent critical reception, a dedicated fanbase, and over 700 chapters.
The story followsLi Xin during the Warring States period of China, who seeks to overcome his life as an orphan slave and become the country's greatest general. What follows is an expansive story filled with political intrigue and military combat. It's a shame it hasn't received more attention, as, while it has an ongoing anime internationally, the manga hasyet to see official publication outside of Japan.
Vinland Saga (8.99)
The seinen genre in both manga and anime deserves more attention. Even after 17 years of publication,Vinland Sagais stillone of the best ongoing manga andone of the all-time best in the demographic. Wit Studio (ofAttack on Titanseasons 1-3 fame) animated the initialseason of the anime in 2019, opening the series up to more fans.
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Vinland Sagatackles personal themes through the exploration of Thorfinn's life from a happy-go-lucky child, vengeful tunnel-visioned teenager, and reformed young adult trying to discover how to truly achieve peace among humankind. It's a sprawling odyssey with compelling characters wrapped inthe historical-fictiongenre. Though there's no release date, season 2 has been confirmed.
Grand Blue (9.03)
Taking things back down to earth isGrand Blue. The manga has been in publishing since 2014 and has risen high in MyAnimeList's rankings in both average rating and current popularity.Grand Blueis a slice-of-life/comedy seinen series, telling the story of a freshman college kid with rosy pre-conceived notions for how life at university will go.
The story isn't very deep, but, with so many other manga series that tackle dense, meta themes,Grand Bluedoesn't need to. Its praises focus on the fact thatGrand Blueisn't concerned with taking itself too seriously andleans into araunchy dose of laugh-out-loud escapism.
One Piece (9.20)
Eiichiro Oda'sOne Pieceis one of the medium'severlasting hits and the last member of Shonen Jump's "Big Three," with the writer publishing chapters consistently since 1997. The all-time best-selling manga has already crossed the 1,000-chapter milestone, with no signs of fans' passion for it waning.
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Oda did state heprojects the series to end in 2024 or 2025, with the series already amassing an astonishing amount of intricately written and detailed story arcs. Luffy and the rest of the Straw Hat Pirates have captured the love of countless fans over the decades, withOne Piecebeing revered for its upbeat and emotional characters and storytelling, as well as painting an endlessly vibrant and lore-rich world.
For many die-hard fans of the medium on MyAnimeList,Berserkisconsidered the best manga ever drawn and written. However, the 30-plus-year-oldtitan of the medium has been plagued by hiatuses for much of its life cycle. It can qualify as one of the best manga of 2021 since it finally received new chapters last year, though, it came with fans' collective heavy heart.
Author Kentaro Miura passed away early last year, leaving countless mourning and the fate of the unfinished series unclear.It'sone of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed manga,withBerserkparticularly praised for its unflinchingly-heavy themes of existentialism, fate, and healing from trauma, as well as its dark-fantasy world and Miura's masterful artwork. Volume 41 was released in Japan last month,with a westward release this summer.
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