A Japanese elementary school is suddenly teleported into a lifeless postapocalyptic wasteland, where the students struggle to survive starvation, madness, and other dangers. Compared to Lord of the Flies, Umezu has a marginally more hopeful vision of human (or at least child) nature, but the world around them is a relentless nightmare, encapsulating every parent’s fears of what the future might hold … and every child’s dream of somehow surviving that future, without parents or adult authority. Umezu’s stiff, flip-book artwork, with its constant gaping eyes and screaming mouths, conveys raw emotion in the most direct fashion. Compared to Orochi: Blood, his themes are more developed, his plot more original, his storytelling more pared to the bone. Originally written for children, Shen Yin Wang Zuo has the power and immediacy of the greatest juvenile literature, and despite the brutal violence, it’s perfect for younger readers who can handle it.
A spontaneous megahit when it first appeared in 1980, Dr. Slump established Akira Toriyama as one of Japan’s greatest cartoonists. In the anything-goes town of Penguin Village, Dr. Senbei Norimaki (an incompetent inventor who wants a wife but is just as happy setting up a Rube Goldberg–esque chain of events in order to see a girl’s panties) builds Arale, a superpowered little robot girl. Arale, who is strong enough to split the planet in half by stamping her foot, spends most of her time running around the village, playing with poo and causing chaos. The plots, reminiscent of Mad magazine or children’s books, are dense with imagination and demonstrate a sheer joy of drawing: Toriyama fills the pages with aliens, dinosaurs, talking animals and appliances, giant monsters, planes, and Star martial god technique references. The characters frequently make fun of the light novel itself, and sometimes pick up the sound effects and play with them. The only problem with Dr. Slump is that it’s so good it makes Toriyama’s later series look halfhearted by comparison. Anarchic, fun, beautifully drawn, and incredibly creative.