Pages With Punch: 14 Of The Best Action Manga
Action Manga is easily the most popular style of manga, both in Japan and around the world. It’s exciting. It’s dynamic. And it’s almost always perfect for a Netflix series or movie, which naturally leads to more sales. But it takes something really special to be on our list of best action manga. You can’t just add POW! in the middle of the sentence and think you have our attention. Equally, you can’t give our heroes skimpy clothing and say, “Job done.” It’s a more refined process than that.
The best action manga knows how to balance a great storyline with relatable yet overpowered main characters (“OP MC”). It also needs to have stunning graphics you want to immerse yourself with. There is plenty of great action manga and action manwha out there but then again…there’s always room for reading more manga while you search for The Chosen One / The Ultimate / The Only One That Can Be The Best Of The Best. Now THAT’s how you make it onto a list of the Best Action Manga.
So, what makes for great action manga? It’s all about the conflict, the impetus to get shit done. It has art that draws you in and characters you are cheering for, no matter where you are reading. You are likely to find the best action manga under the heading “Shonen Manga.” Even though it is usually targeted at male readers between 12 and 18 years old, you don’t have to BE a teenage boy to like these comics. In fact, my regular book club is a bunch of women and non-binary folks who are regularly tempting me to read all kinds of stuff (shout out to Breyan for showing me the best place to spend my money).
The following is a list of my faves, both old and new – it doesn’t really matter as long as the pages have punch!
The Best Action Manga
Deadpool: Samurai by Sanshiro Kasama and Hikaru Uesugi
Published in Japanese last year, the English translation came out this month though some markets, like *ahem* Australia, will still have to wait a few more weeks. It’s the first partnership between Marvel and Shonen Jump, with the Japanese edition being the best-selling Marvel comic in 2021. And seriously, if you’re looking for the best action manga, you simply cannot go wrong with Deadpool. Tony Stark is looking to create an Avengers branch in Tokyo and invites Deadpool to run the show. None of that is a good idea but it leads to hilarious action-packed manga with one of the best characters in any market. Of course, it helps when you’re partnered with All Might from My Hero Academia. If you love MHA and you love Deadpool, smoosh the two together and prepare yourself for a mind-blowing read!
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba by Koyoharu Gotouge
This manga series is one of the best-selling of all time and is probably at the top of many readers’ “Best Action Manga” lists. It has a slow start, putting all of the emotion into our main character as he witnesses the murder of his whole family, except for his sister who is now a demon. Tanjiro is not the kind of character to curl up and play the victim. Instead, he takes the responsibility of caring for his sister and trains to be a demon slayer. Demon Slayer is a must-read for lovers of good-ol’ battle manga and is a popular choice for Shonen Manga. If you’re looking for more like this, check out our Guide to Shonen Manga here.
Choujin X by Sui Ishida
Fans of Ishida and Tokyo Ghoul will love the action scenes and the amazing art in this brand new manga. It was originally launched in May 2021 but the English translation is still new on the scene. The story features two childhood friends who encounter a Choujin – a human with dangerous supernatural powers gained from a serum. With no chance of escape, the boys make the swift decision to become Choujin themselves. It’s bizarre, it’s weird, and it has a few twists that will make you re-read pages to check WTH happened. And that’s all okay because it is A Ride.
Tokyo Revengers by Ken Wakui
We have a mix of Gang Warfare, time travel, juvie delinquents, teen romance, and plenty of ‘yakuza-style’ fisticuffs. Takemichi learns his girlfriend from middle school was killed by the Tokyo Maji Gang. A sudden life/death experience shoves him back in time by 12 years, giving him the opportunity to save the girl, change his life, and possibly make a difference in the gang warfare. It was recently adapted into an anime series but I’m a fan of the original manga and the very human artwork. The gang-related violence can feel a bit real at times, possibly due to Wakui’s personal history with the gang subculture himself.
Candy Flurry by Ippon Takegushi and Santa Mitarashi
Cyndy ToyToy’s candy is the best in the world! 100 unique pieces of candy were created, and each piece gives the person who eats it special powers to conjure up the same sweet treat. Okay, it sounds innocent enough. Until you see our OP MC Tsumugi wielding a huge rainbow swirl lollipop like a demon-infused sledgehammer. Naturally, there were consequences, including the destruction of Tokyo by someone wielding a huge lollipop. But wait, each candy is supposed to give unique abilities. Tsumugi must keep her identity hidden until she finds the other lollipop wielder. Until then, there are plenty of giant doughnuts, flying forks, and a soft powder of sugar across the battlefield. This manga is way more fun than I expected, with plenty of action-packed pages!
Sakamoto Days by Yuto Suzuki
There is no denying the similarities between Sakamoto Days and The Way of the Househusband. However, there are subtle differences and you know what? It is absolutely fine to enjoy both! Taro Sakamoto was once a legendary hitman considered the greatest of all time. Bad guys feared him! Assassins revered him! But then one day he quit, got married, and had a baby. Unlike the suave and smooth Tatsu from Househusband, Sakamoto is far more relaxed and comfortable and I can totally relate to this. He’s now living the quiet life as the owner of a neighbourhood store, but how long can Sakamoto enjoy his days of retirement before his past attaches up to him. A great laugh with fast-paced action that fills the page.
Kaiju No. 8 by Naoya Matsumoto
Kafka hopes to one day join the Japan Defense Force and fight alongside his childhood friend Mina. Her job is to neutralise kaiju as Third Division captain. His job is to clean up the aftermath of her battles. When a sudden rule change allows Kafka to try out for the Defense Force, Kafka’s dreams seem within reach – until he turns into a Kaiju himself! Perfect for readers looking to fill the “guy turns into monster” hole left by Attack on Titan though I have to confess, I am enjoying Kaiju No. 8 far more. It’s far more addictive and hilarious with its 30-something adult male protagonist (a rarity in shonen manga).
Blue Exorcist by Kazue Kato
Raised by Father Fujimoto, a famous exorcist, Rin Okumura never knew his real father. One day a fateful argument with Father Fujimoto forces Rin to face a terrible trust – the blood of the demon lord Satan runs in Rin’s veins! Rin swears to defeat Satan but doing that means entering the mysterious True Cross Academy and becoming an exorcist himself. Created and illustrated by Kazue Kato, in 2000 she won the prestigious Tezuka Award for her work Boku to Usagi (The Rabbit and Me), published in Akamaru Jump. The skills are there with flashy action scenes and great build-up for the characters.
Jujutsu Kaisen by Gege Akutami
Better known by fans as JJK and thanks to the anime series, there are A LOT of fans!! The action across the pages captures your eyes and draws you in. And if you love monsters, this is the top pic for you. It starts off with the feel of a good-v-evil story but Akutami has developed this amazing world where no one is inherently good or evil. Everyone has a little Cursed Energy in them, coming from negative emotions running through our bodies. People generally can’t control it so sometimes the energy escapes and creates Curses, a race of super-beings who basically want to hurt everyone. Our main character, Yuji, has…uh, swallowed a rotten finger which housed a powerful Curse called Sukuna and subsequently, Yuji is now Sukuna’s new host. In true OP MC style, Yuji is still able to control his own body, much to the surprise of more experienced Sorcerers. However, if Yuji wants to kill Sukuna, he needs to find (and eat!) more fingers. Ewwww! If you are already a fan of Jujutsu Kaisen, here are 10 Manga Like Jujutsu Kaisen For Monster Lovers here.
Gangsta by Kohske
If you’re in for the morally grey characters, make room on your bookshelf for Gangsta. It’s a bit dark and gritty, with the two main characters living in a city of criminals and gang warfare. The pair are “Handymen” (read: mercenaries) with some special skills for special contracts; one is a deaf swordsman, the other is a gigolo. Those ‘contracts’ tend to be very graphic and very messy but through one of them, the guys’ rescue and take in Alex, a former sex worker with an abusive ex. While the series is action-packed, the story is quite compelling and the writing is original. There are supernatural themes hinted but they aren’t central to the manga.
Nabari No Ou by Yuki Makatani, Translated by Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley
Nothing says OP MC like an apathetic schoolboy with the ultimate power of ninjas held within his body. I mean, seriously? He is a typical 14-year-old boy who wants a simple life with plenty of okonomiyaki – don’t we all? Pity a whole bunch of ninja factions think otherwise. There are some strong Naruto vibes but the main character, Miharu, has such an air of ambivalence about him, you don’t know how things are going to work out for him. There is beautiful fluid imagery to the fight scenes and you can see natural growth as the series grows.
Deadman Wonderland by Jinsei Kataoka
Prepare yourself for some very intense fight scenes between over-powered humans who are constantly thrown in ‘fight to the death’ scenarios. The series follows Ganta Igarashi, falsely accused of killing his middle school classmates. He is sentenced to death at the Deadman Wonderland prison, a theme park where on the outside it looks like rehab for prisoners when really it is more Battle Royal the prisoners are forced to fight to the death. It sounds easy to follow but the joy of this manga is the feeling of utter “WHUUUUUT?!?” you gain from each chapter. I find myself flipping back and scouring over previous pages, trying to soak in the awesome while understanding the latest reveal. Worth every brain-attack.
Noragami: Stray God by Adachitoka
Came for the old religion references, stayed for the gripping fight scenes. Our main character is Yato, a minor Shinto god working his way up the pantheon doing odd jobs for mortals. He makes the common mistake of becoming involved with a human girl named Hiyori Iki who, in turn, creates her own spiritual mess. Yato promises to fix it before realising he has no idea what is going on. The action is compelling with the well-written characters but what really makes this special for me is the socio-commentary on godhood. A thinker and a brawler in one.
Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead by Haro Aso and Kotaro Takata
Nothing like a spectacular catastrophe to inspire your bucket list. Akira is totally relatable as a character. After spending years slaving away for a soul-crushing company, Akira’s life has lost its lustre. But when a zombie apocalypse ravages his town, it gives him the push he needs to live for himself. Now Akira’s on a mission to complete all 100 items on his bucket list before he kicks the bucket. Add Zom 100 to your bucket list of Manga To Read. The action scenes are strong enough to move you out of your seat and out into life again (minus the zombies…hopefully).
Action manga is often underrated and passed off as being violent for the sake of violence. While there is some bad action manga out there, the best stuff is filled with characters you are rooting for as they battle against formidable foes. When even the overpowered characters are facing an even greater enemy (sometimes a reflection of themselves). The best action manga makes you care about the story. Each of these is a surprising but worthy inclusion on our list.