In manga, friendship takes many forms. We have the eternally popular bromance. There is the childhood friendship that transforms as the years pass—whether it be to a romantic relationship or an antagonistic one. And who can forget my personal favorite: the enemies or rivals who become reluctant friends. If you’re looking for a particular type of relationship dynamic, it exists—so let’s take a look at the some of the best manga friendships.
One Piece by Eiichiro Oda
When we talk about the best manga friendships, the Strawhat Crew inevitably comes up. For those who don’t know, One Piece tells the story of Luffy, who wants to become the Pirate King. And what’s a pirate king without a pirate crew? Except Luffy doesn’t approach assembling a crew like other people; he looks for friends. You want friendships that involve blood, sweat, and tears? You want friends that fight against the people who ruined your life? You want friends that declare war against the actual government in your name? That’s the Strawhat Crew.
Skip Beat by Yoshiki Nakamura
We all love female friendships, and we especially love female relationships that don’t revolve around men. Kyoko and Kanae meet during their respective quests to become actresses. The beautiful Kanae treats the other girl like a rival, but the oblivious Kyoko overcomes her abrasive defense mechanisms and the two become supportive friends.
Claymore by Norihiro Yagi
Claymore is a rare shonen manga where the cast is predominantly female. How refreshing. The relationships between the titular female warriors are varied and interesting, but I want to highlight the group of woman known as Seven Ghosts. Women who band together and hide from the organization that betrayed them in order to take it down? What’s not to love?
My Love Story by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko
The adorable premise catches everyone’s attention first. Protagonist Takeo has terrible luck with girls because his love interests fall for his handsome best friend instead. Enter sweet and shy Rinko, who upends everyone’s expectations. But let’s celebrate the bromance between Takeo and his best friend, Suna. Suna values their friendship above all else. Despite all the girls who pursue him, he has rejected every single one because of their unkind comments about Takeo. Why would he date someone who disses his best friend? That’s the kind of friend we want.
Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto
When we think of friendships in Naruto, Naruto and Sasuke immediately come to mind. Their contentious relationship forms the backbone of the story, after all. Personally, I’ve always been partial to the friendship between Naruto and Gaara. They mirror each other and demonstrate what could have been had circumstances been different. But an underrated friendship I want to showcase is the one between Kakashi and Guy. As adult characters, their relationship doesn’t take precedence in the manga, but you can see the familiarity threaded throughout their friendship. The friendly competition, the exasperation, and the companionship that exists when everything is said and done.
Ao Haru Ride by Io Sakisaka
Like Sakisaka’s other works, Ao Haru Ride is a romance, but I want to focus on the friendship between heroine Futaba and supporting character Yuri. The girls have a lot in common. Their popularity with boys affected their relationships with female classmates, but they took different approaches. Futaba makes herself unattractive to win approval while Yuri refuses to hide who she is. Yuri’s refusal to seek external validation makes Futaba stronger and more determined to be true to herself. All friendships should be so affirming.
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
The relationship between Edward and Alphonse usually gets highlighted as one of the best manga friendships, and I don’t disagree, but they’re brothers. In an ideal world, family bonds should be so strong. The friendship between Alphonse and Winry also gets pointed to as a great platonic friendship between a guy and a girl, and I definitely agree. But the friendship I want to mention here is the one between Ed, Al, Ling, and Greed. Who could have ever predicted that two brothers who performed forbidden alchemy, a foreign prince seeking the throne, and an unnatural creation would give us one of the most heartbreaking relationship arcs ever?
Kimi ni Todoke by Karuho Shiina
This shojo romance features one of the greatest friend groups ever depicted in a manga. Heroine Sawako is a sweet and painfully shy girl whose resemblance to Sadako of Japanese horror fame makes finding friends difficult. The aloof Ayane’s mature appearance subjects her to salacious rumors. Intimidating Chizuru gets mistaken for being a gang member. Grossly misunderstood by their peers, it seems a foregone conclusion that these girls become friends.
Kuroko’s Basketball by Tadatoshi Fujimaki
Friendships abound in sports manga. Friendly rivalries, aggressive competition, and friends who find themselves separated as one makes the team and the other doesn’t—you’ll find every nuance in a sports series. Kuroko’s Basketball takes that relationship drama and kicks it to the next level. While the depiction of basketball as a sport isn’t the most accurate, it’s an exquisite example of a peer group that falls apart and that, through time and effort, gets mended once again. The peer group isn’t the same as before, of course. It forms something new and that’s okay.
Nana by Ai Yazawa
I waffled over including this manga. It’s unfinished, and I don’t mean in the “currently being serialized” sort of way. However, if we’re going to talk about friendships, and if I’m going to celebrate female friendships, I can’t overlook the one between Nana Komatsu and Nana Oosaki. Their friendship endures the ups and downs of life. I would even venture to say their relationship is more important to each other, and more interesting to the reader, than the relationships they have with men. Like I said, I wouldn’t hold my breath that this manga will ever be completed, but we can always hope.
Narrowing down the best manga friendships is tough. There are so many. Even so, I hope this list covered a wide range of dynamics and that you find one you like. And if you want to find more series to read where relationships take center stage, check out this list of slice of life manga.
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