Best New Series
In a year that saw new series launched by both hugely successful authors, such as Arakawa Hiromu (Fullmetal Alchemist) and Mitsuda Takuya (Major), and talented newcomers, the most enjoyable debut came from an author perhaps familiar to fans for the wrong reason. Komi Naoshi suffered the injustice of the cancellation of Double Arts in 2008, and fans of the promising young author have craved a new series from him ever since. After years of inactivity, Komi has finally resurfaced with Nisekoi, a school-based love comedy about another forced couple, but one facing vastly different circumstances from the protagonist pair in Double Arts. The strength of Nisekoi is its ability to subtly betray the expectations of the reader, building towards well-established stereotypes but neatly and cleverly surprising the reader. The plot twists are natural, not boldly announced, the humor is well-timed, and the romance elements are engaging yet comfortably light. The series is still in its infancy, so the sample size from which to judge its quality is small, but Nisekoi has thus far shined by standing out from its romantic rivals by ignoring fanservice and angst in favor of fun. Let’s hope Komi is given more than half a year this time, at least.
Honorable mention: Magico
Best New Character
Nanamine Tooru (Bakuman)
Amid the passionate rivalries, complicated romance, and the mountains of manga industry dialogue, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that Bakuman is about ordinary people in an ordinary world, and just like anyone in the real world, it can be easy for these ordinary people to lose focus. 2010, while still very good, was somewhat of a jumbled year for Bakuman, muddled up with friction between Mashiro and Takagi and the addition of new characters like Shiratori. In stark contrast, 2011 revolved around one character. Subversive, cunning, and undeniably egotistical, newcomer Nanamine stole the show with his idealist motivation and questionable methods. Niizuma Eiji will always be the true rival to Ashirogi Muto, but Nanamine provided them with their first real antagonist. Readers who agreed with traditional manga writing methods were finally able to cheer for Ashirogi Muto not just because they are the protagonists, but because they are making manga the “right” way. Nanamine provided the series with a clear direction, uniting all its central characters in a fantastic storyline.
Honorable mention: Encho (Nurarihyon no Mago)
Worst New Character
Arago had already lost much of its charm in 2010, when it compromised its originality by adopting too many shonen stereotypes. Despite its sudden conformity, though, it remained an engaging read thanks to the character traits and interplay of its small but effective cast. It must be asked, then, why the author again decided to disrupt his series by introducing Oswell “Oz” Miller. Within pages of his introduction, he immediately set about undercutting the main characters by claiming to compensate for his lack of superhuman abilities with intelligence, disregarding that Joe already nicely covered such a role in the group and that Seth was never short on cleverness himself. Oz not only ruined the fight he interrupted, but he completely disrupted the chemistry of the cast, effectively ruining the last remaining strength of the series. His introduction so close to the climax of the story felt entirely like a desperate effort to spark reader interest rather than a carefully planned shift in the plot, and it completely backfired. Arago still ended in 2011, and while the climax featured some moments of individual character greatness, the spoiled balance of the cast cheapened what could have been a cohesive and interesting ending.
Dishonorable mention: Hoshina Miyu (Kimi no Iru Machi)
Best Love Interest
Shion & Emma (Magico)
By default, shonen is not a demographic that caters well to romance. Readers of shonen want action, complex relationship issues are a shoujo specialty, and those seeking more mature angles are better off in seinen, josei, or elsewhere. Too often, shonen is left with the scraps, and is faced either with series that want to tackle tough issues but must be so suggestive that the point is missed entirely, or with series that embrace shallow relationships and bombard the reader with fanservice. Rare is a shonen series like Magico, which, aside from its action elements, focuses on a couple who are exclusively in love with one another, and which sidesteps the issue of imitating a mature relationship despite a demographic mismatch by simply not trying to imitate one in the first place. Shion and Emma are young, and both they and the author are aware of it. At no point do they try to act beyond their years, awkwardly feigning sexuality with “accidental” body contact or needless panty shots, and any fanservice is appropriately simple. Above all else, though, their dedication to each other is refreshing. In a demographic where “romance” usually either means “harem” or “angst,” Shion and Emma stand out by being utterly adorable.
Honorable mention: Hiramaru & Aoki (Bakuman)
Bloody Monday: Season 2
Not many high-profile series ended in 2011, but the lack of competition doesn’t make this award any less legitimate. Bloody Monday has proven itself as a consistently thrilling affair, and it’s now 2-for-2 in providing fantastic, memorable endings. It doesn’t quite come close to topping the incredible finale to the original series, but the Bloody Monday: Season 2 ending is still excellent judged both on its own and in comparison to other series which finished this year. Properly praising the ending in detail is impossible without spoiling it, but special praise must be voiced for its ability to both soundly resolve the main conflict of this season and to set up a massive cliffhanger for Bloody Monday – Last Season.
Honorable mention: Defense Devil
Oh! great (Air Gear)
It is categorically unfair just how good at drawing Oh! great is. Air Gear makes absolutely no sense. What was once ostensibly a series about rollerblading is now a battle for the fate of the world contested by physics-bending youths. No right-minded human being could possibly make sense of a story which features such a character as the obvious Obama-lookalike President John Omaha, who has body-swapped with a 16-year-old Japanese girl. There is a plot, yet reading Air Gear for that plot is missing the point, when in reality the plot serves best as a loosely-constructed backdrop for the gorgeous imagery from a supremely talented artist. From cityscapes to mechanical intricacies to scores of barely clothed females, everything Oh! great draws is precise and flawless. It’s just a pity no one is on the same planet he is to be able to translate what he’s saying.
Honorable mention: Obata Takeshi (Bakuman)
Continue to part two of the 2011 Shonen Beam Awards!