A sad reality of being a manga fan outside of Japan is that you never even hear about some amazing stories. But just because we don’t always hear about them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t getting noticed elsewhere. So, to arouse your curiosity for things you’ll probably never get to read, here are 11 ridiculously popular manga you’ve never even heard of.

1) Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen-mae Hashutsujo

Having sold over 150 million copies since its inception in 1976, the comedic adventures of bumbling policeman Kankichi Ryotsu and his get-rich-quick schemes are more popular than Bleach and Hunter X Hunter. The high amount of cultural humor means it was never considered suitable for audiences outside Japan, and the end-result is that most of us haven’t heard of the sixth best-selling manga of all time.

2) Oishinbo

The adventures of culinary journalist Shiro Yamaoka and his wife are a delicious, mouth-watering foray into Japanese cooking and restaurant culture that was perhaps deemed too Japanese for western audiences. As such, the release it saw in America was little more than a “best-of” collection that skipped over many volumes, thus making it so that a manga that is nearly 30 years old and amongst the top-ten sellers of all time remained an elusive treat best enjoyed by connoisseurs. As delicious as the series is, this epic publishing fail is sure to leave a sour taste in any fan’s mouth.

3) Sazae-san

While the original yonkoma (comic-strip) manga ended in 1974, its popularity has persisted for so long that it is still an ongoing Guiness award-earning anime series with nearly 7500 episodes (or the length of one One Piece arc). The series follows the exploits of Sazae Fuguta, a modern post-WWII woman who is more interested in living her life than finding a husband. It is to Japan what Cathy was to the United States, and, even today, we don’t see anime deal with female characters with the kind of keen eye this one did way back then.

4) Minami no Teiō

If you have grown to hate the tactics of the cut-throat loaning industry through Kaiji, then this is the manga for you. The story of Ginjiro Manda, the Demon of Minami, the most feared loan shark in Osaka’s famed business district, has been successful enough to sell over 50 million copies since its inception in 1992 and inspire over 64 films and videos, starring veteran actors from films like the Battle Royale series. With a tremendous focus on tactics, such as climbing interest rates, the series’ central character being a ruthless loan shark was probably what convinced most businessmen that fans outside Japan couldn’t relate to the main protagonist.

5) Glass Mask

A story you may have noticed in the more-recent anime or TV adaptations, but a quick series does little justice to what is essentially the second best-selling shojo in the world, after the considerably more well-known Boys Over Flowers. Maya Kitajima aspires to be the greatest actress of all time, and must overcome her average looks and hard life to overtake competitor Ayumi to become the next great lady of the stage. She is emotional, dedicated and naive, all qualities that make Maya an immensely likable protagonist that has touched hearts in Japan in a manner that was never sufficiently replicated in the United States.

6) Kachō Kōsaku Shima

The story of an average salaryman (white-collar worker) who rises to the top of the Japanese corporate ladder through hard work, brave decision-making and tactics that would likely get him arrested in the United States, Kacho Kosaku Shima is a manga for the office drone in all of us. Protagonist Shima has become such a well-known figure in Japan that not only is he the face of several brands, but he also made national headlines when he finally became a corporate boss, a dream struggle that started in 1983. So successful has the series been that the manga has been the subject of college courses on business, and creator Kenshi Hirokane (a former businessman himself) has become a legend in the community. Kosaku Shima is, according to some, what young Japanese workers wish they could be, which probably explains just as much about corporate culture in Asia as it does about the manga’s limited appeal for Western audiences.

7) Cooking Papa

Not to be confused with the video game series with the similar name, Cooking Papa stars Araiwa Kazumi, an uber-energetic white collar worker who is a terrific chef and doesn’t let anyone at the office know, instead letting them believe it is his wife who is the celebrity cook-in-hiding. The show makes some important commentary at the immense difficulty of finding balance between work and home life in Japan, and is one of the sweetest looks at the Japanese family in the medium. The show has been successful enough to spawn not just a lengthy anime, but also sell over 36 million copies. Yes, it sold better than Sailor Moon—and that’s without it ever really coming to the West.

8) Crest of the Royal Family

The third best-selling shojo manga of all time, think of this as Inuyasha meets Yu-Gi-Oh. Carol Reed is a gorgeous American archaeology student in Egypt. One day, while building on her extensive knowledge of ancient Egyptian history in Cairo, Reed gets transported 3000 years into the past, where she becomes the object of affection for the cruel but handsome Pharaoh Memphis. This, like any shojo manga in history, angers the woman who was planning on marrying the Pharaoh, and Carol Reed gets caught in a horrible, incestuous love triangle as she uses her modern knowledge to save the people of Egypt from disasters and becomes a legend of history. It certainly sounds interesting enough, but would you imagine that this manga has been ongoing in Japan for 40 years, had already sold over 36,000,000 copies ten years ago (almost as much as Kimi no Todoke and Black Butler put together) and we’re yet to get it as a regular in the United States?

9) Seito Shokun!

Kitashiro “Nakki” Naoko is a girl full of energy who finds herself in a new home and new school as she brings life to her new world and headaches to her new teachers. A journey into adulthood that teaches us about the value of family and friendship, Seito Shokun (Attention, students!) is another tremendously popular manga that never quite had an impact in the West. As late as 2015, it was amongst the monthly best-sellers in Japan, and is that rare breed of manga that can succeed without needing to resort to overly adult themes. Having spawned several sequels and even its own television drama, the relative obscurity of the series still remains somewhat a baffling mystery, especially when you see the kind of success Geum Jan Di enjoyed.

10) Tsuribaka Nisshi

If you ever wanted a manga about fishing (don’t even pretend it doesn’t sound at least vaguely interesting), Tsuribaka Nisshi fills that niche for you. Of course, were the fishing adventures of unambitious office man Densuke Hamasaki and his boss/fishing apprentice simply a niche, they wouldn’t have spanned over 35 years, sold over 25 million copies and spawned 22 films. The main reason the series was never considered for success outside of Japan was likely because it, again, focuses very squarely on Japanese family life and corporate culture, but it certainly clicked with the audience that could relate to it, and did so far better than more universally known works such as Eyeshield 21 and Oh, My Goddess.

11) Ginga Legend Weed

A manga where all the lead characters are dogs; you would think someone in other parts of the world would have heard about it or be interested it. But after giving canine protagonist Weed a shot at international stardom back in the day, the series’ distribution was canceled in North America after just three volumes. And what that essentially meant is that our white-fanged protagonist was left to fight everything from fatherhood to mutated dogs with his army, and we were none the wiser. The series, itself a sequel of a popular manga from the eighties, was given just one short anime adaptation, and in spite of being one of history’s best-selling manga, never given an extended run in most places outside of Asia.

Bonus: Shin Chan, Doraemon and Totoro

A bonus entry because most people would know the lovable antics of Shin Chan, Doraemon and Totoro (not a manga character per se, but has inspired enough literature to count as an honorary being), three icons of Japanese culture that have indeed broken through in overseas consciousness. But the reason they are included on this list is because, even after knowing about them, it’s difficult to grasp the actual magnitude of just how huge these three are in their native country. Courtesy of thousands of cumulative animated shorts, billions of merchandise, and an overall cultural acceptance, there are few corners in Japan you can turn without spotting at least some reference to one of these three. They are in Japan what Mickey Mouse is in the West, and no matter how much we have heard about them, their success is still bigger than the reputation.

So what other manga have you been secretly reading online that none of friends seem to know? Sound off in the comments below! And for all your manga and anime needs, be sure to follow Dramafever on Facebook!


My Amazing Boyfriend - 我的奇妙男友

Starring Kim Tae Hwan and Wu Qian

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