Tuesday, June 8, 2021

World Piece Ushers in a New Manga Boom

Something happened in the mid-2000s that changed the lives of many comic and anime fans in the west: Tokyopop, and later Viz Media, started releasing manga in English, in bookstores, in the original right-to-left format, and in droves. For a time, manga was new and exciting and everywhere. With the new Viz Originals imprint, that time has come again.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of World Piece Vol. 1 courtesy of Viz Media.
Opinions are my own.

For any manga fan in the west, Viz Media is a household name. Their logo rests on the spine of the west’s most popular manga. They’ve given us One Piece, Dragon Ball, Naruto, and many others. Their North American version of Shonen Jump introduced me to manga and dozens of great stories from great creators.

And while it’s great that those creators’ work has reached so many readers, what about creators outside of Japan? One of the many missions of Shonen Jump has always been to foster new creative talent. Well there’s plenty of that over here too.

Announced in March of 2019, Viz Originals is a new imprint dedicated to publishing original graphic novels developed by manga-inspired creators from the west. Nearly fifteen years after Viz led the tidal wave of the first big manga boom, they’re back for a tsunami into a new era.

For the past few years, the manga industry has been in a renaissance. Not since the mid-2000s have I seen the community thrive like it is today. Comic shops have dedicated entire sections to manga. The return of Toonami introduced anime to a new generation. And who can forget about Viz Media’s own Shonen Jump app - the best deal in comics today. Original manga was the natural next step.

Written by Josh Tierney (Spera, Warm Blood) with art by Agroshka, World Piece follows the easygoing Lucas Densen. When not playing basketball for his high school team, the Pulsars, Lucas enjoys visiting his mother’s archaeological excavations. During one visit, Lucas accidentally triggers an ancient alien artifact that suddenly transforms Earth into a small glowing orb no larger than a basketball! 

Transported to a mysterious realm with nothing but what’s on his back and the planet in his hands, Lucas encounters a friendly alien, Lully, who offers to help. What awaits him in this new realm where worlds are the size of your palm, and can he find out how to restore Earth?

World Piece is well written and well drawn, perfectly encapsulating the style of art and storytelling manga fans have come to expect. If you crossed out the creators’ names and handed this to a seasoned manga reader they would be none the wiser that this wasn’t a title imported from Weekly Shonen Jump.
As a protagonist, Lucas is a lot of fun. He’s got that “everyman stand-in” vibe that a lot of manga heroes have, but he still feels unique and on his own. He plays basketball and is popular with the ladies, but he’s also a manga reader and, due in part to the fish out of water aspect, is kind of a derp. The way he dribbles the Earth and shoots it at enemies like a dodgeball without ever questioning if that’s good for the planet really cracks me up.

The mystery element is also refreshing to see in a series like this. I can’t remember the last manga I read that had me asking, “Why is this happening?” or “What is going on?” like this before. I’m excited for Vol. 2 to solve half of the mysteries set up while starting even more.

One thing that I found myself thinking about while reading World Piece is how familiar it felt. That’s not to say it feels like a generic, trope-heavy manga. Rather, it reminds me of a lot of online manga that western fans were creating back during the manga boom of the mid-2000s.

Back then, there were a lot of manga-inspired comics all over the internet and a lot of them inadvertently captured the styles and sensibilities of both Japanese and western comics. World Piece some goofy characters, a big adventure, a cool alien world, weird robots, and a blended artstyle that makes it stand out on its own.

I still remember some of those old western web-manga. A lot of them are lost to time, which is quite sad. World Piece brought back so many memories of that era and reminded me of what those early days of manga in the west were like. I hope this time that we start to see even more fans creating their own stories and putting them out there - and I hope Viz Media publishes as many as they can.

World Piece is a fantastic premiere title for Viz Originals that not only leaves you wanting the next volume, it makes you crave for more manga-inspired comics. Tierney and Agroshka were the perfect choices for this, having created a story that will not only entertain but also inspire those who read it.

Click here to get a copy of World Piece Vol. 1 for yourself and jump into a new generation of manga.