The Tarot Cafe

How To Choose A Manga

There are so many manga out, you may be asking, “How can I choose the manga that is right for me?” First you need to know what part of the manga you enjoy most. Do you love goth-loli art? A good story? Something with horror in it? It’s rare to find all these things in one manga series. Believe me, I’ve tried!

Some of you may rely on reviews such as this one to lead your way, but for those of you who are trying to create your own manga hunting style, here are some tips.

Know what you like

I look for good art first, story second.

Seems kind of weird for someone to say that about a book, but  unlike fiction books, mangas need to capture your eyes as well as your mind.

Good manga authors are a skilled, rare breed that can somehow create a tale and put it down in art in such a delicate fashion, you hardly realize you are reading what is basically a cartoon.  What good is a tale in a manga book without interesting art? They might as well have written a novel, let the publisher worry about the cover art, and stick to word writin’!

Know what you don't like

I am emphatically against talking animals in manga. I hate them. Bats and spiders are sometimes ok, but bunnies and doggies and 300-year-old kitties reincarnated from a once great vampire god? Don’t get me started! However, my best friend adores animals talking and absolutely loves the manga (that shall remain nameless) with the vampire kitty. My point?

Know your tastes and just because your best friend urges you to buy her favorite manga because it has vampires in it, don’t automatically assume you will in enjoy it.  There may be a wisecrackin' bunny hidden in the pages, and we all know what that leads to!

Hone your skills

Here are some tips on how to narrow the competition down.

  1. Go to a store with a large manga selection.  This shouldn’t be too hard as it seems manga is the only hot selling item in bookstores these days.
  2. Stand back from the manga shelves and scan.  If any cover draws your notice from a few yards back, it’s worth a look.
  3. Check out the front cover in full. Are you a chibi lover, or do you enjoy killer cyborgs with little chibi interference? Make sure the cover speaks to your taste. If you see one character you don’t like, put it in the maybe pile. There is a good chance that character is going to be throughout the book and will irritate you every time you turn the page and see them.
  4. Once you have narrowed down a few of the great covers, glance over the description on the back. Don’t put too much stock in the description because they don’t usually relate very closely to the tale. I’ve found that often manga covers seem to be written about the whole series and not about the one volume you are purchasing. As long as there are no talking vampire kitties, you are safe to go on.
  5. Flip through the book and check out the art. Is the detail inside as good as the cover art? Is it appealing to you? Is the printing bad, or is it crisp and clean? Do you stop every so often to let a “wow” or a “ooooohhhh” slip from your lips? If you realize it’s a steampunk fantasy once you get inside and you don’t like that sort of tale, please don’t buy it just because you like the cover. You will be disappointed.
  6. Finally, the tale. Read at least the first four pages to make sure you like the story. Does the character cuss like a twelve-year-old boy trying to show off to his mates? Does the dialog not flow? Is there some sort of back story you just don’t like? Don’t buy it. It will not get better. Unfortunately, in some stores (especially in Japantown) they seal the books. In this case, you either take your chances, or get smart and browse them online first. Sites like Amazon and Toykopop allow you to read the first couple of pages before you buy.

I tell you all these things because, like you, I once was a manga investigator trainee. I still get caught buying a stinker once in awhile. It’s all about:

  • Knowing what you want
  • Believing in your first instinct and
  • Sticking to it, no matter how much the commerce bug has got you itching!

For those of you who still can’t decide, I’ve made a list of my top five series. Check out the reviews, see if you might like them, and then put on your manga p.i. hat and get shopping!

  1. God Child by Kaori Yuki
  2. The Tarot Café by Sang Sung Park
  3. Princess Ai by Courtney Love and DJ Milky
  4. Death Note by Tsugumi Oba
  5. Millennium Snow by Bisco Hatori

Manga Review: The Tarot Cafe'

The Tarot Café is a manga written and illustrated by Sang-Sun Park. In these books, you meet Pamela, a shop owner who reads tarot cards. Not too unusual of a story. However, her clients are very unusual. After midnight, she receives visits from many patrons of the supernatural world. Vampires, fairies, dragons, magical cats, and other mystical creatures come to Pamela for a reading, some tea, and advice. There is also an underlying plot about Pamela, and how each one of these supernatural guests is to pay her in pearls from a necklace. Once she gets all the pieces, it will lead her to find out the truth about her past. You will not be disappointed by the art which is a mix of goth loli, punk, and fantasy. Each volume has its distinct style. The first volume mixes art-deco art reminiscent of Erte’ with punk images. Now anyone who can do that successfully has to be on the right track. Every character also has a very distinct and original style. Whatever story the character is telling pulls you in so that when their reading is done, you’re wondering if they could be their very own manga star.

Volumes 1-5 are excellent. Reading these, you will meet many of Pamela’s interesting guests as well as learn about the café staff and some loiterers that always hang out there. Volume 6 threw me for a loop. Pamela leaves the café in search of some deep dark secret of her past. Because it is so different than the other books, I didn’t like it at first. Judged on its own, it is an interesting story, but pulls you out of the café into unknown, sometimes confusing territory. Volume 7 reined me back in with an excellent end to the tale, taking you through the underworld and a resolution to Pamela’s secret. The art in Volume 7 is amazing. You will see the underworld and all the creatures that thrive there including pits of bodies in pain, demons, and the pretty evil ones too. Each chapter is introduced with Gustav Klimt-style art work.

The Tarot Café series is very enjoyable as a story and a must for any artist. This full series is available at