Within the realm of graphic novels, manga is its own vast universe. The term generally refers to Japanese animation in book form, as opposed to anime, the style's video incarnation. Manga books are traditionally read from right to left; that can be awkward to a Western reader, so most English-language editions have been adapted by printing mirror images of each page in a left-to-right format. But, because this can distort the artwork and the flow of the story, several publishers recently have begun producing English translations of manga titles in the traditional, right-to-left format. Warning signs on the back pages ("You're reading in the wrong direction!") help newbies navigate the books.

Viz and TOKYOPOP are two of the more prominent publishers of traditional manga in the U.S.

Viz, whose Shonen Jump imprint calls itself the world's most popular manga, has several new titles appearing this fall. The most appealing is Shaman King ($7.95, 205 pages, ISBN 1569319022), in which the traditional manga hero a cute, tiny, spiky-haired, huge-eyed warrior kid with supernatural powers battles ghosts and settles scores in the afterlife, watched by a constantly terrified apprentice/friend.

TOKYOPOP's upcoming World of Hartz ($9.99, 160 pages, ISBN 1591824109) promises to be huge with the teenage crowd, blending manga-style art with a story that centers on the world of Internet gaming, a sure bet to corner the young geek market.

TOKYOPOP has also published its first annual The Rising Stars of Manga, a collection drawn from hundreds of entries in a 2002 contest to find the best of American manga. The book shows an impressive range of styles, tones and subject matter; it's a great starting point for checking out up-and-coming artists and getting a feel for the current scene.

Certain to be big news in the graphic novel world is Osamu Tezuka's eight-volume Buddha series. Volume one, Buddha: Kapilavastu, (Vertical, $24.95, 400 pages, ISBN 1932234438), has just been released with a cover designed by well-known graphic artist Chip Kidd. Tezuka, who died in 1989, had a massive influence on Japanese manga. His re-creation of the life of Siddhartha is at once sweet, funny and tragic, with childlike artwork that nevertheless expresses suffering and injustice.

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