Let me make one thing very clear: despite what Gen Z says, I’m not old. I’m not. I do, however, clearly remember buying my first volume of One Piece. Somehow more than 20 years have passed since then? I gave up on One Piece when I began to doubt I would live to see its end, but I get it. You’re curious! You’ve heard about all these popular, long manga series like Naruto and Gintama and you’re thinking you want to have a go. I’m not stopping you; it’s your life to spend however you please. Just consider that your time on Earth is finite. I’m only here to help and offer alternatives, the same way my mother unsuccessfully did many years ago. Yes, you could read these 10,000 issue manga… but consider some other things you could do instead!
Golgo 13 – 199 Volumes
I freely admit that Golgo 13 is on this list mainly to make a point about length. The series has never been completely localized in any English-speaking country. The manga’s North American publisher, VIZ media, only released 13 volumes of assorted stories, so if you really want to read all of Golgo, you better brush up your Japanese. What, you thought this would be easy? You were the one who decided to read manga.
As someone who has actually studied Japanese, I know the general recommendation to learn how to read a manga of this subject matter fluently is roughly 2,500 hours of study time — perhaps slightly more to account for some obscure bits of vocabulary about politics and crime. Taking into account holidays and an average of 30 hours of study per week, that’s the first two years of a Japanese degree. That’s before we even get to the 200 hours it takes to read the manga, now possibly more that you are basically doing the translation work no one else would. Plus the $1,990 you’re going to spend on all the volumes.
Unfortunately, that is not enough time to become a real-life assassin. The closest thing to a real-life assassin I could find numbers about online was a spy: someone with a (however tentative) license to kill. CIA operatives need a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field like international relations, experience in a language commonly spoken in the parts of the world they’re most likely to be sent to, such as Urdu or Persian, as well as several years of experience living abroad, optimally gained during military service.
Maybe just stick with the Japanese degree to read manga like a real weeb.
But this is about alternatives, so here’s something actually achievable. I’m talking about the cheapest comprehensive assassin training out there: the complete Bond movie collection. At 50 hours for 24 movies, you could add the entire Jason Bourne series and all of Mission Impossible and you still wouldn’t be using even half the time it takes to read every volume of Golgo 13. This one is a real commitment.
Case Closed / Detective Conan – 98 Volumes
While Conan (or Case Closed as it’s called in the VIZ localization) has significantly fewer volumes than Golgo 13, it boasts one of the highest total chapter counts at just over 1,000 — with no end in sight.
As Conan frequently references well-known mystery novelists such as Agatha Christie, the obvious choice is to suggest reading all her works instead. That’s some good old pulp instead of the never-ending saga of a high schooler who solves crimes in the body of a primary school student. (I feel like Christie would’ve enjoyed Case Closed, actually.) Before researching this however, I had no idea what an absolute beast the English author was. Her works actually rival the total Case Closed page count, because she wrote no less than 73 full novels averaging 275 pages each. By comparison, the average length of a manga volume is 200 pages, so I have to hand Agatha the “win” here. Even though there are technically, currently more volumes of Case Closed than Christie novels. Don’t even get me started on the number of Agatha Christie short stories out there…
If you want to read some mystery classics and actually do something else with your life afterwards, the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories comes in at a much more manageable 1,400 pages altogether.
One Piece – 98 Volumes
One Piece, the most successful manga on Earth by volumes sold, actually clocks in just behind Case Closed in terms of total chapters while matching it for volumes. During a guest appearance with popular Japanese YouTubers “Fischer’s” in 2019, author Eiichiro Oda said plans to finish the series in 2025, at just over a hundred volumes. If you start now, you might still catch up with him. Be aware that he has been moving that finish line for… roughly 20 years now. Who knows if he actually intends to ever say goodbye to his career-defining series.
Instead of pumping $980 into the manga (or $2 per month for the Shonen Jump app), you could invest that money into your future by taking real-world sailing lessons, certified by the American Sailing Association. Far be it from me to suggest you become an actual pirate, or to consider all the positive aspects to seizing the means of production and redistributing them once you know how to steer a ship. I’m simply saying that for under a grand you can take a basic sailing course and even afford a multi-hour ship rental afterwards. What you do with that information is up to you!
Naruto – 72 Volumes (Kinda)
Naruto is technically long over. The series finished its initial run in 2014. It’s technically also cheaper to get into than the other manga on this list, because most publishers around the world have created omnibus versions that bundle several volumes at a cheaper price point than the original tankobon format.
Be that as it may, Naruto is technically also never-ending, since it was swiftly followed by Boruto: Naruto Next Generations just two years after it finished. Series creator Mashi Kishimoto may have handed off the reins on the illustration front to his former assistant Mikio Ikemoto, but as of 2020 he is once again writing the series. If the creator couldn’t escape his own creation, what chance do the rest of us have? Best not to start at all. You could invest use the time and money you’re saving by not reading Naruto to fulfil a number of other weeb dreams:
You could, for instance, literally visit the real Naruto, a city located in the Tokushima Prefecture on Shikoku Island, Japan. Shikoku is known for its 88-site pilgrimage, so if you want something that connects Japanese mythology and physical endurance the same way Naruto does, this is your chance! You could also simply learn a real martial art. Boxing, Muay Thai, Aikido, and Taekwondo are just some of the fighting styles featured over the course of the lengthy series. Saving money on the manga front even makes it possible to pick up a bokken, one of the wooden sparring weapons used in arts like aikido and kenjutsu. You could literally practice the blade while others sit at home reading comics.
There are many things you could do instead of reading manga, but you know what, maybe not just now. Reading manga is a nice, safe indoor hobby, and we need those right now more than ever. If you really get into a new series, you may soon make new friends through forums and, once the pandemic is contained, even at anime conventions. It might be a while until you get to take your sailing license or start a full-contact sport, so maybe do just read some manga in the meantime. Even better, watch some anime adaptations to see if any of these uber-successful mega series work for you at all! Starting a long-running series can be overwhelming; I wanted to poke some gentle fun at that. Though what I really want more than anything is for you to enjoy yourself during these difficult times. Please don’t get on a sailboat right now!