When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With Should I Be Reading… ?, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.

From Disney's Kingdom Hearts fight game to Sam Kieth's original graphic novel Batman: Through the Looking Glass, pop culture has been drawing inspiration from Lewis Carroll's Wonderland trappings and the legendary illustrations of Sir John Tenniel for a long time. Probably one the best example of this in manga is Jun Mochizuki's Pandora Hearts, which takes concepts like the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter and places them in service to a dark magic conspiracy thriller that's like Final Fantasy meets early Tim Burton.

 

 

WHAT'S IT ABOUT?

Fifteen-year old Oz Vessalius, heir to one of the country's Four Great Dukedoms, isn't so thrilled about his coming-of-age ceremony. He'd rather bully his valet Gilbert and play with his little sister Ada. But his Uncle Oscar tells him he has to go through with it, so he agrees.

The ceremony seems to go normally until it's hijacked by a group in hooded red robes calling themselves the Crimson Shinigami, who take everyone hostage and possess Gilbert's body. Oz tries to attack one of them with his sword, but Gilbert winds up taking the blow instead. The leader of the Shinigami grabs Oz, intones that "Your sin is your very being," and banishes him to the nightmare dimension known as the Abyss, which Oz had thought was just a story.

Once there, Oz makes a contract with Alice the "Black Rabbit," a being known as a Chain. Chains give their contractors enormous power, but illegal contractors like Oz wind up with a clock tattoo on their chest, and when the hands of the symbol make one full revolution, the contractor is sucked into the lowest level of the Abyss and killed.

Back in the human world, Oz and Alice team up with the demure Sharon, the taciturn Raven (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Gilbert), the demented Break, and Uncle Oscar, who all work for the mysterious organization Pandora, to take down the Baskervilles --- the real name for the Crimson Shinigami --- and recover Alice's memories of her human past.

 

 

WHO'S IT BY?

Pandora Hearts is written and drawn by Jun Mochizuki. Mochizuki made her manga debut in 2005 with the techno-fantasy series Crimson-Shell, and is currently serializing the steampunk series The Case Study of Vanitas.

All of Mochizuki's series, including Pandora Hearts, is serialized in Square Enix's Monthly GFantasy magazine, released by the Gangan Comics imprint, and published in English by Yen Press. Hearts was published from 2006-2015.

WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?

The premise and trappings of the series sounds like the sort of stuff that populates your average Hot Topic but there's a lot more to Pandora Hearts than an emo sensibility. For one thing, Mochizuki is a master at balancing goofy humor (Oz's gleeful bullying of Gilbert, cartoonish facial expressions, and everything Break says) with deft emotional shading (the absolutely terrible relationship between Oz and his father; the pain most other illegal Contractors undergo), and a propulsive, engaging mystery.

 

 

For another, Mochizuki's artwork is absolutely gorgeous. She combines hyper-detailed backgrounds and killer fashion sense --- there are some gorgeous outfits in this series --- with a solid, dense sense of composition that forces the reader to slow down and engage with each page on its own terms.

WHO SHOULD READ IT?

Fans of Soul Eater, Death Note and Bleach. People who love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Anybody who has an appreciation of Fall Out Boy and/or The Get Up Kids. Fans of the early films of Tim Burton: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Big Fish, Beetlejuice, etc. Anyone who loves the darker, monster-filled parts of Lumberjanes.

WHERE CAN I READ IT?

Pandora Hearts is available digitally from Yen Press and Amazon Kindle and in print from retailers and your local library. The 24th and final volume was released on March 22, 2016.

A spin-off novel series, Pandora Hearts: Caucus Race, by Shinobu Wakamiya, illustrated by Mochizuki, is also available in print, and explores the Four Great Dukedoms in more detail.