I’m not sure about you, dear reader, but when I start a new book, I tend to stick with it to the bitter end even if I’m not loving it. I just feel terribly guilty about abandoning something I’ve started (plus I hate to lose). So when it comes to manga, I’m cautious about picking something that doesn’t have 20+ volumes to its name for fear the series won’t jive with me. Luckily, there’s good news for people like us! And that is one-shots. What are these mystical beings? Read on to find out!

What is a one-shot?
A one-shot is basically a short story. Unlike serial mangas, which can have several volumes attached to their name, one-shots range from being a few pages long to maybe 70 pages long. The biggest difference is that one-shots are contained entities; the story is completed in that set amount of pages (you have your exposition, rising action, climax, and resolution). One-shots are usually submitted for competitions, allowing new mangakas to break into the manga field and allowing established mangakas to try something new, be it a genre or target audience.

Welcome to this world!

Welcome to this world!

Where can you read one-shots?
Anywhere! Well, okay, maybe that’s a teensy bit of a lie. Most online manga hosting sites exclusively share serial mangas, but you can usually find one-shots in the forums or on the main page if you know the title of what you’re looking for. Scanlation groups frequently translate one-shots and release them on their websites. If you have money to spend, there are plenty of manga magazines you can pick up. Zero Sum and Gangan Online, for instance, showcase one-shots. There are also one-shot exclusive magazines, such as Arcana.

Maybe this is a one-shot. Maybe this is from Saiyuki, aka my favorite series. WHO KNOWS

Maybe this is a one-shot magazine cover. Maybe this is magazine featuring an imge from Saiyuki, aka my favorite series. WHO KNOWS

Why bother with one-shots?
Let’s do a bullet list because bullet lists are the best.

  • One-shots give you the chance to see if you like a particular artist/story teller without committing to hundreds of pages. Say you want to try out a new mangaka but they’ve only done serials; you could certainly read the serial, but you’d have to read several chapters in order to better understand characters, artwork, and plot. With a one-shot, you can invest a much shorter amount of time in determining whether you like something. Does the plot make sense? Do the characters’ actions make sense? Do you like the artwork? If a mangaka can tell you a complete story in a small space and you’re on board with it, chances are you’ll be on board with their longer works.
  • A lot of one-shots pave the way for serial mangas. Did you know that Death Note started as a one-shot? Finding a mangaka you like early on can lead the way to you reading their entire body of work (aka me and Kazuya Minekura). You’ll also have some nice trivia skills in you’re ever in a manga contest.
  • As one-shots are essentially short stories, they enable you to try new manga without fear of committing to a long series. You can quickly tell if you like the story or not, and you can just as easily move on to a different one-shot if you don’t.
  • You can usually find your niche in one-shots – what type of genre you like, what style of artwork you prefer, etc.
  • Not sure if you’ll be into manga? Try a one-shot. It’s an easy way to tell if you enjoy comics.
Trust Commodus

Trust Commodus

Downsides to One-shots
Every rose has its thorn, as they say.

  • One-shots aren’t typically bound in tankobonvolumes like serial mangas. They tend to be released in magazines, meaning you’re buying something huge for just one tiny story (but of course, you might find several stories to be of your liking, making you the real winner at the end of the day).
  • If you’ve ever been in a creative writing class, you know how difficult crafting a short story can be. Unlike novels (and fully serialized mangas), you don’t have the luxury of taking hundreds of pages to show the reader the inner workings of a character or how the plot thickens. You have to make your reader care about these characters in a short amount of space, or you risk losing your audience. Basically, you have one shot to get their attention (DO U C WUT I DID THUR). With one-shots, there’s a lot of suspension of disbelief in terms of character actions and plot because these things won’t make sense until the very end. One-shots will usually have some “reveal” at the end that explains why characters act the way they do. Sadly, the one-shot usually ends a few pages after the reveal, and you might be left wanting more.
  • Because the mangaka wants to tell their story succinctly, sometimes the plot overtakes the characters. This is tied into the point just above – you sometimes can’t connect with the characters until the end of the tale.
Are you really going to listen to him

Are you really going to listen to him

My favorite one-shots!
In my work for two scanlation teams, I’ve come across a lot of one-shots. Some have bored me, some have been aiight, and some have ripped my soul apart. The cool thing about one-shots is that there’s a pattern you notice in the stories that you enjoy. For instance, I’ve learned that I don’t particularly care for slice of life stories and that I seem to like stories with pain and horror. Hmm… Anywho, here are some of my favorites!

Carpe Diem – Naoe
Plot: Juvenile criminals are sent to a prison called Carpe Diem, which is located in a virtual reality. The prisoners are promised with release if they behave well, but behind the system lies a tragic secret.

This one-shot is maybe 30 pages long, but it manages to paint a complete portrait of the world of Carpe Diem. I went into this story expecting nothing, and it started off a bit weird. The tone went from serious to lighthearted comedy in a matter of seconds, and then it went into horror.  A lot of one-shots focus on keeping the reader unbalanced: plot descriptions will be vague, the story’s atmosphere will jump around, and certain tidbits of information that sew everything together will be dropped at seemingly random intervals. This happens in serial mangas and novels too, of course, but it’s more obvious in shorter works, and as a reader, you immediately hone in on oddities.

There's a farm comedy immediately following this. AND THEN HORROR

There’s a farm comedy immediately following this. AND THEN PSYCHOLOGICAL HORROR

Sekishin – Naoe
Plot: Souzou Sagara, the commander of the Sekiho Army, is determined to overthrow the new government and change Japan. A young boy called Heihachi admires Sagara and vows to help him lead the country towards change.

Naoe makes this list twice because I didn’t really care for one-shots until I read her work. Up until that point, I dealt with a lot of slice of life one-shots (I dislike happiness, don’t forget). Anyway, Sekishin got me interested in historical fiction, which is a great thing about one-shots: in just a few pages, they can show you the wonders of a genre you’ve maybe never experienced before.

Oh Captain, My Captain

Oh Captain, My Captain

Plot: Designer Bambi lives together with his three bodyguards Yume, Shuu, and Kotaro. However, there’s something unusual about these three bodyguards.

This is a great example of how one-shots handle a “reveal.” You’re introduced to the characters’ normal life quickly, we get some inklings about dastardly plots, and then we get the scene that explains why this story is being told at this particular time (aka, why was this created). The reveal page in this particular one-shot gets me every time because of how lovely the artwork is.

Award-winning screwdriver

Award-winning screwdriver

~Final Thoughts~
At the end of the day, one-shots are a good way to get into the manga world without feeling overwhelmed. You can try it, and if you don’t like it, you can walk away. If you do like it, great! You now have another medium with which to access stories.

So, do you have any one-shots you’re fiercely in love with? Any you’re excited to try? Do you dislike one-shots? Let us know!