For a quick review of how I'm going to go about reviewing things, please see the first installment of "Geoff Reviews". I'm going to change up the format slightly, to get the information about what I'm reviewing right up front. There are a couple of them today, so I'll get to it.
Quickly, though, a physical description of manga. Both translated manga released here in the States, or original Japanese tankouban are roughly the size of a paperback book. I only make this distinction in that I may well review things out of Japanese monthly compilations, which take chapters (in order) of current series and publish them in a large volume. There are also weeklies of the same variety. Anyway, the compilations are more the size of a hefty hardback book, though still technically a paperback. Manga tend to weigh in around 200 pages, containing between six and ten chapters, of a single story, while the compilation weeklies and monthlies are closer to 700 pages.
I'd use the term graphic novel, but in the world according to me, that applies to larger-sized compilations of (primarily American) comicbook works. These are roughly the size of an 8.5"x11" one subject notebook. (Note, that isn't an exact dimension gained by either looking it up or physically measuring it, but an eyeballed generalization.)
Title: D.Gray-man (volumes 1-3)
Text: English (translated from Japanese)
Story: Hoshino Katsura
Art: Hoshino Katsura
Publisher: Viz Media
Overall: A fun adventure. The comparisons to Full Metal Alchemist are probably going to be made over-much, but that's okay for now. Still a fun adventure, even given the shounen action/adventure formula. File it under the heading "If the first volume doesn't catch your interest, don't push yourself." Offsetting that, though, is the fact that it was enjoyable enough that I went through the first two volumes in one sitting, and the third one the next day.
To expound, D.Gray-man is the story of Allen Walker, a boy turned exorcist after realizing the mistake he made in accepting an offer to have his father brought back from the dead. Like I sad, the comparisons to Full Metal Alchemist are probably going to be made over-much, and that's the plot point most people are going to hang such arguments on. (For those who don't know, the short version from FMA: Edward and Alphonse Elric are brothers who set out to become alchemists and find the Philosopher's Stone after a failed alchemic experiment in which they attempted to bring their mother back to life.)
In any event, volume one chronicles Allen's journey to a conclave of exorcists, and the happenings along the way. Primarily, this is the "get to know Allen and the world in general" volume, including the series primary villain (for the moment), the Millennium Earl. It picks up in the second half, when he actually reaches his destination, and quite nearly gets himself killed.
The next two volumes consist mostly of Allen's first two missions for the order of exorcists he has joined. The first of these is a standard race-against-the-clock-type story, where Allen and his partner for the mission have to rush off to keep an important item from falling into enemy hands. Being shounen action, of course, this ends up entailing a large brawl where Allen has to learn more about his abilities as an exorcist to end up the victor. Still, Hoshino-sensei draws a good fight, though, like most such manga, a high-budget anime will make it look more impressive.
Volume three, after a goofy opening chapter centered on the rampage of a robotic construct of the science department rampaging through the exorcist headquarters, settles into a much more human story - a city where time is looped for everyone except the exorcists sent to investigate, and one woman who has the misfortune of knowing that October 9th is currently eternal. This volume also introduced the council of villains working with the Earl, at least one of whom is a human collaborator, rather than a being from the darkness.
Title: 100 Bullets - Strychnine Lives
Media: Graphic Novel
Story: Brian Azzarello
Art: Eduardo Risso
Publisher: Vertigo Comics
Overall: The continuing story of a loose collection of organized crime families called "The Trust" and their struggle for existence after they lost control of and then tried to wipe out their elite peace-keeping force, the Minutemen. It's tough to say much about this volume, if only because it builds directly on the eight that came before it. Simply, if you've been reading the series to this point, you'll want to get this volume for exactly the same reasons you got the others - characters you can't look away from, and the progression of a story that you want to read the end of. This is definitely not a "for everybody" kind of recommendation, though. If you don't approve of, or can't at least get past, a high level of sex, drugs, violence, and murder in your entertainment choices, 100 Bullets isn't the kind of thing you want to be reading.
It's very easy to lure someone into reading 100 Bullets. Here's the sales pitch that worked on me, and worked for me on everyone I've considered recommending the series to: A man meets you somewhere. Maybe it's on a bus. Maybe you're having lunch in your favorite restaurant. Maybe you're just walking down the street. Wherever you are, this man stops you, and holds up a case. "In this case," he says, "is a gun, one hundred rounds of untraceable ammunition, and irrefutable proof that what I'm about to tell you is true. How you use them is up to you." You've been wronged somewhere, by someone. Maybe you don't even know who it is, or exactly what they did. That man knows, though, and the information in that case proves it. Now what do you do?
That's not all there is to the story, of course, but that's the start of it. Some of the stories, like the primary of volume nine, attach to the main story only in that they occur in the same city at the same time that some of the main characters happen to be there. What they do effectively is to continue building the feeling of the world Azzarello has created. which stands on its sudden violence.