I have many friends who don't read manga. Some are put off by the stylized artwork. Others are scared off by 50+ volume gargantuan series like Naruto. Still others are confused by the right to left page orientation. I am always game to evangelize my favorite medium, so here are 5 manga, in no particular order, for the non-fans reading this to go run to a store or library and read right now.
Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga
This delicious comedy by Fumi Yoshinaga is only 4 volumes long, and features only slightly stylized artwork, making this a fantastic gateway drug. However, it's the characters that make this series worthy of your purchase; I could spend god know how long just reading about their daily lives.
Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka
My first experience reading manga was the second volume of this beautiful, mind blowing series of interconnected stories by manga god Osamu Tezuka. The stories see-saw from philosophical historical fiction to experimental science fiction, but all stories center on the Phoenix, the mythical bird of fire whose blood grants immortality. Aside from being amazing, the artwork is carefully flipped by translator, and is only 11 volumes long, making this series new reader friendly. The second volume features an article about Tezuka, a short afterword by the manga god himself, and an interview with the translator Fred Schodt, who also happens to be one of the most important scholars in the manga community, and knew Tezuka personally.
Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
This pulp-tastic yet delicately beautiful saga of a father and son's feud with the Yagyu clan in Edo Japan holds an important place in american comic books- that cover is not by Goseki Kojima, but by Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, The Dark Knight Returns), whose work was heavily influence by Lone Wolf and Cub. Dark Horse's english adaption is very good, the artwork is flipped with care, and the realistic artwork will be appreciated by those with more western sensibilities.
Love Roma by Minoru Toyoda
I have spoken on the greatness of Love Roma on this blog before, but allow me to repeat. It's short. It's unique. It will charm your socks off. There are some cultural in jokes here and there, but the translation notes are of the highest caliber, and overall, this series can be enjoyed by anyone.
Clover by CLAMP
Admittedly, Clover is not a good first book for everyone, but if you happen to enjoy gorgeous artwork and were scared off by the big foreheads of Dragon Ball Z, this is the manga for you. Plot wise, Clover isn't quite revolutionary, but Clover's real strength lies in the lavish artwork, some of CLAMP lead artist Mokona's very best, which is saying something. Also, the new Dark Horse edition is 1 volume long, making this an easy purchase.