Nine out of ten manga fans agree: If you're not following Yuki Urushibara's Mushishi, you are denying yourself of the greatest seinen series since Death Note and Cowboy Bebop.
Unlike Death Note or Cowboy Bebop, however, there's little to sell about Mushishi through description alone. The story sounds deceptively thin to someone who hasn't experienced it first-hand: There's not even a strong central storyline to wrap events around. No rivalries, no crime syndicates, no games of cat-and-mouse. Each volume of Mushishi is composed of several short stories that centre around a lone wanderer named Ginko as he travels the world to help people afflicted by "mushi" -- primeval embodiments of life that take on many forms and struggle to survive in a world dominated by humans.
But Mushishi's strength isn't its core story. Its strength is its subtle emotion, its very human cast, Ginko's quiet benevolence towards the people he helps and the manga's gorgeous, sprawling nature scenes. Ginko travels through mountains, alongside rivers, and rests by the sea. He drifts through snow and slogs through rain. Reading through a volume of Mushishi is as relaxing as drinking tea in a hot bath.
Volume three is no different. By this point, the series has settled into a pattern: Ginko encounters people having trouble, identifies the cause as a mushi, and takes care of it. The repetition is irrelevant though, because the story elements outside the basic conflict are handled masterfully. In one story, a failed merchant waits for his wife to return after mushi caused her boat to disappear years ago. Prior to the accident, the two had a fight and boarded separate boats (his survived while hers vanished), and the mourning husband has regret it ever since. In another story, a village uses a mushi-fertilised seed to grow bumper crops of rice during times of famine. The price for using the seed is a human life, though the village head is willing to be the "sacrifice" if it means his people will be saved. In both instances, Ginko helps the afflicted with the supposed intent of studying further on the mushi he's dedicated his life to following. But it's also apparent he genuinely wants to help those in need, even going as far as breaking the taboo of resurrection for the benefit of a young boy. There is, however, no yelling or pointing or loud displays of emotion. The reader is left to feel it all out for themselves.
What's more, there are definite instances where Mushishi's central premise is expanded upon, sometimes creating one short story that's more powerful than entire sets of typical manga. Volume three concludes with Ginko's background story, which maintains his air of mystery but gives the reader something definitive to identify with.
If you haven't picked up Mushishi yet, here's some good news: You can start anywhere, because each short story is self-contained. Volume three retails for $12.95.