Board games and tabletop games are a great way to bond with others. It doesn’t matter if you are thin, fat, tall, short, male or female, everyone can throw dice or hold cards. And there are thousands of different games around the world, from the incredibly simple, to complex war strategies. Some have actual boards, others are played with cards, and a couple of them are even considered competitive sports. So of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are manga which stories are about them.
Because they are mostly static, it’s hard to imagine an action-filled story surrounding any tabletop game, but anyone who has played UNO knows that games are serious business and can make or destroy friendships. This is why manga based around games require great writing, so we can feel the same emotion while we are reading, as if we were playing those games.
So here are our picks for the best tabletop game manga that are guaranteed to make you want to play a round or two.
10. Houkago Saikoro Club
- Mangaka: Nakamichi, Hiroo
- Genre: Comedy, School, Shounen
- Volumes: 8+
- Published Date: 2013 - Now
When Aya Takayashiki moves to a new city, she immediately bonds with Miki Takekasa, a lonely girl who tends to keep to herself, and Midori Ono, the by-the-rules class representative. When she and Miki discover that xxx works part-time at a game store named the Dice Club, Aya immediately perks up and decides to try and play some of the foreign board games that the store sells. Soon, they are meeting after school both at the Dice Club and their houses to play more and more new games, from the more common Monopoly to very rare card games like Cockroach.
Houkago Saikoro Club is a very fun manga. It’s a slice of life manga that focuses on the games the girls play, usually a new one every chapter. At the end of each, there’s even more information about the game, in case one is curious enough to want to play it. Without any extra gimmicks, each game has also a small connection to what happens to the girls at school, making it all work perfectly well together.
Because of the simplicity of the story, and the careful research given to each game, Houkago Saikoro Club earns the tenth place in our list.
- Mangaka: Ikezawa, Haruto
- Genre: Game, Shounen
- Volumes: 5
- Published Date: 2015 - 2016
Takara Shinobu has always been considered slow by everyone around him. Not even his parents seem to have any hopes for his future, as he keeps failing at everything he tries, no matter how much effort he puts into his actions. As he tries to escape from the situation at home, he accidentally ends up accepted to live in a share-house that is completely occupied by aspiring professional shogi players. Despite the fact that he doesn’t know how to play the game, they accept him as a temporary roommate in order to keep their rent low.
Since they decide who does what chores with shogi games, Naoi Yasukane, one of the oldest inhabitants of the house, decides to try and teach Shinobu how to play. Although Shinobu is convinced he will be as useless at shogi as he is at everything else, Yasukane has a different theory. After all, Shinobu’s problem is that he focuses completely on just one task, and that is the reason behind him always ending up behind. And that problem is not a handicap for shogi, but the door to a great talent.
Mononofu follows Takara as he learns to love Shogi, goes from being a beginner to train to become a pro, and it helps the reader to learn the game. It shares a lot of passion for shogi, and because of this, earns the ninth place in our list.
8. 81 Diver
- Mangaka: Shibata, Yokusaru
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Ecchi, Game, Romance, Sports, Seinen
- Volumes: 35
- Published Date: 2006 - 2014
There are two ways to earn money as a shogi player: To become a pro and make a living with the prizes of the different championships and as a teacher for newcomers; or to enter the world of shinken – gambling and getting money from those who are weaker players than you. Kentaro Sugata is not part of either group. While he failed his professional qualification exam, he manages to get by gambling against amateur players every day. Unfortunately, he only plays for little money, and because he is too good for the people in his town, soon no one wants to play against him, as it’s a sure way to lose money. It is then when he hears of the legendary Ukeshi of Akiba, a player so good that to play against them you need to put 20,000 yen up front. When Ukeshi beats him in just seven minutes, Sugata becomes obsessed both with her, and with the real underworld of shogi betting.
At first glance, 81 diver is not a good manga for someone who doesn’t know much about shogi. Unlike Mononofu, it doesn’t stop to explain the rules or movements. However, as Sugata has to force himself to start from the beginning, to re-learn everything he knew about Shogi and to find his hidden passion again, the reader has the chance to learn not only about the game, but about the underworld of gambling in tabletop games. Add to that his budding romance with Ukeshi, who also works part-time as a cosplaying maid, and you have a manga that can keep you hooked for hours. This is why 81 Diver has the eighth place on this list.
7. Chrono Monochrome
- Mangaka: Isomi, Jingetsu
- Genre: Historical, Shounen, Sports
- Volumes: 5
- Published Date: 2013 - 2014
Among tabletop games, Chess is king. It is one of the few strategy games that is considered a mind sport, and there can only be one champion in the whole world. Perhaps it is because of this that Inobuse Kuromu wanted to be the King of Chess, managing even to become the Japanese representative in the World Youth Chess Championship when he was just eleven. However, after a defeat so traumatizing that he couldn’t even remember the actual match, he becomes afraid of sitting in front of anyone and thus, his competitive Chess days are over.
However, three years later, he still wants to play Chess and does so by playing on the Internet, which allows him to play without having to sit in front of his adversary. But the day he realizes that he can’t just be happy with that; that he really wants to play again with real people, he is sucked down his computer and into Austria, 1777. As he tries to find his way back home, he gets involved with a strange conspiracy where a group named the Monochrome seems to be testing his Chess skills to see if he can really become King.
Although a bit fantastic, Chrono Monochrome really focuses on the strategy behind Chess, as well as its history, and this is why it wins the seventh place in our list.
6. Kings of Shogi (Shion no Ou The Flowers of Hard Blood)
- Mangaka: Katori, Masaru (Art), Ando, Jiro (Story)
- Genre: Mystery, Drama, Seinen
- Volumes: 8
- Published Date: 2004 -2008
When Shion Ishiwatari was just five years old, her parents were killed their house. While she didn’t see the murder, the aftermath was so bloody, that she went mute because of the trauma of finding them. The only clue to the killer’s identity was a single shogi piece: a king, which at the time meant nothing to her. Later, she is adopted by the Yasuoka. Because her adoptive father is a professional shogi player, she develops an interest in the game and starts playing too. It is then that she makes the connection between the piece found in her home and the game, and realizes that the killer must have been a shogi player; thus, she strives to become a pro in order to find her parents’ killer.
Kings of Shogi is a very interesting mixture of a tabletop game manga and a mystery. While the other series about shogi tend to focus on how to rise in the ranks and become a champion, here Shion has a very clear goal that has nothing to do with the game itself. But the mystery is really interesting and engaging, and it plays like a Shogi game, making everything work. And this is why Kings of Shogi has the sixth place on our list.
5. Hoshizora no Karasu
- Mangaka: Morie, Satoshi
- Genre: Game, Shoujo
- Volumes: 8
- Published Date: 2012 - 2015
Go is a very ancient game. Invented in China 2500 years ago, where it was considered one of the four arts that any aristocrat had to master, it is one of the most popular games in Asia; and like Chess, is considered a Mind Sport. Despite having really easy rules, it is a very complex game, as the combinations on the board are almost infinite. When Karasuma Waka learned the rules from her grandfather, she fell in love with the game and started playing with other people because she enjoyed making connections with other players. And at 13, she was happy to just play for fun, making friends as she went along.
Then came Sagisaka Souji, a 16 year old professional go player. While at first she was trying to ignore him, as her parents hate professional go players due to her grandfather dying after a match, she ends up witnessing one of his championship games. Even when Souji is hurt, something that only she knows, he keeps playing with all his heart. And thus, he inspires her to become a pro go player, even against her parent’s wishes.
Hoshizora no Karasu is an interesting mixture of romance and go, and because of this, it earns the fifth place of our list.
4. Mudazumo naki Kaikaku
- Mangaka: Oowada, Hideki
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Game
- Volumes: 16
- Published Date: 2006 - 2015
Imagine for a moment a world where every single political issue is solved not with diplomacy or war, but with games of Mahjong. Instead of betting money, politicians would bet their country trades in long meetings that could last for days. This is the world of Mudazumo naki Kaikaku. While the general public doesn’t know, behind closed doors the presidents and prime ministers gamble their resources away. Junichiro Koizumi, the 89th Prime Minister of Japan, is one of the strongest players in the world. Of course, sometimes he has to rely on his ability to cheat rather than pure luck.
Mudazumo naki Kaikaku is both a Mahjong manga, and a sort of political satire. The first arc shows Koizumi playing matches against the Bushes in a power play for weapons, then facing Kim Young-Il for world peace –with the Bush family as witnesses. And then it takes a turn to the really bizarre, and memorable. And while Mahjong knowledge really helps to enjoy this more, even if you have no idea how to play the game, the manga’s strange turns will surely make it worth your time. This is why it lands in the fourth place of our list.
- Mangaka: Kobayashi, Ritz
- Genre: School, Sports, Slice of Life, Seinen
- Volumes: 15+
- Published Date: 2006 - Ongoing
There is no faster way to make a child hate a game than forcing them to play it constantly. Well, actually, there is: punish them after each match, no matter what the outcome is. This was what Miyanaga Saki had to suffer every new year. Her family plays a mahjong game as a tradition, betting her money, and well, if she won, they were upset with her, and if she lost she ended up with no money. This is why she ended up learning a very specific defense: She can play a game in such a way that her score is always zero, not good enough to win, but not bad enough to lose.
When Kyoutaro Suga, a childhood friend, invites her to the Mahjong club of her school, at first she is very hesitant, but agrees to play as the fourth player they need for the afternoon. It is then when the Club president realizes that her skill at ending always with zero points is an amazing skill, and manages to convince her to join the club officially. Little by little, with the help of the Club members, Saki realizes that playing the game can be fun, and thus starts aiming to become a professional player, just like her sister.
As Saki gives an interesting point of view on how to love a board game –and how to hate one despite being talented at it-, it earns the third place in our list.
- Mangaka: Suetsugu, Yuki
- Genre: Drama, Game, Sports, Josei
- Volumes: 33+
- Published Date: 2007 - Ongoing
Ogura Hyakunin Ishi is a peculiar game. A sub-genre of Uta Garuta, or poem cards, it consists of two hundred cards that contain a grand total of 100 poems. The aim of the game is to be able to complete poems by grabbing the needed cards and recite it before everyone else. Chihaya Ayase used to think it was a hard game, since it required a lot of memorization, and just learned enough poems to keep her teacher happy. However, when a transfer student, Arata Wataya, is bullied because of his love of the game, she realizes that there’s a lot more to it than just memorizing poems and soon decides she wants to become the best player in the world.
This manga is a beautiful shoujo that shows how Chihaya and her friends; Wataya and another boy named Taichi Mashima, form the Karuta club in their school, as well as how they rise in rank in competitive playing. While the game is the center of the story, there’s also a love triangle that keeps things moving along. And not only that, it also manages to squeeze in subjects like passion and family support as the game is not as popular as other tabletop games in this list. Because of all these reasons, and the passion shown in the argument, Chihayafuru is without a doubt, the second place in our list.
1. Hikaru no Go
- Mangaka: Obata, Takeshi (Art), Hotta, Yumi (Story)
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Game, Shounen, Supernatural
- Volumes: 23
- Published Date: 1998 - 2003
As we said before, Go was highly revered in the past as one of the aristocratic arts. Because of this, in the Heian era, it was very common to have teachers around for the Emperor. One of said teachers was Fujiwara-no-Sai, who was framed by a rival that accused him of cheating at a game, and desperate, Sai killed himself. After that, his spirit was chained to a go board, and he only comes out when he connects with a possible player to teach them the game and help them become the best player they can. His last student was Honibo Shusaku, one of the best players of the Edo period. In the modern era, he connects with Hikaru Shindo, a sixth grade student with no interest in the game. Still, Hikaru agrees to play for Sai, as the ghost seems very emotional.
At first, Hikaru seems really annoyed at Sai’s demands, but after seeing so many passionate Go players, he starts to play himself, becoming Sai’s student rather than Sai’s medium. And as he becomes a better player, Sai begins to wonder if his search for the Divine Move, the perfect move to win a Go game, may be over soon.
Hikaru no Go is an amazing manga. The story was written with the help of a professional Go player, Yukari Umezawa so it shows the real world of Go. The art was by Takeshi Obata who would later become famous for Death Note, and it’s beautiful and detailed. And, after managing to win the Tetzuka Osamu Cultural Prize in 2003, it also helped to increase the popularity of Go around the world, as it was translated into different languages. It’s a gorgeous manga about an amazing game, and because of this, it earns the first place on our list.
One of the side effects of reading these manga is to want to learn to play each game described. Which is exactly what they aim for: Be it Go, Shogi, Mahjong, or any other board/tabletop game, in the end, they all are about the passion of the game, and the fun one can have playing them. You might have noticed that, with very few exceptions, all the manga on our list are set in the real world, without much exaggeration of what goes on during each match.
If you have played any of these games, we would love to know your experiences. If you decided to give them a chance because of a manga, then we would like to know about that too, especially if said manga is not in our list. And, if you haven’t, and now are interested in picking any of them up because of our list, please, also let us know in the comments below.