Hikaru no Go
I don't even remember where I first heard about Hikaru no Go, but I started reading the manga back in 2005 since the artwork is so crisp and fantastic (by the same artist who drew the incredibly popular Death Note). The story really surprised me, since you would never think a plot that involves endless scenes of people playing an ancient board game would be exciting, yet somehow the story is compelling! Hikaru Shindo is a young middle school kid who is shadowed by the ghost of a Go master from Japan's Heian period, Fujiwara no Sai. Kind of like a genie in a bottle, Sai has been trapped for 1,000 years waiting for the chance to play Go again, which he does through Hikaru (who is the only person who can see or hear Sai). Of course, when a young kid is suddenly the best Go player around, he attracts all kinds of attention from Go enthusiasts, including the child prodigy Akira Toya, who becomes his rival. The story progresses from school club tournaments to international professional matches, and there's lots of intrigue and plenty of fun characters. It's impossible not to learn quite a bit about the game of Go on the way, since every single game is shown with detailed board illustrations that are fully examined and approved by actual Go experts! Unfortunately, I think the manga series went a bit too long (which happens all too often), but the 23rd and final volume is finally being released in English soon, and I can't wait to read it! At the same time, I've started watching the anime version of the story (which is 75 episodes long) and I really like it. I was amazed to see it available on Netflix streaming in Japanese with subtitles (definitely a rarity), and I love enjoying the roots of the plot again that first pulled me in so many years ago. It's definitely over-dramatic seeing these kids scream and cry over their matches, but I love the intensity of the show, as well as the detailed look into this aspect of Japanese culture!