I have always been a finicky reader. I will browse through bookstores for ages, reading excerpts to see if they’ll catch my attention. Sometimes I find something that I love and will always love forever. An example of that would be Chrono Crusade by Daisuke Moriyama, (which I love so much I’ll even watch the anime version on occasion), or P.C. Hodgell’s Chronicles of the Kencyrath. In both of those cases, I only tried them out because of their persistent presence and my finally giving in and taking a closer look. Hodgell’s first book Godstalk was staring me in the eye in the high school library for months before I decided the cover looked cool, and checked out the interior. Chrono Crusade seemed a little silly, but I finally gave into the art and character design, and found myself surprised by a good portion of the storyline and early characterization of the characters–enough that I was willing to watch the entire series, and then move on to the superior manga.
Sometimes something seems shiny that I later discard as the shiny rubs off. For example, I actually liked Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon when I first read it. Unfortunately, I became very unhappy and actively disappointed in the writer’s world building, stock characters and plotting. Another series I liked, then disliked (and am now beginning to like again) is Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books. On the other end of the spectrum I was militantly against reading books involving assassins when I was younger (in the eighties), but I quickly changed my tune when I met Vlad Taltos and his wiseass jhereg Loiosh. I had a similar reaction of aversion to the Darkover novels of Marion Zimmer Bradley. (This mostly because I found “Terrans are the bad guys” plots annoying. Also, I was a big fan of Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Children of Ynell books and I felt “red haired telepaths have been DONE” all ready. Being a kid, I had not realized that actually, the Darkover books had come first.) I changed my mind about the Darkover books when I finally decided to read The Bloody Sun and Sharra’s Exile (they also fit in with the entire “persistent presence” of the other books I’ve liked).
It took me a long time to get into comics, even though I was an avid ElfQuest fan. My entry characters/stories for comic books other than ElfQuest were Marvel’s New Mutants (and Illyana) and Vertigo’s Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I did not stray very far from those two titles, though I did read and like the Teen Titans. I eventually gave up on reading Marvel and DC because of plot and character continuity issues. (The various disasters and drama was getting ridiculously repetitive, and there was not a lot of character growth beyond Angst, and more Angst…with a side of Angst. I found the lack of a cohesive storyline with a beginning, middle and end to be deeply annoying and frustrating.)
I should also say that in general, it took me forever to get into manga. (Even now, I am just dabbling on the edges and kind of gawking at the weird.) Except for a few notable exceptions, manga series have a beginning and an end. We are not retreading the same issues, and the character’s back-stories do not change 180 degrees a decade later. There is a lot of “weird” in manga (some of the more graphic or sexually themed titles, or incredibly silly anachronisms and examples of Research Fail for example) but there’s also a lot that I’m beginning to like about it. I would have to say my “gateway” anime movie is Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (the horrible first time translation, which is sad, I know) and the manga series by Hayao Miyazaki. Another film would have to be The Last Unicorn. I tend to dislike the manga that have a canon that is several dozen volumes long, are overly repetitive and don’t have clear story arcs with a beginning, middle, and end.
The kind of stories that I like have interesting characters or concepts, few anachronisms (if I can spot them, it’s a bad sign–I am not very observant) and moderately paced. I tend to prefer “nontraditional” and strong willed female characters and engaging male characters who do not fit the “heroic” stereotypes. Because I mostly read “quest for the thingamabob to defeat the evil dark lord of evil” books when I was younger, I tend to have a strong aversion to them now. I also get irritated by, “conquerors are irredeemably evil!” “White guy or girl saves the poor minorities!” and a few other annoying tropes of that nature.
I dislike any character that the writer is spending a great deal of time trying to get me to like. (Especially if the person I’m supposed to like is a floppy character who has things done to him or her, or has things happen to him or her, but never takes action or makes his or her own decisions. I prefer character who act instead of react.) I like characters who don’t fulfill stereotypical gender roles, or who have gender roles that are somewhat different from what might be considered the norm. I like “traditional” roles that are approached from a respectful angle. (A housewife character who is not treated as if she were brainwashed because she liked being a housewife, for instance. I realize that it might not have been the intent of the author to do that, but very often it seems that way.) I also like strong relationships between men and women that aren’t romantic, and strong relationships and partnerships in general.
In general, I don’t like really long series. If I have no hope of finishing the series, or if I feel that the quality of the series is on a dive I will stop reading the series in question. (Often I feel the deterioration of quality and the length of the series to go hand in hand.) Such was the case with Xanth. I like the first five or so books, but eventually everything became very repetitive, and the characters became annoying or even offensive to me. (Anthony has done some accidentally or even intentionally horrifying things at times. I am not nearly as horrified by certain manga memes and concepts as I might have been, because Anthony traumatized me first. Thank you Mr. Ogre!) I also do not like long books. I cannot read many of Tad William’s books because many of them are so long (and slow paced) that I never get around to finishing them. I eventually gave up on Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku, because the flopping around of the characters began to wear on me (and I have such a deep hatred of embarrassment based humor that I hate all of the “wacky residents.”)
A shonen style theme that tends to get on my nerves (and usually shows up in much longer continuous series like Naruto) is the “competition/arena battle” theme. I cannot stand them, in other words. (I should point out that I also hate Pro Wrestling, which is what arena battle manga remind me of. A find them boring, and I hate the characters, who seem loud, arrogant and not very bright. I do not like loud, arrogant and not very bright characters unless they are Inuyasha.) I have occasionally tried reading or watching Naruto, but the characters and story lines generally do not fall into my very finicky preferences. My general reaction to hearing about Naruto is… “So this kid is possessed by a fox demon, and there is this guy who murdered an entire town for no particular reason except to make his brother upset and I think these ninja have surprisingly flashy abilities for people who are supposed to sneak up and kill people–okay!” I generally don’t get very far, and when I try to explain or indicate my lack of interest, my brother becomes offended. The one “fight manga” I did kind of like for a while was YuYu Hakusho, but after a while when a particular arena battle went on for I think four or five volumes, I lost interest and stopped reading.
Because of my lack of interest in Naruto and other fight manga, my brother was under the impression that I hated manga in general. (Despite my liking certain anime and manga, that he had no respect for, like Robotech or Vampire Princess Miyu.) In general, my reading preferences are for shorter, fast paced books and series that I can work my way through quickly. I enjoy books with interesting “nontraditional” characters, engaging plots and understated (or downright sarcastic) humor. I tend to be a very finicky reader, and it sometimes takes me a while to start a book or get interested in a series. A key indicator that I might end up liking a series is it’s continual presence while I’m browsing through the books.