Ninja and ancient Japan are common themes in manga. Basilisk is one of the best in the genre.
Based on The Kouga Ninja Scrolls by Futaro Yamada (published in 1958), Basilisk tells the story of two rival clans fighting it out to determine who will be the next Shogun. For any detail beyond that, I highly recommend you read the “story background” section on the Basilisk manga entry on Wikipedia. It lays out the history very clearly, and does a better job of telling the story than I possibly could.
The number of characters in this manga is massive. It is fairly easy to keep track of them all due to their wildly varying appearances; despite this, the names of some of the secondary characters can blend together at times. Keeping true to Japanese tradition, proper respect when addressing others is used throughout the five issue series. Respectful suffixes (such as –san, -sama, and –dono) are still frequently used when describing enemies. The opening pages of the manga include a helpful list of definitions regarding these suffixes, in case the reader is unfamiliar with them. Also included is a series of translation notes, similar to what’s included in the Azumanga Daioh Omnibus.
The drawing style is presented with heavy, thick lines and rounded edges. The overall look is very aggressive, with characters looking like they are ready to burst into action. Fight scenes can sometimes be a bit hard to follow due to their complexity, however they are still some of the best I have ever seen in a manga. In addition, they make up as much as a quarter of each volume, allowing for quick reading of the entire series as a whole. There is a fair amount of violence, although it is usually limited to blood spray reminiscent in style to Jhonny the Homicidal Maniac. There are also a few scenes of nudity and questionable poses, although there is no explicit sexual content.
Overall, Basilisk is a great series, steeped in history and tradition. Reading this short five volume series has gotten me interested in learning about the history and traditions of ancient Japan. Highly recommended, although if you are a first-time manga reader it may be a bit much.