So if Lucky Star is in the upper echelons of Japanese culture-based manga and requires leveling up to fully enjoy, Genshiken would be the final boss battle.
Genshiken is a comedy-with-some-romance series set in early 2000s Tokyo. It’s the story of a college club composed of otaku. (The word “otaku” is mainly used by U.S. speakers to refer to anime/manga fans, for obvious reasons; but in Japan it’s more of a catch-all for anyone really really into something, and it has more of a negative tone–like calling someone who’s really big into history and does reenactments of the Civil War a nerd. For Genshiken, the club members are otaku of multiple things: manga, anime, cosplay, doujinshi, and computer and video games. It’s a plot point, in fact: “Genshiken” is an abbreviation of the club’s full name, Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyūkai, a.k.a. [in English]: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture. This sort of well-rounded geekery makes them outcasts even among the other clubs that have a more ‘nerdy’ bent, like the Manga or the Anime clubs. Okay, this parenthesis has taken over the paragraph.)
Genshiken follows the lives of its club members over the course of four years, using the arrival and graduation of the main character, Kanji Sasahara, as the jumping off and ending point, and delving into the friendships, enemy-ships, relationships, and unrequited-love-ships [I'll stop, I'll stop] that develop between the individual members over the course of those years. This summary really doesn’t do it justice, though: Genshiken is incredibly enjoyable if you’re a big geek of any part of Japanese visual culture, whether you like anime or Japanese video games or cosplay, because it’s clear that Shimoku Kio is too. This isn’t moe jokes like Lucky Star–this is a slow-developing, deeply compelling story that’s full of love for its source material: all the good and bad that the otaku world contains.
And it’s often hilarious, to boot.
Genshiken is complete in 9 volumes, which were published from 2002-2006 and translated into English by Del Ray. There’s also a new series, Genshiken II, which began in 2010 and is currently ongoing; but so far no one’s officially translating it. There’s also–of course–an anime: two seasons at 12 episodes each, and a 3 episode OVA, which ran intermittently from 2004 to 2007 and all of which were licensed for English by AnimeWorks. There’s also–if this post hasn’t been meta enough for you yet–an OVA, 12 episode anime series, and two volume manga for Kujibiki Unbalance, a (once-)fictional manga and anime series within Genshiken. Kio-sensei, creator of this fictional series, created a fictional series within it and then brought that series out into the real world.
When you read Genshiken, never doubt that you’re holding something of great metatextual power in your hands.