Cross X Break Volume 1 by Duo Brand (amazon)
I had a mixed reaction to this manga because some of the characterization was lacking, but the attractive art and world building almost won me over by the end of the volume. Akito and his older Shinkai live on their own because their politician father is so busy with his work. While Akito busies himself with his studies, Shinkai appears to spend most of his time drinking beer, lazing around the house, and occasionally stirring to go to parties.
Akito is protective of his female non-girlfriend Yaya, rescuing her from bullies and helping her out with her homework. Akito’s surprised when Shinkai announces that he’s going to study abroad. Shinkai asks “Don’t you want to see the world?” and Akito passes out. When he wakes up he’s in an underground cavern filled with glowing mushrooms. Yaya has accompanied Akito on his journey and they set out to discover their strange new world.
Akito’s feelings towards mushrooms resemble Indiana Jones’ feelings towards snakes but he manages to pull himself together. They are suddenly attacked by a gang armed with spears who call them “floaters”. They are aided by a somewhat shady man named Neon, who carries around a briefcase of bugs for snacks. When Yaya gets sick Akito has to travel to a nearby town to fetch back some medicine for her.
The art is probably what sets this manga apart. I think Duo Brand usually puts out yaoi titles, and they can certainly draw attractive looking men. I was a little annoyed that Yaya seemed to be around only for Akito to have a focus to demonstrate his protectiveness and compassion, but it was amusing that she seemed to have handily packed away an inexhaustible supply of candy before being marooned in a strange world. Akito seemed like a typical shounen hero with a little bit of angst supplied by the relationship between him and his older brother. I actually found Shinkai to be the most intriguing character in the whole manga and I would have happily read a whole volume featuring him drinking beer and being an evil mastermind, but he only appeared in the first few pages.
The worldbuiding aspects of Cross X Break were better than the character development. The underground setting with caverns and towns carved out rock made the setting interesting. I liked seeing the design of Neon’s home, where a wire basket set in the ceiling held glowing mushrooms to illuminate the room. Akito has to struggle to find his way to the next town while fighting off gangs of warlocks. There seems to be a somewhat complicated class system in place that has branded Neon as a reject. While I don’t think the first volume of this manga really came together, there was still enough to intrigue me so I think I’ll give the second volume a try before I decide to drop the series.