I thought I’d take some time to sit down and make a list of which manga series I’m actively following:
Nana – Consistently awesome.
Boys Over Flowers – One of the nice things about following a long-running series is being able to see the art evolve. The later volumes of this series are so much better than the first few volumes.
Hana Kimi – My favorite girl disguising herself as a boy with wacky hijinks + romance ensuing series.
Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden – I’m a sucker for Yuu Watase, and in many ways I’m enjoying this prequel series to Fushigi Yugi more than the original. It is a more mature work, with better characterization and a more complicated plot.
Skip Beat – I can see why the main character might be annoying to some people, but I like Kyoko’s relentless desire for revenge combined with her gradual awareness of her love for acting.
Fullmetal Alchemist -Sometimes I tend to let my volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist pile up, and then I’ll read them in one big chunk and wonder why I’m waiting to read each volume. One of the most intelligent action series out.
Queen’s Knight – I like fantasy series, this one is pretty decent. From the author of INVU.
Suppli – I’m so happy there’s a new josei series to read.
Fruits Basket – Naturally.
Cantarella – Borgia + Manga is a potent combination.
Her Majesty’s Dog – Consistently good series about a girl and her spirit animal companion.
xxxHolic – Gorgeous CLAMP art.
ES (Eternal Sabbath) – Great blend of suspense and sci-fi.
Canon – Vampires!
Penguin Revolution – This series about a girl manager and her aspiring actor client/roommate is a little more consistent than the author’s other work Land of the Blindfolded.
Emma – Maids and thwarted love.
Venus In Love – I really liked the first volume of this series set in college.
Any other new manga coming out that I should be trying? Or are there any older titles I need to check out?
Hikkatsu! Strike A Blow to Vivify by Yu Yagami (amazon)
It is good to start the new year off right, which is why I heartily recommend this manga about punching household appliances. Shota takes his karate master’s advice to use martial arts for the benefit of mankind as an order to develop a special Repair Blow that will fix vending machines, TVs, and refrigerators. The futuristic world he lives in is plagued by electromagnetic storms, so appliances are constantly on the fritz. Unfortunately most of the time Shota’s Repair Blow results in the object he was trying to repair being smashed into little pieces.
Shota is joined by Momoko, a sheltered girl who was raised by pigeons. She leaves her feathery family behind to embark on a quest to find the love of her life. When Shota destroys a broken vending machine in front of her, giving Momoko her money back and a bunch of ramen, she decides that he is her destined husband. She wears a pigeon named Hatoko on her head most of the time.
Shota’s quest to perfect his Repair Blow meets a few hurdles in the form of a skateboarding con man and an enemy from his past. The art has a great deal of energy, as you might expect with all the punching of inanimate objects that is necessary to explore the premise of the series. Yagami also created Those Who Hunt Elves. If you’re looking for some comedic shonen manga to brighten up your January, check out Hikkatsu!
Shoujo heroines need their love triangles. One common way of setting up this situation is for the main female character in a manga to suddenly find herself forced to change her living situation so she’s in close proximity to a bunch of boys. Today I’ll look at a couple books from GoComi that share this premise, but express it in different ways.
Crossroad by Mizuki Shioko (amazon)
Kaijitsu has an extremely flighty mother, who seems to get a new husband every other year. Kaijitsu lives with her grandmother, but after her grandmother dies she’s thrown into a household with her two step-brothers Taro and Natsu. Taro is the oldest, and Natsu used to be one of her closest friends, but when Kaijitsu meets him again he seems oddly cold. Kaijitsu’s mother decides to abandon yet another child, 6 year old Satsuki. The kids make the best of their improvised family, with Taro bumbling as he attempts to take on a paternal role. He tends to pop up whenever Kaijitsu and Natsu are together in order to remind them “No Incest Allowed”. Kaijitsu begins to open up a little as she begins to rely more on her new family. Crossroad is a mildly amusing dramedy, with art that is attractive but not very distinctive.
The Devil Within by Ryo Takagi (amazon)
This manga was truly weird, and not in a good way. It had the most unsavory mishmash of plot elements I have yet to encounter. Rion is psychologically traumatized from a film she watched in childhood; as a result she detests men and focuses her attention on boys. She calls all men “devils” and her nickname for her father is “Big Devil”. This is oddly appropriate since his name seems to be Satan. Her father announces that he’s picked three fiancees for her, and they move into her building. Of course she wants nothing to do with them, as her focus is on Tenshi, a mouthy boy who appears to be 5 but is actually 15 – he has a convenient medical condition that has stunted his growth. Somehow the three boys have angelic wings, but Rion has batwings. So there’s some sort of war between good and evil that is being played out with Rion and her relationships? This book was incoherent.
Train + Train by Hideyuki Kurata and Tomomasa Takuma (amazon.com)
The futuristic world of Deloca has a unique educational system. When students reach the age of 15, they board a train which travels around the planet, making high school a perpetual field trip. Hapless Reiichi and his friend Liae meet Arena Pendleton, a rich girl who is estranged from her family, currently hiring herself out as protection in return for being treated at an all you can eat buffet. When Reiichi meets Arena, his life changes forever, as they fight a scary alien and end up accidentally handcuffed to each other! Reiichi ends up boarding the train for “special” students with Arena, which causes his education to go in a direction he never anticipated.
Although I very much like the idea of the setting for Train + Train, the characters all seemed vaguely familiar. Arena is brash and violent, while Reiichi’s more retiring personality undoubtedly hides some untapped potential that will be released due to his close association with his new companion. Add in an exceedingly violent nun on board the special train, and I was struck with the sensation that I’d seen all of these character types before in other series. Still, I do think the setting of the manga is interesting, and the production by GoComi is excellent. I might try checking the second volume out of the public library.
Night of the Beasts Vol 1 and 2 by by Chika Shiomi (amazon.com)
Aria is one of the tallest girls in her class. She uses her physical presence to defend her female classmates from evil “skirt chasers”. Although she says doesn’t have time for men, she begins to change her mind when she meets Sakura. She keeps seeing him in random places while her neighborhood is being terrorized by a feral dog. Crime scenes are scattered throughout Tokyo, and Sakura proclaims that Aria is the only person who can save him from a fate worse than death. He’s also possessed by the ancient spirit of a demon, but a touch from Aria can bring him back to himself.
The fashion styles of the characters betray the manga’s origins in the 90’s, but Shiomi’s action packed style makes this shojo story kinetic and fast-paced. Sakura is happy to have found his salvation in Aria, while Aria has more of a love/hate relationship with him – she finds him incredibly annoying, but she can’t resist his smile. She’s worried about what would happen if Sakura’s demon takes him over. They’re helped by Sakura’s mentor Shiro who informes them that they’re distant relatives. Other family members are going to come after Sakura as part of the 400 year old curse.
After reading the first volume I was hoping that Aria would evolves more powers of her own in later volumes, because she’s such a vibrant character that I’d hate to see her relegated to the role of hugging Sakura to prevent catastrophe when his demon side awakes. The second volume didn’t dissapoint – she gets possessed by her own benign demon and something horrible happens to Sakura. Night of the Beasts shares some theme and story elements with Ceres: Celestial Legend, so if you enjoy shojo stories with horror elements you’ll probably like this manga. Go Comi’s books have consistently good production.
Dramacon Volume 2 (amazon)
Dramacon 2 takes place a year after the events in the first volume. Christie has started a webcomic with a new artist named Bethany. She tried to call Matt once after meeting him at the last con, but quickly hung up when a girl answered the phone. She’s nervous and worried about what will happen when she sees him again. There are plenty of otaku antics featured at the con, like glomping and artists’ conflicts. Early on Dramacon 2 also features a rather didactic scene dramatizing the conflict between hard core fans who prefer their manga only produced in Japan and American manga creators. There’s an element of racism portrayed in the scene that I thought was a little odd. While I can see why a scene like this makes sense since Christie is an OEL manga creator, I felt like it could have been shown in around half the space, and it overshadowed some of the other plot lines in the book. When Christie meets Matt, she also is introduced to his new girlfriend. Will they be able to get together, or will they have to wait for the con next year?
The art in Dramacon 2 is great, it seems like one of the more artistically accomplished of Tokyopop’s OEL line. I found myself reading the first volume of Dramacon multiple times, but for the second volume once or twice will suffice. I hope the third volume is better.
Cantarella Volume 4 (amazon)
Lucretia struggles with her feelings for Cesare. Although she’s been telling herself that her feelings are pure and spiritual, she realizes that she loves her brother more than a sister should. Lucretia’s husband starts spreading rumors that the Borgias are incestuous, and Cesare wants to get rid of him. The pope prefers to wait until they have another husband lined up who will aid the Borgias’ quest for even more political power. Meanwhile the sexual tension grows between Cesare and his assassin sidekick Chiaro. Cesare continues to plan for the future, as his brother Juan is named to a military post that he is incapable of managing.
One of the things I love about Higuri’s art is the way she subtly changes character designs and body language over several volumes. The Cesare that appears in the forth volume is much more self-confident and secure in his power than the person we saw in volume one. I love the mix of romance and geopolitical plotting in Cantarella.
Her Majesty’s Dog by Mick Takeuchi (amazon)
Her Majesty’s Dog is the story of Amane, a girl whose cool exterior hides her psychic powers. She can see and control spirits. Amane is aided by her guardian demon dog named Hyoue who can also take human form. Hyoue is of course enrolled in Amane’s high school, and his outgoing nature makes him a popular student. Amane comes from an isolated village, and has never interacted with other kids before, so she’s a bit of an outcast in high school. Hyoue needs to be fed from Amane’s life force, so she naturally has to kiss him from time to time to power him up. This totally mystifies the other students, because they don’t understand why one of the most popular guys in school keeps making out with such an odd girl.
Amane’s powers cause her to become involved in resolving matters for the spirits she encounters. Although Hyoue is Amane’s guardian beast, he obviously has deeper feelings for her. Amane has no hesitation when it comes to ordering Hyoue around, but she’s shy when relating to normal kids. She’s also a bit helpless whenever she has to deal with modern technology. I’m not quite sure why I enjoyed Her Majesty’s Dog so much – the combination of spirit of the week type stories highlighted by the bickering relationship between Hyoue and Amane made this one of the more recent new manga that I’ve really enjoyed. I’ll definitely be picking up some of the later volumes in this series. I’ve only read a couple titles published by Gocomi, but after reading this series in addition to Cantarella, I’m going to make more of an effort to check out their other titles if they sound appealing. I especially liked the translator’s notes section in the back of the volume. If you go to the Her Majesty’s Dog page on the Gocomi web site and click on the Manga Viewer link, you can look at a few pages from the manga.
Cantarella by You Higuri (amazon)
I’d read a review of Cantarella and I decided that I should track down the book. It opens with the birth of Cesare Borgia under mysterious circumstances. His mother believes that his father, Cardinal Rodrigo, has sold the baby in a demonic pact. She attempts to kill her newborn son, but accidently starts a fire that the baby survives. Cesare grows up with his siblings Juan and Lucrezia. Cesare and Lucrezia share a strong bond, but Juan targets them with his anger. Cesare is treated with contempt because he is the son of a Cardinal. He literally wrestles with the forces of darkness, in the form of some amorphous tadpole-like creatures that only he can see.
As he grows older Cesare starts to negotiate his precarious position in society by learning secrets and using information to manipulate the people around him. He decides to learn the sword, which comes in handy later. He’s targeted for death by a cute blond assassin named Michelotto, but Cesare survives the encounter. The boys seem to share a special bond, tied somehow to the darkness that plagues Cesare. Although Cesare seems on track to turn into a monster as he dedicates himself to the quest for power, he has a sense of humor about his fate and it is hard not to root for him as he negotiates his way through the treacherous society of Renaissance Italy.
Higuri’s art is very expressive, capturing all the sides of Cesare’s personality as he struggles with darkness, lovingly protects his sister, and taunts Michelotto. I’m enjoying the historical fiction aspects of the plot mixed with the fantasy elements. I think the scheming of the Borgias will make this an entertaining series. It is rated 16+, for older teens. I’m looking forward to seeing what Lucrezia is like as she grows older, and Higuri hasn’t even started with all the poisonings yet!
Did you know that an older definition of nepotism in the OED is “The showing of special favour or unfair preference to a relative in conferring a position, job, privilege, etc.; spec. such favour or preference shown to an illegitimate son by a pope or other high-ranking ecclesiastic.”?
That was your random reference librarian tidbit for the day.