Mangaka: Natsuki Takaya
Following her mom’s death in a car accident, Tohru Honda finds herself living on her own in a tent. Not that she’s about to let any of that get her down! Shortly after setting up . . . um, house? . . . Tohru stumbles upon a large house nearby–only to find that her classmate the oh-so-popular Yuki Sohma lives there with his cousin Shigure. And, apparently, his violent, grumpy cousin Kyo. What with one thing and another, they discover her circumstances and convince her to move in and do their housekeeping (they desperately need the help!). However, it’s not long until Tohru discovers that the Sohmas are keeping a secret: when they get sick or are hugged by members of the opposite gender, several of them will turn into the various animals of the Chinese zodiac! Tohru’s more than willing to keep their secret, but the closer she gets to the Sohmas, the more she realizes there’s more to this curse than just turning into cute animals. . . . There is a deep, painful secret hiding in the Sohma family, and Tohru is desperate to free the people she loves from that painful curse, whatever it takes.
Fruits Basket is probably my absolute favorite shoujo manga ever. Maybe even my favorite manga, period. Mostly because it’s chock full of wonderful characters–again some of my absolute favorites. Momiji Sohma, for instance–super-cute and kiddish (think Honey from Hostbu), but full of surprising insights, kindnesses, and selflessness–absolutely makes my heart melt. But really, the entire cast is deep and full of surprises; they’re excellently developed and fascinating to get to know. At first glance, the plot seems veeery stereotypical shoujo–I mean seriously, death by car accident, damsel in distress moving in with a bunch of guys, random fantasy curse–but it takes those stereotypical elements as a jumping-off point for something much richer. The story is intricate and emotionally moving–few stories make me laugh and cry more, or leave a more lasting impression. I think I never really understood the concept of kindness until I read this manga; it hit home in a meaningful way to me. Regarding the art, Takaya has a distinctive style, shoujo and cute/pretty, with big, limpid eyes–in my opinion, it suits the story well. If you’re interested in a sweet, moving shoujo manga with lots of intricacies and great characters, Fruits Basket would be high on my recommendations (just be aware that it’s long–23 volumes).