Mangaka: Aya Kanno
Asuka Masamune has an established reputation as the manliest guy around: cool, strong, athletic, and handsome. But there’s a secret side of himself that he’s kept carefully hidden away. The truth is, he’s an “otomen”–a guy who likes cute, girly things like shoujo manga, sewing, and cooking–but due to various circumstances, his mom would kill him if she found out. When Asuka meets Juta Tachibana (a notorious ladies’ man who secretly writes shoujo manga under a female pen name) and Ryo Miyakozuka (a cute but cool girl who, despite appearances, is much better at martial arts than at traditional “girly” stuff), he begins to open up and be his true self more. It’s a lot more fun to make yummy bento for lunch, make cute handcrafts, and hang out at sweet cafés after school than to bottle all that up and spend his time training. Only, it’s becoming more and more difficult to hide this side of himself from his mom . . . . An explosion is imminent, for sure.
I really enjoyed reading Otomen. It is a classic shoujo manga of the best sort, full of cute characters, a heartwarming story, and pretty art. Honestly, it’s rather stereotypically shoujo, to the point of exercising nearly all of the traditional plot devices (including the amnesia gag!). The plot is, on the whole, sweet and rose-colored–not always realistic (let’s face it; not everyone is going to be willing to just talk about their feelings and resolve issues graciously), but romantic and endearing to read. The characters are this fantastic dichotomy of being exactly what you’d expect from a shoujo manga and yet breaking all the molds. Take Asuka, for instance: he’s your classic shoujo maiden protagonist–innocent, sweet, kind, and girly–but he’s a guy and he also truly is cool and manly and strong, somehow. The majority of the other characters strike me in a similar sense. And the romance between Asuka and Ryo! Adorably sweet, but since when does the girl play the part of Prince Charming? I think that, while Otomen is stereotypically shoujo, it also serves alongside many other great contemporary stories to challenge traditional mores and stereotypes. In a sense, this manga is about accepting and loving people just as themselves, without trying to put them in a box–I love that about it! I would definitely recommend Otomen, especially to those who love cute shoujo manga.
Note: I really enjoy the inclusion of random pages from Juta’s manga Love Chick. Too cute! If it were an actual published manga, I would so read it.