Mangaka: Kiyohiko Azuma
Yukari-sensei’s class has some interesting characters in it, but the truth is, she might just be the most biggest “character” of them all. She’s not exactly the most responsible teacher in Japan. At least this year she’s got Chiyo in her class, an adorable 10-year-old prodigy who’s jumped up to being a freshman in high school–and who’s bright enough to be a good tutor for the other students. On the other hand, there’s Tomo–she really should think before she acts. Or opens her mouth. Actually, thinking period would be a good start. Ditto with Osaka the transfer student from . . . you guessed it, Osaka. Although with Osaka, it’s not that she doesn’t think so much as that everything she thinks of is really ditzy. Yomi-san is Tomo’s friend from back in grade school, but I still don’t know why she puts up with her; sometimes I think Yomi must be a bit of a masochist although in most other ways she’s pretty smart and capable. Then of course, there’s Sakaki–tall, athletic, quiet, and generally too cool for words. You’d never guess what a soft spot she has for everything small and cute–especially kittens! Somehow, these girls become friends their freshman year, developing an everyday sort of friendship that’s warm and funny and just as unusual as the girls themselves.
Azumanga Daioh has got to be one of the best manga ever written. Although, is it technically manga, since it’s written in 4-panel vertical comics? Not sure on that one, but I really love the way the panels are each episodic, yet they flow into each other seamlessly to create a cohesive whole spanning the girls’ entire three years of high school (including some wacky summer breaks). This is one of those stories that it’s nearly impossible to explain what makes it so amazing. I mean, the characters are wonderful. That definitely is a big part of it. But I think it’s also that this is just an everyday slice-of-life story. Nothing crazy happens. Nobody dies, gets a rare disease . . . nobody even has a boyfriend! It’s just the normal lives of these girls. Yet somehow Azuma-sensei captures the touching and funny aspects of daily life in just the right light, drawn out by the unusual quirks of the students, so that they are immediately captivating and hilariously funny. I can’t read a chapter of this manga without bursting out into laughter–out loud, which can be embarrassing! Yet the story does deal with real problems that high-schoolers face regularly–weight and self-image, friendship, grades, feeling left out, and more–in a way that gives the story weight, bridging the gap from a flighty shoujo story to a mature josei one. I’ve shared this manga with friends young and old–my dad, a female college friend, and my teenage brother to mention a few–and they’ve all loved it. Truly, Azumanga Daioh comes with my highest recommendations to basically everyone.
Note: I love the randomness of the title, which comes from squishing the author’s name “Azuma” together with the word “manga” and sticking on “Daioh” from the magazine it was originally published in, Dengeki Daioh.