Tag Archives: shoujo

Millennium Snow

Mangaka: Bisco HatoriMillennium Snow

My rating: 4 of 5

Chiyuki dreams of seeing a thousand years of snowfalls, all the while knowing that she’ll probably never live to even see her eighteenth because of a congenital heart condition. When she meets eighteen-year-old Toya, a handsome vampire whose bite would give her a thousand years of life by his side, it might seem that Chiyuki has found the ideal solution. The only problem is that Toya is too nice to doom anyone to living that long–and that he hides that niceness under a bristly, snappy exterior. Add to the mix happy-go-lucky, flirtatious werewolf Satsuki and impudent bat-servant Yamimaru, and mayhem, conflict, and all-around fun are bound to follow.

For being Hatori’s first serialized work, Millennium Snow is quite nice. I know some of the plot elements sound like a Twilight rip-off, but the two stories are actually quite different. The outstanding feature of Millennium Snow is the characters: Toya’s almost-tsundere-ness is charming, and the Chiyuki-Yamimaru pair’s impudently picking on him is hilarious. Personally, I’m a big fan of Satsuki, probably because he reminds me a lot of Tamaki from Hostbu. I think this manga is significant in that it experienced a 10-year hiatus between the first two volumes and the final two. The art style of the first two volumes is very similar to the earlier sections of Hostbu–a little immature, but pretty, expressive, and very Hatori-san. As for the final two volumes, I think the manga has benefited from the time and experienced gained from Hatori’s work on Hostbu, although there’s a definite style-gap between the new volumes and the first two. It’s cool though to see these great characters in Hatori’s pretty, updated style. I think the story and characters are consistent across the volumes enough to carry it even if the art is definitely changed. Definitely recommended, although I might recommend reading some of Hatori-san’s other works first.

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Petshop of Horrors

Petshop of HorrorsMangaka: Matsuri Akino

My rating: 4 of 5

Deep in the heart of Los Angeles’ Chinatown is a petshop, run by an enigmatic individual calling himself simply “Count D”. But this is no ordinary petshop. It is rumored that you can get any creature imaginable there: normal pets, illegal imports, even creatures believed by most to have never existed. Stranger still, for some buyers, their pets appear to have human form–but only sometimes or to certain people. Regardless, the pet and the buyer are always perfect for each other, specifically chosen to suit each others’ needs, or D won’t sell. Furthermore, each sale comes with a specific contract . . . one that must be followed carefully, or horrific results may ensue. Following the trail of some of these horrific results back to Count D’s petshop, detective Leon Orcot is determined to put D behind bars–if he doesn’t end up becoming fast friends with him first. Bother that mysterious count and his innocent-seeming charm!

I think Petshop of Horrors is a manga that delivers a lot more than it promises. At first glance it seems like, well, a horror manga. And it can be that at times; there are certainly episodes that involve super-creepy circumstances and lots of blood and gore. But as the story progresses, it becomes more and more about character and story development, even though the chapters are still episodic, each chapter featuring a different buyer and a different creature. The plot is interesting but mysterious–it seems like you’re going to find out more than you actually do in the end, and I really like that about this manga. I hate it when stories try to explain too much and end up with some super-lame explanation; it’s much better to leave a lingering sense of mystery, and Petshop of Horrors does that exquisitely. I honestly feel that the biggest draw of this manga isn’t the horror or the weird creatures at all; rather, it’s the development of the characters. Seriously, D has got to be one of the most enigmatic individuals ever–he reminds me a lot of xxxHOLiC‘s Yuuko Ichihara–and also one of the most complex people. I think one side of his character that’s particularly fascinating is the fact that he doesn’t see from quite a normal human perspective–if in doubt, he sides with the animals, for sure. Mixing D’s unusual character in with that of detective Orcot is sheer brilliance, Orcot being the upright, bright, American sort of guy he is. One facet I found unusual and interesting is that this manga is set in the U.S. . . . convincingly! I’ve read other manga with small sections set in the States, but they always feel extremely artificial and unresearched–at least to an American reader.  This one doesn’t stray too far in weird directions, but is convincing (other than the fact that there’s a lot of weird fantasy thrown in with the petshop itself). On the whole, for older teen and up readers (because seriously, language and horror are definitely present here), I would definitely recommend Petshop of Horrors as a fascinating, unique, and beautiful manga.

 

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Wild Kiss

Wild KissMangaka: Hisaya Nakajo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since early childhood, Tomo has had a reputation as a pretty girl . . . which might be fine, except Tomo’s a boy. Even now in high school, Tomo continues to receive confessions from other guys, all of which he refutes fiercely. (Has he never considered that maybe, if he didn’t react so strongly, he wouldn’t be teased so much?) Things begin to take an unexpected turn, however, when he receives (what seems to be) a confession from the number one most desirable single guy in the school, Yoshida-kun. This handsome, quiet, stubborn guy dogs Tomo all the way home, where he discloses another–more startling– confession: he’s a vampire, and he needs a human partner soon or he’s going to go bloodsucking ballistic on anyone around him. And he wants Tomo to be his partner. . . .

Wild Kiss is actually a one-shot that was released with Hana-Kimi as an omake, but I feel like it deserves a review of its own. It this were ever turned into a full manga series, I would devour it; I think it has the potential to be even better than Hana-Kimi. The story is, as a one-shot, naturally simple and pared down to a minimum, but even in this state Nakajo-sensei has included significant backstory, supporting characters, etc. Plus, Tomo and Yoshida’s relationship is a nice (super mildly shounen-ai) blend of drama, comedy, and possibly the barest buds of romance. But really, at this point, it’s more a dramedy than a romance–and it’s nice that way. The art is classic Nakajo-sensei, very similar to that of Hana-Kimi–in other words, cute/pretty but not overdone, the sort of shoujo art that would work even in a non-shoujo manga. I would definitely recommend Wild Kiss to anyone who enjoys cute (mildly shounen-ai) manga, fans of Hana-Kimi, and basically anyone who likes shoujo manga.

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Azumanga Daioh

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.

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Otomen

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.

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Cherry Juice

Mangaka: Haruka Fukushima

Otome and Minami have been step-siblings for the past five years, and they get along pretty well. Their relationship is definitely challenged, however, when their grandmother moves in with their family, forcing the two “siblings” to share a room–which Otome immediately curtains off into “her” part and “her brother’s” part. Still, the two work through the complications and face life together with good cheer, if some awkwardness. Honestly, they rather obsess over each other, although it’s hard to tell if that’s in a “sibling” way or in some completely different way. Whatever the case, even when they’re out dating people they like, they’re constantly talking and thinking about each other, to the extent that everyone else is aware of how obsessed they are. . . . Now if they can only admit to their own feelings!

Cherry Juice is, in many ways, your typical shoujo manga: cute, a little sketch, romantic, and funny. The characters are good, although probably not great–enjoyable to read, but not particularly memorable, I would say. I think the same applies to the story–it’s a classic romantic comedy, a little heavier on the drama than the comedy but fairly well balanced. The biggest draw–and also the biggest issue–is the titillation of a seemingly forbidden relationship. Although, I’ve heard that this would be technically legal in Japan (not positive on that), it’s still weird. Weirder still, Otome and Minami’s family is involved and seems to support their relationship. So yeah, weird, but cute and funny if you can get past that. The art is also typical shoujo– cute, but not outstanding and a bit rough at places. Screentone use was somewhat immature, but it seems to suit the early-teens demographic for which this was primarily written. So . . . if you have some time to kill and are in the mood for shoujo, I think Cherry Juice would be a cute way to fill the time (it helps that it’s only 4 volumes long); however, I wouldn’t recommend this for those looking for a serious, well-developed manga.

Note: It’s interesting to note that the major problems I have with Cherry Juice are also present in Me & My Brothers: romantic involvement between step-siblings, less than impeccable art, weird screentones, etc. Yet the impression I take away from the two is completely different–largely because Me & My Brothers is full of amazing characters, the plot is better executed, and the art is stylized in a way that suits the other facets of the story perfectly. I guess what I’m really saying is, if you’ve got time on your hands for a shoujo manga and haven’t read either, Me & My Brothers would be my true recommendation, hands down.

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Fruits Basket

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).

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Mugen Spiral

Mangaka: Mizuho Kusanagi

Powerful spiritualist medium (and incidentally, high-school student and recent-orphaned) Yayoi Suzuka is being targeted by numerous demons trying to absorb her powers in their quest to become the next demon king. When the king’s own son, Ura,  attacks her, Yayoi has a tough time of it, but she manages to subdue him–and turns him into a cat. In hopes of assuaging her loneliness (and to keep an eye on him), Yayoi keeps Ura around the house with her, sometimes in cat form and sometimes in human form with his demon powers sealed. Either way, it’s still not exactly easy having him around–he’s a terrible tease–but it’s certainly not dull or boring anymore!

If you’re looking for a fun, cute shoujo manga, Mugen Spiral is a nice option that’s also short enough to read quickly (it’s only two volumes). The real selling point of this manga is the characters. Yayoi somewhat reminds me of Taiga (Toradora!)–she’s very strong, but also girly and a bit tsundere. Ura is bishounen and princely, but also sweet and a terrible tease–he’s really a bit of an enigma. I think the relationship between the two is really interesting–something like that between Inuyasha and Kagome during the early days of their relationship (InuYasha). It’s like they’re always sniping at each other, but they’re united against the rest of the world. Or something. The plot is cute as far as it goes, especially in building the relationship between the two main characters. It’s just too short and incomplete–the manga got dropped, and Kusanagi had to wrap things up pretty quickly. So there are a number of issues that are never really resolved, and the romantic development is less than a lot of readers would like (although I think it’s cute as-is). As for the art, it’s pretty typical shoujo, with something of a slight seinen flavor to the style–it suits the story well, I think. I would recommend Mugen Spiral to those looking for a cute romantic comedy with some supernatural flair–especially if they’re short on time to read and they don’t mind loose ends.

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Pearl Pink

Mangaka: Meca Tanaka

Kanji Inui’s already busy life at the family-run talent agency, Dog Run, becomes even more chaotic when an old acquaintance Tamako Momono comes rocketing back into his life. This impetuous, headstrong girl is the secret child of a much-loved actress–who happens to be Dog Run’s client and an old friend of the manager, Kanji’s dad. So naturally, to make Kanji’s life even more complicated, Tamako comes to stay at the Inui home so that her mom’s secret isn’t leaked . . . which is just fine with Tamako, who is holding on to Kanji’s childhood promise (completely forgotten by him, of course) to marry her. It doesn’t hurt that Kanji is also a great cook, housekeeper, and agent, although Tamako is determined to become a better woman and be worthy of him. Thus, along with her friends the boy-band Rain, she strives to make her debut, both in the entertainment industry and in Kanji’s heart. And well, this is a shoujo manga. . . .

Pearl Pink is a fun, sweet, and amusing story by the author of such classics as Faster than a Kiss and Sailor Fuku ni Onegai!. As I said before, it’s definitely shoujo, with all that entails (including a pleasantly happy ending), but it’s also full of interesting twists, randomnesses, and humor. Tanaka claims not to have developed the characters particularly thoroughly, but I actually find them delightful: quirky, unique, and unexpected. For instance, Tamako is quite the monkey-girl–impetuous, stubborn, and something of a natural idiot, talented in unexpected areas (like athletics, martial arts, and acting), yet impossible at basic skills like cooking (her onigiri crack me up!). Kanji also is interesting–serious and skillful in many areas (in this way, he makes me think of Otomen a bit), but a little dense at times also . . . and let’s not forget his scary/hilarious got-to-make-girls-pretty complex. I think Raizo’s my favorite character though–you’ll have to read the manga to find out why. Really, in spite of being Tanaka’s first serialized manga, and thus a bit cobbled together, I think Pearl Pink flows well and is quite enjoyable; I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy shoujo manga, or cute love stories in general.

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Sailor Fuku ni Onegai!

Mangaka: Meca Tanaka

When Hina’s baseball goes wild, she–being the responsible girl that she is–goes to investigate the damages. As she approaches the little-used, rundown mountain shrine that she had the wonderful luck of hitting, she reaches out to touch the shrine object, a mirror. Turns out, this mirror is all that’s left of the shrine god, and when this becomes absorbed into her (don’t ask me how), Hina becomes the substitute “god” for the area. Whereupon, the two dog-guardians of the shrine–friendly, easygoing Koma and cold, tsundere Shishi–show up, determined to protect her and help her do her new job however ill-equipped she may be. Add to the mix the fact that Koma and Shishi can appear in human form, decide to move in with Hina, have a dark past, and might be possible love interests, and you’ve got a crazy, sweet, poignant story, for sure.

Another treasure from the author of the lovely Faster than a Kiss, Sailor Fuku ni Onegai is a lovely, sweet shoujo manga. The art is lovely–one of the author’s strongest points in my opinion. The characters are well done also: Hina fits the role of slightly ditzy but responsible heroine to perfection, Shishi is just tsundere enough and just dark enough without being a total turnoff. And of course Koma, who is my personal favorite for this manga–he’s supposed to be a warm, supportive, canine sort of presence, which he pulls off wonderfully. The one thing I regret is that this wasn’t longer–there’s so much back story that could have been developed more, and the romance could have stood a bit more development as well. Still, for such a short manga, I think Tanaka did a good job selecting what served the story’s purposes best and she kept it sufficiently tight. So for those who enjoy shoujo manga, Sailor Fuku ni Onegai is definitely on my recommended list (although do be aware that it’s not been published in the states–why not?!).

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