Over all, I have eleven relatively recent manga series I’m currently reading/actively collecting that I’ll be highlighting for my 2016 reads. I decided not to include some older titles, like Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost Hunt because of their age and, in the case of the later, it’s status being due more to the difficulty in finding volumes than anything.
So cover the series better, I’ll be splitting the manga up into multiple posts, with this first one covering the three most unusual series in the list.
Yoshitoki Oima’s series A Silent Voice is one of the most unique manga series I’ve ever read, and at times the most difficult. The first volume is emotionally wrenching and for anyone who was ever bullied, potentially triggering, but also amazingly well handled. The series tells the story of Shoya, who was a bully in elementary school including horribly tormenting a new deaf student, Shoko. Six years later, Shoya is a depressed, suicidal outcast and wants to apologize to Shoko before ending his life, but his plans don’t go quite the way he expected.
Shoya isn’t an easy character to like, especially not in elementary school, but at the same time Oima does an amazing job of showing that he is just as human and screwed up as anyone else. He made mistakes, he deeply regrets them, and in his rough way, he is trying to make them right. I really like how Oima crafts the story of his switch from bully to bullied, how she depicts the way he sees the world, and the carefully handled building of the fledgling relationship between he and Shoko that shows how both have grown since those experiences while delicately balancing the past with the present.
I also love how well it handles the differing reactions of those around the pair, none of whom have forgotten the past. Some are willing to forgive and judge Shoyo on who he is now, but not everyone is, including Shoyo himself. It would be easy to make this a super sweet, BS story, but Oima doesn’t cut Shoyo any breaks nor does she softball the results of bullying. This also may be the first manga I’ve seen tackle a character with noticeable mental health issues, with Shoyo’s depression always being there, but without the reader being bashed on the head with it. The art isn’t the prettiest, but it’s more realistic, with incredible detail, and the signing is handled in a very “readable” way even without the motion.
The series spans seven volumes total, with four available now. I’ve all caught up on this one and preorder the upcoming ones (including 5 which comes out tomorrow!). Released by Kodansha Comics, you can get this one in print and eBook forms as well as via comiXology.
Surprisingly, Kore Yamazaki’s fantasy series The Ancient Magus’ Bride is also considered a shōnen title, when I’d have thought it would be shojo. Either way, this is an incredible series that focuses on Chise Hatori, an orphan unwanted most of her life due to her unusual powers, is sold as a slave to a mage. As Chise is introduced to the world of magic, the inhuman Elias reveals that she is a Sleigh Beggy, a particularly rare and powerful magical being, and that he bought her so he could free her because that he intends for her to be his apprentice and his bride.
There is just so much I’m loving about this series, I don’t even know where to begin! The artwork is fantastic, with incredible detail infusing every scene. The story itself is fascinating, filled with a lush mix of creatures found in European folklore, including fae, black grims, dragons, and even the fairy queen Titania herself!
But the shining point and central focus is the relationship between Chise and Elias. With his being her “owner” and teacher and Chise’s basically giving up on life, it would be easy for them to fall into a co-dependent, unhealthy relationship. Yet, Yamazaki navigates them through the ups and downs of their initial meeting and bonding in such a way that Chise’s relationship with Elias stays one that they both have full agency in.
This series is still ongoing in Japan, with four volumes released so far. It’s being released here in the US by Seven Seas and is so far running about 4-6 months behind the Japanese releases. I’ve read all three volumes available here so far and have 4 on pre-order (release April 12th). The Ancient Magus’ Bride is only available in print.
Rounding out this post is Kazune Kawahara’s sweet romance series, My Love Story!! This one is bucks the usual shojo trope in a big way (no pun intended), by focusing on romantic life of Takeo Goda, a huge guy with a heart of gold, rather than on his more typically good-looking, if stand offish friend Sunakawa. After Takeo saves a girl named Yamato from a molester on a train, he falls for her cuteness and her sweet-nature when she thanks him with homemade baked goods. Imagine his surprise when, after a lifetime of being passed over from his hot friend, Yamato only has eyes for Takeo.
Takeo is deliberately drawn to be ridiculously, and I suspect physically impossibly, huge. Though the characters are starting high school at the beginning of the series, Takeo towers over pretty much everyone except his dad, and he has muscles that would make most gym enthusiasts envious. With large lips and a squarish face, he isn’t drawn to be handsome, but what he does have is an incredible heart and good nature. Even though people regularly fear him, he never stops helping others and giving of himself. It’s easy to see why someone like Yamato could fall for him, because she actually looked at him as a person rather than insta-judging him based on his looks.
As a romance, My Love Story!! is very sweet, some might even say too sweet. It’s slow building, with Takeo and Yamato both stopping just short of being annoying in their hesitancy about their feelings and worries over what the other things of them. At the same time, those moments make it authentic and a more realistic portrayal of first love with two inexperienced characters than many other series of this time.
Even though it has a comedic element, with exaggerated facial expressions and over the top stunts by Takeo to help others, it also has a good dramatic feel as it explores not only the feelings of Takeo and Yamato, but also the feelings of those around them, including unnoticed crushes, jealous, and the characters having to deal with major life events. I also do wonder about Yamato’s home life. While she’s shown to have a great love of baking, she has some interesting personality quirks as well and I’ve noticed that thus far, unlike Takeo and Sunakawa, ever scene of her at home shows her completely alone. Coincidence or something more?
My Love Story!! is also still ongoing in Japan, with ten volumes released there so far. Viz Media just released volume 7 this month and drops a new one every 3 months or so. I’m actually a little behind on this one, having read up to volume 5 so far, due to budgetary constraints near the end of last year, but I’ll be playing catch up during the next Viz sale at RightStuf. 😉 My Love Story!! is available in print and eBook, as well as at comiXology.