Welcome to a brand new weekly blog feature at Manga Bookshelf, 3 Things Thursday! For the inaugural edition, I’m going to begin by breaking the rules straight off.
In a recent Manga Out Loud podcast, one of my favorite manga critics, Ed Sizemore, mentioned casually that he hadn’t read much good shojo. While the definition of “good” is likely to vary greatly from critic-to-critic on a topic so subjective, I figured I’d start my 3 Things off by listing three currently running shojo manga I think are especially worthwhile. And since so many of my favorites are older manga, I’ll cheat a bit by also listing three “classic” manga I recommend as well. These are not to be taken as my “TOP ThrEE FAVORITES OF ALL TIME” by any means, but rather three of each that simply spring to mind. I do think it’s interesting to note that every single one of them is/was published by Viz Media. So here goes!
3 favorite current shojo series:
We Were There | Yuki Obata | Viz Media – Few manga out there have affected me on a personal level as deeply as this one has. From my review of volume one:
“What’s nice about this manga is its simplicity and quiet honesty … The characters’ greatest obstacles are themselves, just like in real life … To achieve this, We Were There takes popular manga stereotypes and turns them into real people. In place of the clumsy, helpless shojo heroine, we have Nana, who is exactly as awkward as any average girl entering a new school, no more, no less … In place of the brooding, dangerous love interest (or its inverse–the shining, popular prince), we have Yano, who is often thoughtless, occasionally kind, and though he is definitely hiding some real pain behind his carefree image, is mostly just confused about his feelings, much like most teenaged boys.”
More reviews here.
Crown of Love | Yun Kouga | Viz Media – This dark, complicated tale of ambition and obsession will be complete in four volumes as of November 2nd. From my review of volume one:
“Crown of Love is the retelling of an older series by mangaka Yun Kouga, originally serialized in 1988. That series was only two volumes long, with an ending described by the artist as “abrupt.” … where Kouga succeeds, and stunningly so, is in her characterization. There are no shojo stereotypes here, despite appearances … The fact that the characters seem to know just how screwed up they are is what rescues them from being too disturbing to bear … As always, Kouga’s art is a highlight of her work. There’s something essentially cheerful and straightforward about her layout and designs that gives a story like this an even darker tone than it might have with a more overtly sinister look. Also, though the story is far from light-hearted, there is a clarity to Kouga’s visual storytelling that keeps it from becoming mired in its own weight.”
More reviews here.
The Story of Saiunkoku | Sai Yukino, Kairi Yura | Viz Media – A brand new favorite, this series got my attention immediately with its complicated characterization and strong female lead. From my discussion of volume one:
“Despite the fact that I’d heard positive buzz about this series … I admit I was more than skeptical. The manga’s opening chapter didn’t do much to sway me, either, with its gag sensibility and creepy romantic overtones … Fortunately, it quickly became clear that my first impressions were just wrong … though the story first seems to be crafted out of the same, tired tropes … each of these standard elements–the happy-go-lucky heroine, the over-the-top humor, the contrived matchmaking–becomes fresh and even insightful in Sai Yukino’s hands … Like all of us, the roles they each play with each other are the result of everything they’ve had to do to survive their lives so far. Nobody is perfect (or even perfectly evil, at least from what we’ve seen), and since flawed characters are generally the most compelling in any story, this makes for a very rich experience overall.”
Full discussion here.
3 favorite “classic” shojo series:
Basara | Yumi Tamura | Viz Media – This multi-volume epic is a must-read for any fantasy/adventure fan. It also features a fantastic female lead who manages to be both vulnerable and kick-ass throughout. From Michelle Smith’s review of volume 25:
“I admit it: I cried. At things happy, sad, and both at once. I’ve invested three years in this series and can happily say that it was worth it. I’m not going to give any details on how things go down, so suffice it to say that the ending is very satisfying. I must’ve reread the last few pages three times to savor all that Sarasa had accomplished … Basara is probably the best manga I have ever read. Thanks, Viz, for taking a chance on it.”
Does any more need to be said?
Expect a full-out ode to this series here sometime in the near future.
Banana Fish | Akimi Yoshida | Viz Media – I probably have written more about Banana Fish than anyone ever should, but this story of gang wars, organized crime, drug trafficking, and government intrigue actually is one of my favorite series of all time. From Making the case for Banana Fish:
“Sure, this story is about street gangs, organized crime, blah blah blah, but what it is really about is this relationship between Ash and Eiji, and how it changes them both throughout the course of the series … I finished volume 19 (and the post-series one-shot, Garden of Light) months ago, and it still sticks with me, the story of these two, haunting the back of my mind in some way all the time … My husband once asked me, “Is Banana Fish yaoi?” and my immediate response was, “I wish”. . . What I meant was that I wish I’d ever read a boys’ love manga as interesting and well-plotted as Banana Fish. I’ll take that a step further. I wish I’d read more manga in general as interesting and well-plotted as Banana Fish, and I read a lot of manga.”
More posts here.
Please Save My Earth | Saki Hiwatari | Viz Media – Everything I need to say about this series I’ve said before. “A group of teenagers who share collective memory through their dreams about their former lives as alien scientists observing earth from the moon?? You could not possibly come up with something more appealing to the twelve-year-old me.” From History of a Daydreamer:
“Four volumes in, I said to friends, “It’s like they removed my teenaged brain and stuck it on paper for all of Japan to read.” This only became more true as I continued through the series. The plot is dense and complicated, mostly revolving around the tangled relationships and jealous rivalries that extend far beyond the characters’ past lives and in to the present … What’s really stunning about this story is how well and how believably the young characters carry their adult past-selves. As far-fetched as some of the plot manages to get, I absolutely believed every word and look from these characters…”
Read it all here.
Readers: What are three of your favorite shojo series? Tell me in comments or in your own blog!