Favorite Manga

I love shoujo, josei, and yuri manga. It's not that I won't ever read other types, but, hey, we each have our preferences right?!

As a reminder, we overwhelmingly support the creators which means only reading things legally available in English by either purchasing them or borrowing from a library. Please do not comment on anything that would only be available by scanlation. Scanlations undermine the ability for creators to make a living and undermine any justification for publishers to legally release translated manga.

Here are my favorites, in no particular order:

Twinkle Stars (Hoshi wa Utau) by Natsuki Takaya - this is my all-time favorite manga. It's a shoujo manga with a classic heroine. One of many things that separate this from the pack is that our heroine's worth and purpose is not defined by a man or her seeking a relationship. While there is definitely romance in this, her strength comes from within. She has amazing resiliency, kindness, curiosity and so much more. It's funny, sad, and melancholy in turns. I love Takaya-sensei's art even though many may find it less precise than the current trends, for me, it's both unique and evocative.

Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya - while we're on Takaya-sensei, this list would not be complete without Fruits Basket. This is one of the most revered shoujo manga and rightfully so. The art gets progressively better as it goes on, the characters are amazing, it again has a heroine who is not defined by a man or seeking a relationship (although again, there is romance). Just a beautiful story in every way. A true classic.

Sweet Blue Flowers (Aoi Hana) by Takako Shimura - probably my favorite yuri manga of all time. Fumi's scene where she comes out to Akira is one of the most precious moments in all of manga and anime (the scene is great in both versions). I can just picture her head on the table of the coffee shop, unable to look Akira in the eye, while Akira just thinks how brave Fumi is. The feelings and experiences Fumi goes through as she begins to explore relationships (from an unrequited love, to a first love, to a lasting love) are handled with delicacy, grace, and honesty. The side characters are wonderful. There is a perfect balance of humor, realism, sadness, and friendship. This is a seminal work in yuri and demonstrates the sensitivity with which the genre is not always handled, particularly the more exploitative strands of yuri. This one is about real, genuine, feelings, that transcend same-sex relationships.

Wandering Son (Houro Musuko) by Takako Shimura - this time, Shimura-sensei looks at non-binary and trans youth in middle school. Yup, and she does it with grace, humor, kindness, and empathy. This is about young people discovering their true selves and the ramifications of those complexities. There is both a pre-transition trans-female boy and a non-binary/trans-male girl at the heart of this winning story. Yet Shimua-sensei refuses to do the obvious and hook the two of them up, instead spending the series exploring much more nuanced realities of how relationships rarely play out how we expect, and how coming of age is tough regardless of your gender identity. The anime covers the second half of the story which is too bad because the first half is stronger, but good in a way since there hasn't been an English translation of the second half of the manga, so the only way to get the full story is to read one and watch the other. Ughhh. This series is now out of print and nearly impossible to find the first two volumes (the last 6 are easier to get a hold of but again doesn't finish the whole original manga).

Honey and Clover by Chica Umino - a josei story set in art school and looking at the lives of a group of friends. Heartbreaking, funny, sad, joyous, and silly in turns. It explores very real human emotions and experiences in sensitive ways. It rarely provides perfectly clean outcomes, as nothing in real life does, yet is infinitely satisfying none-the-less. It spends time deeply exploring both its male and female characters as they reach into their twenties. The anime is also amazing.

Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride) by Io Sakisaka - a dramatic high-school romance. They meet as middle schoolers, too shy to say anything before they are separated. They end up in the same school years later, but something is different with him. As she tries to crack his cool exterior, what will she find? Will she lose herself in the process? How long will she wait for him? Also a great anime with some wonderfully real scenes.

For You In Full Blossom (Hanazakari no Kimitachi e) by Hisaya Nakajo - best known as Hana-Kimi, this is the story of a high school girl who disguises herself as a boy to attend an all-boys school in order to meet her high-jumping idol. But of course, because naturally, they end up roommates. Written more than 20 years ago, most of it has aged well, but some humor hasn't. It has several gay characters, including the school doctor who is by far one of the best characters in the series. It also has a woman who is likely non-binary and perhaps a-sexual and her ex-husband who is bi-sexual, as well as a client of theirs who is gay (but perhaps not publicly out) and several side characters who likely gay or bi-sexual. Further, the main character, Ashiya Mizuki, is likely non-binary herself although this is never explicitly addressed. In rereading it multiple times, there are so many passages where she feels more comfortable as a boy, yet times where she misses more feminine things, that one is left to wonder. However, for all this LGBTQ+ championing, there is some homophobic humor from a male character who falls in love with Ashiya, believing she is a boy, and thus unsure of why he would be attracted to another male. Thankfully, this is a side character, and although the humor doesn't work anymore, it doesn't in anyway detract from the main burgeoning relationship and some beautiful art. With the art, there is some classic shoujo poor anatomy with overly long limbs and necks, but boy can she draw amazingly expressive eyes.

Secret of the Princess (Ohimesama no Himitsu) by Milk Morinaga - a totally sugary yuri manga. Like most of her works, this one is obvious in that girl meets girl in highschool, falls in love, everything works out. Didn't mean to spoil it, but that's always the plot of Morinaga-sensei's works. That isn't a bad thing. Sometimes you just want some fluffy high-school romance with no real weight attached. This is the like the summer beach reading of the yuri world. Nothing exploitative or fan-servicy, thankfully, but no real depth of character either. Yet, it's one of my favorites. Cute, moe-ish, art, a winning couple and an easy lovely read.

Girl Friends by Milk Morinaga - yup, just what it says, a yuri manga about high school girlfriends. Sugar-coated without being stupid. Sometimes its just nice to read a story about two people who love each other and are cute together. Morinaga-sensei is also well known for Kisses, Sighs and Cherry Blossom Pink (Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo) which is a collection of stories set in one school. Another great choice, just not as good as the other two I mentioned (in my opinion).

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata - this is an autobiographical non-traditional manga that explores emergent sexuality and clinical depression in an absolutely stunning, astounding, humorous, sad, and realistic way. This is an amazing work that should live on as a true classic transcending the genre or medium.

Kimi Ni Todoke (From Me To You) by Karuho Shiina - a fun and serious shoujo high-school romance about a young woman with classically Japanese features, so classical that she reminds people more of the girl from The Ring than the kind, smart, shy young lady she really is. But one boy knows. If the two of them can overcome their mutual shyness, might there be a chance at love? Not only does the story treat these characters with genuine affection, but the mangaka spends a lot of time developing the character arcs and development of the side characters to great effect. It's no nice to have a story that goes beyond girl meets boy while still having girl meets boy at its core.

Ouran High School Host Club by  Bisco Hatori - a smart young woman on academic scholarship at a  prestigious and elite private high school is mistaken for a boy by the beautiful leader of a strange after-school social club. As she is sucked into their world of tea-parties and extravagant events what will come of her friendship with the club members, particularly their leader? This series has a trans-female father, a non-binary lead character, and so much more. Further, it's a parody of multiple genres but transcends parody because the story itself is told with such earnestness. It manages to be funny without being cloying and yet have a serious romantic heart. So much fun and a brilliant anime as well that covers the first half of the series.

Tennen Pearl Pink (Pearl Pink) by Meca Tanaka - sadly, only a few of Tanaka-sensei's works have been translated into English, but one of the best is Tennen Pearl Pink. What to do when a young, energetic secret child of a female idol wants to get into show business? Hook her up with a boy band and do a Super Sentai-style movie where she plays the villian, that's what! It's got kindness, fun, great art, a winning mother-daughter relationship, and a sweet love story to boot. Just simple fun with no drama.

After the Rain by Jun Mayuzuki - based on the premise, I normally would have run the other way. But instead, it turned out to be one of the most thoughtful, well written, and honest-to-its-characters series. Akira is the injured track-star who has given up running. Kondo is her middle-aged, balding, divorced boss at the restaurant where she works. Why is she so sure she's in love with him? Thankfully, it never ever goes anywhere the least bit suspect and instead is an incredible character study with emotional growth for all and breathtaking art. A must read!

Here are some others worth checking out:
  • Bloom Into You
  • Say I Love You
  • Kare Kano
  • Lovely Complex (Love Com)
  • Kase-san
  • Citrus + (yes, I know it's trash)
  • Blank Canvas
  • Kisses and White Lily For My Dearest Girl (even though it's got it's problems)
  • Tokyo Tarareba Girls (just started reading, but so far so good)
  • A Silent Voice (although the movie is better)

There are so many more amazing ones out there, I'm sure I'll keep adding to this page, so check the blog for notices of when this page gets updated. Enjoy!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3