Podzilla 1985

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Shoujo Fan's Top Picks

A small part of my manga collection
I enjoy reading manga. I spend far too much time doing so really. It's rotting my brain, but I can't seem to give it up. I don't really want to. I like taking a dive into fiction after work.

My genre of choice is shoujo. For the laymen that would be girl's comics that generally have a romance theme and pretty characters. I like pretty drawings.  I'm a big fan of pretty much anything by Clamp, the powers behind Card Captor Sakura and Magic Knight Rayearth.

There's some good shounen, boy's comics that are usually more action oriented, out there but it's hit and miss with the art for me. If I think a series has an ugly style of drawing I'll usually ignore it. A bunch of people love One Piece but I won't give it the time of day cause I can't get past the art. I'm bias like that. I love Bakuman, which is all about making it as a manga artist, and despite all of the excessive fan service High School of the Dead is a good read too, plus if you want to know what happens after the anime it's all there is.

I will admit I'm also a mild fujoshi. What the hell is that you ask? It's literal translation is "rotten girl" but in the manga world it's a fan-girl of gay romance stories. So I enjoy the occasional shounen ai, boys love, series such as Fake or Gravitation. Most female anime and manga fans go through a stage of it, or so I've noticed. Usually because of falling across slash fan fiction of their current favorite series.  Some take the obsession a little far though, and they're the ones who tend to make us all look like nut cases. The trend is large enough though that Otaku USA has added a fujoshi culture section to it's manga reviews.

The manga that follows are some of my all time favorites. They are in the order that I've discovered them rather than by favorites. Mostly because I can't really pick which one I like more than another. Several of these titles I have read, or am currently reading, online but the ones that are complete I do own hard copies of the entire series. Reading online is fine, but it's always good to support the titles you love as well.

I love this cover art from "Sailor Moon"
The series that started it all for me was Sailor Moon. It has played  a huge role in shaping me into the person I am today. It made me decide I wanted to go to college for art rather than teaching, and opened the doors to world of anime and manga.
The tale of Usagi Tsukino, a middle school student who learns she's a magical  warrior destined to save the world, is full of emotion, great story telling and amazing characters. It's got romance, comedy, action and drama. Plus the art is beautiful.

I actually saw the anime before I found the manga in a local comic book store. The two are closely linked but the manga has a darker feel to it at times. Unlike the silly monsters in the anime the dark creatures and melting skeletons in the manga really kinda freaked me out at times. This universe has a way of sucking you in and making you love it. It has diverse believable characters, whether they be heroes or villains, with colorful back grounds and histories. If you don't already know this world I highly recommend the read, and if you have read it go read it again.

A fresh translation by the American branch of Kodansha Comics is currently being released bi-monthly in the 10th anniversary format, with the same new covers, that was published in Japan in 2001. The first run was good, but the new translation adds in touches that were lost the first go around. They also add cultural notes, at the end of the book, for anything that you might not understand the references to. Vol. 7 was just released this month. There will be 12 vols. in all this time rather than the 18 it had in it's first run.

Peach Girl is another long time favorite for me. This high school story follows Momo Adachi, a girl who tans very easily in the sun. She becomes obsessed with getting paler skin, when a friend tells her the boy she has a crush on doesn't like tan girls. Aside from her self-consciousness with her skin, she also has a copy cat problem of a friend who's out to wreck her life.

 The characters start out a little flat but grow as the series goes on. It's got love triangles, betrayal and blackmail. Typical school bullying, friendships and romances are the foundations of the story as Momo grows up and learns that love isn't always easy.

The characters can be a bit whiny at times, most teenagers are after all. You will want to punch Sae in the face more than once and wonder how the hell is she getting away with the crap she pulls. I found myself easily becoming emotionally invested in these characters, and wanting to know what the out come would be. It's another long read at 18 volumes, but well worth it. I've gone back a re-read this series a dozen times over and I still enjoy it as much as the first time.

Mars was an unplanned find for me, just kind randomly picked up the first volume at Borders one day and got hooked.  Kira is a quiet students who likes art and keeps to herself. Rei is the 'bad boy' who smokes on school grounds, plays around with girls and rides motorcycles. On a chance meeting their lives cross paths when Kira draws Rei a map to a local hospital so he can visit a friend.

Both main characters have dark pasts that haunt them, and they learn to rely on each other more than their families through some difficult times. They both grow as people as they try to make it on their own and help one another. I love both of these characters, but Kira being an artist is what really drew me in at first. It gave me something to relate to since I really couldn't have cared less about the world of motorcycle racing. But even that aspect of the story was well explained. I learned about it as Kira did from Rei. It's a very emotionally charged read and dives into the world of suppressed memories and childhood traumas.

Hana-Kimi is in one of my favorite subcategories of manga. It's a gender bender. Mizuki Ashiya transfers from her home in the USA to a high school in Japan so she can go to school with her favorite tack and field star. Trouble is he goes to an all boys school. So she hides her gender and does her best to blend in. On her first day she meets her idol, Izumi Sano and learns that she's not only in his class at school but they will be room mates in the dorms.

Lots of comedy and conflict in this one, with misunderstandings and characters getting confused about their sexual orientation. One character falls for Mizuki and starts thinking he's gay, since he doesn't know his friend is really a girl. I still snicker at some of the gags and situations when I go back for a re-read. Strong friendships and romantic relationships are formed and tested through this series as the boys of Osaka High School, and Mizuki, learn and grow up.

I love the colorful cast of side characters that range from intense athletes and pretty playboys to a gay school doctor who's Mizuki's only confidant. A few of the characters start out pretty flat, but they are flushed out more as the story moves on and they begin to play larger roles in Mizuki's adventure. At 23 volumes Hana-Kimi is the longest series I've grown to love, and it's worth every book.

Ouran High School Host Club is another gender bender manga, blended with the harem genre. Granted it's a reverse harem since it's all good looking guys, but it's harem none the less.

Haruhi Fujioka, a poor scholarship student attending a rich kid's academy, is forced to join her school's host club when she accidentally breaks a very expensive vase and is mistaken for a boy. To repay the money she is to serve as the club's 'dog' and tend to their needs. After realizing she'd make a good host, they change the arrangement so that she too will entertain their customers. So to repay her debt she hides her gender from her classmates.

The boys of the club realize their mistake early on and help Haruhi hide that she's really a girl, and take fun in knowing it's their little secret. Haruhi is a really likeable heroin, which is surprising in a shoujo harem story. Usually you just want to strangle them cause they whine too much. She's very down to earth and actually rather blunt when it comes to speaking her mind. Since her dad happens to be a cross dresser she doesn't see pretending to be a boy that big of a deal either. Her world is rather small though since all she usually does is study. The boys irritate her at times but in the long run show he there's more to life than studying. In their own ways each of the host club members start to crush on their new member, though most don't even realize it themselves.

With six rich boys lot of chaos can ensue so you get lots of laughs with some drama mixed in. The real love story doesn't start to develop until later, but when it does you'll be squirming for them to just confess to each other. There is not a single character in this world that I dislike. They're all lovable in there own way. You have trouble making twins, a cake loving plushie carrying karate master, a calculating shadow king, a stoic swords man and an idiot prince. What more could you want? A dark art's master who carry's a cat puppet? Oh we have that too!

Skip Beat is my current obsession. It's killing me that I only get a few pages every month when it use to be a bi-weekly release online.

Kyoko is the very soul of a girl scorn. Tossed aside by the boy she gave up everything for, she's determined to get revenge on the fast rising music star. How will she do this? By becoming a bigger star than he is. Trouble is though, how can you get fans to love you when you refuse to ever love again?

 Her lack of love gains her a spot in the 'love me' section of LME studios. It's a training program for idols. Can she learn to love acting for what it is rather than seeing it as a means of revenge?

There's lot's of tension in this one and it keeps you wanting more. Between Kyoko's hatred for Shou and her need to stay on good terms with her mentor Ren, there's lots of ups and downs. Along with trying to be a star she still longs for the things she's missed out on, such a as the high school life and friends in general. Despite her anger Kyoko is really a sweetheart-ed girl who just chose to follow the wrong guy.

I want more right now but I have to wait a couple more weeks. It's killing me....really it is. The romantic tension that's been built up between Kyoko and Ren is driving me crazy. I need him to just freaking kiss her already. I know it's not happening any time soon, but it needs to. This series is still running so it's at 193 chapters, or about 31 volumes so far. Why can't I ever pick a  short series? Seriously.

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