I remember the blissful afternoons when I would get home from school, turn on the TV, and just plop down on my bed to watch anime. I grew up in the time of Wedding Peach, Marmalade Boy, Daimos, Voltes V, Akazukin Chacha, Cardcaptor Sakura, Ghost Fighter, Flame of Recca, Gundam Wing, and Fushigi Yuugi re-runs (back when “unite” was just another innocuous word. Thanks a lot, Nakago). Good times, good times. I read (and wrote, regrettably) a lot of fanfiction as well because the feels were too powerful to be left unattended.
Manga, on the other hand, is something I didn’t get into until recently. I’m pretty sure it was hard to get a hold of decent translated scans back in my day, and I didn’t want to get obsessed with collecting a ton of volumes I wouldn’t know what to do with after reading a few times. I think my foray into manga started when I finished watching Kimi Ni Todoke (Reaching You), which drove me absolutely bonkers because it was so adorable and romantic and relatable! As I sat in front of my laptop, browsing Fanfiction.net for the nth time, I thought, ‘There’s gotta be something more. More official!’ So, I Googled “Kimi Ni Todoke manga,” and the rest is history.
Manga Fox is my go-to website. I think there’s beef between sites like Manga Fox, which collates all the manga you can ever possibly want, and smaller sites that translate only the manga they choose to work on. I guess it’s because the smaller sites work so hard to translate, and Manga Fox just gets their work and their website traffic. Maybe? I’m so sorry, smaller sites! I really like Manga Fox because everything’s there already. I’m sorry. :s
I’ve read a lot of manga thanks to those four-hour-long commutes to and from the office, and a precious few have made it to my Bookmarks folder. Below are the completed works (save for one) that I really, really enjoyed (i.e. made me lose my marbles shipping so hard). If you’re just getting into manga like I am, I highly recommend these. Ready your precious heart for the barrage of feels.
1. KIMI NI TODOKE (REACHING YOU)
Plot: Sawako Kuronuma is a sweet, thoughtful, and shy high school girl, but her problem is people mistake her for Sadako. Yknow, that creepy girl from The Ring, because of her long hair and her peculiar ways of approaching others. She means well, but she just comes off a little creepy. So, no friends, no social life, no boyfriend. But when one of the popular boys at her school, Shota Kazehaya, starts getting closer to her, after he becomes smitten with her the minute she gives him directions on their first day of school, she finds herself in situations she has never been in before. She starts to make friends, finds her confidence, and gets a chance at love.
I love this. IlovethisIlovethisIlovethisIlovethismanga. I thought nothing could be better than Honey and Clover, but then Kimi Ni Todoke happened to me. I think I can say this manga is my favorite. The show had me jumping on my bed, squealing, pulling my hair, and pushing this on other people because I needed someone to share the load of this cute, crazy madness. I suppose I really like it because I can relate so much to Sawako. She’s sweet and awkward, but all she’s trying to do is be a better person. She makes you want to root for her so much. You can’t help but want all the best for her. And I also want to thank all the Kazehayas in the world for reaching out to the quiet ones, befriending them and seeing the best in them. I SHIP KAZEHAYA AND SAWAKO SO HARD.
The show did a really fine job of staying true to the manga, but it only goes up to a certain point in the story. If you want to know what happens to Sawako and her friends, you gotta read the manga. If you can only read one from my list, pick this one. Choose this one. Love this one.
Plot: Kira is an artist that hides behind her medium and is generally mistrustful of men. Rei is a delinquent, a playboy, and a badass motorcyclist. By chance, they meet when Rei asks Kira for directions. (What is it with love stories starting with asking for directions?) Instead of telling him to go right and left and right again, she draws him a map. On the opposite side of the paper she used, he finds one of her drawings of a mother and child. Intrigued, he remembers her. By chance again, they discover they’re in the same class, and Rei walks in on their teacher sexually harassing Kira. Rei promises to protect her and offers himself as a model for her art, unexpectedly starting a bond between two opposites carrying their own baggage and each struggling to overcome the demons of their past and present.
By looking at the art alone, you can tell Mars is the oldest one in the bunch. It was released in the 90s when I was still a young’un. Mars is the darkest manga on this list. It brings up violence, suicide, rape, death, and loss. It’s not completely off-putting, but it’s definitely for mature readers. It’s the most serious manga I’ve read so far. Mars deals with heavy stuff, but it was also remarkable to see how the characters addressed their problems, overcame them, and changed for better (or for worse) in the process. It’s worth a read, especially if you’re looking for something with more depth.
3. TAIYOU NO IE (HOUSE OF THE SUN)
Plot: Mao, an eccentric high school student from a troubled family, writes about her life in her cellphone novel under a sobriquet. There, she tries to make sense of her mother running off to be with another man, her father remarrying to a woman with a child, and feeling abandoned. When Hiro—her childhood friend whom she spent her younger years with and whose parents perished due to an accident, which caused his separation from his siblings when they were put under the care of different relatives—learns of her situation, he invites her to live with him. Hiro’s dream of bringing his family back together under one roof becomes hers. And they grow closer and closer as the days go by.
Taiyou No Ie is such a lovely story—if you can be cool about a romantic relationship between an adult man and a high school girl. I’ll tell you now that it’s not that kind of story, even though it seems like it. It’s really about family and not giving up on what’s important. I identified with Mao because her tastes are a little weird, but she embraces that. She withdraws into herself and in her novel when things get tough, which is what I often do as well. But then she has these bursts of self-belief despite her shortcomings that not only makes her a stronger person, but they also inspire the people around her to take that extra step to be brave, reach out, and hold on to what matters. Then you forget that Mao and Hiro are such an unlikely pair—like, you two aren’t even legal—but you’ll be very invested in these characters anyway. It’s a wonderful story, believe me.
4. AO HARU RIDE (BLUE SPRING RIDE)
Plot: Kou Tanaka and Futaba Yoshioka felt that little tingle in their hearts when they found themselves stuck under the shade of a temple roof one rainy day. Then he moved away all of a sudden before she can tell him her feelings. Fast forward several years later, Futaba is in high school, armed with a mission to make the most out of her life. Then she suddenly runs into Kou again because they’re schoolmates, but he goes under the name Mabuchi then and seems like a completely different person. Cold, crude, and sarcastic. What happened to the kind boy she used to like in junior high? And does he still like her?
I became such a fan of Io Sakisaka after reading Ao Haru Ride. The way she draws her characters is the first thing that attracted me to her work. They look very natural with big, expressive eyes and minimal embellishment. Her artistic style is the kind I really like and look for in manga. Plus her stories are wonderful. When I think of “slice of life” manga, I think of Io Sakisaka. She doesn’t make her work over-the-top or unrealistic. Everything can happen in real life, and even though I didn’t grow up in Japan, Ao Haru Ride made me feel nostalgic and really invested in the characters. And, well, I’m a girl. Kou Tanaka/Mabuchi is hot, yo. Broody, masculine, pulls you to him when you least expect it. Yes. YES.
5. HIRUNAKA NO RYUUSEI (DAYTIME SHOOTING STAR)
Plot: Suzume has lived in the countryside all her life until she had to move to the city to live with her uncle. It’s clear that homegirl is different from the city folk. She moves to the beat of her own drum in a city that she doesn’t understand yet and that doesn’t understand her. On her way to her uncle, a tall, peculiar stranger helps her find her way. (Again with the directions! If you want to find love, get lost.) And it turns out he’s her uncle’s friend, Satsuki Shishio—who also happens to be a teacher at her school. Hirunaka No Ryuusei examines Suzume’s first brush with love—and, to quote Manga Fox, “the agony of what comes after.”
Again, we have another story that involves a grown-up and a teenager. That’s a fascination of the Japanese we just have to live with, but Hirunaka No Ryuusei is a stunning coming-of-age story. It was interesting to see how a peculiar girl like Suzume sees love at a young age. She equates love to a daytime shooting star—something rare, unique, and special, something that sets her heart in a flurry and makes her yearn for it, something that changes her world. And she tells this to Shishio, despite the fact that he’s her teacher, her uncle’s friend, and they can’t be together unless he’s cool with going to jail. Still, what a goddamn beautiful thing to say about love to the person you love! That alone got me hooked on this manga. Mika Yamamori, the author, did a splendid job of developing her characters, getting the reader to really care about what happens to all of them, and keeping you on your toes until the very end. Trust me, until the very end.
So, there. Hope y’all enjoyed that. I find reading manga really therapeutic, especially if I just want something light and funny on the way home after a long day. There’s really nothing shameful in just wanting to read romantic stuff spread out in frames. Ugh, manga gives me life.