A Beginner’s Guide to Manga


Next we have shoujo, which is manga targeted at a young female audience. The most common characteristic of this genre is romance, and in the West, quite a few romantic manga are mislabelled as shoujo because of this – for example, Love Hina by Ken Akamatsu is actually a shounen. Most shoujo will also feature a young female protagonist, though I believe it is still more common for shoujo to have a male protagonist than it is for shounen to have a female one.

Some titles from this genre that you might recognise are Sailor MoonVampire Knight, and Shugo Chara!, as well as a few of the recommendations that I’ve selected below. In terms of magazines, some of the top-selling ones in Japan are CiaoRibon, and Nakayoshi, but the one that Western audiences will probably be most familiar with is Shoujo Beat – which is actually a North American magazine, and published a selection of popular shoujo manga from various different Japanese magazines.


[Please note that the following recommendations are not necessarily my favourite shoujo manga – but they are series that I think will make good starting-points for people unfamiliar with the genre.]

Bisco Hatori//Ouran High School Host Club vol. 1Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori (LaLa). A reverse-harem romantic comedy about a girl called Haruhi, who’s attending an elite school for the super-rich on a scholarship. One day, while searching for a quiet place to study, she stumbles upon the Host Club – group of attractive male students dedicated to making girls happy (basically with over-the-top flirting) – and is forced to join them in order to pay off a debt after accidentally breaking an expensive vase. This series is surprisingly not as heavy on the romance as you’d think – instead, the main draw of it is the comedy, which plays off Haruhi’s reactions to the boys’ excessive lifestyles and often ridiculous mannerisms, and their reactions to her “commoner” life. I don’t usually go in for Japanese-style comedy, but this series is hilarious.

Natsuki Takaya//Fruits Basket vol. 1Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya (Hana to Yume). This series follows a high school girl called Tohru, who, after being discovered living in a tent on one of her classmates’ property, is taken in by his family and becomes their housekeeper. Once she’s there, however, she soon discovers that the Sohma family is cursed. Whenever they’re hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into animals! This premise could easily have made the series incredibly weird, but it’s actually done really well. Tohru is a great protagonist (though a little dense), and each of the Sohmas has an interesting, and often very sad backstory, which ties into the Chinese Zodiac tales. There’s a reverse-harem aspect to this series, as well, but it’s not nearly so prominent as in Ouran High School Host Club, and the main relationship dynamic is really much more like a love-triangle – between Tohru, her classmate Yuki, and his estranged cousin Kyo.

CLAMP//Cardcaptor Sakura vol. 1Cardcaptor Sakura by CLAMP (Nakayoshi). A magical-girl series featuring Sakura, an elementary school girl who opens a magical book, and accidentally releases a whole load of spirits that were sealed inside a pack of cards hidden in the book. These spirits are called “Clow Cards”, and the story follows Sakura as she attempts to track them all down and re-seal them. Major themes in this series are friendship, teamwork, and finding one’s place in the world. There’s quite a bit of romance, too, though it’s understated (usually remaining at the “crush” stage), as most of the characters are very young, and the art is lovely. Cardcaptor Sakura is my personal favourite of CLAMP’s numerous series.

Fuyumi Ono & Shiho Inada//Ghost Hunt vol. 1Ghost Hunt by Fuyumi Ono & Shiho Inada (Nakayoshi). For those who like their stories a bit spookier, this series follows Mai, who becomes involved with an organisation called Shibuya Psychic Research when they come to investigate a supposed haunting at her school. After, she joins the company as an assistant, and throughout the series, they go on a great many ghost-hunting adventures. This manga was adapted from a popular series of light novels, so it’s incredibly well-written. The art is great as well, and there’s a whole cast of wonderful, interesting characters. I personally didn’t find most of the story arcs too scary, but they were definitely very creepy, and some of SPR’s later cases are truly chilling. There’s also a slight romantic element to the series, but it’s not too in-your-face.

Yuki Midorikawa//Natsume's Book of Friends vol. 1Natsume’s Book of Friends by Yuki Midorikawa (LaLa DX). Finally, I bring you something a little different. Natsume’s Book of Friends (also sometimes called Natsume Yuujinchou) follows Natsume, a largely isolated high school boy, who’s spent most of his life moving from relative to relative, none of whom really want him, because his ability to see spirits – and their tendency to be drawn to his power – make him behave strangely. Now living with a new family, and attending a new school, Natsume finds himself in possession of his grandmother’s old “Book of Friends”, in which she kept the names of spirits that she had defeated, so that she could call on them when she needed their help. This series is probably a bit harder to get into than the others that I’ve mentioned, but it’s absolutely worth it. The art (and colours, where they have them) is beautiful, and the story – which focuses on Natusme’s struggle to make human friends, his growing understanding of the spirits around him, and learning to accept kindness – is incredibly touching.


Happy (belated) Mother’s Day!

I haven’t been posting much recently, & I have no real excuse for that, except that I have been too busy reading! And I also managed to miss Mother’s Day (which was yesterday), but, since my own mother is too far away for hugs today, I thought I’d share some love with some of my favourite fictional mothers. 🙂 That said, there’s not that many of them. YA literature in general (which is what I mostly seem to read) is full of absent/horrible/not-even-mentioned parents, which is a shame. But here are some of the more memorable ones:

Emily Watson as Rosa Hubermann.

Emily Watson as Rosa Hubermann.

Rosa Hubermann (from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak) may not be Liesel’s birth mother, but there’s a lot of love between them anyway, and although Hans gets most of the parenting credit in this book, Rosa is a steady supporting presence, and very much in charge of discipline in the Hubermann household.

Molly Weasley, played by Julie Walters.

Molly Weasley, played by Julie Walters.

And, of course, I could never leave out Molly Weasley (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling), who has basically dedicated her entire adulthood to raising her seven (seven!) children.

Sally Jackson as portrayed by Catherine Keener in the film adaptation.

Sally Jackson as portrayed by Catherine Keener in the film adaptation.

Sally Jackson (from the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan) is another mum who gave up a lot for her son – she even went so far as to marry one of the most awful husbands I’ve ever read about, just because his incredibly potent “mortal stench” would hide Percy from monsters!

Kyoko in the Fruits Basket anime.

Kyoko in the Fruits Basket anime.

As far as manga-mothers go, again, there aren’t too many great ones, but Kyoko Honda (from Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya) definitely stands out, even though she died before the series even started. Her influence and memory is a huge part of what drives Tohru to keep doing her best, even when things are hard.

Sinéad Cusack as Mrs. Thornton (& Richard Armitage as her son Mr. Thornton) in the 2004 BBC adaptation of North & South.

Sinéad Cusack as Mrs. Thornton (& Richard Armitage as her son Mr. Thornton) in the 2004 BBC adaptation of North & South.

And last, but by no means least, I give you Mrs. Thornton (from Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South). She may not be the kindest or gentlest of mothers, and she sometimes seems a little obsessive in her love for her son, but, as Mr. Thornton tells Margaret, “I had such a mother as few are blest with; a woman of strong power, and firm resolve.”

Happy Chinese New Year!

… Not that I will be doing anything particularly special to celebrate, since I’m no longer in China, but I thought I could share some more-or-less-related bookish things with you all. 🙂 Today begins the year of the sheep (or goat, depending on your translation), which (according to this website, at least) will be a year for getting my way (I’m a snake, in case you were wondering). Other websites say various different things, but I’m an optimist, so I live in hope. 😉

But anyway, here are a couple of interesting literary sheep:

Animal Farm - sheep

The sheep in the 1954 animation of Animal Farm.

The flock of sheep in Animal Farm are probably the closest George Orwell comes to comic relief in this book – simple-minded, propaganda-spreading creatures that they are. Their chorus of “Four legs good; two legs bad” always comes at the most appropriate moments, and they are Napoleon’s most dedicated followers (except for the dogs).

Hiro as a sheep

Hiro in his sheep form.

On a slightly different note, there’s Hiro Sohma in the Fruits Basket series by Natsuki Takaya. Actually, the whole of Fruits Basket draws heavily from the eastern zodiac story for inspiration, and all the animals are represented… but the sheep is Hiro, a sarcastic 12-year-old boy who has a gigantic crush on Kisa (the tiger), and is often trying to pick a fight with the main character Tohru (who Kisa idolises).

… And in case you need some more sheep in your life, I give you this song by Mawkin:Causley about a particularly unfortunate sheepdog…