Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie, Vol. 1
Shikimori seems like the perfect girlfriend—cute, sweet, bashful. But Izumi knows that’s only half her personality. Like some moe Jekyll and Hyde, in moments where her boyfriend needs her most, she becomes a super cool and dashing young woman, and it’s especially that part of her personality that Izumi loves so much. Volume one of this fun series doesn’t just play around with this unique personality switching, it also introduces a really fun dynamic. Izumi is lovable but clumsy accident prone, and the sudden transformation of Shikimori into a suave, athletic girlfriend who comes to his rescue time and time and time again swaps traditional gender roles, with Izumi playing the “girl role” and Shikimori the “boy one.” While it’s a source of laughs, there’s a lot of sweetness there, making for a compelling and cute read. Just as importantly, the art style of mangaka Keigo Maki
Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie, Vol. 1 is available through Kodansha.
Why Shouldn’t a Detestable Demon Lord Fall in Love?! Vol. 1
Anima is the most powerful entity in the world, feared by commoners and demons alike—all flee before his mighty power, which presents a little problem since all he really wants is a wife and family! So how does one solve such a conundrum? How about a kind-hearted and beautiful maiden summoning him by her side to her own world! Sol Press’ release oozes lovey-doveyness even beyond what you’d expect from the above summary. When Anima arrives in a new land, he immediately falls head over heals for the lovely Luina and takes on the mantle of caregiver and “daddy” for his newfound family. It’s a bit heavy-handed, and I don’t mean the saccharine sweet tone, which is just fine—the conversations, however, are often inane and repetitive. Worse, Anima loses his personality after the first handful of pages and becomes quite a boring character. However, there is hope for the series. Despite how OP Anima is, there are hints of dread on the horizon, and though this sweet series may never go totally dark, there’s opportunity here for the author to earn the love he’s created between his leads through the deeds of the story’s villain and the mechanics of summoning and magic. The best parts of volume one involve foreshadowing and world-building, so here’s hoping those strong elements continue to develop in future volumes. ~ Twwk
Why Shouldn’t a Destestable Demon Lord Fall in Love?! Vol. 1 is available through Sol Press.
Unnamed Memory, Volume 1
Billing itself as “an epic fairy tale,” this new light novel from Yen Press surprised me. It felt unexpectedly reminiscent of western fantasy (as opposed to the sorts of fantasy stories more common to anime and light novels). I can’t quite put my finger on why I get this vibe, but it’s there, and I enjoyed it. Perhaps the capriciousness and danger of the story’s fantastical elements evoke western fairy tales. As the story opens, Prince Oscar, cursed by a witch to be unable to continue the royal line, seeks a boon from the world’s strongest witch, Tinasha. When she can’t break the curse, Oscar sets his sights on marrying her, which would effectively circumvent the curse. I’m tempted to call this a fantasy-romance-mystery story, since secrets and intrigue abound. There seem to be multiple, separate antagonists or factions at work, and there are also indications that time travel is involved. Besides hinting at various mysteries, this volume serves to introduce the the romantic leads, Oscar and Tinasha. The two are quite stubborn and have some good rapport…but they also might totally kill each other. I look forward to the next volume. ~ Jeskai Angel
Unnamed Memory is available through Yen Press.
One Piece, Vol. 1
So, recently I decided to do something ridiculous. I told my Twitter followers that if I was able to get my follower count back above 3,000 I would start reading the One Piece manga. It’s a huge fandom and one of the biggest manga series in the world. It took my followers less than 3 hours to get me back above that threshold. So, true to my word – I started reading it. So, at the time I wrote this I am finishing up the first volume’s worth of chapters. My thoughts so far? I’m really enjoying it. The story kicks off with kid Luffy and introduces you very quickly into the entire world setting Oda has created. From the widespread piracy to the corrupt government to the magic fruit that gives Luffy his stretchy powers, it’s all explained in those first few chapters. I’ve read a lot of short lived manga series that gave us an oversized first chapter that tried aggressively to shove the reader into the plot and world setting too quickly. One Piece brings us into the world masterfully without any of it feeling forced. Instead, I felt immersed in the new characters as they were introduced and enamored by Luffy. I think I’m going to like this series, so feel free to follow me on my journey. ~ MDMRN
Harem Royale ~When the game ends~, Volume 1
From the creator of Higurashi and Umineko comes a manga with quite the twisted concept. Asunaro is a high school boy who fantasizes about having a harem but has no desire to try to get a girlfriend in reality. When he releases a demon from a sealed bottle, though, said demon decides to “grant his wish for a harem life”… by dragging the girls he fantasizes about into a deadly game of seduction. A number of girls must compete in various tasks to appeal to Asunaro, with the goal to be the one girl he chooses at the end, and any girl that fails will be subjected to being repeatedly killed in Hell. It’s an absolutely vile setup designed specifically for grief and suffering, which is why I’m glad the story at least focuses more on the efforts of four girls not to try to destroy each other or indulge in the whole “harem” romancing thing, but instead how they can try to work around the rules of the game so all of them can survive, while watching out for outside forces trying to sabotage them. As such, it reads less like a sleazy harem story and more like a thriller with mind games and strategizing. With Asunaro himself out of the loop that this death game is happening, though, it does mean that he has no real characterization worth speaking of, and the girls also don’t have much characterization beyond how they are trying to survive the game. Overall, it’s not my type of story so I probably won’t read any more of it, but if “harem death game” with a focus on mutual survival sounds good to you, this should serve fine. (Content warning: there’s a few depictions of detailed upper-body nudity.)
Harem Royale, Vol. 1 is available from Sol Press.
Fushi no Kami: Rebuilding Civilization Starts with a Village, Volume 1
The latest reincarnation isekai light novel centered around using modern knowledge to improve lives, Fushi no Kami is a solid entry for those who like that kind of story. The premise might be very familiar, but the execution works well on many fronts. For example, the protagonist Ash not only has to learn how to read the language of the world he’s now in, but also gets to put some linguistic knowledge to use in order to try to decipher ancient languages. Likewise, the story goes fairly in-depth with what sorts of developments are needed to improve life and how to actually execute said developments. However, it is with the characters themselves where the story particularly shines; the narration not only gets into Ash’s head and his thoughts about everything but also switches viewpoints frequently to those of other characters, which helps with understanding and developing all of them as they start to grow to accommodate Ash’s newfound passions. The only downside is that, for as bright as Ash can be with improving the quality of life, he’s rather dense when it comes to romance. Overall, this is a nice, more down-to-earth isekai story that I certainly would like to read more of. ~ stardf29
Fushi no Kami, Vol. 1 is available from J-Novel Club.
Shirahime-Syo is a single volume series from CLAMP filled with tales of romance and loss in the winter. Interconnected through each of the stories is that the winter itself is living component of the story as the Snow Goddess. Each of the 5 chapters of this single volume set is in ancient Japan during blistering wintery conditions and tell about different tales of love. Some of the stories are tragic, while others are more bittersweet. CLAMP’s art style in this set of folktale style stories were completed with a brush and ink. This gave the art a more traditional flair than more modern pen inking. This was, apparently, done as a cost and time cutting measure; however, the choice to complete the art with a brush and ink helped fit into the setting very well. It entirely felt like you were being told some traditional folktales and I really enjoyed it. ~ MDMRN
Shirahime-Syo is available through Viz.
Keito Koume Illustrations Spice & Wolf: The Tenth Year Calvados
One of the attractions of both manga and light novels is the illustrations—even in the age of video, still images can remain compelling, especially when masterfully drawn. Keito Koume is certainly a master, and has been the mangaka for the Spice & Wolf manga adaptation for the last 10+ years. To celebrate the decade of his work, a lovely artbook featuring many of the manga’s illustrations, as well original pieces and those from other materials, has been released. The work also has a lovely monochrome illustrations section, a new short comic, and a thumbnail gallery of all the illustrations, including references and Koume’s own commentary. The Tenth Year Calvados is a must-have collector’s item for fans of this classic franchise, and worth checking out even for those who aren’t. Though a bit of warning: Just as with the other platforms, this artbook features heavy doses of a mostly and occasionally fully nude wise wolf. ~ Twwk
Thank you to Kodansha, Sol Press, and Yen Press for providing review copies for some of the materials reviewed above. Featured illustration by 和遥キナ (reprinted w/permission).