The Apothecary Diaries, Vol. 1
This is quite a different light novel from what we’re used to seeing. It features a unique setting inspired by a historic Chinese imperial palace, complete with consorts, eunuchs, internal politics, and people of varying levels of morality. The protagonist, Maomao, is a teenage girl and apothecary worker in a red-light district that had been kidnapped and sold into service in the rear palace. She’s also quite the “mad scientist” who likes personally testing poisons and seeing their effects and how much she can handle of them. This does make her ideal for her eventual job as poison tester to one of the consorts, but also gives her a curious streak that gets her involved in all sorts of incidents, as well as draws the attention of the beautiful “eunuch” Jinshi. The book does read like a mystery novel at times, as Maomao figures out more about the reasons behind various incidents, some of which tie in to events later in the book, so just because one “mystery” is solved doesn’t mean it is completely out of the picture. Maomao’s antics also add a lot of comedy to the story, as her constant pursuit of medical knowledge and her overall snarky and amusing observations of story events provide for plenty of entertainment to keep readers interested in everything going on. This combination of a unique and interesting setting, intriguing storylines, and Maomao’s chaos makes this one of the best new light novels I have started, and is definitely recommended for those looking for something different. ~ stardf29
The Apothecary Diaries Vol. 1 is available from J-Novel Club.
Star⇄Crossed!!, Vol. 1
The newest series from Junko, the mangaka behind Kiss Him, Not Me, features the same irreverent humor packaged into a body-switching story line. Chika is a pop idol member of the group, Prince 4 U, and Azusa is his biggest fan. The two find themselves switching bodies due to a heavenly error after she attempts to save him from an accident, and hi-jinks (and a little romance) ensue. Similar to her previously popular series, this one leans toward the outrageous end in its comedy (“God” features prominently as he tries to rectify the error his people—angels?—caused) and also dips in and out between straight romance and yaoi relationships, while establishing compelling characters and a breakneck pace. Highly entertaining, it’s similarities in tone and story to Kiss Him, Not Me ensure that if you like that series, this one is also likely to tickle your fancy. ~ Twwk
Star⇄Crossed!! Vol. 1 is available through Kodansha.
When Haru died, she left behind a devoted and high energy older sister, Natsume, and Togo, a quiet, wealthy fiance. The funeral should have ended their connection, but at Togo’s request, the two start on a peculiar relationship that, guided along by the changing seasons, will take them through challenges of family, grief, and heartbreak. This one-volume work begins from such a painful moment that one would think it would be dark and depressing throughout. And though it is quite moody, Haru’s Curse is also often humorous and features surprising moments of optimism, though always saturated by an authenticity that grounds this manga in real world emotions and choices. The art style is angular and sparse, which was difficult for me to engage with at first, but by the end seemed natural, and even quite beautiful in the few pages that are colored. And the story, as simple as it is, feels complete despite some discomfort the ending brings—though it feels as if this lovely little find, which at one point brought me dangerously close to tears, could only end in the way it does. ~ Twwk
Haru’s Curse is available through Kodansha.
My Friend’s Little Sister Has it in for Me! Vol. 1
Akiteru is pretty sure every girl around him holds him in disdain. Whether it’s his best friend’s sister Iroha, who teases him mercilessly, or his uncle’s daughter Mashiro, who was forced to pretend to be his girlfriend and has no intention to act the part when not in public, he can’t imagine that the trope of girls being mean to the guy they like could possibly be true. The reality is, of course, that there’s more to these characters than at first glance, both for Aki and for the readers. The characters definitely make for the highlight of this light novel, especially as they start to help each other out as they learn more about each other. Also, Aki leads a small indie game company, which plays a big part of the story, albeit with more of a focus on the characters’ ambitions rather than the specifics of how the game is made. Overall this is a great read that I’m looking forward to reading more of, and with an anime adaptation coming, it is also a perfect time to check out the source material beforehand. ~ stardf29
My Little Sister Has It In For Me! Vol. 1 is available from J-Novel Club.
Those Not-So-Sweet Boys, Vol. 1
Part of the appeal of shoujo is when a series turns the bad boy into a good boy, thereby capturing, well, everything that can be attractive about males in the first place. Well, what about doing that for three central characters? That’s the plot for Those Not-So-Sweet Boys, in which optimistic protagonist, Midori, finds herself tasked with getting three delinquents to coming back to school and being part of the class. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but much like the most beloved shoujo series, this one is highly engaging by attracting us to all the central characters in the tale. Combined with lovely character designs, it more than makes up for a lack of creativity and detailing, and in fact, judging from volume one, could be the road toward becoming a very, very special series. ~ Twwk
Those Not-So-Sweet Boys, Vol. 1 is available through Kodansha.
Frozen 2 is, as the title suggests, is a manga adaptation of the Disney film of the same name. It’s a gorgeous, single volume manga by Arina Tanemura, who is well known in the shoujo world and was one of the lead character designers for Idolish7. Her artwork is expressive and encapsulates the characters from the film very well. However, some of the plot is cut for space. If you aren’t familiar with the movie, there may be some confusion. But let’s face it…who is going to read a Frozen 2 manga adaptation besides those who have already seen the movie? I, for one, loved Frozen 2 and also loved this manga adaptation. While it’s rated “Teen,” it is definitely appropriate for younger readers. My nine-year-old read it immediately after me, proving that both the story and this manga have plenty to give for adults and children alike. I’m certainly glad I read it. ~ MDMRN
Frozen 2 is available through Viz.