Solo Leveling, Vol. 1 (novel)
The immensely popular webtoon, Solo Leveling, features a basic premise about a young man rising from the lowest of ranks of “hunting” to become incredibly strong. It’s most appreciated for its art, so the question is, if the story is mundane, does it’s forerunner, which lacks any illustrations, hold up? It does—surprisingly well. Volume one of Chugong’s novel series, originally published on the web and now being released by Yen Press, traces the story of Level-E ranked hunter, Jin-Woo, in mesmerizing detail as he “levels up” following an experience that should have lead to his demise. That opening is only one of a number of violent but engaging episodes in the novel, which also relies heavily on descriptions of game-like mechanics. As the rare anime fan that isn’t a gamer, my eyes usually glaze over such details, but Chugong’s vivid but spare descriptions kept me engaged, as the protagonist moves quickly along his journey, which still, is well structured, even if his characterization if less developed. That’s both a flaw of the series and a point of question: Is Jin-woo’s desire for “Money, honor, and power” meant to be admired, glossed over, or criticized? I’m not yet sure, and I wonder if Jin-Woo’s moral development will become a significant part of the story beneath the well-crafted verneer of fighting and powering up, which as imaginative as it is, can’t very well carry an entire series—can it? ~ Twwk
Solo Leveling is published by Yen Press, which provided a review copy.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project, Vol. 18
I did it (insert GIF of everyone applauding Shinji here). I finally finished reading Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project. And let me tell you something about it: While there are science fiction undertones and references to the original series throughout that give you genuine laughs, by the end, the series is primarily just an ecchi teen romantic comedy with Evangelion characters as window dressing. Every chapter is an opportunity for Shinji to mistakenly trip, fall, and accidentally grope a girl. Every other chapter, by the end, sees a character with exposed breasts—sometimes because of said clusiness, sometimes because the mangaka just decides to draw an extended group bathing scene. This volume gives the final actual reference to an Evangelion, but once again, there’s no actual use of it. This alternate Eva-verse is, in the end, a school harem romance and not a science fiction epic that discusses about real issues like depression. For some, that’s fine. For others, the blatant fanservice will be too much. For me, I am still so very struck by how out of character both Shinji and Gendo act in this series when compared to the original . I guess Yui Ikari being alive really made a huge difference! ~ MDMRN
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project, Vol. 18 is published by Dark Horse Comics.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
First released in the U.S. eleven years ago, and originally published in 2004, Yen Press has rereleased The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (along with all the others) to coincide with the new Haruhi Suzumiya light novel. After all this time, it holds up surprisingly well, and in fact perhaps takes on more meaning now in the booming light novel industry as a series that—as with the anime—inspired so many of today’s writers. A quick read—it tells just one longer tale instead of several shorter one, coming in at under 200 pages—every sentence is meaningful, every chapter tightly structured, and every emotion hits with precision and sharpness as the series at once returns to an older act, takes the story to new places (and new heights), and brings in questions from the future as Kyon wakes to discover that the SOS Brigade has disbanded, no one has ever hear of a Haruhi Suzumiya, and Asahani and Nagato no longer have their peculiar powers. The volume works so well because it depends on those preceding it, not only for it’s “return to the past” plot but also as it ramps up the nostalgia and emotions in both Kyon and the reader. Everything is predicated on how the reader feels about these characters, leading to a tale that’s simultaneously a love fest for the series and one that is satisfying in its own right. Disappearance proves to be, much like its characters, a light novel that surely is timeless. ~ Twwk
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is published by Yen Press, which provided a review copy.
The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?), Vol. 1
What we have with this mouthful of a title is a more comedic (and non-isekai) take on the kingdom-running light novel. Prince Wein is appointed regent to run the country of Natra in place of his ailing father, but given how terrible the state of his nation is in financially, he would much rather just sell the country off and run away. Yeah, he’s lazy and a coward. The problem is, he’s also a bit too smart for his own good, and plans that he intend to go towards relieving his workload and avoiding confrontation only make people believe he can totally win wars and bring the country back to greatness. (It helps that the countries trying to deal with Natra have issues of their own…) The result is an amusing read as I had fun seeing Wein pull out plans that work a bit too well and have him suffering from success. I also liked how his relationship with Ninym, his childhood friend and primary aide, is framed in the story both as a teammate that Wein relies on to help run the country, and also a close companion (and love interest) whom he banters with but also trusts deeply and does not tolerate any insults toward her from others. Overall I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from this series and how Wein will continue to help his country more than he might want to. ~ stardf29
The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt (Hey, How About Treason?), Vol. 1 is available from Yen Press.
Dragon Head was a horror manga series I picked up last year from a Kodansha Halloween Humble Bundle. Let me tell you—it is dark, earning its way into that genre heading. The first volume begins with three teenagers trying to survive in an underground subway tunnel after an earthquake event caused its collapse. As the story progresses, and effects on the surface world around them are revealed, the characters discover that the earthquake was no isolated incident but something that struck all of Japan. It is gritty and violent at times. Yet, the overall story and a desire to see how these characters survive kept me reading page after page. I finished the entire 10 volume series in about three days time as I had a hard time putting it down. The ending is is a hard one, and perhaps very fitting for this work, leading readers to consider how widespread the problems that struck and set the events of the series really are. Psychological horror indeed. ~ MDMRN
Dragon Head is published by Kodansha.
Silver Spoon, Vol. 1
With Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood continuing its tear through our annual AniMarch Madness tournament, I turn my attention to the other now-classic work from mangaka Hiromu Arakawa. Silver Spoon, which ended its run in 2019, is a fish out of water tale featuring high school freshman Hachiken, an academic-focused city boy who decides to attend an agricultural high school in Hokkaido. Volume one has fun with his inability to get used to farm life, though it also sensitively looks at his reasons for choosing this high school while showing that even early on, Hachiken is growing, such as when he condescends horses only to be taught how the majestic animals can show the rider a different perspective on life. It doesn’t take long for readers to grow attached to the series characters, like Aikawa, who is the determined to overcome his sensitivity to blood and death to become a veterinarian, and Nishikawa, who loves tractors and mecha. But most of all, Hachiken makes for a compelling character. Like Edward from FMA, Hachiken is easily frustrated but kind and open; it’s lovely to see him already developing among friends so different from what he’s used to, even while seeing him frequently fall (and slowly get back up)—a source of laughter page after page in this wonderful introductory volume. ~ Twwk
Silver Spoon, Vol. 1 is published by Yen Press, which provided a review copy.