How’s your Christmas shopping list looking? Still got a few people to buy for? Any otaku on your list? If so, let me submit for your consideration some of these manga and light novels below! We’ve got a slew of series we’re covering this week, from published webtoons to backstories to Netflix live-action adaptations that have…gotten canceled. Enjoy the reviews, maybe pick one or two up for the holidays, and let us know your thoughts on these and any other recent manga or light novels you’ve picked up!
Solo Leveling, Vol. 3 (Manhwa)
While Jin Woo continues to quickly grow into an OP hunter, a true measure of what class he’s now in has been hard to attain. In volume three of the Solo Leveling “manga” (which in truth is just a binding together of webtoon chapters for the series), however, he will be challenged both by having to hide his newly found abilities as he re-teams with old friends and foes from the series’ opening raid and matches up against as a rank B hunter whose secret mission is far more dastardly than simply killing goblins. While this story, and the other in this volume that follows—which once again has Jin Woo growing in surprising ways—are fun to flip through, I was left to wonder exactly why the webtoon version of the series has exploded so much in popularity. These stories are far more engaging in light novel form, which slows the tale down and better explains the action, while also giving Jin Woo far more depth as a character. The only thing missing from that version but present here are the full color illustrations of this manga, which are admittedly captivating. Still, volume three feels a bit like watching a recap episode of an anime rather than the full previous 10-12 episodes, one where you watch the beautiful highlights and generally comprehend what’s going on, but can’t quite enjoy it since it’s superficial. Which leads me to conclude that, without being at all facetious, a huge draw for webtoon readers is Jin Woo’s character design, as he’s draw like a K-pop star. If that and the beautiful illustrations in general are the main reasons that you’re reading the webtoon, by all means, pick up this manga volume. But if you want to experience a series that subtly asks questions about morality while set against an interesting gamer backdrop, try the light novels instead. You’ll find them to be far superior.~ Twwk
Solo Leveling is published by Yen Press.*
Sweet Rein (Series)
As part of the 25 Days of Manga, I’ve decided to read…whatever comes my way, including pieceI may not have considered before. Well, after watching a video from our own Laura A. Grace, I dove into reading Sweet Rein, a shoujo series about a Santa. Yes, a Santa. In this world setting, Santas are localized and are paired through magic with a human-reindeer. The reindeer will follow the Santa’s command and the two have a generally lifelong bond. In this specific instance, Sweet Rein brings a teenage girl named Kurumi who ends up the Santa together with teenage boy, Kaito. And, well, romantic overtones ensue, but really the series isn’t about romance. What the series is at its core is about love of your fellow man and the power of positive symbols, as the mere concept of Santa is enough to help improve people’s lives and bring them happiness when there was none. Kurumi loves this and uses her Santa abilities outside of the Christmas season, but it’s done in such a way as to help others. Sometimes it’s for a child who is suffering from illness, or a one with unresolved issues, or maybe it is just for an adult in need. Whatever the case, Santas in this world tend to bring positivity; I liked that. Also, the idea of localized Santas doing work instead of a single person doing it across a single night makes WAY more sense. Just saying. ~ MDMRN
Sweet Rein is published by Viz Media.
The Eminence in Shadow, Vol. 1 (manga)
Cid, as he’s known to the world he’s been spirited to after meeting his demise on earth, has one desire: to be the “eminence in shadow,” a great shadow broker, or one who controls power behind the scenes. To do so, he needs to blend in as he cultivates his strength. Thankfully, Cid has an incredible imagination and no real moral compass, so he can make his dream come true. Actually, that last bit makes this sound like another series with a revenge-focused protagonist, when actually it’s a comedy. Yes, an isekai comedy, and not in the way of charming, cute narratives, but rather with self-awareness and plenty of winks to the genre’s tropes as Cid moves his way along the path of an anti-hero, assisted by beautiful elves who become master storytellers themselves. Cid does he run into an obstacle in the form of a princess, however, who also isn’t quite what she seems, and, what’s this, conspiracies that may actually be true? Yes, the story appears headed in the obvious direction of life imitating art, with Cid’s stories of a demon resurrection cult actually becoming reality, but that’s perfectly fine by me, as the humor and characters are so consistently funny and captivating that I feel assured that future volumes will continue to meet the tone and expectations set by this one, even if the manga takes a more traditional isekai route. Much like many of you, I’m sure, I’m suffering from isekai fatigue, which makes The Eminence in Shadow all the more rewarding, fitting right into that genre but with a clever, joyful, and silly tone that refreshes my interest in isekai and lets me get away from it a bit, too—all in engaging tale. ~ Twwk
The Eminence in Shadow is published by Yen Press.*
Cowboy Bebop: A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem
A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem, which gives a fuller recount of Spike and Vicious’ pasts, including origin stories for each and for their friendship, is a whole lot like the (now-canceled) series it accompanies, a mixed bag which is at times enthralling but ultimately a mediocre work which often borders on amateurism. That last bit is what’s most upsetting about Red Planet Requiem, which mainly focuses on Spike and especially Vicious as they are given a job that could raise them from “janitors” to a higher rank inside the Syndicate, with proofreading errors take the reader out of what is often an exciting story, punctuated particularly by the sometimes vulgar, sometimes pithy exchanges between the two leads. Even more disappointing, though, is that most of the final third of the novel, in which a tale that had been flying straight goes entirely off course. The breakneck speed of the book hits the gas even harder in this section as what earlier was intoned with dark humor and a dramatic, even sensitive coming-of-age feel, turns into a sitcom, as contrivances and coincidences pile up and strange paths open up, like a meaningless sex-filled rendezvous during a six-year-old’s birthday party. This rough sections reminds readers that the book was written by a screenwriter for the series, and while descriptions here and there set an atmosphere that tease us into thinking that this could be a good piece of science fiction writing, that tangent and both the lack of detail and what I felt was a tenuous connection between the Vicious of this book and the absolute lethal killing machines he becomes a few years later, point toward the purpose of this piece—strictly as a companion to a likewise frustrating series. The cover points to that, too, as it is a particularly deceitful choice, showing characters on the cover associated with the Netflix series (as if this book is a novelization of that), but which aren’t in the story in any form or fashion, while the one who is arguably the novel’s most important isn’t on the cover at all. Just another example, unfortunately, of bad decisions for the rebooted franchise. ~ Twwk
Cowboy Bebop: A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem is published by Titan Books.
Private Tutor to the Duke’s Daughter, Vol. 1
An academically exceptional commoner, Allen has high technical proficiency in magic but relatively little magical power, and has just failed the exam to become a government wizard. His former professor hooks him up with a simple job: teach Duke Howard’s daughter Tina magic over the next three months so she can pass the entrance exams for the Royal Academy. Of course, Tina has never once managed to use magic in her life. And Duke Howard doesn’t actually want his daughter to attend the academy. Plus, both Tina and the maid Ellie are crushing hard on Allen. Okay, forget what I said about a simple job. The story introduces a surprising number of mysteries. Also, Allen himself may not be an entirely reliable narrator. In addition to the mysteries and secrets, I loved the setting, which is like 1901 but with magic. The world has a richness, a sense of depth, thanks to frequent passing references to people, events, and places that don’t appear “on screen.” Allen’s noble friend Lydia is an absolutely hilarious example of such characters. My main complaint about this novel is the unfunny dumb romcom situations that pop up periodically. I *was* going to grumble about how Allen is obnoxiously oblivious to romantic interest from girls in his life…but in light of his apparent willingness to obfuscate, I suspect he’s less clueless than he wants readers to believe. This story passed the most important test a light novel can face: “Do I want to read the next volume?” My answer: Tes. I wouldn’t give this volume an A+, but it did earn a solid B. ~ jeskaiangel
Private Tutor to the Duke’s Daughter is published by J-Novel Club.
The Splendid Work of a Monster Maid, Vol. 1
Sumire is a nekomata, a kind of yokai that was once a cat before becoming a human. Having wandered into a magic land, she is taken in by an ice witch and is learning to serve as her maid, before two other servants—an android and a zombie—also enter their lives. I admit that even though there were shades of foreshadowing in this first chapter involving Sumire and her master, I was surprised by what the story ultimately reveals itself to be about, a sort of episodic take on yokai / demon hunting stories, but one I’m not used to, where beautiful gothic tones take priority over fanservice, cuteness takes center stage (although juxtaposed with more sophisticated tones), and the four main characters are all given plenty of personality right from these opening chapters. Think a more down-to-earth Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun in a fablelike setting. In fact, the opening chapters of this series are more engaging than that beloved series. And indeed, and especially with a cliffhanger ending, I’m eager to see what happens next in this surprisingly warm and beautifully illustrated manga series. ~ Twwk
The Splendid Work of a Monster Maid is published by Yen Press.*
The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten, Vol. 3
To the analogy of the simmering Crockpot, I add another: that of Zeno’s paradox. If we let the target be a confession of love and Amane and Mahiru be the arrow, it’s like each volume splits the distance between the target and the arrow in half, yet without ever reaching it. This volume was no exception. With Amane and Mahiru in the same class this time around, the dividing wall separating their time at home and their time at school begins to collapse. And with Mahiru making moves on Amane in a variety of different ways, the illusion of “we’re just really, really close friends” is beginning to shatter. But it’s not called Zeno’s paradox for nothing. As tantalizingly close as Amane and Mahiru get to a real confession, they nonetheless hover inches away from the target, and it’s really beginning to seem like they’re never actually going to hit it. There is some progress, though—most of it has to do with Amane wrestling with some issues from his past, a tension which felt forced, like an artificial sweetener in an already sweet drink. That slightly bitter note doesn’t ruin the flavor of the whole drink, though. This volume made for an endearing and pleasant read, not to mention the teaser at the end of raised stakes in the next volume. I’ll be looking forward to that. But here’s hoping that the Zeno’s paradox analogy doesn’t hold water for long. ~ sleepminusminus
The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten is published by Yen Press.
The Art of Sushi
Promoted as French comic artist Franckie Alarco’s latest deep dive into food, The Art of Sushi isn’t at all what I expected—it reads less like a comic and more like a Netflix or Food Channel documentary on sushi in graphic novel form. At first, the style was so unexpected (and so text heavy), and the flow of the translation just ever so slightly askew, that I found the work hard to penetrate. However, by the time Alarco illustrates the visit with his first subject, Hachiro Mizutani, I was at rapt attention, and before long, was fully engulfed not only in how much I was learning about sushi, but in how the personalities and conversation, so important in engaging food documentaries, came across with such life in this French graphic novel. This was indeed like watching a gripping, two-hour work on sushi—but not just sushi. Besides spending time with chefs, the work takes frequent detours to explain other items associated with the food as Alarco and company visit professionals in Japan, like a maker of ceramic dishes, rice farmer, sake brewer, and soy sauce manufacturer. The banter between Alarco and his fellow visitors was also quite fun (I enjoyed the references they made to Miyazaki, Tommy Lee Jones, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), though I’m not enough of a Francophile to care much for the frequent references to the sushi scene back in their homeland. However, that was barely a deterrent; what may be for some, though, is the extensive writing. The comic feels half a graphic novel and half an educational work. I would suggest, dear reader, that you take it slow, enjoy the wonderful black and white sketches with occasional and lovely (sometimes even shocking) use of color, and allow yourself to be buried in the world of sushi, preferably as you take several days to read through, and then as you reference it time and time again in the future. ~ Twwk
The Art of Sushi is published by NBM Publishing.*
Reader’s Corner is our way of embracing the wonderful world of manga, light novels, and visual novels, creative works intimately related to anime but with a magic all their own. Each week, our writers provide their thoughts on the works their reading—both those recently released as we keep you informed of newly published works and older titles that you might find as magical (or in some cases, reprehensible) as we do.
*Thank you to Yen Press and NBM Publishing for providing review copies.