Piano Duo for the Left Hand, Vol. 1
Akari is the school’s princess, a piano prodigy of unprecedented talent. Why would she have anything to do with Shu, a delinquent who has no appreciation for music? And yet, fate, guilt, and something magical will bind the two on a journey of music and healing. The first volume of Piano Duo for the Left Hand is the most unexpected manga I’ve read this year, both in the events that occur and in how touching it is. I don’t want to give away too much (and I implore you not to read the back cover summary of this volume or other reviews), but as long as you’re willing to buy into a little bit of fantasy in a coming of age tale, and you like music (and of course you do—as Akari says, music is for everyone!), I would recommend this story to you. The characters are highly engaging, the plot, moving, and the musical selections, fun, complete with end notes describing each composition. I’m calling it: this will be the next great musical anime, once it is adapted. Why not tap the keys and get in on it early?
Piano Duo for the Left Hand is published by Kodansha.
Having an Idol-Loving Boyfriend is the Best!, Vol. 1
I’m not very knowledgeable about idol culture, but it is something that I enjoy learning more about. So when I see a new manga series that involve idol culture, I try to pick it up. Having an Idol-Loving Boyfriend is the Best! centers on a young woman, Akari Tachibana, and her co-worker, Onda-san, who are not only friends and colleagues, but also hardcore idol fans! One random day, Onda-san decides to confess to Akari, and while there weren’t a lot of “romantic feelings” involved, Akari starts to wonder what it would be like to date someone with whom she shared so many interests in common. So begins their new relationship! This was such a cute read! I truly loved the focus on idol culture and activities, and it was a lot of fun following the pair on their pilgrimages to places their idol(s) recommended, visited, or where they made appearances. However, my absolute favorite was the the strong emphasis on being who you are in a relationship. Both of these characters adore their idols, and their idol activities are a huge part of their lives. When they start dating, this is something that neither one of them wants to give up just because they’re in a relationship. And they both want the other to still do the things they did before. I was so happy to read a message like that because no one should give up their passions just because they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. I would highly recommend this to those who like idol culture and want to see a healthy, blossoming relationship between characters who share a strong common interest! ~ Laura A. Grace
Having an Idol-Loving Boyfriend is the Best! is published by Kodansha.
Housekeeping Mage from Another World: Making Your Adventures Feel Like Home! Vol. 1
Shiori was an ordinary Japanese working woman. Then she got isekai’d. Several years later and now in her mid-thirties, she works as an adventurer and self-described “housekeeping mage.” Shiori’s magic is weak, but by using it creatively and skillfully, she’s among the best support personnel an adventuring party could ask for. Enter rugged warrior Alec (late thirties) and let the romance ensue. Besides the atypical but extremely relatable (to someone turning thirty-seven this year) ages of the leads, another strong aspect of the story is the emphasis on Shiori’s homesickness, an issue many isekai adventures gloss over. The story has the always relevant and lovely message that true strength doesn’t necessarily equate to raw destructive power, nor is a person’s value contingent on having such power. Also, for a warm and fuzzy fantasy romance, there’s actually a fair bit of darkness: Shiori and Alec both live with the trauma of betrayal, and a younger adventurer who becomes hostile to Shiori meets with a terrible fate. Finally, I must mention that Rurii, Shiori’s pet slime, can be surprisingly snarky for a creature who can’t actually speak, and it’s great. I look forward to the next volume. ~ jeskaiangel
Housekeeping Mage from Another World: Making Your Adventures Feel Like Home! is published by J-Novel Club.
Chitose is in the Ramume Bottle, Vol. 1
Is being the most popular boy in school really all it’s cracked up to be? When you’re Saku Chitose—athletic, handsome, charming, and with a “harem” consisting of all the most popular girls in school—the answer is yes, yes it is. But that’s doesn’t mean it’s without challenges: from an online message board full of posts trashing you, to the recent request from your homeroom teacher for you to get your class shut-in to start attending school. It’s that last situation around which volume one of Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle revolves, and it makes for an opening that is as unique as the volume’s title. What’s most interesting about this series is that the “hero” and his friends aren’t otaku trying to climb their way up in the world—they’re already on top. And to be honest, they’re insufferable. Well, some of Saku’s “harem”—a group of girls who somehow are okay being described as his “sluts” despite being atop the social ladder themselves—are average to relatively good people, but others are pretty selfish and fake, including the main character himself. Doesn’t sound like a fun read, does it? Because of the characters’ conceit, it is a bit of trudge in some places, made worse by the fact that some of the conversations go on for too long, though it is entertaining to see so much name-dropping of brands and the author’s intentional celebration of the Fukui province. For much of the read, the light novel left me wondering if “this is it,” but I ultimately came to see Saku as a Tom Cruise-type—not the couch-leaping actor, but rather the roles he played from the early 80s to early 90s: the conceited type whom we rooted for anyway in films like Top Gun, Days of Thunder, and A Few Good Men. There was something both irritating and irresistible about those characters, and Saku is the same, with some similar character development as well. In the end, it proved to be a story that surprised me in many ways, and that has me chiming for a volume two.
Chitose is in the Ramume Bottle is published by Yen Press.
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, Vol. 3
In volume two, Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End took a turn from the wistful, nostalgic tale of the titular elf, toward violent, action-centered fantasy, and it worried me greatly. I had believed this to be a special series, and I didn’t want it to throw away the beautiful themes and groundwork that had been laid. But I needn’t have worried. Frieren pushed beyond my concerns by imbuing the darker fantasy elements with the same major theme of growth through the friendships that had been lovingly established, even surprisingly but deftly showing up in Frieren’s combat with the powerful demon, Aura the Guillotine, and her executioners. Those thrilling scenes are followed by the continuing journey of the main trio, which may now gain a fourth member, albeit one who is perhaps unexpected. I continue to be amazed by the mangaka’s skill in keeping us entertained through humor, breathtaking art, and now the addition of epic fights, while retaining the story’s lovely tone and aforementioned theme, and am impressed by the flashbacks and Frieren’s slow (centuries-long!) character growth. This is a remarkable read, and one deserving of attention from both the manga community and fantasy readers—a beautiful and impressive work.
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is published by Viz.
The Eminence in Shadow, Vol. 2
A wildly entertaining series, The Eminence in Shadow surprises once again. This unique take on isekai features a main character who imagines that he’s running a “shadow” organization and is imbued with great powers in a fantasy setting. New revelations confirm that while Cid’s conspiracies may originate in his own mind, they are real in the world in which he’s now living. Volume two focuses on action and the mystery of the Diablos cult that Cid believes he’s conjured up himself, and is satisfactory both as an action tale and a thriller, but it excels most when humor punctuates the tale, with Cid being the funniest character of all. The at times crude humor is timed perfectly and keeps the tale off-kilter, which accounts for a significant part of the series’ charm. The romance element is growing as well, and feeds nicely into the story. I’m completely onboard for this shadowy tale that thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously, and which, also thankfully, is soon receiving an anime adaptation.
The Eminence in Shadow is published by Yen Press.
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.