Cats in palaces, witches in boarding school, human heroes in the demon realm…it seems that our reviews this week feature plenty of protagonists dropped in unlikely places, and that’s not even considering a shy superhero (SHY) and an isekai’d hero (Konosuba) in two other volumes. But what should you expect from these stories of unexpected encounters and adventures? Dive in below to find out!
Dandadan (Vol. 2) • Helck (Vol. 1) • Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! Memorial Fan Book • Kowloon Generic Romance (Vol. 1) • My Gently Raised Beast (Vol. 1) • Secrets of the Silent Witch (Vol. 2) • SHY (Vol. 1)
SHY, Manga Vol. 1
Superheroes suddenly manifest all across the planet! Each nation has its own! Britain’s is a Bowie-Bono-esque rock star; America’s, a classic clean-cut lycra-donning costumed hero; Russia’s, a drunken voluptuous nee-san type; and Japan’s…a diminutive middle-schooler terrified of her own shadow? Ah yes, the trials and tribulations of being a shy hero! The premise may be simple, but this opening volume is so full of energy and defining character moments—not to mention ridiculously rich artwork—that it’s a strong start to what promises to be a solid superhero comedy-action-drama with plenty of character growth and interesting dynamics between the cast. The pacing is fantastic, with Teru Momijiyama (aka Shy) experiencing an entire emotional arc in this volume alone. It feels neither rushed nor cursory, but instead allows the MC to process a traumatic incident step by step—poorly at first, but ultimately stronger and better connected to community (both heroic and civilian) by the end. With more action than gags, Shy is nevertheless a delightful read in the vein of Bocchi the Rock, reveling in the superpower that is in-kya. Introverts of the world, take heart! ~ claire
Helck, Manga Vol. 1
After the great demon lord was defeated by a human hero, the Demon Realm decided to hold a tournament to find his replacement. And one competitor is proving himself far stronger than all others. The only problem? He’s a human, too. Thus begins a fantasy adventure centered on the titular hero and Vermilion, the Elite Demon Lord who is overseeing the tournament and concerned about this OP human. Volume one was an unexpected and delightful read for me, full of humor (typically in the form of OP jokes but with some tsundere laughs thrown in) and mystery, as well. Is Helck really trying to help the demons? Is he as good-natured as he appears to be? Who are the true enemies in this story—is it the humans? The human hero? Another entity? It’s certainly not the demons, who prove themselves to be kind and humble, both the ordinary ones and the strong characters at the heart of the story, the latter of which are easy to love and root for. These pages end on a cliffhanger, but I was already sold enough on the laughs, characterization, and mystery to return for volume two to see how this well-crafted tale continues to transpire. ~ Twwk
Helck is published by VIZ Media. Volume one releases on January 10th.
Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! Memorial Fan Book
Just prior to Konosuba’s final volume being released in Japan, Kadokawa published this fan book to celebrate the series. It’s similar to other compendiums developed as companions to beloved series, though I wonder if the audience for this one is too narrow. While such works are often fun to read because of the fascinating worldbuilding that goes into those franchises, the Konosuba Memorial Fan Book isn’t sustained by quite enough depth to be engaging. With a multitude of character profiles, lots of illustrations, and setting pages that remind me of elementary school projects to create a fun profile for a locale one is studying, the book is a good resource for the franchise and more fun than a Wiki, but it doesn’t provide a whole lot more than a good Wiki would. The most notable exceptions are a humorous and insightful back-and-forth interview between the series writer and light novel illustrator, and guest illustrations at the front of the book from other well-known illustrators. Neither of these elements would be enough for a beginner to the series like myself to purchase it, however, and I think all but the most ardent of Konosuba fans would probably feel the same.~ Twwk
Konosuba God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World! Memorial Fan Book is published by Yen Press.
Kowloon Generic Romance, Manga Vol. 2
Kowloon is nostalgia. Nostalgia is love. These are two of the very few rules that are established in a world where none of us, much less high-rise realtor and protagonist Kujirai, really know what’s going on. The mystery of what the floating cube floating over Kowloon is (think Ramiel in Evangelion), and why Kujirai has changed personality, only expands in volume two. Right from the opening chapter, we get a glimpse into her “original” personality in a flashback, while the outer mysteries, presumably connected to her own, grow as the manga progresses and a possible villain is introduced. These mystery and sci-fi elements set against the background of a crowded Chinese city based on the real Kowloon are what’s most intriguing about the series; but it’s also carried by a generally light and humorous tone, punctuated by optimistic characters and the fun dynamic between Kujirai and her crush/senpai-cum-former fiancee/kohai. This series is addicting, and it’s just getting started. On a side note, it comes shrink-wrapped and with a warning about adult content—thus far, though, there’s no more of it than in any usual young adult manga. ~ Twwk
My Gently Raised Beast, Manga Vol. 1
Do not be fooled by the soft cover art and gentle pastel color scheme, my friends. This one starts with a great deal of peril! And from the frying pan into the fire, as the saying goes, when our plucky protagonist, eleven-year-old orphan Blondina, seeks to break free from her abuser and ends up…in the palace? Turns out she’s the illegitimate daughter of the Emperor, who takes her in, not out of any affection but for some other, as yet unidentified reason—though you can be sure it is nefarious. Sure, Blondina may now be a princess, but she’s surrounded by nasty elites every which way she turns. But never fear, for in chapter two, she comes across a very cute cat! It’s important to have allies in life. And cuteness. Especially the furry kind. But wait, since when could cats talk? Turns out that Amon is not actually a cat, but rather an as-yet half-grown fearsome mystical beast that can transform into a cute nine-year-old…boy? Cue the romance, though please wait until after the time skip (which is coming in the next volume) because eleven and nine are a bit young for that sort of thing. Plenteous boops ensue: paw boops, nose boops, all the boops. And some pretty expressive tail thrashing too. But what really carries this volume is not so much the cute cat action as Blondina herself: she excels at the tastefully suave putdown and has a surprisingly cunning streak that rises to the fore when interacting with her cruel half-siblings. She may frequently don raiments of purplish blue, but a shrinking violet she is not! Yet neither is she inhumanly fearless. Instead, Blondina quite sensibly becomes frightened in terrible situations, while remaining a grounded, savvy young girl with a strong sense of fun and easy affection despite her tragic back story. In short, she offers a fresh twist on the “clever heroine amid scheming royals” genre, a staple of Webtoons (of which this is one). The pacing is likewise excellent, with plenty of character development and worldbuilding gracing this volume, in addition to a steady plot. Altogether, this is a delightful first volume, and the glossy color printing makes it all the more appealing. ~ claire
My Gently Raised Beast is published by Ize Press, an imprint of Yen Press.
Dandadan, Manga Vol. 2
Dandadan ditches the most memorable elements from volume one—heavy fanservice focusing on heroine Momo and penis jokes at hero Okarun’s expense—in favor of building out the relationship between the protagonists and moving on to the next story in the series about supernatural curses and sex-crazed aliens. It’s a good move, because volume one was gross, using those transfixing elements to cover up for weaknesses that admittedly remain in these chapters (the most obvious of which is how the action jumps too quickly from panel to panel at times, leading me to occasionally flip back and forth and wonder if I’d missed a page along the way). Having toned down some (the sex jokes are still there a bit), Dandadan turns toward the story, concluding the turbo granny piece, bringing in a new (old) sassy character, and starting a love triangle, while also continuing the budding if totally wish-fulfilling romance between the leads. Still, this is a stronger volume than the first and almost has me interested in reading more. Almost. Because of its weaknesses and tendency to rely wholly on the action and a cute lead, it’s still not particularly compelling for readers like me and probably most others who aren’t teenage boys. ~ Twwk
Dandadan is published by VIZ Media. Volume two releases on January 10th.
READ: Dandadan Vol. 1 Review
Secrets of the Silent Witch, Light Novel Vol. 2
Two volumes in and Secrets of the Silent Witch is shaping up to be one of the most satisfying light novel series I’ve read. The setup isn’t anything extraordinary—Monica, a powerful and genius mage, infiltrates a school to protect a prince (and student council president), though her incredible power is countered by her extreme shyness. However, volume two demonstrates how the series delivers so perfectly on this premise. Monica’s assignment continues to challenge her, especially her new position on the student council, which lead to new friendships and other interactions that push her to grow in endearing ways. The romance is cute but not too saccharine. The humor is pleasant and frequent, the story steady and believable, the mystery tightly woven and thoughtful. And the action is a pump-your-fist kind of exciting, much like the conclusion to volume one but even better. I was only left wondering where the evil behind the veil in volume one went, and how much it was connected to the antagonists in this book. But even without that answered, I’m wholly entranced by Secrets of the Silent Witch and eager for more and more to be revealed. ~ Twwk
READ: Secrets of the Silent Witch Vol. 1 Review
“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 they’re reading—both those recently released as we keep you informed of newly published works, and those older titles that you might find as magical (or in some cases, reprehensible) as we do.