Reader’s Corner: Solo Leveling, My Special One, and Alice in Borderland

Oh, the games we play! In our everyday lives, “playing games” could refer to video games or board games or, more figuratively, relationship games. But the world of manga knows no bounds, and such games may involve being dropped into an Alice in Wonderland-like dimension. Or it could mean playing matches against gods with a cute goddess right by one’s side. And they could be contests that put lives at stake. This week on “Reader’s Corner,” we dive into a variety of “games” in our reviews as we look to releases both old and new.

Alice in Borderland (Vol. 4)Gods’ Games We Play (Vol 1)Megaman NT Warrior (Vol. 1)My Sister, The Cat (Vol. 1)My Special One (Vol. 1)Puella Magi Oriko Magica: The Complete Omnibus EditionSolo Leveling (Vol. 6)

My Sister, The Cat, Manga Vol. 1

When I first heard about the title My Sister, The Cat, I laughed and brushed it off because “What kind of strange premise is that?” Well, Past Me, it’s a very funny one, and you shouldn’t be so quick to judge titles and skip them! Ha! Indeed, the premise of this manga is unique because Nekota has lost his mother, and when no family members will take him in, one of his mom’s good friends offers a place in their family. However, said family just happens to be a family of cats whose daughter absolutely adores our human hero and desperately wants him to be her big brother. My decision to pick up this manga was completely inspired by my four-year-old daughter who loves cats, and I’m honestly glad I decided to give it a chance because of her. It was super cute and a very lighthearted read, with the occasional serious vibe sprinkled in at the end. I’m not sure why only the mother talks, but I absolutely love when Neneko-chan wants to make her brother smile. Her antics are so adorable because she has the cutest and funniest expressions that really make you smile at how much she loves him! While there isn’t a lot of “depth” to this story, I found I smiled often and really enjoyed my time reading it! I have volume two on pre-order because this is one of those feel-good stories you pick up every once in a while when you need something fun and cheerful! ~ Laura A. Grace

My Sister, The Cat is published by Seven Seas.

Puella Magi Oriko Magica: The Complete Omnibus Edition, Manga

Taking place between the fourth and fifth timelines of the Madoka Magica universe, Puella Magi Oriko Magica adds a new, dark chapter to the franchise. But any intrigue that this story might have is outweighed by the messiness on display throughout the tale. Orkiko Magica introduces three new magical girls, two of whom, as Kyoko and Mami discover, are seemingly involved in killing other mahou shoujo. There’s a heavy focus on these two new girls, both with respect to their tragic backstories and their dependence on one another. But while we as readers are supposed to be equal parts appalled by their actions and sympathetic towards them, each character is lacking in elements that would help create the necessary empathy. Kirika is full of energy but her backstory is flimsy, while the titular Oriko has a tragic event in her past but no personality to speak of. Meanwhile, a third new character, a young magical girl Yuma, plays a major role at first—particularly as a foil to Kyoko—but then ends up functioning as an intentional distraction in this story. It’s a strange, unnecessary addition. Also out of place are Sayaka, Madoka, and Homura: while they are vital to explain the purpose of the events in this story, they feel like messy add-ons. I’m never quite sure what it is they’re up to or doing. The artwork doesn’t either. Illustrated in a cute but off-kilter style, the aesthetic is different but fitting for Madoka, but the quality of the art varies and doesn’t portray the action very well. The entire story, really—both in plot and art—was like looking through glasses that aren’t magnified quite enough for one’s vision issues; nothing was ever quite clear. The side story additions in the last third of the collection help fill out the tale a bit, but by the point I had reached them, I was already through with this below-average addition to a great franchise. ~ Twwk

Puella Magi Oriko Magica is published by Yen Press.

Megaman NT Warrior, Manga Vol. 1

Living in a world where everything is digitally connected sounds comfortable, right? Everything is efficient and on time, and we just make sure things are running smoothly. Well, wait till viruses start disrupting daily activities like school, hospitals, businesses and any other sector that people use! Thankfully, there are Netops like Lan Hikari (remember LAN parties?) and his Net Navi Mega Man [Should it be “Megaman” like the title? – Ed.] to delete these digital critters. The manga doesn’t give much backstory for the world it’s set in; even though I have watched the anime adaptation, I would have liked a little more explanation. It had some slow parts, and this volume is broken up into short episodes that aren’t tied together. I would have liked it to be more of an introduction to the characters; instead, it seems disorganized and doesn’t flow well. If you are a fan of the series as I am, I believe you will enjoy this one as it takes characters like GutsMan, FireMan, Dr. Wily, and Roll and recreates them so that they are familiar but still new. Give at least volume one a try and see if it’s for you—though this is an old manga, so you likely will have to find it used somewhere as I did. ~ Samuru

Megaman NT Warrior was published by VIZ Media.

Gods’ Games We Play, Light Novel Vol. 1

When it stays the path, focusing on its identity as a battle-of-wits light novel, Gods’ Games We Play is an engaging, heavenly read; but in those few moments that it strays, the series about human “apostles” who compete in televised matches against the gods falls back to earth. Thankfully, it rarely drifts into that territory. Right from the start—when “former” god Leshea and top rookie apostle Fay team up after realizing they are equally excited about playing high-stakes games—the novel balances cute characters, an exciting but not-too-serious tone, and interesting games and strategies. The duo participates in three matches: one with each other and two teaming up with others in official matches against the gods. The games are described well, and the volume is very visual: I could picture them in great detail (the recently announced anime adaptation should be a natural fit). It’s just a joy to read. The only drawback is when the series goes the route of thousands of other properties and turns to fanservice, small boob jokes, and harem-building. Not only are these passages derivative, but they’re also done better elsewhere (almost everywhere else, in fact). Here’s hoping future volumes focus on the games that gods play, rather than on the ecchi. ~ Twwk

Gods’ Games We Play is published by Yen Press.

My Special One, Manga Vol. 1

Although My Special One wasn’t a series very high on my radar, after reading this first volume, it definitely has the strong potential to be in my top five of favorite shojo series this year! Sahoko, our heroine, tells off a famous Japanese idol, Kouta, in her family’s restaurant where she works: when he displayed affection for her, thinking she was one of his fans, she needed him to know she was not one of his fans. She had vowed to herself to never fall for a gorgeous man because of a past experience, but that vow will certainly be put to the test when Kouta continues to come back to her family’s restaurant time and time again. As adamant as she is that she won’t fall in love with him, he seems to be just as adamant that he will get her to fall for him (as a fan) with his shining charisma and personality. Sahoko is a fun and refreshing heroine to follow because she is sooooo adamant she will never fall for a gorgeous guy (even less an idol—HA!). I very much enjoyed the progression of her character growth and her feelings as the story went on, especially in her thoughts toward Kouta. Speaking of, Kouta surprised me just as much as he did Sahoko! I quickly found myself rooting for these two and very much desperate looking forward to the next volume! I highly recommend this new series to those who like contemporary romances, seeing the behind-the-scenes of idols, and fun stories that are easy to read! ~ Laura A. Grace

My Special One is published by VIZ Media. It releases on February 7th.

Alice in Borderland, Manga Vol. 4

In volume four, Alice in Borderland continues to deliver surprises. Not only in death match games, but more unexpectedly by displaying humanity in inhuman circumstances, pulling on our heartstrings even for characters we only get to know briefly, and putting main character Arisu through a crisis when he seems to be on the point of a personal breakthrough. The setting for all the emotional drama is the end of the beach arc, in which the beach utopia has devolved into violence as the players search for the witch. The answer to who and why are supremely satisfying. I continue to be caught off guard by how gracious mangaka Haro Aso is to his readers. He gives us solutions. He gives us heart. And in volume four, he gives us a ton of answers as to what this world is all about, as the story transitions into a brand new set of circumstances that bring added excitement to the series that might otherwise have fallen short of topping the grandiosity of the last arc. I’m thrilled to see where the games go now, and even more so, how Arisu and the others continue to develop as they make their way through this harshest of worlds. What a journey it’s been! ~ Twwk

READ: Alice in Borderland Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3

Alice in Borderland is published by Viz Media.

Solo Leveling, Novel Vol. 6

Things have finally gotten “real” in Solo Leveling. Despite the non-stop and excellent action in the previous five novels, the actual story for Solo Leveling has only revealed itself in bits; but in volume six, it blows right open, establishing the real conflict hinted at previously. It’s a wonder to imagine that the adrenaline in the previous volumes came basically from just world building and mining for Jin Woo as he increases his strength to a level to fight the real bad guys in this series. This installment opens with Jin Woo fighting giants in Japan and then coming to the U.S. as mysteries involving the gates and the Rulers quickly unravel. It isn’t unusual for novels and manga to go off the rail when the larger story comes into focus and more powerful enemies become involved; but both the track record for Solo Leveling and this volume itself demonstrate that author Chugong can handle it and continue to deliver material that will have you unable to do anything else until you’ve finished the chapter you’re on (and then the next chapter…and the next). That’s not to say that the web novels are perfect. Jin Woo is still a difficult character to root for, making selfish choices and seemingly only doing the right thing out of a sense of duty (though—and without giving too much away—this seems to be an angle that Chugong will take advantage of in later volumes). Even more cumbersome is that the entire series is Korean propaganda. With Korean media becoming so widespread internationally, readers may be used to this tone; but even as a Korean-American, I rolled my eyes a dozen times at how pro-Korean this particular volume was (matching the previous one), with Jin Woo moving on from traditional adversary Japan to embarrass big brother America. But other than that, Solo Leveling continues to be as enthralling as it ever was. ~ Twwk

Solo Leveling is published by Yen Press.

READ: Solo Leveling Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3 // Vol. 4 // Vol. 5

“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.

Featured illustration by Sakana16号 (reprinted w/permission)

4 thoughts on “Reader’s Corner: Solo Leveling, My Special One, and Alice in Borderland

  1. […] This week’s must-read review comes to us via the Sports Baka substack, which features an article about an untranslated gymnastics manga: Moonland. The series is one party Haikyu!! and one part gymnastic primer, with “textbook-style explanations of skills and scoring” and plenty of drama. Over at The Manga Test Drive, Megan D. resurrects one of my favorite shojo manga of yore The Secret Notes of Lady Kanako, while the crew at Beneath the Tangles dedicate their latest Reader’s Corner to Alice in Borderland, My Sister the Cat, and Solo Leveling. […]

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