To be perfectly clear: Loveless is not an easy manga to understand. Within the first volume alone readers will encounter murder, loneliness, willing sacrifices, inherited responsibility, physical abuse, crushes, and virtual battlefields. The characters are close-mouthed and reluctant to reveal their secrets, even to the reader, so first-time manga readers should prepare themselves to feel a bit lost. But what a fascinating world to be lost in!
Due to his own inability to remember farther than two years past, twelve-year-old Ritsuka is a blank slate. His unstable mother insists he’s not her son and repeatedly attacks him. His only protector, his older brother Seimei, was murdered and his body left to be discovered in Ritsuka’s old classroom. Ritsuka, damaged and afraid to connect with anyone, retreats into coldness. Enter Soubi, a college student who claims to be an old friend of Seimei’s, tempting Ritsuka with clues to finding Seimei’s murderer and the first person Ritsuka wants to talk to. Soubi was not, however, only Seimei’s companion but also his weapon in magical battles fought in pairs designated by secret, matching names. Seimei was one half of the pair Beloved, acting as the sacrifice or the player who withstands the physical damage of any attack. Soubi was Beloved’s fighter unit, a human weapon trained, almost brainwashed, to fight by turning spoken words into weapon spells. Now Seimei has left Soubi to Ritsuka as his inheritance– Ritsuka must become the sacrifice, and use this relationship to investigate the underground world that hides Seimei’s killer.
Loveless is the kind of manga that startles a reader with just how close it treads to taboo lines without ever crossing over into true transgression. Ritsuka develops a powerful crush on Soubi, and the conditioned Soubi returns the affection as much as he can within his orders. The relationship between sacrifice and warcraft adds a whole other level of conditioned loyalty, and it is never clear whether Soubi is still acting according to the dead Seimei’s orders or of his own accord.
Yun Kouga’s art is breathtaking; fluid, dark, and full of slicing edges to show the beauty and the damage in sharp relief. This title is definitely most suitable for older teen readers, given the variety of dark subjects and the suspense-ratcheting unwillingness to explain too much, but once you start the series, you’ll be dying for the next volume.
Loveless: Volume 1
by Yun Kouga