Rainbow Rowell’s novel Fangirl, a geeky coming of age story steeped in online culture, has been artfully adapted into a manga by comic writer Sam Maggs and artist Gabi Nam. It tells the story of college freshman and popular fanfiction writer Cath, as she navigates leaving home (and her twin sister) to start college.
Cath is the reserved twin. Her sister, Wren, outgoing and social, seeks some personal space by not choosing Cath as her college roommate (after 18 years of sharing a room at home). The girls’ father drops them off, not without some trepidation. Cath’s transition to this new phase in her life is difficult.
So many adjustments to her new situation cause anxiety and stress; a new room, a new roommate, the dining hall, and her boyfriend hours away at another college. The one thing that remains steady in her life is Simon Snow. Cath is an avid fan of the Simon Snow book series (a Harry Potter-like universe of magical schools, wizards, and perfect, golden-haired Simon Snow). Cath is also a popular author of Simon Snow fanfiction (mostly about Simon’s possible romantic relationship with his dark wizard roommate Baz) and has a large online following.
The original novel received critical praise for its accurate depiction of online communities and interactions, as well as the relationship between Cath and Wren. The manga certainly matches the source material. The artist captures the characters and backgrounds with simple elegance, including the illustrations of Cath’s Simon Snow fanfiction.
Full disclosure: this manga hit home for me. Hard. I am a twin and my sister and I ended up going to different colleges for the first year of school and I viscerally felt Cath’s separation anxiety. I am also less outgoing than my sister and keenly felt the distance between us that first, painful semester, even now, 30 years after leaving college. I also am steeped in online geek culture, having been a member of an online fan community for 20 years, and have written fanfiction as well. I could literally have been Cath and I feel like there are plenty of other young readers out there who can identify with Rowell’s characters as closely as I have.
A note on the format of this graphic novel. It’s listed as a manga (and the artwork certainly is manga-like). But it is presented in left to right, Western format, having been written in English. Manga literally translates to “comic” in Japanese but none of the writers or artists are Japanese. Rowell is American, Maggs is Canadian-American and Nam is Korean. But the work is published by Viz Media, the largest manga publisher in the United States, and is therefore presented as a manga. This is probably splitting hairs but there will be a cataloging librarian out there asking which collection this belongs in.
It’s irrelevant. This work will fit nicely into any YA graphic novel or manga collection. There are four volumes planned in the series and assuming the forthcoming volumes match this one in quality, they will well worth the investment for your collection. There is not a lot of action, besides the Simon-Baz illustrations, but it is a thoughtful, realistic example of a character-driven story that will resonate with readers.
Fangirl is rated for older teens, but probably only due to the ages of the characters and life experiences, as this volume doesn’t contain any real profanity, violence or nudity.
Fangirl, vol. 1
by Rainbow Rowell, Sam Maggs
Art by Gabi Nam
Publisher Age Rating: 16+
Related to: Book to Comic
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)