The magical realism of anime meets the enchanting wonder of Disney in Academy Award nominated director Mamoru Hosoda’s (The Girl Who Leapt through Time, Mirai) mesmerizing virtual world fantasy that echoes Beauty and the Beast. The tagline of this fantasy thriller states, “You can’t start over in reality, but you can start over in U,” prepping viewers to delve into this alternate reality where the inhabitants adopt identities that mask their true personas, yet draws out their hidden strengths.

Suzu, a reclusive and socially awkward lone wolf of a schoolgirl, leads a melancholy life. At a young age, she lost her mother to a drowning accident, and since then, has been holding onto a fractured relationship with her father. With the aid of her savvy social media classmate Hiro, they enter “U,” an immersive virtual world populated by avatars of every imaginable size, style, and variation. Before long, she rises to stardom as a sensational global pop star, captivating fans with uplifting songs that inspire and heal. In this world, however, lurks a brooding figure known as the Dragon, a monstrous beast who hides in the shadows, isolated and sheltered away from everyone else. Who is this mysterious beast? What secrets does he harbor? In her persona as Belle, Suzu seeks to penetrate the depths of the Dragon in hopes of uncovering his identity to redeem him.

A brilliantly executed rendition of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, Hosoda’s fantasy, supported by the creative character designs of Jin Kim (Frozen, Moana, Encanto), orchestrates a story that intersects elements of mystery, romance, and fantasy while touching upon issues of self-identity, trust, loneliness, courage, and hope. Vibrant CGI set designs along with exquisitely hand-drawn scenic backgrounds complement a surrealistic world reminiscent of the dazzling dreamlike sequences in Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. In addition to the vibrant fluency and synergy of colors, strategic camera angles capture majestic and iconic shots in homage to Disney’s original animated film. The songs enrich the film’s charming enchantment, transforming it into a semi-musical piece that resonates with warmth and heart.

While not initially apparent, each character plays a significant role that culminates in a riveting climax that propels Suzu to embrace her true identity and purpose, empowering her to uncover the mystery behind the beast’s predicament. Bonus extras include character and set design galleries, insightful interviews with Hosoda, scene breakdowns, and more.

A fine achievement to the ever-expanding films of GKIDS (a division of Studio Ghibli) for family and adult audiences, Belle radiates with heartwarming passion and makes a welcome addition to anime collections .

By Mamoru Hosoda
Art by Jin Kim
GKIDS/Shout! Factory, 2022

Publisher Age Rating: PG

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese

Pokémon Journeys, vols. 1-3

Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum and his buddy Pikachu are back! This time they are joined by a friend called Goh and his Pokémon partners for adventures that have them traveling all over the Pokémon world.

At the start of this series, Ash and Goh meet and are invited to become “research fellows” by Professor Cerise, who runs a lab studying Pokémon. They accept the position, and Cerise Laboratory becomes their home base in between trips that are theoretically about research but also involve lots of Pokémon battles. While most Pokémon manga are set in a particular “region” of the world—that is, the setting of one of the Pokémon video games—this series sees its protagonists traveling between several regions, sometimes in the same volume. In particular, they spend a lot of time in the Galar region, the setting of the games Pokémon: Sword and Pokémon: Shield.

Each volume of the Pokémon Journeys manga is essentially a collection of short stories. While theoretically these stories are sequential, many of them can easily stand alone. The stakes vary from “save the realm from an unstable, overpowered Pokémon with the aid of legendary heroes” to “we found a mischievous little Pokémon, does it belong to someone?” A couple of plotlines come up repeatedly: Ash is competing in a battle tournament called the World Coronation Series, and the goofy Team Rocket villains Jesse, James, and Meowth periodically show up to try and steal Pikachu or otherwise meddle. Neither of these is likely to leave readers confused if they start reading in the middle of the series.

Like most Pokémon manga, this series features optimistic, good-hearted young heroes and lots of creatures with different personalities and powers. There are frequent Pokémon battles, some friendly (like when Ash and Goh’s Pokémon train against each other), some competitive (like the ones to move up the ranks in the World Coronation Series), and some serious (like to defeat villains or control a rampaging Pokémon). There is also silly humor and some character development, as when Goh learns that he has to pay attention to what his Scorbunny wants in order for them to battle effectively as a team.

The visual style will be familiar to readers of other Pokémon manga series. The art is black and white, the book reads from right to left, and there is tons of action—much of it the over-the-top superpowered action of Pokémon battles, which can involve things like lightning, fire, and significant damage to buildings.

There is not much explanation here of how things work in the world of Pokémon. Battles, Pokéballs, and Pokémon evolution, for instance, may confuse readers who are brand-new to the franchise. For those who know the basics, however, this is an accessible entry point to the Pokémon manga universe, not requiring readers to know the events of many other volumes to understand what is happening. The “journeys” aspect may particularly appeal to fans of the games, who will recognize the different regions but may not be used to seeing characters travel between them.

Pokémon Journeys, vols. 1-3
By Machito Gomi
VIZ, 2021
vol 1 ISBN: 9781974725748
vol 2 ISBN: 978197472652
vol 3 ISBN: 9781974730094

Publisher Age Rating: All Ages

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Japanese

Heterogenia Linguistico: An introduction to interspecies linguistics

Hakaba is just a student, but when his linguistics professor is injured on his way to field work, he gets pulled in to take over. There’s just one catch: The professor researches the languages and communication styles of the inhabitants of the Netherworld and there’s a lot more to communicating with werewolves, harpies, lizardfolk, and other cultures than Hakaba ever imagined!

His first surprise comes when he meets his guide, half-werewolf Susuki, and the challenges come on quickly as he begins to travel with Susuki and a varying group of Netherworld peoples. Just when he thinks he’s gotten things figured out, there’s always a new language, creature, or cultural practice waiting to surprise him and remind him to put away his human biases and conventions and explore with an open mind.

Seno’s fine-lined art style reminded me of the art of Ryoko Kui, creator of Delicious in Dungeon, and there are several similarities between the two series. Like Kiu’s adventurer Laios, Hakaba is not your typical traveler, a fair-haired young man who is more eager to learn and experience than he is to fight or conquer, spending most of his time observing with wide-eyed interest all he sees around him and keeping copious notes in his journals. Susuki is adorably fluffy, both childlike and puppy-like at the same time. Hakaba’s sometimes abrupt introduction to the different habits and communication styles of the Netherworld peoples often leave him sweating with nerves and bewildered and hurt by what appears to be indifference or anger, but once he’s managed to relax and investigate, he discovers that most of the creatures he meets are simply not that interested in him, or in humans in general. Although Seno focuses on a few specific persons from each group, they’re often difficult to distinguish from the others of their species, letting the reader look through Hakaba’s eyes, trying to see the differences between various lizardfolk, a minotaur, or dragons.

While this is a narrative, with Hakaba traveling towards a definite point, it is much more in the nature of fieldwork than a quest. Each new creature is introduced with an exposition of their communication styles and carefully drawn sketches of things like kilns, food production, and various shelters, make it clear that this is an academic journal. Like Kui’s analysis of dungeon creatures as food sources, Seno delves deeply into the complex communication styles which may include scent, various movements, or even ranges of color that humans cannot comprehend, often shown simply as sketchy shadows on the page, or blurred movements. A little spice of romance and humor is added by the inclusion of notes from the professor’s journal at the end of each volume.

This is a rather dry narrative, with little action and much repetition of Hakaba’s efforts to view other cultures objectively, rather than through the lens of his own human experience and cultural mores. The introduction of different species and explanation of their language and cultures may be of interest to readers who like detailed fantasies and I personally found this a peaceful and interesting fantasy of linguistics, but it’s unlikely to appeal to the teens for whom it is rated. It’s most likely to appeal to adult readers or those who are more academically inclined, as well as serious fantasy fans who like to invent and play with languages.

Heterogenia Linguistico: An introduction to interspecies linguistics Vol. 1-3
By Salt Seno
Yen Press, 2020
ISBN: 9781975318079


Publisher Age Rating: T

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Japanese,

Alice in Borderland

Welcome to Borderland. You’ll be dying to stick around.

In volume 1 of Haro Aso’s Alice in Borderland, life is simple, if a bit of a letdown, for eighteen-year-old Arisu and his friend Chota. Obsessed with girls and unconcerned with school, the boys spend their time skipping class and hanging out with older dropout Karube at his bar. Weighed down with family and social pressure as well as dwindling hope for the future, the trio have accepted their lot in life. All that changes with a visit to a fireworks show and a flash of blinding light.

They wake up in their own town—now rundown and absent of any people. Unsure whether they’ve been transported to the future or some alternate dimension, the three embrace their new adventure until they meet a woman named Shibuki—a woman who calls this strange landscape Borderland and reveals that it is not the grand opportunity they first believed. Borderland is an arena. Every night features games where the stakes are life and death—and the only way to stay alive is to keep playing. With no idea who controls Borderland, the four survivors must work together to face the challenges and uncover any way to get home. There are many players in Borderland, but not all of them are friendly. And many will not be going home alive.

Written and drawn by Haro Aso, the story takes its time establishing the characters before charging headlong into the tension of their new predicament. The manga is weakest at its opening, in part because neither Arisu or Chota is particularly likeable when we first encounter them. As the story continues, Aso weaves in flashbacks alongside the main action, giving the reader insight into the struggles each faces and deepening our investment in their survival. It is these secret motivations, in part, that helped bring them to Borderland for this twisted version of a chance to change their fates. Each of the four central characters brings a key strength to the group’s survival, and with each new player introduced, Aso lays the groundwork for future plotlines. Volume 1 is an exciting read on its own, and its promise of future stories makes it a strong introduction to the series.

The art has comfortably familiar manga stylings. There are some strange flourishes—particularly in characters’ expressions—but Aso largely captures the events and emotions of both quiet moments and action sequences in clear detail. In particular, the visuals shine during some of the most sinister moments of the second game, keeping the unfolding action clear while also building tension and drawing the reader into the nail-biting efforts of the characters just to see another sunrise.

The publisher rates Alice in Borderland Mature for depictions of violence and death. Along with some language and suggestive content, it’s certainly a manga aimed at more mature readers. While the themes and violence are intense at times, the content is not so extreme as to be unsuitable for older teens. With a mix of teenage and adult characters, mature teens and adults alike will certainly find something to appreciate here—especially for fans of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games as well as the more recent Squid Game on Netflix. A strong first volume with lots of thematic and action promise for future chapters, Alice in Borderland is a worthy addition to any collection with older manga readers. And with the 2020 live-action adaptation of this manga available on Netflix as well, having this series on the shelf carries the added benefit of drawing in any reader curious about the source material.

Mystery, action, and high-stakes survival—Alice in Borderland, Volume 1 is bold enough to pull you in and has enough layers to keep you thinking about it even after the last body has hit the floor.

Alice in Borderland Vol. 1
By Haro Aso
VIZ, 2022
ISBN: 9781974728374

Publisher Age Rating: M
Related media:  Comic to Movie

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Japanese,  Character Representation: Japanese,

Came the Mirror & Other Tales

Supernatural intrigue laced with magical realism and punctuated by moments of humor permeate the short stories in Rumiko Takahashi’s latest collection Came the Mirror and Other Tales. This volume introduces five selections and an autobiographic bonus that highlights her early years as an aspiring manga storyteller.

Came the Mirror opens the collection with two teenagers who grapple with a dilemma through the time tested adage that with great power comes great responsibility. Whether by chance or by fate, Nana and Eito cross paths with each other and acquire magic mirrors that mysteriously materialize in the palms of their hands. They are gifted with the ability to see the dark side of people—an inner darkness manifesting as grotesque monsters to which the people themselves are oblivious. Together, the two must join forces to stop this insidious evil from spreading amongst the inhabitants of the town.

Obsession runs deep in “Revenge Doll” when Sentaro Yuda, a struggling manga artist past his prime grows jealous of a young budding artist who makes impressive strides with the chief editor of a popular manga magazine. One day, Sentaro receives an odd looking doll that grants him the power to place curses on others. How far will he go to fuel his jealousy? Will he resort to wishing death upon his competition?  Ailurophobia runs rampant in “With Cat” when cat-fearing Shuta attempts to reunite with his childhood crush Miya, only to discover that he may be developing feline urges—literally. In addition to these tales of magical and comical intrigue, “My Sweet Sunday” offers a glimpse into a young Takahashi who indulges in manga novels, takes a sequential art course in college, mimics the artwork of classic manga creator Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy), and follows the career of manga creator Mitsuru Adachi in her dream to becoming a manga artist herself.

Whether combating deadly monsters lurking inside the psyches of people, dabbling with a curse inducing doll, or entertaining pesky cat games, Takahashi’s stories run the gamut of magical realism and humor. As in her other popular series Ranma ½ and Inuyasha, ordinary and innocent characters are often thrust into extraordinarily bizarre and amusing situations. Her careful attention to conveying character emotions range from pensive curiosity and fearful anxiety to frustrated annoyance and anger. Climactic scenes unfold as striking medium close-up shots imbued with swift action and sound effects.  The stories cover a diversity of genres including horror, drama, romance, mystery, and comedy. Although some characters aren’t fully fleshed out, this collection offers a cross-sectional sampling of Takahashi’s standalone works that make an entertaining addition alongside her usual episodic series.

Came the Mirror & Other Tales
By Rumiko Takahashi
VIZ, 2022
ISBN: 9781974725847

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Japanese,  Character Representation: Japanese,

Ima Koi: Now I’m in Love, vol. 1

Satomi Mizusawa is a first-year high school student, and normally on the bashful side. But when a mystery boy saves her from a handsy stranger on the subway, she throws shyness out the window in her quest to meet her rescuer properly. She still regrets failing to act on a past crush and is determined not to make the same mistake again. So when she discovers that the boy, Yagyu, attends her school, Mizusawa makes a point of telling him that she wants to get to know him better. He agrees, and suddenly, they’re dating!

Unlike the common “will they or won’t they” romantic storyline, this manga settles the question immediately, following it with “and now what?” Mizusawa has never dated before, and she isn’t sure what the norms and expectations are. Can you ask for attention without seeming needy? What do you do when one of his friends seems not to like you? How do you tell your boyfriend that your birthday is coming up without sounding like you’re fishing for presents? Fortunately, Mizusawa has her supportive friend Nimo to help her figure it all out.

The central romance of this story is sweet, with Mizusawa and Yagyu each standing up for and taking care of the other. They’re clearly both still figuring out how to date, and each seems willing to give the other the benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, Nimo’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude adds some humor, as does the shock that Mizusawa’s older brother, Saichi, feels about his sister starting to date.

While the two main characters start dating abruptly, the relationship moves slowly in other ways. By the end of this volume, they have confessed to liking each other and have shared a couple of brief kisses. There is no more sexual content than this, aside from the stranger on the bus groping Mizusawa in one panel early on. There are a few moments of very mild danger, as when Mizusawa yells at a stranger for being rude to Yagyu and the stranger seems like he might possibly hit her before Yagyu intervenes. No one is hurt at any point in this gentle story.

The art of this manga is mostly straightforward and down-to-earth, with few visual exaggerations. Occasionally, a character appears in a chibi or stylized form for a single panel, and there are a couple of instances of floating hearts or fanciful screentones, but mostly, the art is consistent and realistic, by manga standards. Backgrounds are often minimal, composed mostly of screentones, keeping the focus on the characters and their emotions. When settings are illustrated, they are everyday places like school, Mizusawa’s home, or the mall.

This sweet, earnest romance will appeal to readers of romantic shojo manga, especially those who like a realistic contemporary setting. Unlike many series, it does not have a flashy hook—no sports stars, teen singing sensations, or characters hiding dramatic secrets (as far as we know). The most unusual part of the premise is the fact that Mizusawa and Yagyu start dating early on, eliminating the question of whether and how they will get together. Some readers may find this comforting, and might be intrigued by the new questions of how two high schoolers new to romance can build a relationship together.

Ima Koi: Now I’m in Love, vol. 1
By Ayuko Hatta
VIZ, 2022
ISBN: 9781974728954
Publisher Age Rating: Teen (13+)

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese


This uncanny story begins at the base of Mount Sengoku, where a woman named Kyoko Byakuya, whether by fate or chance, stumbles upon a secluded village covered by gold-colored “angel hair.” These fine threads of hair—known as divine Amagami—somehow possess a mystical ability that enables the villagers to commune with each other through the power of clairvoyance. But why do they believe this woman to be their messianic savior, and what unearthly forces have been unleashed by her sudden arrival?

Thus launches horror master Junji Ito’s Sensor, a cosmological tale of apocalyptic proportions. Whereas Ito usually spins tales of the macabre in short, self-contained stories with morbid shock endings, this graphic novel unfolds through episodic chapters, each one ratcheting up the suspense as side characters and incidents enter the plot. Among the intriguing elements are Wataru Tsuchiyado, a “no name” reporter who investigates the mysterious appearance of a woman with long, flowing golden hair, allegedly the sole survivor of a volcanic eruption from Mount Sengoku. During his investigation, an underground group of cult believers begin mobilizing their forces, seeking to summon forth their lord of destruction known as “The Black Hair.” Amidst these warring factions of good and evil, Ito injects his signature brand of horror including a hypnotherapy session that nearly spirals out of control; an onslaught of “suicide bugs” shaped like spiders with bulging sacs as they deliberately place themselves in harm’s way to be stomped upon; and a sinister woman in black who materializes in mirrors and stalks unsuspecting victims around the streets of Tokyo, causing traffic mayhem.

Ito serves up a flurry of horrific treats interspersed throughout an extensive storyline. From a pair of forlorn women with flowing, wispy hair to a dark, shadowy entity lurking in the hidden reaches of outer space, Ito infuses suspense with chilling effect. Swift action scenes punctuated by gradual close-upshots accentuate the mounting tension across his meticulously orchestrated panels.

Although fans accustomed to Ito’s self-contained tales of the macabre may prefer his concise narrative style, Sensor packs a unique dose of horror into an epic story that unfurls through episodic chapters, similar to the intense momentum of Remina. Furthermore, he conjures forth a cosmic tale that blends mystery, horror, fantasy, and even mythic elements that will diversify library collections in this obscure corner of the science fiction universe.

By Junji Ito
VIZ, 2021
ISBN: 9781974718900
Publisher Age Rating: 16+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese