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

Sensor

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.


Sensor
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

No. 5, vol 1

No. 5 exists in media res (Latin for “in the midst of things”), demanding that readers navigate a series of interpersonal relationships and backstories from a perpetual step behind. Whether this is an exciting or bewildering perspective (or both!) is up to the reader. The basic premise is that a Rainbow Council of numbered, super-powered beings is hunting down a rogue member named No. 5. The prelude is about one of the Council hunting a supposed deity elk with a pair of children. The first proper chapter has No. 9 chase down No. 5 in a desert (the Earth, in this tale of the future, is mostly desert), with other Rainbow Council members making appearances. The second chapter gives a somewhat more formal introduction to the numbered members, while chapter four provides a “summary in brief” page that may lead to more questions than answers. Chapter five opens in the style of a retro 60s anime that portrays the Rainbow Council like the heroes of Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009. These descriptions should give you some idea of the density of the plot, which is tied in knots that become rewarding the more thought is put into understanding how they came to be. Lines of exposition such as “One is as feared by the Rainbow Brigade as Snerferu was in the royal palace of Memphis” pass like puzzle pieces spaced miles apart.

No. 5 has absconded with a woman named Matryoshka, who is often shown eating or relaxing. This is not unique to her character: the richness of No. 5 as a manga largely comes from how these larger-than-life characters exist in their own bubbles. A few are devoted to fighting and destruction, but others wish to lead peaceful or caring lives. A map of the world shown early on helps ground each chapter in a geographic region, but each Rainbow member’s bizarre citadel fortress, combined with Taiyo Matsumoto’s unique art style, makes this manga’s Earth a world unlike any other.

Truly, Matsumoto’s art is the biggest draw here. Any dozen shonen artists could take the premise and make a decent fight manga out of it; Matsumoto is too observant and inquisitive to settle. His use of shading, paneling, juxtaposition, and dimension is endlessly playful. A panel of a battle-livened No. 6 leaping from an aircraft on horseback and declaring, “A view only the gods have!!” is immediately followed by a view of a cup being poured out in another scene. In several cases, if a character shouts or yawns or makes a personal observation, you can bet the paneling will tighten on that mouth or face. If a panel here or there looks sketchy by comparison, the reader must forgive Matsumoto, because another jaw-dropper is right around the corner. There are dozens of wide panels in which a character stands against a landscape or building among multiple happy animals. No. 7, who has dark skin and an afro large enough to support a resting cat, resists orders to fight No. 5, preferring to fish in peace among some islanders. For Matsumoto and the more empathetic characters, superpowers are no excuse for losing sight of the natural world.

Why is so much of this future Earth composed of desert, anyway? The Rainbow Council seems to be in the employ of a global military force, who spend a significant portion of their budget maintaining the Council’s presence. A public television show host says, “It seems clear that most of the laws governing our world exist only to please the military.” In another scene, among the wreckage of an old city, a character declares, “Those old-timers broke their backs building all this. It’s all ruins now. That’s a pattern that will repeat over and over again, forever.” The Rainbow Council’s presence is meant to inspire, but they seem more like puppets of an established order. A brilliant scientist who goes by Papa invents hybrid creatures for fun while dressed in a full-body rabbit suit.

This all sounds wacky, right? It totally is! Through the first volume, readers only get glimpses of No. 5 as a character. Matsumoto has a design for it all, though. Readers expecting a straightforward jaunt through a tournament arc of power creep will be sorely disappointed. Patient readers who pick up the separate vibes of each character and chapter will piece together the bigger picture and savor what is a truly unique comic. Starting with one of Matsumoto’s more accessible but no less stylized works, like Ping Pong, Sunny, or Cats of the Louvre, will help readers calibrate their expectations. I predict teens with an appreciation for the strange will pick up No. 5’s frequencies quicker than most. Some gun violence is the only content consideration, plus a panel of a smoking child. The first few pages plus a fold-out poster are in color, otherwise the other pages originally published in color are in black and white.

No. 5, Vol. 01
By Taiyo Matsumoto
VIZ Signature, 2021
ISBN: 9781974720767

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Japanese

Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

For those seeking to indulge in the spooky imagination of Junji Ito, the renowned “Stephen King” of Japan, his collection Lovesickness serves up an extra delectable treat that will whet voracious appetites for past and present fans. Marketed as a collection of ten stories, two of them are actually segmented into multiple chapters and drawn out as mini-novellas that occupy more than half the book.

The titular “Lovesickness” centers on a young boy named Ryusuke who returns to his hometown of Nazumi to discover a series of suicides among girls. What could possibly drive them to take their own lives? They wander through an ancient folkway in hopes of receiving an auspicious “crossroads fortune” from a mysterious handsome young man. Those who receive an ill-fated pronouncement on their love life kill themselves. This rash series of incidents propels Ryusuke to investigate these mysterious deaths. Combining the allurement of mystery, folklore, superstition, and urban legends, Ito unpacks a tale that crosses the realms of unrequited love and relentless passion, ultimately unleashing the deadly effects of human obsession.

In another twisted story, dark humor runs rampant in the dysfunctional family of orphaned brothers and sisters in “The Strange Hikizuri Siblings.” The grotesquely drawn siblings include an overweight, gluttonous brother, a fiendish, pigtailed young daughter, and a morbid young boy who may harbor a deadly secret behind his diffident facade. Their activities are equally outlandish: Their elder sister Narumi is driven to emotional distress when her siblings accuse her of indulging in a secret love affair; a dinner of conversations revolves around inventive methods to punish Narumi’s secret lover; and the family conducts a séance to conjure up their deceased parents with riotous effects.

Rounding out these protracted stories are shorter self-contained one-shots. “The Mansion of Phantom Pain” features a sickly, incapacitated boy confined to a mansion, whose pains are strangely connected to remote areas of the house. A woman considers undergoing surgery to remove her ribs in exchange for a beautiful physique in “The Rib Woman,” but at what cost?  The one story that doesn’t quite hit the mark is “Memories of Real Poop,” though some readers may still enjoy this lighter slice of edgy humor. Human obsessions with love, beauty, vanity, and greed permeate these gruesome stories—their plots often rising to a hyperbolic and feverish pitch.

From fog sketched panels and haunting sound effects to characters driven mad with desperation, Ito’s visual narrative images produce an eerie atmospheric mood and tone in “Lovesickness,” signifying the intoxicating spell under which the young girls have been bewitched. The abnormally drawn Hikizuri siblings wearing exaggerated facial expressions in the second story present a bizarre spectacle akin to the Addams Family.

Although not as prolific as previous collections, Lovesickness compensates by offering two extensive stories that afford more time for character development and will complement manga collections for readers with a penchant for the macabre tinged with black comedy.

Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection
By Junji Ito
VIZ, 2021
ISBN: 9781974719846

Publisher Age Rating: 16+

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

Creepy Cat, vol. 1

A young girl named Flora has just inherited a house in Cotton Valent’s Creepy Cat. What she doesn’t know is what other inhabitants she has inherited with it. There is a ghost cat which she refers to as the “creepy cat” that is intrigued by her and pops up everywhere she goes. At first, she is weirded out and scared by the cat and spends a lot of time trying to trap him. Eventually, she gives up and becomes used to his presence. Ghostly figures are not the only things attracted to Flora. A policeman by the name of Oscar is also interested in her. Just like the creepy cat, he shows up in unexpected places, but he’s more helpful than spooky. Comical adventures then ensue with the main characters.

The story continues with many vignettes of Creepy Cat being a goofball. These sequences went on a little too long for my taste. I was expecting more plot and some explanation for the multiple cats and specters that abound. In one scene, she looks like she will be attacked by a vampire but Creepy Cat charms him. In another scene, a boogeyman-type character is about to break into the house, but Creepy Cat sneaks up on him and scares him away. One scene puzzled me and that was when Flora and Creepy Cat are enjoying a candlelight dinner together. She remarks about not feeling alone because they have each other, while behind her are seven specters with blacked-out eyes. We have no idea how these specters are a part of this story, and it added to my frustration of mysteries being teased with no hints to what it might mean. Alas, it is the final moments of the graphic novel where we get a hint of where the story might go. I was also disappointed in the love interest, Oscar, as he never gets developed as a real love interest. He comes across more like a stalker than a dreamy police officer.

The one thing that I found impressive about the graphic novel was the artwork. You can tell what the artist drew their inspiration from. The story is drawn in gothic tones and looks very Tim Burtonesque. The lead character, Flora, has a vampire princess look with long flowing black hair, big oval eyes that are highlighted by a dark eyeliner. Oscar looked more like a butler or a chauffeur to me than a police officer in his suit and tie. He has a cone-shaped face with a pointy chin. Another influence for Cotton appears to be the anime My Neighbor Totoro. Creepy Cat looks a bit like a marshmallow with an elongated body and short limbs. He earns his name “creepy” due to his red eyes that glow.

In the end, Creepy Cat will probably find fans with a tween audience who will giggle at Creepy Cat’s antics. This graphic novel won’t find the same admiration with a mature teen or adult audience. It’s hard to judge by a first volume if a series is worth collecting. You need to read about three volumes to get a sense of where the story is going. The end of this volume hints at something intriguing, but it is hard to tell if it will lead to a satisfying storyline.


Creepy Cat, Vol. 1
By Cotton Valent
Seven Seas, 2019
ISBN: 9781648277870
Publisher Age Rating: 10+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Japanese

Boys Run the Riot, vols. 1-2

Boys Run the Riot is unique for a slice-of-live manga. It tells the story of a transgender high schooler named Ryo Watari. When we first see him, he’s switching out of his school uniform and into his gym clothes in a train station bathroom. He hates his uniform for more than the usual reasons—his uniform is a girl’s uniform and reminds him daily that he was born female.

Ryo navigates the pitfalls of high school with the added stress and complications that come with being transgender. Besides the uniforms, the social situations are fraught. The guys tell him he’s a girl and needs to hang out with girls, and the girls call him a slut for hanging out with boys all the time. He doesn’t fit in. And in Japan, “the nail that sticks out, gets hammered down.”

The only time Ryo feels like himself is in his street clothes. He’s fascinated by fashion and he can indulge himself by dressing as masculine as he likes with no judgement (besides his mother’s). Suffering from body dysphoria, lonely, and unsure of himself—how to act, whether to come out at school, at work, not to mention what changing room to use—he feels alone. 

Enter transfer student Jin. He presents himself with an air of confidence that makes Ryo jealous, with unconventional hair and piercings (a big no-no in Japanese high schools). But these two outsiders find each other in a clothing boutique seeking out the newest fashion label.

It’s an unsurprising plot that these two form an unlikely partnership and decide to make their own fashion brand in the first volume of the series. Writer and artist Keito Gaku has created charming, honest characters in a tightly paced, well plotted manga that will hook its readers. 

Rather than instant success and smooth sailing, these young entrepreneurs will face adversity. But they will not do it alone. They add to their ranks with a photographer, as well as a social media influencer. They will meet dubious adults who scoff at the idea of teens running a fashion brand, and deal with their own doubts and insecurities as well. They meet those challenges with a plan, some guts, and a little bit of luck.

Gaku is transgender himself and his heartfelt insight is all over the page. Ryo’s story is dramatic, yes, but punctuated with humor and humanity. The amazing part of the production of this manga is that the entire English translation and localization team at Kodansha Comics are transgender as well, a dream team that is creating work that will resonate with any reader.

I was blown away by the first two volumes in this series and can’t wait to see how far Ryo goes. The publisher rates this series for older teens (16+), which makes perfect sense for the age of the characters. The translation notes provide information not only on Japanese culture, but on transgender issues like binding, as well. 

This series needs to be on high school and public library shelves everywhere.

Boys Run the Riot, Vols. 1-2
By Keito Gaku
Kodansha, 2021
Vol 1 ISBN: 9781646512485
Vol 2 ISBN: 9781646511198

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)Publisher Age Rating: 16+

Creator Representation:  Japanese,  Gender Nonconforming
Character Representation: Japanese, Gender Nonconforming,

Yakuza Lover

Yakuza Lover, a new series by Nozomi Mino, follows the romance between a college girl, Yuri, who gets swept off her feet by the young underboss of the Oya crime syndicate, Toshioma Oya.

In the first volume, Yuri, feisty and beautiful, attends a party in search of a boyfriend. After being hit on by rude guys, she and her friend decide to leave, only to walk in on some illegal drug use—and that is where the trouble starts. Although Yuri is prepared to defend herself (through violence if necessary), they are interrupted by a suave, sexy yakuza named Toshioma Oya, who takes care of the problem, wraps Yuri in his coat, and gives her his business card. Oya is immediately smitten by the headstrong, gorgeous woman and Yuri is undeniably drawn to the handsome, gallant gangster. 

Name your romantic trope and Yakuza Lover has it. In spite of that, this shallow-sounding romantic plot works. Oya is not your typical yakuza. He’s slim, stylish and romantic, rather hulking and thuggish. Yuri is brave and capable and smart enough to not immediately fall into bed with him. The romance proceeds apace and the reader isn’t kept waiting for the good stuff. The only refreshing original plot point in Yakuza Lover is that Yuri exercises her sexual agency without being manipulated or forced. Oya, in a dangerous line of work, seeks to live his life to the fullest—he sees what he wants and goes for it, but it’s left up to Yuri to make the last step and cross the line into a sexual relationship with Oya, even though it may put her in danger.

What fun would it be if she played it safe? 

It’s not a love story for the ages but the manga is well drawn and enjoyable enough. The characters are gorgeous and volume 1 ends in a cliffhanger that will be enough to keep me interested in the second installment. Only time will tell if the plot is sustainable over the long run.

Yakuza Lover is for mature readers (18+), featuring violence and on-the-page sex (although not full-on nudity). It’s a great, modern romance for fans of titles like Midnight Secretary, An Incurable Case of Love, or Happy Marriage?.

Yakuza Lover is published by Viz Media and a second volume will be released in September.


Yakuza Lover, vol. 1
By Nozomi Mino
VIZ, 2021
ISBN: 9781974720552
Publisher Age Rating: 18+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese

Bounce Back

Thirteen-year-old Lilico has a picture-perfect life in Japan. She’s captain of the girls’ basketball team, which is headed to win their final competition, and she and her teammates are best friends. Then her parents break the news: They’re moving to New York! After a whirlwind of travel, Lilico lands in an American school, completely out of place, and somehow offending Emma, the most popular girl and leader of the basketball team, on her first day.

Lilico’s misery slowly abates. Her parents, also struggling with culture shock, never really support her, but she manages to work things out with the help of her guardian spirit, who manifests in her cat, Nicco. Even more, she’s helped by the cheerful friendship of Nala and Henry, the nerdy kids who befriend her first. But when she becomes the school’s star basketball player, she feels like she must be there for her teammates, even if that means leaving Nala behind. When Lilico’s choices hurt Nala, she will need all the help of her old and new friends to bring everyone together and finish the year successfully, in basketball and in a new home.

Although the art style has many manga trademarks, such as Lilico starting out the story as a stereotypical Japanese school girl in sailor suit uniform with perky pony tail and oversized eyes, she’s gradually toned down until she looks slightly more realistic in the final pictures. The new students she meets include a variety of characters with light brown skin tones and their hair varies from short and curly to long and wavy. Readers will see glimpses of Japanese food and culture in some parts of Lilico’s home, such as her father’s clothing and interest in katanas, but they are usually explained as her parents being embarrassing or passed off with stereotypical remarks from the Americans about how the Japanese are “so polite.” There are kawaii elements and lots of emotional drama is signaled with stars, tear drops, etc.

This OEL (original English language) manga is being published by an American/British publisher, Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, and I think it is intended to be a combination of manga tropes with the U.S. style of graphic memoir, à la Raina Telgemeier, but I did not find it to be very successful in either arena. Lilico never really thinks deeply about her actions and when she manages to reconcile Nala and Emma in the end, it’s by exploiting Nala’s sewing abilities to create free costumes for the basketball team. Nala and Henry, in their turn, befriend Lilico in the beginning because of their obsession with Japanese culture and Nala seems more excited over getting a genuine sailor suit school uniform than learning about Lilico as a person. Lilico’s parents are almost completely absent, both emotionally and physically, and make no comments on Lilico popping out in New York for a date with an unknown boy. Most of the text is told in brief, exclamatory sentences with lots of dramatic declarations and, while it might pass for a school drama manga, it’s hard to see this as representative of a US-based school story. The students appear to be attending a privileged school, with plenty of access to technology, fashion, and entertainment, and no issues of race or economic status.

The author speaks very briefly about her own life, coming to the US from Japan and teaching students how to draw manga, and includes character sketches and some information on her art tools. I think this might have been stronger if it had been a series, following up a on number of things that are quickly passed over, like the initial disagreement between Emma and Nala, on Emma and her friends virtually bullying Nala, Lilico’s comment that her father thinks he’s the reincarnation of a samurai, and the school’s lack of a coach for the girls’ basketball team.

Although not an outstanding example of either realistic graphic memoirs or manga, this is notable in being appropriate for middle grade readers; there is no language stronger than the occasional “crap” and one or two brief kisses between Lilico and her new boyfriend. Kids may not learn much about either basketball or Japanese culture, but they will appreciate seeing that kids with many different interests can be friends, and Nala’s elaborate costumes will please cosplay fans. This might also convince some readers to explore the manga genre a little further, or to take a break from manga and try out some different graphic novels.


Bounce Back
By Misako Rocks!
Feiwel and Friends, 2021
ISBN: 9781250806291
Publisher Age Rating: Ages 9-13

NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese

Sasaki and Miyano, vol. 1

Sasaki and Miyano is a delightfully fluffy teen romance manga. It falls under the Boys Love or LGBTQ+ genre and is loaded with typical romantic tropes: the bad boy upper-classman matched with a cute, but oblivious younger boy, who happens to be a secret BL manga fan at an all-boys school. 

Older Sasaki is a tough older student who seems to fall hard for the innocent, awkward Miyano. The first volume is a sweet introduction to this slice-of-life, meta, romantic comedy. Sasaki starts borrowing manga from Miyano, calls him Miya-chan (a cute diminutive in Japanese), and visits the younger boy in his classroom.

This manga is a great introduction for manga readers interested in LGBTQ+ romance. It’s chaste enough for younger teens and artist-creator Shou Harusono touches all the bases for the genre. It’s a slim volume, and features the main plot with short pages following a secondary plot about the school cultural festival (a mainstay in Japanese high schools). Harusono’s artwork is very good, with well-drawn characters, solid background work, and the art backs up the slow, sweet burn of the burgeoning romance.

Sasaki and Miyano was originally serialized as an online comic on Pixiv—a Japanese-founded site for creators of anime and manga to upload and share their work. Picked up by Japanese publisher Kadakowa and released in Japan in 2016, it’s been licensed and translated in English by Yen Press for their growing LGBTQ series line. The English translator includes a very helpful explanation of terms common in manga and Japanese to clear up any misunderstandings about the forms of address, plot, or tropes used in the manga.

Sasaki and Miyano will continue in a short series of four volumes and I am already personally invested in their story. Miyano, as a fan of BL, doesn’t seem to realize he is actually IN one. Sasaki, with his growing regard, also seems determined to make their own BL plot line work out in real life. This is a great addition for a teen manga collection and it will be a hit with LGBTQ romance fans. All of the characters are male and none of them identify as LGBTQ. It’s recommended for ages 13+ by the publisher.


Sasaki and Miyano, vol. 1
By Shou Harusono
Yen Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781975320331
Publisher Age Rating:  Teen (13+)
Series ISBNS and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese