Dungeon Crawlers Academy, vol. 1: Into the Portal

Shortly after being denied access to the Dungeon Crawlers Academy, Nathan attends an auction for magical items in his town. When the dragon on display for auction becomes upset and starts shooting fireballs into the crowd, Nathan picks up a nearby powerful wizard staff to save the day. Unfortunately for him, the staff is worth around five million dollars and has attuned itself to Nathan. Meaning no one else will ever be able to use it. In order to pay for the expensive artifact, Nathan is forced to enroll in the Academy and starts the long process of learning how to use his new magical abilities in order to go on quests, where he will gather and bring back treasure and magical artifacts that can be sold to pay off his debt. 

Nathan soon learns that he is not the only outcast at the school and finds himself teaming up with Zach, a warrior, and Mandy, a thief. On their first adventuring trip through the portal, instead of an easy assignment, they are unexpectedly confronted with an army of goblins that they must outwit in order to escape alive. 

This was a very entertaining portal fantasy (or isekai for your manga lovers who might be interested in branching out to Western comics) that doesn’t cover any new concepts or themes. In fact, it includes a lot of the tropes associated with role-playing games. I think that subsequent volumes may diverge from those, though, as the story elements introduced toward the end of the volume have the potential to shake things up. 

Overall, the artwork is nicely done with a lot of emotion and detail showing on the page. I also enjoyed the short pamphlet at the very end that details the academy and some of the teachers. This book something I recommend for middle grade readers in 4th-6th grades, but I think it would also appeal to readers on either side of that depending on interest and reading level. 

Dungeon Crawlers Academy, vol. 1: Into the Portal
By J.P. Sullivan
Art by Elmer Damaso
Seven Seas, 2022
ISBN: 9781645059783

Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

Sleepless Domain, Book One: The Price of Magic

The city is beautiful, full of elegant, dreamlike architecture. But at night, it is invaded by monsters. Keeping them in check are the city’s magical girls: young women with the ability to transform into adorably-costumed superheroes. These girls attend a special school by day, then patrol the streets by night to protect the city.

Team Alchemical is a group of magical girls—and friends—with element-themed powers. Leader Tessa is the strongest, controlling a force called aether, while her friends fight using fire (Sally), earth (Gwen), air (Sylvia), and water (Undine). One night, after an argument over group leadership, Tessa decides to sit out patrol—and tragedy strikes. In the aftermath, Undine and Tessa’s lives are forever changed.

Now Undine—insecure Undine, always a support player in Team Alchemical—has to step into the spotlight. Wracked with guilt and unsure of whether she is strong enough to fight alone, she must decide where to go from here. Another magical girl, Heartful Punch, throws her a lifeline when she offers to team up, even though Heartful Punch famously fights solo. Could this be a way forward for Undine? But then, it’s hard to move forward when she keeps looking back at what she’s lost… and wondering it was due to bad luck, or something more sinister.

Like the Madoka Magica franchise, Sleepless Domain takes the cutesy aesthetic of magical girls and contrasts it with a grim storyline. The girls’ powers are linked to their colorful, adorably-attired alter egos, which adds to the feeling of wrongness when their stories involve violence and tragedy. The shift from a team-based story centered on Tessa to a story that mostly follows Undine is an interesting early twist—and the surprise factor is clearly intended, as the creator’s notes at the end say that Tessa was supposed to have a look that “screamed “typical main character.”

This story, which collects the first four chapters of an ongoing webcomic, is clearly the beginning of a larger arc. In the end, Undine still seems adrift. She has connected with Heartful Punch, but the two have made no formal plans to keep fighting together, and Undine is still looking for other teams she might be able to join. Tessa, now a supporting character, mourns and worries. Meanwhile, a mysterious enemy lurks. To be continued!

The art of Sleepless Domain is vividly colorful and has all the cute costumes, glowy magic, and dramatic transformation sequences that fans of the magical girl genre will expect. We see a lot of magical girls at the special school they attend, and even out of their costumes, they have a variety of appearances, with different body shapes, skin tones, and hair colors and textures. The unnamed city setting features elegant, whimsical architecture. The monsters are suitably creepy. The girls themselves, and certain elements of the setting, are drawn in detail, but the rest of the art is kept simple, though not jarringly so. Lighting is used to dramatic effect in many scenes.

Despite the deaths of several major characters, there is very little on-page blood and no gore. Most of the violence is magical, and is used against monsters. There is a small amount of swearing, but no sexual content and only the briefest references to romance.

With emotional complexity as well as monster-fighting adventures, all set against the pretty backdrop of a city full of magical girls, this book will appeal to fans of Madoka Magica and Magical Girl Raising Project.


Sleepless Domain, Book One: The Price of Magic
By Mary Cagle
Art by Oscar Vega
Seven Seas, 2021
ISBN: 9781648276507
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

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

Life of Melody

Sometimes a family can be made up of a fairy godfather, a beast man (a troll variant to be specific), and a baby they found in the woods. Or, at least in this case, a begrudging family. After a brief spat over who should take care of the child, Razzmatazz, the fairy, and Bon, the beast man, come to an agreement to raise her together, donning the guise of a perfectly normal human couple. Despite their initial hostility, they eventually grow closer and open up to one another, slowly coming to the realization that perhaps there is more to their relationship than just a simple ruse. Originally a Patreon-exclusive webcomic, Life of Melody makes its print debut with a charmingly domestic story about found family and the lengths one may go to be with the ones they love.

Mari Costa’s comic thrives as a humorous, and at times extremely emotional, romantic comedy. Razzmatazz (honestly, how awesome a name is that?) and Bon stand as the ideal odd couple, one being erratic, high-strung, and only a little awkward, and the other more down-to-earth, composed, and rational, though still able to comically point out the eccentricities of his partner. Their dynamic is one of the highlights of the comic, as it comes off as equal parts hilarious and heartwarming. Since the story spans a handful of years, we get to see their bond develop naturally over time despite the short page length. Due to the length, however, the pace seems somewhat rushed at the beginning, as Costa sets up their first meeting, co-parenting agreement, and moving in together all in the first chapter. Beyond that, the pace thankfully evens out once we see the two acquire jobs, make friends, and cement their places in the community as they find the best way to raise their daughter, Melody.

Costa expertly weaves emotional and comedic storytelling through her artistic style, whether it’s through expressive facial features or the lighting of a certain frame. When a character experiences a strong feeling, such as fear, stress, or anger, the panel is flooded with shades of red, making the character’s emotions immediately transparent and usually evokes an amused response. The same technique is also apparent when a character is more downcast, as the panel grows noticeably darker. This gives a feeling of visual diversity, as the entire comic is filled with a wide range of colors that perfectly capture the mood of each scene. The fact that the story takes place over a long period of time only heightens this quality, as it also gives Costa the opportunity to showcase each season in her style. I particularly enjoyed seeing the characters interacting with the lush greens of spring and summer, the rich orange tones of autumn, and the crisp blues and whites of winter. Overall, the use of color gives the comic its own versatile identity and only draws us in more to the beauty of the passage of time and emotional growth of the characters.

One aspect that I truly admire about this story is its LGBTQ+ representation, especially since this particular title is recommended for ages 13 and up. Typically, in comics targeted towards this age group, the characters in question are teens themselves, dealing with their own age-specific issues or even the ever present “coming out” narrative. While it is important for queer teens to see themselves represented on the page with characters their own age, it is equally important to show that there is hope for them in the future. Very rarely are there LGBTQ+ comics for teens that focus on adult protagonists dealing with adult issues, since there is the fear that they will not connect to the older characters or themes, or the material may not be entirely appropriate for the demographic. The only one that immediately comes to mind is Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, which is about two older women rekindling a romance they had in their teen years. With Razzmatazz and Bon’s relationship, it shows teens that queer relationships are sustainable and that it is possible to settle down and have a family, should they want to pursue a domestic life. It also helps that their relationship is normalized in this world, and that there are queer side characters as well. For so many queer teens, just being able to survive into adulthood is a major achievement, and comics like Life of Melody help them believe that they can make it there.

For that reason alone, I would heartily recommend it to audiences 13 and older. The story incorporates certain tropes that they may be familiar with and enjoy if they are interested in romantic comedies, such as odd couples, enemies-to-lovers, and a slow burn romance, as well as a captivating visual style. Librarians wanting to diversify their young adult comic collections or add more genre or content variety to the queer stories already on hand should consider purchasing this title.

Life of Melody
By Mari Costa
Seven Seas, 2021
ISBN: 9781648276491

Publisher Age Rating: 13+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Brazilian, Portuguese,  Lesbian,  Character Representation: Not Our Earth, Gay,

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness is an honest and heartfelt look at one young woman’s exploration of her sexuality, mental well-being, and growing up in our modern age. Told using expressive artwork that invokes both laughter and tears, this moving and highly entertaining single volume depicts not only the artist’s burgeoning sexuality, but many other personal aspects of her life that will resonate with readers.

(Publisher Description)

This title has not (yet) been reviewed by our staff, but it is a title that we highly recommend for the majority of libraries building collections for this age range.


My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness
By Kabi Nagata
ISBN: 9781626926035
Seven Seas, 2017
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)


Bride Was a Boy

A diary comic with an upbeat, adorable flair that tells the charming tale of Chii, a woman assigned male at birth. Her story starts with her childhood and follows the ups and downs of exploring her sexuality, gender, and transition–as well as falling in love with a man who’s head over heels for her. Now, Chii is about to embark on a new adventure: becoming a bride!

(Publisher Description)

This title has not (yet) been reviewed by our staff, but it is a title that we highly recommend for the majority of libraries building collections for this age range.


Bride Was a Boy
By Chii
ISBN: 9781626928886
Seven Seas, 2018
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)


orange

On the day that Naho begins 11th grade, she recieves a letter from herself ten years in the future. At first, she writes it off as a prank, but as the letter’s predictions come true one by one Naho realizes that the letter might be the real deal. Her future self tells Naho that a new transfer student, a boy named Kakeru, will soon join her class. The letter begs Naho to watch over him, saying that only Naho can save Kakeru from a terrible future. Who is this mystery boy, and can Naho save him from his destiny? The heart-wrenching sci-fi romance that has over million copies in print in Japan!

(Publisher Description)

This title has not (yet) been reviewed by our staff, but it is a title that we highly recommend for the majority of libraries building collections for this age range.


orange
By Ichigo Takano
ISBN: 9781626923027
Seven Seas, 2016
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)


Our Dreams at Dusk

Not only is high schooler Tasuku Kaname the new kid in town, he is also terrified that he has been outed as gay. Just as he’s contemplating doing the unthinkable, Tasuku meets a mysterious woman who leads him to a group of people dealing with problems not so different from his own. In this realistic, heartfelt depiction of LGBT+ characters from different backgrounds finding their place in the world, a search for inner peace proves to be the most universal experience of all.

(Publisher Description)


Our Dreams at Dusk
By Yuhki Kamatani
ISBN: 9781642750607
Seven Seas, 2017
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Volumes available: 4


Our Review

Our Dreams At Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare, vol. 1

Ride Your Wave

In Ride Your Wave, a surfer girl in a seaside town falls in love with a young firefighter. Having chosen to attend college near the ocean to indulge in her favorite pastime, Hinako is a carefree soul. She meets Minato when he rescues her from a fire in her apartment building. Minato is less carefree. He chose his career because of his strong convictions about helping others.

Sparks fly between these two different personalities and Hinako convinces a very reluctant Minato (who nearly drowned as a child) to try surfing. While attempting to surf a strong winter storm, Minato ends up trying to save a drowning jet skier and loses his own life.

Distraught over her guilt and loss, Hinako moves away from the ocean and falls into a depression until one day, while singing the couple’s favorite song, Minato appears in her water glass. From then on, she discovers that she can conjure Minato in any amount of water by singing that song.

The poignancy of the romance—the pair can longer physically touch, and nobody else can see him, has consequences for the other people Minato left behind; especially his coworker and friend, Wasabi and his little sister, Yoko.

The film’s themes of loss, grief, and moving on are told in a polished, beautifully detailed anime style by experienced and award-winning director, Makaaski Yuasa (Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Keep Your Hands of Eizuouken!, Devilman Crybaby). Although the themes are sad, and the emotional effect of this story is high, it is broken up by some sweetly written comedic scenes which lighten the mood.

Animation studio Science SARU deftly handles the gorgeous setting and characters. Movement is fluid and natural with extraordinary detail. The musical score matches the mood, including the theme song, “Brand New Story.”

Ride Your Wave is on a shortlist of possible Oscar nominations for 2021, along with two other high quality theatrical anime releases, A Whisker Away and Demon Slayer Mugen Train. Ride Your Wave was another theatrical victim of COVID-19 and has only been released on DVD in the US.

This film is for fans of Your Name and Fireworks and definitely belongs in any teen anime collection. It has wide appeal for adult anime fans as well. The DVD is unrated, but I would give it a solid PG rating, mostly for some kissing, mild profanity and alcohol use.

The film is getting a light novel and manga adaptation from Seven Seas Entertainment later this year.


Ride Your Wave
By Masaaki Yuasa
GKID Films, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Not Rated
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Japanese
Creator Highlights: Japanese