Alpi, a young girl traveling with her assistant Perenai, is a soul sender, a human who has the power and resistance to help release spirit souls after their physical forms perish. Regular humans succumb quickly to the curse, however, soul senders are able to perform valedictions while taking in only a small amount of the curse themselves. Over time, the curse does build up, and they must visit a temple to purify themselves and cast out the curse. Alpi is pretty young to be working as a soul sender, but she is traveling to find her parents, who are also soul senders and who stopped sending letters home after a recent mission. Alpi is hoping to follow the clues in the previous letters to retrace their path and eventually find them. Along the way, she encounters several towns that need her ability. Sometimes they must work together to find a creative solution to the rather large problems they are facing.
Each chapter in this volume is referred to as an episode, which feels appropriate as most of them contain smaller conflicts that are resolved in the chapter. The final two chapters of this volume cover a longer conflict that goes more in depth into the relationship between humans and spirits. The level of detail in the black and white illustrations adds an extra layer of enjoyment to reading this title. Although it is difficult to differentiate small villages in similar landscapes, the illustrator does their best to give each location its own feeling. Usually that is created through the characters interacting with Alpi and Perenai. The overall feeling for this narrative is that you can overcome obstacles at any age if you work together to solve problems, which is a great message for our younger readers. This series will do well in a middle grade collection in a public or private library. It may be challenged in a school library due to the depiction of spirits and talk of souls.
Alpi the Soul Sender Vol. 01 By Rona Titan, 2023 ISBN: 9781787741300
Publisher Age Rating: All NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Bell and his friends (or Familia) have been working on fulfilling extra quests in the Dungeon of Orario in order to purchase a very expensive dress for their patron deity, Hestia, to wear to the Holy Night Festival. A member of the Familia, Haruhime, does not venture out of their home base often due to reasons explained in a different series set in the same universe, so Bell escorts her during the Festival so she can enjoy herself while feeling safe. While enjoying the scenery, they meet Tarvi, a mysterious stranger new to town who is also enjoying the Festival activities. It seems she is also trying to avoid some soldiers, so Haruhime convinces Bell that they need to help their new friend avoid being caught.
Tarvi and Haruhime have much in common and quickly become fast friends and we learn that Tarvi is from a small country outside of Orario called Beltane. When the truth comes out about the soldiers and their relationship to Tarvi, Bell and Haruhime join forces with them to keep both girls safe and out of trouble. Unfortunately, that is not easy when they’re trying to impress each other instead of paying attention.
This series could be read on its own without any knowledge of the original manga or anime; however, I would not recommend purchasing only this series since it is a spin-off. This first volume does include explanations of key terms such as “Familia,” “Deities,” and “Status” in between chapters or in exposition text boxes. All of the previous character development and relationship establishment is not explained in this volume. Some of it is alluded to if deemed important to explain the plot of this spin-off. As someone who has watched the four anime seasons and read a few of the spin-off manga, I had no problem following the relationship dynamics and personality traits of characters like Hestia, who has a super obvious crush on Bell, and Bell, who is oblivious to any female interest in him despite the name of the main series. I don’t think new readers to the world would be as enamored if they didn’t have this outside information.
For readers who are familiar with the world and established characters, this story introduces a new country and a new character who befriends Haruhime quickly. This spin-off looks like it might spotlight Haruhime a bit more and give her some room for growth and development on page, but that could change in the following volumes now that the new additions have been introduced. Tarvi is an interesting addition to the world and brings a new perspective from a country outside of Orario. I would recommend this series to libraries that cater to teen readers that enjoy the main Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Series. Please note that this series is also rated Older Teen by the publisher due to kidnapping with the goal of sexual assault and violence. No sexual assault takes place on page in the first volume.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Memoria Freese, Holy Night Traumerei Vol. 01 By Fujino Omori Art by Yu Shiomura Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975366537
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen Related media: Game to Comic
Known as the Silent Witch because of her ability to cast magic without vocal chants, Monica Everett leaves her secluded station to attend Serendia Academy. But she isn’t attending to learn, she’s there to secretly protect the second prince, Prince Felix Ridill at the behest of her colleague Louis, who was charged by the king to secure the protection. The prince would never suspect Monica as a spy sent to protect him since the reason she learned unchanted magic was to circumvent her inability to speak in front of others due to anxiety.
Shortly after arriving at Serendia Academy, Monica immediately discovers that something is not right. A noble is accused of embezzling from the student council funds, and a chance encounter with the second prince in the gardens ends with a potted plant being thrown at him from a great height. Despite this, Monica manages to make a new friend and get close to the prince to help with the investigation. All this with her cat familiar, Nero at her side.
Being the first volume in a new series, there were some cases of info-dumping exposition, but also new characters were given name and rank placards to help the reader identify the many characters featured in volume one. Luckily, none of these text boxes detract from the illustrations since they are lovely. The use of shading is used well in the absence of color to create plenty of contrast between locations and characters. And there’s lots of little details sprinkled throughout as well to reinforce that these students are nobility.
I personally enjoyed this series opener since it contains both magical school and dark academia tropes. The main character is quite powerful but is so shy that she comes across as a background character instead of a main character that demands attention. The story moves forward quickly for a first volume, answering a couple of questions while introducing plenty of others to keep the reader interested. This would likely do well in any teen collection and especially at any library where patrons are looking for more magical school or dark academia titles. There is also a light novel of the same name.
Secrets of the Silent Witch Vol. 01 By Matsuri Isora Art by Nanna Fujimi Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975365301
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Japanese,
Picking up the story two weeks after the end of volume one, Aella is still recovering and trying to process those events. Her mother is gone, her crush betrayed her, and her “aunts” want different things from her. Plus, there’s the evil god reincarnated within her to deal with. With attacks coming more frequently, Aella makes the decision to accept Xir’s power and strength to exact her revenge on the Church of the First Light for killing her mother while trying to unite the disparate pirate crews under her leadership. But pirates and politics are difficult to navigate for Aella, especially when her advisors are telling her two very different opinions. So Aella turns to Xir for guidance and support.
This volume follows closely on the revelations at the end of volume one, which means it is absolutely necessary to read them in order. Volume two does provide a brief one-page summary of the events up to this point to help guide the reader. There is plenty of action, however, more conceptual ideas are explored through character growth and story development. Specifically, what leadership looks like, how friendships work, and self-control. The beautiful color and attention to detail match volume one. I really like the artist’s use of so many bold colors. It really makes the story feel unique and helps the reader understand what emotions the characters are feeling. With the focus on the characters, readers will enjoy getting to know more about the side characters’ back stories as well as more world building. With the amount of violence on page and the more conceptual topics, this is still a great addition to teen and adult collections.
Sea Serpent’s Heir, bk 2: Black Wave By Mairghread Scott Art by Pablo Tunica Skybound Comet, 2023 ISBN: 9781534399938
Publisher Age Rating: 12-17 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Being reborn as a genius in a new world, Kanata can’t wait until the day she is able to choose her profession. Everyone expects her to choose the Saint option and is surprised when she chooses Beast Tamer instead.
Almost no one wants this profession due their statistics being lowered and most monsters won’t form contracts with you unless you can defeat them in your weakened state. This does nothing to deter Kanata because she grew up in isolation and never had the chance to come into contact with fluffy critters. She longed to feel their fur for herself, so when she was reincarnated, she was blessed with the luck, strength, and vitality she lacked in her previous life.
The first thing Kanata does after choosing to become a beast master is wander into the woods to find a fluffy creature to tame. She finds a small fluffy cat being attacked by two large bird monsters that had previously given full adventurer parties issue when passing through the woods. Kanata defeats them easily and forms a contract with the cat, who proclaims he is the Demon King Zaggiel under a terrible curse. The next step for Kanata is to join the Adventurers’ Guild and find more fluffy companions.
Although the manga market is flooded with isekai stories, where the main character is reborn in a fantasy world, there are still lots of readers who enjoy finding new spins on the classic trope. In this series, the main character is specifically interested in petting all the fluffy creatures she can find because she was denied that in her previous life of hospitals and isolation. It’s an interesting take on a trope that usually focuses on the main character’s power level because Kanata doesn’t care about that at all. Just the fluff!
The illustrator does a fantastic job creating all the action and emotion that moves the story along. There are two small scenes that might be of concern to parents and librarians. Namely a bath scene where the main character is covered in key areas with steam clouds, which isn’t meant to be sexy. The second scene is a bit more concerning as it depicts theoretical implied rape. It is only one panel and the act is not described in detail, but it might cause issues. For these reasons, I would place this in your adult graphic novel collection or upper teen/new adult. Otherwise, fans of isekai and humorous adventure will enjoy this series opener.
Saint? No! I’m Just a Passing Beast Tamer! The Invincible Saint and the Quest for Fluff Vol. 01 By Inumajin Art by Falmaro Hollendonner Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975362492
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Gorou Amamiya is an obstetrician-gynecologist is a small hospital. He develops an interest in idol star Ai Hoshino after a former patient shared her obsession. One night, he comes face-to-face with Ai, who is pregnant with twins but doesn’t want her fans to know because that would kill her career as an idol. He is murdered before Ai gives birth and is reincarnated as one of the twins named Aquamarine.
The other twin, named Ruby, is also a reincarnation, the same former patient who introduced Gorou to Ai. Neither of them knows who the other was before their incarnation as Ai’s twins, but they work together to help Ai achieve her goals. Several chapters are spent on slice-of-life activities to build relationships and character development.
Unfortunately, Ai is murdered by a fan who then commits suicide when the twins are only four years old. The twins are adopted by Ai’s manager, whose wife had been taking care of them publicly, and Aqua decides that the only way the fan could have known their address was from their biological father, who has always been a secret. The story then jumps forward twelve years.
I enjoyed the coupling of the glitz and darkness of the entertainment industry. I have no personal experience, so I don’t know how accurately it is portrayed; however, it does seem to match what actors and industry people in the United States have revealed in interviews and biographies. It was especially fun to look closer at idol groups, which are very popular both overseas and here in the US. Even if the premise is not based in fact, the storytelling is excellent and crafts a good balance between drama and character growth. This story would benefit from color art, but the illustrator does a good job setting the tone for scenes with the appropriate glitz or darkness.
If you have patrons who are enjoying the anime (available to stream on Hidive), the manga is an excellent complement to have in your collection. The first volume is featured in the extended first episode of the anime, but the manga includes one-page interviews between each chapter that give additional insight into the main story. I would recommend this series for teens or adults since there are some sensitive themes explored.
Oshi No Ko Vol. 01 By Aka Akasaka Art by Mengo Yokoyari Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975363178
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Japanese,
Told in an episodic way, Coral’s story is like that of other teenage girls—except she’s a sea sprite and her best friends are a siren and a dryad. Coral has a lot of responsibilities she must balance between helping her mom sew dresses at her shop to teaching tourists how to surf at the local resort. One day, Coral is surfing in a little cove that rarely sees visitors when a fire ifrit named Nick Inferno washes up on the beach. Quite literally! It turns out he is trying to learn how to surf, but had a mishap and was just floating in the ocean until he was pushed ashore in Coral’s cove.
Coral develops a crush on Nick after talking to him, but he’s not from the area and she doesn’t know if she’ll ever see him again. In the meantime, Coral meets the new dryad assigned to revitalize the area’s nature and helps her learn about social interactions, including the very important reason for always wearing clothes—boys. Coral also bestows the name Lillyana to her new friend. Other slice-of-life and humorous moments are included in the narrative to flesh out the first volume.
My favorite part of this graphic novel is the color palette. The pastels and preference for cool colors in the storytelling and creating the characters evokes calm emotions and pleasant feelings. It also helped the characters with warm color schemes stand out when introduced.
At first, the story felt very episodic with little connecting plot; however, after the first couple of chapters, things start coming together. A mystery about Coral is introduced, misunderstandings abound, and relationships develop at a believable pace. The book also ends with a massive cliffhanger, so be prepared for readers to want the second volume as soon as possible! This is a great addition to any collection that has preteen or teen readers.
Coral’s Reef, Vol. 01 By David Lumsdon Art by Shiei Hollendonner Seven Seas, 2023 ISBN: 9781645059790
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Author and illustrator, Thien Pham, shares memories of his life framed around particular foods he remembers.
The book starts with a memory from when he was five years old on a small boat in the ocean fleeing Vietnam and encountering pirates. He remembers eating a rice ball his mother saved for him. His next memories come from his time in the refugee camp in Thailand when his mother purchased a banh cuon stall in order to support their family. After finally making it to America, Thien recalls his first American meal, steak and potatoes, as well as the luxury of fresh strawberries and potato chips. Life is hard for Thien’s family but they persevere together, opening their own café then converting it to a video rental store. Thien recalls attending an American school and reuniting with a friend he made at the refugee camp. The last few memories he shares are about the American disposition toward immigrants, especially the loud, angry messages, and his work to become a full American citizen with the support of his friends and family.
Sometimes words aren’t enough to convey all the emotions and meaning you want to share with others. This theme is prevalent throughout Family Style as Thien Pham’ excellent illustrations impart little things like the language barrier (word clouds full of lines and the occasional word that is recognized) or how tired his parents were so often. There were not very many bright colors used. Light seems to be used to show time of day. The muted colors serve to highlight and support the storytelling. Bright colors would have detracted from the serious tone used throughout. Personally, I find graphic memoirs more powerful than just words on a page or in audio form. It can be hard to imagine or picture someone else’s experiences from just words, so the illustrations express both the hardships and trauma as well as the triumphs and joys this family found together while pursuing the American dream.
The endnotes section contains a series of interviews and insights as the author answers some frequently asked questions like what his parents think of how he told the story and what they played with at the refugee camp. Although there are heavy topics introduced and discussed, I would recommend adding this to any graphic novel collection. It brings a perspective to light that not everyone has a chance to encounter in their everyday lives. The author keeps the illustrations pretty PG-13 and does show some violence on the page. The best use of this title would be for a parent to read it with their young ones and have discussions at the end of each memory/chapter.
Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam By Thien Pham Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250809728
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Vietnamese American Character Representation: Vietnamese American
Fifteen-year-old Anne is traveling to the capital to participate in the annual Royal Candy Fair to become a Silver Sugar Master like her recently departed mother. However, the quickest way to get there is on the Bloody Highway, so she’ll need an escort. Unable to secure human guards, Anne visits the fairy slave market to find a warrior fairy. She doesn’t like the practice of fairy slaves, but she’s desperate. On her way to the market, Anne ends up freeing a small worker fairy whose owner was making a spectacle in the street and almost killed the fairy. At the fairy market, there’s only one available warrior fairy and his tongue might be sharper than his blade.
Anne tries to become friends with her new fairy companion, Challe, but the power dichotomy prevents this and he tells her that as long as she is in possession of his wing (humans rip off one of the fairy’s wings when captured to control them since their wings act like their life force) he will have to obey her, but nothing more, and that she’s a fool for expecting anything else. On their journey, Anne discovers that the freed fairy, Mithril Lid Pod, has stowed away in her wagon. The three of them face bandits and a massive crow attack before making it to a waystation that’s safe.
This first volume excels at balancing story progression and world building. There’s still a lot more to learn, but I felt like I understood each character’s motivation and the basics of how the world functions and the characters’ places in it. Having already watched the first season of anime (and eagerly awaiting season two this July on Crunchroll), I knew where the story was going. But that didn’t lessen my enjoyment at all. (One interesting note, the English translation of the manga refers to fancy or pretty fairies as “pet fairies” while the anime subtitles called them “companion fairies.”)
The illustrations have a wonderful fairy tale feel to them to match the story, with enough detail to convey emotion and setting without overwhelming the reader with too much extraneous information. The delicate detail work on the sugar creations is particularly exquisite and showcases the fragile quality with only black and white illustrations.
Sometimes the first volume in a manga series is entirely setup without a lot of space for character growth, but this series does not fit that norm. Anne, Challe, and even Mithril Lid Pod all show growth by the end of the volume with Anne showing the most growth as she learns to take responsibility and assert herself. This is clearly a series to watch and I imagine the light novels are as well. I highly recommend this series for any library that collects manga and would hand it to any preteen or early teen reader interested in personal growth, journeys, or the fae.
Sugar Apple Fairy Tale Vol. 01 By Miri Mikawa Art by YozoranoUdon Hollendonner Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975367329
Publisher Age Rating: 13+ Related media: Anime
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Japanese
Picking up right where volume one ended, Sorceline must face more than one secret about her family in order to save her new friends from a mystery assailant. Meanwhile, a new apprentice, Charlie, arrives on the island to everyone’s surprise, including Charlie’s since he can’t see mythical creatures at all. This causes some confusion as they work to further unravel the mysteries presented in book one, which lead to new and more dangerous mysteries. As the overarching story progresses, the characters explore different areas of the island to help cryptids in distress, discover new and unexpected abilities, and learn about old enemies that may not be as helpless anymore.
This was an excellent second volume that manages to answer questions posed in the first book while introducing new storylines that will hopefully be expanded on in volume three, which does not currently have an English release date. I continue to be impressed by the use of color in the illustrations. The illustrator uses them to evoke emotions to great effect and enhances the storytelling by juxtaposing bright, cool color schemes with darker elements.
All of the characters are given more definition, building on volume one. Because there are so many side characters in this series, it is hard for each of them to have the same depth of characterization, especially when they do not appear central to the main plot. However, each character does contribute to solving the mysteries presented. This volume also includes a bestiary that highlights the name, habitat, special characteristics, and life span of the various cryptids found on the Isle of Vorn.
I still highly recommend that this series be added to any library with a middle grade patron population that enjoys magical schools, mythical animals, or a layered mystery. There is a little more violence in this volume than in the first, but not much.
Sorceline Vol. 02 By Sylvia Douye Art by Paola Antista Andrews McMeel, 2023 ISBN: 9781524882310
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Italian,