When you want to read a new manga but you have yet to find the perfect one: story of every otaku’s life.
As a huge fan of shoujo mangas, especially school life settings (which I will be focusing on here), I sometimes find it hard to find a new series after reading practically every single one. I am sure I am not alone, so here is a list I have compiled together of all the most pure, heart-wrenching, adorable, palpitating, hilarious, and sweetest mangas [with amazing art] that I have discovered over the years. There is no particular order to this list because I think they are all equally well-written.
First, what is shoujo? (for those of you who are new to Japanese manga). Shoujo literally means “little girl” and is usually targeted at girls aged 10-18. The main focus of shoujo is typically centered around romance and emotions: for example love stories, as compared to the guy version of shoujo, which is shounen. Those tend to have a lot of fight scenes, adventures, and other boyish themes. Going back to shoujos, they are known for feminine art styles: big eyes, beautiful hair styles, and cute outfits. In this post, I will be focusing on one side of shoujo, which is the school life genre. There are numerous noticeable tropes that you can expect from school life mangas. Here is a basic list:
- A female main character (but there are a few exceptions)
- A love interest, or multiple
- Love rival(s)
- High school debuts
- Struggles with friendship
- Sparkles and tears
- Possibly at least one beautiful, rich, perfect, and extremely idealized character
This is just a basic list, which does not include the annoying tropes that a lot of school life shoujos (SLSs) tend to have. These can include:
- Naive heroines
- Frustrating misunderstandings that should have never happened in the first place
- Predictable moments and rivalries
- Shallow characters with not a lot of good character development
- Unrealistic characters
- Transparent settings and obstacles
Whenever I read a new SLS with any of the traits from the second list, I am immediately turned off. Most of the time, if I do get through the entire story, I only do it out of boredom or I am simply settling. However it brings me great joy and pride to announce and share with you all the few SLSs that have not yet disappointed me. The good news is that some of these are complete, so no more of those long-awaited cliffhangers!
1. Hirunaka no Ryuusei (complete) by Yamamori Mika
Online summary: 15-year-old country girl, Suzume Yosano, has to move to Tokyo to live with her uncle due to her father’s transfer. She bumps into a mysterious man who ends up taking her to her uncle’s place after she gets lost. Turns out, Suzume will be seeing him a lot more often once she starts school because… he’s her homeroom teacher!?
Genres: Comedy, Romance, School Life, Shoujo, Slice Of Life
This is probably one of the least frustrating SLSs out there, and I think that is because the heroine has a very real mentality: she is emotionally strong when she needs to be and is not a selfish character. The realism of this manga shows through all the emotional interactions between all the characters. For example, when something important needs to be done, it actually gets done and in the best way possible. This may sound vague right now, mostly because I do not want to spoil anything, but if you think about it, it makes sense. There is strong character development in everybody as well, even for secondary characters, which I believe is the backbone to every good story. And trust me, the ending is extremely satisfying.
2. Last Game (ongoing) by Amano Shinobu
Online summary: He’s rich, he’s smart, girls gather around him all the time, and he has always gotten first place on his exams… well, until Kujou transferred into his primary school class. She is quiet, plain, and poor, yet not once has she failed at beating Yanagi, both in academics and sports! Yanagi has made it his life goal to defeat this girl Kujou, and ten years later, as they enter high school, he just might finally win! This is the story of their last game.
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance, School Life, Shoujo
“A pure and twisted love story,” this is play on unrequited love. I have to say, the author of this manga really knows how to pull on her readers’ heartstrings. Something unique about this manga is that the hero of this story is a boy (Yanagi), which is not what you typically see in shoujo mangas. However for Last Game, it just works, but as you progress through it, you start to get every character’s background story and a taste of their distinct inner thoughts. On a side note, I have never pitied a character so much, and I think the fact that I can connect so strongly with this story is that everybody (as in the characters and the reader) is able to interact with the story. You quickly find yourself rooting for Yanagi in his struggles not just in terms of OTPs (one true pairings), but on a more human level as well. Read it, and you’ll see what I mean.
3. Strobe Edge (complete) by Sakisaka Io
Online summary: Ninako is a meek, gentle high school student. She has never been in love. Ninako asks Daiki, who has emotions towards her, about what being in love feels like. She thinks he is a good guy but…? One day, on the train home from school, she bumps into Ren, a popular guy at school. With just a short conversation and his smile, she experiences a new feeling. Just what is this feeling…!? Ninako’s first love is starting!
Genres: Drama, Romance, Shoujo
This is another page “clicker” for any sucker for dramatic love stories. Compared to the first two I listed, this story, instead of pulling a 360, it pulls at 45. There are both weak and strong characters here, but most of them are admirable. For some, this may trigger tears and can be a little frustrating in a “bad” way, but it is still worth the read. The story’s heroine though, is probably one of the purest girls out there. She is innocent, hardworking, and honest, which is an important quality to have in this love story. Strobe Edge really tests its reader’s emotions and reasoning in not just love, but family and friendship too. You also might find yourself thinking back on your past romances and wondering if you did the right thing. Ninako’s purity really has the power to influence and open up your heart.
4. Ao Haru Ride (ongoing) by Sakisaka Io
Yoshioka Futaba has a few reasons why she wants to “reset” her image and life as a new high-school student. Because she’s cute, she was ostracized by her female friends in junior high, and because of a misunderstanding, she couldn’t get her feeling across to the one boy she has always liked, Tanaka-kun. Now in high school, she is determined to be as unladylike as possible so that her friends won’t be jealous of her. While living her life this way contentedly, she meets Tanaka-kun again, but he now goes under the name of Mabuchi Kou. He tells her that he felt the same way as she did when they were younger, but now things can never be the same again. Will Futaba be able to continue her love that never even started from three years ago?
Comedy, Drama, Romance, School Life, Shoujo, Slice of Life
Many readers may go “doki doki” over this love story, which includes plenty of laugh-out-loud-worthy moments. Then as the story progresses, readers and watchers find themselves literally biting on tissues and slamming their fists on tables every time the love birds share a moment.
Ao Haru Ride has now been made into an anime, so that alone must mean that it is popular, right? Most of the time the original manga is better than the anime, but in this case I personally do not completely agree with that. Just as the title suggests, the story does take you on a ride of emotions, but as new struggles arise, the narrator becomes extremely frustrating, which is no surprise for a high school shoujo manga. Despite taking place in high school though, this story carries a lot of mature themes, which makes up for all the frustrating moments. It gives off deep messages that touch not only on love, but life and family as well. It is a jumble of emotions and feelings that all come together in a simple yet complicated love story.