Thursday, August 9, 2012

Magical Girls and Pretty Boys: Manga or Bust

Ayashi No Ceres
by Allison Pang

I'm writing this post a little ahead of the curve here, simply because I'll be in New Orleans by the time you read it and hopefully having fun at the Authors After Dark convention. (And it's hard for me to blog  when I'm out and about, so...stealth post it is.

Anyway, I've been wracking my brain for a few days trying to think of a book that I love unabashedly...and while I certainly do have some of those, I can't really come up with a specific one that I feel like I have to defend. I've got comfort books, but I'm not sure that's the same thing.

So instead, I'm going to mention more of a genre - manga.

If you're not aware, manga is essentially Japanese comic books - either in condensed book form, or sometimes serialized in manga magazines. They're often read from right to left, from the back of the book to the front. Takes a little getting used to, but I'm a purist in the sense that the artwork tends to look much better when they don't try to reverse it.

Now there are many different types of manga (and these categories can apply to anime as well) - shojo (girl's comics - usually focus on romance and relationships - Fruits Basket or Sailor Moon), shonen - boy's comics - more action based, through there may be romance in them - think InuYasha or Bleach), yaoi - (m/m romance/erotica), yuri (f/f romance/erotica), shonen-ai (m/m romance, but usually fluffy), shojo-ai (f/f romance, fluffy)

Anyway - there's a lot of grey areas and overlap and more subcategories than I care to get into right now.  My main point to all this was to focus on the shojo manga. (Which is what a lot of comic book arguments sometimes delve into when it comes to wanting better female characters in western comic books. "Go read manga or girls comics if you want that." This is one of my hot button issues that I'm not going to get into.)

Kaikan Phrase
So. Shojo. Here's the thing. I'm not a huge fan of romance stories by themselves. Not the books, anyway. I don't mind them, but romance books aren't always my first choice for reading material. But apparently, if there are pretty pictures involved? I will completely overlook any over-the-top characters or plot (or lack of plot) or things of a ridiculous nature.

Hypocritical? Yup. Things I would rake a regular book over the coals for are completely ignored the moment a bishie appears on the pages. I'm not sure why. I'm a sucker for art.

And that's not to say I don't discriminate between certain artists or stories. I do tend to skew toward manga with more adult story lines, and I have an exceptional soft spot for the "magical girl" stories. (These are stories where a girl/young woman is often transported from our world into another one - through magical means or dreams and they have to adapt to the new world and usually some form of power.) Again, can't really tell you why these appeal, but there it is. And the romance. The more over the top angst, the better. Smutty scenes? Yes, please. (Not moving into hentai territory, here - I don't need tentacles, thanks, but a well drawn rendering is fine.)

From Far Away
So I'll list a few of my favorites here - most can be be bought in the US. A few were dropped by the American publishers and you'll have to go to scanlation sites if you want to finish them.  (Fan scan and translation, for those of us who can't read kanji.)

1) Fushigi Yuugi - The grandmama of all Magical Girl Shojo - it's 18 volumes long, not counting the numerous spin-off novels, the 52-ep anime (which is crazy silly at times), the spin-off manga, two additional OVA movies and more merchandise than you can shake a stick at. It essentially follows the tale of Miaka, a school girl, who gets sucked into the world of a book with her friend, only to find out she's the priestess of  one of the four major gods of the world. (And her friend is one on the opposing side.) There's all sorts of love triangles and over the top craziness and collecting of celestial warriors and drama, drama, drama. Her main squeeze is Tamahome. I have a Tamahome poster in my office cube. >_<)

Red River
2) Red River - clocks in at 28 volumes. It's the story of Yuri, a schoolgirl who gets sucked in through a water portal into the past. She's been chosen as a sacrifice for an evil Hittite priestess/queen. But hey, she escapes and eventually becomes the concubine of a prince and the leader of the Hittite army. (The people there consider her to be an incarnation of Ishtar).  This one is actually pretty cool because it follows the history of the Egyptians and Hittites fairly accurately. Not counting the magical girl storyline, of course. Drama and sex and battle and intrigue, huzzah!

3) From Far Away - 14 volumes - another magical girl story  - schoolgirl sucked into another dimension to find out she's basically something called "The Awakening", sent to awaken the Sky Demon who is either going to destroy the world, or save it. Lots of political stuff and world building. Not as much drama as some of the other ones, but a nicely made and believable romance sub-plot.

Fushigi Yuugi
4) Ayashi no Ceres - not a magical girl in another world story, but by the same author as Fushigi Yugi. 14 volumes (and a 26 ep anime was made as well). This is about a family with a Celestial bloodline - one of their ancestors married an angel, but tragedy ensued - and now generations later, Aya, our heroine, is born with the reincarnated angel inside her...and her twin brother Aki, is born with the reincarnation of the original ancestor. (Which sounds like it could be fairly skeevy and incestuous, but it doesn't really go there. Not quite.) They become mortal enemies as the angel searches for her lost hagaromo, which the ancestor had stolen and hidden away so the angel couldn't return to heaven.

This little summary doesn't even begin to touch the love I have for this story. I collect cels from this anime. I have trading cards. I have soundtracks and posters and artbooks. This is my favorite manga of all time. Hands down. >_< Don't even get me started on Toya.

Immortal Rain
Other manga that I highly recommend along the same vein - Immortal Rain - this was put out by Tokyo Pop and only 8 volumes are available in English. TP went bankrupt and so never finished - but you can find the translations online. Another sort of angel and reincarnation story, but way, way different than AnC.  Also check out Nana - two women with the same name, one a regular girl, the other a punk rock singer become room-mates and good friends. This is essentially a romance drama. I don't think it's finished yet. There's an anime as well, really well done as well. Mmm. What else? Vampire Knight, Her Majesty's Dog, Sensual Phrase, Skip Beat, Fruits Basket...the list just keeps going on and on...

Hellsing (yummy Alucard!)
On a slightly less romantic note? If you like vampires (i.e. Dracula), Neo-Nazis trying to take over the world, demons, destruction, bad-assed priests and buckets of blood, definitely check out Hellsing. Not a shojo. But oh, so delightful.

(There's an anime and a rebooted OVA series too. Soundtracks are killer. Right up there with Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, both excellent, excellent animes in their own right.)


  1. That's very interesting. I have friends who love Manga and Anime and I just shrug. I like pretty picture as well as anyone, but I look at manga books and think, 'why would I want pictures when I can have more words!' Besides, I always like the pictures in my head better. :)

  2. OMG! I love that you love manga/anime so much!! When I read this it was like you were pulling my thoughts out of my head. LOL! Even the list you posted was like looking at my own. My addiction started with Sailor Moon, but it actually goes back to Robotech which I didn't know was an anime until I was older. You should also dig around and find some Manhwa if you haven't already. Goong is my favorite. There are also live actions movies and dramas based on mangas. And yes there is a live action Sailor Moon, along with musicals. ^_^ I will also state that manga is not for everyone. Some mangas are also in novel form although much harder to come by in the US. ^_~

  3. love manga! I like Vampire Knights, Circe, Trinity Blood and then I do love some m/m manga.

  4. A manga version of Sherlock? It's a Word Whores double feature.