Hikaru to Hikari
Hikaru is a shy teenager with a secret. Besides being his regular self, he is also the upbeat and outgoing Hikari, a persona he adopts whenever his older sister forces him to cross-dress. While they usually just take pictures for personal use, on one outing Hikari ends up participating in a contest and catches the eye of a boy who just moved into town and happens to live right nextdoor.
The story is an awkward romance, as this boy finds out where Hikari lives and tries to ask her out. Hikaru is forced to balance his time between his normal self and his cross-dressing persona, unable to tell this boy the truth. First out of fear of his secret being exposed, but later because he begins to genuinely fall in love. Hikaru to Hikari is short, but very sweet and feels complete enough. A good snack for romance fans that are looking for a shorter story with a fun twist to it.
Hinekure Shisho no Mikaiketsu Jikenroku / The Rebellious Librarian’s Record of Unsolved Cases
This one takes a bit of setup, so please bare with me here. Bundo is a strange, reclusive fellow who restores books and art for a local library, which he does so well thanks to a certain ability of his. When Bundo touches art or text, he can briefly emerge himself in the thoughts and experiences of its creator, which allows him to perfectly understand them and restore their work as they would want it.
Naturally, this skill has more uses than just restoring art, so a local detective often visits Bundo or takes him along on cases, hoping he can shed light on what happened to the victims by touching something they made shortly before death. The story features a number of short mysteries that Bundo and his friends try to resolve, which also dig into a cold case that the detective has been pursuing since the very start of his career. It’s not Gosick levels of mystery, certainly no Sherlock Holmes, but it’s a fun read that has sufficient twists to keep guessing, thanks in large part to Bundo’s unique ability.
Honoo no Nobunaga / Blazing Nobunaga
This is certainly an interesting way to adapt history. Blazing Nobunaga is about the battles and political career of Oda Nobunaga, as seen through the eyes of a time-traveling ninja who has to make sure history plays out correctly.
In the present day, evil descendants of the Yiga clan have decided to travel back in time in a bid to replace influential people of the Sengoku era and conquer the world by altering the flow of history. Ninjaman has traveled along with them and joins up with Oda Nobunaga to uncover the Yiga plots and assure history is maintained. The story is heavy on comedy and I found it to be quite enjoyable, certainly helped by the adorable 90s artstyle. The jokes can be a little too exclusive to just the history geeks with a fondness for the warring states period, so be aware that it may seem a bit random if you aren’t into that.
Blazing Nobunaga knows what it wants to be and never overreaches. As a fan of the man’s ridiculous story, I had a good time with this time-bending take on it.
Hozuki-san Chi no Aneki / The Hozuki Siblings
Gorou is a reclusive teenager who likes video games, dating sims, and has a poorly-hidden stash of porn mags for literally everybody to accidentally uncover. His step-sister haru is the complete opposite, a stunning beauty with an outgoing personality, and who loves to tease (read: sexually harass) her new step-brother.
The Hozuki Siblings generally follows a 4-koma format and offers many brief storylines in which Haru plots and executes various lewd schemes to fluster Gorou. However, this has led to him developing a sister complex and becoming obsessed with the idea of marrying her, which is where the whole thing kind of turns sad. Like with Haunted House, the lighthearted comedy strays from the intended path and ends up feeling like deliberate bullying, as Gorou is publically humiliated, kept dependent, and some worse fates I won’t spoil. It’s presented as comedic, but I can’t help but feel uneasy about how these jokes are framed.
It also has to be said that the series runs on for a bit too long, even by the standards of a 4-koma manga. The storylines are quick and breezy, but with 30+ chapters I felt that there wasn’t enough story development to keep it interesting and individual jokes begin to recycle simplistic gags. Take a few extra points off for censorship and I was left feeling pretty lukewarm about this one.
Hoshi Mamoru Inu / Stargazing Dog
Yeah great, I love crying on the train to work.
Stargazing Dog is a series of stories about people and the beautiful bonds they create with their dogs, which often then shape their lives going forward. The most important story concerns a man whose daughter one day picks up a stray dog that he begins to bond with. Years later, the man has become chronically ill, their daughter runs away from home, and his wive divorces him. Left with little but the dog and a car, the two set out on a journey south and share both touching moments and devastating hardships.
It’s great, but also very sad. The other stories don’t come quite close to matching it, but all very well-written and beautifully illustrated. Even though I am a cat person who hasn’t owned a dog since I was a toddler, it still tugged at my heartstrings. This manga has since been turned into a movie, but I can recommend the source material to just about anybody. It’s a fantastic tale with a wide appeal, that perhaps even non-fans of manga & anime could appreciate.
Hoshi no Ponko to Toufuya Reiko / Ponko of the Stars and Reiko of the Tofu Shop
Since this manga is intended to deceive the reader, skip this section if you prefer to go in completely blind. It’s a seinen manga, I absolutely loved it, 9/10 stuff.
My theory here is that the author behind this work was deliberately trying to make something that parents and old grannies would buy for their kids in the stores without checking the contents. It’s just a theory, but Ponko of the Stars and Reiko of the Tofu Shop was fucked up enough to occupy my mind for most of a day, so I’d hate to see how much it would scar a child lured in by its adorable cover art.
Reiko is a teenage girl whose parents run a failing tofu shop, but her luck seems to turn around when she and her brother discover a weird animal that is left starving in the grass. Once fed, the creature introduces itself as Ponko, an interstellar merchant who came to earth to strike it rich, but ended up destitute and hungry. Reiko and her family help Ponko in return for help in saving the tofu shop, but the alien cons them and completely upends their lives.
The story skips 5 years ahead to a point where Reiko has grown up to become a vengeful young woman willing to sacrifice everything to find Ponko again and slay it. It’s a violent story filled with sex, drugs, and gore, all in a tone that completely takes the reader by surprise. My explanation here doesn’t even come close to conveying how crazy of a story this is; I was reading this one in wide-eyed amazement.
And the final piece of this edition’s manga is Hot Milk, a curiously-named manga for sure, but definitely an interesting one.
Milk is the heiress to a major company belonging to her grandfather, but doesn’t quite act like the young businesswoman she has to become. Instead of studying hard, Milk runs a convenience store that also takes on odd jobs to help ordinary citizens with whatever they might need. Her grandpa is worried about her safety and hires a bodyguard, the down-on-his-luck cool guy Saruno. Each story arc sees Milk come up with some new job that goes completely out of control, forcing Saruno to rush to her aid and put himself into danger.
This was a fun story to work through. Milk and Saruno make for a fun duo with good chemistry; a slightly-perverted but competent bodyguard and a cheeky, benevolent rich girl, it’s superb material.
This is one for all you lovers of folklore out there. Hyaku Monogatari is the story of an elderly man in old-timey Japan who hopes to hear a total of 99 stories about paranormal occurrences. The people who visit him share ghost stories, tales of mythological creatures, and other bizarre rumors.
Each chapter is about 7 pages long and it gets quite interesting once the manga finds a good pace for itself. You breeze through the stories and, while binging them can get a bit samey, the contents are diverse enough that they never become boring, unlike Friday: Forbidden Tales which had a very similar concept. The artstyle also varies a bit, which did make me think it was a collaboration effort for a while, but from what I can find it’s all done by Hinako Sugiura, who specializes in manga with a lot of traditional influences in it.
99 stories may seem daunting, but I worked through them surprisingly quickly and had a good time with them.