Naoto Hachiouji is a second-year high school student that doesn’t have much going on in life. He’s an introvert who is quick to label any social situation, or people in general, as being a poor fit from him. He’s clammed up and awkward; preferring to spend his time alone, tucked away in a corner of the art club room for which he is the only active member. This changes when he meets the titular Nagatoro.
After an incident where a group of girls teases Naoto for his self-drawn manga, Nagatoro remains behind even after her friends have had their laugh. While the others just laughed at the very notion of Naoto making his own manga, Nagatoro actually reads it and begins mocking him based on its contents. She exposes how shallow his work is, but criticizing Naoto’s manga soon turns into her criticizing him as a person. She digs deep and cuts hard, leaving Naoto—who she refers to only as “senpai”—in tears. And she promises that she’ll be back.
The manga is about the developing bully-victim relationship between Nagatoro and Naoto. Following this initial encounter, Nagatoro begins to haunt her senpai. She assaults him both physically and verbally, repeatedly mocks his character (or lack thereof), and constantly thrives to make him as uncomfortable as possible. She is relentless and soon pursues him even into his safe space at the art club.
#2 Great protagonists
A story centered around bullying is already quite interesting, but what makes it work is just how intriguing our two lead characters are. As early as chapter 1, you get the impression that there’s a lot more to Naoto and Nagatoro than meets the eye. Not to mention, their dynamic with each other is unlike any other protagonist duo that comes to mind.
Naoto appears like a standard, socially-inept nerd type. He frets over everything he wants to say or do, only making situations even more awkward as he gets lost in his imagined scenarios. He appears like a blameless victim; an awkward, kind-hearted geek who does no wrong, but is senselessly tormented anyway. However, Nagatoro’s on-point criticism of his character exposes him as a bit of a self-obsessed jerk. He’s also judgmental, choosing to preemptively disregard people based on his presumptions of their character; something that is nicely illustrated by his POV, where people he finds threatening are hazy sketches with evil smirks.
Nagatoro is also a fascinating villain-protagonist hybrid. She is a bully who plainly enjoys harassing her victim, but you get the sense that there’s more to her motives. Her bullying often points out legitimate flaws in Senpai and motivate him to improve or pay attention to it. You see this have a tangible effect over time, which begins to shift the very nature of their relationship. This also reveals some of Nagatoro’s own weaknesses and, sometimes, a sweet side that resides underneath her menacing exterior.
#3 Highly expressive characters
Author and artist Nanashi has a knack for appealing character design, but what makes his creations truly come to life is their range of expressions. There’s so much emotion that’s communicated entirely through the faces and body language of the characters, which no amount of dialogue could have realistically compensated for.
Nagatoro, senpai, and even some of the side-characters owe a whole layer of characterization purely to Nanashi’s skill at drawing their expressions. Sometimes Nagatoro is a real force of evil; a penetrating glare and mocking smirk, followed by manic laughter when Senpai finally panics. At other times she is adorable, funny, jealous, panicked, or even friendly-looking.
There doesn’t seem to be any limit to Nanashi’s creativity. Each new chapter brings in entirely new faces and poses, each one as gorgeous as the last. Admittedly, this does come at the cost of backgrounds often being simplistic or absent entirely, but that’s not a bad trade-off at all.
#4 Lewd comedy
Many interactions between Nagatoro and senpai end up revolving around sex and romance. After all, what better way to fluster a hopeless virgin than to make him think a girl is interested in him and is making a move. Very devious indeed, up until the point where things go wrong.
While often successful, Nagatoro’s schemes do have a habit of backfiring, especially in those rare cases where Senpai attempts to struggle. This can be innocent like a case of accidental hand-holding, but it occasionally veers into more “serious” incidents. Seeing Nagatoro’s schemes occasionally go so horrendously wrong that she’s left embarrassed by them herself made for some of the most memorable moments in the series thus far.
The manga also features some more outright fan service, but this is both censored (in the official release) and quite rare. Well… rare, outside of one exception that we don’t talk about.
Character development throughout the manga is immensely satisfying to follow. While other romcom manga tend towards preserving a status quo, Ijiranaide, Nagatoro-san has its protagonists steadily advance through well-written character arcs.
You really get to see how these two teenagers begin to affect each other over time. While their initial encounters are unpleasant and hostile, Nagatoro’s bullying turns more into teasing as Naoto begins to address his flaws. I found myself rooting for him a lot, because actually seeing him deciding to do something assertive or mature felt like a big pay-off every time.
As Naoto and Nagatoro grow closer, this also begins to shift the focus of the story towards romance. Both of them reject the notion that they are or could be a couple, but their respective friends catch on fairly quickly. We’re still only beginning to explore what these developments will mean in the long run, but it has already led to some of the most exciting, adorable moments in the series.