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Greenbrier Games Wants You To Get In Touch With Your Inner Villain

Dan

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When I called Greenbrier Games “eclectic” in my review of their previous game, I meant it. After moving from cuddly bears in Barbearians: Battlegrounds to dark adventures in Folklore: The Affliction (more on that in a future review), their next game will be an adaptation of Dirk Manning’s Nightmare World and Tales of Mr. Rhee horror comics from Image and Devil’s Due. Mr. Rhee: Surviving The Nightmare World will go live on Kickstarter on October 2nd, and I was lucky enough to get a little preview of it direct from Greenbrier.

 

 

An asymmetrical card game for 3-6 players, Mr. Rhee: Surviving the Nightmare World pits one against the many as a single player acts as a team of heroes, while the rest take up the role of vile villains working to stop them. The heroes, one for each other villain, must use the power of Hope to gather Fight, Charisma, and Magic and last six rounds against the gathered baddies. The hero player must last through all three Days of Darkness and keep evil at bay as they do. While they are assisted by the innocents in each location, they must manage their increasingly expensive powers that use more and more hope on each use.

Villains, by contrast, use the power of Greed to gather minions and spread them throughout the Nightmare World. They must be careful, however, as every Greed they use becomes Hope for the heroes. They also are not so united as they seem at first blush, with each villain pursuing their own win conditions. Villains win when they control two locations or meet their special win condition. While the game is meant to be quick, only about 30 minutes long, there’s a lot of replayability baked into the game thanks to the six villains and heroes available to players as well as the unique locations that can change from game to game.

Only in the mind of Dirk Manning is a flying tentacle-faced monster named…Vanessa.

Looking through the game and its rules, I was curious how it came to be. So I interviewed Julie Ahern, Greenbrier VP and COO as well as a lead designer on Mr. Rhee: Surviving the Nightmare World, to get the full scoop.

Dan Arndt: Where did the idea for a Mr. Rhee adaptation come from and how did it come to Greenbrier?

Julie Ahern: Board games are my first love, the Alpha and Omega of what I think about. Being one of the founding members of Greenbrier Games, that probably goes without saying, but while it is my primary interest, it isn’t the only one. I grew up reading Spider-Man and Batman, then getting into high school, my interests moved on to darker themes like in Spawn and Witchblade. However, once I started my master’s degree, the comic book world fell by the wayside, with a few exceptions like Sandman and Fables.

Over a decade later I’m working, and I get a text from my boyfriend, an artist, saying, “So my work cancelled this weekend…how crazy would it be to see if there are any last minute conventions we could drive to tonight and sell my stuff?” I replied, “Go for it.” Which is how I found myself at Fantasticon in Toledo, Ohio in the middle of February singing karaoke with one Dirk Manning. Nobody knew who I was, but he and Dan Dougherty make it a point to ensure everyone in the Midwest indie comic scene feels welcome. They, and many of the artists and writers, feel like my second family at this point.

Dirk will tell you that it was I who was begging him to use his comics to create a game… but like most good ideas, it started with an old fashioned rambling conversation, where he asked me, “If you made my comic into a game, what would it look like?” And having read (and reread) Nightmare World volumes 1-3,  and Tales of Mr. Rhee volumes 1 and 2 extensively by then, I started spitballing ideas of what I would do if I were the one to make that game. He must have liked what he heard, because here we are now.

Dan: What sets “Mr. Rhee: Surviving the Nightmare World” apart from other games in the genre?

JA: When you read the comics Tales of Mr. Rhee and Nightmare World, they break your heart over and over… and yet I keep reading them, because of the baseline mission statement that is reinforced with every heartbreak. These are not superheroes, even if some of the protagonists do have some supernatural abilities. These are regular folk. They have been beat down and seen the worst that the world has had to offer. They could have buried their heads in the sand, but they have taken on the unwinnable burden of fighting for those who just want to ignore the awful things happening around them. The villains, for their part, and for their alliance, fall victim to their basic nature of wanting to have the biggest piece of the pie when the dust settles. They too, never quite reach the level of victory they desire because they cannot ever stay allied long enough to make that happen. I needed to make sure we got that right, while keeping the game as engaging as the comics themselves.

There are quite a few hero comic games now, and any number of cards games. When I started talking to Joshua Sprung about designing the game, I was adamant about a few things: First of all it is based on two horror comic series, and therefore I wanted a one versus many game where the villains were all working against the hero. Secondly, I wanted to include the Three Days of Darkness that happen in Nightmare World and Tales of Mr. Rhee.

These conditions made balancing the game quite the challenge at first, until Josh worked on the balance of power points. On a villain’s turn there are four cards laid out with Greed points the Villain may use to complete their actions of recruiting Minions, deploying them to locations, or moving them from one location to another. However, when they spend those points, it flips the card to the Hope side, where the hero now has points to spend on their Brawl cards to combat the villains. It is one part of the game play that causes constant interaction among the players, and builds the feeling of tension as the doom track of day and night countdown the Three Days of Darkness.

Dan: How did the game develop to fit Dirk Manning’s world? How did you work to help player’s feel immersed?

JA: Beyond the tension build which I described, Josh and I worked to make each character, whether they were hero or villain, play like they act in the comics.

A villain example would be William, a Lilim (child of Lilith) who works as head of security for the biggest corporation in the (Nightmare) World. His goal is to remove all officers in the game, presumably to put his own security force in their place. Meanwhile, Vanessa, an acolyte of Cthulhu, is trying to recruit Innocents for the Great Old One.

On the hero side, each character must use the brawl cards in the order of the character. So for example, if the location being resolved has Mr. Rhee there, he must use Magic first to try and isolate a Minion and annihilate it. If he does not have enough Magic to overcome that Minions resistance, he must choose to burn those cards to move on to Fight cards, or stand by and watch the innocents served up to the demons. Since the hero cards are a team effort, perhaps Charity, who uses Charm cards first on her turn, will have a better chance at saving Innocents. Like the horror comic itself, the heroes never defeat the villains, they only try to do the best they can to survive until the Three Days of Darkness end. If the heroes stop all the villains from achieving their win conditions, they win. It’s not an impossible task, but it is a tough one.

DA:Why have us play as villains?

JA: The game had to have villains for all the reasons I have stated above, but moreover… taking on the role of a villain is fun. As a villain you get to make interesting choices, which may serve team evil as a whole, or in part, or just yourself, while still presenting as doing a service for everyone. There is nuance to being a villain, as well as complexity and the freedom to make a huge range of choices that affect gameplay for everyone.

Dan: I’ve noticed you’ve added “Dirk Alerts” to the flavor of the game. What was the reason behind these?

JA: Mostly they are strategies for game play. Often, game play suggestions are presented in a designer’s section… but because Dirk playtested with us so much, he started narrating why he was making certain choices. Having his tone in the rule book was one more layer that seemed too… delicious to change. Joshua vetted them to ensure they are sound strategies, I promise.

Dan: What was it like working with Dirk directly?

JA: The great master of ceremonies himself? How do you catch lightning in a bottle? Dirk Manning is a complex as his world; he plays the heel but will take the time to get down on a small child’s level to talk to them and make them feel important. He will message you non-stop about every detail, but then send you words of encouragement and praise for your work. He is larger than life, has more layers than Peer Gynt, and I am happy to call him my friend.

The Kickstarter for Mr. Rhee: Surviving the Nightmare World will go to Kickstarter on Tuesday, October 2nd. You can read up on the Nightmare World at most comic shops as well as on Amazon or Comixology, and can learn about Dirk himself at his website. To find out more about all of Greenbrier’s games, you can check out their website.

Keep an eye on the Fandomentals for all the latest news on Mr. Rhee: Surviving the Nightmare World and other titles from Greenbrier Games


Images Courtesy of Greenbrier Games

Dan

Author, Editor, Podcaster, Media Junkie. Currently working towards an MFA and trying to get a sci-fi novel published. If you have a dog, I'd very much like to pet it. Operating out of Wichita and Indianapolis.

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Analysis

Image Comics “DIE” is an Instant Dark Fantasy Masterpiece

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There are so many factors that have come into play when I first heard about Image comics newest release, DIE, that it is hard to pinpoint the real reason it intrigued me so heavily. Who am I kidding, it was all the reasons. Most importantly the staff on it.

For one, it features two of my favorite Image Comics alum. The first being Kieron Gillen, the mastermind that gave us the brilliant comic The Wicked And The Divine,which is one of the best ongoing comics at the moment. On the art work is the incredibly talented Stephanie Hans whose realistic and beautifully shaded and colored panels were also featured in The Wicked And The Divine‘s 1831 one shot as well across other comic distributors such as DC with Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love. The two coming together again like in 1831 is a match that builds this comic up to be really something special.

Image, in the last few years has really been producing some special and important books in the past few years, among them being The Wicked and the Divine, some of the more acclaimed include Saga, Blackbird, Paper Girls,and Infidel, the company takes a proud departure from Superheroes that dominate the comic industry and opt for more fantasy or science fiction stories with adult and political themes.

Lastly, the plot was incredibly unique and original. When it was advertised as Jumanji meets It, I was instantly interested. While not being a player of table top games myself, I can certainly see the crowd this book is trying to reach while also showing the fun about these games with an added horror twist that is sure to be remembered after the first issue.

The story really does follow a similar timeline to the mentioned Stephen King novel since it follows a group of friends during two periods of their lives: as teenagers and as adults. As we are introduced to each member of the group, we notice nothing in particularly strange about their characters, other than a shared love for table top games and science fiction and fantasy themes. The group has gathered together to celebrate the birthday of their friend Dominic by playing an apparently hard to find game called Gormenghast.

We learn a little about each character based on their choice of created characters. Dominic himself creates a diplomat woman that’s apparently a cross between Cleopatra and Machiavelli, the Dictator. Matthew, a magical warrior of empathy, the Grief Knight. Angela, a cyber punk, Neo. Isabelle, an atheist with gods as pets, Godbinder. Chuck, a lazily created every-man. And Sol the dungeon master with D20 die.

As the game begins the comic cuts to two hours later as Sol’s mum comes to check on them and they have disappeared. Fast forward again and it’s two years later and the group suddenly appears on a random road nearly getting hit by a car. Angela is missing her arm and we can’t really make out what happened, they are now only known as the Stafford six a group of teenagers who went missing two years ago. Sol is the only one missing from the group.

The comic again goes in time to 25 years later where we get to see how this tragedy has affected the rest of their lives. Apparently they had all made a promise never to speak about what happened, not even to one another. Sol’s mother even after so many years pesters Dominic about the fate of her son, to which he avoids. Using brilliant dialogue we see just how dark this has made their lives. Dom seems not to keep in touch with all the others except his sister who has gone through a string of divorces. They have made the best of living with their memories but it is all destroyed when Dom receives a package at a bar, a bloodied D20 die.

It’s at this moment that he decides to reunite the group. After so much time, some have changed completely while others not at all…I’m looking at you Chuck. While some have new companions and some less. They decide as a group to finally discuss what happened that night and where they were for two years until the die calls out to them. The Grandmaster threatens the realm and a hero is needed it calls as they are all sucked into the die and land into a desert ruin. It’s apparent that they have all become their characters…why does Chuck look like Varric.

With the end of the issue the group bickers among themselves about being back in the game, something they’ve repressed for nearly half their lives until Sol appears as the new Grandmaster. What I took from his dialogue is that he was trapped by the previous one and during these long years he’s fought a war to survive or escape and eventually defeated him and became the Grandmaster himself. It’s not clear whether he’s sane or not at this point but it points to the latter as he tells his friends that they are not leaving until the game is over.

This first issue was great at establishing its main cast. While I kept most of those details out of this review, the book really fleshes them out individually and gives life to each of their personalities. Anyone who has read The Wicked and the Divine will know just how well Gillen handles diversity among characters as well as conflicting attitudes. They actually feel like a group of friends you might have been a part of in high school. I really loved this book and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.


Images Courtesy of Image Comics

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Charles Soule’s Run on Daredevil Ends With an Unforgettable Twist

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And so marks the end of a glorious three year run of The Man Without Fear. I’ll always be appreciative of Charles Soule’s run on the series, as it marks a time when I got back into comics after a very long time period of inactivity. I’m talking at least a decade, and since this run on Daredevil was the first Marvel comic I decided to get back into, it will always hold a special place in my heart. The finale cemented its place in my heart as one of the most intelligent and divisive endings to a series that I’ve ever come across.

The entire series itself was full of twists and turns, continuity evolved during the three years of it’s run. Great writing for characters such as the pseudo side kick Blindspot and the court room drama that led to a change in superhero crime fighting all swirled together not just in his arc but in the two before it. For those needing a recap of events: since the commemorative 600th issue of Daredevil we’ve seen Kingpin run for Mayor and win. Of course, this plot is hardly original, the first season of the Netflix series used a similar story. We’ve encountered Matt’s twin Mike who was literally made from Matt’s imagination, and we’ve lived through Matt himself becoming acting Mayor of New York City as the hand lays siege.

Nothing could prepare us for what Soule had planned for his final outing with the red devil, however.

Lets get right into it. The major reason this ending was so divisive was because of how open ended the series was left. The positive outcome for this is that anyone taking up the mantle of writer for this comic has plenty of options to work with. In fact, it has been already announced that the series will start up again after the new year.

The arc in 609 began with Matt Murdock on a hospital gurney being prepped for surgery. Apparently, he had been struck by a truck saving a teen from the same fate. In the next four comics we see him trying to take down Wilson Fisk as Mayor by exposing the election to be a fraud. Of course, Fisk responds by unleashing his new assassin, Vigil, going as far as ordering a hit on his long time confidant, James Wesley, to keep him from spilling secrets.

By the final issue we see an all too perfect ending. Fisk is exposed in court by a team working closely with Matt for a while now. Daredevil himself takes the stand thanks to the law he helped passed as Matt that lets superheroes testify against villains. A handful of other famous heroes also act as witnesses. Happy ending, no? By the end of the comic, Daredevil again encounters Vigil, but this time he is seemingly ready. What neither he nor us see coming is the identity of the villain. As Daredevil pulls of the mask he sees only himself.

At first, we might want to jump to the conclusion that this was his evil twin. But why go through the trouble to save him earlier in the series if he was just going to kill Matt anyway? My mind rushed for explanation when his faced turned from Foggy, to Blindspot, Jack, Elektra, and Stick. The sequence ends back in the same hospital bed as the start of this arc. His sense of true justice heavily obscured and broken by a fight that no matter how many times he wins, will always return. Should he take this “win” and let it end with his life? Has he done enough? Then we are given a few emotional final panels, including a flash of Daredevil’s past costumes and Karen Page. Then a fade to black, signifying…death?

All until the flicker of hope before the end.

Now, several things about this ending ensure that it’s not a clear as one might be led to believe. First, the timeline is murky at best. In issue 609, it is clear to the reader that Matt recovered from his wounds and came back filled with a new sense of duty to take down Fisk. Yet at the end of issue 612, it isn’t clear whether this was actually after the events of the preceding comics. I think the answer lies in whether or not you believe what happened in the last arc actually happened or not. This is the genius Soule pours into this series. He leaves the reader searching for the answer, one he will not provide but instead leave up to the next writer to.

My opinion of events is that none of this happened. The fact that such a random event as getting hit by a truck forced Matt Murdock to literally and spiritually face his own mortality, questioning if what he did for so many was worth it, seems odd. As I mentioned before, he is struggling with the question of what it’s worthwhile to save the city he loves only for the bad guys to return again and again. What has he truly won? Has he ever really won?

In the same panels, we are given even more evidence that this was all in his mind. As he contemplates the will to live, he realizes that his end would not be as grand as he thought it would be. In Soule’s own words, “No grand unmasking to Frank Mcgee and the others. No last, tragic night with Elektra. No battle against incredible odds with Daredevil triumphant….No perfectly timed reveal of just the information I needed to bring Kingpin to trial. No outpouring of the support of the city’s heroes. No glorious take down of Wilson Fisk. No final, epic showdown with Vigil. Nothing. Just a man on a table, trying not to die.”

In short all the things that happened in the past few issues came straight from Matt’s mind rather than happening in the real world. Perhaps the fantasy was a coping mechanism, the wish of a dying man to give his final moments purpose. A last, final push to convince himself that fighting this unending battle was worth something and in the end, not being able to.

Whatever you believe happened, truly happened, in these final pages of this long running Daredevil series, two things are clear. One, Charles Soule has ultimately made his mark on the Daredevil history and brought him as low as we’ve seen him since Born Again. Second, no, The Man Without Fear, is not dead and we will see him again very soon…yet can he still truly go by that title any longer?

Images Courtesy of Marvel Comics

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A Look at Shojo and Josei Manga

Annedey

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In a society where a lot a media targeted at women are often disregarded no matter their quality, and media targeted at men are praised no matter their quality, it is sometimes complicated to openly enjoy anything. Sure I enjoy media from all across the spectrum of the ‘gendered division of marketing’, but I won’t bring it up to any stranger. Because I gravitate in circles that tend to be snobbish about media (not that they are very knowing, mind you — I often had to enter a heated debate about how yet another cult genre movie isn’t a movie ‘so bad it’s good’). And ultimately I don’t want to spend my life arguing about cultural pieces that I hold dear with people who have never seen and never will. Hey, I am human; sometimes I just want to get hammered in peace at parties.  

But there is a genre unapologetically marketed for women that I equally unapologetically enjoy. It’s shojo and josei manga. They can be bright pink (I really don’t like pink), have questionable translations for titles…I am here for them. And I won’t hide. It’s true that as a general rule I won’t hide my passion for any manga. But shojo will always have a very special place in my heart. It might be because my first manga series was a magical girl. But still. I really like shojo and josei.

If some of you think that manga aren’t the victim of an agressive gendered marketing just trust me on that. I am right. The minute a mainstream French bookstore will have enough room, manga for women and men will be mercilessly separated. They might be side by side but they won’t share a shelf. You never know what could happen.

Not to say that there aren’t things that irk me the wrong way in shojo and josei manga. The ‘not like other girl’ trope or ‘the average protagonist’ trope get old really fast. But still I wanted to share with you my personal favorites. Thus, if you were tempted to give a try to shojo and josei you will have an idea of where to start. Or if you are already on this band wagon you might discover new titles to enjoy.

Also if you don’t see your favorite series here, don’t panic! Just put it in the comment sections. I like discovering new things too.

Fruit Basket:

Author: Takaya Natsuki

Number of issues and status: 23 – Complete, however a spinoff is on progress.

Genre: Shojo

This is one the most classic choices I could have made. But hey, there is a reason why Fruit Basket is a classic. Spoiler alert: it’s because it’s good. Fruit Basket is the story of Tohru Honda, a young high-schooler who, because of family issues, is currently homeless. She ends up being rescued by the prince of her high-school, Yuki Soma. He welcomes her in his house where he lives with his older cousin, Shirogane Soma. Unfortunately Yuki is attacked by another one of his cousins, Kyo Soma. Tohru tries to separate them. This leads to her discovering that the Somas are cursed. Thirteen individuals in the family, who is actually as big as a clan, are haunted by their Chinese zodiac sign. They transform into their assigned animal when someone of the opposite sex hugs them.

Tohru and the accursed Somas. No I won’t explain why there is fourteen of them.

The rest of the story focuses on the Soma’s curses. I won’t say much more in term of plot because I would enter spoiler territory pretty fast. But I will expand on the themes of the story. Fruit Basket deals with growing up, family, friendship, forgiveness, and love. In order to do so it presents a full cast of characters with different issues doing their best to turn into the best version of themselves. All the characters are endearing and they are diverse enough that you will have no problem having several favorites (hi Yuki, Ayame, Momoji, Saki, Hatori I love you). The series showcases several toxic relationships, not exclusively but notably between parents and children. While the design is very cute the story explores quite heavy subjects. But in the end Takya Natsuki does right by every single one of her characters.

 Yes Fruit Basket is a classic shojo manga and it deserves it.   

Kaichou wa Maid-sama!

Author: Fujiwara Hiro

Number of issues and status: 18, Complete.

Genre: shojo

Kaichou wa Maid-sama! follows Misaki Ayusawa. She is an high-schooler (prepare to hear that a lot) whose father left her family several years ago leaving her to live with her mother and little sister. Because of this Misaki is full of hatred for men. The family is struggling to make ends meet and that’s why Misaki is attending the cheapest high school in town. It’s a recently open-to-girls high school where close to 70% of the students are boys. Misaki is the president of the student committee and is known as the demon president. Indeed, when she isn’t busy excelling at her studies and at sport she is keeping an iron grip on the school discipline to be sure that the girls are having a safe schooling experience. But she has a secret. In order to earn a bit of money to help her family she is working in a maid cafe. Something she absolutely doesn’t want any for her schoolmates to know.

So of course someone discovers it. And this someone is Takumi Usui. The only person who is a better student than her and who often makes girls cry because he rejects their love confession. Misaki is mortified. She manages to convince him to keep it secret but he keeps tagging along because he finds her interesting. From this point the manga follows the adventures of Misaki and Takumi, who are slowly falling in love with each other but it’s complicated. 

You have guessed it Kaichou wa Maid-sama! is a romance manga. It is extremely well executed. The main pair has chemistry and both of the characters are interesting in their own rights. The cast of secondary characters is colorful and attaching. This manga features a lot of positive female relationships. But the themes of the story are also particularly well treated. It is notably about accepting oneself as we are. There is also the a lot about learning to show vulnerability to your loved ones and I really liked it. Also the manga is really funny. Like really.   

I was going to say that I love this two idiots but actually I love all the idiots in this manga.

Yona of the DawnAkatsuki no Yona

Author: Mizuho Kusanagi

Number of issues and status: 27, in progress.

Genre: shojo

Yona of the Dawn is a jewel. It is a high fantasy story set in a Chinese/East Asian inspired world. The title character is Yona, the only daughter of the king of the kingdom of Kouka, a sixteen years old girl. She is living a pretty idle life up until the moment her father is murdered. She is forced to flee the capital in the middle of the night with only her childhood friend and bodyguard, Hak, to keep her safe. Hak is promptly accused of having killed the king and kidnapped Yona so they are both trapped in a never ending flight.

To add insult to the injury, the kingslayer, who now occupies Kouka’s throne, is no other than Soo-Won, Yona’s cousin and crush but also the childhood friend of both Yona and Hak. Yona decides to start a quest to find the four dragons and be able to make Kouka a better place. The four dragons are part of the founding legend of Kouka. They are four warriors blessed with divine powers who have sworn allegiance to Kouka’s first king, king Hiryuu. And, as she meets the current incarnations of the dragons, it appears that Yona is the reincarnation of Hiryuu.

Yona of the Dawn is an epic story that will delight every fantasy lover. One of its best qualities is its characters. They are incredibly attaching and complex. Even Soo-Won isn’t actually the villain of the story and is given excellent justifications. I still have trouble forgiving him though. Apparently I am the human embodiment of Hak on that. I am particularly fond of Yona’s relationship with the dragons. They share a single bonds but every relationship is unique and important.

Also I love Hak and Yona slow burn romance.

There is currently no end in sight for Yona of the Dawn. And that’s great. Please Mizuho Kusanagi, keep blessing us with this wonderful manga.  

Kamisama KissKamisama Hajimemashita

Author: Suzuki Julietta

Number of issues and status: 25, Complete.

Genre: Shojo

Kamisama Kiss is an urban fantasy story taking place in modern day Japan. Nanami Momozono is a poor high-schooler who has to endure her father gambling problems and debts. One day to escape his creditors her father disappears which leaves her homeless (what is it with manga and disappearing fathers and homeless teenagers?). While despairing in a public park she saves a man from a dog and he offers her to go stay at his home. Home where he isn’t currently living.

Turns out his home is a shinto shrine and the man was the god of the place. Nanami is now the interim goddess and has inherited the god’s messenger: Tomoe a very grumpy and powerful kitsune. The rest of the story features several arcs centering around different figures of Japanese mythology with an overarching plot. This plot focuses on Tomoe’s mysterious past.

Of course there is a romance between Nanami and Tomoe.

The manga includes gods, yokai, time travel and high school drama. It is a very energetic story whose mystery is very well handled. It features some of my favorite tropes such as villain decay. I love the characters (for a change) and especially the relation between Tomoe and Akura-Ou. You like Japan, you like urban fantasy, there are good chance you will like Kamisama Kiss.

Namaiki Zakari

Author: Mitsubachi Miyuki

Number of issues and status: 14, in progress.

Genre: Shojo

One the two manga on this list that I do not own (yet), Namaiki Zakari is a romance manga taking place while its characters are in high school and at university (yes!). Yuki Machida is an high-schooler who is also the oldest siblings of 6. Because of the role and responsibility she had to take in her family she is used to not being very assertive with her feelings and desires. She still has enrolled herself as the manager of the boys’ basketball team to be closer to the boy she secretly love. But since she has never voiced her feelings the boy ends up going out with another girl.  

For the rest of the club Machida is a responsible cold girl who would never start working for the team for such a futile reason as love. However one of the boy, the very talented and nonchalant Sho Naruse, did notice and starts having an interest in Yuki.

Ah Yuki you needed someone like Naruse to pierce your tsundere armor.

Namaiki Zakari started as a fairly, albeit extremely well executed, traditional shojo manga. However, the story develops and gets more original with every chapter. I absolutely love Yuki as a protagonist. She is a very serious very hard working girl always finding time to help others. However she lacks emotional maturity in part because she has always tried to not be a bother. Having this mix of maturity and lack of emotional maturity is very pleasing. I also really like that Naruse is actually younger than her. It is quite unusual in shojo manga, so is having the story continue after high school. Also the manga corrects some of its early mistake such as having a lack of positive female relationship for Yuki outside of her family. And it works pretty well as a sport manga too.

Angel SanctuaryTenshi Kinryōku

Author: Kaori Yuki

Number of issues and status: 20, Complete.

Genre: Technically it’s a shojo, but really who knows what this mess is?

Trigger warning: while my critique will not touch most of this, Angel Sanctuary features incest, rape, child death/murder etc etc (it’s a shojo am I rigth?!).

Angel Sanctuary is my most problematic fave. It is the love child of an author that I love and it is my favorite series from her and among my favorite manga period but it’s not for everyone.

It follows the story of Setsuna Mudo, an high-schooler (I promise it is the last story where the main protagonist is in high school) who is quite good at finding trouble. One the reasons he keeps looking for trouble is because he is romantically interested in his one year younger sister, Sara, and doesn’t want to have to face that. But he gets entangle in a cosmic conspiracy. An angel wants to bring back the inorganic angel Rosiel whose has been sealed on earth by his twin sister the organic angel Alexiel. In the mean time some evils want to bring back Alexiel, who has led an insurrection against God, and has been condemned to reincarnation for her crimes. As it happens Setsuna is the latest reincarnation of Alexiel.

Setstuna gets entangled so well that he gets Sara killed, after they declared their love for each other, and destroys Tokyo after awaking his powers. The rest of the story is about Setsuna travelling to hell and heaven to bring his sister back while everyone gets entangled in an even more complicated cosmic situation.

If you like complicated and twisted story with characters with more than dubious morality facing cosmic forces and trying to go against cosmic plan get in. Angel Sanctuary tells a story of unconditional love (all the kind of love not just romantic) and where it can leads us. It is also a story about taking responsibility for your actions. It deals with gender issue, predestination etc. I love it, okay? I love the art, that is lavishly beautiful, and I love the characters. Especially the secondary characters such as Belial, Raphael, Michael, Yue, Kurai, Katan, Astaroth, Sevoth-tart etc etc. It struck a chord in my young teenager life and I will always love this manga.   

Boy do I love the art of Angel Sanctuary.

A Bride’s Story:

Author: Kaoru Mori

Number of issues and status: 10, in progress.

Genre: josei

Well Bride’s Story is a beautiful historical manga taking place in central Asia and following mainly women in their daily life. It is interesting, it is beautiful, it is well documented, it is funny, it is touching and there is suspens. If you want to know more about it I direct you toward my longer review of the series.

But check out this other series by Kaoru Mori: Emma. It takes place in the 19th century in England.

Tramps Like UsKimi wa Pet:

Author: Yayoi Ogawa

Number of issues and status: 14, Complete.

Genre: josei

The other manga on the list that I do not own (yet) because I borrowed it from the library and it is not available for sale in France anymore. AGONY!

Tramps Like Us follows Sumire Iwaya, a talented young journalist who isn’t living the best moment of her life. She was transferred to a less prestigious unit of the newspaper for having hit her superior who was a misogynist pig. Her boyfriend also left her for the girl he was two-timing her with because he was intimidated by her career. In addition to all that, Sumire is starting to have trouble combining her public persona of successful business woman who is also a cold beauty and her less traditionally accepted way of life. Indeed she like watching pro-wrestling, smoking, and playing video games. Also she is very unsure of herself, hence the public persona.    

One evening while coming back home she finds a young man, Takeshi Gouda, sleeping in the street. She agrees to have him live in her flat under the condition that he accepts to be her pet and goes by the name Momo. Being her pet is absolutely not kinky. It includes listening to her sharing her day and fears without judging, playing video games with her, and letting her wash his hair from time to time. Takeshi, who apparently has already exchanged sexual favors to stay at women’s places, finds the deal to his advantage and obliges. He becomes Momo.

The rest of the manga follows the development of their relationship but also Sumire quest to learn to love and accept herself. She also reevaluates the values she has adhered to. What she wanted in life, what was acceptable in herself and what wasn’t. Actually Sumire is on her way to become a more happy person by becoming her authentic self. Considering that there are good chances that Sumire at the beginning of the manga is me in ten years (plus the good hair) I am always happy to read the story of how she got happy. Also Takeshi isn’t your typical male character and he learns to assert himself. I love him.  

I wasn’t expecting Tramps like us to be such a sweet manga but it is.

Special mention Ōoku: The Inner Chambers

Author: Fumi Yoshinaga

Number of issues and status: 15, in progress.

Genre: Josei

I haven’t read Ōoku: The Inner Chambers entirely. I have read 5 volumes but I love it. It is alternate history. It takes place in Tokugawa Japan. A strange disease has emerged. It only kills boys and young men. As a result the population of men in Japan is reduced to 1 man for 4 women. Therefore the men are kept inside or sold in prostitution by their family because they have become of great value. The political power is also held by women (the manga explains in great details how this came to happen). The Inner Chambers refers to the personal ‘harem’ full of men of the shogun.

The story explore the political and some personal intrigues brought by the situation. It follows the history of Japan pretty closely but it cleverly twists it. For example the interdiction for foreigners to enter Japan is also a measure to prevent the outside world to discover the situation. While the political intrigue is of the outmost importance the personal drama is high too. By god, Arikoto and Chise are star-crossed lovers and it hurts so much.

Good god stop it I am crying.

Long story short I will keep on reading this manga and I warmly recommend it.

Conclusion:

That’s it with my personal recommendations. I hope some titles caught your attention and that you will enjoy them as I did and still do. Don’t hesitate to comment with your own favorites shojo and josei manga.


 

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