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Shoujosei Manga to Read this Women’s Month

This March is dedicated to Women’s Month around the globe, and what greater way to celebrate than reading and championing stories of women in all their glory? If you’re looking to get more reading done, then look no further. 

With the demographics’ rich history of creating compelling stories targeted towards women of all ages, shoujo and josei manga have a wide variety of tales to choose from, and curating this list was by no means an easy feat. 

In this second installment of my shoujosei recommendations series, please enjoy these 14 selected titles featuring the many shoujosei ladies who reclaim their agency, embrace their strengths and emotions, grow into their own identities, and show the rest of the world that they get the job done.

Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon [My Happy Marriage] by Akumi Agitogi, Tsukiho Tsukioka (illustrator)

Despite being born into a family with unusual powers in its bloodline, Saimori Miyo had not inherited any special abilities. Moreover, she was treated like a lowly servant by her half-sister, who in an ironic twist of fate had awakened an ability of her own. Unloved by her parents and shunned by all, Miyo was a forgotten daughter. Even her childhood friend, her one and only ally, chose to marry her half-sister in order to take over the estate. Seen as nothing more than a hindrance, Miyo is married off to the Kudou family. To a man rumoured to be cold and ruthless…

While this series might deter some because of its (partly) common title and the Cinderella formula  — poor girl mistreated by stepmother and stepsister + absentee father, suddenly being engaged to a man notorious for scaring away potential suitors — Watashi no Shiawase na Kekkon is a poignant and realistic exploration on healing from trauma and PTSD. 

Definitely not an easy and light read to go through, but I appreciate the realistic treatment of the long process of breaking away and healing from an abusive familial relationship — Miyo’s journey might leave you feeling sad, frustrated or even furious at how she is treated, but with time and kindness from her new found family in the household of Kiyoka, Miyo’s character slowly begins to grow and you will be rooting for her. 

The fantasy elements of this series is also quite interesting, mingling with the modernities provided by the fantastical Meiji-era it was set in, and the nature of Miyo’s past along with her Gift is slowly being explored.

An anime adaptation is slated for July of 2023, and the live action film trailer (airing in Japan in 17 March, I believe!) is GORGEOUS (okay I may be biased because Meguro Ren aka the newest love of my life is playing Kiyoka HAHA), so I suggest checking those out as well if they will be available in your country!

Umi ga Hashiru End Roll [The Credits through which the Ocean Runs] by Tarachine John

Umiko is a 65-year-old woman whose husband had just recently passed away. She went to the movie theater for the first time in decades and there, a shocking life-changing event awaited her. After meeting Kai, a student majoring in film at a nearby arts university, Umiko realized for the first time that she was someone who “wants to shoot movies”. Enticed by the waves that get her heart clamoring, at the age of 65, Umiko takes a dive into the sea of filmmaking.

Learning has no age limit, and Umi ga Hashiru End Roll is a fantastic human drama that encourages us to pursue our passions at our own time and at our own pace. 65-year-old Umiko faces the sea of keeping up with the field of film-making and its daunting technology, bridging the generation gap between her professors and connecting with her fellow students who are markedly more younger than her, and the gnawing anxiety that awaits everyone whenever they tackle anything for the first time. 

The art style and composition of some of the manga panels reminded me of camera framing with some chapter illustrations paying homage to iconic film stills such as Life of Pi and The Shining, further substantiated by the author’s experience back in film school. The manga also explores and critiques ageism in society, along with the many challenges and priorities someone in the creative industry might face. 

While it only currently has 4 volumes so far (as of writing this post), Umi ga Hashiru End Roll holds a lot of promise and is a heartfelt letter to everyone who enjoys watching and making movies across all ages.

Akatsuki no Yona [Yona of the Dawn] by Kusanagi Mizuho

Princess Yona lives an ideal life as the only princess of her kingdom. Doted on by her father, the king, and protected by her faithful guard Hak, she cherishes the time spent with the man she loves, Su-won. But everything changes on her 16th birthday when tragedy strikes her family!

Yona reels from the shock of witnessing a loved one’s murder and having to fight for her life. With Hak’s help, she flees the palace and struggles to survive while evading her enemy’s forces. But where will this displaced princess go when all the paths before her are uncertain?

To be honest, I do not even know how to begin convincing you that this series is PEAK fiction without going on a tangent or another essay (perhaps a blog post for another time? *eye emoji*), but Yona of the Dawn is one of the many fantasy shoujo series that quickly became one of my top favorites, for the fact that it is life-changing, brain chemistry-altering, heart palpitation-inducing (the good kind of course), coupled with a found family that I will kill for if it means keeping them safe.

A few misconceptions of this series is that it’s marketed as a “reverse harem”, but Yona of the Dawn is a far cry from that description. This action-adventure fantasy shoujo series incorporates a complex political conflict involving shifting alliances and conflicting feelings from betrayals, along with Yona’s spectacular development as she navigates between discovering her strengths and identity, and ultimately the role she has to grow into for the future of the kingdom of Kouka.

If you enjoy reading character-focused fantasy, you will definitely enjoy reading Yona of the Dawn! It is empowering to see Yona grow from a spoiled, privileged princess, to gaining her own agency and having her own strength. The story starts out slow, but it picks up the pace in the later volumes, with its latest arc highlighting strategy and political intrigue, as Yona navigates her own complicated feelings from the alliance with Soo-won for the peace of the kingdom and the people of Kouka. Interweaving strategy and political intrigue, Yona of the Dawn is action-packed, balanced with comedic and heartwarming moments that will have you crying from either laughter or FeelsTM.

Also, please do not get me started on the romance, because this features one of my favorite couples ever. While not the main focus of the series, the chemistry between Yona and Hak was really done well! I eat up any childhood friends + bodyguard-related romance in a HEARTBEAT and while the progress between Hak and Yona is quite a slow-burn yearning journey, I assure you the payoff in the later volumes is WORTH IT! I love Yona and Hak both, and how they encourage each other to grow and have each other’s backs as they navigate an uncertain future together with the rest of the Happy Hungry Bunch.

This also has an anime, but to be honest, what is shown in season 1 is only the tip of the iceberg. It gets even better so I hope some studio picks it up and launches a second season! (No seriously, at this point I need some divine intervention from the universe, I’m on my knees!)

Cinderella Closet by Yanai Wakana

The romantic story of a plain country girl who’s crushing on her handsome coworker…and her transformation by an unconventional and stylish “fairy godmother.”

Haruka is a “plain jane” who left the countryside to start her college life in Tokyo. She’s secretly in love with Kurotaki, a coworker at her part-time job, but she lacks the self-confidence to confess her feelings to him. Then she meets Hikaru, a glamorous but sharp-tongued fashionista who begrudgingly agrees to play “fairy godmother” for Haruka and help her learn to love and value herself in the process. However, there’s more to Hikaru than meets the eye!

Make-up and fashion styles are powerful tools that can help empower and change one’s outlook in life. In Cinderella Closet, Haruka’s makeover transformation is a catalyst for growing out of her shell and becoming a self-assured and confident person. Indeed, while her initial makeover transformation was done to garner the attention of her work crush, those feelings become something on the back burner of her mind as she slowly builds her confidence and self-esteem, slowly unlearning her own internalized misogyny, and growing out of her own self-deprecating nature. After all, when you wear clothes or make-up that you look and feel good in, doesn’t it make you feel that you can face what the whole world has to throw your way? Haruka is a very likable and adorable character and you cannot help but root for her in all aspects of her life as the story progresses!

Hikaru is also a favorite of mine. He reminds me of Kuragehime’s (Princess Jellyfish) Kuranosuke, except Hikaru is a cosmetology major! Hikaru also prefers a feminine gender expression because its what he is most comfortable with. I also love that he always emphasizes Haruka not to undermine her own strengths and that she is fine as she is now — emphasizing that make-up and highlighting fashion choices that would look flattering on Haruka whilst not venturing too far out of her own comfort zone are merely there to complement how Haruka is now. He also is her guardian in the romance department, going to advise her on relationships and even looking out for her even in parties or simply when hanging out with other people. 

The dynamic between Haruka and Hikaru is seriously so good and I am rooting for him in the romance department. Both of them work so well together and are already close friends that have each other’s backs, I would definitely love to see how they will progress from friends into something more.

Sekai de Ichiban Yasashii Ongaku [The World’s Most Tender Music] by Ozawa Mari

Sue is a single mother who lives with her three-year-old daughter Nozomi. Their life is hard and difficult, but the discovery of a beautiful and tranquil daily life is waiting for them…The loving story of Sue and Nozomi that I want to send to your heart is like the feeling of opening a small jewelry box…

Motherhood and raising a child is not an easy journey, more so if you are a single mother, and Sekai de Ichiban Yasashii Ongaku touches and explores on those moments in its story. Although a fairly older title published in the 90s, this story pretty much mirrors the struggles single moms and their daughters face in modern times such as workforce discrimination and prejudice for being not the “ideal” image of a typical family. 

More than that, however, this manga also explores the value of human relationships, dealing with grief and acceptance, to coming to terms with your own inner peace. Through the lens of Sue and Nozomi and their relationship as mother and daughter across different time periods in their life, Sekai de Ichiban Yasashii Ongaku is a heartfelt exploration of womanhood, of loves lived and lost, and the sometimes very nuanced and complex nature of mother-daughter relationships. Fair warning, prepare your tissues for some chapters will guarantee a tear shed out of you.

Kageki Shoujo! by Saiki Kumiko

Ever since she was a little girl, Sarasa has wanted to play the role of Oscar as part of the Kouka Acting Troupe, an all-female acting troupe similar to the Takarazuka Revue. But before she can do that, she has to attend two years at the Kouka School of Musical and Theatrical Arts. As Sarasa practices singing, dancing, and acting, she grows closer to the other girls in her year, including her roommate, the stoic former J-idol, Ai. Though Sarasa is great at making friends, her outspoken nature and grand ambitions earn her lots of enemies as well. Can Sarasa keep her upbeat attitude and achieve her dream of stardom?

All the world is Sarasa’s stage, and we’re all just living in it. Inspired by the real-life Takarazuka Revue, an all-female acting and musical troupe in Japan, Kageki Shoujo follows the journey of Sarasa as she aims to be the top star in the troupe by bagging her dream and the most sought-after career-defining role from all who enter Kouka’s prestigious performance training academy — Oscar from the Rose of Versailles. 

For the uninitiated, Takarazuka Revue is an all-female troupe in Japan known for its stunning stage productions filled with elaborate costuming, passionate acting, and very intricate musical and dance numbers. Every year, thousands of girls are vying for the chance to be able to be enrolled in Takarazuka’s own performing academy to begin their path towards making a space for themselves on the brightly lit stage of the Takarazuka theater as either an otokoyaku (male roles) or a musumeyaku (female roles). The troupe has a long, established history and influence, especially on the development of girls’ culture in Japan that this video from the Japan Foundation wonderfully explains if you want to learn more about the troupe. 

Kicking off from this, Kageki Shoujo takes place in the prestigious Kouka Academy, whose cutthroat selection process only selects 40 potential candidates from thousands of girls who wanted to apply, and our main protagonist Sarasa gets selected in the process. Armed with a love of Kouka theater musicals fostered in her by her now-deceased grandmother, she enrolls in the academy to make a name for herself on the stage. Her upbeat, optimistic, and passionate personality makes her loveable and makes her stand out from her other peers on the same roster. One notably being her roommate, Ai — a former J-Idol who retires from her group due to being roped in a traumatic incident with a male fan.  Both are narrative foils to each other and while their friendship takes a shaky start, both of them are each other’s support system in trying to conquer the Kouka theatrical stage. The manga also gives homage to the many iconic and fundamental works in the history of shoujo such as the Rose of Versailles, for example.

Kageki Shoujo is a story of sisterhood, of discovering one’s identity and reaching for your dreams. The manga also opens room for conversation on topics like the parasocial relationship between idols and fans, the nature and state of the entertainment industry, and fulfilling expectations from parental figures to the more heavy topics such as adhering to beauty standards and dealing with body dysmorphia, and sexual assault and violence. Amidst all of these, the series does not downplay the seriousness of these issues with their portrayal of the girls who experience these and presents these in a nuanced light.

To those who love theater and musicals, and to those who are simply looking for their next read, I firmly recommend that you give Kageki Shoujo a read!

Saigo ni Hitotsu Dake Onegai Shite mo Yoroshii Deshou Ka? [May I Ask for One Final Thing?] by Ootori Nana, Hoonoki Sora (artist)

The engagement between Scarlet, a noblewoman from a ducal family and the Second Prince Kyle was suddenly annulled during the ball. She had been falsely accused of harassing a girl called Terenezza, daughter to a baron, whom the Prince doted on heavily. Condemned by everyone around her, forced to shoulder all manner of crimes, she finally decided enough was enough. “Before I leave here, may I ask for one final thing?”

As the crowd threw their boos and jeers, and that good-looking guy flung his insults ── her palm spun like a drill and the ballroom floor was stained with blood.

Blade-wielding, spell-casting girlies are out, bare-knuckled brawler princesses are IN! This manga is a spunky, wild, bloody ride as the Mad Dog Princess, Scarlet makes it her numero uno mission to bring scumbags to justice — using her fists. If you’re looking for a read where you want the protagonist to take things into their own hands, literally, then this manga is for you! 

Scarlet is the human embodiment of “violence is not the answer, it is the question and the answer is always yes.” Her abilities are not to be dismissed either, as she also excels in swordmanship and magical abilities, and if you somehow earn her attention for being a pure-blooded scum of society, then I offer my most solemn condolences on your early march to your grave. Case in point: her ex-fiance decides to pin his numerous crimes on her during a party filled with his co-conspirators aka scum of society and break off their engagement because he cheated on Scarlet with another woman. The result? Scarlet gets her retribution and gets to let loose years of pent-up frustration and resentment to her ex by punching him straight in the face. 

She also takes no shit even after her display of glorious violence piques the interest of the scheming Prince Julius, who plans to rework the country’s foundations from the very core by flushing out the vermin from within.

The art for this series is also very gorgeous and the story is very compelling with an elaborate scheme and stand-off with the antagonist, Terenezza, who also can stand toe-to-toe with Scarlet in terms of her being the mastermind of the many numerous plots to offset the power balance of the kingdom in her favor. The push-and-pull dynamic between Julius and Scarlet is also very entertaining to see, especially since it’s Julius who gets attracted first and must work hard to gain Scarlet’s affection (and rightfully so!).

Sometimes we all need a protagonist that doesn’t scheme elaborate plots and instead just gives in to their rage and throws hands at everyone in the room. Seeing misogynistic, corrupted jerks get their just rewards by a smiling, silver-haired princess drenched head to toe in the blood of her enemies is very cathartic and we need more female characters who give in to their rightful rage.

Mitarai-ke, Enjou Suru [Burn the House Down] by Fujisawa Moyashi

Shizuka Yamauchi, 25, housekeeper. Makiko Mitarai, 46, amateur model and perfect housewife. Though strangers on the outside, the two share a past-one Shizuka feels she needs to set right, to bring her mother justice. But Makiko has secrets of her own, and Shizuka will need to tread carefully if she’s to get to the bottom of it all without getting burned.

Looking for a psychological thriller with a revenge plot enough to rival teleseryes? Well then, no need to search further! The manga kicks off with a house burning down, two mothers and their children hiding their own secrets, and at the center of the tempest enters Shizuka Yamauchi.  When her mother gets unfairly blamed for the start of the fire a few years ago, Shizuka enters the Mitarai household as a housekeeper to prove her mother’s innocence. To execute her plan to make the family fall apart from within, she needs to navigate the treacherous Mitarai family and their secrets starting from the current wife, Makiko,  but Shizuka discovers that there is more to the incident at hand than what it initially seems.

The twists and the whodunnit aspect is reminiscent of the Japanese drama Saiai (Dearest on Netflix) and the revenge plot that reminded me of the Filipino teleserye Dirty Linen. There is only little I must say to avoid any other further spoilers that are vital to the progression and enjoyment of the thriller aspect of the series, but this manga is a short but suspenseful read that will leave you hanging at the edge of your seat — and in my experience, make your blood pressure spike in the middle of the night (I do not encourage you reading this on a work night, I can attest to this experience, it had me thinking about several plot points during my work shift).

Mitarai-ke ga Enjou Suru also has an upcoming j-drama adaptation, so this is also something to look forward to because I believe that these types of stories translate well into live-action adaptation with its twists and turns. 

Kimi no Yokogao o Miteita [Looking at Your Profile] by Ichinohe Rumi

Hikari’s your typical freshman in high school who’s been recently daydreaming about Mari’s, her shy best friend, love story. She decides to ship Mari with Ootani-kun, their classmate, after finding out about his crush on Mari when his friend, Asagiri-kun, tried getting the two to talk. The main character is Mari, the leading man is Ootani, and Hikari is the typical best friend in the story. Not bad… right? A youthful story between four kids going through unrequited love.

Love is not all about sparkles and rainbows — and Kimi no Yokogao wo Mitteita explores stolen glances, the pangs of lost loves and  the bittersweet tang of affections unreciprocated. Reading the different POVs of the main characters as a young adult in my early 20s hearkened me back to a time when I was also a teenager coming to terms with my identity,  experiencing first and lost loves. This manga presents a humane look on young and secret loves, and on our regrets and biggest what-ifs.

(Tip: For peak Feels, play Malaya by Moira dela Torre while reading this)

Skip Beat! by Yoshiki Nakamura

When Kyoko’s heart is broken, she decides that revenge is a dish best served in the spotlight! Kyoko Mogami lived solely for her childhood friend Shoutaro “Sho” Fuwa. She follows Sho to Tokyo so that he may realize his dream of becoming a famous singer. When his dream is realized, Kyoko overhears the truth behind his decision to bringing her with him: he was using her as a maid. Shocked and enraged, Kyoko swears to take revenge by outdoing him in show business. With a new look and a new attitude, she joins LME, the agency where Ren Tsuruga (Sho’s rival and the #1 actor of LME) works, in the hopes of achieving her goal of destroying Shou’s pride.

Along the way, she discovers her true self, makes new friends (and enemies), and finds herself at the heart of some interesting situations that will change her life, and the lives of all others involved, forever.

If I had a dollar every time I hear one more person say “it’s still ongoing?” to this series, I’d be swimming in riches — and to answer your question, YES it is still ongoing and continues to be one of the iconic shoujo manga series throughout the years! I’ve only started reading Skip Beat last year and it’s one of the best decisions that I ever made. If you’re interested in the drama behind the camera of the glittering celebrity lifestyle and fond of underdogs who grow into the very best versions of themselves, then this manga is for you!

Kyoko is a tour de force from the get-go — hell hath no fury like a woman scorned after all. It was easy to fall for her charms and strengths as a character. While her initial motivations were made to take revenge on Sho, the story makes you root for her improvement and development as a character when she realizes that it’s finally become a dream of her own thanks to the hard work she’s been putting out as a rookie actress navigating the cutthroat world of show business. Kyoko’s is a character and a star that’s bound to take the world by storm, and I am just so excited to see where her passion, guts, and stubbornness gets her as an actress.

Skip Beat also exceptionally delivers the slowest of slow-burns — almost a decade’s worth in the making at least. The dynamic between Ren and Kyoko is one in my opinion that develops realistically from hating each other at first to becoming begrudging colleagues to supportive acting senpai and kouhai, to friends that have mutual respect for each other’s dreams, and now, something like the small buds of love that hopefully grows more than that. Ren and Kyoko are both dealing with their own respective emotional baggage (especially Kyoko who’s very traumatized with what went down with her and Sho), and I appreciate that the author didn’t rush into things with their relationship and I love the dynamic that they both have going on right now. 

The series itself has also the right balance of flamboyant and serious. We delve into rivalries for role auditions, to breaking out of your shell, to dealing with familial abandonment and slowly healing from the hurt and trauma experienced after you have a really bad experience with romance. Skip Beat also features side characters that you are bound to love, in my case my favorites being Kyoko’s once-rival turned staunch ally and best friend Kanae Kotonami, and the super manager who’s got everything under control except for dealing with electronics, Yukihito Yashiro. 

With what Skip Beat has to offer, there is no wonder why it still remains a beloved shoujo title even in recent years, and I highly recommend that you pick it up as well!

Chihayafuru by Suetsugu Yuki

Chihaya is a girl in the sixth grade, still not old enough to even know the meaning of the word zeal. But one day, she meets Arata, a transfer student from rural Fukui prefecture. Though docile and quiet, he has an unexpected skill: his ability to play competitive karuta, a traditional Japanese card game.

Chihaya is struck by his obsession with the game, along with his ability to pick out the right card and swipe it away before any of his opponents. However, Arata is transfixed by her as well, all because of her unbelievable natural talent for the game. Don’t miss this story of adolescent lives and emotions playing out in the most dramatic of ways!

Sports series are kind of a hit-or-miss for me, mainly because it’s so hard to fully immerse yourself in a sports-related series if you’re not involved with athletics and sports (I mean, for gods’ sake, my whole hobbies related to books and reading and other indoor-related frivolities) and so what sets a great sports series for me is the strength of the writing of the characters and the connections they have with the sport that they play, and as far as those two criteria are concerned, Chihayafuru shines through the best. I’ve actually watched the anime and live-action of this series a few years ago and enjoyed it, but never thought to pick up the manga until this wonderful video from Colleen’s Manga Recs spurred me to read it this month and it was easily one of the best decisions I made this month. 

For the uninitiated, karuta is a traditional Japanese card game. The one featured in Chihayafuru is called uta-garuta (歌ガルタ), and it is based on the Hyakunin Isshu, a collection of 100 short poems known as tanka from 100 poets. Chihayafuru delves into the world of kyougi karuta (competitive karuta), where teams and players compete in large-scale tournaments organised by the All-Japan Karuta Association, with the largest one held during the New Year, held every January at Omi Shrine in Shiga Prefecture and participated by numerous players vying for the title of Meijin or Queen. The rules are fairly complicated to master (see this handbook) and entail memorization skills, good hearing and perception, as well as stamina to endure consecutive matches that could last for half a day. 

The world of competitive karuta is where the story begins and at the heart of it, Chihaya ties everything together. Upon being introduced to the game by her transferee classmate Arata, Chihaya discovers she finally has a dream for herself and hones her skills with the sport together with Arata and her childhood friend, Taichi. Eventually, the trio has to part ways because of several circumstances, but will soon reunite once again thanks to karuta.

The character writing for this series is exceptional and is definitely one of its greatest strengths. In particular, the main character trio of Chihaya, Arata and Taichi’s development from the start of the series until its end was so well-done as we can see how they grow out from their own insecurities, burnout, and inferiorities, and find their own strengths over the course of meeting new people and reuniting with old friends over the process of playing karuta. In particular, Chihaya is so dear to me because I really empathized with her character — from being in the shadow of her own sister and her own accomplishments with karuta initially dismissed by her parents since they can’t relate to the sport, to her finding her own support system who shares her own love of the game and realizing that she can go so much more than what she is currently now in order to reach her dream to become Queen.  

This series is so full of youth and passion, and growing into the very best self that you can be. It is also about discovering the abundance of things that every single one of us is capable of, and last but not the least, it emphasizes the importance of the bonds we share with the many people that we meet along the way. 

Toshokan Sensou — Love & War [Library Wars — Love & War] by Arikawa Hiro

In the near future, the federal government creates a committee to rid society of books it deems unsuitable. The libraries vow to protect their collections, and with the help of local governments, form a military group to defend themselves—the Library Forces!

Iku Kasahara has dreamed of joining the Library Forces ever since one of its soldiers stepped in to protect her favorite book from being confiscated in a bookstore when she was younger. But now that she’s finally a recruit, she’s finding her dream job to be a bit of a nightmare. Especially since her hard-hearted drill instructor seems to have it in for her!

In light of the many book bans and targeted censorship towards the literary and creative arts, this recommendation is timely for the times we live in now. 

Although a fairly older title, Toshokan Sensou is an action-packed read that explores the importance of defending the freedom of speech and expression and the dangers of oppressive censorship. It also delivers a commentary as well on sometimes, the necessity of violence in protecting our basic rights, especially  for freedom of expression. The whole concept of it reminded me of Fahrenheit 451, but Toshokan Sensou delivers its own unique take on the themes that it wanted to explore in the form of an organisation that has to take up arms in order to protect books. 

The main highlight of the book for me was also its characters, and I really liked how the ladies embodied their own strengths, showing different ways on how a woman can be strong, feminine and competent. The support system and friendship between the ladies was also something I really liked and showed that they have each other’s backs no matter what.

Toshokan Sensou also features a very solid, swoon-worthy romance, especially between Iku and her hot-heade love interest, Dojo. While they were initially at each other’s throats, it didn’t take long for the hatred to morph into mutual respect and friendship and then finally blooming into romance. To those craving some short king love interests,  then Toshokan Sensou is the series for you!

Ohana Holoholo by Torino Shino

Maya, who works as a translator, lives with her bisexual former girlfriend, Michiru, and Michiru’s son, Yuuta. Residing in the same apartment building is an actor called Nico, who drops by for a visit almost everyday, and knows about Michiru’s past. Somewhat like family, and somewhat not, their lives interweave full of warm days.

Found family finding each other in the most unexpected of times and ways are one of my favorite things to read ever, and Ohana Holoholo is no exception. Maya, Michiru, Nico and little Yuuta form an unexpected family of sorts, with the unexpected connections tying them together to each other.

Do not let the slice-of-life vibes fool you though, since this series does deliver its own hard-hitting moments as well — facing the prejudice set on LGBTQ+ families, the standards society sets for an ideal family, and even facing the loneliness that comes with being queer in a society that is not very accepting of your own existence. Yet, along with the seriousness that it shows, the manga has its own share of endearing and cute moments, especially with the shenanigans they are up to in raising little Yuuta. 

Ohana Holoholo is nuanced and complex and also delivers gut-punch emotional scenes, but then it is also a warm hug you need on a chilly day. A must-read, indeed.

My Broken Mariko by Hirako Waka

Tomoyo Shiino has stood by her friend Mariko through years of abuse, abandonment, and depression. However horrific her circumstances, their friendship has been the one reassuring constant in Mariko’s life—and Tomoyo’s too. That is, until Tomoyo is utterly blindsided by news of Mariko’s death. In life, Tomoyo felt powerless to help her best friend out of the darkness that ultimately drove her over the edge. Now, Tomoyo is determined to liberate Mariko’s ashes for one final journey together to set free her dear, broken Mariko.

[Before you decide to check this manga out, kindly heed the following trigger warnings: suicide ideation, domestic violence, self-harm, death, and sexual assault. Reader discretion is strongly advised. Kindly see the below contact numbers for the 24/7 Suicide Crisis and Intervention Hotline in the Philippines: 0917-558-4673 (Globe); 0918-873-4673 (Smart); 02-88044673 (PLDT); 2919 (toll-free for Globe and TM)]

Contrary to the other titles on this recommendation list, My Broken Mariko is a story that is heavier than the rest. To summarise my impressions of this series, My Broken Mariko is something that I’d liken to an exposed livewire and is a very heart-wrenching tale of how we need to deal with the aftermath of losing someone dear to suicide. 

Though only a single volume, this was a very cathartic experience for me, as someone who also dealt with the loss of several people dear to me this year and the last — it helped me come to terms with recognizing and accepting the myriad of emotions that come with the five stages of grief. The art style effectively renders Tomoyo’s emotions across the pages and towards the reader. 

This manga is a tale of grief, of loss, of rage, resentment and longing, and coming to terms with the people who leave and those who are left behind. It does not hold back in portraying abuse and how it precedes the descent of Mariko into suicide, and explores the long and heavy process of acceptance in the event of a death. Despite these however, this is a tale of acceptance and empathy, and recognising that everyone has a different way of coping with loss. All in all, if you can manage to, please do try to give this manga a read.

And that wraps it up for this recommendation list! here’s a reminder to not only champion and celebrate women-centered stories this Women’s Month, but it’s also important to celebrate these stories throughout the year.

Let’s Chat!

  • See any title that you’ve already read or piqued your interest? Tell me all about it in the comments below!
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Shoujosei Manga Recs to Set Your Heart Aflutter (Part 1)

If you’ve been dipping your toes in the manga community, you might have heard of the terms shoujo and josei being tossed around alongside shounen or seinen. 

For the uninitiated, shoujo and josei is a target demographic that usually refers to stories created or produced for women. Shoujo manga usually is catered for younger readers while josei stories aim for older women readers. 

While the formation of romantic relationships mostly takes center stage in these stories, shoujo and josei also focus on the nature and creation of human relationships, reinvent the notions of girlhood and womanhood,  and even explore gender identity.

Some popular titles that you might be familiar with include Sailor Moon, Fruits Basket, Ouran High School Host Club, Banana Fish and several others, but of course, there are more shoujosei stories that are worth exploring and reading. 

If you don’t know where to start, fret not! As someone who grew up on shoujosei series and is a frequent consumer of these manga, I am here to help. Today I bring you a set of  shoujosei recommendations to dip your foot into!

Ookami Heika no Hanayome [The Wolf King’s Bride] by Kauta Mato

What’s it about?

When Tei Yuurin, the daughter of a low-ranking government official, decides to come to the royal palace after hearing of a high-paying job offer, the last thing she expected was to work for  Haku Reishou, the kingdom’s infamous Wolf-King who is both ruthless and heartless. In the heart of the inner palace rife with conspiracies and power struggles, Yuurin learns about His Majesty’s secret… and gets stuck as a temporary bride?!

A headstrong and goofy heroine who is just Trying Her Best to get that paycheck and a ruthless king who actually exudes puppy energy once he steps out of the throne room are entangled in a contract marriage to fend off unwanted proposals takes center stage in this historical romance fantasy. Although an older title published in 2009, Ookami Heika no Hanayome is an enjoyable read for those looking for a fluffy, cute romance set against the backdrop of inner palaces and pretty much low-stakes court drama. 

(Honestly begging for this to be licensed officially in English already, it’s about time!)

Uruwashi no Yoi no Tsuki [In the Clear Moonlit Dusk] by Yamamori Mika

What’s it about?

Yoi Takiguchi has long legs, a deep voice, and a handsome face…in other words, Yoi is such a good-looking guy that most people don’t notice or care that she is, in fact, a girl. Indeed, she’s had the nickname “Prince” as long as she can remember. That is, until she met Ichimura-senpai…the only person who’s really seemed to see her for herself. To her surprise, she’s not sure how to handle this new relationship, especially when her newfound friend is a prince himself (and a guy prince, at that). The story of the two high school princes starts here!

From the creator of Daytime Shooting Star and Tsubaki-Chou Lonely Planet, Uruwashi no Yoi no Tsuki is Yamamori Mika’s recent addition to her work. 

While I personally think I still need more development to be fully immersed in the budding romance between the two leads, Yoi coming to terms and reconciling with her own femininity after years of being boxed into the more masculine side because of how she looks and acts is a more important and compelling part of the story so far.

Tonari no Stella [Stella Next to Me] by Ammitsu

What’s it about?

Chiaki and Subaru have been the closest since they were kids. Chiaki has always liked him but as Subaru walks further into the world of entertainment, Chiaki decides the time has come to move past her one-sided feelings and find new love. Does she have enough resolve to meet someone better, or will she find herself shaken by her long-time love? A close, yet distant love story between a normal girl and her actor childhood friend!

I love me some good romance with childhood friends, and Tonari no Stella stood out to me amongst the recent titles because Chiaki and Subaru’s chemistry with each other is interesting. Throw in some good ole’ pining and a bit of angst because of the celebrity status, this new series holds promise for its future chapters and I am definitely looking forward to reading more of this.

Yawao to Katako [A Queen and an Old Maid] by Nagata Ayumi

What’s it about?

Campy queen vs. Miss forever-alone: This defeat-your-insecurities (romantic?) comedy goes out to all you folks full of self-loathing!! Unpopular with men, unattractive, and unsure of herself… At a mixer one night, insecure and forever-alone Fujiko found her soulmate- No, wait, it was a femme guy playing mother hen?! Fujiko has never been confident in herself as a woman, but with help from pretty boy queen Koyanagi, now she’s going to give femininity another shot…!

Everybody has their own share of bad days and even periods of crippling self loathing, and while I have come to terms about what I think about my own self, this manga pretty much reached out into some deep-seated insecurities in my life as a woman (because as you know, society expects so much from women).  

Fujiko, our heroine, shares the same concerns: she is getting older yet she is still unmarried, and people are expecting her to settle down and start a family along with the pressure to look and act in a certain way. To the point where she has become so unsure of herself from being so overwhelmed with what is expected of her. That is until she meets Koyanagi, who decides to lend a hand towards guiding her to a journey of acceptance of who she is and towards self-acceptance and that it is alright to be your own self and go against others’ expectations. 

There are also probably a few series where I have encountered a main character explicitly identify and refer to themselves as bisexual, in the case of Koyanagi. Yawao to Katako not only gave me that representation, but also touches on the prejudice bisexual people face as well as the biphobia that is still prevalent in society today. Koyanagi’s backstory and coming to terms with his gender identity resonated with my own as I also from an Asian household. 

As you can probably tell, I really like this series and the chaacter development Fujiko and Koyanagi go through together. Very much recommend! 

Hitomonchaku nara Yorokonde! [If Someone’s in Trouble, I’d Be Glad to Help!] by Yatsumi Tsumu

What’s it about?

Despite being famous on social media as the “Angel of HR,” Mamoru Hitomi is unhappy with her job. Upset one evening, she goes out drinking, spending the night with a devilish stranger who changes her life!

My first exposure to Yatsumi Tsumu’s work is their Island Manager series, and I quickly became a huge fan of this author for their exaggerated workplace romantic comedy series that never fails to make me laugh, but also making commentary on the corporate hustle and bustle. 

Hitomonchaku Nara Yorokonde touches more on the HR side of things, and you will definitely end up cheering for Hitomi as she tries to work and make a more conducive environment for the newest company and to protect the source of motivation, joining forces with the devilish Sakyou. 

Fundari, Kettari, Aishitari [Step On, Kick, Love] by Ichiya Sumi

What’s it about?

Kaho is busy working hard every day and is exhausted both mentally and physically. Her only recourse is drinking with the handsome Akira, who indulges in drinking, smoking, fighting and having fun with women. She truly thought they were able to become quite good friends without any romantic feelings between them – until that night…

Craving for some fuckboy rep, messy and ambiguous relationships and a will-they-won’t-they dynamic? This title is for you. I stumbled on this by accident when I wanted to take a break from reading fluff and wholesome stories and ta-dah, Fundari, Kettari, Aishitari came through. And boy, was this messy with the push-and-pull dynamic indeed! Akira is a shitty man but I keep reading for Kaho, whose character development is what I am looking forward to the most! Plus, their chemistry is sizzling, so I am just waiting for these two emotionally constipated adults to get together (aka buckling up for the long haul ride of pining and misunderstandings)

Colette wa Shinu Koto ni Shita [Colette Decides to Die] by Yukimura Alto

What’s it about?

Meet Colette, a young doctor. Since she’s the only doctor in town, she has to attend to everything, and quite honestly, she thinks she needs a break. One day, she’s so frazzled that she jumps into a well. But, she didn’t die? Instead, she finds herself in the underworld, where she encounters Lord Hades. Somehow or the other, she becomes Hades’ doctor. Follow Colette in her new (though still busy) life, now with Hades thrown into the picture!

Hades and Persephone fans, this one’s for you. Despite the grim title, rest assured this isn’t a dark kind of story. Colette Decides to Die is a refreshing take on Greek mythology, and I particularly liked this reinterpretation of the Hades and Persephone trope — except in place of Persephone, there is Colette, a burnt out doctor who somehow finds her way to the underworld and becomes Hades’ personal physician when she discovers he is afflicted by a strange disease. 

This was very cute, heart-warming and with a pinch of found family that truly explores the nature of human life and death, and what it means to feel truly alive.

(also furiously banging on the doors of every English manga imprint to get this licensed officially)

Furare Girl by Tsutsumi Kakeru

What’s it about?

The drop-dead-gorgeous and high-sex-appeal Akasaka Hibiki is going through breakup blues. Soon after being dumped, she’s asked to become her schoolmate Aoyama-kun’s mistress?! Aoyama-kun will try to gain Hibiki’s affections through different means, so let’s just hope he doesn’t nosebleed to death in the process.

You know those theme park rides that make you go through hoops and loops and even throw you off your axis so much that your soul leaves your body? Reading Furare Girl felt exactly like that, though in a hilariously laugh-out-loud kind of way. 

I came into this expecting a fun romcom between Hibiki and Aoyama, but stayed for the comedy because it gives you super unexpected twists that made me almost bust out a lung for laughing too hard — including where Aoyama bursts into a puddle (literally!), psychics, guardian spirits, etc. How do these fit into the story’s equation? Guess you’ll just have to read on to find out.

Queen’s Quality by Motomi Kyousuke

What’s it about?

Fumi Nishioka lives with Kyutaro Horikita and his family of “Sweepers,” people who specialize in cleaning the minds of those overcome by negative energy and harmful spirits. Fumi has always displayed mysterious abilities, but will those powers be used for evil when she begins to truly awaken as a Queen?

I’ve briefly talked about QQ Sweeper, the prequel to this series in my Comfort Manga Reads post a while back, and Queen’s Quality jumps off from the events of the end of QQ Sweeper. Not gonna lie, but this series has one of the most unique and interesting magic systems I have read in shoujo manga in recent years, and it’s action-packed with a kickass hilarious heroine in the form of Fumi as she tries to navigate the truth behind her abilities. Mix that in with found family and romantic tension and yearning, the only thing that’s missing is an anime adaptation. Begging for this to get the adaptation it truly deserves!

Yubisaki to Renren [A Sign of Affection] by Morishita Suu

What’s it about?

Yuki is a typical college student, whose world revolves around her friends, social media, and the latest sales. But when a chance encounter on a train leads to her meeting friend-of-a-friend and fellow student Itsuomi-san, her world starts to widen. But even though Itsuomi-kun can speak three languages, sign language isn’t one of them. Can the two learn to communicate the budding feelings between them?

If A Sign of Affection was a dessert, I’d link this to be custard pudding — comforting and with just the right amount of melt-in-your mouth sweetness. Morishita has written a very tender, heart-warming story between Yuki and Itsuomi, and I think that the deaf representation was done with proper care with the creators doing extensive research and interviews with Japan’s Hard of Hearing community. 

This series does not negate the difficulty deaf people face, but it also focuses on a more overarching theme of the concept of language and the willingness to bridge the gaps in communication to better acknowledge and connect to those who are deaf. This series is very  endearing and the covers and art style are equally as gorgeous — very much recommended.

Machida-kun no Sekai  [The World of Machida] by Andou Yuki

What’s it about?

Machida-kun seems like the perfect brother, son, and student because he loves people. Helpful when he needs to be, but puts himself down when he feels like a total failure. However, the people that surround his daily life are there as a reminder as why Machida-kun needs no improvements because the people love Machida.

To me, this series is hot chocolate on a frigid day, a fuzzy blanket cocooned around you on a chilly night, aka one of my many comforts. 

It is difficult not to be taken in Machida’s charms as his character inherently sees the good in people. He is very endearing, and despite being the put-together eldest figure he is introduced to us at first, there are some cute parts about him too (like how he often gets misconstrued as a smart student just because he wears glasses and how he often tries to cook despite only knowing how to cook eggs and his being quite analog, relying on books instead of the internet). 

The many encounters he shares across the series emphasise the importance of human connections and widens perspectives on how to see the world and what it means to be human. Yet one key take-away I definitely have from this title is that every ounce of kindness, no matter how small, goes a long way.

This one is a quick and short read, but I also recommend this for the healing and soothing vibes it radiates with each page turn.

Hibi Chouchou [Daily Butterflies] by Morishita Suu

What’s it about?

Shibazeki Suiren is a stunningly beautiful girl. When she enters high school, most of her classmates are astonished by her beauty, but after noticing her quiet manners and lack of contact with anyone else except her friends Yuri and Aya, she receives the nickname “Takane no Hana”, a beautiful flower but impossible to reach. However, after a fellow freshman called Kawasumi Kouha saves her from a persistent suitor, she finds herself mesmerized by him… as he’s the only boy who won’t look at her no matter what.

This is the second Morishita Suu title on this list, and by now it is no secret that she is one of my favorite mangakas in the more recent years. Hibi Chouchou was my first exposure to her work and I found myself deeply engrossed in her depiction of a ‘quiet love’ between two introverts, as they both work toward knowing each other more. 

Although this one is a bit formulaic with the usual high school shoujo romance themes and tropes, I still would recommend you reading this if you are looking for a short, sweet tender romance and be introduced to more of Morishita Suu’s work.

(Also, a bit late indeed, but hooray for this manga finally getting a print release in English!)

Nee Sensei, Shiranai No? [Hey Miss, Don’t You Know?] by Asano Aya

What’s it about?

Hana is a shoujo manga artist who fell in love at first sight with Riichi, a handsome hairdresser who was just passing by, and they decided to date! It’s normal for Hana to seclude herself when she’s working on a manuscript, and she’s not the ideal image of a girlfriend, but it seems that Riichi loves that side of her? “After a long day at work, my boyfriend is waiting to spoil me… I’ve always wanted a boyfriend like that!”

Dedicated to all the girls who work hard every day, a romantic comedy between a mangaka and a hairdresser starts!

No joke, the first time I read this title, I was giggling and twirling my hair, kicking my feet under the table, practically the whole lovestruck maiden archetype if you will. As a working member of society, what would I give to have a significant other who wants to spoil me after a hard day at the office, right?! 

My ramblings (read: fluffy daydreams) aside, what I really liked about this manga is that it already portrays an established relationship from the start and touches on the issues that may arise in the context of career and relationships. Hana and Riichi are both young people in their 20s who are kicking off their careers, with  Hana being a shoujo mangaka and Riichi being a beautician. 

Yet, despite these, the two support each other and encourage each other in each other’s career, and even communicating healthily when it comes to boundaries. Definitely what I really loved about their dynamic is that both understand the challenges in each of their field of work, but they do not hesitate to talk out if they have worries and such while also being supportive of each other. Truly, relationship goals! 

I have watched the drama adaptation of this series as well and it was so cute and sweet, and I also particularly like how they show the perspective of both Hana and Riichi in the heart fluttering moments. God, kilig is off the charts with this!

Last Game by Amano Shinobu

What’s it about?

Yanagi is rich, smart, a girl-magnet, and always at the top of his class… well, until Kujou transferred in his primary school. She was 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 her and thus, followed her from elementary until college over the past 10 years. Only when he decides to change the rules might he finally win. Here comes their last game!

Calling all academic rivals to lovers enthusiasts, this one is for you! If you were active in the shoujosei scene circa 2010s, Last Game was one of the most-talked about titles within the community, and for good reason. 

Slow-burn at its finest and in true academic rival fashion, this series follows the titular characters’ push-and-pull dynamic from elementary until university. It was so amusing to see how Yanagi and Kujou trip over each other and progress in their relationship from their kid years till their university term and the build-up of romantic tension and the push-and-pull pays off in the end! 

Goma Shio to Purin [Sesame Salt and Pudding] by Suzuki Yufuko

What’s it about?

One morning, Haruhi wakes up to find that she’s married to an old man she doesn’t know!? Haruhi works as a heavy machinery operator at a construction site full of men. One night, Haruhi meets a middle-aged man with grey hair at a pub, and submits a marriage certificate under the influence of alcohol. She had taken him straight into her room! Don’t judge a man by the colour of the hair. Love comedy by a silver fox and a girl physical worker.

Look don’t judge me, but I see a very ikemen oji-san on the cover, I will read it. Sesame Salt and Pudding features an age gap romance stemming from an accidental marriage and marriage of convenience trope. The romance that unfolds between Haruhi and Nagato was sweet and while it had its teleserye-esque moments, it was resolved quickly and I enjoyed the dynamic between the main couple as it was equal parts spunky and sexy and it was also balanced out with just the right amount of kilig. Personally, I’m living for Haruhi’s sarcastic quips and banter with her ‘ossan’,  (affectionate). 

For the silver fox and age gap romance enjoyers, definitely give this title a read!

And that wraps it up for Part 1 of the shoujosei recommendation line-up! We’ve barely scratched the tip of the iceberg in what shoujosei mangas have to offer, but fret not! I’ll be back with more shoujosei recommendations in the second part of this three-part series.

Please look forward to it! In the meantime…

Let’s Chat!

Have you ever read shoujo or josei manga before? If not, which among these titles interest you the most?

If you’ve ever read shoujo or josei manga before, what are your favorites?

Let me know in the comments below!


The Marikit Magic: Author Chat with Caris Avendaño Cruz

The world has seen its fair share of magical girls — and to be completely honest? I think we need more. From the moment I first saw glimpses of this middle-grade novel featuring a Filipino magical girl in her trusty hand-sewn map dress setting off for an adventure in a world inspired by Filipino folkore, Marikit and the Ocean of Stars shot up to the top of my most anticipated reads for 2022.

Marikit’s story found me at the right time — this was the type of book my childhood self would’ve wanted to read, and this enduring story of familial bonds, magic, and self-identity is undoubtedly a love letter for every Filipino child and child-at-heart.

So, what’s this book all about?

A middle grade debut, inspired by Filipino folklore, about a ten-year-old girl who embarks on a quest in the world of gods and spirits to save her and her family from a sinister shadow god.

Marikit is used to wearing recycled clothes. Her mother, the best seamstress in the barrio, has become an expert at making do ever since Marikit’s father and brother were lost at sea. But for her tenth birthday, all Marikit wants is something new. So when her mother gifts her a patchwork dress stitched together with leftover scraps from her workshop, Marikit vows to never wear it. That is, until the eve of her birthday, when shadow creatures creep into their home, attempt to take Marikit away, and upend the very life she knew.

When she’s swept away from the human world, Marikit discovers that her dress is a map, one lovingly crafted to lead her to safety in the magical lands of the Engkantos. She trudges through the enchanted lands of mythical creatures, making friends out of monsters and challenging gods. With the help of her friends, including an exuberant firefly and a cursed boy, Marikit journeys through the land of the Engkantos to find the key to saving her family, all without being eaten alive.

I’ve had the honor of speaking with the author of this book and fellow magical girl enthusiast, Caris Avendaño Cruz, where we talk about the behind-the-scenes details and magic that went into creating the heart of Marikit’s story. Read on for more!

Please tell us about Marikit’s beginnings. What prompted you to write her story?

Marikit and the Ocean of Stars is my tribute to my favorite women in the world: my mom, and Inang — my grandmother. I grew up watching their beautiful bond; how they’d talk about everything under the sun while sitting in Inang’s old, floral-covered couches, or walking home from the market, arm in arm, sharing their recipes. We lived near Inang’s house, so we were there whenever she needs us to be. A big part of Marikit is my fond memories of that old house: the nostalgia of old pictures hanging on the walls, the sound of the creaking wooden floors, Inang’s sewing machine, the paneled Capiz windows that let the sun in whenever they’re fully opened, and Inang’s traditional décor on the shelves that I loved looking at.

How did Marikit and the Ocean of Stars transition from being an idea to being the first draft, and eventually into its final manuscript? What was the writing process like?

My original idea for Marikit was a treasure hunt; Marikit’s mother hands her a dress that bears a map only Marikit can decode, and this will lead her to a secret treasure. When her mother gets kidnapped, Marikit must find that treasure herself before someone else does. It’s a cool plot, isn’t it? Unfortunately, this didn’t come through.

I struggled with the first few chapters — some premises don’t really work the way we first wanted them to be. So I started playing around, inserting bits of magic here and there. I think the book liked it. The book chose its direction and it has become a joy to write since then. It’s so fun, weaving in our local folklore, sharing very Tagalog words — some less commonly used. By the time I was finished and ready to query, I looked at my manuscript and asked myself, “How Filipino do you want this to be?” (In this aspect, there are many glorious facets of being Filipino, and so I think this feeling came to me in the Filipino-ness I knew). I could remember thinking at that very moment that I had a possibility of a book in my hands, and perhaps my only chance to get published as an author, and I knew I had to give it my all.

Marikit’s world is set in the land of the Engkantos, and notably, they are one of the familiar figures along with other deities and creatures in Philippine mythology. With this, what was the worldbuilding process like and what kind of research did you undertake to flesh out Marikit’s world?

I started with the tales that I loved and remembered as a child — the scary Mangkukulams, the Tikbalangs that lurk behind thick, tall trees; and of course, the Aswangs. We grew up consuming iterations of these, from the thick books we’d read during our Filipino classes (do they still have those?) to teledramas and movies and comics. And can I forget the many times my older cousins scared the heck out of us by telling creepy stories?

I knew there was more to learn, so I began looking for sources. There were helpful sites online that gave me a headstart; I’m grateful to those who patiently compiled these precious stories and made them accessible for us to read. Then, I found books and anthologies that were treasure troves of lores and myths. I just love learning more about them! There is just so, so much to unravel and I hope our storytellers get the chance to
tell them.

Without giving any spoilers, what was your favorite part of the worldbuilding process of the book? And while we’re on the topic, could you share a childhood story featuring Filipino folklore that has stuck with you until now?

One of the pillars of Marikit’s enchanted world is an origin tale retold so many times: the story of Malakas and Maganda. Marikit’s version leans into the humor and the wonder of it, and I hope it brings you joy.

Funnily, this part of Marikit is inspired by the bamboo grove in front of our home. (That goes without saying, Marikit is inspired by that one word: home). When I was a kid, I used to stare at it through our window with a little tremble. I’ve always wondered if there were monsters in it. I mean, there could be! The bamboo stalks were dense and tall and could hide a Kapre. One day, when curiosity got the best of me, I decided to investigate (as far as investigating goes for an elementary kid). I walked close to the grove — slowly, carefully — but when I was within distance, I heard something. There were voices! Voices that talked and laughed inside the bamboo grove! I ran home as fast as I could and told my mom. And then, she answered, “Anak, those are people. There’s a small community behind that grove.” True enough, there was!

On Twitter, you’ve mentioned your love for magical girl series on there as well. How did you incorporate this love towards creating your own magical girl that is Marikit?

I was that kid who watched all the fantastic animes after school and on weekends, so writing a magical girl has been a dream. I think a lot of us went through that phase: when in a snap, we ordinary folk transform into someone braver, stronger, with a cool costume, and the ability to kick a monster’s butt. Stories like these moved Elementary Caris to aspire to be brave and to explore the different meanings of being pretty. I think Marikit is going through that phase, too — a dream of becoming more than who she is — little knowing that who she is is actually more than the magical girls she was dreaming of.

Illustration by Alexis Young

For you, what defines a ‘magical girl’?

The magical girls I grew up with had similar vibes: cutesy, gorgeously dressed, armed with powerful weapons, and above all, shiny — thanks to the glittery sparkles that surround them after their transformation. But, on very rare occasions, magical girls could also be running around in reformed clothes, old tsinelas, sundrenched disheveled hair, and an unexpected object in their hand that, if they only knew how to wield it, could stop their enemies and help save their friends.

Speaking of magical girls, what is/are some of your favorite magical girl series?

As your regular, anime-loving person, I’ll be shouting with my whole throat, Sailor Moon! I also adore CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth, and even as a grownup, I still shoot my friends Cardcaptor Sakura memes. When it comes to books, I would like to point you to Julie Abe’s Eva Evergreen series, Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland, and Roshani Chokshi’s Pandava series!

Something a little fun: which magical girl/s do you think would get along best with Marikit?

I think Aru would make Marikit laugh—and hopefully rub off a little bit of spunk on her! I bet she’ll take Marikit on a trip to museums and explain more of India’s myths to her. While we’re at that, I wish Amari will also befriend Marikit! Both of them have brothers they admire, and I know they’ll share tips about vanquishing enemies that lurk in the dark.

If there is one thing you want readers to take away from Marikit and the Ocean of Stars, what would it be?

May we always remember that we have a life like stars, and I hope we shine bright in it.

Are there any projects we should look forward to?

I have another book coming from FSG BYR and I am grateful for another opportunity to let our colors and myths shine. Please watch out for it!

About the Author

May or may not be a 7,000-year-old spinster who lives in a small cottage hidden by overgrown Ipil-ipil trees, watching the world from her open windows while also waiting for cool air to pass by (it is very, very hot where she lives). She takes note of everything that happens and records them in a notebook whose pages never run out.

But really, truthfully, Caris Avendaño Cruz is a copywriter for awesome internet brands and cool businesses. Her favorite things to write, however, are magical stories led by kids of color. She lives in Bulacan, Philippines with her family of humorously named cats and a dog who loves to demand belly rubs. Marikit and the Ocean of Stars is her debut novel.

Twitter | Instagram |Facebook | Website

Let’s Chat!

Have you read Marikit and the Ocean of Stars yet? Let me know what you think of it in the comments below!


16 Book Recs to Discover and Unleash Your Inner Magic

When I say that my ideal profession is to become a full-time magical gremlin, tinkering with silly little spells and silly little magical artifacts, I can say with 300% certainty that I meant it with my whole heart and soul. I mean who doesn’t want to wield powers, go on an extraordinary journey of self-discovery, maybe even have a dedicated outfit transformation sequence, have a trustworthy animal companion (magical or mundane) and look cute with an added bonus of saving the world? (Though I’m still 50/50 on that last bit, I’ve got no stamina for this #adulting)

Point is, the fascination for magic is something that is still prevalent in books, evidenced in the sprawling SFF genre across all ages, featuring various kinds of magical systems, sprawling worldbuilding, adventures to other worlds, and unlocking or honing magical abilities that you have within you. Not only that, immersing yourself in magical worlds affords some sort of refuge and respite from the daily highs and lows of the real world.

If you’re like me who’s on the constant lookout for more stories of magic and mayhem, fret not! As your resident magical gremlin-in-training, here are some books to check out if you’re craving a little ✨ magical ✨ fix!

Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama (translated by Stephen Kohler)


In a world where everyone takes wonders like magic spells and dragons for granted, Coco is a girl with a simple dream: She wants to be a witch. But everybody knows magicians are born, not made, and Coco was not born with a gift for magic. Resigned to her un-magical life, Coco is about to give up on her dream to become a witch…until the day she meets Qifrey, a mysterious, traveling magician. After secretly seeing Qifrey perform magic in a way she’s never seen before, Coco soon learns what everybody “knows” might not be the truth, and discovers that her magical dream may not be as far away as it may seem…

Goodreads |Kodansha | Amazon

The pen is mightier than the sword, and in Witch Hat Atelier’s world, magic comes to life by penning ink into paper — runes and sigils painstakingly arranged and drawn by hand. If you like sprawling, detailed magic systems, worldbuilding, and a new perspective on witches and wizardry (Brim Hats vs Pointy Hats, anyone?) this series is for you! Coupled with found family, a wonderful coming-of-age story and a girl’s journey to harnessing her own magic, Witch Hat Atelier is a guaranteed fave for the magic aficionado in you.

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe


Sometimes all you need is a pinch of magic…

Eva Evergreen is determined to earn the rank of Novice Witch before she turns thirteen years old. If she doesn’t, she’ll lose her magic forever. For most young witches and wizards, it’s a simple enough test:

ONE: Help your town, do good all around.
TWO: Live there for one moon, don’t leave too soon.
THREE: Fly home by broomstick, the easiest of tricks.

The only problem? Eva only has a pinch of magic. She summons heads of cabbage instead of flowers and gets a sunburn instead of calling down rain. And to add insult to injury, whenever she overuses her magic, she falls asleep.

When she lands on the tranquil coastal town of Auteri, the residents expect a powerful witch, not a semi-magical girl. So Eva comes up with a plan: set up a magical repair shop to aid Auteri and prove she’s worthy. She may have more blood than magic, but her “semi-magical fixes” repair the lives of the townspeople in ways they never could have imagined. Only, Eva’s bit of magic may not be enough when the biggest magical storm in history threatens the town she’s grown to love. Eva must conjure up all of the magic, bravery, and cleverness she can muster or Auteri and her dreams of becoming a witch will wash away with the storm.

Goodreads | Amazon

If I were to sum up this book in a few words, I’d like to redirect you to one of my favorite quotes from Olympic figure skater, Yuzuru Hanyu: “Efforts will lie, but will never be in vain … It is precisely because efforts lie that we are prompted to think about how to work hard in a different way, and find the correct direction in which to expend our efforts. Isn’t that the most important thing?” Eva Evergreen is the perfect read for the lovers of Studio Ghibli’s whimsical and cozy magic, and you’ll be rooting for Eva by the end of the book.

Twinkle, Twinkle by Tori Tadiar (Writer and Illustrator), Sharlene Yap (Art Assistant)


Manila, The Golden Age.

The city glitters at night: tranvias run up and down wide streets, arcades and hotels are swarmed with celebrities, and theaters attract droves to see stars perform on the silver screen and onstage.

Twins Alta and Signa work at the theaters until dawn, day in and day out. It’s a grind until the next starfall, when they break their routine and use a magical ability to see and catch falling stars, hoping to sell the stardust off to a mysterious patron. But when up-and-coming singer Hanan is catapulted into starsom, the twins are pulled into the orbit of Manila’s star-studded nightlife and discover that catching falling stars is a lot more than they bargained for.

Goodreads | Penlab

Twinkle, Twinkle is set in 1920s and 1930s Philippines, where the Western art deco movement is beginning to make its way to the country. You can be immersed in an alternate, magical old Manila, where theaters attract droves to see stars perform onstage and the silver screen. Coupled with Tori Tadiar’s gorgeous illustrations, the heart of the story is a tale of shining, unbreakable sibling bonds that can banish the dark. From all of Tori Tadiar’s works so far, this is my favorite!

Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore


The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.

The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

Goodreads | Amazon

Stories about sisterhood are one of my favorite things to read about, and Blanca and Roja quickly shot to my faves as it is a story that tugged my heartstrings. This book read like a dream and I felt like I was encased in the downy feathers of a swan while I finished this. My heart was smashed and then rebuilt as I finished this tale of sisters, whimsy, self-discovery and breaking free from a pre-determined destiny.

The Girl and The Ghost by Hanna Alkaf


I am a dark spirit, the ghost announced grandly. I am your inheritance, your grandmother’s legacy. I am yours to command.

Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.

But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survive . . . before they are both lost to the darkness.

Goodreads | Amazon

If my grandmother probably left me a ghost as an inheritance, my first thought would be: cool. Next would be, why? That aside, The Girl and The Ghost expertly delivers a mix of eerie and endearing, and Hanna Alkaf’s lush atmosphere and creatures of mythology make it hard to put this book down. Tears were shed during my commute as I finished this, and I just want to bundle this book, tuck it in bed and kiss it good night.

The Mermaid, The Witch and The Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall


Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don’t trust, don’t stick out, and don’t feel. But on this voyage, as the pirates prepare to sell their unsuspecting passengers into slavery, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is en route to a dreaded arranged marriage with her own casket in tow. Flora doesn’t expect to be taken under Evelyn’s wing, and Evelyn doesn’t expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian.

Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood, which causes men to have visions and lose memories) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, and the all-encompassing Sea itself.

Goodreads | Amazon

Listen: there are not enough books about oceans and the magic that it holds. I’ve read this book back in 2020 as I was recovering from a huge reading slump, and it was hard not to fall into the lull of its quiet magic and ocean currents, and this story has stayed with me ever since. It has all my favorite things: pirates, witches, mermaids, the sea. It also explores themes on navigating one’s gender identity, sacrifice, (found) family, survival and also the importance and magic of stories in our lives.

The Accidental Apprentice (Wilderlore 1) by Amanda Foody


The last thing Barclay Thorne ever wanted was an adventure.

Thankfully, as an apprentice to the town’s mushroom farmer, Barclay need only work hard and follow the rules to one day become the head mushroom farmer himself. No danger required. But then Barclay accidentally breaks his town’s most sacred rule: never ever EVER stray into the Woods, for within the Woods lurk vicious magical Beasts.

To Barclay’s horror, he faces a fate far worse than being eaten: he unwittingly bonds with a Beast and is run out of town by an angry mob. Determined to break this bond and return home, Barclay journeys to find the mysterious town of Lore Keepers, people who have also bonded with Beasts and share their powers.

But after making new friends, entering a dangerous apprenticeship exam, and even facing the legendary Beast of the Woods, Barclay must make a difficult choice: return to the home and rules he’s always known, or embrace the adventure awaiting him.

Goodreads | Amazon

As every Pokemon trainer we’ve all aspired to be at one point has said: gotta catch them all! Wilderlore is all sorts of fun and action, and unlike Barclay Thorne, I’d like my own Lufthound myself, thank you very much! This middle grade is perfect for those who grew up with Pokemon and Digimon, and the different beasts and Lore featured in this book would definitely keep you on your toes to learn more! This is already shaping up to one of my favorite middle grade series!

Dauntless by Elisa A. Bonnin


“Be dauntless, for the hopes of the People rest in you.”

Seri’s world is defined by very clear rules: The beasts prowl the forest paths and hunt the People. The valiant explore the unknown world, kill the beasts, and gain strength from the armor they make from them. As an assistant to Eshai Unbroken, a young valor commander with a near-mythical reputation, Seri has seen first-hand the struggle to keep the beasts at bay and ensure the safety of the spreading trees where the People make their homes. That was how it always had been, and how it always would be. Until the day Seri encounters Tsana.

Tsana is, impossibly, a stranger from the unknown world who can communicate with the beasts – a fact that makes Seri begin to doubt everything she’s ever been taught. As Seri and Tsana grow closer, their worlds begin to collide, with deadly consequences. Somehow, with the world on the brink of war, Seri will have to find a way to make peace.

Goodreads | Amazon

Animal companion stories are definitely one of my favorite things to read, and Dauntless’ worldbuilding definitely makes this shine! While it did start out slow, the world introduction was taken with a lot of care so that readers are immersed properly in the setting of the story. The lore and magic system behind the armor reminded me of usual RPG mechanics and its very Filipino, but more than that, this was a riveting fantasy read for those who enjoy action scenes, intriguing political dynamics and an extra bonus of sapphic romance on the side.

Bloody Spade by Brittany M. Willows


A girl full of heart
A thief touched by darkness
A boy with a fiery temper
An unwitting servant of evil

The era of magic was once thought to be a myth, but after the Reemergence ushered forces both dark and light into the mundane world, it has since become a harsh reality. Now those affected by this strange power-a specialized group of Empowered called Jokers, known collectively as Cardplay-must protect their world from the darkness that threatens to consume it, all the while fighting for equality in a society clinging to normalcy.

But the Reemergence was only the beginning.

When another influx occurs on the seventh anniversary of that fateful event, an unfortunate encounter at ground zero lands Iori Ryone, a teenage boy in possession of a corrupt and legendary magic, in the care of recent Joker graduate Ellen Amelia Jane. From him, she learns the Reemergence may not have been the inevitable natural disaster it first seemed.

Someone is trying to tear down the barrier that separates the magical realms from the mundane. The question is, can Cardplay stop them before it’s too late?

Goodreads | Amazon

Listen, I’ve only met Iori and Ellen for one book, but if something happens to them, I will unalive everyone in this room and then myself (just kidding). Bloody Spade kicks everything out of the park with its fast-paced action scenes, a band of misfit kids, and it reads like an anime series that I flew through this book in a jiffy! Also, the hurt/comfort scenes in this were chef’s kiss and the magic system was so cool, I want to be part of Cardplay too!

If you enjoyed D.Gray Man and Shugo Chara, you’d definitely enjoy this book so much!

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko


Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?

Goodreads | Amazon

Raybearer was an unexpected favorite, and I particularly loved how the Chosen One trope was utilised in this narrative. Aside from that, it tackles themes of historical revisionism, the silencing of women throughout history, and emotional abuse coming from a parental figure. Its worldbuilding is lush, inspired from West African folklore, and it comes with an equally intricate plot that kept me on my toes until the last page.

In these trying times, but most importantly very related to the Philippines right now, I leave you one of the quotes from the book that struck me: Uniformity is not unity. Silence is not peace.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker, Wendy Xu (Artist), Joamette Gil (Letterer)


A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

Goodreads | Amazon

This book has the basic formula as most magical stories go: sugar, spice and everything nice! The overall colors and illustration style of the book were also very lovely (I want to own everything in Nova’s closet, by the way) and  Nova’s Nanas have a special place in my heart for being such cool and kickass grandmas who have control over magic. I also loved how Nova and Tam’s relationship played out–childhood loves who come back to you after a long time never fail to make my heart melt.

Witchlings by Claribel A. Ortega


Every year, in the magical town of Ravenskill, Witchlings who participate in the Black Moon Ceremony are placed into covens and come into their powers as full-fledged witches.

And twelve-year-old Seven Salazar can’t wait to be placed in the most powerful coven with her best friend! But on the night of the ceremony, in front of the entire town, Seven isn’t placed in one of the five covens. She’s a Spare!

Spare covens have fewer witches, are less powerful, and are looked down on by everyone. Even worse, when Seven and the other two Spares perform the magic circle to seal their coven and cement themselves as sisters, it doesn’t work! They’re stuck as Witchlings—and will never be able to perform powerful magic.

Seven invokes her only option: the impossible task. The three Spares will be assigned an impossible task: If they work together and succeed at it, their coven will be sealed and they’ll gain their full powers. If they fail… Well, the last coven to make the attempt ended up being turned into toads. Forever.

But maybe friendship can be the most powerful magic of all…

Goodreads | Amazon

I’m always a big fan of characters being forced to work together to overcome a task that was deemed impossible, and proving everyone who looked down on them wrong! The art style looks so cute and the whole premise of these witchlings being sorted into covens to grow into their own powers was such a concept I was so on board with! More than anything, Witchlings is a story that focuses on finding your own self, the importance of teamwork, and the power of friendship that manages to conquer all odds.

Wandering Witch Elaina by Jougi Shiraishi, Itsuki Nanao (Illustrator), Azure (Designer)


Once upon a time, there was a witch named Elaina, who set off on a journey across the world. Along the way, she would meet all kinds of people, from a country full of witches to a giant in love with his own muscles-but with each meeting, Elaina would become a small part of their story, and her own world would get a little bit bigger.

Goodreads | Amazon

I’ve watched the anime series of Wandering Witch Elaina before picking up the manga to read, and I really liked the episodic format where there is almost always a different town/people Elaina meets throughout her journey. The endings are also somehow open-ended and up for interpretation, and in my opinion, it greatly worked with Elaina’s set-up as a morally-grey observer/chronicler of sorts. One of the stories that struck with me the most was the story about the princess who has amnesia and the country of ash where she rules over. Some stories/chronicles get kind of dark so take this as a warning before diving in.

Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly


There are stories of extraordinary children who are chosen from birth to complete great quests and conquer evil villains.

This is no such story.

Sometimes, you are an ordinary child.

Sometimes, you have to choose yourself.

This is the story of Lalani Sarita, a twelve-year-old girl who lives on the island of Sanlagita in the shadow of a vengeful mountain. When she makes a fateful wish that endangers her already-vulnerable village, she sets out across the distant sea in search of life’s good fortunes. Grown men have died making the same journey. What hope does an ordinary girl have?

Inspired by Filipino folklore, Lalani of the Distant Sea introduces readers to a landscape of magical creatures, such as Bai-Vinca, the enormous birdwoman; Ditasa Ulod, part woman, part eel; the mindoren, a race of creatures modeled after the water buffalo; and the whenbo — trees that eat the souls of the dead.

Goodreads | Amazon

Reiterating my love for anything ocean-related, Lalani of the Distant Sea was a deep dive into one ordinary girl’s journey to right the shortcomings of a wish. This is a love letter that is distinct and apologetically Filipino, and you will definitely be charmed by Lalani’s quests and encounters with the creatures of the air and the deep. Spell-binding and charming, this book will definitely drown you in its story, much like the seas that it is set in.

Marikit and the Ocean of Stars by Caris Avendaño Cruz


Marikit is used to wearing recycled clothes. Her mother, the best seamstress in the barrio, has become an expert at making do ever since Marikit’s father and brother were lost at sea. But for her tenth birthday, all Marikit wants is something new. So when her mother gifts her a patchwork dress stitched together with leftover scraps from her workshop, Marikit vows to never wear it. That is, until the eve of her birthday, when shadow creatures creep into their home, attempt to take Marikit away, and upend the very life she knew.

When she’s swept away from the human world, Marikit discovers that her dress is a map, one lovingly crafted to lead her to safety in the magical lands of the Engkantos. She trudges through the enchanted lands of mythical creatures, making friends out of monsters and challenging gods. With the help of her friends, including an exuberant firefly and a cursed boy, Marikit journeys through the land of the Engkantos to find the key to saving her family, all without being eaten alive.

Goodreads | Amazon

Did somebody say Filipino magical girls?! Marikit and the Ocean of Stars has been one of my anticipated reads ever since the year started and while I am still in the middle of perusing my ARC of this book, I can already feel the magic and whimsy that is lovingly Filipino and an ode to folklore, barrios, and Marikit’s own journey to discover the magic within her and her resolve to protect her own family.

The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton


Eleven-year-old Ella Durand is the first Conjuror to attend the Arcanum Training Institute, where Marvellers from all around the world come together to practice their cultural arts like brewing Indian spice elixirs, practicing Caribbean steel drum hypnosis, and bartering with fussy Irish faeries. Ella knows some people mistrust her Conjuror magic, often deemed “bad and unnatural,” but she’s eager to make a good impression—and, hopefully, some friends.

But Ella discovers that being the first isn’t easy, and not all of the Marvellers are welcoming. Still, she connects with fellow misfits Brigit, a girl who hates magic, and Jason, who is never found without a magical creature or two. Just as Ella begins to find her way at the A.T.I., a notorious criminal escapes from prison, supposedly with Conjurors’ help. Worse, her favorite teacher Masterji Thakur never returns from a research trip, and only Ella seems concerned about his disappearance.

As tensions grow in the Marvellian world, Ella finds herself the target of vicious rumors and growing suspicions. With the help of her new friends, Ella must find a way to clear her family’s name and track down her beloved mentor Masterji Thakur . . . before she loses her place at the A.T.I. forever.

Goodreads | Amazon

Magical schools, everyone loves them right? But I’ll do you one better: how do we feel about magical schools in the sky? Well, if you’re answer is: yes, please, then welcome to the Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors! It was so easy to fall into the lush and detailed world of The Marvellers, and I particularly also liked the different kinds of magic introduced. The mystery element and the plot made this book so hard to put down from beginning to the end, and adored the layered characters particularly Ella!

Final Thoughts

This wraps up this reading list! Hopefully, you can find your next read here as well as a story that could help with your magic cravings. Remember, there is a unique and special magic residing in each and every one of us — it’s up to you to embrace it.


✨ Have you ever read any of the titles on this list?

✨ If you were ever granted the chance to have some magical powers of your own, what would they be and why?

Osusume Corner

Sweet and Spicy Romance Mangas and Webtoons to Read this Valentines

We all need some lovin’ this month of hearts, but if you’re like me who has been romance-deprived and without company for the past few years or so, I’ve come to serve! Here are some spicy, sizzling romance manga and webtoons to read and turn up the heat this season of love. 

A word of caution before scrolling down: Mind the door or your phone history, since the artwork or covers for each rec might be NSFW as each recommendation features “at least” a closed-door/fade-to-black bed scene and some are more explicit. Best to keep this for your eyes only 👀 

Honnou Switch (Kujira)

What’s It About?

When Koyori’s ex-boyfriend breaks off their relationship as he cheated on another woman, she decides to vent and drown her sorrows by drinking with her childhood friend Hijiri–with both eventually sleeping with each other. When Hijiri confesses that he’s been pining after Koyori ever since they were kids, her heart begins its turmoil and thus begins the dilemma of crossing the line between friendship and love!

Kodansha | Goodreads

To all childhood friends-to-lovers enthusiasts who like their usually fluffy, pining romance with a sprinkle of smut, this is for you! There isn’t anything pretty dramatic that happens in this manga as it’s just pretty much a domestic, low-stakes cute romance between childhood friends who are trying to graduate as “lovers”.

I also really liked the dynamics between the two main characters where they try to figure out their feelings as they navigate the whole “I thought I knew my childhood friend the most, but apparently there are some things I still am unaware of” phase and act so adorably around each other + healthy communication! There is no official licensed version of this manga yet, but if you can read a bit of Japanese, then I highly suggest you pick this up!

Something’s Wrong with Us (Natsumi Ando

What’s It About?

Nao has followed in her mother’s footsteps to become a traditional Japanese sweets maker. Even at 21, her skills are unparalleled, landing her a spot at a world-class confectionary company. However, when she meets the young, handsome heir to the company, she recognizes Tsubaki: her first friend, and the same boy who framed her mother for murder over a decade ago. As the only witness to the crime, Nao seizes her chance to get close to him, but instead of finding answers, she falls deeper for Tsubaki’s allure…

Kodansha | Goodreads

Natsumi Ando is one of my favorite mangakas of all time, thanks to her early work in Kitchen Princess and I leapt for joy when she announced her more mature work. This manga is a new level of messy with revenge, elaborate family politics, murder, and some good old childhood friends to enemies to somewhat lovers in the mix.

Tie this all together with Natsumi Ando’s signature style of incorporating food as the central theme of her work, this makes for a gripping read. If you also like to know more about Japanese sweets, especially wagashi, this is the read for you! I really liked reading about the different techniques and kinds of sweets in this book.

Honey Bed Talk (Danchoo)

What’s It About?

Don’t you ever wonder what girls say behind your back? They say they like you and love what you do for them, but do they really? You want to know how girls really think? Enter the chat room only allowed to ladies, “Honey Bed Talk”.

Lezhin Comics | Goodreads

Anthologies are some of my favorite things to read because of the variety of stories that come with it, and Honey Bed Talk is just one of those! Every chapter features a different experience and is episodic in nature where forum members bare the details of their best to messy sexual experiences, reflecting on personal relationships, as well as hopefully finding love along the way.

I really liked how the stories start off as ‘chat messages’ from the members and the experiences each user recounts are then separated into different parts to make one story. There are a variety of stories ranging from super funny to super cute while some are just, to put it in simple terms, utterly ridiculous–this was a very enjoyable read!

Talk to Me (Eunbyul)

What’s It About?

Everyone considers me the purest girl to ever walk this planet. I’m viewed as the girliest of girls and no one dare thinks I would think about anything naughty. But that isn’t always a good thing. I have my desires and I want to let it out!

Lezhin Comics | Goodreads

This webtoon was a super fun and sexy look at women’s relationships and dating! One thing I really liked about this series is how it frames womanly desires as something normal. This also highlighted how communication with your partner is key, especially in exploring your desires/kinks in the bedroom.

There isn’t much conflict I guess with this series, you could call it porn with plot even, but the central couples of the story are very cute and apparently very frisky in the bedroom, and I enjoyed it all the same!

Hardcore Vanilla (Youmy, Yu Myeong) 

What’s It About?

“Tie me up and punish me. I want to be your dog…”

Chanhee has a major crush on Eunjo, the campus goddess. Tired of waiting around, he decides to join her in her secret fetishes – stepping foot into the wild, wild world of BDSM. What Chanhee doesn’t realize, however, is that Eunjo is a vanilla just like him, and that the two have just embarked on a journey neither of them had asked for. Kinks and crushes, and a whole lot of drama in between!

Lezhin Comics | Goodreads

From this point on, we are finally bringing the fire 🔥. To be honest, my tastes are pretty vanilla, considering I value emotional connection between characters before they do the bedroom samba. This webtoon, tho? Absolutely changed me. Because whooo *makes sign of the cross* Holy spirit activate, indeed!

This webtoon was, to put it simply, intense af. Things started spiraling into pleasure line when the ML accidentally sets off a chain of misunderstandings which eventually ended up in a very hot and good time for all people involved. Chanhee’s character was super cute, and his adorable affection towards Eunjo was so endearing to see. I also liked that there was consent involved especially when they decided to try out BDSM, and how they also emphasized the use of safe words, aftercare, and setting boundaries especially when it comes to your partner. There are side characters here too, who are quite knowledgeable and verrrryyy into BDSM, and their story is a different kind of messy but altogether very, very hot 🔥 

In short, this webtoon is about two vanilla lovers going hardcore, and the other hardcore couple learning to be vanilla, hah!

If you like to read about femdom, BDSM, and roleplay, then you might want to give this a try!

Like a Dream Between the Sheets (Ruka Kirato)

What’s It About?

Tender caresses and kisses exchanged in a hotel suite. They get each other’s feelings perfectly like they’ve found the one they’ve been searching for their whole lives. He loves every inch of her, causing her body and soul to melt away in the intense feelings he invokes in her. 

Lezhin Comics | Goodreads | Ebook Renta

I know it’s the Month of Hearts, but nothing can go wrong with a little bit of angst, am I right? This selection of stories is guaranteed to give you a bit of melancholy with the hot smut, and they  all center around the theme of one-night stands. Will these couples ever see each other again? Only time will tell. 

Ruka Kirato is a fairly popular smut mangaka and this anthology is my first time reading any of their work, and so far, I enjoyed some stories. Their art is also amazing and with the theme of this anthology, it was a short, enjoyable read.

(On a side-note, there is a character named Juri here and when I first read it I was getting extreme whiplash. You know what though? At least she’s getting some, good for her! Good for her!)

Osananajimi Bartender to Hajimeru Kaikan Lesson (Takashino Rami)

What’s It About?

Kijima Kana believes that sex is something that feels good and makes you happy. But because she isn’t good at it, her relationships end up in her getting dumped over and over again. And after every heartbreak, she always confides her troubles to her childhood friend, Oosako Mamoru, a bartender at a pub she usually frequents, When she vents of her bedroom troubles and her frustrations at the same reason that ends her relationships, Mamoru proposes a plan to help her. And thus, these “childhood friends” begin their “lessons” together. 

C’moA JP | Goodreads

Juri, how many childhood friends to lovers smut are you going to include in this list, you might ask? Well I say, not nearly enough! Maybe out of all the series listgd on here, this one comes to my own personal favorite. I don’t know why but when a character is a bartender, they are actually filed in the corner of my little brain as: hot (is it just me, please tell me it isn’t just me!). That, coupled with the “pining childhood friend” is just *chef’s kiss*

I really liked the dynamics between Kana and Mamoru, especially their little banter moments and when it came to the bed scenes, goodness. That was so, so hot! I loved that before they try out something new in their lessons, there is always an emphasis on consent. I am super looking forward to them getting together and I am cheering for Mamoru!

Tadano Renai Nanka de Kikkonai: Kojirase Joushi to Fechina Buka (Fukita Mafuyu)

What’s It About?

Sakura Yuino, a go-getter on the job, has been transferred to work under a new supervisor, the handsome, gentlemanly Tatsuki Kiritani. Sakura tries to make herself useful to Tatsuki right away (though she keeps her cool), but for some reason, Tatsuki is cold to her.

Plus, there’s something about her that bothers him… huh? Has he got… a problem… in his pants?

It seems Tatsuki is hiding some secret physical troubles… but that works just fine for Sakura, who has her own unusual fetish! So starts the “special training” between an employee and a boss with low self-esteem. Could it be good for both of them!?

Ebook Renta | Goodreads

Honestly, what made me pick up this manga is because of its gorgeous art style and maybe because the visuals of the male lead are uh, just right up my alley? HAHA (look I refuse to believe this man is in his 20s, okay? The DILF energy he exudes!) 

Anyways, this was very hot (I have been saying this sentence for the past few paragraphs but IDK how else to describe tbh) and there is something about fuck buddies developing emotional vulnerability and possibly getting feelings that just makes my heart do a little flip-flopping in my chest. I really think the sex scenes were gorgeously illustrated and I can’t wait to continue reading more of this push-and-pull dynamic between Sakura and Kiritani as the story progresses!

Final Thoughts

To think that the first post that yeeted me out of my blogging hiatus was a listicle on smut manga and webtoon. I did not foresee this at all, but hey, I am not complaining!

I hope you enjoyed this little roster of recommendations from me and I would love to know which title piqued your interest the most! What kind of stories do you like to read for your romance cravings? Let me know in the comments below and I’d love to hear from you!


The Making of Iron Widow: Author Chat with Xiran Jay Zhao

Mecha is a main staple in the anime and manga sphere and it pleases me to no end that it’s also beginning to make its way into YA trad-pubbed books, too. One such book that’s currently making waves for this particular genre is Iron Widow.

As early as last year, Iron Widow already made waves for its Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale comps as well as the polyamorous relationship representation. This book has ranked high on my anticipated reads list and to my utter delight, my expectations were met (you can check out my mini-review and some mecha series recommendations right here)!

So, what’s this book all about?

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

I’ve had the honor of sitting down to chat with Xiran Jay Zhao, the mastermind behind this rollercoaster ride of a book, and we talk about the process and making of Iron Widow. Read on to know more!

How did you develop the story idea for Iron Widow? You have mentioned in previous interviews from other bloggers that it was borne out of your frustrations from the anime Darling in the Franxx (which tbh, I truly relate as well 😣). Will you please walk us through the early process of shaping this idea into a story?

So the base of the story sprang out very easily during this one conversation with my friend Rebecca Schaeffer (author of Not Even Bones!) when I was complaining about what I wished Franxx had done differently. There came a point where I realized the ideas I was listing off were different enough to be its own story. I started off with the intention to write a story that used a lot of YA tropes, but subverted them. The image in my head looked like a typical early 2010s YA dystopia.

I remember throwing the terms “King biotype” and “Queen biotype” around. But I was not happy with that, so I decided to make the setting Chinese. A sci-fi spin on precolonial China, specifically, because I wanted to do a sci-fi without Western influence. Pretty quickly after that, the thought of combining the vague sexist pilot system I was musing about with Chinese harem dramas popped into my head. The world of Iron Widow was pretty much set right then.

The main character of Iron Widow is the fiery and cunning Wu Zetian, inspired by the lone female Emperor of China during the Tang Dynasty. Can you tell us a little bit about the earliest stages of developing Zetian? Why did you choose this historical figure to reimagine as a kickass mecha pilot?

Wu Zetian by Laomiao / daisym18 on Lofter (sourced from Xiran Jay Zhao’s website)

The idea to do a protagonist inspired by her came immediately after my decision to incorporate Chinese harem drama tropes. After all, there’s no bigger winner of a harem contention than Empress Wu. The most amazing thing was that the moment I slapped the name “Zetian” on the protagonist, it’s like she gained a willpower of her own. The planned first chapter turned from her getting forcibly conscripted to enlisting herself in pursuit of vengeance. There’s a real pressure to honor Empress Wu, so it’s like Zetian guided her own story, always fighting to seize as much agency as possible.

What’s the weirdest/coolest research tidbit that you’ve done in the process of writing Iron Widow?

How ancient Chinese women did those elaborate hairstyles. Apparently, the volume was created by wooden blocks, so that’s what I had Zetian use in the earlier drafts of the story. But then I realized that since this is sci-fi, I could just have her use the wig pieces used by C-drama production crews today.

The Chrysalises were one of the main stars during the story and I absolutely adored the mecha designs that were described throughout the book! What were the inspirations behind these designs and among all these units in the book, which of the Chrysalises would you love to pilot? 

Designs by Gio Manning

They are all inspired and named after Chinese myth creatures / figures! Or East Asian myth creatures, I should say, because some, like the Nine-Tailed Fox and the Moon Rabbit, aren’t exclusive to Chinese myth. I think I’d like to pilot the Vermilion Bird after all. I can’t say no to flying. (Though it’s unknown, how that would pair with my fear of heights….)

What was your most favorite part of the writing process for Iron Widow? Conversely, what was the most challenging one?

The mecha battles were my favorite parts for sure, and the easiest to write. I love throwing chaos in the faces of my characters. The emotional conversations, on the other hand, were infinitely harder. Everything has to sound realistic and all the different emotions the characters may be having must be considered and expressed. It’s a difficult balance to find.

Iron Widow is also one of the very first of YA SFF releases that features a very healthy polyamorous relationship between the three main characters of the book. Why do you think that this representation is important, especially for future readers of your book? 

It’s funny, I didn’t write Iron Widow expecting it to be something groundbreaking. Polyamory is so normalized in fandom circles that it wasn’t until later that I discovered how rare it is in traditionally published YA. I was just tired of YA protagonists whose main inner conflict is which male love interest she should choose in the end, so I wanted to write one who defied this expectation and is extremely pragmatic about romance. I also don’t love how often male jealousy is used as a device to stir up tension between characters and put pressure on female protagonists.

I feel that in M/F relationships, there’s a double standard to how much women owe to men than the other way around. I mean, how often do you see male protagonists being torn between two female love interests for most of a book series, and have his feelings be boggled down by guilt? I bet he would prefer to date them both if that could be arranged, yet this option basically never comes up in the mind of a female protagonist. I’m not saying it should be cool for women to deceive their partners, but I hoped to show that you don’t necessarily have to bind yourself with society’s golden standards for romance and relationships. Through clear communication, the Iron Widow trio enter an arrangement that makes them all happy. If no one is being deceived, what’s the harm?

What are the key messages that you want your readers to take away after reading this book?

I hope they realize how many double standards society has against women and how much of a scam it is that women have their self-esteem battered since birth so they would chase approval by serving others. The only way to come out on top in the end is to refuse to play, refuse to make yourself smaller so others would be more comfortable exploiting you.

For our last question, if you had to direct one scene from Iron Widow, what would you choose and why? What would it look like (cinematography-wise, choice of camera shots, colors, etc.)? 

I’d definitely want to try a hand at directing the scene where Zetian emerges alive from the Nine-Tailed Fox. I have a very vivid image of it in my head—the flood lights from the camera drones, her qi lines, her hair coming loose in the wind and flying back wildly—that I hoped I captured on the page. I think I would do a lot of chaotic close up shots with overexposed lighting before ending the scene on a clear wide shot of her laughing maniacally.

What are other projects that we should watch out for? Any upcoming releases?

Look out for Zachary Ying the Dragon Emperor, my MG debut that’s coming summer 2022! It’s like Yugioh meets Chinese Percy Jackson, about a Chinese American boy Zack whose AR gaming headset gets possessed by the spirit of the First Emperor of China, who compels him to go on a journey across China to heist real artifacts and fight figures from Chinese history and myth.

About the Author

Xiran Jay Zhao is a first-gen immigrant from small-town China who was raised by the Internet​. A recent graduate of Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, they wrote outlandish sci-fi and fantasy books while they probably should’ve been studying more biochemical pathways. They are in a cow suit because they made a promise to their friends 7 years ago that they would take their author photo in it if they actually got published, and they are not going back on that promise.

You can find them on Twitter for daily shitposts about books, anime, comics, feminism, and Chinese history, on Instagram for cosplays and very Extra outfits, and on YouTube for videos about Chinese history and culture.

Let’s Chat!

Have you read Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Scrawls and Rambles

In Defense of Audiobooks

Getting your reading fix has gone a long way from simply enjoying a physical copy of books in hardback or paperback, to the more compact digital readers, and now, to the production of audiobooks. While there is an endless debate on whether reading outside of physical books can be considered actual reading—because honestly, why do we even have to debate about these things?—audiobooks can be unconventional when it comes to the whole reading experience.

For the uninitiated, audiobooks are simply a recording of a reading of a book, typically a novel. Think of it as a form of audio production akin to radio shows or programs or even recorded speeches where the narrator reads off a script—in the audiobook’s case, it’s the novel—and then it’s packaged into a digital format for readers to avail.

Full disclosure—I am fairly new to the audiobook sphere. One of the first books I’ve listened to as an audiobook last year was Rin Chupeco’s Wicked as You Wish and Joan He’s Descendant of the Crane (which both are available on Spotify by the way!). I was actually very impressed by the production quality of these works that it prompted me to obtain a digital copy of the books on my Kindle.

Which in turn, brings me back to the point of this whole post. Audiobooks are a growing alternative for book lovers and as such, are subject to a lot of scrutiny for the different experience it offers. In a report published by the US-based Audio Publishers Association released last 1 June 2021, publishers’ audiobook revenue “…rose to US$1.3 billion last year, marking a 12 percent jump and making 2020 as the ninth year  of double-digit growth in the format.”

In other words, readership for audiobooks are stable and steadily growing as more and more people are trying to switch to audiobooks for their reading needs.

Should you try audiobooks? Here’s some of my reasons as to why you should pick up an audiobook or two:

Levelled-up immersive experience

Growing up on radio dramas and being a fan of voice actors means that I am no stronger to stories told in the audio format. Thus, trying out audiobooks was not much of a hurdle to jump over for me.

As stated in the previous paragraphs, audiobooks are an audio recording of the narration of a novel. As an audio production, I really appreciated the immersive experience it brought to my reading, especially when a full-scale production where actors are casted to voice characters alongside the narrator. In a way, it becomes a radio drama in the sense that you are guided to formulate the image of the setting and the plot in your head by the descriptions and acting provided by the cast.  

For instance, I could be just sitting in my living room listening to an audiobook on my phone, but because of the production scale, I am transported to another world in the case of fiction novels.

Multi-tasking buddy

Working on two different sets of tasks is sometimes an unavoidable scenario for anyone. Audiobooks can come in handy especially when working on tasks that don’t require much of your attention, such as working on cleaning chores, going on walk or commute, and sometimes cooking.

Since you’re basically just listening to the novel you’re currently reading, your hands are free to do anything else. Personally, I listen to audiobooks when I am cleaning or doing handicrafts like sewing.

Reading with the lights off

I think we’re all guilty of this at some point, but reading under the bedroom covers with a flashlight after lights out just because we’ve hit an interesting point on the book is something that I’ve committed throughout my younger years—to the exasperation of my parents and the scolding of my eye doctor, haha.

With audiobooks, I can worry less on the strain on my eyes especially during my nighttime reading. I can just plug my earphones in, press play on the chapter I last ended, and voila, I can basically read even with the lights out.

Portable and compact

Another reason on why you should try out audiobooks is its compact nature and portability. Make no mistake, I’m the reader that always has a book in their bags during trips, but when you’re riding inside a jeepney with full passenger capacity, spreading out a hardcover or paperback will guarantee you a few stares of the non-good-natured kind (speaking from personal experience).

With audiobooks, my hour-long commutes don’t get dull one bit as I can simply just pull out my earphones and listen to the chapters of my audiobooks.

The bottomline is, there will always be different types of readers and as humans we all process information in different ways. Reading is reading no matter the medium, and audiobooks fall under this category, too. As long as you read, you are a reader, and you are valid!

Ready to try out an audiobook? Check out AudioPHile!

If you’ve made up your mind to try audiobooks, check out AudioPHile by Bookshelf PH! It’s the first audiobook platform for Philippine romance, giving you your daily dose of kilig when you want it—anytime, anywhere. With its expanding library, feel free to take your next reading pick from contemporary, Tagalog, and LGBTQIA++ romances.

It’s also accessible on over 1000 devices including iOS, Android, PCs, MACs, and streaming media boxes such as Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Nexus Player.

Let’s Chat!

What do you think about audiobooks? What are some titles you’ve recently listened to and loved? Tell me in the comments down below!


January Wrapped – What I Read, Watched, and Played

In typical Juri fashion, this January wrap-up is also…late. (I’m already failing one of my 2021 bookish resolutions, what’s new with you?)

The first month of 2021 finally came to a close and contrary to my expectations, January went…sort of well. It’s also the first time I’m writing a wrap-up post since I was determined to track all activities/hobbies I’m indulging in for this year and sort of look back on a nice, summary post per month, so *gestures vaguely* here we are!

Books I’ve Read

January has been a productive reading month for me mainly because I’ve read 10 books! Looking back, I don’t know how I managed this but, yay for double-digits!

Crownchasers by Rebecca Coffindaffer

This book, to describe it in a single word, was dynamic. No punches were pulled for this one. Action-packed from start to finish, Crownchasers leaves you no room to pause as it moves from one scene to another. A quick-witted heroine, an annoyingly endearing space engineer, and a high-stakes race across the galaxy where the future of the empire depends on, this book was one hell of an enjoyable ride.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

I’ve first read this book in ebook format last 2018 and this is my first reread of the series in physical format (thank you so much to Ate Paula of The Paper Reels for letting me adopt this book~). Revisiting the world again reminded me why I absolutely adored magic libraries in books. Though I had issues with the pacing of the last half because I felt like it was crammed and intended to be a plot twist, it kind of backfired and jumbled all the loose ends of the narrative. Still, I enjoyed this one and would be revisiting the next few books in the series.

Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

A short story I’ve read together with my friends Pam and CF for Bookas Na Book Club, this was a profound exploration of cultural identity. It tackles microaggressions and internalized racism, and the ending got me crying so much.

Reflection by Elizabeth Lim

Disney’s Mulan gets quite a bit of a tweak in this book. Reflection takes off after the fateful battle with the Huns in the mountain, however, it was Captain Shang who takes the brunt of Shan Yu’s attack, rendering him almost half-dead. Mulan, desperate to save her captain, takes a visit to Diyu, or the underworld in Chinese mythology, to redeem his soul before it was too late. This was a more mystical and fantastical take on the movie’s story and rife with figures and lore of Chinese mythology. Personally, I enjoyed this one because it showed more relationship and character development between Shang and Mulan.

Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim

This is the first book I’ve read from the author and oh boy, what a delight! The pandemic has totally foiled all my travelling plans but with this book, it felt like I had a little bit of Paris with me. Rife with the perfect blend of magic, whimsy, delicious food and a squeal-worthy romance, this was the perfect book to cozy up in quiet afternoons with a cup of tea and a plate of cookies.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

One of my bookish resolutions for 2021 entailed being able to read more backlist titles and this book was the first one on this list. My good friend Cierra from Cierra’s Cynosure loves this book to bits and I decided to give it a read. I am happy to report that it exceeded my expectations and went beyond. The worldbuilding and prose is lush and gorgeous, and we have a heartbreakingly-beautiful sapphic romance.

 It’s a bit dark with its themes of forced sexual labor, abuse, and violence, but it also focuses majorly on recovering from trauma, self-empowerment, self-love, exploration of self-identity, while also denouncing homophobia, objectification of women, and classism. I’m definitely staying round for the next books!

Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard

Oh, this small wonder packs quite the punch! Where do I start?

This little novella was absolutely *chef’s kiss*! Ripe with magic, betrayal, and the intricate power plays that hinged on colonialism and imperialism, Fireheart Tiger manages to explore all of these in just a limited number of pages. Though I wish it would stretch on longer because I just adored every single bit of the world-building! And to top it off, we have a sapphic love triangle so, yes me and my fellow sapphics stay winning.

Keeping Miss Kalila by Tara Frejas

Branching out to other genres landed me browsing for romance titles and this book from #romanceclass author Tara Frejas was just the right amount of kilig to hit that sweet spot! Oh, Datu, now I understand all the fuss over you. Where do I find someone like you? Asking for a friend (it’s me. The friend is me.)

This was quick, light, and fluffy read that was a much-needed boost of serotonin between fantasy and sci-fi reads. I’m quite wary of the second-chance romance trope but to my utter surprise, this one put all my worries to rest.

Field Guide: Love and Other Natural Disasters by Six de los Reyes

Okay, I must confess that as soon as I saw this synopsis, I DID NOT hesitate to add this book to my shopping cart. As a journalist working in science communication myself—specifically in fisheries and aquaculture, this book just HIT ALL THE RIGHT SPOTS I’m looking because please, I need more stories with journos in my life. Anyway, it was quite hard immersing myself fully in the romance because I felt like there was something missing, but nevertheless it was enjoyable! I loved the push-and-pull between Dakila and Phylle, and oh my goodness, this was just the right amount of spicy and sweet.

For some reason, the image of Dakila I have in my brain is Atom Araullo—who btw is my crush since I was a mere undergrad because I just admire his reporting + docus—and that just made me swoon even more.

The Girl and The Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

Ending the month of January, my last read was this middle-grade fantasy featuring a girl and her inherited ghost from her grandma. As soon as I finished this book, I wanted to bundle it up in a cozy blanket, tuck it in bed, and kiss it good night. This was so endearing and funny and I adored Suraya, Pink, and Jing’s antics throughout the rest of the book. Even more so, I also was ensnared by how the story unraveled itself in quite dark, otherworldly ways as it continued for the last half. I enjoyed every aspect of it, despite making it me shed a tear or two on my home commute.

J-Dramas I Watched

A huge chunk of dramas I consume from previous years until now has been Japanese drama because it’s usually paced just right and end within a span of at most 12 episodes. In that vein, January starts strong for my monthly series consumption and here are some I enjoyed this month.

Imawa no Kuni no Arisu (Alice in Borderland)

 One thing I must say is that this series lived up to the hype. Yamazaki Kento (YamaKen for short) and Tsuchiya Tao headline this dystopian, action-packed drama that had me at the edge of my seat the entire time. Fair warning, this has graphic depiction of violence, sexual harrassment, and abuse.

Players get roped in an alternate Tokyo and must complete games to extend their visas in the country, lest they get eliminated permanently (as in, loss of life). Arisu, a NEET (not in education, employment, or training) and an avid gamer gets roped in with his friends and they must complete dangerous games to survive.

YamaKen is probably a mainstay face that people might recognize (I mean, he practically headlines most live-action anime adaptations) but his acting in here was something I really was interested in! My heart rate and blood pressure spiked as I watched this but oh my god. This was something else.  I still have a lot of questions, but a new sequel is coming soon to Netflix and I can’t wait to watch it!

Oh My Boss! Koi wa Bessatsu de (Oh My Boss! Love is a Bonus Book)

One of my guilty drama pleasures are stories that are set in the creatives’ field, especially to press work, magazines, newspapers, broadcasting, you get the gist. I mean, as a creative myself, I want office drama about my profession too, you know. So far, J-drama has successfully scratched this particular itch of mine, but we’ll talk more on that in a separate post, soon.

BossKoi cemented itself as one of my anticipated series since it was announced December of last year and I, from the very bottom of my heart, would like to thank windflows for picking this up and subbing it!

The story follows Nami (played by Kamishiraishi Mone), our girl from the country, who moves to Tokyo with the ultimate goal of just having a stable life. She wishes to enter the supplies department of a publishing house, but one thing turned into another and she instead gets hired at the editorial department of MIYAVI, a fashion magazine.

Nami’s life spirals into chaos because their devilish editor-in-chief, Reiko (played by my queen Nanao), who treats her coldly and callously because Nami doesn’t take her job seriously. However, the more Nami stays in the department, the more she realizes how much work everyone does and starts to change her work attitude for the better. 

This drama had very Devil Wears Prada vibes and takes us on the ups and downs of magazine publishing and press work. Mone’s acting in here was also super lovable and ever since she headlined Koi wa Tsuzuku Yo Dokomademo (a.k.a KoiTsuzu or, Love Lasts Forever), I have been looking forward to her growth as an actress. (Fun fact: She voiced Mitsuha from the movie Kimi No Na Wa/ Your Name!)

This series is ongoing as of the moment and is projected to be completed at 8-10-ish episodes. So far, it’s very good, coupled with episodic encounters and a cute, blossoming romance between Nami and Junnosuke (played by Tamamori Yuta), Reiko’s little brother and a photographer. Super duper excited to see how it progresses from here! This is the one thing I’m always looking forward to each week.


Another Netflix title on this list is Followers. This is a drama series that follows Natsume (played by Ikeda Elaiza, a half-Filipino and an aspiring indie director, too btw!) an aspiring young actress that hits it big after a famous photographer captures her photo and posts it on Instagram, leading Natsume’s life be intertwined with the glitz, glamor, and dangers of social media.

What I liked about this series is that how it presents social media as a powerful tool that can alter realities—both a dangerous and advantageous aspect. I also like how this drama presents different perspectives on the different people that have been directly or indirectly affected by social media in a multitude of ways, set against the backdrop of an Instagram-filtered Tokyo. Yet, at the heart of it, this is a story intersecting different women and how they navigate their struggles in life.

Games I’ve Played

The last week of December 2020—a.k.a the seemingly timeless limbo leading to the New Year—was a time where I found myself utterly devoid of things to do. I had nothing to read—as I exhausted my physical TBR and was waiting on books to arrive, so I decided to try my hand at gaming. Steam had an ongoing sale that time and tbh—I totally regret not investing in games sooner.

The catharsis of just turning off my braincells and engaging into a storyline or beating up monsters and completing quests is utterly satisfying and this was one investment that I really, really loved. With that said, here are some games that I played and continue to be playing!


Okay everyone please make way for the 2020 Game of The Year! Supergiant Games’ Hades immediately hooked me in with its gorgeous animated trailer and as I was watching game walkthroughs on Youtube, I thought to myself: by hook or by crook, I must play this game.

And so I did. The Steam sale got me covered as I saved up on quite a lot with purchasing the game and oh sweet mama. This game is every inch STUNNING AS HECK. You play as Zagreus, Hades’ son, who must escape from the underworld and make his way to the surface to find the truths about his lineage and find his mother. The machinations of Greek mythology might have given away what truly happened but what I liked about this game is that it gave a refreshing take on the Hades/Persephone tale.

Also? The character designs are GORGEOUS AS HECK. Why is everybody so damn…attractive in this game? It’s keeping my bisexual ass conflicted AF. Zagreus is a charming protagonist and this kid has snark. I love, love, how sassy he can be and the dialogues are such a delight! Case in point:

Gameplay-wise, it’s very straightforward, where you need to escape and clear a room to exit but when you die, it all resets from the beginning. This might put you off as repetitive, but Hades is designed so that you have different experience per run. I’ve like, died 40 times (okay please don’t judge I’m a noob to the core), but I keep unlocking new dialogue options, new layout of rooms, NEW ENEMIES for every single run I have! This is very, very enjoyable and I highly recommend!

Bonus: there’s also a romance option and I’m,,,respectfully looking at Thanatos and Meg, yes please. Let’s go, Zag. Time to capture some hearts.

Steam Prison

Following my Steam sale shopping spree, I picked up Steam Prison, which is an otome game by HuneX and Dramatic Create. It was originally in Japanese before it was localized in English. I was looking for something not as physically-taxing on my hand as Hades (I mean those combo attack patterns are a real workout for my fingers), so I got this game—also on sale and has been on my gaming backlog since forever.

For context, I was an avid otome game fan—an obsession I owed my Japanese listening skills and a bit of reading skills a LOT to—but I stopped playing around 4 years ago once university started.

Anyways, otome (o-toh-meh) games are basically that  usually allow the player to play as the main character and the gaming system allows the player to be able to form romantic relationships with any of the other love interests—predominantly straight and male characters.

The game centers around Cyrus, an 18-year old police officer/knight in a land called the Heights. However, after a successful promotion and in the midst of preparations for her upcoming wedding, her life begins to spiral into chaos. She gets framed for the brutal murder of her parents and gets sent down the Depths—a land where she thought was primitive and violent. However, her worldview gets challenged when everything she knew about the Depths was different as it seems.

This game is a visual novel, which means your progress is determined through dialogue and action choices. There’s a main common route and after that, it gets split off in two different story routes (influenced by your choice of love interest). I’ve only played one route so far and it’s the main guy—Eltcreed Valentine.

So far, it’s been, least to say, underwhelming? I mean the world-building and the intrigue about the murder was good but the romance where? Where is the spark? Where is the chemistry?

I was kinda excited for Eltcreed’s route because it was supposed to be a bodyguard route but what the heck, there was nothing sizzling and the tension characteristic of this trope was non-existent at all.

The worst part? He just hired her to be a “token” bodyguard, since in the Depths, a female bodyguard was rare, much less a bodyguard using a sword in an age of guns. That part kinda irritated me a bit, tbh because please? Give me the action and tension, it’s literally what I want?

Anyway, my interest for this title fizzled out for now, but I’ll try attempting the other guys’ route and see if it changes my mind.

Genshin Impact

After my disappointing first run with Steam Prison, I was sulking but not for long as this here, friends, is the reason why.

 A long-time friend introduced me to Genshin last year, and when I downloaded it to start playing? THERE WAS NO TURNING BACK.

Basically, Genshin Impact is an open world RPG game developed by Mihoyo. The story starts when two siblings—Lumine and Aether—both outlanders and travelers get separated when an unknown god attacks them. At this point in the game, you can choose which twin to play as—Lumine, the girl or Aether, the boy—and the one you didn’t choose gets thrown into another dimension. You wake up and find yourself in Mondstadt, a nation in the continent of Teyvat and from there, start your journey to find your lost sibling.

One thing that fascinated me to Genshin was its magic system. In Teyvat ruled 7 Archons, presiding over the elements—Anemo, Geo, Pyro, Hydro, Cryo, Dendro, Electro. Once in a while, the gods will bestow someone with a Vision, a sort of gem which will become their power source depending on the element that was granted to them. Different characters that you can get in the game have their own corresponding Visions but the Traveller (the player) is an exception because they can use any element at will even without the aid of a Vision.

The graphics of this game is also very stunning and there are so many quests to complete that you won’t easily get bored of it. It’s very engaging as well and I always look forward to weekends because I can work on commissions and quests for the whole day.

(P.S.: Hey, if you play Genshin Impact and you’re on the Asian server, let me know~ Let’s exchange UIDs and be ingame friends!)

Final Thoughts

That wraps it up for my January, folks! Now it’s my turn to ask: how was your January? What books did you read, series you’ve watched, or even games you’ve played if you’re into that? Tell me in the comments down below and let’s chat~


Four Things I Learned From a Year of Being a Bookish Content Creator + My 2021 Bookish Resolutions + ANNOUNCEMENT!

Let me preface this with a confession: I started creating book-related content on a whim.

One moment I was going through a stack of books I got from a sale, the next thing I knew, I was already thinking of a domain name for my book blog. Before I knew it, 12 long months had passed and here I am, occupying my little space on the internet with a handful of book-related socials.

Happy New Year everyone! The first two weeks of January finally comes to close and today, I reflect on my experiences of my first year in the online book community. Here are four things I realized as a reader and a content creator.

Don’t be pressured by aesthetics.

The first thing that I saw on the Instagram book community (a.k.a bookstagram), I was bombarded by elaborate flatlays with various ornaments such as dried flowers, scented candles, and even wooden trays alongside a book. That put a damper on my spirits because additional props equals more expenses (as if a book isn’t expensive in itself already.) 

It took me a while, but I learned to not give in to the pressure of spending money for the sake of making my photos “aesthetic” and “pretty. I found a composition style that worked for me and I learned to incorporate items that I already own to augment the look of my photos. 

Some fave photos I’ve taken on my bookstagram below:

Bottomline is: be yourself. Learn how to work with what you have to build your brand and people will eventually find you, which leads me to my next point:

Engage with the book community.

Don’t be afraid to make friends! While the book community has its own ups and downs, my experience with this side of the Internet has been nothing short of amazing. Not only will you be able to connect with fellow bookworms and scream about books, this community has tons of inspiration to offer and has been an avenue for important discussions to take place. 

Follow bookish creators that interest you and don’t be afraid to reach out and comment on their posts. At the end of the day, you get to talk about your favorite books and you might also gain a new friend or two along the way.

*Don’t know where to start? Check out Shealea’s list of Filipino bookish creators and Paula’s Filipino Bookish Creatives Directory! for Filipino bookish creators to support!*

A reading slump isn’t your downfall.

If you’re part of the book community, then you might be familiar with the term and know why most readers fear it. Simply put, reading slump refers to the condition wherein you’re unable to read anything no matter how much you try to. It can last for a short while if you’re lucky, or a couple of months to a year if not. Not long after I started my book blog, I bumped into a reading slump that lasted for 6 months before I was able to finally pick up a book again. 

Getting into a reading slump doesn’t diminish your worth as a reader. I have learnt to view my reading slump as a sign that it’s okay to spend your time on things that are not reading. Go learn a new hobby, indulge in your comfort TV series, catch up on sleep! Your books will remain with you and you have the rest of your life to slowly get back to them. Please be kind to yourself.

Make an effort to be inclusive in your reading.

Up until I joined the book community, I was reading the same books by mostly white, cis, straight, able-bodied authors because these were the only titles and authors that are available in local bookstores. While I also enjoy reading these books, I longed to see a character that looks and acts like me, a Filipino, on the pages of a book.

Book twitter, for all its charms and faults, has been an avenue and a blessing for me to discover stories that come from marginalized and disadvantaged communities including narratives about people of color (POC), people on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum, disabled people, neurodivergent people among other minorities. 

It is important for these kinds of stories to exist because it breaks stereotypes, fosters greater empathy and understanding of others, and it sends the message that everyone can see themselves as heroes of their own stories and not be confined to specific tropes only.

Consuming these stories have made my own reading experience broader and more interesting. Not only was I able to see myself represented and feel validated, but I also was able to learn about how different people’s experiences are from my own.

It is then vital as a bookish content creator that we make a conscious choice to not only consume these narratives but to also actively promote these stories. By doing so, we support marginalized creators and in turn, open more opportunities for these stories to find their way into the hands of more readers. 

Now that I’ve finish this trek down memory lane, this week has also been some help in making me self-reflect on what I want to achieve in 2021, reading-wise. Here are some bookish resolutions of mine that I hopefully (emphasis on hopefully) be able to accomplish for the next 12 months.

Branch out to other genres.

A quick inventory of my shelves had me realize that I have been consuming fantasy books the most. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it made me realize that I might not be having an inclusive reading experience as much as I thought. (And to be fair, I’ve been missing out on a lot of fun reads non-fantasy wise.)

This year, I’m looking to read more sci-fi, romance, thriller, and non-fiction books so if you have any recommendations, feel free to leave some below so I could check them out!

Read more backlist titles.

While I was tracking the titles I read last year, I discovered that some, if not, most of what I was reading were fairly new releases. This year, I hope to get more reading done especially with backlist titles because there are some titles that have been on my TBR since forever, and it was about damn time I get back to them.

Maintain consistent updates for my bookish socials.

One thing I also discovered last year is that maintaining any sort of bookish-related creative platform entails a huge deal of hard work, planning, and dedication. My updates have been sporadic last year, mainly brought on by getting my life in order (aka employment, university graduation, all that jazz). Now that I have somewhat adjusted and created my own routine, I have a little bit more leeway in getting my bookish socials in order.

This year, I aim to be able to maintain the following updating streak for each of my socials:

  • Bookstagram: 1 photo per week
  • Booktube: 2 videos per month (surprise, I’m on booktube now!)
  • Book blog: 2 posts per month

Refrain from participating in book tours.

Last year has been a pretty amazing reading year as I was able to have the privilege of participating in numerous book tours for some books of authors I loved, ushering in a surplus of creative content that I was able to explore (like bookish outfits and dressing up!)

 However, as much as I love book tours, being in a full-time job along with other responsibilities has led me to reconsider other priorities and thus, I will be signing off on book tours this year. Reading on a set deadline was okay last year because I had some free time, but this year it’s not looking too hot because I have other IRL stuff of my own.

This year, if there is a title that I am interested in reading early, I’ll just reach out to publishers directly, instead.

Boost engagement and interaction with other bookworms in the community

Last year, I managed to hit 100 subscribers on my blog, 484 followers on my Instagram (almost 500!), and 390 followers on Twitter (almost 400!). My booktube also has 20 subscribers as of this week.

This year, along with a consistent updating schedule for each of this platform, I aim to boost my engagement by:

  • Book blog: 120 subscribers
  • Bookstagram: 510 followers
  • Booktube: 35 subscribers

In this vein, I also want to dedicate at least 2 weekends spent on interacting and boosting fellow bookish content creators. I’ll dedicate set time per week to blog-hop, marathon videos, and browse Instagram as well.

And that’s a wrap for this post! Here’s hoping to be able to commit to all of these promises this year, and we’ll see where we go from here.


What are some of your bookish resolutions for the year? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Club Announcement!

Before you go! I am so excited that I am establishing a book club! Me and two of my closest college friends have been doing weekly book discussions since August of last year and this 2021, we decided to branch out and connect with other fellow bookworms!

Our book club is called Bookas Na Book Club, with our motto being: “A book club for procrastinators by procrastinators.” We started this as a way of building a daily reading habit and to discuss books or stories via weekly video conferencing on Google Meet!

Check out our teaser video on our Instagram account for more details~ We’ll be majorly reading short stories, novellas, novelettes, and even webtoons alongside full novels so we hope to see you there!


All Things Dark and Glorious: Unspeakable – A Queer Gothic Anthology Book Review + Outfit Inspiration (#UnspeakableTour)

Despite the utter chicken that I am, I absolutely love to read about stories about ghosts, unknown creatures, and monsters that lurk in the dark–that is, as long as it’s daylight. But either way, there is something so fascinating about delving into narratives of the paranormal and the unknown.

That’s why when Caffeine Book Tours announced this book tour, I was more than ready to get on board and let me tell you–I have never gone through a book so fast in my entire life.

On that note, welcome to my stop on the #UnspeakableTour! Many thanks to the lovely, hard-working people behind Caffeine Book Tours and Nyx Publishing for giving the opportunity to read this wonderful book.

So, what’s this book all about?

Unspeakable contains eighteen Gothic tales with uncanny twists and characters that creep under your skin. Its stories feature sapphic ghosts, terrifying creatures of the sea, and haunted houses concealing their own secrets. Whether you’re looking for your non-binary knight in shining armour or a poly family to murder with, Unspeakable showcases the best contemporary Gothic queer short fiction. Even dark tales deserve their time in the sun.

Amazon | Goodreads

List of Stories

  • Let Down by Claire Hamilton Russell
  • Moonlight by Ally Kölzow
  • An Account of Service at Meryll Point, as recollected and set down by C.L.
  • The White Door by Lindsay King-Miller
  • Doctor Barlowe’s Mirror by Avery Kit Malone
  • Laguna and the Engkanto by Katalina Watt
  • The Moon in the Glass by Jude Reid
  • Brideprice by S.T. Gibson
  • Lure of the Abyss by Jenna MacDonald
  • Hearteater by Eliza Temple
  • Quicksilver Prometheus by Katie Young
  • Homesick by Sam Hirst
  • Rodeo by Ryann Fletcher
  • Lady of Letters; or, the Twenty-First Century Homunculus by Heather Valentine
  • Taylor Hall by Jen Glifort
  • The Ruin by E. Saxey
  • The Dream Eater by Anna Moon
  • Leadbitter House by Mason Hawthorne

Trigger / Content Warnings

  • Let Down by Claire Hamilton Russell: imprisonment, non-consensual sex
  • Moonlight by Ally Kölzow: death of loved one
  • An Account of Service at Meryll Point, as recollected and set down by C.L.: societal transphobia (narrator is accepting, however)
  • The White Door by Lindsay King-Miller: violence, murder
  • Doctor Barlowe’s Mirror by Avery Kit Malone: none
  • Laguna and the Engkanto by Katalina Watt: death of parent
  • The Moon in the Glass by Jude Reid: murder, hallucinations
  • Brideprice by S.T. Gibson: mention of sexual assault, murder, blood-drinking
  • Lure of the Abyss by Jenna MacDonald: some people get eaten by a sea monster
  • Hearteater by Eliza Temple: none
  • Quicksilver Prometheus by Katie Young: hallucinations, mention of death of children
  • Homesick by Sam Hirst: none
  • Rodeo by Ryann Fletcher: homophobia, domestic violence, murder
  • Lady of Letters; or, the Twenty-First Century Homunculus by Heather Valentine: cheating
  • Taylor Hall by Jen Glifort: panphobia (challenged)
  • The Ruin by E. Saxey: threat of the apocalypse
  • The Dream Eater by Anna Moon: illness of loved one
  • Leadbitter House by Mason Hawthorne: body horror


As stated in my first paragraph, this book was a fairly quick read, which can be partly owed to its nature as an anthology of short stories instead of a full-length novel. Despite its short length however, I found myself wholly engrossed in the pages of it.

On a personal preference, I adore anthologies. I love unearthing a wealth of different stories encased in a singular book, for it takes you on different narratives through the rest of the pages–a pretty good deal for the price of one book, if you ask me.

I went in Unspeakable with high expectations and to my absolute delight, this book delivered. One particular aspect I loved about the book is how each writer took their own spin on the “gothic” theme. As someone who isn’t really an avid consumer of gothic-themed novels, my impressions of these stories are often contained in lofty castles and mansions–a staple of most, if not all novels in this genre actually–and set in a period of time before the 21st century.

This book presented quite a few interesting takes on the theme. Some were set in a fantasy-esque world of castles and mansions, while others had a contemporary vibe, like in a rodeo in Texas. I really appreciated this because it gave me a refreshing take on this usual gothic horror theme. There was even a story that featured engkantos, a figure that is a mainstay in Philippine mythology and I was so happy to see one facet of my culture featured in this collection, too!

Secondly, I appreciated the diversity of identities contained in each story of the book. I was so happy to be able to read more sapphic stories in this anthology, something that I have been personally working on ever since this year started. As a bisexual woman of color, books with queer rep mean a lot to me because with stories like these, people who identify as LGBTQIAP++ have a chance to see themselves as heroes of the books and not only as side characters.

Each story had its own unique charm and I truly enjoyed reading through every single one of them. I couldn’t choose a favorite out of all of them. As an afterthought: I mean, yeah, if a pretty immortal would ask me to, I would risk it all for them–my humanity included–no questions asked.

All in all, I enjoyed this anthology so much! It lived up to my expectations and delivered a hefty dose of spooks and dreary themes to sate my cravings. Highly recommended–but with caution, as some stories might contain disturbing topics. Trigger/content warnings are provided above so just keep in mind what to expect.

Overall Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

An advanced reading copy was provided by the publisher in partnership with Caffeine Book Tours to the blogger in exchange for an honest review. All quotes used in this post are subject to final revisions in the finished copy. All opinions are my own.

Outfit Inspiration

I’ve been looking for an opportunity to showcase this Lolita ensemble I have in my closet for a long while, and this book tour was just the right opportunity. The top is a tailored blouse I had made but never had the chance to wear, while the skirt was a lucky thrift-store find I bought pre-pandemic. The shoes are a nude-ish color which I got at a mall (I wear these ones to work and my college graduation lol) while the hat was a department store find!

Follow the Tour!

This book is also having a giveaway! One lucky winner will score a paperback copy of this anthology. Open internationally!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


What are your thoughts on anthologies? How about gothic stories? Let’s chat in the comments below!

Please also don’t forget to check out the tour stops of my fellow tour hosts, leosthetics and Melancholic Blithe today!