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.
- See any title that you’ve already read or piqued your interest? Tell me all about it in the comments below!
- What’s on your reading list for this month?