With the summer manga flood coming, now’s the time to make room on your reading plate and get ready for the beef! From beefy attack (Muscles are Better Than Magic! and Fist of the North Star), beefy defense (Bofuri), and beefy… uh, beef (Beauty and the Feast), there’s no better time to start reading than now! We’ve got a record number of 8 manga reviews for you to check out today, so let’s get started!
Beauty and the Feast Volume 1 (Square Enix Manga)
I’m not a master chef by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m starting to understand why people love cooking shows. I also didn’t realize how many manga titles there were that dealt with cooking until Food Wars and Restaurant to Another Side popped up overseas, and now we’ve got a new western debut with Beauty and the Feast.
Shuko Yakumo is a 28-year-old widow who’s desperate to fill the void left by her late husband, and finds out that high school student and next door neighbor Shohei Yamato has a ravenous stomach that’s befitting of guys his age. What follows is a lighthearted slice-of-life series in which Shuko helps Shohei with his hunger pangs as she works through the grief of losing someone she loved so early in her life.
As a 27-year-old person myself, I wouldn’t necessarily say that Yakumo is too old to be a widow, but I quite liked the generational friendship between her and Shohei. Even though the difference is probably a decade or so, it seems like they’re from different worlds, and because of that, the challenges of relating to someone of a different age feel genuine. The manga works better when it shifts out of its wrong context comedic romance style and heads firmly into slice-of-life territory, and the later chapters are much more engaging and heartwarming because of it. For some reason, the first few pages tease that Shuko wants an intimate relationship between her and her baseball-playing neighbor, but that’s quickly defied and turns into something of a motherly bond if anything.
Not that it’s going to get people talking, however. Near the end, hopeless romantic and fellow student Rui tries to mess up the dynamic between the two since she’s actively trying to gain Shohei’s affection; it works just about as well as you’d expect a clingy girl trying to get an oblivious boy to be. Personally, the story takes a while to get the mood right, but in the end it mostly sticks the landing. I’m curious to see what the future holds for this cast!
Rating: 3 out of 5 UwUs
A School Frozen in Time Volume 1 (Kodansha)
Japanese culture has an emphasis on exam hell and the stresses of school life, to the point where suicide is a legitimate issue in the country. A School Frozen in Time explores this concept as a bunch of high school students are trapped in their high school building with no way out. While they’re trying to make out the situation, a mysterious presence threatens their lives as they get picked off one by one. In the middle of it all is a classmate who has killed themselves… the only problem is nobody remembers who it is. It’s a race against time as the cast has to solve the mystery of their surroundings while not dying from whatever force is with them.
This is probably one of the only manga in which I’ve been turned off by the art style. I know this was originally released in 2008, but it just feels amateurish, with the proportions looking terribly off-model half the time and the character designs feeling unremarkable. The lettering for the speech bubbles isn’t anything to write home about, and it just has an air of unprofessionalism about it. There were multiple instances where my immersion was taken away by how the art looked; it looks like an early 2000s webcomic at times.
This wouldn’t be an issue if the story was good and… it really isn’t. There isn’t too much going on in the first volume, with half of the volume dedicated to the “we really trapped in here, aren’t we?” trope. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m not invested in the characters at all. You have the main nerdy guy who’s concerned with the well-being of the “obviously a final girl” friend, a hot-blooded delinquent, and the like. I didn’t really care for these characters, and by the time someone other than the person at hand bites it, I was treated to a flashback sequence that I don’t think was deserved. It feels like a B-grade horror movie with characters I’m not concerned about.
Rating: 1 out of 5 UwUs
World Piece Volume 1 (VIZ)
I haven’t heard much coming out of VIZ Media’s VIZ Originals line since it was announced a couple years back, but with the release of Fangirl we’re starting to get more manga-like works coming to western shores. Likewise, World Piece debuts its first volume this summer, and I’m impressed with this volume and can’t wait to see more of it!
High schooler Lucas is having the time of his life, but his world is turned upside down when he comes across a mysterious artifact that makes his planet shrink to the size of a basketball! After being found by a wealthy girl called Lully, the duo joins a soldier named Mitton in order to try and find a way to reverse his planet’s condition, all the while trying to avoid the planet-eating Damas and his goons.
Growing up in Canada, I really loved the anime-esque style of shows like Martin Mystery and Totally Spies, and World Piece evokes the feeling of nostalgia I had for those titles. The art style is a mix between manga and western comics, and as such has a clean look to the whole thing. It looks like a polished webcomic, as the writer and the artist have both worked on one beforehand too.
While the plot initially feels basic (and I would have liked more interactions in Lucas’ earthly life before the shrinkage), I did enjoy the dynamic between the three main protagonists as they try to grapple with the fact that they’re constantly on the run. It’s a simple sci-fi tale with some great art, and I’m excited to see where the series goes from here!
Rating: 4 out of 5 UwUs
Muscles are Better Than Magic! Manga Volume 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment)
Back in my second manga minis column, I expressed an interest in checking out Muscles are Better Than Magic! in manga form rather than its light novel incarnation. Turns out I was right, and the journeys of our muscular beefcake protagonist and his uncooperative elf companion work better in a visual medium.
While the same problems I had with the light novel remain (the main duo remain unlikeable, and there’s even a usage of the word “simp” in a fantasy context that wouldn’t have it), the story is much more bearable without the tons of monologues about muscles and how they’re the answer to literally everything. Everything is shown rather than told, which is great considering the “told” parts of the light novel were the worst part of it. Monologues that took a few pages to read are now condensed in a matter of panels, so the pacing is much better than the light novel’s, even if it only covers about half of its source material (the volume ends with the introduction of the Grim Reaper).
The art is inconsistent, and the pseudo-chibi style of the cover may dissuade you from picking the manga up, but rest assured the whole volume isn’t like that style. Sure, there are times when the art style looks deformed in a way that looks weird (normally the parts where Yuri flexes his muscles to an absurdly monstrous degree), but for a comedic parody manga, this works in its favor. I’m still not won over by the relationship between Yuri and FIlia since the duo don’t have great chemistry for now, but at least Yuri’s trying and Filia reciprocates without it feeling forced. Honestly, this is a better jumping on point if you want to check this series out, though again if you want something similar, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Mashle instead.
Rating: 3 out of 5 UwUs
Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense Volume 1 (Yen Press)
Premiering as an anime last year, the first light novel of Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense (a long title, yes) is now available in the west. While I normally gravitate towards reading manga adaptations of series, this one was a surprisingly wholesome look concerning how someone would take min-maxing their character’s stats to the logical extreme. It’s an adorably lighthearted look at how broken MMO characters can actually be given the right set of circumstances.
Kaede is a normal schoolgirl that, at the behest of her friend Risa, tries out a new MMO called New World Online. The game feels so real that being hurt… well, hurts, so she attempts to make it so that her avatar Maple won’t feel pain. How does she do that? By increasing her Vitality defense stat to the max. And by that I mean, she literally gets a skill early in the game that exponentially increases her VIT stat at the cost of all others. By inadvertently breaking the game in her first few hours of playing, she becomes an ungodly force with which to be reckoned, causing enemies to fear her due to her extreme defenses allowing her to shrug off literally every attack centered at her.
And this only is the first volume!
That said, the novel does a lot to make sure Maple isn’t fully overpowered. Since Kaede (and by extension Maple) is playing an MMO, the developers swiftly make nerfs to her extreme defense build, which causes problems in the latter half of the volume. She also attracts the attention (and ire) of online forum members, which also makes her a celebrity with a target on her back after participating in her first event. I do appreciate the level scaling of Maple to make sure that she isn’t broken in terms of gameplay, because the first few chapters feel like she’s in a one-sided fight. Thankfully, the story picks up when Kaede’s friend Risa (mainly her avatar Sally) enters the picture, with the duo fighting together as a team. I liked these interactions, and Maple is an adorable character who doesn’t get cocky with her insane defense stats, which means she’s a likeable character that I want to see succeed. It also helps that the light novel images are cute and fit well with the story. All in all, I can’t wait for the next volume of this novel!
Rating: 4 out of 5 UwUs
Fist of the North Star Volume 1 (VIZ Media)
For some reason I always thought the original Fist of the North Star manga was released here in the west, seeing as how it influenced such juggernauts like Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. However, we haven’t gotten a complete manga release of the series since its debut in the 80s, but that’s bound to change thanks to VIZ Media’s new releases of the series. This brutal and nostalgic action series might not be for everyone, but after reading this, you can definitely see how it earns its place in the hall of manga legends.
Kenshiro is a practitioner of the Hokuto Shinken, a fictional Chinese martial arts technique that aims to literally kill its opponents from the inside. This huge dude is a serious yet kindhearted man living in a strange post-apocalyptic world ala Mad Max, with dang near everyone killing each other for power. This first volume introduces readers to just how powerful Kenshiro is, with this hardcover edition covering the first couple manga arcs. It’s a great introduction as it leads to recurring characters Bat and Lin, as well as giving Kenshiro a long-lost love interest and rival in the form of Yuria and Shin respectively.
I’m going to preface this with the fact that I’m confused at its Teen Plus rating; it’s one of the most influential shonen manga out there, but I didn’t realize how gory and visceral the action is. Chapter upon chapter comes with multiple character deaths (mostly throwaway characters used to show a villain’s power), and there’s no shying away from dismembered and vivisected bodies. That said, the gore included here is relevant to the cynical setting Fist of the North Star is set in, and only highlights how unique Kenshiro and his friends’ pureness contrasts with the rest of the world. The action is still some of the best I’ve seen in a shonen manga, or any manga for that matter.
As someone who’s still catching up on the Jojo manga and wanting something similar, I can’t wait to read more of this one in the future!
Rating: 4 out of 5 UwUs
Undead Unluck Volume 1 (VIZ Media)
Shonen Jump is no stranger to weird series, and Undead Unluck has an interesting premise to it. With a duo of protagonists that are dichotomies of each other, and ability sets that work innovatively well, it has the makings of some top shelf series… if only it could shed its more raunchy aspects.
Undead Unluck reminds me of this episode of the anime of Paranoia Agent where the focus characters of the episode do their best to try and kill themselves. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, and, for sake of spoilers, has a twist that works well for that show. It’s an episode that manages to be hilarious and tearjerking at the same time, and this manga works kind of like this. Fuuko Izumo is your regular Japanese schoolgirl with one weird quirk: Everyone who touches her dies. If this was any other series, it could make for a good horror premise, but Undead Unluck instead takes this and goes a completely opposite direction with it.
You see, while most people would be disturbed by interacting with a girl that will literally kill them by touch alone, Andy (well, the undead protagonist whom Fuuko names) actually wants to die, as he’s been living for quite some time and just wants a way to kill himself. After a rough skirmish, the unlikely duo become a team as they find out their powers make them negators; that is, people who negate the rules of physics and the world itself. The two find out that there’s a team that takes out these threats as well as creatures called UMA, who wreak havoc in the world. Because there can only be ten negators on the team, Andy and Fuuko need to off two of the members in order to secure a seat and be protected. Only then can they find a way to kill Andy (and by extension, Fuuko).
A person that’s immortal and a person that can kill someone simply by touching them sounds like a weird combination of protagonist powers, but in practice it works quite well. There were many inventive ways to try and kill Andy (unsuccessfully, of course), that would also work as an attack strategy to the duo’s enemies. However, the first volume has a copious amount of weird interactions between Andy and Fuuko, as the former keeps trying to cop a feel or becomes really creepy towards her. Sure, it makes sense in the context of the series, but it can be off-putting due to the age difference and rather sensual panels every so often. It doesn’t help that Andy’s usually in the nude due to his power set, with a thinly veiled censor box covering his… choice bits every few pages.
I’ve read ahead a few chapters and honestly? This volume is a rough start, but it really kicks up after this. While I wouldn’t recommend the series from the first seven chapters alone, I would say stick with it to the next volume at least.
Rating: 2 out of 5 UwUs
Beastars Volume 12 (VIZ Media)
It’s kind of interesting how last month saw the release of Beast Complex, as this volume of Beastars feels more like an extension of that manga than a continuation of itself. Now that the hunt for Tem’s killer is finished, Legoshi and Louis now have to deal with the repercussions of the preceding fight between Legoshi and Riz. As a result of his actions, Legoshi opts to drop out of school and become part of society even if he’s barely an adult. It’s a bit sad how jarring and drastic the changes are, but thankfully this volume benefits from worldbuilding outside of the Cherryton high school setting.
Speaking of worldbuilding, we’re introduced to some new characters. Seven is Legoshi’s new neighbor while Yahya is the current Beastar. While at this point we aren’t really sure what the responsibilities of a Beastar are (or how many of them exist), it’s neat to see more of this unfold. The introduction of these characters also highlight the carnivore/herbivore class and race conflict that the manga does well, and while some of the metaphors are a bit too obvious, most of the comparisons are done in a good context to the rest of the series. My only real complaint here is that I feel like a lot of the current plot threads have to make room for the new ones, which means there’s a little too much stuff going on in one volume that makes it feel too fast-paced at times.
For those who like Legoshi’s grandfather Gosha, there’s more of him here. Sure, a Komodo dragon and a wolf shacking up seems odd (and in-universe, not even accepted legally), but the relationship between grandfather and grandson is genuine and heartfelt. This dynamic is definitely going to be explored in future volumes, and fills a void with Legoshi not interacting with the Cherryton students as much. I can’t wait to see where the series heads to next; we’ve only just begun here.
Rating: 4 out of 5 UwUs