MARMALADE BOY (Mamaredo Boi), by Wataru Yoshizumi. First published in 1992, and first published in North America in 2002.
Miki gets the shock of her life when her parents announce their imminent divorce over tea. Her shock only increases from there. Her parents essentially had a midlife crisis during a trip to Hawaii, and instead of buying expensive cars or plastic surgery, they fell for another married couple and have decided to switch partners. To add to the discomfort, they all decided to live together in one big polyamorous household. On top of all that, the second couple have a boy who is Miki's age, so she has a new stepbrother to contend with. Her new brother, Yuu, is a moody kid who alternates between teasing Miki and bonding with her, and her feelings for her newfound stepsibling become very confused. This is only aggravated by the relationship drama she encounters as school, be it from her old junior high crush or from Yuu's ex-girlfriend.
Man, sometimes people don't understand just how weird shoujo can be. A lot of people stereotype it as being nothing more than a bunch of stammering schoolkids who can never quite work out how to say something as simple as "I love you and want to go out with you." While this series doesn't even begin to plumb the weirdest depth of the genre, the summary above should give you some idea of the
I honestly felt kind of sorry for Miki. It's not because she's a terribly endearing character, because truthfully she's more tightly wound than a Swiss watch and spends most of her time freaking out at others. It's more like I felt bad for her situation. Divorce is a hard enough thing to deal with, but the arrangement to have all her parents and step-parents live together is a pretty selfish move. They don't tell their children until the deed is done and simply expect everyone to get along, as if moving in with both your current and former spouse is a perfectly normal event. Hell, if anything her parents expect her to get along REALLY well with Yuu, as she is warned early on to not fall in love with Yuu because it might make things weird and complicated.
Yes, because of course things wouldn't get REALLY weird unless Miki started getting the hots for her stepbrother. Normal people do not have to have conversations like this! Sadly, their warning is all too apt, because Miki does start crushing on Yuu, and their weird relationship becomes the catalyst for the rest of the plot. After that point, rivals to Miki and Yuu's affections start to enter the picture to stir up a little drama before moving on. All of this might be more interesting if Miki and Yuu were more compelling characters in their own right. As I mentioned before, Miki is mostly defined by being high-strung. She's not so much an active character as she is a reactive character, there to yell at whatever new complication has come her way. Yuu is a far harder character to read, as he is both frustratingly inexpressive and constantly giving off mixed signals. It's those same signals that give this series its name, as Miki likens him to the bittersweetness of marmalade. The rest of the cast is just OK. The closest any of them get to interesting is with Arimi, Yuu's ex. She acts nice to Miki even as she competes with her for Yuu, but unlike a lot of stereotypical shoujo villains her kindness is sincere in its intent.
Marmalade Boy has a surprisingly kinky premise for a story that ran in a girls' magazine, but beyond that the characters and execution are plain and predictable.
Yoshizumi's art is almost a depressing stereotype of 1990s shoujo art. Her characters are plain and flat, with lots of stiff expressions and equally stiff little matchstick bodies. The only parts of them that seem to get any sort of effort expended on them are the hairstyles. Even the backgrounds are decidedly plain, with a lot of blank space or dull screentones substituting for real settings. It's all very minimalist in a way that doesn't come from specific effort so much as apathy and homogenization. It's the kind of milquetoast art that shoujo magazines of the day ate up, and it's an artstyle that's best left to the past.
This series was published by Tokyopop. The series is complete with 8 volumes total. All 8 volumes were published, and all are currently out of print.