So, last time we looked at a thoroughly unpleasant romance. So do we have any better examples of a classic shoujo romance? Well, Love*Com is a good start.
LOVELY COMPLEX (LOVE*COM) (Rabu*Con), by Aya Nakahara. First published in 2001, and first published in North America in 2007.
Risa Koizumi is a taller-than-average 15 year old girl, one who is blunt in speech and more fond of video games than schoolwork. Atsushi Otani is a shorter-than-average boy from her class with a short temper and a talent for basketball. Together, the two tend to piss one another off, and their banter has earned them the nickname of the "All Hanshin-Kyojin" duo (it's a manzai reference, just roll with it). That summer the two of them are stuck in summer classes, and during that time they both develop crushes on fellow classmates. Risa loves the cool, silent Suzuki, while Atsushi adores the shy, timid and adorable Chiharu. Unfortunately, their efforts to get with them end up with Suzuki and Chiharu falling for one another instead. Will Risa and Atsushi manage to save their love lives, or will they discover that they're better suited for one another?
I was understandably wary about reading this one, considering that it seemed to be about a relationship based on belligerent sexual tension. It's a trope that's common as hell, but there are few mangaka who can truly pull it off. Far too many forget that the couple need to have something in common OTHER than arguments to forge some sort of connection, or that the two need some sort of positive qualities to make them endearing to the reader instead of having them wonder when the two will finally kill one another. So you can only imagine my relief that Nakahara manages to dodge that pitfall and creates a couple that bickers but still actually have some proper romantic tension between them!
It's true that Risa and Otani tend to drive each other crazy with height jokes and neither of them are afraid to pummel one another when one needs a wake-up call, but everyone else around them knows the two have a lot in common. They're both blunt, sarcastic, they have some shared geeky interests, and both are rather sensitive about their heights. Their bond is fragile, even tentative, but there's definite and palpable romantic tension between the two, and Nakahara doses it out in just the right amount. Their relationship is never too rushed, but neither does it drag on forever. The only downside to these two is that they're so well-developed and thought out that the rest of cast pales in comparison, but truthfully I didn't mind all that much. If your story's biggest fault is that your leads are too well-developed for the room, you don't have much room to complain.
The character designs are surprisingly realistic and expressive, and Nakahara puts a lot of care into the details - the way a shirt wrinkles when worn, the exact position of the fingers in a gesture, or the fine wisps of hair flying away from a hairdo. This is often in stark contrast to the more extreme, cartoonish expressions or the fact that Nakahara draws blushes with a literal squiggle. Backgrounds are rare and mundane - hope you like classrooms! - and instead are replaced with a lot of tones and effects. Honestly, while the art's not bad I kind of wish Nakahara had put just as much care into the background details as she did with some of the more mundane stuff, as it would have taken it to another level.
The only extra is a single page of translation notes.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete with 17 volumes, and all are currently in print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!