Let's keep going on a shoujo vein, this time with something a bit more recent, a bit more male, and a lot more problematic.
LOVELESS (Raburesu), by Yun Kouga. First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2006.
Ritsuka is a young man who is haunted by his lost memories and the mysterious death of his older brother Seimei. Ritsuka mostly spends his days going to therapy, doing his best to dodge his abusive mother, and trying to deflect the attentions of his classmates and teachers. Everything changes when Soubi enters his life. Soubi is able to wield words like weapons and seems to have known Seimei in the past, but he needs Ritsuka for his magic to work properly. Ritsuka is skeptical, but it seems the only way he can find the answers to his lost identity and his lost brother is by getting close to Soubi.
I feel terribly conflicted about Loveless. I feel like it genuinely has potential, and that she is capable of writing compelling characters and intriguing premises. It's just that she can't quite put all of those ideas together into something coherent and that she spends a little too much time catering to the fujoshi.
The biggest source of that potential is Ritsuka himself. There are plenty of shoujo manga that claim to have terribly tormented protagonists, but most of them would look like utter poseurs compared to him. Ritsuka is tormented, but he actually has decent cause for it between his amnesia, the abuse he suffers, and the overwhelming guilt he feels over his missing brother. He's so guilt-ridden that he justifies his mother's abuse as her lashing out at him for not acting like the son she remembered, and he does his best to deflect and lie to others to keep others from prying into his life. This is a kid who feels abandoned by everyone and everything he ever knew or trusted and he's so hurt and guilty that he refuses to let anyone get close again. Ritsuka is a character with a lot of rough edges, the sort that can't be healed with a friendship monologue and a hug, and it's nice to see a shoujo lead who is allowed to be less than a nice person. Sadly, this couldn't last, and it's mostly the fault of Soubi.
With Ritsuka, we learn a lot about him in a short amount of time in a fairly subtle manner. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Soubi. He's a mystery man from beginning to end, even as he regularly feeds Ritsuka the clues and backstory needed to solve the mystery of Seimei's disappearance. He too tends to shift moods on a dime, but here it feels less like a way to deflect attention and more like yaoi fanservice, as he tends to get rather hands-on with Ritsuka and declares his love for him almost instantly. He even goes so far as to pierce Ritsuka's ear in a painfully obvious metaphor for their relationship, and it never feels like the actions of a real person.
The romantic implications are especially awkward considering that Soubi is mostly using Ritsuki to help fight his battles, literally. It seems Soubi and a number of others are caught up in an endless tournament of vaguely defined magic battles. It involves a magic user who casts offensive spells through a set phrase while harnessing their power from their significantly younger partner. Partnerships are also apparently hereditary in nature, as Soubi was literally commanded to watch over Ritsuka by Seimei before he disappeared. What's the point of it all? Well, apparently there's a secret organization that want to take Ritsuka and Soubi down for...um...er...reasons. It's not well-explained, but then nothing else is in Loveless, so why should this be different? It's such a shame to see a promising lead dragged down by such an aimless plot and such shameless fanservice.
While there's an interesting touch of angularity to Kouga's character designs, that's not going to be the first thing you notice about them. No, what you will notice are the cat ears. You see, in the world of Loveless virgins all have cat ears and tails, and Ritsuka keeps making a big deal out of the fact that Soubi does not and how 'adult' he is because of that. What does this detail add to the story? Absolutely nothing! It's there for fangirl appeal, just like all the willowy bishonen found all over the story that frequently touch each other suggestively. Kouga tends to play things a bit too close with the guys, but she also tends to get a bit too close with the panels for the art's own good. It makes the fights particularly awkward, as they becoming nothing but an incoherent mess of words and inappropriate cuddling over a lot of washed out greys. Otherwise, Kouga's art isn't bad, but it doesn't do much to alleviate the chaos of her story.
This series is published by Viz, formerly by Tokyopop. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 12 volumes currently available. Tokyopop published 8 volumes, and all are out of print. Viz has rereleased the first 8 volumes in omnibus form and the rest in single volumes, and all are currently in print.