Let's keep up with this romantic vein with an old-school shoujo classic, one of many that Tokyopop put out in their time.
KARE KANO (Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo, or His and Hers Circumstances), by Masami Tsuda. First published in 1996, and first published in North America in 2003.
Yukino Miyazawa is the perfect student. She is pretty, popular, athletic and generally considered one of the best students in the class. This perfection is merely an act, though, one that's achieved through hard training, constant study, and obsessing over every element of her looks. Why does Yukari go through all of this? For the attention! She is quite literally in it for the ego boost she gets from each and every compliment. There is only one threat to Yukino's perfect image, and its name is Arima Soichiro. He's her equal in looks, brains, and talent, and Yukino initially regards him as the competition. When he discovers her secret, though, he begins to open up to her. Soon enough Yukino discovers that no only does Arima have a lot of issues of his own, but that her own feelings for him may be changing.
There are countless shoujo stories about schoolkids falling in love, and it's hard for anyone to do anything new or original with that idea. So how has Kare Kano managed to persist in the hearts and minds of so many despite not doing anything particularly new or original? I think it comes down to the characters.
Yukino and Arima are Kare Kano's greatest strengths. They're not just another pair of one note clichés, they're not hopelessly naïve, and are completely honest about their flaws. Yukino outright states more than once that she knows she's a total egomaniac. She knows that her true self isn't the polished poised student, but the track suit-wearing, bespectacled, and mildly lazy girl she lets herself be at home, yet she doesn't care. So long as she gets praise, she'll bust her ass to keep up her own personal charade. Arima is in his own way putting up a façade, although his is borne more out of obligation than selfish desire. Thus, our protagonists are already united from the start by their shared need for a public persona to avoid disappointing others. This is a dilemma that many a teenager could relate to, even if most of them wouldn't go to quite such extremes, and it helps to give our leads a bit of complexity that is not common in shoujo.
The events of the story so far are not all that remarkable, although the bits and pieces we learn about Arima suggest that there will be a lot more family drama to come. Still, there's some appeal in what just. how these two silly kids figuring out their mutual attraction. That's also part of the reason that I like the side story after the main one. It's about an extremely shy girl who gets close to the tall and silent new guy in her class. Her glasses get broken in an accident and he offers to be her sight in the mean time. The girl's neuroses were a bit simple and bit much for my taste, but the male lead was terribly endearing as he reveals himself to be a rather adorable dork.
Kare Kano isn't the kind of story that pushes boundaries, but instead excels just through solid character writing. It gives its leads some interesting foibles and the interaction between the two of them is fascinating. Sometimes, even such a simple effort is enough to make a story a classic.
The art and characters alike are drawn very finely, verging on sparseness. It's still very much in a traditional shoujo style, but it avoids a lot of the excesses of the genre. That doesn't mean that Tsuda doesn't break out the screen tones and flower petals during the more dramatic moments, but she uses such things sparingly since her characters (especially Yukino) are so expressive. She's also rather sparing with the backgrounds, using patterns and subdued screen tones instead to fill in for them. Where Tsuda really shines is with the way she uses page and panel composition. In particular, she's fond of using tall vertical panels during big dramatic moments, and they work well to make these moments stand out visually. It's a nice way for Tsuda to make her otherwise sparse art stand out and give it a few moments of quiet beauty.
Kare Kano is a classic schoolroom shoujo that owes a lot to its well written cast of characters. If the artwork had been stronger or more distinctive, this would have been an easy green light, but as it is it's still something that every shoujo fan should check out.
This series was published by Tokyopop. This series is complete in Japan, with 21 volumes available. All 21 were published and all are currently out of print.