Of all the Evangelion spinoff manga to be found here, I guarantee you that you will not find one as weird as this one. Yes, that is including the gag manga. No, I am totally serious.
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: THE SHINJI IKARI DETECTIVE DIARY (Shin Seiki Evangelion: Ikari Shinji Tantei Nikki), by Takumi Yoshimura. First published in 2010, and first published in North America in 2013.
Shinji Ikari wants nothing more than to be just another ordinary kid in an ordinary school so he can be as miserable and mistrustful as he wants to be. Then his friends Toji and Kensuke get threatened by some local Yakuza thugs and Shinji finds himself calling upon the Kaji Detective Agency for help. They in turn end up roping Shinji into working for them and pair him up with the kindly yet mysterious Kaworu Nagisa. It turns out there a lot more to this detective agency than meets the eye, and that their investigations tend to involve a lot more magical gems, genie-like fighters, a rival agency with powers of their own, as well as the beginnings of a beautiful (if reluctant) friendship.
I swear, all this manga needed was a talking animal and an extraneous musical number or two and you would have Neon Genesis Scooby Doo. In spite of that, I found myself liking this manga in a weird way. It's certainly more lively and imaginative than most of the Evangelion spinoffs, and weirdly enough it stays pretty true to the original characters despite the premise and the fact that this is meant to be a light shoujo comedy.
As you've seen, I've often taken a lot of these manga to task for taking too many liberties with the characters and shaving off all their rough edges to make them palatable. Shinji Ikari Detective Diary is unusual in that it mostly leaves them alone, particularly where Shinji is concerned. Yes, that means that Shinji is a rather depressing pill, but the combination of barely repressed anger, sadness and confusion over a rather blank demeanor is farther truer to the Shinji Ikari of the TV show than the bland and relatively blithe versions we've seen previously. It's hard to say if the same will be true for Asuka, but they also nail the fact that Rei is meant to be mostly mute and mildly unnerving instead of a bubbly ingénue. It's also nice to see Kaworu take such a prominent role for once, although I suspect most of that is due to the fact that this is targeted towards young and potentially BL-loving teenage girls. Most of the other manga simply shove him off to the side until the writers need someone to say something cryptic. Personally, I always found Kaworu's storyline on the show to be genuinely touching, even if circumstance forced it to be cut short. That's why it's so nice to see an Evangelion manga that's all about Shinji and Kaworu learning to be friends. When I say friends, I mean precisely that, as this doesn't try to play up the homoeroticism to appease the fujoshi, unlike pretty much anything else that features these two.
As a detective story, this manga is rather lame. What few cases are here are simple one-off affairs like 'get rid of those thugs' and 'find out who's pranking this teacher.' If there's anything that resembles an ongoing storyline, it's either the rivalry with the other detective agency (led by Gendo!) or the mystery of the Evas. You see, in this universe an Eva is not a giant robot but instead genie-like beings housed in magical pieces of jewelry that will fight for their wielders like Pokémon. Weirdly enough, while the Evas all have number-themed names that match their respective units, they also seem to be tied to figures of saints bearing the names of some of the Angels from the series. While part of me wants to applaud Yoshimura for not having it all turn out to be giant robots once more, this concept comes out of nowhere and never stops being distractingly weird. Still, this burst of imagination is far more entertaining than the jokes, which tend to come in the form of lame gags from Shinji's friends or Kaji, Misato, and Pen-Pen finding more and more convoluted ways to trap Shinji into staying with their agency. There are also a few callbacks and references to other works, such as "Another unfamiliar ceiling..." or Shinji wishing he could live in a world where he could pilot a giant robot or having lots of girls falling for him.
In spite of all that, this might be my favorite Evangelion spinoff of them all. It strikes a good balance between original ideas and Evangelion canon and shines a spotlight on a character and relationship that far too often gets short shrift in Evangelion manga. It might be weird, it might be kind of dumb, but it's not another variation on Who Will Shinji Bang, and that's more than enough to put it into my good graces.
Yoshimura also doesn't mess too much with the original character designs, and that works in the manga's favor. Sure, they might be a little rounder and broader than the originals, but they all wear it well. Where Yoshimura gets really creative is with the Evas. Instead of strange, gangly robots, they are all attractive, scantily-clad adults with uniforms that resemble their original forms about as much as your average "sexy" Halloween costume. In an admittedly nice and subtle touch, all of the Evas physically resemble their masters to some degree. Asuka's even sports an eyepatch that I suspect is a reference to her appearance in some of the later Rebuild movies The backgrounds are nicely drawn, but otherwise this is a fairly plain and simple looking manga. The fights are brief and unremarkable, there are no notable visual touches, and save for the Evas it doesn't mess around too much with the original work.
Normally I don't have any issues with Dark Horse's manga translations, but here they made some odd choices with Toji that stand out like a sore thumb. Honestly "for rilla my brilla"?! What were they smoking? Otherwise, there's yet another round of "Misato's Fan Service Corner" where Carl Horn talks about the most recent Rebuilt movie, the end of Sadamoto's original manga, and reminders about all the other Evangelion manga that Dark Horse are putting out.
I know, I'm just as surprised as you are that this, of all the Evangelion manga I've read thus far, gets a green light. I had to be honest, though. This one was the most enjoyable and original of lot without doing a lot of pandering and fanservice, and it's silly without being obnoxious. I wish more Evangelion manga could be as weird and wonderful as this one.
This series is published by Dark Horse. This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available. Both volumes were published and are currently in print.