This one was one of the surprise hits of the year. While it had been on Crunchyroll for a while, it didn't really take off until the recent series that adapted it.
YAMADA-KUN AND THE SEVEN WITCHES (Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo), by Miki Yoshikawa. First published in 2012, and first published in North America in 2015.
Ryu Yamada is a punk-ass kid who couldn't care less about school. By chance, he stumbles on the stairs right onto star student Urara Shiraishi. When he wakes up afterwards, he discovers that he's swapped bodies with her! Yamada takes the opportunity to help Shiraishi with a bully, but that's just the start of his troubles. The two discover that they can swap bodies with just a kiss, but this power starts garnering them more attention and more trouble than either could have imagined.
I have certain expectations when I think of shonen romances, particularly the ones that feature genderswapping. I expect a lot of macho posturing, a lot of fanservice, and a lot of goofiness and fighting, and much of this is true of Yamada-kun. So why does it work so well here when such a formula has failed in so many other instances?
I think the biggest key to its success is that it's pretty evenly balanced between Yamada and Shiraishi. A lot of manga in this vein tend to skewer things heavily towards the male protagonist to better appeal to their teen guy audience. Here, though, Yamada and Shiraishi get fairly equal screentime. She gets to have some development, some laughs, and is generally treated like something more than just a prize to win, and that's a pleasant change from the norm. That's good because Yamada is totally typical of the male protagonists you see in these sorts of stories: tough, dumb, brash, yet completely clueless when it comes to girls. It also goes for many of the jokes you would expect to see in these sorts of stories (which mostly means "check out the other person's junk 'cause you can.")
Things stay fairly episodic for a while, where every chapter is about some minor dilemma that requires the two to switch places. It's only about two-thirds of the way in that we start to see any sort of proper plot structure thanks to a curious student council member who stumbles upon their secret. He takes it upon himself to start testing their power with at least mildly amusing results. It's still pretty early yet to get much more of a read on the plot. Hell, we don't even know what the seven witches in the titles refers to yet. Still, it's an entertaining and fairly equal take on an old idea and I can see why this would catch on with others.
I also really like the artwork here. It's unusually rubbery for a shonen romance. If anything, the character designs and overall style remind me more of a slightly toned-down Hiro Mashima than anything else. Yoshikawa also keeps the fanservice pretty mild and to a minimum, which gives her a lot more space for the great expressions she draws. Sadly, the only one she can't do well is the act of kissing. It looks more like two cardboard pieces slotting into one another than actual kissing. Even the backgrounds are surprisingly good despite being the same old classroom scenes we've seen a million times over. It's just a really good-looking book with a lot of energy on the page, and I'm surprised more people haven't mentioned the quality of the art.
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches isn't necessarily breaking new ground with its premise, but it sets itself a notch above the rest by giving equal time to its protagonists and supporting the gags with a lot of good, rubbery art.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is ongoing in Japan with 20 volumes available. 5 volumes have been published and all are currently in print. This series is also being simulpublished digitially via Crunchyroll.
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