Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 In the Rear View Mirror & Holiday Giveaway Winner

First of all, let me announce the winner of this year's Annual Holiday Giveaway.  The $25 RightStuf gift certificate will be going to...KIM P.!

Requiem of the Rose King is my favorite new manga since it's drawn by Aya Kanno and the story is based on Shakespeare so it's full of plot twists!

Congratulations Kim!  You can claim your prize by either contacting me on Twitter at @brainchild129 or by sending a quick email to  Also, I'm glad you're enjoying Requiem of the Rose King, as it continues to just get better and better.  For me, it's easily Kanno's best and most ambitious work.

I doubt I'm going to surprise anyone when I declare that I'm glad to see 2016 go for reasons that are too many and (mostly) too political for this blog.  That's really saying something considering that two very big and very happy events happened to me: I got married and I finally got to travel overseas, to Japan no less.  It was also still a very good year for manga overall.  The big shonen hits just kept on selling, and the market overall is still healthy and growing.  We saw the debut of a lot of great shoujo and josei works, including the print debut of stuff like Orange and Princess Jellyfish.  Seeing so many comments calling that their favorite of the year made me truly happy inside.  It also makes me all the more regretful that I wasn't able to fit Princess Jellyfish into this month's lineup.  I already had so many Kodansha titles!  Choices had to be made!  Even ongoing series like Requiem, The Ancient Magus' Bride, and My Love Story managed to just get better and better with each new volume.

The world is a big question mark as far as 2017 goes, but I do at least have hope that the world of manga will only continue to get more interesting and diverse.  There's already a lot of interesting manga titles that will be turned into anime this year, and I'm eager to see how they go over with a wider audience.   There's some interesting cult titles on the horizon, along with what I sincerely hope will be the breakout year for yuri in the US.  Seriously, we've got nearly a dozen titles on the way from 3 different publishers, along with who knows how much more yet to come.  At least one of them HAS to make an impression.  Hell, maybe this year Udon will finally get around to putting out The Rose of Versailles.  After all, what could be more appropriate for this upcoming year than a classic manga that ends in revolution?

The Manga Test Drive will be coming into its fifth year of existence, and as always I'm glad for all of you that have come along for the ride.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Well, it's time to wrap this year's holiday review up, and much like I've done in the past, I end it with a series that's not just one of my favorites to come out this year, but one that's all about food and family.  If that's not appropriate for Christmas, I don't know what is.

SWEETNESS & LIGHTNING (Amaama to Inuzuma), by Gido Amagakure.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016.


Kouhei Inuzuka is trying his hardest to keep his life together after his wife's recent death.  He not only has to juggle his teaching job, but also raising his 4-year-old daughter Tsumugi.  As such, things like cooking fell by the wayside and they mostly subsist on take-out and restaurant food.  Then they meet Kotori Iida, one of Kouhei's homeroom students.  She's the daughter of a single mother herself, and thanks to her mother's job Kotori is often left alone in their family's empty restaurant.  Kotori offers to help Kouhei learn how to cook, and together the three not only gain new skills but also the warmth and joy of family and friendship.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Well, it's time to start wrapping things up with something warm and fuzzy.  Naturally, what else could be warmer and fuzzier than a manga about a kitten?

FUKUFUKU: KITTEN TALES (FukuFuku Funyan Koneko da Nyan), by Konami Konata.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016.


FukuFuku is a mischievous kitten.  His attempts at play delight and charm his elderly owner as well the other cats in his neighborhood.

Friday, December 23, 2016


This might have been the first year in a long time that we started to see some movement as far as josei licenses.  Not only did we finally get Princess Jellyfish in print, but Viz managed to slip a really good josei series into their Shoujo Beat line that deserves a lot more attention.

EVERYONE'S GETTING MARRIED (Totsuzen Desu ga, Ashita Kekkon Shimasu), by Izumi Miyazono.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


Asuka Takanashi is a successful realtor, but her real dream is to get married and become a housewife.  This is proving difficult, as her boyfriend of five years just broke up with her and most of the guys she meets are turned off at the idea of a woman who wants to settle down.  Things only get more complicated when she meets handsome newscaster Ryu Nanami.  He's coming out of an affair that ended badly and wants nothing to do with marriage, but there's an undeniable spark between the two.  Can these two every make things work, or is their relationship doomed before it starts?

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn't necessarily be putting so much emphasis on bringing over josei works as we should on lady-friendly seinen works.  Between Complex Age and today's subject, it seems to be where some of the most interesting work about women seems to be hiding.

PLEASE TELL ME! GALKO-CHAN (Oshiete! Galko-Chan), by Kenya Suzuki.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


Galko is tall, busty, tanned and stylish, but few would suspect from her looks just how sweet and accomplished she is. Otako looks like a stereotypical otaku, but her real interest is in quizzing her friends about all sorts of weird questions about sex, puberty, and such.  Ojou is sheltered and spacey, but she's also good at keeping the peace between friends.  You wouldn't think that three such girls would ever be friends, but together they tackle some of the grosser, lesser-discussed parts of being a teenaged girl.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Yen Press scored a hell of a deal last year.  Not only did they rescue Fruits Basket, one of the last remaining gems of the Tokyopop library, but also picked up Natsuki Takaya's two most recent (and up to that point, unlicensed) works.  We only have time and space enough to check out one of those two, but I'm sure you're just as curious as I am to discover what a post-Fruits Basket Takaya is like.

LISELOTTE & WITCH'S FOREST (Rizerotte to Majo no Mori), by Natsuki Tayaka.  First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2016.


Once upon a time, a noblewoman named Liselotte exiled herself to a distant forest along with her two servants Anna and Alto.  Her situation was born from tragedy, but she's determined to be helpful and make the most of her exile, no matter how much Alto might object.  After all, it's said that there are dangerous witches in the woods.  There's also a strange young man named Engetsu who reminds Liselotte of her past, but he might not be all that he appears to be...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


From harem manga, we move on to reverse harem manga.  It's been a while since we've gotten a new one; most of the more prominent shoujo titles have focused either on supernatural romances or more traditional schoolroom stuff.  It even got the benefit of having a (fairly good, from my understanding) anime to pave a path for it.  So can it live up to its modest hype?

YONA OF THE DAWN (Akatsuki no Yona), by Mizuho Kusanagi.  First published in 2009 and first published in North America in 2016. 


Princess Yona is the pampered child of the gentle King Il in a faraway kingdom.  While she wants for nothing, the only thing she truly wants is the love of her childhood friend and cousin Su-Won.  Her life is forever altered when Su-Won slays her father in a bloody coup.  She's forced to flee for her life with only her personal guard Hak to protect her.  Will Yona find the strength within herself to continue on, or will she be consumed by her grief?

Monday, December 19, 2016


Of course, I also can't talk about shonen unless I address that genre I've come to dread: the harem series.  God knows the genre as a whole isn't getting any better, even if you steer it away from the monster girl trend, and today's review is a gleaming example of its utter mediocrity.

SHOMIN SAMPLE (Ore ga Ojosama Gakko ni "Shomin Sanpuru" Toshite Rachirareta Ken or I Was Abducted by an Elite All-Girls School as a "Sample Commoner"), based on the light novel series by Takafumi Nanatsuki & art by Risumai.  First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2016.


Seikain Girls' School is a private, all-girls' school renowned for both the wealth and prestige of its student body and the extreme lengths it takes to protect them from the world.  In fact, the girls are so sheltered that have practically no knowledge of the everyday world, much less boys.  To help these high-class young ladies acclimate, their principal has abducted one Kimito Kagurazaka to be their token commoner to teach them the ways of his world.  Will he ever get used to his luxurious new home?  Will he ever be able to shake off the socially awkward tsundere Aika?  And what will he do when an innocent accident leads class president Reina to demand marriage?

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Now that we can get actual sports manga over here, publishers feel more confident about picking sports manga with less-conventional sports as their subject.  We've already covered most of the big ones: basketball, volleyball, tennis, etc.  So why shouldn't someone try to turn competitive dance into a sport?

WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM (Ballroom o Yokoso), by Tomo Takeuchi.  First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2016.


Tataru Fujita has no real goals...or ambitions...or skills...or anything of note, really.  That all changes the day he's strongarmed into a local ballroom dance studio.  There, his eyes are open to the thrill and power of both the dancing and the dancers, and in particular to a cute classmate who happens to be one of the best dancers there.  Tataru is slow to learn, but his newfound skills are put to the test when his studio's best dancer goes AWOL during a competition.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Review: HAIKYU!!

Of course, we can't talk about modern-day shonen without talking about sports manga.  Thanks to their fujoshi-heavy fandoms, we're seeing an influx of sports manga that even a few years ago would have been unthinkable.  The only question I had to deal with was which one to pick.

HAIKYU!!, by Haruichi Furudate.  First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2016.


Back in junior high , Shoyo Hinata was "The Little Giant," a shorter-than-average volleyball player whose speed, high jumps, and powerful spikes more than made up for his height.  The only other boy to rival him was Tobio Kageyama, the "King of the Court."  He was able to master all the roles of a volleyball team, but his real skill is for setting up unbeatable shots.  The two end up at the same high school, where they must now find a way to work together if they want any chance at playing volleyball again. 

Friday, December 16, 2016


Now it's time to check on some of this year's shonen titles, and that means more monster girl manga.  This trend lives on well after the bloom has faded from Monster Musume, and if titles like this are any indication, they're only getting goofier and weirder.

MY GIRLFRIEND IS A T-REX (T-Rex na Kanojo), by Sanzo.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


In this world, dinosaurs survived the Mesozoic Era.  To survive, they evolved to fit in better with humanity, complete with human faces and torsos.  It's just Yuuma's good luck that he stumbled across Churlo, a T-Rex girl who has retained the simple mind and brute hunger of her ancestors.  Yuuma takes it upon himself to look after her, but inviting her in to his brings more chaos than he ever could have expected.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Leiji Matsumoto was one of the great creators of 1970s anime, but until this year the only time we've seen any of his original manga released here was back in the mid 1990s when Viz put out a Galaxy Express 999 sequel.  You can only imagine everyone's surprise then when Kodansha announced the subject of today's review.  Matsumoto fans know it well, but it doesn't quite have the brand-name recognition of something like Captain Harlock or Galaxy Express 999.  Was there room in today's manga market for an old science-fiction manga like this or would it just come off as a strange artifact of a distant time?

QUEEN EMERALDAS (Kuin Emerarudasu), by Leiji Matsumoto.  First published in 1978 and first published in North America in 2016.


Across the galaxy, the name of Queen Emeraldas is one that is spoken in both admiration and awe.  She is a solitary figure, soaring her way across the stars on her own personal quest.  A determined young boy named Hiroshi Umino crosses her path one day, and from that moment he is determined to find his way back to space under his own power to find her.  What he doesn't know is that Emeraldas is never too far away, smoothing his path with her mind and her deadly gravitysaber.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Despite their rather sparse release calendar, this year was probably the most active Dark Horse has been in a while.  In addition to their ongoing CLAMP releases and rescuing Planetes, they also put out a few new titles as well.  We already covered the most high profile one, I Am A Hero, but for my money this one was even better.

WANDERING ISLAND (Bokuen Erekitetou), by Kenji Tsuruta.  First published in 2010 and first published in North America in 2016.


Mikura Amelia is a free spirit who spends her days helping her grandfather with his delivery service, flying back and forth amongst some of Japan's most distant islands.  After her grandfather dies, Mikura discovers his journals.  Within them is information on Electric Island, a floating island that's known amongst the old folks but only as a legend.  After a chance encounter, Mikura makes her grandfather's quest her own.  She'll use all the knowledge and skills she has at hand to discover Electric Island or die trying.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


One pleasant trend in manga this year was the marked increase in stories about women.  Not girls, mind you - there are a never-ending stream of stories about high school girls.  No, I mean actual grown-ass women doing things, and that includes geeky things like cosplay.

COMPLEX AGE (Konpurekksu Eiji), by Yui Sakuma.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


Most of the time, Nagisa is just another 26 year old office worker, but her true love is cosplay.  In particular, she loves dressing up as the main character from her favorite magical girl show and she demands no less than perfection.  That's why she'll stay up all night working on costumes, making plans with her fellow cosplayers, and scanning the internet for commentary from others on her cosplay.  So how will Nagisa cope when a new girl joins the group who is everything that Nagisa wants to be?

Monday, December 12, 2016


Of course, we can't ignore the world of yuri manga, even if we didn't get a lot of new ones this year.  That will NOT be the case next year.  Indeed, if all the licenses announced this year are any indication, next year's countdown will be blessed with a bounty of yuri titles to explore.  This title was easily the most distinctive yuri title we got, even if it's not entirely for good reasons.

NTR - NETSUZOU TRAP (NTR Netsuzou Torappu or Fake Trap), by Kodama Naoko.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


Yuma and Hotaru have been friends forever, but ever since Yuma got a boyfriend Hotaru has been....kind of weird.  Yuma's not used to romance and is uncomfortable with the possibility of something more physical.  Naturally, she turns to her best friend for advice.  Hotaru's response is to then force Yuma to 'practice' by making out with her and then some.  It seems that Hotaru's feelings run stronger than mere friendship, but they also run far darker than Yuma could ever conceive.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


In comparison, SuBLime just kept chugging on as steadily as ever.  Their biggest license wasn't even a new one, but one that was instead poached from the competition.  Still, they put out a few other new titles, including this one.

TEN COUNT (10 Kounto), by Rihito Takarai.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016.


From the outside, Shirotani looks every part the poised and polished executive assistant.  His well-groomed manner hides a terrible secret: Shirotani has OCD.  He's so paranoid about germs and general dirtiness that he avoids contact, disinfects everything he touches, and wears gloves to hide the hands he washes until they are raw and cracked.  When his boss gets into an accident, he meets up with Kurose, a therapist who recognizes Shirotani's condition right away.  Together the two start a plan to help Shirotani cope with his condition, but what happens when the two start to feel something stronger than a patient/therapist bond?

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Of course, I can't let this year's holiday roundup pass without covering some BL titles. That being said, I didn't want to include a DMP title originally.  After all, I kind of made a big deal out of rejecting their company this summer.  Unfortunately, I contributed to a couple of their Kickstarters before that point and found myself with a handful of BL books that I needed to review if I was going to get my money's worth out of them.  It's not like they released anything else otherwise this year.

DON'T RUB YOURSELF AGAINST MY ASS!! (Ore no Ushiro ni Tatsu na!!), by Sakira.  First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2016.


Jin used to be a policeman, but he has fallen on hard times.  These days, he's forced to work as a private investigator to get by, and even then he's struggling to stay afloat.  Thus, he's all too eager to take Anri's offer for a case with a cheating girlfriend.  Quickly enough, he learns that there's a lot more going on in this case than meets the eye.  It seems that Anri has connections to Jin's past and that Anri is determined to make Jin understand with his body.

Friday, December 9, 2016


I wouldn't have planned on covering this one if not for the fact that it too will be getting an anime adaptation this winter, and by Kyoto Animation no less.  It seemed an odd choice of a property for them, so I wanted to find out myself if this was another Nichijou in the making or just another Phantom World?

As with most things, the truth is a bit more complicated.

MISS KOBAYASHI'S DRAGON MAID (Kobayashi-san Chi no Meidoragon), by coolkyoushinja.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016.


Kobayashi wasn't looking for a roommate.  She just happened to drunkenly wander her way up a mountain and bond with an equally distressed dragon named Tohru.  How was she to know that Tohru would end up at her door the next day in human form, offering to be Kobayashi's maid, protector, and one true love.  Now on top of her everyday job, she has to help Tohru acclimate to the human world.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


The only thing more common these days than manga licenses being spurred by animated adaptations are manga based on light novels.  Today's review allows me to cover both, along with a couple of all-too-common subgenres: the "otaku is transported to fantasy world" and "otaku trapped within a video game."

OVERLORD (Obarodo), adapted from the light novel by Kugane Maruyama & character designs by so-bin, with scenario by Satoshi Oshio and art by Hugin Miyama.  First published in 2014 and first published in North America in 2016.


In the world of virtual reality MMOs, none are more renowned than Yggdrasil.  Sadly, the game's servers are being shut down after 12 years, and only dedicated players like Momonga are still around.  He stays until the very end as tribute to the dungeon he built and the friends he made, but when the timer end, he finds himself transported into the world of the game inside the hulking skeletal avatar he created for himself.  Now Momonga has a new goal: to rebuild his army and find anyone else who might be trapped in the game.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


It almost goes without saying that a lot of new manga licenses this year were brought about because they got an anime adaptation.  Of course, just because a manga becomes an anime doesn't mean that the source material was any good to begin with.

OK, this one is sort of cheating as this series doesn't start until the winter season starts, but it's close enough.

MASAMUNE-KUN'S REVENGE (Masamune-kun no Ribenji), written by Hazuki Takeoka with art by TIV.  First published in 2012 and first published in North America in 2016.


Makabe Masamune was a porky little rich kid whose heart was broken by the cruel taunts of one Adagaki Aki.  Since then, Masamune has desired nothing but revenge.  He has transformed his body, his lifestyle, even his name with one goal in mind: find Aki, make her fall in love with him, and humiliate her just as badly as she did before.  Masamune's plan hits a snag when he discovers something surprising: he's not the only one who wants Aki put in her place.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


There was actually quite a diverse selection of horror manga this year, and not all of it is gruesome.  Sometimes it was moody and gothic, much like today's selection.

THE BLACK MUSEUM: THE GHOST AND THE LADY (Kuro Hakubutsukan: Ghost and Lady), by Kazuhiro Fujita.  First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2016.


One night, a theater-loving ghost known as The Man In Grey tells his story to the curator of Scotland Yard's Black Museum.  In life, he was a duelist plagued by despair.  In death, he found himself bound to a young woman called Florence Nightingale.  He will defend her from vengeful spirits born from mankind's worst emotions, but if she should ever fall into the deepest possible despair he will kill her. Their bond allows her to survive family opposition, the horrors of Victorian hospitals, and even the perils of the Crimean War, but her greatest threat yet may be another spectre from The Man In Grey's own past.

Monday, December 5, 2016


Like Vinland Saga before it, today's review was a darling of the scanlation scene long believed to be unlicenseable due to its content.  Thankfully for us, Seven Seas took on the challenge and the result is nothing quite like we've seen previously in horror manga.

FRANKEN FRAN (Furanken Furan), by Katsuhisa Kigitsu.  First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2016.


Fran Madaraki is a patient young woman.  She's spent years waiting for her father and creator, the notorious Dr. Madaraki, to return.  In the mean time, she spends her time helping others through surgery in the name of saving lives.  Unfortunately, Fran's got a rather peculiar notion of what saving life means, and she's more than willing to use all sorts of horrific methods to get results.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Of course, I can't finish talking about comedy manga without talking about a 4-koma.  The problem is that there weren't many new ones to talk about and what was there wasn't all that good to begin with.

SERVANT X SERVICE (Sabanto X Sabisu), by Karino Takatsu.  First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2016.


In an ordinary town, within an ordinary public service office lies a Health and Welfare Department that is anything but ordinary.  The staff not only have to deal with paperwork, chatty patrons, and slacking on the job, but also with ridiculously long names, angry teenagers, interoffice romance, and a supervisor who works from home via a stuffed rabbit. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016


This year didn't bring quite the onslaught of comedy manga as last year did, but it did bring the unexpected license of what was already becoming something of a cult classic in anime circles.  With its animated counterpart on the horizon, now's as good of a time as any to check out its source material.

NICHIJOU: MY ORDINARY LIFE (Nichijou), by Keiichi Arawi.  First published in 2006, and first published in North America in 2016.


Yuuko, Mio, Mai and Nino would be ordinary girls leading ordinary lives...were it not for the comic misunderstandings, forgotten assignments, random falling objects, life-or-death battles with stray deer, and a mad scientist who is also a little girl who like to keep hiding new features and spare food in her robot.

Friday, December 2, 2016


Folks will remember that two years ago I reviewed the first volume of Barakamon and really liked it.  Spoilers: the series is still charming as hell and it's still one of my ongoing favorites.  So naturally when I heard that Yen Press was releasing a prequel series, I had to check it out.

HANDA-KUN, by Satsuki Yoshino.  First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2016. 


Long before Sei Handa went to Goto Island, he was a calligraphy-obsessed high school student.  His classmates think that Sei's aloof air makes him a cool guy.  What they don't know is that he's actually incredibly negative and insecure and perceives all the attention as mockery and gossip.  Sei is so oblivious to the truth that he manages to stumble his way through love confessions, school council elections, popular guys and class punks.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Let's start this month off with a manga about a subject manner that will be all too familiar to many of us: dealing with infectious diseases!

What?  That's a perfectly normal subject for a comic, what are you talking about?  Read on, it'll make sense soon enough.

CELLS AT WORK! (Hataraku Saibo!), by Akane Shimizu.  First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2016.


It's just another day inside the body for Red Blood Cell AE 3803.  She travels back and forth within the body delivering nutrients, trying her best to not get lost again, and forced to deal with everything from an invasion of pneumonia bacteria to hay fever to a scraped knee.  Luckily, she can rely on a particularly grim white blood cell for protection, along with all the other defensive cells within the body.