During the manga boom of the 2000s, it seems that publishers would put out anything. We got a lot of garbage titles out of it, but we also occasionally got a diamond in the rough like today's title.
CHIKYU MISAKI, by Yuji Iwahara. First published in 2000 and first published in North America in 2005.
After the death of her grandfather, Misaki Makishima finds her the new owner of a huge old house on the shores of Hohoro Lake. Just as she starts to get used to small town life, she discovers that the rumors of a lake monster are true. Not only that, but the monster is tiny, adorable, and turns into a little boy with a kiss. Now Misaki and her friends have to find a way to protect this creature, since he's now the only thing standing between a thief and the suitcases of gold he lost in the lake after a plane crash.
Chikyu Misaki is an odd combination of ideas for a manga, but they're ideas that really start to come together as the volume goes on. In some ways, this feels more like the plot of a family film, with a lot of time spent on Misaki comically trying to hide the newly dubbed "Neo" and house train him. I do wish that this didn't involve quite so much nudity and bathroom nonsense, but I guess that's just how it goes.
To Iwahara's credit, he segues from the cutesy stuff to the more serious story elements pretty seamlessly. All the various plot threads are given plenty of care: Misaki's Harry and the Hendersons-style hijinks with Neo, the romantic subplot between Misaki's dad and the family friend/executor Aoi, a kidnapped rich girl with a secret to hide, and the kidnappers/thieves themselves. At the center of it all is the mystery of Neo himself. Why is he able to transform? How long has he been living in the lake? Are there any others like him? Why did he fixate on Misaki? All of these threads are woven together closer and closer as the story moves forward into a tale that's captivating but never in a way that talks down to its audience.
Iwahara's art is just as skillful and well-balanced as his storytelling. The characters are very cute and simple, but the adults look like...well, adults instead of weird, overgrown children. Neo's adorable too, even the translation can never settle on the proper terminology for him right. He's a plesiosaur, damn it, not a pterodactyl or a brontosaur! Regardless, Iwahara gets a lot out of his little fuzzy body, narrow face, and energetic body language.
The backgrounds are also quite beautiful, with lots of detail and good use of light and shadow for dramatic effect. You'd think that would clash with the more cartoony character designs or that they wouldn't fit in the small panels, but Iwahara melds it all in perfect visual harmony.
This series was published in CMX. This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available. All 3 volumes were released and are currently out of print.