Themed List: February–Romance Comics
I love making lists of books that seem to go together, whether it’s for a bookmark to hand out or to help with planning a display. So I thought I’d poll the collective wisdom of everyone here at Good Comics for Kids and indulge my book nerd/list maker side at the same time. Each month we’ll have a different theme and we’ll all contribute comic titles that fit that theme. But we will need help coming up with good themes, so if you’ve got a theme you’d like a list for tell us about it in the comments!
Since February is the month of love, we’ll start off with an easy theme: romance. What are your favorite romance graphic novels and/or your favorite romance in comics?
Snow: I’m a sucker for romance novels–which is probably why I read way too many shojo manga titles–so I’ve got several favorite romance graphic novels. A long-time favorite manga of mine is The Wallflower by Tomoko Hayakawa (Del Rey Manga). It’s about a group of handsome boys given the task of turning a misfit girl into a "lady." But what I enjoy about it is that the boys come to appreciate Sunako for who she really is: tough, weird, smart, strong. It’s pretty obvious that she and one of the boys, Kyohei, are going to end up with each other because they are perfectly matched–and they can kick each other’s butts! Not everyone likes this series, but it makes me laugh every time. I also still have a soft spot for Chocolat by JiSang Shin and Geo (Yen Press), even though it is on hiatus indefinitely in Korea. This story about a girl who joins a boy band’s fan club for all the wrong reasons is funny and romantic. Shin and Geo always throw in love triangles, so I’m still not sure who the main character is destined to fall for.
One of the first manga I ever really appreciated was Mars by Fuyumi Soryo (TokyoPop). It’s over-the-top dramatic, but the romance between bad boy Rei and quiet good girl Kira is so sweet! And my current romance comic love is V.B. Rose by Banri Hidaka (TokyoPop) which is ending this month in Japan. It is about Ageha, a crafty girl who gets the opportunity to work in a custom wedding dress shop…which happens to be run by two handsome young men. Romance and crafts, that’s my kinda story!
As for my favorite romance in comics, it’s a toss-up between two. I am a sucker for the romance between Kenshin and Kaoru in Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki (VIZ), but I am also a big supporter of Batman and Catwoman. My favorite example of that has to be in Batman: Hush (written by Jeph Loeb, pencils by Jim Lee, DC Comics). There is a page in Hush where Batman is imagining Catwoman’s death. He’s holding her body in an alleyway haunted by images of the Joker. It gives me chills every time!
Esther: Romance isn’t my "thing," but I fell in love with Translucent v. 1-3 by Kazuhir Okamoto (Dark Horse). The central theme isn’t a love story, but about a girl who’s has a disease which turns her invisible. But there’s one boy, Mamuro, who has a crush on her. Despite her odd disease, he stands by her. I also joyed Hanami: An International Love Story by Sung-Jae Park (Dark Horse). I only read the first volume –there are 4 volumes now — (my students like this series). It’s about a young boy who finally has the courage to ask his crush out only to discover his family is moving. He’s trying to keep his girl in his old town while meeting someone he likes in his new home. A really "soapy" love triangle.
Then there’s Miki Falls by Mark Crilley (HarperTeen). It’s the quintessential forbidden love story, told in four parts, each volume representing another season. Miki is taken by the new transfer student Hiro, but he remains aloof. But Miki doesn’t give up and his secret is revealed. But his secret makes it impossible to have a lasting romance.
Scott: I can think of many romantic adult comics that I enjoy but since I’m not a huge reader of teen manga, where I know there’s a LOT of romance and wild crushes, I had a hard time scanning my bookshelves to add to this list. One series I have read though is Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa (TokyoPop). Definitely for older teens, this 5-book series depicts some interesting romantic dynamics and explores the various shades of alternate sexuality. On the flip side, one of the most innocent and adorable romances in children’s graphic novels has to be the crush between Fone Bone and Thorn in Jeff Smith’s Bone (Scholatic/Graphix). Readers will get a kick out of Fone Bone’s romantic anxiety when he tries to compose a poem for her. It’s very cute.
Lori: I wasn’t really big on romances until I started reading Shojo Beat. I tend to gravitate toward titles where the romantic leads are more snarky and gushy, like Backstage Prince by Kanoko Sakurakoji, Beauty Pop Kiyoko Arai and Wild Ones by Kiyo Fujiwara (all from VIZ). But lately, I’ve been finding titles with a sweet romantic feel to them more appealing. Monkey High! by Shouko Akira (VIZ) is about an unlikely pairing of Haruna, the daughter of a politician who had to transfer schools because of a scandal her father was in, and Masaru, aka Macharu, who is a bit on the goofy side. As unlikely as it seems, the pesimistic Haruna is won over by Masaru’s genuinely sweet nature, and they do make a cute couple. Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You by Karuho Shiina (VIZ) is about the awakening of Sawako to the new experiences of friendship and love. Her innocence is cute without being annoying, and the patience that Kazehaya, her love interest, shows in drawing her out is refreshing. They also make a really cute couple. Younger readers can get a test of this kind of romance with Tale of an Unknown Country by Natsuna Kawase and The Lizard Prince by Asuka Izumi both from CMX, and both with a little snarky from the female leads, and lots of sweet romance.
Kate: I’m with you, Esther and Lori: I’m not big on romance as a genre. But I can think of several tween- and teen-friendly series that I’d recommend enthusiastically. For younger readers, I’d suggest Sorcerers and Secretaries by Amy Kim Ganter (Tokyopop), a romantic comedy about a college student who’s so absorbed in writing fantasy novels that she doesn’t realize that her hunky friend has a crush on her. The story is a bit too tidy for its own good, but Ganter makes the premise work with appealing leads and strong visuals; her artwork feels like a synthesis of Eastern and Western styles, not a slavish imitation of shojo manga conventions. I‘d also recommend Rock and Roll Love (Hyperion) by Misako Rocks!, an autobiographical comic about a Japanese exchange student who falls for a cute, scruffy singer. Though the art is a little clumsy, the story is heartfelt and true to life; the heroine learns some important lessons about self-respect in the process of sorting out her feelings for her guitar-strumming friend.
For older teens, I give Love*Com by Aya Nakahara (VIZ) a hearty endorsement. The premise will resonate with many early bloomers, I think: Risa, the tallest girl in her class, frequently spars with Otani, the shortest boy. Though their classmates think they’d make a great couple — Risa and Otani share a wicked sense of humor and common interests in rap music and video games — Risa and Otani are reluctant to date, only overcoming their hesitation after forging a close friendship. Love*Com has its share of drama, but the story never gets too mushy, thanks to a generous helping of slapstick humor. As someone who towered over her first boyfriends, I can say with authority that Love*Com gets a lot of important details just right.
Readers who like their romance with more suds than yuks might appreciate Goong: The Royal Palace by Park SoHee (Yen Press), a soap opera about a commoner who’s engaged to the crown prince of a united Korea, or Bride of the Water God by Mi-Kyung Yun (Dark Horse), a fairy tale about a young woman who falls in love with the god to whom she was supposed to be sacrificed. (Hey, it can happen.) Both series have gorgeous, ornate artwork and beautiful characters — essential ingredients in any good comic-book romance — as well as complex plot lines involving murder, unrequited love, and deathbed promises. Another manhwa I’d add to my must-read list is Narration of Love at 17 by Kyungok Kang (NETCOMICS), a short series exploring the difficulties of male-female friendship. The story occasionally verges on melodrama — there’s a subplot involving idols, for heaven’s sake — but wins points for honoring the sincerity and intensity of its characters’ romantic feelings.
Brigid: I like my romances with a bit of grit to them, so I really enjoyed two of the Minx graphic novels from their final season. Burnout by Rebecca Donner and Inaki Miranda is the story of a girl’s relationship with a guy who is dabbling in eco-terrorism; it presents a number of moral dilemmas and does not tie them up neatly at the end, which I liked. And Token by Alisa Kwitney and Joelle Jones is another bad-boy romance, this one set in Miami in the 1980s, an interesting choice in itself. Here, the heroine is going through some teenage rebellion, exacerbated by her father’s new girlfriend, she gets involved with a Spanish boy who is a bit of a ne’er-do-well. It’s a good depiction of the emotional seesaw of teen romance, the way it is both exciting and uncertain at the same time, and pulls you away from your family and everything familiar. For a sweeter, lighter story, I really like Venus Capriccio by Mai Nishikawa (CMX), which features a girly boy and a boyish girl whose friendship blossoms into romance. What I like about it is that each of them really appreciates the other for what they are, rather than trying to conform to their peers’ expectations. This is the exact opposite of the hosts of shoujo manga that use blackmail as a plot device, and I wish there were more like it.
Robin: I’ve always been a bit of a geek, and I’ve always had a fondness for the more oddball romances out there. I think one of my favorite romantic themed comics is the second volume of Oni‘s Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero, written by Jen Van Meter and illustrated by Bryan Lee O’Malley (before he rocketed to fame with Scott Pilgrim). The youngest daughter of the Hopeless-Savage punk-rock clan, Zero, experiences first crush on a mod boy named Ginger, but she’s having trouble figuring out how love works. The fact that her entire family is now being filmed constantly as part of a reality show does not help matters. Her older siblings’ various takes on love intersperse the book, and the madcap, rock n’ roll energy of the whole series lightens the moments of angst and heartbreak. Another great indie title that is the comic equivalent of a smart, sassy romantic comedy is Andi Watson’s Slow News Day, happily back in print from SLG. A charming throw back to the days of screwball comedies, an American reporter ends up working at a small-town English newspaper and clashes both with the local culture and a fellow reporter. Of course, hot stories are chased, sparks fly, and romance is in the air.
Manga is what made me have to admit, as an adult, that I did in fact enjoy swoony romances. I like a slow build, engaging characters, and a satisfying romantic clinch at the finish. Like Snow, I was initiated into manga romance via Mars, one of the more melodramatically satisfying romances out there. Over the years I’ve been totally won over by W Juliet by Emura, Hana Kimi by Hisaya Nakajo, Love*Com, High School Debut by Kazuna Kawahara, and Sand Chronicles by Hisako Ashihara (all from VIZ). I second Scott’s vote for Paradise Kiss. It’s not a fairy tale by any stretch but it’s resonant and as real as a manga about fashion design students can be.
On the boys love side, which can admittedly get even more ridiculous, I’ve found a few that are just as swoon-worthy. Only the Ring Finger Knows by Satoru Kannagi and Hotaru Odagiri (DMP/June) is still a top favorite among the teens I serve, and this gentle tale is a perfect fit for a teen collection. The plot may be contrived: the fad of couples in high school wearing matching rings gives one student a cause for consternation when he realizes another guy at school has a ring that matches his own. The central romance, rising above the set up, is sweet and bumbling with just enough misunderstandings to make the resolution gratifying. I go back to Same Cell Organism by Sumomo Yumeka (DMP/June) for delicate, tension-filled art and longing glances. You feel this book by looking more than reading a step-by-step plot. The art works its magic on me every time.
So Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone and happy reading, too! And rememberto tell us what themed lists you’d like to see in the future.
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About Snow Wildsmith
Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.
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