December has passed and we’re now in January. Still in the Winter months I wanted to share some gems and usual manga picks that caught me by surprise leading into the new year. From a sprawling, lengthy series that finally came to an end with plenty of characters all getting some time to shine to some indie picks ranging from Shojo to Seninen, I was busy reading, and this is a perfect time for a seasonal check in to spotlight a few gems on my physical and digital bookshelves for anyone looking for some new manga to read! Romance, memoir, alternative history–you name it! I got it!
Ôoku: The Inner Chambers
Creator: Fumi Yoshinaga
Age Rating: 18+
Available Formats: Digital & Physical
Ongoing or Completed: Completed. (19 Volumes)
Localization Team: Akemi Wegmüller (Translation & Adaptation) Monalisa De Asis (Touch up Art & Lettering)
First and foremost, I have to give Ōoku: The Inner Chamber and mangka Fumi Yoshinaga their due. Viz started publishing the English translated version back in 2009 and steadily over the years kept releasing volume after volume until its final volume back in 2022. I became acquainted with the series back in 2019 when a friend recommended it. I remember I was struggling with my final semester in college and sat down reading the first volume and was stunned. A few more volumes followed and then…came the pandemic and the virus that changed the world as we know it. I had half the series in print and then wanted to reread it from the beginning, and I’m glad I did. The world changed and these women were all apart of a lineage to survive to see the next day, to see their country through.
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is a series that follows an alternate history of early Edo period (the early 1600’s to the mid 1800’s) Japan in which a disease kills most of the male population. This leads to a matriarchal society in which the Ōoku becomes a harem of men, instead of women serving the now female shogun. What makes this series a masterpiece is the storytelling–spanning actual generations of the women who served as the ruling heads of the government and all those who served them, adored them, plotted against them, and those who were survived by them. This manga series defines love in so many facets: love of country, love of self, familial love, love for comrades, passionate love one has for a lover and so much more. Seeing how that love translated for characters in the inner chambers and beyond made for a masterpiece years in the making that I hold some near and dear to my heart.
I really took my time savoring the series when I finally got the last few volumes in my hands, especially the very last volume of Ōoku: The Inner Chambers. I literally went through the stages of grieving and held off finishing the last volume for over month because I just wasn’t ready for this story that I’ve spent years with to end. But alas, I moved forward and read on. To my great satisfaction, the final chapter proves closure with a Japan united and moving into a new age. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers ends on a note that doesn’t demean all the women who ruled Japan and moved the country forward in the best way that they could. Familiar faces that survived the age of the female shogun lend an ear to those wanting the best for themselves and their native land, and the final pages held me up my heart strings as I cried quietly and I read the final words bubbles spoken with care.
I think of the great friendships in this series like the one between shogun Iseada and her senior councilor Abe Masahiro that cemented one of my favorite examples of female companionship in all of manga. I think of the once in a lifetime loves that bring new purpose and heal old wounds like the ones that shogun Iemitsu found too late in her reign. I think of the final shogun of this era and her vision to see a Japan standing strong changed with capable persons regardless of gender and class doing great work–too ambitious for her time.
I keep coming back to Ōoku: The Inner Chambers as a whole for the incredible stories that inter weaved with each other touching upon heart break, obligation, chaos, sincerity, and happiness of a life worth living and I am overcome with emotion. I don’t think I am ever to be the same after reading Ōoku: This certainly has been one of the most impactful manga series that I’ve read not just in the last ten years but in all my years of reading manga from Japan. If you haven’t read this monumental series, I hope you’ll take the plunge on my my first winter manga recommendation as Yoshinaga’s work here deserves more awards and accolades than the world has to offer for such an important part of her career.
Recommended for: Folks who love subversive alternate history stories, fans of the incredible storyteller that is Fumi Yoshinaga, Lovers of historical settings in manga and period pieces
SUZUKI JUST WANTS A QUIET LIFE
Creator: HIROHISA SATO
Publisher: Coamix, Inc
Age Rating: 18+
Available Formats: Digital
Ongoing or Completed: Completed (3 Volumes)
I love my anime and manga with assassins and children from the stellar Spy x Family to the newer favorite of mine, Liquor & Cigarettes. Taking on a dark tone, Suzuki Just Wants A Quiet Life sets its story in modern Japan with the young Jinsuke living quietly with his mom. With his beloved father killed for witnessing a crime scene, he has to live in secrecy with his mother. Neither mother or son can seem to make a good impression on their grumpy and antisocial neighbor Suzuki next door, who is a young woman living by herself.
The family’s pursuers catch up with them and leave Jinsuke’s mother for dead. Their mysterious neighbor Suzuki hears the gunshot, saves Jinsuke, and gets dragged into a chain of events that leave the boy in her care. In just a few chapters, we see the struggle of this Suzuki–contract killer with no real attachments to others start to form a relationship with the ten-year-old boy who seemingly just lost his mom. It is a thrilling, heartbreaking, and at times heartwarming combo that I wasn’t expecting and needed more of. Jinsuke is transitioning to life again on the run with this strange young woman who isn’t his mom and in turn she’s realizing the benefits of letting someone in.
Being able to depend on someone when you’re sick, being able to cook someone a meal because you can, and having another person in your place to liven up a home is starting to make all the difference to the once cold assassin. In a world where it is understood that you can trust virtually no one, seeing the budding new family unit forming is the winter manga pick on this list that took me by surprise the most. I’m only one volume in so time will tell if this short manga series will successfully give me the satisfaction of closure of a good story told of redefining what humanity looks like for these two.
I suppose I’m also game to read on to see if reconnecting with said humanity lowers Suzuki’s killer instinct. I’m also very curious about Jinsuke and his goal of revenge and who else is after him in this expanding circle of people who want him dead. All in all, a perfect winter manga pick for the Seninen genre for me that so far is doing well to balance out the darkness and light of existing with others, in a flawed, flawed world.
Recommended for: Folks who enjoy stories with unusual pairings, lovers of manga that has a psychological lean, Seninen lovers
Natsume & Natsume
Creator: Shunsuke Sorato
Age Rating: 12+
Available Formats: Digital
Ongoing or Completed: Ongoing
Localization Team: M. Skeels (Translator), Chana Conley (Letterer) Ken Urata (Proofreader), Glen Isip (Cover Design), (Original Cover Design) Kyufa Cho + Yasuhisa Kawatani (kawatanidesign)
Natsume Shiranui has the face of a villain. His creepy grin freaks everybody out. IT IS SCARY. But secretly he wants to be a hero like his beloved childhood friend — the kind, brave, and beautiful Natsume Minazuki. Shunsuke Sorato’s Natsume to Natsume is very funny and a bit wholesome, too. By the same creator of The Girl with the Sanpaku Eyes, here’s another manga with a misunderstood character that’s stuck between coming of age and rom-com. In this newer offering on the Azuki app, gentle-hearted Natsume-kun wants nothing else but to be seen as great in the eyes of the one he holds dear…while also attempting to make friends and gain the trust of those around him.
Natsume to Natsume hilariously deals with misconceptions, self-doubt and standing up for others when you know they’re golden but misunderstood. I must say that I love when a few chapters drop so I can go and see what variety of expressions get dropped in the ongoing story: scary faces, scared faces, and everything in between. Plot wise, it moves at a crawl, but it’s such a fun winter manga pick to read! For lovers of The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting, peep the special collab that’s short but too good to pass up!
Recommended for: Folks who love their Shojo with a twist, readers of unique character designs and comedic situations, fans of slice of life and school life genres
I’m a Terminal Cancer Patient, but I’m Fine
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Age Rating: 15+
Available Formats: Digital & Physical
Ongoing or Completed: Completed
Localization Team: Beni Axia Conrad (Translator), Brendon Hull (Letterer), Carly Smith (Adaptation), Allyson Lieberman, MD, PhD(Medical Reader for English Version)
Hilnama, an erotic manga artist, starts feeling off one day, after much confusion and by a stroke of luck she is diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. At 38 years old, she decides to start treatment with a positive outlook on life despite the terminal diagnosis. When faced with the struggles and trials of grueling procedures, uncomfortable side effects from chemo drugs, and wondering how to navigate this with a complicated family situation, she starts uploading chapters of her journey online (she’s a manga creator, after all) in I’m a Terminal Cancer Patient, But I’m Fine
Hilnama’s work here really stunned me with the vulnerability she showed on the page with her journey of pushing forward while not knowing how long she had to live. From being descriptive enough with the medical jargon but never beating the readers over the head, I found each chapter easy to read even if emotionally I was clutching at my heartstrings. I loved how she went with humor each step of the way–like using a peach to illustrate a certain body part having procedures and going into surgery. I’m a Terminal Cancer Patient, But I’m Fine is the work of someone with cancer who decided to chronicle her days as a survivor with perseverance doing what she loved.
I think of the first chapter where the mangaka wrote that she hopes that her story “helps the people you love…your colleagues, your peers, anyone affected by this disease, and their families too..” I believe that the manga did that for me: gave me a template on how to be more mindful of what I say to someone diagnosed and or preparing to go through treatment. I have tips of what someone may need for a hospital stay or when they come home. I also have a much greater idea of Japan’s healthcare system in greater detail. But perhaps the greatest lesson that I’ve taken away is how to define what life means to you when you’re facing what many may consider impossible odds. The mangaka’s message included being able to face whatever days you have in front of you doing what you love in whatever capacity you can and be with those you love.
It is with a heavy heart that I have to add that I did find out that she passed away last December at home peacefully, as reported by her husband on twitter. While I am saddened, I am honored to have read this work, to have it placed on my bookshelf and written about it for you manga lovers. Hilnama lived long enough for her cancer to no longer be considered terminal and lived longer than many assumed she would, doctors included. She lived to finish the final chapter and even see the completed story published in print! She lived and was loved on by her fans and the people she loved the most. She lived and was able to impart a message in her memoir of living while you can because one day we all must die and that’s life. I’m a Terminal Cancer Patient, But I’m Fine is an body of work that you should read solely for the astounding energy put forth by this author who lived and lived as well as she could being who she was, a creator.
Recommended for: Lovers of memoirs in the manga genre, Fans of manga centering on health and wellness, Folks who want women centered manga
What manga is a must read on your book shelves this Winter? I’d love to know. Sound off in the comments or via our social media channels! See past Seasonal Book shelf spotlights here!
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