Swan by Kyoko Ariyoshi
I know nothing of ballet, in fact I have zero ability to dance but I am consistently drawn to ballet manga. There is something about how it looks on the page that makes it very beautiful and very dramatic both of which Sawn has in spades. Japan’s ballet is a baby compared to its history in the rest of the world, but there is plenty of young (and old) talent. Great dancers from all over the nation are invited to compete, the top chosen will receive private lessons from famous dancers all over the world. This is done in hopes to expand Japan’s ballet reputation internationally. We follow Masumi, who is unexpectedly invited to the school for private lessons after being eliminated early on in the competition. She has had poor training but her staunch supporter, famous Russian dancer Alexei Sergeiev, sees great potential in her. Masumi is uneasy and has self-doubt but she is determined. The many people swirling around her add wonderful contrasts to her style and outlook as well as creating tension and of course sowing the seeds of love, friendship, and competition. All of the rivalries so far have been fair, on the level, but fierce and make each push themselves harder than before. However, they have not leaped into sabotage or foul play which is a easy direction to take such things especially in a series that is as highly melodramatic as Swan is. It is rather amazing how much emotion, suspense, and progress Ariyoshi Kyoko packs into each volume. Each character is given the ability to improve and grow which only seems to get more dramatic as the series goes on. Swan a beautifully rendered story with some of the most dynamic page layouts I’ve ever encountered. You will also learn tons about ballet. Swan is a highlight of shojo manga that shouldn’t be missed and that I can’t personally put down.
Hyakko by Haruaki Katou
I believe that most of anime and manga fandom is always looking for the next Azumanga Daioh. While I will not be so bold as to say that Hyakko is just that, I will claim that it will hold you over until you find the next Azumanga Daioh. It is as if you made Tomo the main star of Azumanga making sure to keep her energy at 11 but turn down her skill at getting under your skin to a more reasonable 5. Beyond that, you get what made Azumanga great: releatable high school characters with all their quirks exaggerated just enough for comedic effect; a focus on relationships to create a natural flow of comedy; but unlike Azumanga there are actually male students who are regular characters. Shocking, I know.
Torako Kageyama is a hurricane at Kamizono Academy, a co-ed private high school. She is an energetic spitfire that is constantly getting involved with other people’s lives. She has no great altruistic streak but instead just wants to shake things up. By hook or by crook she has three other friends who usually get involved with her shenanigans as well. Suzume Saotome is Torako’s very peculiar childhood friend, Ayumi Nonomura is a mousy but cute girl, and Tatsuki Iizuka is a straight-laced lady who is often strong armed into participating. Fortunately for Torako there are many a strange student at Kamizono Academy so she is rarely at a want of what to do next.
Hyakko is an excellent comedy manga set in high school. The main appeal is the characters and how they relate to each other. Torako’s brash nature is amusing and I especially like her antagonistic friendship with Tatsuki. We have a wide variety of odd students from the bisexual class president, a child prodigy, a delinquent, and a man with a crush on Torako who play off each other very well. There is no overall plot it’s just a different day in the life of Torako and her classmates. It’s a fun little series that will not change the way you look at life or manga but it will make you laugh and that is all it needs to do.