For the upcoming Hearts’ Day (along with the fact that this is a long-overdue request from my fellow otaku, Abbie), I have rounded up some of my favorite manga romance recommendations. Please note that this is a very, VERY biased list OTP-wise, so chances are you won’t agree with my list. Which is fine, but do expect that I shall fight for my ship to the death.
I tried to lessen the spoilers the best that I could, but I may have overlooked a few in the process. Please proceed at your own risk.
Part 1: Manga
This is my preferred medium for fangirling: no mushy “moe” sound effects, no colorful shoujo sparkles (they’re more tolerable in B&W), and the transition from scene buildup to doki-doki moment is more dramatic (e.g. small conversation boxes -> large, gorgeously drawn full-page scenes). Plus, the manga usually covers more ground than the anime adaptations, so I usually read the manga first. It helps me better understand the context I may miss while marathoning animes.
And so, without further ado, here’s my Top 10 Manga Romance Recs list, in no particular order. Chapter counts are as of this post’s writing.
1. Last Game by Amano Shinobu [51 chapters, Ongoing]
|He’s rich, he’s smart, girls gather around him all the time, and he has always gotten first place on his exams… well, until Kujou transferred in his primary school class. She was quiet, plain, and poor, yet not once has she failed at beating Yanagi, both in academics and sports! Yanagi has made it his life goal to defeat this girl Kujou, and ten years later, as they enter high school, he just might finally win! This is the story of their last game. (Source)|
Let’s get this out of the way: it’s a cliche story of childhood best friends wherein one party is dense and the other could only ambiguously express his feelings. But it’s so beautifully drawn, that I’m salivating at the thought of seeing the series animated. The series is classified as shoujo, despite being set in a college (which is a sanitized, ideal HS environment save for the occasional booze).
All of the characters are so likable, albeit one-note. Kujou is smart and devoted to her mom, while Yanagi is a-dork-able as a princely, down-to-earth, smart guy who has been patiently looking after his lady love for ten (!) years. The show’s humor, mostly at the expense of poor Yanagi, is chuckle-worthy.
As always, the most interesting part of the series is the dynamics of the love triangle. The obligatory male rival is so relatable and pragmatic, that it’s heartbreaking when.
While others may find the romance misunderstandings as draggy, I personally enjoyed reading the lengths that the mangaka will go to in order to maximize the sweet couple moments without ending up doing the Big Reveal. The couple moments are really sweet, and merit several re-reads. If you’re looking for a light, fluffy read, you’ll highly enjoy this series.
2. Koi Dano Ai Dano by Tsujita Ririko [Ongoing, 37 chapters]
|Aside from being transferred from school to school during her middle school years, Kanoko has entered Takara no Tani High School with Tsubaki. For some reason, she becomes the “Strategist” for Cultural Affairs Department in reference to the Three Kingdoms and ends up joining the Newspaper Club. (Source)|
I love stories that end up becoming more than what they seem to be. KDAD goes over and above its romance/comedy genre and offers a sharp, funny perspective of teenage / HS culture through the eyes of cynical, genre-savvy heroine Naedoko Kanako. A chapter typically starts with her observations as a practically invisible spectator, before her friend and love interest Tsubaki Haru interrupts her reverie and pushes the chapter back to its plot course.
This series also makes use of the “dense friend” trope, but unlike Yanagi from Last Game, Tsubaki can get too aggressive and stalkerish for my taste. Maybe it’s sexual frustration + puberty talking, but that turned me off him so much that I’m rooting for a doomed-to-fail shipping instead.KDAD has a lot of characters, but the author has the patience to weave a story for each person, so you will end up invested in the series not only because of the main pairing. Characters evolve from villainous to sympathetic, or vice-versa, as the plot further unravels. Romance-wise, you’ll really envy Naedoko because no matter who she ends up with, she can count on the fact that she will be completely, unconditionally loved by the said person.
There are lots of comedic scenes in the story (visual gags and witty observations alike), plus it’s fun to watch Naedoko turn all Lelouch Vi Britannia while pulling strings for her school club. She stoically accepts that she is not sexually attractive, and her tendency to either shun or misunderstand any romantic advances done towards her is a comedy goldmine.
This manga has a prequel covering Naedoko’s previous years, but it’s not mandatory reading for KDAD readers (unless you’re a Tsubaki/Naedoko fan, in which case you should read for a good ole origin story for your pairing).
3. Hakushaku to Yousei by Tani, Mizue (Story), Ayuko (Art) [16 chapters, Finished]
|The story is set in 19th century England and centers on a “fairy doctor” named Lydia. Her life takes a 180-degrees turn when she meets a legendary blue knight count named Edgar and his crew. He hires her as an adviser during his quest to obtain a treasured sword that was supposed to be handed down to him by his family.(Source)|
I am currently heads over heels in love with this series, so I sincerely apologize that I will not be able to objectively review this title. I MEAN, LOOK AT HOW FINE MY LORD EDGAR, EARL BLUE KNIGHT, LORD OF IBRAZEL IS!!!!!
(Pervy) Earl stories are a dime a dozen, but what makes Earl and Fairy different is how the author characterized Edgar as a broken man who must fake his way back to the top after a terrible ordeal, rather than just a shallow caricature of wealth in order to seduce an inexperienced maiden. Meanwhile, Lydia acts not only as his work partner, but also his friend and his source of hope. For someone born in the Victorian era and surrounded by many domineering men who wanted her “protected”, Lydia impressively holds her own, even continuing her endeavor to become a fairy doctor like her mom when it’s so much easier to rely on her indulgent earl.
The manga’s short run was barely able to touch the extent of Lydia and Edgar’s quirky, amazing relationship, but it does more justice than the anime adaptation could. The artwork is sophisticated and gorgeous, while the writing is tighter and more restrained. Do yourself a favor and seek out the light novel summaries after finishing the manga. The anime is an unsatisfactory yardstick for how awesome this title is.
4. Card Captor Sakura by CLAMP [50 chapters, Finished]
|One day, Sakura Kinomoto accidentally opened a book containing dozens of magical cards called Clow Cards– HECK, this doesn’t need a summary! Everyone and their grandmas knew this series like the back of their hands!|
This is a popular, well-loved shoujo series legend, even 20 years after it first premiered, and for so many reasons: exquisite character designs, colorful characters, catchy soundtracks, and of course, the love stor(ies). Who wouldn’t gush over how Li Syaoran slowly falls for his supposed rival Kinomoto Sakura’s charm? Who didn’t giggle when Eriol teased poor jealous Li? Who would forget Daidouji Tomoyo’s most heartbreaking line?
The strength of the series lies in its theme of pure, unadulterated love. It broke through the conventional barriers of age, sex, and difference of social status when it narrated its love stories. The result is one of the sweetest, most enduring shoujo manga titles of all time.
5. Skip Beat by Nakamura, Yoshiki [229 chapters, Ongoing]
|Kyoko Mogami followed her true love Sho to Tokyo to support him while he made it big as an idol. But he’s casting her out now that he’s famous enough! Kyoko won’t suffer in silence—she’s going to get her sweet revenge by beating Sho in show biz!
Kyoko’s broken heart and creepy rage keeps her from getting into her talent agency of choice. The eccentric president of the agency decides to give her a second chance, but it requires her to wear a bright pink uniform, put up with spoiled stars, and try to live up to the name of her new position—The Love Me Section! Can Kyoko stand the indignity long enough to find her vengeance? (Source)
Who hasn’t dreamed of a perfect vengeance story against everyone who has ever wronged us? That’s, like, StoryWriting 101 for us Pinoys! But what makes Skip Beat a great manga (in general, and not just as a shoujo genre) is it shows the heroine struggling, learning, and adapting to changes in her life, rather than the timeskips that lazy writers prefer.
Kyoko is awesome, whether she’s communicating with her “dark spirits”, confronting her former beau, Sho (who I still kinda ship her with #SorryNotSorry), or dealing with deliciously uncomfortable UST with Ren.
6. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun by Tsubaki, Izumi [72 chapters, Ongoing]
|Sakura Chiyo confesses to her crush, Nozaki-kun, but he mistakes her as a fan! Unable to convey her feelings, what happens when he invites her to his house? Find out in this hilarious series!(Source)|
If you’re looking for a serious, romance-centric manga, then this won’t make you happy. Nozaki-kun is primarily a comedy that skewers shoujo manga conventions through parody and clever uses of irony. Squeezed in between the laughs and inanity, though, are little, heartwarming stories between the numerous “couples” in the series: dense Nozaki unwittingly acknowledging Sakura’s feelings; Hori-senpai showing glimmers of attraction to school “prince” Kashima; or Wakamatsu inevitably doing something sweet for his bully, Seo.
7. Akatsuki no Yona by Kusanagi, Mizuho [111 chapters, Ongoing]
|Yona is the sole princess of the kingdom, living the luxurious and carefree life as a princess should. She has it all: the finest clothes and cosmetics, the most divine sweets, a loving emperor as a father, and the hottest cousin crush, Soo-won, anyone could ever hope to have. Now, if only her bodyguard, Son Hak, wasn’t so annoying to her and her hair wasn’t so red.
But her nearly perfect world quickly shatters as the man she loves, Soo-won, murders her father and the path to his ascension to the throne is assured. Son Hak escapes with Yona, and they lead a life on the run from that point on.(Source)
One of my most favorite series finds in 2015, Akatsuki no Yona is a sweeping fantasy /romance epic that will remind you of Fushigi Yuugi, but with stronger, wiser, more likable characters and smarter writing. The series asks hard questions, like the inevitability of fates for dragon warriors, or whether bloody means can justify the ends, particularly for the good of the many. Amidst all that, we witness how the men in the series come to love and serve the princess, especially Hak, who has been secretly in love with his mistress since he was young.
Lots and lots of kawaii moments to read and re-read for maximum fangirling, plus LOL moments, especially in the latter chapters when our merry band has bonded together. Props to the author for balancing the white knight moments between pairings and the girl power moments that Yona need to evolve as a character.
8. Oresama Teacher by Tsubaki, Izumi [106 chapters, Ongoing]
|Kurosaki Mafuyu was a juvenile delinquent and head of her gang before her subsequent arrest got her expelled from high school. Now that she’s transferred to a new high school, she’s determined to become an “ultra-shiny, super feminine high school student.” But with a new friend like Hayasaka-kun and a homeroom teacher like Saeki Takaomi (who may be more than he seems), will Mafuyu really be able to live a girly-girl high school life!?
It’s your typical reverse harem story where a bunch of guys fall for the genki and hopelessly clueless heroine. However, it’s hard to dislike its great execution of rom-com, and you can’t help but root for the heroine as she and her former childhood friend-turned-homeroom adviser take on the school cliques and authorities, thereby winning more allies to their side.
9. Chihayafuru by Suetsugu, Yuki [106 chapters, Ongoing]
|Ayase Chihaya is a cheerful tomboy without any ambitious aspirations in life. At school one day, she meets a boy named Wataya Arata who is an outcast at school. Feeling pity despite peer pressure, Chihaya befriends Arata as he reveals to her his aptitude in karuta which institutes Chihaya’s dream to become a karuta queen.
Who’d think a story about a traditional Japanese game like kuruta can produce one of the loveliest mangas in recent history? At the heart of its story is the childhood trio Chihaya, Arata, and Taichi, who bonded over the game. Years later, the game brings them back on the same crossing paths, albeit now with baggages of troublesome teenage romance feelings.
Taichi is the token endearing Mr. Wonderful who pines for dense Chihaya, who wants to meet with (initially) emo Arata. I don’t know how the mangaka plans to resolve the love triangle, but Chihaya will not go wrong with whoever she ends up with. (Still rooting for the ex-President, though! His devotion and support for Chihaya was very touching).\
10. Kuragehime by Higashimura, Akiko [77 chapters, Ongoing]
|The story centers around Tsukimi Kurashita, a huge fan of jellyfish (kurage, a wordplay on the “kura/mi” and “tsuki/ge” in her name) and a girl who moves to Tokyo to become an illustrator. She moves into “Amamizukan,” an apartment complex that is full of fujoshi (diehard female otaku) with a no-men-allowed rule. However, one day, Tsukimi invites a stylishly fashionable woman to stay at her room at Amamizukan—only to discover that the guest is not who “she” seems to be.
The art style took me some time getting used to, but venture on and you will be on one crazy ride of laughter, swoons, and tugged heartstrings. Yes, there are makeovers here, but the latter chapters resolve their problematic nature. The “just a friend” trope in this series gets a unique twist, thanks to the story’s unusual characters. Considering that the story is all anchored on jelly fishes, you’d be surprised by how much story they were able to mine.
Other Great Reads
- Torikagosou no Kyou Mo Nemutai. I like the no-nonsense attitude of the characters here, and the way the romances unfold and/or collapse are mostly realistic.
- Akagami no Shirayukihime. After Zen and Shirayuki’s confessions, the series pacing slowed down that I only really keep an eye out for fleeting Obi/Shirayuki moments.
- Yamato Nadeshiko. One of the few love-hate relationships I wholeheartedly approve of.
- Chou Yo Hana Yo. If you don’t object to sex scenes and sex jokes, you’ll enjoy this manga. The male love interest is a Gundam otaku, so I laughed at the references that popped in and out of some chapters.
- Dame na Watashi ni Koishite Kudasai. It’s a grown-up version of genki girl and aloof guy premise, but it’s pleasant to see the leads slowly become closer towards each other. Also has a live-action release already.
- Kobato. CLAMP is great with feels, and this title is no different. I usually don’t care for innocent, naive female leads, but it’s hard to actively dislike Kobato. You’ll really root for her as she struggles to be closer to someone she is forbidden to love.
- Fushigi Yuugi – Genbu Kaiden. Thankfully, this is not the FY that I recall. Genbu Kaiden has less drama, and the heroine is heaps more useful than Miaka. Touching conclusion as well.
- Koe no Kitachi. Cute and sweet, but the ending was a bit of a head scratcher for me.
- Kamisama Hajimemashita. If you liked Inu Yasha, you’ll probably like this, too. However, I’m shipping yet another doomed pairing in this series.