So here's part two of our mini-review bonanza! By and large, we've been very impressed by the quality of these series—we don't mean to make them sound like vultures, but Yen Press has been cherry-picking a lot of their titles from the wreckage of several now-defunct publishers, and that strategy seems to be working out remarkably well. We probably won't keep up with all of these stories, but most of 'em are seriously fun:
Angel Diary: Vol. 10, by Kara and Lee YunHee
We *love* Angel Diary. If you can get past its slightly cracked-out premise—the heroine is a cross-dressing Princess of Heaven who hides out in a Korean high school in order to escape an arranged marriage with the King of Hell (who, by the way, is hiding out there too, secretly knows who she is, and hits on her like it's his job)—it is absolutely freaking adorable.
There are only 3 volumes still to go in Angel Diary (the last one comes out next December), so if you're one of those people who don't like to start a series until the end is in sight—and, dude, we sympathize—now is a great time to check out this oddball romantic comedy.
You're So Cool: Vol. 5, by YoungHee Lee
When klutzy, simple-minded You’re So Cool heroine Nan Woo confesses her love to her classmate Seung Ha, she has no hope of being accepted—after all, Seung Ha is the best-looking and most popular boy in her class. But unfortunately for Nan Woo, Seung Ha has a darker side to him, and he's not above using Nan Woo's dim-witted affection to cover it up.
Experienced manga/manhwa readers are unlikely to find anything too shocking about You’re So Cool, but less well-read fans might want to start with something a little more conventional. Not only does this series feature a “would be seriously disturbing in real life” relationship between its hero and heroine, it includes several additional manhwa clichés that might shock a newbie reader. It’s not that YoungHee Lee’s series isn’t entertaining (it is), but it’s also something of an acquired taste.
Jack Frost: Vol. 2, by JinHo Ko
If you're looking for a top-notch example of manga/manhwa's ability to combine violence, humor, and a surprisingly deep exploration of the human condition... we suggest reading Yūsei Matsui's Majin Tantei Nōgami Neuro. But if you're just looking for a bunch of over-the-top fight scenes featuring an inordinate number of large-breasted women and an intriguing horror premise, you could probably do worse than Jin-Ho Ko's Jack Frost. While the first volume in this series was heavy on gore and light on plot, the second volume actually begins to develop the story in slightly greater depth.
(...but don't worry, slice'n'dice fans: there's still plenty of gore.)
The Antique Gift Shop: Vol. 9, by Lee Eun
We were predisposed to like The Antique Gift Shop because the description of it reminded us of two of our all-time favorite manhwa: our beloved Banhonsa and I Wish. Like those titles, this is a series of fable-and-fairytale-inspired episodes loosely connected by an overarching storyline about a young woman named Bun-Nyuh, whose grandmother forces her to take over her family's antique shop. When Bun-Nyuh realizes that most of the antiques for sale possess strange powers, she becomes even more determined to leave the shop... but something far more powerful than her grandmother is determined to keep her there.
The earlier volumes in this series appear to be more self-contained, but by this point the series has shifted its primary focus to Bun-Nyuh and her mysterious shop assistant, Mr. Yang. While volume 9 was obviously not the ideal place to be starting a 10-volume-long series, we were sufficiently interested in this story's combination of horror, folklore and romance to want to both finish the series and hunt down the previous volumes—no small compliment, considering each book costs $10.99.
Crimson Shell: Vol. 1, by Jun Mochizuki
Despite its whiplash-inducing emotional pace (seriously, this story turns from cutesy to grim on a dime), Crimson Shell works as a fun, quick introduction to Japanese sci-fi/fantasy. Mochizuki’s heroine is a childlike young woman named Claudia, the only non-evil survivor of a mad scientist’s genetic mutilation. The “rose seed” planted inside Claudia’s body grants her special powers—unlike the seeds planted inside her fellow mutants, which turned them into crazed killing machines with the power to make their victims into zombies.
While the ending of this series felt rushed and it's probably best not to think about most of its plot points too hard, Mochizuki should be commended for her ability to create appealing and easily distinguishable characters (unlike, say, the creator of the visually-similar manga The Gentlemen’s Alliance) and her scattering of enjoyable tributes to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Higurashi—When They Cry: Vol. 1, by Ryukishi07 and Jiro Suzuki
Higurashi—When They Cry is based on an enormously popular series of murder-mystery video games produced by a group of amateur Japanese software developers. When the series' hero, Keiichi Maebara, moves to the tiny rural town of Hinamizawa he promptly makes a bevy of cute, irrepressible female friends. Unfortunately, his relationships with the girls are threatened when he discovers that this idyllic-looking village is hiding a terrifying secret: every year for the past four years, people have died during a local festival.
Higurashi is divided into four “question arcs” and four “answer arcs”. This hyper-stylized approach means that when terrible, gristly events happen (as they often do) the readers view them more than once. This can be extremely disconcerting, particularly when taken in the context of the overly cutesy artwork. We strongly encourage people to respect that “Older Teen” rating—unlike titles like Jack Frost, the hardcore creepiness of this series is not immediately apparent, but that doesn't mean it isn't really freaky. (Seriously. Picture a blend of Groundhog Day and The Lottery.)
[Review copies provided by Yen Press.]