*Paradise Kiss — Recommended Series

Paradise Kiss brings a heavy dose of fashion to a manga coming-of-age romance. Yukari is a student cramming for her upcoming college entrance exams. A group of fashion students pick her up on the street because of her moody look and rename her Caroline. They’ve created a studio in the hopes of merchandising their fashions, and they need a model for their creations.

Paradise Kiss Book 1 cover
Paradise Kiss Book 1
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Influenced by the glam movie Velvet Goldmine, each of them has their own look. Arashi is channeling the British punk era, complete with safety pin through the lip. Isabella is a glamorous transvestite, and Miwako resembles a living Kewpie doll. But it’s bisexual George, the elegant gentleman, who most captures Caroline’s attention, especially after he starts flirting with her.

The unique art is well able to capture all these varied styles accurately. The approach ranges from elegant and detailed to sparse manga shorthand concentrating on emotion. The gorgeous fashion images, inspired by classic magazine illustration styles and evoking an era of elegance, are woven throughout the story.

Paradise Kiss Book 2 cover
Paradise Kiss Book 2
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After her initial repulsion, Caroline agrees to work with the group in order to capture some of their excitement, since pressure to get into the right school is about to make her crack. She doesn’t know what she wants to do; she’s living her parents’ goals with none of her own. The group, in contrast, has chosen what they want to do and are pursuing it whole-heartedly.

Caroline finds seductive people who accept each other regardless of what they look like or what supposed social rank they have. She knows that this group isn’t going to be some kind of instant salvation, but at least they’re different, and as the proverb goes, sometimes a change is as good as a rest. What she’s getting into might be as scary, or even scarier, than what she’s been living, but she’s willing to take the risk that it will be better.

She volunteers to help sew beads onto her dress, taking great pride in contributing to the construction. The others worry about her sudden goal change, giving up her studies to work with them. They want to help her find her own sense of determination and drive, but only if she takes responsibility for her actions. She’s still not choosing for herself if she simply replaces her parents’ rules with those of the group.

Paradise Kiss Book 3 cover
Paradise Kiss Book 3
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A whole new world opens to her, beyond her work as a model, when she starts going out with George. Like her, he’s also an honor student, but his chosen field, design, doesn’t require a license or passing an exam, just passion and drive, qualities she wants to experience. The romance is complicated by a mismatch between what people say and their actions. George says he wants an independent woman, but his act of turning Caroline into his dream girl contradicts his expressed desires.

As the story continues, Caroline comes to wonder whether George really cares for her, or if she will always come second to his ego and his designs. Is he stringing her along just to get her to model for them? Is he too much of a distraction, causing her to fail her studies? Her parents make an appearance, worrying about her schedule changes and absent-mindedness. Eventually, the confrontation with her mother comes, as it must. Caroline is forced to choose between her new interests and her old plans. She’s beginning to make her own decisions, even though her only certain desire is to find out what she really wants.

Paradise Kiss Book 4 cover
Paradise Kiss Book 4
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The characters break the fourth wall every so often, talking about the number of pages they have or noting the rules for the role they play or even visiting the artist’s apartment and stealing her clothes. Most outrageously, they comment on what’s allowed in their genre after George and Caroline’s first night together, talking about how that kind of thing just isn’t done in manga for girls and making jokes about George having to finish at a certain time based on the page count available.

Caroline faces a lot of questions. What is the difference between love and obsession? How can you love someone you hate and hate someone you love? Is love a good thing if you become so consumed by it that you make yourself sick? Even when these young adults know what they should do for the ones they love, they can’t necessarily bring themselves to be unselfish or put other’s needs ahead of their own. They experience love as a disease, an immature compulsion or fascination, instead of a mature motivation.

Paradise Kiss Book 5 cover
Paradise Kiss Book 5
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In the bigger picture, how much of who we are is who we pretend to be? In other people’s eyes, we become whatever we’re acting. The characters use theatrical techniques to make their lives more interesting, building the reality they want to live. Fashion isn’t just clothing; it’s costumes for the life one wants.

There’s an air of melancholy throughout the series that sets it apart from the usual teen romance. Not everyone gets a happy ending. Even if someone thinks they know what they want, they may not be able to achieve it. Like all young adults, the characters finally have to start out on a path for themselves, deciding which career to pursue and learning more about what they really desire. Ultimately, what you think you want may not be good for you or those you’re involved with. Yazawa’s new series is Nana.

36 Comments

  1. I remember feeling quite disappointed with the ending of Paradise Kiss. I had enjoyed it up to that point, but it just didn’t seem to me to tie things up in any sort of satisfying fashion.

  2. [SPOILERS] I couldn’t disagree more. I liked Yazawa’s decision to end the series in the real world, rather than with a traditional storybook ending, as Caroline demonstrates her maturity by ditching the romantic-but-ruinous guy in favor of the one she can actually live with, and the Parakiss team’s ornate clothes fail to spark with the general public. Seriously, did your teenage dreams come true without a hitch? These things happen. [/SPOILERS]

  3. Having just reread the series, I agree with Dirk. The ending shows that PK is far from typical shôjo, but we knew that much earlier in the series from the character’s own comments.

    The end isn’t typically neatly tied with a bow, but that’s better for the characters and the series. Caroline spends the series running from one set of rules to another, seeking someone to make her happy by telling her how to live. Ultimately, she learns to make her own decisions, and the open ending reflects that.

  4. Johanna: I’m just not seeing it. She spends the next ten years having a modeling career that eventually peters out as she gets too old, and falling for a series of weirdos, so she ends up marrying a guy who for the rest of his life will be jealous of Arahi winning Minako back in High School, and on their honeymoon she’s planning to go cry about George. But at least she’ll have the memories of the interesting places she went and things she did in her long slow decline from age 28 onward. Oh, and George’s dresses to give her an incentive to keep her figure. I get no sense at all that she’s looking forward to her future with Hiro or that’s she’s actively making decisions about how to live her life.

  5. We’ll have to agree to disagree, then. It was clear to me halfway through the series that the future psychiatrist (!) was the better choice for her, and that she was beginning to see and appreciate his strength. He didn’t seem fixated on jealousy to me, unlike your description, and there’s nothing wrong or unusual about either of them thinking back fondly to their younger days. (That’s a large part of why I enjoy school-set shôjo myself; a wistful nostalgia for high school, when every romance was a passionate epic. At the same time, I realize that my much deeper, mature relationship now is better than that.)

    What would you rather have happened to better satisfy you?

  6. I think it should have stopped at the bottom of page 181, with the ship sailing to the horizon and the line “Life is short.”

  7. Again, we disagree. I liked seeing her as more of an adult instead of perpetually a teen obsessed by her first love. It’s a reminder that life goes on.

  8. [...] Like Ai Yazawa’s previous manga series Paradise Kiss, an underlying theme here is that the family you build and choose is better than the one you happen to be born into. Naive Nana is a mostly ignored middle child, and Punk Nana was an orphan raised by a harsh grandmother. The two of them have made small groups of close friends with shared interests that support them instead. [...]

  9. I think ParaKiss is one of the best mangas there is. I have to agree with Johanna about the end. I was just looking the pictures of the covers of volumes 1-5 up there and mine have different pictures even if they claim to be 1st edition. Did they print many different covers? Anyone aware? Thanks!

  10. They did go back to print on the series with new covers (that I thought weren’t as attractive as the ones I’m showing). You can see examples of the new covers at the Tokyopop site.

  11. Thanks for info! Those are the ones I have volumes 1 to 4, and 5th is the other style. I always wondered why they chose the 5th vol look so different. But this explains it all. I actually like both sets a lot.

  12. This was the first manga I read, and I still love it; I even tracked down the original editions on ebay (the covers of the new ones are different); It is still my most treasured manga.

  13. luvvvv. the anime series…. it was sosadat the end… i wish i coulve gone with george to paris.. im so jealouse though.. men…. i wish it coulve last longer .. and a more beautifull ending.. i just wish there is a second part to it or second version.. i love para kiss so much i atch it everyday.. and thank you so much for the peoples who upload the para kiss anime…

  14. Love&Peace*Girl

    I love this manga. This is the best josei manga I’ve read yet, and is the most realistic manga I’ve read.

    I like how Yukari’s faults are pointed out to the readers, but somehow she still remains a likeable character. that’s something that’s rarely done in manga, especially with shouju heroines.

    I also love the clothes, they are sooo pretty. :)

    I agree w/ most people, this manga should’ve lasted MUCH longer, but I actually like the ending. (Arashi & Miwako forever!)

  15. once i read this manga, i’ve fall in love with it…….i love it’s journey but not really the ending…….anyway..i stil LOVE this manga

  16. I am not familiar with Paradise Kiss (yet) but it has come with a lot of praises. My dilemma is that, I need to come up with a list of manga to recommend (I work at the Library–somewhat not into manga because of the “skins” and graphic issue… let’s just say a very conservative lot) and I have come across this site for help. Does ParaKiss have a lot of nudity and graphic scenes I need to be concerned about for my recommendation? I’m limited to mangas that complete the series in less than 10 volumes, so I have limited titles to work on. Any help is appreciated. Thanks.

  17. Tokyopop rates it “Appropriate for ages 16 and up. May contain profanity and strong language, moderate violence and gore, moderate sexual themes and sexual violence, nudity, moderate fanservice, and alcohol and illegal drug use.” I suspect that Paradise Kiss gets rated for older teens because of its transvestite character, which a conservative audience may not be happy with. I don’t recall much nudity or graphic sex, but there is teen sex shown.

  18. Johanna, thanks so much. I guess I can’t recommend the ParaKiss series then. They are already upset with Ranma 1/2 (1st volume only) containing some skin. Thanks a bunch for the reply!

  19. [...] of a wide variety of well-known female-oriented titles (including Swan, Hot Gimmick, Fruits Basket, Paradise Kiss, and many more), as well as other, non-manga-related topics. I contributed an overview of the six [...]

  20. Dirk Deppey, you wrote: “Caroline demonstrates her maturity by ditching the romantic-but-ruinous guy in favor of the one she can actually live with”.
    Then goes my part: that means that in the end she wasn’t going to marry a person she loved but the one she would have an easy life with. Is that what it should be like? that definately sucks.

  21. There’s a difference between “love” and “crushing on”. And picking someone you’re compatible with isn’t looking for “an easy life”, necessarily. But I think people at different ages and in different situations can all find something to appreciate in this book, although not the same things.

  22. [...] plug various projects coming out related to her work. It’s twisted but fun when George (from Paradise Kiss) congratulates Hachi’s first boyfriend for stepping out of the story. [...]

  23. [...] is a bit fluffier than Paradise Kiss, which revels in being edgy, but I was reminded of that earlier series while reading V.B. Rose: [...]

  24. [...] From Johanna Draper-Carlson: [...]

  25. [...] review was posted as part of the Paradise Kiss Manga Moveable Feast. Johanna previously reviewed the series as well. Ai Yazawa’s current series, if you’d like to read more of her work, is Nana. [...]

  26. [...] Paradise Kiss – Recommended Series – Johanna Draper Carlson (Manga Worth Reading) [...]

  27. I love this series, so much. In my opinion it’s by a far a better-written, better-crafted story than Nana. Perhaps just because of the much shorter length, but Paradise Kiss remains a soft spot in my heart. I still go back and reread it often; Yukari’s transformation from a judgmental, high-strung child to a grown woman is one I am very fond of.

    I’ve always loved the ending. George and Yukari’s relationship was unworkable, both of them incompatible with each other. You can love someone and not be able to stay with them forever. How often do people find the perfect person for them on the first go-around? It took Yukari years to realize that level-headed Hiro was best for her.

    Anyway, if you want a fluffier ending, her previous series set in the same universe, Gokinjo Monogatari, might be more up your alley. Similar (though rougher) art style, about Miwako’s older sister. It’s not out in English though, which is a crying shame.

  28. Um, spoiler warning? :) I’ve wanted to check out the other series, but I’ll have to wait until someone picks it up and translates it. (I’m not sure why a publisher hasn’t already.)

    I have a hard time comparing Nana and Paradise Kiss. I should say I’m looking forward to reading both the newest Nana, Book 21, and rereading all 5 PK. But the easier-to-get-your-hands-and-head-around length of PK is a plus.

  29. Well if they had not made her seem so upset at the mention of George, and that she will cry about him…it almost seems as though they want you to think that she just settled, and that would make anyone mad..how they run you along this anime with whispy dreamy plot and abruptly end it bitterly.

    The ending gives the air that George ran off with Isabelle or Kaori..and Caroline is not over that…and jealous and hurt.
    And Caroline got stuck with someone who still had a high school crush on her…which is not love. You could tell that when Caroline easily tossed his picture in her desk and moved on and never even had thoughts about him.

    So I don’t see what’s so real about that either.

    It would have been fine to end it like that if they hadn’t made her seem so old and bitter and upset over George…really she seemed like a prude at 28… instead of smiling and sitting next to her groom or something? wouldn’t that have been a more reasonable and realistic ending…even if it wasn’t George..I mean really…
    but honestly the fact that in her career as a model she never once went to paris to see him? or he never came to see her? alkdjf please. designers and models DO have time for vacations.

  30. looooooooove the manga…however the ending is so so sooooo sad:'(…yukari should wait for george..or go and find him in paris..george had made it clear that he loves yukari so much..otherwise he wouldn’t left her all his creations right??yukari is being a lil bit selfish(no offense)..if george doesn’t care..he would just left without nothing behind for yukari..hope there will be another version of ending..hukhukhuk…i understand that in real world,those things happen..but it’s a manga..why not make a happy ending so that we the reader could take the inspirations from the manga to live our lives more enthusiastically???

  31. I think it was highly unlikely that George and Yukari never met again, especially seeing how popular she appeared to be in Japan. I mean a model working for ten years and she never sees him again? The ending was pretty unsatisfying, even it was semi-realistic. I agree with a lot of the people that her being all mopey and still crying about Georg while married to Tokumori was a little annoying. It seems to imply that her life as a retired model after 28 would be downhill and miserable from there. Sure, she grew a little and was able to make her own decisions but I’ll always picture her jetting off on a plane with all of George’s creations, finding him there and throwing herself into his arms and becoming the best designer-muse couple in Paris. Because why else would George leave all of his precious designs? Maybe he was hoping after all that Yukari would go after him to Paris.

  32. I really need to reread this series, but the situation you describe seems plausible to me — life does carry people in different directions, even in the same field. Not the happy-romance ending many readers expected, though.

  33. Yukari<3 George 4eva!!!

  34. [...] of the best series Tokyopop ever published, Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa (Nana), is coming back into print from Vertical, who’s expanding into shojo [...]

  35. [...] Vertical comes a re-release of the outstanding Paradise Kiss manga ($16.95 for the first oversized volume). It’s a short run series (originally 5 books, [...]

  36. […] Vertical has been the primary company carrying the flag of manga for adult women. They reprinted Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa in three omnibus volumes from 2012-2013, as well as putting out two stand-alone […]

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