published by Kodansha Comics; $10.99 US
I’ve seen this premise before, in such titles as Beast Master. There’s an unsocialized boy, Haru, feared by other students. He meets and befriends the solo Shizuku, who only wants good grades so she can get a high-paying job and has “no time to worry about other people”. Together, the two learn more about caring for others in My Little Monster.
Haru was suspended on the first day of school for fighting, resulting in increasingly exaggerated rumors about his dangerous nature. Due to their desk placement, Shizuku would be sitting next to him, so she’s sent to take him his assignments. They actually meet when he tackles her, accusing her of being a spy for the school. His views of socializing are rather basic, and he doesn’t understand what friendship means. By simply paying attention to him, she’s treated him better than anyone else, so he becomes attached to her. For her, his pure emotions spark a part of her heart she didn’t realize she had, one that would otherwise care about a pet.
He soon declares his affection for her, that he likes her because around her, his heart beats fast. She struggles with the intensity of his attention, as well as the inconveniences he brings, like getting her involved with a small gang of bad kids who temporarily kidnap her. The two try to figure out, in their own ways, how best to make the person you care about happy while reinforcing the idea that everyone needs someone.
Halfway through the first book, two new characters come to hang out with the core couple. The first is Asako, a girl whose good looks mean that she has plenty of boys chasing her but no female friends. She’s found some in an online community, but unless she gets tutoring to pass a test, she’ll be kept from meeting them in person. Shizuku refuses, but Haru agrees to help … which doesn’t, but it allows for some more meditations on what it means to be lonely and why people need friends.
The other, more amusing new friend is a chicken. Haru winds up adopting one as a pet. That brings the young gang together to build it a henhouse. As seen by this, the events are sometimes silly in this series, but the feelings can be quite substantial. I didn’t expect to like My Little Monster as much as I did, but it’s a good blend of (often dry) comedy and more substantial emotional beats, all with art that’s more fully realized than in other manga of this genre.
My Little Monster Book 2, now that the premise has been established, puts the two and their friends into more situations. First, there’s a school sports day, where Haru has become more popular with the girls now that he’s not quite so scary. There’s the summer fun of a day at the beach, which is very typical for manga, and a river fishing trip, not so usual and as a result more fun.
We learn more about Haru’s background and get an explanation for why, given his temperament and history, he’s still so good at school. There’s also another new friend, a lonely class rep developing a crush on Haru.
I like the pacing of this series, which moves along in snappy fashion, with plenty happening. Too often, I feel as though some manga are dragging things out in order to continue the series, and it becomes frustrating to watch characters spinning their wheels. Here, in contrast, even when the cast are going over some of the same ground, enough else is happening that there’s always a sense of forward progress.
I also appreciate the way that, although this is a teen love story, romance isn’t considered the be-all and end-all of motivations. Shizuku has reasons for finding her self-validation in schoolwork, solving problems that have specific answers, and she’s not love-crazy, instead weighing her feelings against other factors that will contribute to her future.
The publisher has posted a preview at their Tumblr. (The publisher provided review copies.)