I'd like to say few things get me weak at the knees, I've had family say I'm the type that would hold up well in solitary confinement. But that's not strictly true. The physical world may be an irrevocably terrible place but I get perpetually overwhelmed by the innocence and latent idealism of romance stories. And sweet heaven above there's little else that will get me going more than a good romance story. Thinking about these syrupy paper fantasies that someone has conceptualized, drawn, and published makes me feel complete. It makes me complete. Romance manga has no purpose other than to act as a drip-feed of reverie, every page damp with idealism manifesting into starry eyes and photon-splitting angular chins. The stories are really just intricate dollhouses built from the ground up to be packages of daydreams. Characters' lives and their settings are part of someone else's fleeting bedtime thoughts, their shared utopia. I approach the genre similarly to BL; You're a fly on the fly-covered wall, looking down on an insect-eyed couple rendered inseparable. Doesn't matter to me if it opens with toast in the mouth and「遅刻、ちこくう~」.
The Japanese don't do subtlety well especially in the sort of media that English audiences trudge through. No better demonstration than in manga, a medium that is limited only by the fervor its its authors and the constrictions of deadlines. Anything goes as long as a publisher is secured and the oppressive thought of zero sales for your niche series doesn't keep you up at night. Despite the open canvas and time investment some manga is shockingly shallow and others are drawn-out over 180 chapters and still shallow. Even some satirizing the hypersexualized landscape gets lost in its own filth, Kill La Kill attracting the exact audiences it was making fun of. Romance illustrated with the tact of weedwacker surgery will inevitably dot your manga browsing. 2014~2016 were particularly dark years, a stunning intersection of high budget Kyoani trash and torrential To Love-Ru clones that had depictions of flesh so demeaning it wouldn't fly in a roman slave market.
Categorizing Japanese media is still very analogue and decentralized. Ratings have no weight, reviewers on the paper don't exist, and series are shared by word of mouth, passing around the newest volume of Jojo around your friends as it gets grungier and grungier. Pretentious myanimelist users love to pick apart anime and manga like they're movies. "An average is a 5." "Nothing can be memorable without merit." "I maintain a curated watchlist." "check out this jar." There's pacing, character development, weeaboos love qualifiers because it legitimizes a shameful hobby that is as glamorous as body mutilation. In the end if I come away beaming with delight, if it sticks in my mind, then it's more than worth my schizophrenic attention. For romance the distant apogee is the slow trickle, two feverish bodies doing this high context dance with each other across 4 volumes. They're generally an easy read, my favorite being Futaribeya a rather tame girls love manga that still manages to drip with gay in every chapter. The bits and pieces of affection inoculating you page after page like a co-worker slowly poisoning you. For more unbent genres it's a shame that the MC's best friend is usually passed up for some toddler-faced new girl introduced in 2 pages. Today in 2021 there's a bit of a golden age going on. Spectacularly intricate shoujos, romcoms with honest presentations of companionship, stories for bottoms about girlfriends that could beat you up, there's more variety than ever. No better time to get emotionally invested in lines on paper.
Reading through any romance series that does its job well elicits a sort of emotional libido in the reader, animalistic anticipation mixed with rabid curiosity. There's much on the line after all, sometimes the author butchers the story beyond comprehension. In that respect the comic cascades into a horror story with terrible events happening to characters you're emotionally invested in. Other times a favorable outcome is met and you're left with the warm afterglow of satisfaction. In that moment you're sharing the author's landscape, you are seeing their vision that they deemed so valuable it was worth toiling over.
Another great, if unexploited genre is the married life setting. I remember this one series that was just completely ruined with the MC cheating on his pregnant wife in the last chapter as sort of a gangrenous appendix. Thanks for that, now it's killed the rest of the body. The reciprocal narrative that stinks of two people who know each other really well is particularly enjoyable, the passion of two hormonal animals replaced with loving companionship.
People did this. Someone thought about, conceptualized, and drew out their fantasies. Cartoon characters as vessels of an idealized landscape, the mental energy of a child crashing two dolls together captured into ink. Could there be anything more hopeful and innocent? I'm complete. I'm just complete.
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