Natsume’s Book of Friends is a fantasy manga by Yuki Midorikawa that is ongoing in LaLa magazine. It was a finalist for the Manga Taisho award in 2008. Released in North America by Viz media in 2010, Natsume’s Book of Friends continues to charm readers here and overseas.
The Gist: Natsume Takashi has inherited the gift of seeing yokai, or spirits, from his grandmother. Orphaned from the time he was a young boy, Natsume gets passed from one family member to the next due to the strange events that occur around him. Now in high school, Natsume discovers a book among his deceased grandmother’s possessions called the “Book of Friends”. The book contains the names of yokai that his grandmother trapped and made into servants. Now the yokai come after Natsume, demanding their names be returned. Powerful, yet inexperienced, Natsume will need the help of yokai and humans alike to return the names if he is ever to have peace from the “Book of Friends”.
The Characters/Romance: Natsume is a lovable male protagonist whose evolution and development is the driving force of Midorikawa’s story. His experiences in life have left him feeling isolated from others, and he has had few opportunities to form close relationships. He often doubts the reality of what is around him because of his experiences with yokai, and tends to relate better with yokai because they can understand that he is able to see them and don’t consider him strange. The loneliness that Natsume feels as well as his empathy for yokai and humans is what makes him endearing to readers.
Nyanko-sensei is the main supporting character. He is a powerful yokai that is able to make himself visible to humans by attaching his spirit to a maneki neko, or cat statue. His spiritual form resembles Amateratsu, a great white wolf. Although Nyanko-sensei deems Natsume a tasty meal at their first encounter, he refrains from eating him. His reason being that Natsume is entertaining to watch. His character provides spiritual guidance for Natsume as well as camaraderie. Nayanko-sensei is often the source of comic relief in this otherwise dramatic story.
Natsume does not have love interests so far, so I wouldn’t call this series a romance. However, there are many emotional moments between Natsume and the other characters that would appeal to a shoujo audience. The series begins episodic in nature but longer story archs are introduced later on. Strong character development and a consistent theme make Midorikawa’s story enjoyable and entertaining.
The Art: I’ll admit that it took me a couple of books before I adjusted to Midorikawa’s sketchy drawing style. Despite this, I found the style very fitting for the content of the series. Yokai are spiritual forms, and the sketchy style lends itself to an ephemeral tone. Nyanko-sensei is kawaii as a maneki neko, but in his yokai form he is beautiful. The paneling fits to scenes nicely, and the colored pieces really enliven the sketchy figures of Midorikawa.
The Audience: Natsume’s Book of Friends appeals to a broad audience. Although aimed at females in North America with the Shojo Beat imprint, it can easily be enjoyed by both genders. Loneliness is an emotion everyone can well relate to, and it is an overlapping theme in Midorikawa’s series. The content would be appropriated for a broad age range as well. With very little romantic encounters this series would be considered cuddly. Like, let’s go cuddle Nyanko-sensei!
The Media: Natsume’s Book of Friends is available from Viz media up to volume 11. The series is still ongoing in LaLa so there will be many more volumes to come. There have been four seasons of anime for Natsume’s Book of Friends, all of which have been licensed by NIS for a North American release in 2012.
Heart of Manga Rating: ♥♥♥♥ Highly Recommend!
Natsume’s Book of Friends is a heart warming tale that not only entertains but leaves the reader with thoughtful reflections about family and friendships.