Kodansha has had my trust with regards to shojo manga for quite a while now; few companies have localized as many titles in the genre that I’ve enjoyed as they have. Thus, when I saw a new volume one coming out I was more than willing to give it a shot. Enter Nakaba Harufuji’s You’re My Cutie: a romantic comedy starring Madoka, a high school girl who works in her family’s diner, and Momoki, a standoffish new hire. The pair’s interactions are full of misunderstandings, clarifications, and awkward teenage tiptoeing around feelings. In other words, it’s a shojo romance manga. But does it stand out from the pack? Is You’re My Cutie Vol. 1 good?
One of this manga’s strengths is its awareness and direct acknowledgement of genre expectations. The first chapter begins with Madoka reading romance comics and talking to her friends about what type of love interests she finds appealing: primarily younger sweet and innocent types who are respectful and deferential to the girls around them. Madoka’s discussion of the topic is funny and acknowledges tropes with belittling them. It gets the manga off to a smart start that provides insight into Madoka as a character as well as cues the reader in to the fact that Harufuji approaches this subject matter both respectfully and with a sense of levity.
It also, of course, sets the stage for Madoka to be startled when she meets her own love interest. Momoki makes a terrible first impression: he’s standoffish, appears full of himself, and is just generally rude to Madoka. Besides his age he’s about as far removed from being Madoka’s ideal partner as possible.
With that said, his character arc throughout is great. It turns out that much of his apprehension regarding Madoka stems from his experiences being clung onto, disrespected, and treated like an object by other girls who crush on him without actually getting to know him or allowing him any real agency or depth beyond their idealized perceptions of him. This leads to a number of great scenes involving Momoki and Madoka having to navigate such unwanted attention from diner patrons and feeling out how to communicate better without pushing each other’s boundaries too much. Despite the pair’s rocky start they actually end up addressing very real issues in interpersonal relationships quite sweetly.
Harufuji also delivers charming artwork. The characters are expressive, with Momoki’s faces being the most notable for how much subtlety and depth they reveal as he opens up more and more throughout the volume. By and large the shading, line-work, and screen tone use are also well-done and deliver classic shojo romcom aesthetics in a pleasing way. The main cons are just the relative lack of uniqueness and the degree to which Madoka could still use some more fleshing out herself. The progression of her feelings for Momoki take up the bulk of the volume’s page count, and it would be nice to see more development of who she is as a person outside of this (potential) relationship.
All in all, You’re My Cutie Vol. 1 is a charming debut that impresses on all counts. The main couple are not only likable, but their awkward emotional fumbles speak to real issues involving interpersonal communication and respect for people’s boundaries. The pacing is also good throughout, with a strong start that effectively sets expectations and a series of subsequent work days that slowly ingratiate the characters to the audience and to each other. The art is pleasing to look at as well and fits the tone nicely. Though this isn’t a particularly unique romance thus far, it’s nonetheless a quite enjoyable one.
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