Mari is a shy, bookish, lonely high-schooler until she meets popular girl Akko, who takes an immediate interest in her. Drawing Mari out of her isolation, Akko soon becomes Mari’s best friend and they spend a lot of time together. However, Mari’s feelings soon grow beyond friendship. Scared of the consequences, she takes on a boyfriend, but her feelings for Akko only grow stronger.
I was nervous when I read the first few pages of Girl Friends. Firstly, the story revolves around girls who like makeup, fashion and dieting – things that I’ve never had any interest in. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to relate to the characters because of this, but in the end it didn’t stop me warming to them. Also, I’m always very leery of stories that revolve around taking a shy person and bringing them out of their shell. I’ve had a lot of people in my own life tell me that I would be happier living my life a certain way, liking certain things and trying to force them on me. But I can announce with a sigh of relief that that’s not the case here. Mari seems genuinely happy to have a friend, and learns that she does in fact like the same things that Akko does. While Akko does help her to express herself better, Mari is still Mari and easily the most shy of their small circle of friends.
Mari’s feelings for Akko are quite cute but also come with an adolescent sexual side. It was refreshingly honest to see that side of teenage feelings explored instead of the platonic “cute crush” that girls are sometimes portrayed as having. Mari wants Akko, body and soul, but she doesn’t know what to do about it. Which leads to all kinds of bad decisions and jealousy until we reach the final cliffhanger, where I literally put the book down and said “oh no she didn’t!”.
The art is very pretty, there are a few panels that are NSFW because of imagined nudity, but there’s nothing really sexually explicit. I really love the character designs, every character is unique and easily recognizable.
If you’re a fan of teen drama, Girl Friends should be right up your alley. We haven’t gotten that many Yuri manga titles in the West, so I was happy to see Girl Friends released in this omnibus edition. I have to say it’s excellent value for money. At 496 pages, you won’t be zooming through this manga in an hour. It’s a good read with strong characters and actual plot, even if at times it moves very slowly.
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