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Best of 2008 List: Reviewer ジェーン(Jān)

ジェーン(Jān) is probably the reader most responsible for introducing me to the fantasy and science fiction books. I actually read George RR Martin because of her!! But she also has recommended some great romances to overtime. She’s uncannily good with her recommendations, tailoring them to your tastes rather than just recommending her favorites (although sometimes those coincide). She doesn’t read a ton of romance anymore, but she’s provided us insight into that wildly popular manga/anime sub genre.

  • Love Mode – Yuki Shimizu – completed 11 vol mxm romance series
  • Sand Chronicles – Hinako Ashihara – ongoing mxf contemporary manga
  • Duke of Shadows – Meredith Duran – mxf historical novel
  • Seduce Me After the Show – Est Em – completed 1 vol mxm manga
  • Private Arrangements – Sherry Thomas – mxf historical novel
  • Ouran High School Host Club – Hatori Bisco – ongoing mxf manga
  • Vampire Knight – Matsuri Hino – ongoing mxf vampire manga
  • Tangle – Ginn Hale, Jesse Sandoval, others – mxm anthology (prose)
  • REAL – Takehiko Inoue – ongoing sports (wheelchair basketball) manga
  • Me and the Devil Blues – Akira Hiramoto – ongoing blues/historical (1930s) manga
  • The Bell at Sealey Head – Patricia McKillip – YA/children’s fantasy novel

reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.

19 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Dec 24, 2008 @ 12:28:07

    Was waiting for your list. I see we both enjoy Vampire Knight. Yep, Jan, without your rec’s to guide me I don’t think I would have enjoyed manga as much as I do today. I love reading your reviews and hopefully, you’ll write more in the coming year, when you have time. Take care.

  2. Nikki
    Dec 24, 2008 @ 15:06:59

    I can’t really get into Vampire Knight. I am not sure why. Please help me figure out what is so addicting about it. I really need a good new series, especially since the last volumes of Fruits Basket will be released in the US soon. What will I have to collect next?

  3. (Jān)
    Dec 24, 2008 @ 15:10:13

    Thanks Keishon. I left a lot of BL titles off that I liked a lot, like Crimson Spell 2 and the Nitta one about the diplomats, and a number of smaller titles by Yugi Yamada, Nase Yamato and others. And some titles that weren’t so PC that I didn’t want to foist them on the unsuspecting public. Although Love Mode is one I guess LOL.

    There wasn’t much going on with new shoujo that moved me though. And romance was pretty blah for me as well, except for recommendations I got from Janine. ^__^

    What manga titles did you like most this year?

  4. (Jān)
    Dec 24, 2008 @ 15:29:48

    Hi Nikki, a lot of Furuba (Fruits Basket) people like Kitchen Princess. I’ve been reading it and it is similar in many ways though not the same quality.

    I like Vampire Knight because I find the artwork very pretty, and because I like the love triangle and have been stunned on how it’s playing out in recent volumes in Japan. The series is going to be a memorable one so long as the mangaka doesn’t start extending it with filler. (You know, now that I think about it VK is a little like Twilight, isn’t it? Except the most interesting character in VK, the boy who is on the verge of turning, doesn’t have a counterpart in Twilight. And VK doesn’t descend into a mess in subsequent volumes)

    Other series that Furuba people (of which I’m one ^_^) seem to latch onto:

    Saiunkoku Monogatari (Tales of Saiunkoku) – this is only being released as an anime so far in the US, but it’s got a great strong heroine and an excellent supporting cast

    La Cordo D’Oro – this one is set in a music school, and while it centers on a musical competition is more about how music brings people together.

    Nodame Cantibile – this is the music series for grownups, and is about the music and musicians themselves

    Ouran High School Host Club – this is the same mix of manic energy and sweetness found in Furuba, plus it’s basically poking fun at a lot of shoujo cliches. In later volumes the mangaka starts spending more time exploring the characters. I should have put this on my favorites list, now that I think about it. (I’m going to cheat and edit it lol)

    I guess what you’d like depends on what you like most about Furuba. :)

  5. Keishon
    Dec 24, 2008 @ 16:54:19

    What manga titles did you like most this year?

    VK is at the top and Blood Alone, however I can’t recall reading BA this year. Need to check that. The Diplomat one by Nitta (didn’t list it on my own 2008 list but it was good and I need to check to see when the sequel will be out). That’s esentially it as for as manga is concerned. Oh, Monster is pretty good and I’m behind. I don’t much manga anymore because I have too many as it is. Oye.

  6. (Jān)
    Dec 24, 2008 @ 17:51:14

    A new volume of BA came out at the end of last year, but that was the last one I’ve seen. I don’t know if the Diplomat one by Nitta will be out. She was in a major plagiarism scandal for her series Embracing Love (Haru wo Daiteita) because she traced dozens of fashion photographs and even PShopped elements into her work and did it without permission and claimed it as her own. All work of hers in Japan has been suspended, and she’s “quit” manga, though that just means she’ll have to wait 3-4 years to come back. But anyway, I don’t know how that will affect her other series. Some tracing was linked to the Diplomat covers.

    The last volume of Monster just came out.

    I still read a lot, but since the variety is larger, I can afford to be pickier about what I keep and like.

  7. Keishon
    Dec 24, 2008 @ 19:57:53

    Thanks for the update on Nitta’s work. Awful and sorry to hear that. I notice that you have McKillip’s book on your list. Are there any other fantasy novels that you enjoyed that are still worth mentioning even if the book didn’t make your end of the year list? I know you don’t like Monette but I wish she would give her another try and review her here. I love her voice/style of writing but I do realize that she’s not for everybody.

  8. Ann Somerville
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 02:12:12

    @Nikki:
    I don’t read manga (I just don’t like that style of telling a story) but I love a lot of anime based on it, and I am totally loving Junjou Romantica. Jan might be able to tell you more about the manga/novels.

    Vampire Knight as a series was pretty and got me hooked and then it lost me. Too angsty I think.

  9. (Jān)
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 02:54:55

    @Ann, VK only gets more angsty so it’s good you stopped.

    @everyone:

    Junjou Romantic manga is a lot of fun, though the manga is more explicit than the anine (which I too love) so if man on man upsets you might not enjoy it. Manga-wise it’s out up to vol 7 in the US, and it’s still being written in Japan. It’s one of the most popular BL titles out there. It concerns 3 couples at the present, all loosely related to each other, but not really overlapping in stories. All three couples have one fairly reluctant partner, and the other half is absolutely totally in love with them. That love gradually overcomes all objections. Gradually.

    The couples are older rich genius misfit author falling for a normal college student with a big heart; younger college student falling for older irritable grad student who happens to be in love with the author from couple A; younger high school student falling in love with his older sister’s ex, a prof who knows author A and is the adviser for grad student B.

    The stories are told in sections (couple A gets 2-3 chapters that tells one arc, then couple B gets some chapters). They’re mostly light-hearted and very tender, with small moments of angst thrown in. It’s a good series for anyone who likes lighter MxM.

    Oh, the character design is a little odd (it’s slightly normalized in the anime), but I found it grew on me. :) It would make my top 10 BL manga of this year easily.

    And that’s probably more than any of you wanted to know. ;P

  10. (Jān)
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 04:31:14

    Are there any other fantasy novels that you enjoyed that are still worth mentioning even if the book didn't make your end of the year list? I know you don't like Monette but I wish she would give her another try and review her here. I love her voice/style of writing but I do realize that she's not for everybody.

    Keishon, while I loved the first thing I read of Monette’s, which was a short story, I thought her first novel was a mess. It felt to me like a short story writer trying to handle the novel form without a clue as to how to approach it. If she’s learned, I’d be interested in trying her. But only if her novels are coherent wholes.

    I’ve not read much fantasy this year that did anything for me. I’ve been reading more SF to be honest, and much is revisiting old series so I can move into new volumes. I can say I’m still a fan of CJ Cherryh’s, Kage Baker’s, Barry Hughart, and Lucius Shepard. Some older hard SF I used to like is turning me off these days though because the characters are just so flat.

    Kage Baker’s books generally have some romance to them, but not a large part. Her Company series though turned out to be quite romantic in the end though. You might like that series because you love history. I recommended the first to you before. Here’s a series list. I’ve liked her fantasy too.
    Wiki list of Company Novels

    Currently I’m reading Butcher’s Dresden books. He’s becoming a better writer as he goes, so what drove me nuts in the first book is no longer an issue. But still they’re not that riveting. There’s one character who interests me and I’m reading all the books because I’m curious about what I’ve read happens to him. But really, it’s about C level for me, and I bought it purely used.

    If I think of others to recommend to you, I’ll mention them. You know, I still haven’t read that one Asaro novel. LOL! I think it might be time for a re-read of those.

  11. psychoidiot
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 07:09:41

    I disagree with the descending into mess part…. I mainly just kept reading VK because it was hot. Lol.
    I find Jim Buther’s Fury books to be much better, but to be back on topic, why not SKIP BEAT…. (I would promote Swan and Firefighter Daigo, but those are super hard to find, and the former is on hiatus by the publisher *sobs*)

    Okay slight caps over. Do you read any Korean manhwa or Tawainese comics? Just curious

  12. (Jān)
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 10:24:20

    @pshchoidiot

    Why is Skip Beat not on my top books of 2008? I enjoy it but it doesn’t resonate with me like the others up there. But I’d recommend it to people looking for a fun read.

    Are there Taiwanese comics released over here? I do read manhwa and like whatever I’ve tried. I’m always up for recommendations. I’m loving Totally Captivated, a BL manhwa. I like all the series that DramaQueen started releasing, like Audition and DVD. Too bad it looks like they’ll never get around to finishing it. :( I enjoy(ed) other manwha series like Bride of the Water God, Demon Diary, Les Bijoux, and others that I can’t think of names of right now. One Thousand and One Nights came very close to being on my top list of 2008. I’m not one to care which country comics come from, so long as they provide the story I’m looking for.

  13. Keishon
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 12:57:14

    Keishon, while I loved the first thing I read of Monette's, which was a short story, I thought her first novel was a mess. It felt to me like a short story writer trying to handle the novel form without a clue as to how to approach it. If she's learned, I'd be interested in trying her. But only if her novels are coherent wholes.

    I don’t find that to be the case at all, Jan, but so be it and I respect your opinion. I tend to think of her novels as being episodic, sometimes with no over arching theme per se and if done right, it works. She is all over the map but, she’s good and her stories are never boring. I like her voice/style of writing and think she is a very talented writer. I mean you have mxm romance, mxf romance, sex, dark magic, ghosts, adventure, three dimensional characters who offer up dual narratives that are *distinct.* I just really think that you are missing out here but alas, you are more schooled in SF/F than I am. I will check out Kage Baker’s Company series and no comment on not reading the Asaro, because I am way behind myself. Have a happy holiday Jan. We’ll have to have this discussion/debate re Monette – later. I won’t give up!

  14. (Jān)
    Dec 25, 2008 @ 13:30:20

    I tend to think of her novels as being episodic, sometimes with no over arching theme per se and if done right, it works.

    See to me, if there’s no theme tying episodes together, it’s no longer a novel but a collection of unrelated short stories that just happen to be set in the same universe.

    Remembering the first book, there was also the unrelenting darkness and torture that was just too much.

    It actually reminds me in part of something I have trouble with in the Dresden books. Butcher likes to pile bad things upon his hero, I guess to make us sympathize and to make the guy seem more heroic. But after a while it starts to feel like bad fan fiction because that’s something that bad ff writers do to Mary Sues in place of character development. You start to roll your eyes at it, because it changes from being dark and something you’re moved by to into farce, because it’s completely over the top and unreal.

    And when you feel that from someone’s book, unless it’s a comedy, that means the author should consider toning it down. IMO. (Luckily Butcher has done so, though he still likes to kick his hero when he’s down, and I just roll my eyes and skip those scenes or in one case an entire book in the series lol. Thank God for Wiki plot summaries! XD)

    But anyway, there’s dark, and then there’s overkill, and that first book of Monette’s was overkill to me.

  15. Nikki
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 12:10:26

    I already like Nodame and have been following that for a while. I think of the series suggested, I have been reading most except for La Corda and Vampire Knight. I could never get into those two. I intermittently turn back to Ouran but I don’t like the art as much, sometimes the angularity gets to me.

    I do read a lot of BL though, I have all of Junjou and am currently enjoying the anime as well. Love Mode has some… not PC elements, Blue Boy in and of itself is not PC. Aoe Shogo, so not PC.

    I absolutely love Skip Beat. I hope the manga-ka gets an opportunity to really take it places. I think part of why it really clicks for me is that when they started releasing Skip Beat in the US it was in the middle of a manga slump for me. So, the craziness that is Kyoko was completely different. I also like that while there is a romantic triangle, the plot is not only about the romantic triangle. I feel like there are some shonen elements in that she continually faces challenges and learns to overcome them in order to become a more talented actor.

  16. (Jān)
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 14:47:20

    @Nikki, so it sounds like you’re not looking for something like Furuba then, but rather something new and different? I’m not sure what to tell you there. Aside from Sand Chronicles, none of the newest series have really clicked with me. Have you tried ‘josei’ titles like Nana or Tramps like Us or Honey and Clover? Full House is a really popular josei manhwa title, though I’ve not been able to get into it.

    LOL, BL and PC don’t exactly go together. That’s part of what I love about it, that the Japanese just don’t care about those Western standards. XD Although, Aoe Shougo is villain and really, you’re not going to find PC villains anywhere I think. ^_^;

    What I love about Love Mode is how unabashedly emotional it is, and how Shimizu-sensei manages to convey that emotion to the reader. When I read Love Mode I feel. I cry, at the joyful parts and at the sad ones. Few manga or mangaka do that to me.

  17. (Jān)
    Dec 26, 2008 @ 15:26:43

    Nikki, one series I love that people seem to ignore is Gakuen Alice. I’m not really sure who the intended audience is supposed to be because the heroine is so young (grade school), but I and a couple of girlfriends follow it avidly. I hadn’t mentioned it because it’s not romantic, exactly. But it is different and engaging.

  18. Jules Jones
    Dec 29, 2008 @ 08:39:08

    I’ve found Jan’s manga reviews extremely useful, and bought a couple of titles on the basis of her reviews. (And added several more to the “will buy when we are no longer in a tiny temporary flat” list. :-)

  19. Estara
    Dec 29, 2008 @ 10:40:59

    I’d like to throw in a recommendation for High School Debut as a fun shoujo title this year and next year Viz will be releasing Reaching You which is just a cute story between a misunderstood, well-meaning but creepy girl and a nice, misunderstood by the girl popular boy who doesn’t think he owns the world (the new titles is Kimi Ni Todoke From Me To You).

    High School Debut has a tomboy heroine who concentrated on sports in junior high and now finally wants the manga romance of her dreams, so she gets herself a popular boy as a coach to make herself attractive to the opposite sex and she throws herself into it as if it was a sports competition ^^. Lovely stuff by Kazune Kawahara.

    OH and Silver Diamond which is mxm scifi adventure also finally arrived in the US this year

    @Jan: will we get more reviews from you next year? I missed your reviews in the last half of this year.

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