Izumi Tsubaki’s 2011-to-present Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is an ongoing four-panel romantic comedy manga. Volume 1 collects chapters 1 – 10.
Second-year student Chiyo Sakura screws her courage up and confesses her crush to crushee Umetarou Nozaki. Result: she is taken under Nozaki’s wing.
There are just a few problems with this result.
Sakura is inarticulate. Nozaki is studiously oblivious to all the signs that she’s infatuated. He interprets Sakura’s confession as fan adulation of his manga and hands her his autograph. In fact, Sakura had no idea that her crushee wrote and illustrated manga. When he discovers she has artistic talents, he recruits her to his team of illustrators. What better reward for a fan? Sakura agrees, hoping to stay close to Nozaki.
Nozaki is known at the school as just another second-year student, but under the penname Sakiko Yumeno he is the creator of the popular romance manga Let’s Fall in Love . His success is remarkable given that he is a self-taught artist of inconsistant skill. Even worse is the fact that he has no experience with actual, real-life romance. Hence his inability to see that Sakura is smitten with him.
But he does know how to fake it. He is armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of romance manga conventions; he works hard. He mines the world around for material. Friends with artistic skills are recruited to address the gaps in Nozaki’s skills … and also serve as inspiration for characters in Let’s Fall in Love .
Accepting a job offered because of a misunderstanding is perfectly credible.
The only person not aware of Sakura’s crush on Nozaki is Nozaki. No one else in the manga team wants to tell Nozaki what’s going on. If they did, they might lose Sakura’s services as an inker.
As above, so below: just as Nozaki is blind to what’s in front of him, so too do all of the characters have massive blind spots, about themselves and the world around them. It’s all comic material.
This manga also purports to be a tour of the glamourous world of manga, a halcyon world where age is no barrier to opportunity or success and where skilled editors are valued1, at least after one has endured the unskilled. Kittens, puppies, sparkly unicorns 😊
The four-panel structure means that what plot there is is Brownian in nature, characters buffeted by various alarums and diversions while bobbing erratically in no particular direction. It’s not uproarious comedy, but it’s amusing. We see flawed people struggling with strange obsessions while one person focuses on work, and only the work, tuning out everything else. Which is a flaw as well.
1: I was reminded of A Likely Story , a thirty-five-year-old comic novel likely unknown to most of you. In this novel, publishing is a ramshackle edifice riddled with cliques and nepotism; publishers are confused and inefficient and editors are meanies. It’s also a funny story about publishing, like Nozaki-kun , but with something of a different POV.