Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket (Japanese: フルーツバスケット, Hepburn: Furūtsu Basuketto) is a modern fantasy manga. Serialized in the semi-monthly Japanese shōjo manga magazine Hana to Yume, it ran from 1998 to 2006. Volume One contains the first six issues.
High school student Tohru Honda will not let circumstances get her down. True, her father died a long time ago. True, her mother recently died. True, the girl appears to have no contact with her long-dead father’s relatives, while her mother’s kin mostly despise the girl. But at least Tohru’s grandfather is willing to offer her refuge!
At least her grandfather was until his home needed renovating. Until the renovations are finished, Tohru will have to fend for herself. Tohru would never dream of inconveniencing a friend. Thus her tent in the woods.
Yuki Sohma is surprised to discover a schoolmate living rough on the Sohma estate. Although he is aloof (for good reasons), he is not hard-hearted. In any case, Yuki and his older cousin Shigure have a use for a compliant young woman. They offer her a room in their mansion in exchange for services.
Wait, not the services you may be expecting. Yuki is well known at school to eschew the touch of women. Yuki and Shigure live in abject squalor because apparently housework is infra dig. Tohru can have free room and board provided that she provides without charge the sort of housework for which the wealthy young men would have to pay quite a sum. Everyone wins!
It does not take the relentlessly cheerful Tohru all that long to stumble over the Sohma clan secret. Thirteen members of the clan are cursed. Twelve of them transform into animals of the zodiac when hugged . The thirteenth turns into a cat, the animal that due to a practical joke did not make it into the zodiac. This is the reason Yuki maintains his distance from girls at school.
Outsiders are not supposed to know about the family secret. Tohru could be a problem. She’s likeable and even dependable, but she cannot be as motivated to keep the secret as are the Sohmas.
As it happens, there is an easy fix. Transformation is not the only exotic talent the clan has. They could simply erase Tohru’s memory….
Astronomical stuff: the twelve animals are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Cat was supposed to be one of the zodiac animals but he was cheated out of it by Rat. Clan members appear to have some of the characteristics of the zodiac animals into which they transform. In the case of Kyo (Cat), this manifests as hostility towards Yuki (Rat) and a conviction that if Kyo can ever defeat Yuki in hand-to-hand combat, the Cat will ascend to the zodiac. Whether this is true is unlikely to be verified, as Kyo always loses to Yuki.
Tohru seems to be living in difficult circumstances, but it’s even worse than it appears. Some of her relatives go beyond indifferent to actively hostile, because they consider Tohru’s mother to have married beneath her and view Tohru herself as damaged goods fated to come to some thematically suitable dismal fate (like becoming the teenaged sex toy of a bunch of rich boys, which seems to be what her relatives think is going on with the Sohmas).
On top of this, for reasons that are unclear, most of her schoolmates ostracize Tohru. The title of the manga comes from a children’s game, in which each participant takes the name of a different fruit. When Tohru plays, she is always the rice ball, which is not a fruit and never gets called.
Her relentless cheer, therefore, seems less inherent good nature and more a desperate bid to surmount the endless waves of crap that wash over her. No wonder she latches onto the Sohmas. They’re weird but mostly nice.
Alas, definitely fantasy, definitely very very popular, competently executed but not quite my thing. Readers looking for a found-family fantasy might like it a bit more than I did.
1: The rules require being hugged by a non-blood relative of the opposite sex. Have fun working out the loopholes! Yes, this explicitly causes problems with respect to marriage: they can either marry kin or resign themselves to a constrained sex life.