Yuki Midorikawa’s Natsume’s Book of Friends (Natsume Yūjin-chō) is a Japanese fantasy manga series. First serialized in LaLa DXin 2005, it switched to LaLa in 2008. Volume 1 collects the first four issues.
Takashi Natsume is an orphan, passed from relative to relative as so often happens in manga. His current guardians are Touko and Shigeru Fujiwara, who are determined to give the boy a stable home. Takashi values his foster parents and for this reason keeps his greatest secret from them: he has occult powers.
Like his late grandmother, Reiko Natsume, Takashi can see spirits of all kinds. The modern world doesn’t have a niche for people with this gift. Takashi is considered a bit odd; he is convinced that he is friendless.
Reiko found herself in much the same boat. Her solution was to use her prodigious spiritual powers to harass and bully spirits into giving her their names, which she recorded in her Book of Friends. Armed with that secret knowledge, Reiko could force the spirits to do her bidding.
Reiko is dead but her book survives. Spirits find it difficult to distinguish between one mortal and another; they mistakenly approach the grandson in their quests to win back their names. Some beg. Others threaten.
Takashi could use the book to compel obedience from the spirits as Reiko did. Instead, assisted by the Ayakashi Madara (who cheerfully admits it is only waiting for the chance to eat Takashi and steal the book), he sets out to return the names to their owners, regardless of the danger to himself.
The art in this manga is evocative and appealing.
Takashi’s isolation appears to be somewhat self-inflicted (which we know because the manga sometimes shows other people’s points of view). The boy believes his tendency to react to entities nobody else can see makes him appear peculiar, a social pariah. His fellow students are worried because Takashi is continually falling asleep in class. His foster parents also worry about him1. Kaname, a creepy student who seems to be stalking Takashi, turns out to be someone with a lesser form of the same gift. He later becomes a friend and ally.
The manga is structured so that each chapter is self-contained, although presumably there is a long-term arc to the series. I’m guessing that this would be a story about how Takashi manages to overcome his isolation and connect to people despite (or in the cases of the spirits and Kaname, perhaps because of) his gift.
Despite the occasional threats and Takashi’s anxieties, this is a very amiable story about someone who is presented with a monumental opportunity to be an abusive monster and rejects it because it would be wrong. Takashi’s choice isn’t the convenient one. It’s just the right one.
1: Which isn’t to say those around Takashi mightn’t send him off to therapy if he talked about seeing invisible spirits, but there’s no proof in this volume that they would.