Mangaka: Mayu Murata
Publisher: Yen Press (@yenpress)
Translation: Amanda Haley
Lettering: Chiho Christie
WHAT IS IT?
A shy freshman is desperate to have fun at school for the first time with the help of her new crush and friends in this sugary sweet coming of age series.
Think of your favorite nerdy-girl-turned-popular film like Never Been Kissed and She’s All That with a throwback shoujo* style akin to Marmalade Boy.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Uka Ishimori went through middle school with the nickname “Rocky” due to her stone-faced expression, rigid posture, and introverted personality. She spent so much time hardening her heart to keep herself safe from the barrage of bullying that she wonders if she’ll ever smile again. After getting into her first choice high school, one with the promise of fun and adventure, she vows to make all of her dreams come true and break out of her shell. Doing so is easier said than done, however, and a mishap in the hall makes her first day as rocky as her cursed nickname.
Her new classmate Kai Miura, whose bright blonde hair reminds her of the lemon soda he favors, notices Ishimori’s struggles and decides to take her under his wing. With the assistance of his friends, Miura’s bound and determined to help Ishimori find her happiness and achieve her simple dream of having fun. This newfound relationship leaves Ishimori’s brain a sugar soaked mess and the first steps to a happier existence are finally within reach.
Murata’s art style is adorable and perfect for this kind of wholesome, coming of age story. It has a classic shoujo style that is eye catching and nostalgic, with modern aesthetics one would expect to see in a more recent title such as this, and every panel is such a treat for the eyes.
The characters’ soft features and ever present blushing are accented by bubbly, shiny backgrounds, and it heavily leans into the sweetness of the story in a manner that works well for the narrative without seeming forced or cheesy.
The story itself is simplistic but anyone who has been bullied or felt the desire to overcome their fears to fully embrace life will find the manga relatable and comforting. It’s a down to earth tale filled with realism and character focused plot points.
Christie and Haley really had their work cut out for them in this title with the heavy conversational themes of a high school narrative. Every font choice captures the tone of the manga perfectly and the sound effects are legible and don't distract from the art.
Ishimori is a wonderful main character that will immediately draw readers in with her struggles, soft personality, and hope for a better future. She is given many small but meaningful moments of growth that quickly cements her as someone to root for.
There’s a pivotal moment toward the end of the volume where Ishimori reclaims her nickname of Rocky and turns it into something positive and it is so powerful. It is a wonderfully written moment of character development that deserves to be mentioned.
I loved that the supporting cast was given the ability to shine during this first volume. Many times the minor characters, especially in a romance-leaning series, don’t get much spotlight until later volumes, but the group of students who befriend Ishimori were given the chance to shine and build rapport with not only the main character but the readers, too.
Miura seems to be really into fashion and is shown with lots of accessories, and his bright blonde hair is often a focal point. I love how many patterns and small details are used to showcase his sense of style and hone in on that trait. He really stands out against the introverted, invisible Ishimori and it’s a nice design choice to visually show their differing personalities and social standings.
A small detail I really like is that each chapter is called a Sparkle and it’s so cute and perfectly matches the tone of the manga.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
CW: Mild language, strong and extensive scenes of bullying.
Ishimori’s transformation from reserved, shy overachiever to a happy, bubbly, confident girl is only in its initial stages but it does feel like the change is heavily reliant on Miura, which does lean a bit into the cliche that a girl’s happiness relies on love and cute boys. Hopefully, this shifts to allow Ishimori to have a beautiful transformation on her own later on and doesn’t rely so heavily on the tropes.
The characters are a bit dramatic, which is 100% accurate for the age of the cast and will probably resonate with a younger audience but, as an adult, it felt a bit whiny.
Ishimori and Miura’s relationship is a bit strange but that might simply be chalked up to first volume foundation building. Miura is wishy-washy and borderline bullies Ishimori in an attempt to push her out of her shell and Ishimori is so smitten she doesn’t really question it. Given their ages, it does sit in a realistic place of the inability to really judge and properly handle the wave of emotions that come with first crushes, but it does have some toxic undertones.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Fans of classic shoujo titles, slice-of-life stories, and sweet, wholesome tales will absolutely love Honey Lemon Soda. This newly released title from Yen Press is an absolute delight and showcases the hardships of stepping into high school, falling in love for the first time, and figuring out who you are and who you want to become. Ishimori's journey of self discovery is down to earth and charming, with the backdrop of the often chaotic and transformative freshman year adding to the impact of the narrative in an honest and realistic way. It's relatable, honest, and sweet and will have you hooked from the first "Sparkle".
With beautiful, soft artwork that is shimmering and bubbly, and a fun cast of characters that you'll definitely enjoy getting to know, Honey Lemon Soda will quickly find its place among your favorite low-key and uplifting manga titles. This long running and well-loved series has finally made its debut for American audiences, and readers can get excited about adding this wonderful collection to their libraries with regular releases on the horizon from Yen Press in both digital and physical formats.
HOW DO I READ IT?
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*shoujo is a genre of manga known for its cute characters and romance lean