Mangaka: AidaIro (@aidairo2009)
Publisher: Yen Press (@YenPress)
WHAT IS IT?
An occult-loving girl becomes the assistant to a ghost who lives in a toilet stall in her haunted school in this creepy, chilling, and surprisingly cute manga series.
Think Spirited Away with a Moaning Myrtle-like protagonist.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
“Hanako-san, Hanako-san… are you there?"
Nene Yashiro is a boy crazy, hopeless romantic who loves hot guys and all things occult. While attending Kamone Academy, she begins to hear about the school’s unusual rumors and their otherworldly powers. One such rumor is that of Hanako-san, a spirit said to haunt the third stall in the third-floor girls' bathroom. Legend states that Hanako-san grants wishes when summoned, and Nene is just desperate enough for her crush to notice her that she’s willing to give it a try.
After performing the ritual, she’s shocked to find out that Hanako-san isn’t what everyone says! Hanako-san is actually a boy and he has absolutely no idea how to help Nene find true love! After many failed attempts, an attack by a mermaid, and an unexpected curse, Nene finds herself indebted to the toilet stall ghost and has to spend her afternoons assisting Hanako-kun with his daily tasks. Now a part of the magical and dangerous world of spirits and school rumors, Nene realizes that Kamone Academy is home to an incredible ensemble of powerful beings led by none other than Hanako-kun himself. Will this unlikely duo be able to wrangle in the troublesome spirits, or will Nene’s young life be cut short without her ever finding true love?
AidaIro has perfectly woven together the worlds of creepy and cute into a series that is immensely fun, unsettling, and emotionally gripping. The beautifully written cast of characters have a depth to them that is captivating. Readers are immediately drawn into Nene’s world and emotionally invested in the story before things even truly begin.
The art is dark and heavily detailed. With a wide range of supernatural creatures inspired by classic youkai and Japanese folklore, the immense range of fine, detailed lines against stark black elements makes every panel and every page abundantly beautiful even when the tone is humorous.
Though the dialogue is pretty standard when it comes to Yen Press titles in the font and placement aspects, the sound effects shine in this series. From small text to booming letters, the style and placement of these enhancing pieces really drive home the chilling and charming moments with an incredible flare.
Despite the humorous title and tone of the series, the emotional depth of the characters is gripping and oftentimes heart-wrenching. The human side of the narrative is the true draw for readers, as the relationships the young cast builds are stretched, torn, and woven together through loss, major life events, and love. It is surprisingly human for being so supernatural.
The aspect of the rumors gaining power is similar to Number 3’s powers in Umbrella Academy, the more they’re spoken about the more they evolve and grow in strength. It’s a clever way to change the story and keep things fresh by using the common trope of classmate gossip to create new threats.
Hanako-kun is a brilliantly corrupted anti-hero that is gripping and empathetic. It’s hard to describe without going into spoiler territory, but the central narrative of how he became the fabled ghost in the bathroom stall is one of the most captivating origin stories in recent memory.
The series features two extra volumes outside of the main story, titled After School Hanako-kun and Hanako-kun vol.0. These feature bonus stories as well as the original short series chapters that inspired the long-running title. Vol.0 also includes AidaIro’s debut work, My Dear Living Dead, which is just as enjoyable. Basically, there's a lot of content so it is a good long-running series for readers who want a lot of depth.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
CW: Scary and disturbing imagery, strong language, intense violence and light monster-related gore, adult themes and humor (though nothing explicit), heavy themes and conversations about death.
The cast gets quite big later on in the series and, more often than not, the storylines diverge and don’t reconnect until several chapters or volumes later, and it can be easy to forget what the other group/s were doing, especially when you’re waiting for the next volume to release.
Though Hanako-kun vol. 0 is comprised of the original short stories that gave life to the series, it does feature some elements and characters that have more detailed stories in the main series. While not necessary, I (personally) recommend you read vol.0 after you get a few volumes into the series, so you can really appreciate how well-developed these concepts become.
In the same vein as the above point, After School Hanako-kun is best read after you’ve gotten a few volumes into the series, as it features a lot of later characters and story elements that won’t make sense if you are unfamiliar with the series.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
A truly iconic manga series of the modern age, Toilet-bound Hanako-kun brings curious readers in with its eyebrow-raising title and hooks you with its dark, creepy, and somehow adorable story before you even realize what happened. This unique series is simply one you have to read to understand the hype and it is an investment that many will laud as being well worth the time. It features an incredibly unique art style with rich blacks, beautiful monsters, and chilling imagery that will stick with you long after you finish a volume. The characters are dynamic, empathetic, and surprisingly human, making for a memorable cast that pulls you into their journeys – both individual and collectively – with ease.
This series is sold at major retail stores alongside icons like My Hero Academia and Naruto, making it one of the most widely available manga series on the market right now, and for good reason. Don't let that mainstream vibe deter you, however, as even long-time manga readers like myself applaud this series for its uniqueness and style that is indeed worth the hype. Downright chilling, immensely charming, and horrendously addicting, Toilet-bound Hanako-kun is a series you don’t want to miss.
HOW DO I READ IT?
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