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Arina Tanemura is a very well known shoujo mangaka who has made herself easily recognizable for her detailed drawing style and clever use of screen tones and effects. Since her first serial, I.O.N., she has also make a name for herself as a writer of romantic stories that have a little extra mystery with sometimes surprising endings.
And because her stories are never as simple as “boy meets girl, they fall in love”, they have intrigue, mystery, and sometimes grudges that last for more than two generations. She shows the dark side of obsession, as well as the consequences of loneliness and unrequited love, and manages to do so through a very interesting cast of characters that go from the innocent and naïve to the evil and cunning.
So here we have the 10 best characters designed by Arina Tanemura, both for their interesting looks and their deep stories.
10. Takuto Kira from Full moon O Sagashite
- Volumes: 7
- Published Date: 2001 - 2004
One of a shinigami pair that is assigned to take Mitsuki’s soul in Full moon O Sagashite, he usually wears a cat outfit with a backpack with wings, which is necessary for him to fly, as he is actually a shinigami in training. However, when he manages to get a hold of Mitsuki, he feels that she does have a reason to want to survive just a bit longer, so he decides to use his powers to help her transform into the idol Fullmoon, much to his partner Meroko’s, concern because that’s the first clue that Takuto is falling in love with a human, and while that in itself is not against the rules, he could end up breaking the most important one: Not saving a human life.
It is when we find out Takuto’s past as a human that things start getting more interesting: He was the lead singer of ROUTE:L, a band where Mitsuki’s dad and her doctor also were in. However, just like Mitsuki needs to have her vocal cords removed, he had a throat tumor that took his voice. Due to this, he tried to kill himself by jumping off the hospital roof, and then remained in a coma for two years. What happens next is part of the end, but it does explain why Takuto is so interesting and the tenth place on our list.
9. Chikage Deguchi from Idol Dreams
- Volumes: 4
- Published Date: 2013 - ongoing
Poor Chikage has the mid-life crisis to end all mid-life crises. She’s just turned 31 and is completely convinced her life has been a complete waste since she left high school; when she was popular, the class representative, and had suitors all around. As she is now an adult, she is not popular, doesn’t stand out at all, and in fact, is still a virgin, something that makes her the butt of some mean jokes. This makes her cry at her high school reunion when she realizes that no matter how hard she worked, she’s definitely not where she wanted to be. Cue a friend of hers who has a very experimental drug on hand and now Chikage gets to be 15 again.
Now, Chikage doesn’t go back in time. No, she just turns 15 again, and decides to walk around town enjoying her temporary youth, which means that, of course, she ends up being mistaken for a model, and in a very productive advertisement with one of the most popular idols in Japan. Which means, of course, she has to do it again. So how can she balance her dream life at 15 with her real life at 31? That dichotomy is what makes Chikage interesting. She’s not a teenager making mistakes for the first time, she is an adult that knows a lot more about life than people think, but who at the same time, feels completely like a fish out of water.
This double life, and her constant cuteness, be it at 31 or at 15, make Chikage the ninth place on our list.
8. Fuzuki Koyama from Full Moon O Sagashite
- Volumes: 7
- Published Date: 2001- 2004
Grandmothers who have to take care of their grandchildren tend to run in two extremes. Either they spoil their grandchildren to death, or they are so strict their grandchildren sometimes wish they were dead. Fuzuki at first falls in the second category. She took in her granddaughter when Mitsuki was ten but had a very cold relationship with her, practically never speaking to her unless it was to forbid her from singing in her house. So at first, Fuzuki seems like a stereotypical stern grandmother who hates everything fun.
But once Mitsuki runs away to become Fullmoon, Fuzuki starts to realize that she has been so preoccupied with her hate toward music that she never realized she couldn’t keep Mitsuki from it. Sure, she has a reason: She has lost everyone she loved due to music, or so she feels: She and her best friend fell in love with the same man when they were younger, and when he choose Fuzuki to marry, she couldn’t go ahead with the wedding due to her loyalty to her friend. Unfortunately, her friend misunderstood their goodbye kiss and killed herself.
Due to this dramatic past, and her will to change her attitude towards her granddaughter, Fuzuki gains the eighth place on our list.
7. Access Time from Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne
- Volumes: 7
- Published Date: 1997 - 2000
Access Time is a Dark Angel, an Angel that still needs to do many good deeds to earn the title of Full Angel. At the same time, he’s Kaitou Sinbad’s sidekick, the one who allows Chiaki to transform into him, and the one who lets him know where demons are going to attack. And just as Chiaki seems to be head over heels for Maron/Jeanne, Access Time is completely in love with Maron’s angelic sidekick, the feisty Fin Fish. Unfortunately for him, his feelings are not reciprocated, no matter how much he insists and tries to call the other angel’s attention.
And then comes the tragedy of Access’s story as Fin’s denial of his feelings is not just because he is incredibly pushy and clingy. No, it’s because she has a secret of her own, a secret that could very easily hurt him… and he doesn’t care. He is stubbornly loyal, and so in love that not even death and reincarnation can keep him away from his beloved. Adding to that, Access has a very notable design, with black hair and black wings, that becomes even more interesting once he manages to hit Full Angel status, and this is why Access Time has the seventh place on our list.
6. Maika Kamiya from The Gentleman’s Alliance Cross
- Volumes: 11
- Published Date: 2004 -2008
Maika Kamiya has not had an easy life. Due to the tradition of her school and her rich family, instead of marrying her high school sweetheart Itsuki Otomiya, she was forced to be Kazuhito Kamiya´s girlfriend, and finally marry him, as without the marriage her family would end up bankrupt. So she did so, despite still loving Itsuki and insisting that it was just for show. She never found out that the only reason she was forced to marry Kazuhito was because her husband literally rigged the school elections in order to steal her away from Itsuki, but she came to feel sorry for her husband as he seemed to be a very lonely man.
Maika was the mother of all of Kazhuhito’s children; Haine, Komaki, and Tachibana, and stood aside when Kazhuito decided to “sell” Haine to Itsuki for 50 million yen as a new daughter. It was then when he revealed to her that he always knew that Haine was not his daughter, but Itsuki’s. Because of this, Maika suffered a breakdown that made her end up ill, in the hospital, and away from all her children. One can even imagine that part of it is that she has feelings for her husband, but also for Itsuki, and she can’t make them reconcile , thus her brain shut down for a bit.
Because this makes her incredibly interesting and complex, she has the sixth place on our list.
5. Maguri Tsujimiya from The Gentleman’s Alliance Cross
- Volumes: 11
- Published Date: 2004 – 2008
Maguri is a very cheerful kid, who is the vice president of the Student Council and best friends with the president, whom he knows as Shizumasa Togu, but is in fact Takanari Togu (this is a bit complicated and a great deal of the plot of the manga). What many people don’t know is that he has a very soft side, despite the fact that he is part of a yakuza family. This may be the reason why Maguri has learned since his infancy that you are loyal to your friends no matter what.
Despite the fact that he is the only Student Council member that didn’t kiss Haine at some point, he at first claims to be in love with her. But then, he’s very good at hiding his own feelings: After all, he pretended to be Takanari’s boyfriend (When Takanari was pretending to be Shizumasa) for years, just to make sure that girls would leave Takanari alone. He also kept his feelings for the Student Council’s mailman secret, even if Haine could figure them out.
Because of all the secrets he carries, and the depth of his feelings for his friends, he easily earns number 5 on our list.
4. Fin Fish from Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne
- Volumes: 7
- Published Date: 1997 - 2000
Finn Fish is the green haired angel that appeared in front of Maron Kusakabe to reveal her destiny as Jeanne D’Arc’s reincarnation. She’s a little angel, not quite yet a full angel, but on her way to that as her wings are white and not black. She is also Maron’s first real friend, and helps her and cheers her up in her mission to save the beauty in human’s hearts. Unfortunately, that’s just a façade. The truth is that Fin is the devil’s advocate and her job is to hurt and fill Maron’s heart with evil to make Jeanne d’Arc’s powers disappear completely.
That alone would make Fin qualify for our list as she’s not just a traitor: She’s a spy, and a very good one as she manages to manipulate Maron, Chiaki and Access Time perfectly. But then we find out why she’s a spy, why she betrayed heaven and went to work with Maou to undo the good work of Eve’s reincarnation. And that story is so heartbreaking, so tragic, that it would deserve a manga of its own. It is then when we realize that the girl who betrayed Heaven had been long before betrayed by everyone around her, except maybe Access Time.
Because of her tragic past, Fin earns the fourth place on our list.
3. Kyoko Sumoi from Time Stranger Kyoko
- Volumes: 3
- Published Date: 2000 -2001
Kyoko is the princess of Earth. With that title, one can imagine that her life is one of luxury and easy living but the truth is that she prefers to live as a commoner, without anyone knowing that she’s royalty. Sure, two bodyguards accompany her to school, but they also blend among the students and pose as her friends. Thus, she lives happily even if the people around the planet are getting anxious about not seeing the princess and future ruler. So Kyoko’s father, the King, offers her an out: If she manages to wake her twin sister Ul, trapped outside of time, before their sixteenth birthday, Ul will rule in Kyoko’s place and Kyoko can live how she pleases the rest of her life.
As personalities go, Kyoko is a very cheerful girl, loyal and friendly. She is, after all, a shoujo main character. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and she wants to wake her sister, not just so that she can keep living as a normal girl, she also wants to meet this sister she never had the chance to meet. She also is very capable of sacrificing her own happiness for the happiness of her friends, and, more importantly, has a very interesting backstory that is a secret even to herself, as she doesn’t know that she is in fact, not quite human but the daughter of Chronos, god of Time.
And this is the reason why Kyoko, despite not being one of the most known Arina Tanemura’s main characters, earns the third place on our list.
2. Ai Tachibana from Neko to Watashi no Kinyobi
- Volumes: 11
- Published Date: 2013 – 2015
Ai Tachibana is a very sweet sixteen-year-old girl. She’s considered very girly, something we can see easily due to her pink hair, and loves everything cute, especially chocolate. She also has two great loves: her family, and Mia Serizawa, one of her classmates. Ai is pretty sure that Mia reciprocates her feelings, but since he is not taking the first step, she figures it’s on her to express her feelings towards him, except that she has no idea how to do so.
At the same time, and even if she’s not the best student in her group, she’s tutoring her younger cousin Nekota, who is in elementary school. And for some reason, he is always around when Ai tries to talk to Serizawa, and manages to ruin Ai’s attempts. It is only then when Ai realizes the truth: Nekota is in love with her and he’s not going to let anyone get between him and her heart. It’s now Ai’s turn to try and let her cousin down easily while still figuring out her own feelings for both Mia and her cousin.
Because of her cute looks, and the novelty of an older girl being pursed by a younger boy, we definitely give Ai the second place on our list.
1. Maron Kusakabe from Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne
- Volumes: 7
- Published Date: 1997 - 2000
Maron Kusakabe seems to be a very outgoing and cheerful girl. She has a close friendship with her neighbor and classmate Miyako Toudaiji. Everyone in school knows that Maron is a warm person, ready to help and always smiling. However, she’s actually hiding a deep sadness, and the fact that she is incredibly lonely because, for years, she’s been living alone in an apartment while her divorced parents work away from Japan, at least until she decides with whom she wants to live. She also has another secret: thanks to her friend, the semi-angel Fin Fish, she can transform into Kaitou Jeanne, a magical girl whose mission is to save the beauty of human hearts from the demons who seek to destroy it.
But what makes Maron interesting is not her double life as a phantom thief. No, it is her duality and how she hides the effects loneliness has on her. She wants to trust Chiaki, but her experiences with love make her afraid to do so. She loves her friend Miyako, but is afraid to hurt her, as Miyako wants to capture Jeanne. And of course, she loves her parents, both of them, and is terribly afraid that they have stopped loving her, and thus she can’t bring herself to call them to see why they never write as she is unaware that, in fact, it’s all part of a plan to make her fall into despair and lose her powers as the wind of kami.
And the way in which Maron balances all her problems and manages to keep a cheerful mask, as well as the reveal of her origins and why it’s important that she can recover from all the pain, is precisely why she is the first place on our list.
What makes a character interesting and well designed can be a matter of what each reader likes. It is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. However, there are certain qualities in some characters that make them stand out from the rest: both in looks and in personality.
As we said at first, Arina Tanemura is famous for her shoujo stories. But more than that, her characters tend to always have hidden depths. Even the ones in the sweetest, simple romances, are not what they seem. So here we ask, do you agree with our list? Or did we miss one of her intriguing characters that deserved a place here? Please, let us know in the comments.