For those familiar with BL and ‘yaoi hands’, Nakamura Shungiku is a household name. Nakamura Shungiku has a very distinct art style that can be recognized almost immediately, and is known for her rather similar looking characters. However, she manages to capture some of the most hilarious faces in manga, and that is something we can appreciate. Her excellent timing of these disgusted, terrified, or embarrassed faces when they aren’t expected adds another layer of comedy.
She began making manga in 1998, her first work being Touzandou Tentsui Ibun. Much of her work focuses on feudal era drama and incorporates some Japanese folklore into some of her earlier works. More recently, her work has focused on multiple couples in a similar setting that are somehow somewhat related, be it through occupation or childhood friendships. While predominantly a BL writer, she has delved into heterosexual romance as well. She has little fear of creating vivid and detailed sexual or violent scenes, but also creates tamer works meant to highlight the progression of relationships with the emphasis being on emotions. Without further ado, here are the top 5 manga by Shungiku Nakamura!
5. Tsuki wa Yamiyo ni Kakuru ga Gotoku
- Genre: Historical, Romance, Shounen Ai
- Volumes: 1
- Published Date: 1999
Legend tells of a white demon that roams the night, and should you meet eyes, you will be devoured. Corpses found in pieces seem to prove the validity of this horrifying tale. A young boy named Tetsu who lays eyes on the ‘demon’ one night sees opportunity. He decides that this deadly monster, a man named Shino, is the only one who can teach him the way of the sword. Tetsu’s innocent envy of Shino’s skill does little to sway the hardened criminal’s heart, but at his friend’s encouraging, Shino decides to let Tetsu stay with him. Can an assassin hope to raise an impressionable child without turning Tetsu into himself?
Tsuki wa Yamiyo ni Kakuru ga Gotoku is an interesting tale for many reasons. It deals with some pretty heavy themes, but chooses to focus on the joy and humor of new relationships and completely opposite people. In a very subtle way, Shungiku shows us how we are shaped by our pasts, but how they don’t need to define us. We are able to grow from our perceived limits with the help of not only romantic partners but other meaningful relationships. What separates this manga and makes it stand out is that the romantic gay relationship is not the thing that saves anyone or creates some phenomenal change. This manga showcases differing and important relationships with varying levels of expression and honesty in different aspects of one’s life. If you enjoy the characters happening to be gay vs ‘the story can’t exist without the gay’, definitely give this manga a read!
4. Mangetsu Monogatari
- Genre: Comedy, Historical, Romance, Shounen Ai, Gender Bender
- Volumes: 1
- Published Date: 2001
The beautiful Kaguya-hime, found in a bamboo stalk, is rumored to be the most beautiful maiden in all the land. While the jaded Takaaki cares little for such seemingly fabricated stories, his enamored friend Naruhito manages to convince him to come along. While Naruhito sits outside Kaguya-hime’s home, Takaaki finds himself in the company of a boisterous, crass individual who seems to love life. Far from Takaaki’s stoic disposition, this man has a very carefree way of life despite a trauma he can’t remember. Will the three find what they are missing within each other, or will they merely carry on as they are?
In another feudal tale by Shungiku, this story focuses on the effects of corruption and falling from grace. We have another three-person dynamic which is nice for fleshing out the characters, as Naruhito exists as more than just a person to stir up drama in a love triangle. This is also a great read for those who are big fans of pretty boys! There are many interesting twists in Mangetsu Monogatari, aside from the one you can probably already guess. Far more than just a silly retelling of a famous legend, the mysteries in Mangetsu Monogatari will keep you eager for the next page!
3. Junjou Romantica
- Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance, Yaoi
- Volumes: 21+
- Published Date: 2002 - ongoing
Junjou Romantica covers three love stories, all connected to each other. The first story features a headstrong but determined young man named Misaki studying under his brother's literary genius friend, Akihiko. At first, the two detest each other! Misaki can't accept Akihiko’s feelings for his brother, Takahiro, and Akihiko hates how rude and unlike Takahiro the younger brother is. When they are forced to spend time together in order to make Takahiro happy, they will find their initial impressions of each other were very wrong. Junjou Egoist follows the story of Hiroki, a childhood friend of Akihiko’s, trying to get over his unrequited love. After meeting Nowaki, a younger man, the two find they are inexplicably bound. Junjou Terrorist features the love of teacher and student, in the most occupationally hazardous way possible. Not only is Shinobu the son of the dean of literature, and Miyagi’s boss, he’s the younger brother of Miyagi’s ex-wife. While all of this seems to point to problems for Miyagi, Shinobu sees it as fate.
If you know any manga, it will probably be Junjou Romantic. While it is ongoing, only 12 volumes were published in English, but that’s still a heck of a story! While it may seem like the stories would overlap too much in terms of character dynamics, Shungiku does a great job of keeping the individuals' character flaws and problems unique to their personal stories. Having all three of these couples being somewhat related to each other also helps to show sides of them outside romantic relationships, which keeps them fresh. This is truly one of her ‘harder' works, and if you're looking for some hot boy-on-boy action that will still leave you emotional, we've got you covered! There's more to love with all three couples in Junjou Romantica!
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Shounen
- Volumes: 2
- Published Date: 2002-2004
Suzuri wants to protect her village from the threat of demons with her own power. However, she thinks it would be rude to the gods should she ignore this giant peach floating down the river towards her, most certainly a divine reward for her hard work! Suzuri bites off more than she can chew when a young boy pops out of the peach and starts begrudgingly calling her master!! He explains his name is Momo and he is bound to follow her commands. While they both have misgivings about the other, they must learn to trust and rely on each other should they hope to defeat the god Kyuui, responsible for the demon outbreak.
√W.P.B. is another example of an ancient legend being the springboard for a Shungiku manga. A noticeable departure from her other works is her inclusion of a female romantic lead. Yet her depiction of Suzuri is far from the usual emotional, one-dimensional character tropes often found in BL manga. Instead, Suzuri is strong and while not all that capable, she is much more concerned with ending the suffering in her village than pining after a boy. Despite Momo’s superior combat skills, she still feels a sense of duty as his master to look out for and provide for him. With a cast of talking animals and grumpy boys battling demons along a duty-bound female protagonist, √W.P.B. is an exciting read!
1. Hybrid Child
- Genre: Drama, Historical, Romance, Shounen Ai
- Volumes: 1
- Published Date: 2003 – 2004
A hybrid child is a miracle of technology. With love and care from their owners, they can grow and learn. A Hybrid Child is a reflection of his master. While seemingly unconnected, 3 tales make up the overarching story of Hybrid Child and explain just what they can mean to people. A young lord will stop at nothing to keep his servant by his side. A jaded samurai wishes nothing more than to protect his treasured one from the horrors of his past. A hot-headed scientist and stubborn but duty-bound minister find their relationship attacked by war and politics. Love, longing, loss… what would your Hybrid Child reveal?
Let’s not beat around the bush; this is probably Shungiku’s most emotional/sad manga. All three mini stories contain the theme of not being able to face your emotions and being pushed to the breaking point. The results of which are varied. This story is so intriguing because it explores the differences in life forms that are still able to love. The ‘should you/could you’ dilemma is compounded with the couples being male. We’re not saying you’ll need a vat of ice cream and box of tissues before reading, but we’re also not saying there’s no point in being prepared.
Shungiku has managed to enthrall BL enthusiasts through the years, but don’t let her usual themes deter you! Her shounen (minus the ai) manga is also a good read, and her ability to expand from ancient folktales and interview multiple stories is something to be applauded. While she is best known for her more straightforward yaoi manga, in which she does a phenomenal job captivating the interests of BL fans, she’s so much more than that. She’s managed to create numerous stories with extremely varied themes, both simple and extremely complicated.
With three anime adaptations under her belt, she’s made a name for herself for manga and anime fans alike. While it was hard to narrow this list down, it did help and hinder that unfortunately not all of her works are completely translated. Should you wish to delve further into the world of Nakamura Shungiku, be prepared! If there are other stories you think should get some recognition, please list them below in the comments!