Holiday Gift Bag: Yotsuba&!

I know I’ve got a fair number of readers who aren’t that familiar with comics, and they may be wondering what they could buy their comics-reading friends and family for holiday gifts. OR they may be looking for a good comic that they can read themselves. Let’s take another look into the gift recommendations…

Today, we’re talking Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma. As you might guess from the artwork, this is a Japanese comic book — what is usually called manga (as opposed to anime, which is a Japanese animated cartoon). You’re probably wondering about that funky “&!” at the end of the title — think of it as shorthand for “Yotsuba and (something)!” as every episode of this story is about Yotsuba discovering something and getting excited about it.

Yotsuba is our main character in this one. She’s a six-year-old girl living in a new city with her adopted father, Koiwai. Yotsuba is fantastically enthusiastic and energetic about everything. She loves to draw, even though she’s not very good at it. She loves to swim, even though no one else she knows is very good at it. She loves cicadas, frogs, flowers, fireworks, farms, and festivals. She’s fascinated by all the things you were fascinated with when you were six, if only you could remember what they all were.

Her friends include the family next door, the Ayeses, who are generally bewildered by Yotsuba, but more than willing to be dragged along with her antics and adventures. And there’s Jumbo, her dad’s best friend, who is just a shade under seven feet tall. None of them are as adorably loony as Yotsuba, but they’re all pretty completely cracked.

This is a slice-of-life comedy series. There are no giant robots, tentacle monsters, no evil diaries, no demons, no orange-clad ninja twerps. There’s just Yotsuba and her friends being adorable and awesome. I find something to laugh out loud at in every book, something to smile about in every chapter, and something that’s wonderfully fun on every page. I know, I know, the cynical thing to do is to say it’s just silly kid stuff. But there are no cynics when it comes to this book — I don’t know anyone who hasn’t read it who doesn’t end up loving it.

There are seven or eight volumes of this book out on the shelves now, but here are the first three to get you started. Each one will only cost you about $10, and these days, that’s just ridiculously affordable. If you get it, remember that to Western readers, Japanese manga reads backwards — you start out reading the back of the book and move on to the front, and the panels are meant to be read from right to left, instead of left to right. It can be a little confusing at first, but it’s easy to get adjusted.

Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma. Go pick it up.

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