Natsume Yuujinchou a.k.a Natsume’s Book of Friendship started in 2005. Currently there are about 20 volumes available online and in stores. There is also an anime series that’s in its fifth season, with a sixth season announced for 2017.
Takashi Natsume or Natsume, as he is commonly called by his friends, has always been able to see entities that other people are not able to see. These entities are called “ayakashi.” Natsume is an orphan who has been passed from one set of family members to another, because he has the reputation of being a strange liar. At the age of 16 he is with Touko and Shigure Fujiwara, distant cousins to Natsume’s father. They also happen to live in the hometown of Natsume’s maternal grandmother, Reiko Natsume. Because ayakashi live so much longer than humans, many of them confuse Natsume with his grandmother. The ayakashi of the area often attack Natsume, while calling him Reiko.
It’s only after accidentally freeing Madara, a powerful ayakashi who can change his shape to be seen by regular humans, that Natsume understands what those attacking him are after. Reiko was an ostracized child with strong spiritual powers. She could not only see ayakashi, she could challenge them to games. If the ayakashi won, they could eat her. If Reiko won, they would give her their name. Reiko put all the names in a book. Whoever possesses the book can summon, command, or destroy the ayakashi. Now this powerful artifact is in the hands of Natsume, who decides to return as many names as he can, before he is eaten.
This story has all the makings of an action adventure. Monsters, a teenager, a powerful object that everybody who knows about it wants… Instead it’s a gentle story about how to form connections with others. Natsume is a very lonely kid. He can’t always tell what’s there for everybody versus what’s there’s only for him. He would see an ayakashi, tell someone else about it, then be called a liar because he was the only one to see them. It’s a vicious cycle, which is very difficult for him to break.
Natsume Yuujinchou is categorized under comedy, drama, josei, shoujo, and supernatural. The comedy, drama, and supernatural categorizations are pretty self explanatory. There are jokes, tense moments, and ayakashi throughout the story. A josei manga is a manga that is aimed towards women in their late teens and early adults. A shoujo manga is a manga that is aimed towards teen girls. I can kind of see that, because this manga focuses on emotions more so than actions. However, I think this is a good manga for anyone, regardless of gender.
The artwork is simple and rustic feeling. Lines aren’t always finished, but you know the people and objects that are being depicted. Things are mostly black and white, with little to no gray areas. It could be argued that the lighter blacks and darker whites could be considered gray, but for me, they don’t quite reach that shade. The color title pages are done in watercolor. Everything feels delicate and insubstantial, but also kind of permanent.
The pacing of this manga is great. It’s relaxed, fast, nostalgic, quiet, sweet, and refreshing. There’s at least one chapter per volume that made me cry. Once my vision clears, I always go back for more.
I would recommend this manga for anyone who needs a good laugh and/or a good cry. I would recommend this manga for those just starting out in the genre and for veterans who want to find a story that reminds them of why they got involved with manga in the first place. I would recommend this manga for anyone. Period.
5 out of 5 stars