Witch Hat Atelier 1 review – popular cover artist makes her English language manga debut

One of the Japanese manga industry’s most popular titles of 2018, Kamone Shirahama’s Witch Hat Atelier, makes its English language debut from a rising star on both sides of the pond. In a world where everyone takes wonders like magic spells and dragons for granted, Coco is a girl with a simple dream: She wants to be a witch. But everybody knows magicians are born, not made, and Coco was not born with a gift for magic. Resigned to her un-magical life, Coco is about to give up on her dream to become a witch… until the day she meets Qifrey, a mysterious, travelling magician. After secretly seeing Qifrey perform magic in a way she’s never seen before, Coco soon learns what everybody “knows” might not be the truth, and discovers that her magical dream may not be as far away as it may seem…

Kamome Shirahama is a name western comic fans may already be familiar with due to her work on various covers for both Marvel and DC. Though she is best known for Batgirl and The Birds of Prey for DC and Star Wars: Captain Aphra for Marvel, she has provided covers for a ton of major series (The Punisher, Jessica Jones, Iron Man, Deadpool, Wonder Woman and Teen Titans just to name a few). This is the first time though English-speaking fans are getting to see her interior work and if Witch Hat Atelier is anything to go by, she is just as good at telling a story as she is at drawing awesome covers. A few pages in, and it is immediately clear Shirahama is adept at sequential storytelling (especially in the facial/emotion department).

Shirahama presents a fantasy world which is almost Ghibli-esque in its presentation and a callback to a more traditional approach to wizardry design (albeit with a manga slant). The costume and character designs are top notch – with Quifey particularly standing out, and the way magic is performed via intricate circle drawings provides something fresh in the wand department (Shirahama provides a helpful guide at the end of the volume that goes in depth on the magical technique). Appropriately given how magic is created in this world, everything has a high degree of intricacy and detail in the design department. Qifrey’s Atelier and Darah Range are just two examples of the skilful world building Shirahama is already displaying.

Character wise, Coco makes for a likeable protagonist who also displays several traits – that degree of pluck and curiosity – that would make her right at home in a Studio Ghibli film. In addition, there is a degree of the everyman to her character as magic is a skill that can be performed by anyone in this world provided they have the right technique and ability, and she is very much starting from scratch. Qifrey is also an intriguing character – providing both a mentor figure to Coco and carrying an air of mystery that is yet to be fully explored – whilst aloof fellow student Agott is a perfect counterpart to Coco’s more upbeat character.

This is a brilliant start to a fantastic looking fantasy manga. Fans of Shirahama’s cover work shouldn’t miss this chance to see her cut loose in her own special world.

Witch Hat Atelier 1 by Kamone Shirahama is out now from Kodansha Comics
(9781632367709, p/b, £10.99)

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