Out now from Vertical is a new romance manga that explores modern dating culture in Japan in Tina Yamashina’s Virgin Love. Shoko Shoji, intelligent, reliable, beautiful, has a secret: she’s a 26-year-old virgin, and mortified by her non-existent love life. Every day she checks out the self-help and beauty section of her local bookstore, but never works up the courage to go any further. Pushed on by her friends, she moves into the Love House, a social experiment putting six lovelorn strangers under one roof to see what sparks may fly! Will Shoko, and the friendly bookstore clerk she convinces to join her, finally find love? Or will rivalry, lust, and lies bring it all crashing down?
Having recently been adapted into a live-action drama series that is streaming on Rakuten’s Viki, this is a perfect time for readers to discover this trendy romance manga. Virgin Love is a very honest look at the anxieties and pressures that one can face when inexperienced with romance. The framing of the story strongly resembles a modern reality TV show based around dating with Terrace House being the closest comparison – minus the televised element. It allows a variety of character archetypes to be explored and – in Yamashina’s words – show how individuals can conquer their relationship hold-ups and trauma.
Shoko gets the lion share of the focus in the opening volume. We see how she has prioritised excelling in every area of her life except her romantic one. Despite having a very successful career, societal pressures have her lamenting over her status as a virgin in her mid-20s. There’s obviously some humourous elements throughout which keeps the narrative from getting too serious, but Yamashina still keeps a good balance, so it doesn’t lose focus on what the story’s goal is.
As previously mentioned, the nature of the series allows for a variety of different people who struggle with romance in different ways to be explored. Tanaka – a bookstore employee who inadvertently inspires Shoko to join the Love House quickly becomes attracted to her but is unable to act on his feelings. This is quickly picked up on by the other female housemates Momo and Rio who try to prod him into action. We also have Akira – a well-educated shallow ladies’ man who is very dismissive of Shoko’s search for true love; and Kei – a 19 year old freshman who charms Shoko with his manner and looks but leaves her conflicted at the age gap between them. All the cast play well off each other and you can tell that there are a lot of combustible elements at play.
Yamashina has an attractive art style that is well suited to the genre. All the characters are very trendy looking – particularly in the clothing department, and you could easily picture them as Japanese reality stars. Beyond the style, Shoko’s frantic and troubled thoughts are enhanced by Yamashina’s great use of expressions and body language.
This is a strong opening volume and an ideal series for those who enjoy manga romance. There’s plenty there too for those who enjoy a reality TV style approach to storytelling.
Virgin Love 1 is out now from Vertical (9781647292751, p/b, £12.99)
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