There are two universal truths in today’s rapidly changing comics industry. The first is that Dog Man is the defining comic of our era. The second is that more people are reading manga and webtoons (aka vertical scroll comics) than ever before. Therefore we at The Beat have chosen to embark on a new venture: Beat’s Bizarre Adventure. Every week, we’ll have three writers recommend some of their favorite books and series from Japan, Korea, and elsewhere. This week we have witches, revenge romance, and, of course, daemons.

witch hat atelier witch wearing hat

Witch Hat Atelier

Writer/Artist: Kamome Shirahama
Translator: Stephen Kohler
Lettering: Lys Blakeslee
Editing: Ajani Oloye
Publisher: Kodansha

Witch Hat Atelier is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Kamome Shirahama, serialized in Kodansha’s Morning Two magazine since July 2016. As of February 2024, the series comprises 13 tankōbon volumes. A spin-off series, Witch Hat Atelier Kitchen, began in November 2019 and an anime adaptation was announced in 2022. The story has garnered critical acclaim, winning the Harvey Award for Best Manga and the Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia in 2020.

The narrative centers on Coco, a young girl who dreams of becoming a witch in a world where only those born with magical abilities can pursue such a path. Her life changes when she meets Qifrey, a witch who introduces her to the possibility of realizing her dream. As Coco becomes Qifrey’s apprentice, she discovers a world far more expansive than she ever imagined.

Kamome Shirahama was inspired by a friend’s remark that bringing an illustration to life was akin to magic. This is beautifully reflected in the series’ opening where Qifrey states, “Magic is not cast with words. . . It’s drawn!” That simple yet eloquent line sets the tone of the manga.

Witch Hat Atelier stands out for its unique approach to magic, emphasizing creativity and the art of drawing as its foundation. It’s a refreshing departure from traditional fantasy narratives; there are even special details about what types of ink are needed to cast certain spells. The series also delves into profound themes such as self-discovery and the pursuit of dreams. It explores the idea that potential is determined not by birthright but by passion and perseverance.

One of the standout features of Witch Hat Atelier is its stunning artwork. Kamome Shirahama’s illustrations are intricate and awe-inspiring, capturing the enchanting essence of the world she created. Panel frames are drawn as ribbons, paper, rock or metal rather than normal line work. Detailing and overlapping panels add depth and dynamism to the story, enhancing the reader’s immersion through framing techniques.

This is a charming manga series that celebrates the pursuit of dreams and curiosity as well as the importance of responsibility. It combines the emotional depth of Fullmetal Alchemist and Cinderella with the magical world of Harry Potter. What are you waiting for? Let yourself be magically swept away by the world of Witch Hat Atelier. — Ilgın Side Soysal

therapy game two boys top bottom

Therapy Game / Therapy Game Restart

Writer/Artist: Meguru Hinohara
Translator: Adrienne Beck
Lettering: Eve Grandt
Publisher: SuBLime

Meguru Hinohara debuted on the manga scene with her series Secret XXX. But it wasn’t until she released her next series Therapy Game and Therapy Game Restart, featuring the secondary characters Minato and Shizuma from her debut work, that she really found her stride.

Shizuma met Minato at a bar one night, suffering from a broken heart. The sarcastic and flippant Minato found himself surprisingly warming up to Shizuma and the two ended up spending a night together, only for Shizuma to forget everything. Angry and hurt, Minato decided to get revenge by making Shizuma fall in love with him before breaking his heart in the same way that he broke his. However, Minato never anticipated that his choice would end up hurting him just as much as it hurt Shizuma.

Therapy Game and Therapy Game Restart have all of the elements of a great Boys’ Love series, like memorable characters and a steamy relationship. But what most resonated with me is how the manga artist integrated some of the real world anxieties that the LGBTQ+ community go through into the story. Minato comes to terms with Shizuma’s bisexuality, but due to his own childhood traumas and insecurities around relationships, he’s worried that Shizuma might leave him for a woman. The myth that bisexual people are more likely to cheat and will often “turn straight” is addressed and quickly squashed. It remains a lingering point of anxiety for Minato but is not as prominent as before, thanks to Shizuma’s constant reminders that he’s here to stay with him.

I also have to commend Hinohara for how she developed Shizuma as a character. Shizuma was never in a relationship with a man before Minato, and he has a pure and simple-minded view of dating. It isn’t until he starts thinking about having a future with Minato that he realizes that holding hands in public or finding an apartment to live together aren’t as simple when you’re a same-sex couple.

Despite the challenges the two of them face, readers are given the sense that Minato and Shizuma will pull through. The two of them are strong and, after everything they went through, will not let each other go. — Hilary Leung

daemons of the shadow realm cover

Daemons of the Shadow Realm

Writer/Artist: Hiromu Arakawa
Translator: Amanda Haley
Lettering: Bianca Pistillo
Editing: Tania Biswas
Publisher: Square Enix Manga & Books

Hiromu Arakawa, the author of shonen manga classic Fullmetal Alchemist, is one of the great manga artists of the 21st century. Few artists have her command of positive and negative visual spaces and ability to create engaging character designs with her most important trait being her facility with character. Her characters are complex individuals that inhabit richly conceived worlds and make choices in the moment that turn out to haunt them later in life while her heroes and villains are often empathetic, in believable ways.

Her latest series in Daemons of the Shadow Realm begins in a village seemingly located in historical Japan. Protagonist Yuru hunts while his sister Asa lives a secluded life. On the surface, it appears to be another fantasy series about two siblings with magical powers, just like Fullmetal Alchemist. However, Arakawa isn’t one to repeat herself as her follow up to Fullmetal Alchemist was Silver Spoon, a manga about living on a farm in the countryside of Japan. We learn in Daemons that both the village and Asa aren’t quite what they seem when modern soldiers arrive in helicopters with a one-eyed young woman claiming to be Asa.

The biggest difference between this and Fullmetal Alchemist is that people’s special abilities come from their relationship with magical beings called daemons. Each daemon functions as a pair and no two are alike. Some, like Right and Left look human while others might be a disembodied mouth, look like house pets, or be an embodiement of an entire place, while some daemons have even encountered each other in the past. You’ll even notice that Arakawa has a lot of fun drawing monsters, as each character has a different relationship with their daemon, some kind and others abusive. It’s a fresh take for a manga market oversaturated with demon summoning characters and plot lines.

The other major difference from Fullmetal Alchemist is that (surprise) Daemons of the Shadow Realm actually takes place in modern-day Japan. Arakawa once again creates a unique world filled with complex characters whose morality isn’t strictly black and white, which is a hallmark of her writing. She mines comedy from Yuru attempting to navigate a modern world at odds from his upbringing while Asa struggles to reconnect with her brother and as a result of the disconnect between the siblings, conflicts arise between how each remembers the other. There’s also factions trying to use both Yuru and Asa for their own ends, while Arakawa makes it unclear if any of them are truly altruistic in her trademark style. Some characters have the best intentions for Yuru and Asa but may not be forthcoming about everything in order to protect them.

The two siblings must make their own choices, leading to wide ranging consequences for the world. It wouldn’t be a Hiromu Arakawa comic if they didn’t. — D. Morris

Follow Beat’s Bizarre Adventure to get weekly manga and webtoon recommendations!