Do you know what the best-selling category of book is? It's romance. As a species we simply can't get enough of stories about people falling in love. Some of those stories are truly terrible (Sturgeon's law applies to everything, after all), but quite a lot of them are very good - even great. Then there are those that might not "objectively" be amazing but we love anyway because they're our favorites.
This is a list devoted to my own romance favorites. I do not claim these are the best manga romances of all time. In fact, I don't even claim these are all necessarily good manga. But each one has a romance I love, and isn't part of love looking past flaws? Besides, it makes for excellent
argument discussion fodder on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If there's one thing the romance manga community loves more than love, it's arguing discussing the relative merits of each other's favorites on social media.
As it happens, most of these titles are shojo. Don't blame me; blame the editors at shonen and seinen magazines who don't let their authors get in enough practice writing romances for an insatiable but demanding audience. For more variety in genres, check out my Top 10 Favorite Anime Romances.
By a quirk of alphabetical order, the first romance on this manga list is more akin to an English novel than what we usually think of when it comes to comics from Japan. Emma, of course, is the shockingly detailed story of a Victorian maid and the wealthy young man who loves her even though literally everyone tells him not to. More specifically, they tell him not to consider doing anything so crazy as to marry her.
Still, the heart wants what it wants and - oh, what's this? Emma and her beau William acknowledge that defying society in such a stratified class system might actually be a problem? They act like real people in their time and place might? The side characters telling them their relationship isn't a great idea aren't villains, but are (mostly) nice, normal people? But then (spoilers!) true love still wins out in the end? It's not your typical shojo or josei by a long shot (heck, I think it's technically seinen, and it's definitely not a typical example of that category), but it sure is a good romance and manga.
Even though Fruits Basket is my favorite series of all, I honestly wasn't planning to include it on this list. The main plot for me is Tohru's healing of the Sohma family, not romance. But you know what? Screw that. It's wonderful to see Tohru's relationship develop with [is this still a spoiler?] and I heart that ending chapter hard. It's especially nice when you re-read the series knowing how the love triangle resolves. You can take note of little interactions and the ways [I can't believe this is still a spoiler] shows he cares for Tohru and grows as a person because of it. That hug in the last volume - oof. Gets me every time.
For more on how much I adore Fruits Basket, read Why Fruits Basket Deserves its Upcoming Remake.
Look, sometimes you just want a fun shojo story with a predictable romance, nice characters you can root for, and some wacky hijinks. If that describes you (it definitely describes me), you can't go wrong with High School Debut. Jock Haruna wants a life/romance coach to help her get a boyfriend and have the high school life she's dreamed of. Cool guy Yoh agrees as long as Haruna promises not to fall in love with him. You get no prizes for guessing whether or not that's a promise Haruna eventually and spectacularly breaks.
High School Debut gets by on the strength of its characters and making you root for them to get together, and in that it succeeds admirably. It's not deep, but
when's the last time you read War and Peace? I'd rather curl up with a volume of High School Debut any day.
Do you hate sweetness and cringe at the thought of multiple chapters devoted to confirming everyone likes everyone? Then stay far, far away from Kimi ni Todoke. For the rest of us wanting to believe there's some good in the world - yes, even in high school - Kimi ni Todoke will not only reaffirm that belief, it just might encourage you to go out and make a new friend (or something more!) yourself.
This is largely attributable to author Karuho Shiina's gift for creating characters with natural chemistry. Shy Kuronuma and popular Kazehaya might seem like cliché stereotypes at first glance, but they become fully realized characters almost instantly. Their romance is exactly the kind I'd wish for my younger sisters if they were still in high school and not, you know, grown up and married now.
The romance in Snow White with the Red Hair is one of my very favorites in manga because it's so unusual. Right from the beginning, Zen and Shirayuki act like mature adults :warning: who trust each other (!?). In fact, it's only their sense of responsibility that provides any drama regarding whether these two lovebirds will get together. Fortunately, Zen and Shirayuki and their friends are very capable of juggling schedules and kingdom responsibilities to make sure there's still time for romance.
Melodramatic Snow White certainly is not, but refreshing, sweet, and utterly delightful? Absolutely.
I know what you're thinking. A list format and she didn't include Cardcaptor Sakura? But let's face it: the romances in everyone's favorite CLAMP work aren't exactly the best, cute as some of them are. Tsubasa, meanwhile, straddles the surprisingly thin line between charming fluff and gut-wrenching angst every time Syaoran watches Sakura regain a memory. It's an emotional combination I didn't realize I needed in my life, but it works so well I don't even mind the twisted contortions the plot goes through to reach a (mostly) happy ending.
He just ::fist clench:: loves her so much and she used to love him too before she had to forget their past together. Every new world they go to, they get adorable matching outfits and it's so, so sweet until the villain meddles again and things go off the rails. Every volume is an emotional rollercoaster and makes me think CLAMP should write fanfic-style AUs for more of their stuff. How about coffee shop Magic Knights Rayearth?
Bonus: Fai and Kurogane make a handsome adult pair whenever you get tired of the teen angst. CLAMP never makes their romance explicitly canon, but come on. It's CLAMP. They're totally together.
I didn't think I would like A Silent Voice. I'm not a fan of bullying, and I'm especially not a fan of bullies as protagonists. But like its characters, I learned to look deeper very early on in the series. As children, Shoya bullied his deaf classmate Shoko. He then became bullied himself after she transferred away. Now they're in high school and still dealing with the emotional fallout.
A Silent Voice takes a hard look at what redemption and forgiveness mean and whether a stable relationship can be built on such a fragile foundation. As it turns out, with a lot of hard work, compassion, and good luck the answer is: maybe. A Silent Voice, dramatic as it is, also tries to be realistic and therefore doesn't end with "they lived happily ever after." (Spoiler!) What happens to their relationship is left up to the reader. But these kinds of maybe-it-will-last, maybe-it-won't romances are an important part of real life and I applaud author Yoshitoki Oima for writing one with such tender care for the feelings of her protagonists.
Not every romance is healthy, and that goes triple when vampires are involved. Sometimes, though, I just want to read about implausible devotion in the face of melodramatic disaster. I won't spoil who "triumphs" in the love triangle because if that's what you're reading it for you're almost certainly going to be disappointed, no matter who you were rooting for. Instead, Vampire Knight is for everyone angry at all the selfish boyfriends in the world. You read it when you want to get lost in the fantasy of an angsty vampire who would gladly sacrifice the entire world and himself with it if that would make the woman he loves a little bit happier. Plus, it doesn't hurt that Matsuri Hino draws very pretty boys.
PIf you are reading this list, you are probably an otaku or at least otaku adjacent. If that's the case, then you will find Wotakoi either hilariously on the nose or painfully on the nose in its depiction of nerds dating. Narumi and Hirotaka are childhood friends, office co-workers, fellow nerds, and, by the end of the first volume, girlfriend and boyfriend. They're a lot better at being the first three than they are that last one, but as the title says: love is hard for otaku.
Wotakoi is an interesting sort of romance. It's refreshingly about adults, and yet Narumi and Hirotaka take longer to get to first base than most teen shojo couples. No worries, there's a second (and eventually third) couple and their romance is much more developed for all your nerd-love needs. I know what your next concern is, but put your mind at ease: everyone's interests and hobbies are treated with far more respect and kindness than The Big Bang Theory. That's why as much as I might shake my head at the slow pace of Wotakoi's main relationship, I remind myself I have friends who would probably still find that too fast and just enjoy my rare chance to read about adult dating otakus.
If there is a reason not to love Yona of the Dawn and its main romance, I don't know what it is unless you really feel sorry for Jaeha. Remember when everyone said Twelve Kingdoms's Youko had the best character growth ever? No? Fine, it was 15 years ago, and anyway it doesn't matter because that honor is now reserved for Yona (of the Dawn). The trick of it is, you don't even notice it as you read the series!
It just seems completely natural that in the first chapter, Yona's a weak princess with little knowledge of the outside world or self-defense and in love with aristocratic Soo-won; then twenty volumes later she's a decisive leader capable of handling herself in a fight and so obviously in love with Hak that the rest of the cast has given up teasing her about it. Meanwhile, Hak had accepted that his love would be forever unrequited so long ago that he doesn't know how to process the idea of suddenly having everything he ever wanted. It's the sort of romance the fangirl word "squee" was invented for and I am so very happy it exists.
Well, that concludes my list since if I keep going I'll probably never stop. How did it compare to yours? What title can you not believe I forgot? Is Vampire Knight as guilty a pleasure for you as it is for me? Are you equally sad about Mixed Vegetables's mixed print status? I wasn't kidding about sounding off on social media - that's what it's for! So share your top picks on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as you get ready for the best holiday in February: 50% off candy on the 15th.-Lisa Marie Cooper
Lisa is a hopeless romantic who will be heading straight for the Dove dark chocolate hearts as soon as they go on sale. Long-time Right Stuf fans may recognize Lisa as Marie from the Anime Today podcast or as the OG RightStufSpecialsMinion on the Anime News Network and Fandom Post forums. Her non-anime articles can be found at PositivelyEditorial.com.