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Friday, December 1, 2017

Selah's Manic Manga Reviews: Natsume's Book of Friends

by Yuki Midorikawa  (Author, Illustrator)
July 14, 2011
Volumes: 22
208 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media: Shojo Beat
English publisher: NA Viz Media
When Reiko was Takashi's age, she bound the names of demons and spirits in her Book of Friends, enslaving them to her capricious whim. Now Takashi is the owner of the book, and the creatures will do anything to get their names back.

This month I want to highlight two of my favorite series, and while they’re worlds apart, the thing they do have in common are elements of family. And since it’s November and all, I thought that was pretty fitting.

I originally started reading Natsume’s Book of Friends because it’s still ongoing and it looks like it’ll be going on for a while. I was feeling down and sometimes you just want a fluffy series with a decent story, amirite? This one turned out to be so much more.

While technically shojo, I think readers of both genders and all ages would get into it. It has a lot going for it: it’s episodic and the first few pages usually give a brief rundown of the plot so you can dive in anywhere (there are some later volumes that reference previous episodes, but if that doesn’t bug you, you won’t feel out of place). The art is also just gorgeous. It feels really autumnal to me, beautiful and slightly melancholy, which could really describe the series as a whole.

Takashi Natsume has lost his parents and has been passed around from relative to relative his whole life because family and friends think he’s strange. In fact, he can see spirits, a trait inherited from his grandmother Reiko, along with a strange book called The Book of Friends. It seems that Reiko was also an outcast, and had conned Yokai (spirits and creatures) into becoming her servants by giving up their names. At the start of the first volume, we’re immediately thrown into the problem, because Takashi is being hunted because he also looks a little like Reiko. He is more compassionate, however, and makes it his mission to give back as many of the names as he can. Basically, the series is Natsume trying to fit in at his new school and learn to be a family with his latest foster parents (who thankfully care very much about him. It’s refreshing to see a positive, developing relationship in a story like this). So not only is he trying to understand what it means to be a social human, he’s also helping yokai and running from those who would hunt him. Along the way, he meets and befriends some exorcists, friends at school who believe him, and he develops a companionship with the yokai Madara (who he calls Nyanko-sensei because most of the time he’s depicted as being in the form of a lucky cat).
The Good: This is a series that blends emotions, plot, characters, and humor really well. Like my heart just feels when I’m reading one of these volumes. The pacing is pretty good, and the author does a wonderful job of keeping a progressive storyline while still making sure you can jump in anywhere. It’s really interesting to see that Natsume is slowly changing and that at some point there will have to be decisions made as to whether he’s more aligned with humans or yokai or attempting to stay firmly in the middle. The side characters are also nice, whether it’s his new family who are trying to help him know he belongs, his school friends who try to include him even though he may not always know what’s going on, his friends who know about yokai, or even the exorcist/actor Natori. I also really like that the yokai aren’t necessarily all evil or all good – they have a range of personalities and intentions just like people do.
Not gonna lie, though, I absolutely love Nyanko-sensei. The character is brilliant and hilarious. He provides stellar comedic relief when in nyanko form and his art in his real form is gorgeous. The relationship between him and Natsume also starts as a transactional one but as things progress it begins to show signs of a true friendship, no matter what Nyanko-sensei says.

The Bad: Honestly, only that there isn’t more of it. I love everything about this series.

The Ick: Nothing

It’s also one of those that truly is fairly all ages. I’d definitely recommend this for probably middle school on up, even like 9 or 10 on up depending on the kid. As an adult, I definitely appreciate all the nuances, but I would have loved to have been able to read something that depicted life on a grayscale like this and not black and white as a kid. It’s just a beautiful look at personal relationships and personal growth, whether you’re human or yokai.

5 Sheep

About Selah Janel:
Selah Janel is a writer who is trying to start doing that again instead of reading manga all the time.


  1. The premise spoke to me on so many levels. HAD to have it! Thanks for the thoughtful and thorough review. :)

    1. Happy to help! I'm actually rereading it right now - it just really is such a great story and is a comforting title for me in a weird way. I think there's an anime, as well, though I haven't checked it out yet. Hope you enjoy!