A friend at work suggested this series to me a few weeks ago (we both happened to be in the YA manga section - I recommended xxxHOLIC, my favorite, and she recommended this one, and we are both happy with each other's recommendation). I don't know why, but I'd never gotten around to trying this one - there are just so many to choose from!
I love the premise: Tohru Honda is an orphan who, unwilling to impose on distant relatives, is living in a tent while her grandfather's house is being renovated. When her camp disappears in a mudslide, she is taken in by the Sohma family. She is slightly acquainted with Yuki Sohma, who goes to her school, but he is an enigmatic character who carefully maintains a distance from everyone at school (much to all the girls' dismay).
Tohru is an eternal optimist - even when things aren't going well, she tries to find something positive to take pleasure in. She is intrigued by the Sohmas - and also very surprised to discover their secret. The Sohma family have been cursed - they are possessed by the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Whenever someone hugs them, they turn into an animal from the zodiac. In the first book we meet the cat, the dog, and the rat...and later on, another one (I'm not telling which). It is fun to meet the different characters and try to guess which animal they are, based on their personalities.
This is a lighthearted, humorous series, but it also covers more serious issues, such as Tohru's sense of loss in the wake of her mother's death, and while she is perky beyond belief, her enormous optimism is countered by her occasional moments of grief, and that, to me, makes her a more believable, sympathetic character. I look forward to reading about her further adventures!
Fruits Basket, Volume 1 by Natsuki Takaya (Tokyopop, 2004)