Hamachi is an unusual young man - unlike the other boys in his village, he is very interested in the creatures from Japanese mythology and folklore called Yokai. Most people are afraid of them, and some, like the ronin warrior passing through the village, hunt and kill them. Hamachi just wants to observe them and write about them, like his favorite author, Mizuki, who wrote a comprehensive guidebook of Yokai that Hamachi cherishes.
Hamachi's parents are dead, and he lives with his grandmother, a thoroughly unpleasant woman who is always scolding and criticizing him (while he is invariably pleasant in return). One day he discovers a yokai called a kappa, whose foot is caught in a trap. Hamachi frees it (by cutting off its foot, for which the unfortunate creature isn't sure whether to thank the boy or throttle him). Later he finds that same kappa has killed his grandmother (who was the one to set the trap in the first place). Furious that the creature could do such a thing, he takes off in search of the realm of the yokai so he can enact revenge on the kappa.
This is the first original English manga that I have read, and I enjoyed it very much, particularly the creatures from Japanese folklore, many of which were unfamiliar to me. Hamachi is a bit of an idiot at times, but he is also sweet (particularly when he's putting up with his grandmother). I loved the villagers, their comments and opinions on things, as well as the yokai themselves. The artwork is effective and appealing, and while it has a typical manga look, it possesses a distinctive character of its own. The story is interspersed with informational pages about the various yokai that appear in the narrative, and there are some comic strip "outtakes" at the end that are hilarious. This is the only volume of the series to be published so far; volume two is due to be released in October of this year (appropriately in time for Halloween).
Yokaiden, Vol. 1 by Nina Matsumoto (Ballantine Books, 2009)
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Animanga Nation: "Delightfully inventive, utterly charming and completely entertaining, Yokaiden’s first volume tells a wonderfully compelling story filled with interesting creatures and plenty of humor."
Precocious Curmudgeon: "Matsumoto has a solid visual sense as well. Her character designs, human and yōkai, are varied and charming, and her storytelling and layouts are clear and energetic."