Hana-Kimi: For You in Full Blossom
Hanazakari No Kimitachi E, or Hana-Kimi for short, is very much like your typical shoujo. At the start, it even appears to be a shounen-ai title, with three beautiful boys gazing from its cover. But if that sort of thing catches your eye and you open the book, you'll be in for a surprise. One of those boys is a girl!
Mizuki, our cross dressing protagonist, is a star athlete in America, but to be with her idol, Izumi Sanzo, she crops her hair short and travels all the way to Japan to attend an all boy's high school. While there, she must hide her identity at all costs and fend off nasty rumors, all while trying to befriend the stoic Izumi.
The story is nicely paced, and everyone is a character. From the gay nurse to the over zealous friend, to the suave lady killer and the snooping perv, Hana-Kimi has pretty much every end of the male spectrum covered (as far as shoujo goes, that is). There is a slight setback, however, to having all of those handsome young men. The style of the manga is such that sometimes the only thing discerning one boy from the other is his hair, which means you might have to go over one or two sections to double check who is saying what.
As one of two girls in the entire first volume, Mizuki is an excellent protagonist. It's her presence that removes Hana-Kimi from typical pretty boy manga and makes it a fresh story. She is an excellent athlete, she throws a mean punch, and her never-give-up attitude carries her far. Not even when her identity is on the brink of being revealed does she consider giving up on her dream, which is watching Izumi jump. She also does a good job of confusing a few people into doubting their sexual orientation. I tend to dislike any title with a female protagonist, but Hana-Kimi joins Studio Ghibli's work as the exception.
Hana-Kimi is pretty popular in Japan, with at least 16 volumes out and a whole line of stationary. But in America only one volume been published, courtesy of Viz Entertainment, that covers chapter 1-4, with a bonus original manga at the back called The Cage of Summer. It's an odd little story, with a theme of slight incest, so reader beware.
Fans of the shoujo genre really can't go wrong with Hana-Kimi. The plot is good (albeit a tad unrealistic), the characters are diverse and lively, and Nakajo's style is extremely aesthetic.