Cheeky Angel Vol. 1
It was nine year old Megumi's wish to become the "manliest man among men in the whole wide world". When he saves a wizard from a gang of youths, Megumi is given a book with a genie inside and one free wish. It is only natural that this is Megumi's wish, except the genie plays a trick: Megumi is now a woman among women. The genie says that he will return Megumi to his original male form for the price of 10 years off of his life. Angry, Megumi tosses the book into the river, where it is lost, but later, he vows to find either the book or the wizard and reverse the curse.
Flash forward six years. Meg and her best friend, Miki, the only person who remembers Meg as Megumi (apparently the genie rewrote his past as well), are starting high school. Meg has turned into a stunning and beautiful woman, the girl desired by all the boys, admired by all the girls. Yet beyond her physical body, Meg still feels like a boy. She picks fights with boys and cannot understand what the boys see in her, especially Genzo Soga.
Soga, the school tough guy, is exactly what Meg would have been like if she had remained a boy. That is the reason she tells herself anyway; that's why she finds herself so flustered and angry around him. But Miki thinks that he's her first crush, and that Meg is really becoming a girl in her mind as well as in her body. After all, Miki constantly tells Meg to act like a girl because that is what she is now.
Wow. I really enjoyed Cheeky Angel. The premise sounded a little goofy and too much like Ranma 1/2 with the sex change, yet I found the story to be highly interesting. The language matches how teenagers realistically talk and feel. The artwork treads the line between action and romance manga, with soft feminine lines intersecting hard black lines, a beautiful visual effect that backs up Megumi's gender identity issues. I also liked the effect of using word balloons piercing characters, literally someone's words piercing your heart. The pacing of this volume is fast, with no filler text or art, focused on Meg and Soga. That is something that I truly appreciate in manga, as I've found the genre to have a tendency to have side-plots suddenly appear and roadblock the main story.
There is a lot of fight action and comedy with Meg acting like a boy and Meg's entourage of admirers (Soga included), but Cheeky Angel has depth as well. The issue of gender identity is a modern topic, and unlike Ranma 1/2, it's taken very seriously. Nishimori lets us see just how conflicted Meg feels. She should just accept her body and act like a girl, but in her heart, she sees herself as a boy. Acting like a girl would make everyone feel happy, but that's not who she is... or is it?
I really want to pick up the second volume now. If I were to try to convert a hardcore independent comic reader of the wonderfulness that is manga, I'd probably hand them Cheeky Angel. It has a dash of seriousness, a handful of high school hi-jinxs, a smattering of action, and is a great manga overall!