Manga Worth Reading: Domestic Girlfriend

Domestic Girlfriend is a 28-volume romantic drama manga from Kei Sasuga which ran from 2014-2020.

Synopsis

Natsuo Fuji is a 2nd year high school boy with a crush on his young teacher Hina. After some friends drag him to a meet-up with girls from a different school to get his mind of Hina he ends up meeting Rui, a somewhat dour girl who doesn’t really want to be there. The two of them recognize that they’re both out of place and on a whim Rui asks if he wants to leave and have no-strings attached sex just to see what the big deal about it is, since theyre not likely to ever see each other again. While it does make Natsuo less mopey, it doesn’t completely get his mind off Hina and then his dad tells Natuso that he’s planning to remarry and wants Natsuo to meet his soon to be step-sisters- Hina and Rui. All of that is in the first chapter, the rest of the series is about them living together and Natsuo trying to decide if he really is in love with Hina as well as sort out what kind of relationship he should have with Rui.

The art is pretty strong the whole way through.

Appeal

Describing Domestic Girlfriend is actually kind of hard, as the plot is a LOT while at the same time not really mattering much. For all that happens there contrary to most other Romantic series the “main relationship” triangle of Natsuo-Hina-Rui frequently is not the focus of any story arc; instead it thrives with its supporting characters and subplots being the big drama happening at any one time while Natsuo reflects on how those things are similar/different to his relationships from a distance. Its a story structure that helps give the main relationships space to breathe as its not trying to force drama on them every 10 chapters, and indeed its over 40 chapters into the story before Natsuo actually confesses his love to anyone, a slow burn of romance which is a welcome change of pace.

Also a welcome change of pace: the fact that the people here act like actual people. Aside from the fact part of the inciting incident is Natsuo and Rui having sex the series never shies away from the fact these are high school and up people, contrary to most stories where the kids can’t even touch each others hands it recognizes they would be all over each other if they could. It therefore gets most of its drama less from “will these two ever kiss?” and more from “SHOULD these two be kissing?” as well as broader life issues such as figuring out what to do with their lives.

This is a series which knows how confused high school boys are by bras.

Downside

To say the ending of the series is controversial is an understatement. American fans especially were really livid at the ending and Kei Sasuga even had a Twitter post before the last chapter was released trying to address it somewhat; heck just a couple weeks ago I met someone in person who randomly brought up how much he liked this series and my joy turned to despair when I realized I was honor bound to duel him as he attempted to defend the ending. For once the loud fans are right, the last 5 chapters of the series is a slow train wreck where you can see where its going the whole time and you can’t look away as the disaster unfolds. I’ll avoid spoilers and just say that its not the worst thing Natsuo ends up with the wrong girl, its that the series never justifies how it gets there well and the decisions a number of people make in that ending don’t make a lick of sense.

As a fair warning to, there is a gay character who very closely toes the line of being a caricature but is also the most sensible advice giver in the whole show and… well I don’t know if he qualifies as offensive or not. Outside of like two chapters where he’s at his most over-the-top the series never looks down on him while at the same time this is a guy who runs a cafe while wearing fishnet stockings and high heels so I have no idea how to judge what its doing with him. Just know he’s there.

It almost bears pointing out Kei Sasuga is a woman.

So… anime?

Yes… unfortunately. The anime adaptation is really good for like 2 episodes, and then attempts to get to the part where the main characters are actually in a relationship by jettisoning a whole host of subplots and a number of supporting characters utterly gutting everything which makes the show work in the process. It’s more bland than bad and in a way that’s worse.

Despite them getting screwed out of more than 10 minutes of screentime in the anime, I couldn’t find a decent manga pic of the two main friends.

Conclusion

Weeb Level: 5/10- While it holds itself as more mature and above the worst parts of some tropes, you’re still going to have some of them around and with a premise like that you know it pretty much can only come from Japan.

Fanservice: 8/10 (10/10 if you get the bonus chapters)- It can go a while without anything sexual happening, however when it does there are several chapters which skirt the line of just how much they can show in a serialized magainse. Kei Sasuga also wrote a few bonus chapters for some of the compiled volumes “expanding” on some of those scenes and yeah, those are straight up hentai.

Quality: 8/10- This is a tough one for me. I blazed through the first 200 chapters in just a couple weeks I loved them so much but then that ending is so, SO bad it almost soured my opinion of the rest in retrospect. I suspect in time I’ll settle on something more definitive, so for now I’ll split the difference.

Where to read it: Originally simu-published on Crunchyroll its now no longer there since its completion, but can be read on Comixology where both individual chapters and whole volumes are available.