Full Moon wo Sagashite (満月をさがして) is a 7-volume manga from 2002-2004 (2005-2006 in the US) by Arina Tanemura.1
12-year old Mitsuki dreams of being an idol so that her former crush will be able to hear her sing but shes stymied by two problems: her grandmother hates music and she has throat cancer. While trying to sneak off one day to an audition anyway she runs into a pair of shinigami from the pediatrics division who tell her she has less than a year to live and they’re there to make sure she dies on schedule. Mitsuki manages to convince them to help her become an idol by magically transforming her older on the condition she’ll die quietly when her time is up.
So whats up with it then
Full Moon kinda stretches the definition of magical girl but screw it, Mitsuki transforms back and forth between her ‘real’ and her ‘alter ego’ so Im allowing it. Instead of focusing on fighting any kind of evil beings2 it hews closer to a normal shoujo series about a girl becoming an idol and dealing with some of the drama involved in that. And death, oh so much death. Death hangs over the series like two cute and fluffy pediatric shinigamis with Mitsuki’s impending doom affecting a lot of her behavior to try and leave something memorable behind. Really thats where the series is at its strongest, despite being 12 Mitsuki has a bit of a history with death between being orphaned at birth and her long illness so she approaches it from a much more mature stance of acceptance letting the series build its story around her instead of getting bogged down in her freaking out over dying.
It fills in the spots in between Mitsuki’s trial and tribulations with doing backstory for its side characters which is the other place death rears its head- the shinigami are ghosts who are sentenced to be reapers as a result of them committing suicide giving them backstories of pure drama. The non-dead characters are pretty much all former idols themselves now working in management who failed in their careers for something or other, so the whole series is pure unfiltered character drama. Its not flashy, but on the back of Tanemura’s cute and fluffy style it works as shoujo at its best.
Its biggest failing then is unfortunately tied to that same aspect, as if you think too hard about all the backstories they dont really fit together chronologically, with at least one major point in the ending requiring what is essentially time travel to work. A case of perhaps things not being planned out too well in advance or possibly plans changing over time as there first couple volumes seem to be setting up a certain revelation that it abruptly pivots away from later. Note I actually prefer where the pivot goes as it avoids the very obvious plot development for something more interesting for Mitsuki, it just stands out as showing off how much is changing from first thoughts.
Yes, there’s a 2002-2003 anime which is fairly well regarded. The biggest knock against the anime is the ending diverges things kind of significantly and is somewhat divisive about if it works or not.
Weeb level: Despite being about a pop idol actually fairly minimal idol knowledge is needed, its mostly generic music biz stuff. The artwork comes off as obviously Japanese and the perception of the underworld might be the most obviously non-American thing about it.
Content: There’s no nudity or really anything resembling fanservice. There is some minor violence in some of the flashbacks and talk about suicides.
Worth Reading: Seek it out if you like shoujo or strong character dramas. Read it if you like gorgeous art or a different kind of magical girl. Skip it if you want something with action.
Where to read: Viz released the whole series in the US so you can pretty easily find a copy from them, it is also on Comixology to read digitally in its entirety.