Comic Spotlight: Love! Love! Fighting!
Good people, permit me to be your guide for a minute because I dare say that this is going to be the best learning journey you've taken in a while. It doesn't matter if you're a hardcore manga (or comic) fan or literature aficionado, you ain't seen nothin' yet. That, I promise you.
A few of you may know that I've been a huge manga fan since middle school. I was even dead-set on becoming a mangaka (manga artist) for a few years, too. Not sure what started me on manga (probably all the DBZ and Sailor Moon anime my mom watched with my brother and I when we were kids), but over the years, I've read thousands of them.
But not one of them has ever grabbed my interest and gave me as many feels as Love! Love! Fighting! It's that darned good, people.
LLF is a web comic by Sharean Morishita that will make your stomach hurt with laughter, work your tear ducts, and really get you to think hard about yourself, other people, and society as a whole. You're first introduced to a young black woman named Oriana, a wonderfully unique main character who challenges stereotypes--both IRL and in the manga.
The reason I say she challenges stereotypes in real life is because of the internalized expectations a lot of manga readers, including myself, have of manga protagonists. We often expect the same kinds of main characters--or rather, Cookie Cutters, as I call them. We either see A) the bubbly, energetic, airhead protagonist; B) the studious, quiet, socially awkward protagonist; C) the popular, good-looking, but secretly misunderstood protagonist; or D) the rebellious cool kid protagonist. And these are very often slim characters with pale complexions and straight hair.
Oriana is none of those things. The first thing about her that caught my attention was that she's black, something I rarely see of manga and anime characters in general. (Sans the inclusion of what I refer to as "caricature characters" such as 008 of Cyborg 009 and Mr. Popo of Dragon Ball Z, both of whom bear a saddening resemblance to racist blackface). She's got gorgeous natural black hair--something that is and has been demonized in many parts of the world. And lastly, she's a plus-sized young lady.
That last one was one of the most salient things of note about Oriana because while it's unusual to see a plus-sized main character, it has been done in manga like Pochamani and Shorty and Chubby are in Love, So What? However, neither of the protagonists in those is genuinely comfortable with the way they look. They simply accept what they look like and put their focus on their personalities. Oriana is not only comfortable with her body, she LOVES the way she looks. And that is not only refreshing, but a great message to get across, for plus-sized people in particular.
I emphasize plus-sized people because while thinner people can have issues of our own, we're still accepted, no questions asked, everywhere. Plus-sized people aren't. They're encouraged to go above and beyond to fit into society's beauty standards in every possible way--TV, movies, magazines, billboard advertisements, educators, friends, family, love interests...the list goes on. Many people don't seem to realize that healthiness and body shape/size aren't indicative of one another, so they perpetuate the "thinner is better" mantra. It's extremely important that people think about the negative effects these kinds of things can have on others.
Part of why Oriana's body-positive attitude is so great is because of the society she's in. Much of the series is set in South Korea in one of the most competitive and superficial industries in the world: Entertainment. Early on, Oriana's physical attributes and race make her subject to negative attention of all kinds. And though she's tough, toughness isn't the focus when she says things. The focus is on her self-esteem. She isn't written as a tough-as-nails black woman stereotype. Instead, she's a person with self-esteem. She has feelings, moments of vulnerability, moments of incredible fortitude, and a lot of determination.
Okay, let me stop here or I'll go on forever about her awesomeness. She's not the only character in LLF with an original personality. Each character has a lot of depth to them. Even the antagonists are multifaceted. (Absolutely NO lazy writing anywhere in this web comic, guys. And I'm 1000% here for that.)
So let's talk plot. Here's what I can tell you without giving too much away: Oriana and her cousin travel to South Korea to work in the entertainment industry there and face some tough problems and a lot of opposition because of the way Oriana looks. But don't forget, it's also a love story! And her love interest comes in the form of Jae-Hwa, an up-and-coming singer who's also still a fledgling in the entertainment world. (Also, he's fun and hilarious as hell. Just wanted to throw that in there.) He and Oriana learn a lot about life from one another, but have a lot to learn together as well. Both have to deal with the expectations that come with their ethnic identities and their own feelings about how to behave and react.
It's a beautiful, well-written story that I honestly feel better having read. It taught me a lot. And as a writer, learning is something I look to do as much as possible about as many things as I can. Especially about other people's experiences. Though that's not just beneficial for writing; it's beneficial for becoming a better person in general. When you look into how people different from you experience life, it puts things into perspective and really helps you understand more about the world. You learn how to better relate to other people.
Those are things that I can't say that I've gotten from a great deal of manga. Maybe you'll come away with the same things that I did. Maybe you'll come away with something different. But I promise, you'll learn something before you even finish the first volume.