This is another first volume from Yen Press that only costs $3 digitally on Amazon. Unlike “Handa-kun,” I was left ready for more after reading it and was disappointed to find that the company is letting the release of the digital editions lag behind print. That’s because “Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun” is a charming and funny four-panel manga with a winning ensemble. It starts out when high school girl Sakura tries to confess her love to the tall and cool-looking Nozaki and bungles it by saying that she’s his fan. He responds by giving the girl his autograph and then inviting her back to his place… to do beta work on his art. It takes a while, but when the realization finally hits Sakura is simply shocked to learn that her crush is actually a mangaka who draws romantic shoujo manga under the pen name Sakaki Yumeno.
We also find out that while Nozaki may be the perfect catch on the surface, he’s more than a little clueless and lacking in tact as well. Yet he still winds up being a likeable guy with his easygoing nature and honest dedication to his work. Sakura also charms as she provides some clear-eyed perspective on the quirks of shoujo manga and is great at keeping other members of the cast in their place and from becoming too annoying. This includes background assistant Mikoshiba, who fancies himself a playboy, but whose nature is so adorable that Nozaki based the heroine of his latest manga on him. We also have Sakura’s “not mean, just completely oblivious” friend Suzuki, Kashima the female “prince” of the school who can’t stop being dashing even as she’s dragged away, and Hori the short member of the drama club who winds up being Kashima’s keeper more often than not.
They’re a fun bunch to observe and the humor springs up naturally from seeing how they interact with each other even in the simplest of situations. Mangaka Izumi Tsubaki also makes the four-panel format of her manga feel more vibrant than other series done in that style with her “widescreen” panels and detailed character and background work. The only thing that’s really working against the manga is that some of the humor can get a little “insider baseball.” If you’re not well-versed on some of the conventions of shoujo manga, then the jokes at its expense will likely fall flat. Most of the humor does just focus on the interactions of the cast, and that’s enough for me to recommend this to anyone who’s interested -- especially at that digital price!