Shounen – Comedy, ecchi, harem, romance
14 Volumes / 5 Omnibuses (complete)
Tokyopop / Kodansha Comics
After failing his entrance exams to his chosen university, Keitaro is kicked out. But because he made a certain girl a promise to attend there, he heads to his grandmother’s inn so he can study. However, it’s been turned into an all-female dorm! Even though he’s given permission to stay, can Keitaro handle the residents?
Love Hina helped cement the modern harem genre in Japanese manga/anime. Combining the perverted, often attacked male lead of Urusei Yatsura and the one guy, many girls vying for lead’s attention setting of Tenchi Muyo!, Love Hina also gained a huge popularity in the US thanks to it being one of the earliest manga to be released in the original right-to-left orientation. Does it still stand up today?
Love Hina stars Keitaro, a young man who wants to get into one of Japan’s most prestigious colleges. He has spent his whole life being average and unpopular, but the one girl he liked — and also liked him back — made him promise they’d attend the University of Tokyo (aka Todai) together. Well, there are two issues with his sweet memory: he doesn’t remember the girl’s name or face, and he’s already failed his entrance exams to Todai twice. His parents believe Keitaro should give up, and they kick him out.
Keitaro decides to crash at his grandmother’s for a while. She’s the owner of an inn, so she surely has the space. Well, he needs to improve his relationship with his grandma since he didn’t know that she changed the inn to an all-female boarding house and that she’s left for a tour around the world. The unknowing, unwitting Keitaro waltzes in, and after being mistaken for a pervert, he’s mistaken for an actual Todai student. Even though he tries to correct them, things snowball and he’s given permission to stay from his aunt, the current manager, and the other residents. Well, all except for one young lady whom he encountered in the hot spring and did not take it well when she discovered a guy in there.
Well, of course the truth comes out, but grandma hands over Hinata Inn to Keitaro as long as he runs the place. And either through his own idiocy or bad luck, he keeps being mistaken for a creep. It doesn’t help his proclamations of innocence when a lot of the girls just want to mess with him or see him leave and let Hinata Inn return to be girls-only.
Thus begins Keitaro’s life at Hinata Inn: he has to pass Todai’s entrance exam, try to figure out whom he made that promise to, and handle the residents. As in most harem manga, there is quite a cast. There’s Keitaro, of course, a couple of his friends, the boss at his new job, and Haruka, his aunt. But of course, the cornerstone of such a manga is the girls.
Naru: the hot-tempered one with bad eyesight
Kitsune: the mischievous schemer who loves to drink (real name Mitsune)
Motoko: the kendo girl
Shinobu: the sweet middle schooler who is good at cooking and cleaning
Kaolla: a hyper foreigner with a penchant for inventions
Later, we meet more females like the young prankster Sara and the ditzy Mutsumi. And while Mutsumi has some very important arcs and roles in the story, those five are constantly around along with the protagonist, Keitaro. The manga finds time for all of them, and they all develop some kind of affection for him. Love Hina eventually pairs Keitaro up with someone — and not at the very end of the story, although it could have been earlier if tsundere antics and general insanity didn’t prevent interruptions.
Yes, the romance — and heck, the overall plot of getting into Todai and finding Promise Girl — is often secondary to the manga’s favorite sport: beating up Keitaro. He’s basically Team Rocket or Wile E. Coyote or any other cartoon character who gets blasted and yet emerges relatively unscathed a short time later. Characters even makes jokes about Keitaro’s surprising resilience despite how often he’s beaten up. But there is a lot of him being attacked in the manga. Yes, sometimes Keitaro deserves the girls’ wrath due to his clumsiness or denseness, but in many cases, he’s just a victim of circumstance or misunderstandings.
Either way, Naru and Motoko tend to be the “hit first, ask questions later” types with their tsundere personalities and high level of power, and Kaolla and Sarah just think it’s fun to attack Keitaro. So Keitaro will be beaten up. Usually multiple times in a chapter. So if you tend to dislike females who are prone to violence when they’re angry or embarrassed, even when it’s presented with a heavy comedic aspect, Love Hina will not appeal to you at all. The assault on Keitaro is basically the reason to read Love Hina. After all, you shouldn’t take a series with a flying turtle seriously.
Yes, an actual flying turtle. Who loves hot springs. And mews like a cat. And can parry. As I said, don’t take Love Hina seriously between the turtle and the violence — not to mention crazy inventions, legendary sword techniques, and even more legendary bad driving skills. There’s even some light supernatural aspects. This is the type of romcom that puts a lot of emphasis on the comedy, and each chapter is full of physical gags, verbal quips, and cries of, “Why meeee!!!”
Anyway, the manga has a clear progression of time, but it’s initially episodic as it rotates through the girls. But the manga slightly switches in tone as it moves to long arcs. The longer sections almost always split up the gang somehow as Keitaro’s path to Todai and love involves journeys through Japan and fictional Pacific islands. When Love Hina juggles two or three groups, sometimes the secondary/tertiary groups have their own humorous adventures and othertimes the manga will just do a brief check-in explaining why they got off-track. Whether the girls chase after, assist, or block Keitaro for love or entertainment, things can get rather wild, as I explained earlier. Some of the plots are ridiculous as you would expect, like a transforming girl or a case of amnesia, and some may find the repeated denials of liking Keitaro or him always groping or ogling someone repetitive.
But I didn’t touch on the fact a lot of the humor comes from ecchi elements. There’s the casual sexiness of the girls hanging out in the open air bath. And there’s the random acts like a gust of wind causing an upskirt. And, of course, there’s Keitaro clumsily falling into someone, accidentally groping someone, or forgetting basic manners like knocking. Naru is the #1 victim of Keitaro’s intentional or accidental perviness, but all the teenage and adult girls find themselves a little too close to Keitaro and/or the subject of one of his fantasies.
Not that Keitaro is looking to peep on the very young Sarah or other younger Hinata Inn members, but there are scenes like Kaolla kissing Keitaro or Keitaro accidentally flashing Shinobu. Different cultures have different standards, and even with the usual animanga-style blockers for full exposure (steam, hair, angles), some readers may not be comfortable with minors being presented as without clothes or being seen groped — even accidentally groped — by a would-be college student. Later, whether as a joke or seriously, a few girls try to get Keitaro’s attention in some choice outfits, and Keitaro and his beloved consider going beyond make-out sessions. Right up to the very end, there’s a hefty amount of sexual content.
That part of Keitaro never changes, but he eventually finds a goal beyond getting into Todai to meet Promise Girl. He ends up with a mentor and follows in his footsteps in a number of ways. It was kind of neat to see him become a different kind of doof, especially since it’s not like his boss has it all together either. Keitaro’s determination to get into his dream university and his eventual passion leads to so many falling for this otherwise clueless idiot, although some girls have a hard time accepting it. And, unfortunately for Keitaro, they take it out on him.
While the series is full of zaniness, the Love Hina starts getting a little deeper around the halfway point. You can see more of how his next series, Negima!, came to be with even bigger group antics and more action even though clothes keep disappearing and hands and faces keep landing in places they shouldn’t be going. But Akamatsu sharpens his art, and the manga finds its high-tempo groove. There are a lot of very good artists and very good stories out there, but we all know the feeling of finishing a manga and saying to ourselves, “That’s it??” even in a full 150+ page volume. While it may seem strange to think of a book mathematically in, say, time per page, I do think it’s at least somewhat important to have a manga where you felt like you were entertained for a while. Love Hina is one of those manga where you are going to spend well above average time per page reading it since there’s so much going on. You may want to go fast because of the action and comedy, but you’ll want to restrict your pace so that you can take in everything in a panel, whether it’s a funny aside, others’ reactions, or just added ambiance. Like the turtle is pretty whimsical (and intelligent to boot), so Tamago can sometimes fly in to either look adorable or express its own feelings on what’s happening. While Akamatsu does have bigger panels with minimal in key and emotional moments, the bread-and-butter of this series is the jam-packed cartoon- and comic-style comedy with explosions, incredible acts of strength, and items appearing out of nowhere.
Akamatsu also adapted to using computers with his art earlier than a lot of artists, and with the help of his assistants, the backgrounds and such are plentiful. Again, this goes with the fast-paced atmosphere of Love Hina, but this series has a huge inn/dorm, tropical paradises, mechs… this series is just full. Again, this adds to the longer readtime per volume, but it also just looks good. The characters look rounder before Akamatsu moves to his modern style, but everyone looks unique enough that readers will never get them mixed up. Of course, with a healthy batch of girls, there’s bound to be one readers tend to favor (the ultra tsundere Naru, sexy drinker Kitsune, etc.), and then there’s the extended cast like Haruka and Seta with their own quirks. The cast changes outfits regularly, but Naru’s bad vision with her thick glasses was weird since supposedly she has bad vision but never mentions contacts. But yes, there is going to be a lot of naked girls in this series, both in and out of the bath, and the ladies tend to be well-endowed. Those visuals are going to be impossible to ignore if ecchi content bothers you, as it’s one of the manga’s defining features. Pick a random page, and someone’s bound to be blushing out of anger, happiness, or embarrassment, but they will probably be drawn well while doing so… whether clothed or unclothed.
The original Tokyopop version was released monthly, so as you can imagine, sacrifices were made. This includes a lot of the common mistakes of this time including swapped speech bubbles, punched-up dialogue, and general errors. It’s still readable, especially if you are acquainted with other Tokyopop releases of the early 2000s. But it looks like that set goes for about the same as the Kodansha Comics’ omnibus versions, so unless you’ve started the Tokyopop editions, most people are going to go for the easily-accessible omnibuses. The omnibuses feature a whole new translation. Besides the actual dialogue, there are a lot of stylistic differences between the two, like Tokyo U (Tokyopop) versus Todai (Kodansha) and Sara (Tokyopop) vs Sarah (Kodansha). The omnibuses also include translation notes since more Japanese terms are included. Honorifics and terms like “onii-chan” are included in the rerelease. “Gochisousama” is also kept even though “itadakimasu” wasn’t.
Still, Kodansha Comics’ version is hardly error-free. The text and dialogue messes up the Shinomu nickname Kaolla calls Shinobu several times. There are typos like “bon app tit” (bon appetit), “sn’t” (isn’t), and “Kistune” (Kitsune). A few speech bubbles either are cut off or have text outside the bubble. Another bubble incorrectly includes the speaker with the line, and several were lettered incorrectly so that there are dashes in a name (“Naru-se-gawa”). I also noticed at least one Tokyopop-esque “repeat the line in someone else’s bubble” as well. However, it is without a doubt more accurate to the Japanese script. A lot of these errors were likely because editing didn’t catch them with such thick volumes and because Akamatsu’s art tends to be busy. But still, even dividing the series into its original 14-volume release, I personally found it disappointing there were an above-average number of mistakes for a completed, rescued series.
Love Hina may feel a bit dated for some, and others won’t have the tolerance level for violent heroines or all the fanservice. But while it imitated others and has been imitated since, Love Hina still does a couple of things to keep it unique, and sometimes it’s just plain fun to see all the chaos Keitaro and the others cause and leave in their wake.
Kodansha Comics also released Akamatsu’s Negima!: Magister Negi Magi and UQ Holder! while Tokyopop also published his series A.I. Love You. Funimation currently has the license to the Love Hina anime.