So about 10 years ago, Harlequin, in partnership with Dark Horse, did a line of comics called Harlequin Ginger Blossom — manga-style romance comics written by Harlequin writers and drawn by Japanese artists. There were 14 titles published and then they disappeared. I figured the whole thing managed to not catch on and it disappeared
The other day, I was browsing through Comixology, and I came across the Harlequin/SB Creative page (I believe most are also available on the Kindle, though, and possibly elsewhere — this is just where I found them). Not only had the whole Harlequin manga thing not disappeared, there are nearly 450 titles. (Most seem to be both be written and drawn by women.)
A quick crowdsourced query offered some suggestions of ones to read. So of course I bought some and did just that.
Domesticating Luc, written by Sandra Paul, art by Mayu Takayama
This was probably the most straightforward and the sweetest of the three I read. It’s about a playboy, Luc, who is trying to train his late grandmother’s dog so he can put it up for adoption. His dog trainer, Julie, ends up staying with him to do just that (like you do).
It’s fun and silly (the dog, an Italian mastiff named Puppy, even has some asides). I didn’t find Luc to be particularly attractive — little too stiff and square-jawed for me — but Takayama’s Julie is bright-eyed and adorable. It’s the least sexually-explicit of the three I read — while Julie and Luc clearly has sex, it’s all hazy and dreamy with no nudity.
I didn’t quite buy the romance between them — it’s all pretty obvious and tame — but it was cute.
The Passionate Sinner, written by Violet Winspear, art by Yoko Hanabusa
This is when things start to go off the deep end, which I am guessing is the ultimate appeal of these. I mean that in a good way. A surgeon named Paul Von Setan is blinded and the nurse who took the blame, Merlin, pretends to be an old woman to become Paul’s secretary as he works on a book on a tropical island.
Following all of that? Of course, Merlin is found out and Paul suspects she was the nurse who intentionally blinded him. There’s a bunch of gothic silliness here in the classic sense (think … Jane Eyre, but maybe in reverse and maybe with a loss of a limb).
The relationship seems primarily passionate and physical at first, and Paul definitely has a weird, controlling streak. There is a bit more nudity here and the sex scenes — while still hazy — definitely feel more physical and present. Hanabusa’s art has a pleasing retro quality to it, which I enjoyed. Her panel layouts are also dynamic and appealing.
This kind of falls into the “I don’t know if I’d call it good” category for me, but it was fun and I enjoyed I had no idea where it was going next (even if it ended up in an expected place).
The Sheik and the Virgin Secretary, written by Susan Mallery and art Kakuko Shinozaki
When I asked for recommendations, someone said “anything with Sheik in the title” and OK, let’s ignore the ethnic implications and just go with that. I picked this one because that title made it seem like it was going to be ridiculous.
I was kind of right. It wasn’t as over-the-top as I expected, but I think that made it better.
The virgin secretary of the title, Kiley, asks her boss, Rafiq (you guessed it! The sheik of the title. He’s from a fictional country in the Middle East so that fixes everything!) if she can be his mistress. You see, Kiley
just caught her fiancé cheating on her and clearly this is a logical solution to that. They agree to do this for three months.
I admire how quickly the plot just jumps to this (this arrangement happens in the first three pages). However, after Kiley admits to Rafiq she’s a virgin, he says he’s going to take it slowly — in a good way, of course. Yes, they fall in love because of course they do, but their relationship seems to have a natural progression. While there is conflict and family drama, it’s all pretty quickly resolved. I liked that.
Of the three I read, this definitely had the most sex — lots of undressing, fondling early on and it quickly progresses to more as the book continues. There’s quite a bit of nudity as well (all female, though). The sex scenes are pretty extended and while they still leave enough to the imagination, I was surprised at what they didn’t.
Shinozaki’s art is loose and modern and I thought it suited this story well. Kiley isn’t presented as a great beauty, but that’s definitely one of the points of the story. Rafiq is playfully handsome. Her page layouts have a breeziness to them that makes this story fun. For all the expected beats, the art really carries the story.
I have to admit I was surprised by the overall quality of these — I definitely went into this with some curiosity but not overly high expectations. The writing, while it adheres to pretty standard romance novel tropes and beats, is strong and effective. The manga artists are a good match for each title. These feel like they weren’t treated as a throwaway — the quality is much, much better than it needs to be. I love that.
While I could see how easily these could be addicting — they’re certainly entertaining and fun — at about $6 per title, they’re a little pricey for things I’m unlikely to ever read again. However, I like to know they’re there and whenever I need some silly comfort, I can imagine myself buying a couple more every now and then. I have a couple more recommendations to read but I’ll gladly take more.