Revolves around a boy named Watanuki and how he stumbled upon a shop owned by a woman named Yuuko. Yuuko's power is to grant wishes, but she can only do so with proper payment. Since Watanuki has seen spirits ever since he was born, Yuuko offers to take away his sight of the spirits in exchange for him working at the shop. He agrees and works at the shop until his debt is repaid.
The series was released in English by the now defunct Del Rey from April 27, 2004 to February 21, 2012. Kodansha Comics USA has republished the series in an omnibus edition from March 18, 2014 to September 8, 2015 the final two volumes were 2-in-1, while the previous were all 3-in-1. It was also published in Spanish by Norma Editorial from July 2004 to October 2011.
There are very few mangas I give a complete 10 out of 10 for, but if anything, xxxHOLiC excels even at that- I would have given it a 100 out of 10 if possible. It's that delightful and amazing.
xxxHolic is a supernatural story about a young teenager named Watanuki Kimihiro who is troubled by his ability to see spirits and his bloodline's inheritance of drawing them close to him. One day, when running away from the usual spirits, he enters a mysterious looking building, only to find that the spirits have vanished, and that the building is inhabited by a "witch"- Yuuko Ichihara- who can
grant wishes. Watanuki wishes to be left alone by the troublesome spirits, but in return, must work at Yuuko's shop- a job that is like no other. Soon Watanuki finds himself learning more about the supernatural world, other dimensions, and stumbles upon two characters from a different universe: Sakura and Syaoran....
In a basic short: xxxHolic is not your typical run-of-the-mill manga. Exquisite in it's detailed art and subtle storytelling, this is manga at CLAMP's finest. Beginning with a series of "events" that Yuuko narrates and reveals something poignant about human nature and humanity and then slowly delving into Watanuki's mysteries and importance of being, it features excellent character depth and development. The chapters flow smoothly, going from one event to another without you really realizing it. It is slow at first, but in a good way, as it gives space for the characters to really develop and show their true colors. Eventually, it's crossovers with it's sister manga, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles, lead to a main focus around 100 chapters into the manga. Yuuko's exhilarating beauty, seductive and omnipotent nature with young "apprentice" Watanuki is a delightful relationship. Also featuring is a small main cast, and a small minor cast, which allows the manga to focus exclusively on these characters with respect and care, rather than going for halfhearted attempts to cover a large cast. The best thing about xxxHolic is that it is specified for those who like thought-provoking, philosophical manga that manages to be visceral and accessible. It is that quality which allows it to retain a sense of maturity and coherence which draws the reader in, while being relatively simple in plot for a good portion of the story.
Going onto specifics, however, the most wonderful aspect about this series, lies in its balance and characters. Roughly 1/3 of the manga devotes itself to episodic stories, each ending with a certain theme or saying, which may or not maybe as delightful as the viewer would wish to hear. It is here where we get a chockfull of comedy- from Watanuki's exaggerated emotions to Yuuko's fine palette and desire for food. It is here that unusually, we get the most amount of character development. Watanuki slowly transforms from a normal, spastic teenager to a more serious, refined and curious man. Yuuko herself changes- though more subtly, and as Watanuki begins to understand himself better, so do the people around him, and thus xxxHOLiC is really more of a character-based, introspective story than its sister, TRC, which is much more plot-based.
The other 2/3 of the manga go into crossovers with the other series, which in a way is tragic, because in order to fully comprehend what's going on, you're going to inevitably have to read TRC or have a very good understanding of what's going on. That is one of the greatest weaknesses about this manga, one that has put many off from reading it, but let me say it now- don't let it get to you. If you prefer to read TRC - which has quite a long and convoluted plot - then that's totally fine, but the easiest way to understand these events is to simply read some general information about TRC (information that can be obtained by going to WIkipedia, if you wish). It's also around this period that a dramatic shift in tone takes place- a very bold move, and honestly, what makes this manga fantastic in the first place. xxxHOLiC starts off as a comedy, but ends with a much darker atmosphere. It's here where Watanuki's character development really pays off, as we understand that in all things, not just wishes, just as there is a gain for something, there is also a price. Happiness is relative to everyone, and what may be one person's happiness may be another's misfortune. xxxHOLiC explores these themes and excellently, giving quite the realistic (but still with a hopeful edge to it) answers.
Not only that, but lastly, xxxHOLiC is fantastic at giving the setting and characters life. No character feels completely flat and while some additional development could have been added, each character is different in their own way, and most importantly, the relationships between the characters are amazing. Each relationship shapes the character in a completely different way, and as Yuuko said herself- it are these ties that inevitably, make us want to wish, and make us human.
I'm probably ranting at this point at how amazing xxxHOLiC really is, but it changed my entire perspective and philosophy on life, and not many things can do that. A delight that anyone should definitely read, xxxHolic will have you most likely, hooked at first sight.
xxxHOLiC was one of the first manga that I ever read and it's probably one of the longest running manga series that I've ever finished. However, despite my nostalgia for it, my enjoyment while reading it was very mixed. xxxHOLiC wavers from being moderately enjoyable, to absolutely awesome, and finally to downright boring.
xxxHOLiC can be split into 3-4 parts. First, xxxHOLiC reads like a supernatural mystery-of-the-week. These sections were fairly interesting and I know I loved certain specific chapters, but for supernatural mini-stories tangentially connected by the protagonist I'd rather read something like Nightmare Inspector which has a more serious tone than xxxHOLiC.
the series skips to a very emotionally charged exploration of the main characters, making them feel more human and tightening their relationships. This to me was the pinnacle of the series because, before this, there really was no reason to care about these characters before because they were so flat and they couldn't be called much more than stereotypes; spastic weirdo, silent manly hero guy, love interest, sexy boss lady. They developed sympathetic characters traits and I found myself suddenly caring whether or not one of the main cast got hurt or not.
The next 'part' of the series is actually an ongoing theme that the series includes, and it grinds the story to a screeching halt. It is one of the things about this series that the majority of the fans hate, and with good reason. The series tries to increasingly tie itself to Tsubasa, and it is very forced and it provides ....... little to nothing of value to the universe of xxxHOLiC. It's during these sequences that you have to force yourself to read these very long-winded boring sequences of Yuuko explaining to us how the two stories are 'connected.' Except... it's not all that connected. All of this can be easily removed and none of is actually has is direct or important influence on the main story of xxxHOLiC.
As for the home stretch of the series, it makes a jarring return to the mystery-of-the-week format. It's obvious that the author started to see this series as a burden. There are a lot of pointless time-skips, and its the most jarring with the major ten-year time skip. Some main characters are forgotten and don't even show up for the last chapters. One character in particular gets so lazily written-out of the series that it was shocking. And, in the end the series goes out with a whimper. No fanfare, no emotional intensity, just a lot of mundane talking in a very repetitious sequence.
CLAMP's long-limbed characters are often the subject of much ridicule but I have to say that some of the designs, especially Yuuko's outfits and the chapter title cards, are lavish and quite pretty. The style of all the butterfly imagery to the simple flowing of smoke from a pipe is great eye-candy. That being said, panels can be lazily drawn like giving two-page spreads to pages full of black ink and/or a simplistic character portrait (especially near the end.)
I do recommend this manga... but only the middle portion of it. Don't bother reading the ending, and (only if you have time to kill) read the beginning.
The story line for the most part is the same as the anime, with little things here and there that change which is rather normal for going from print to anime. A couple things though seem to of been changed. The first one is that Watanuki doesn’t feel like he is a total spas from what I have read. He seems a little more put together then the anime series. Yuko on the other hand seems to speak even more and says things that could probably go without saying like for instance, saying that Watanuki’s face looked mad when you could tell right from the
picture that it did. Moro and Maro were not as annoying as in the anime (Or else, I could just decide weather or not I read their repeats of other’s words…) Yuko is even more cryptic in some of her answers then the anime, and rather seems to cut herself off once in a while. It really pisses me off that way.
Now I do have a problem with how they put some of the story lines. In the anime, it seemed to be much better placed then in the books. There are times when they talk about Domeki even though we have pretty much never met him before but they talk about some rather special things about him. The animation seemed to be much better in bringing him into the story and explaining more about him. On contrary, when it came to Himawari, we got a lot more information even if it was cryptic in the manga instead of the anime.
The artwork is rather striking, just like the anime. Unfortunately, it does have a couple of downsides. Because of how dark the manga is, the characters become masses of black blobs when we see them far away, and the details sort of fade off until you can’t tell who it is. The characters have the same problem as the animation where the bodies feel stretched and heads a little too small for the bodies. This does give the manga its on style away from most of clamps work even if it is a bit creepy. A downside to it having its on feeling is how stringy some of the characters hair seems to be. Yuko’s hair flies around like spiders legs or smoke even when there doesn’t seem to be much wind. It is always getting ‘stuck’ on something as well leaving fine lines on the page. Sometimes the images become too crowded with elaborate designs of smoke that although give the feeling of shop and some places around it a rather mystical setting, it takes away from much of the detail that should be shown or left blank. I normally don’t see any actual shading being done but when they do use it, its pretty much jet black blocks. There aren’t really any halftone patterns that I can see, and if there are, it’s very few using more of pen shading. There is also the little matter that they have no shin in there eyes, making them look a bit dead sometimes.
All of their offerings feel the same; insipid, juvenile and tedious. Perfect fare for a toddler, but rather boring for an adult and as I've gotten older, I find myself disliking their works more and more. xxxHolic has a little bit more of an interesting feel, but the male characters don't act like men and the enigmatic female makes me want to slap her.
Like other Clamp offerings, you never really learn what is going on in the story - you never really learn who the characters really are and why they are doing what they
are doing. For a while, that sort of story telling seems like the author is being mysterious, but by the end of the series, I was convinced they wrote like that way because THEY didn't know what was going on in their story either.
Perhaps the story is quirky and odd enough someone would like it, but I didn't much like the stretched out art, the strange relationship with the wishy washy lead and his terse companion whom he seems to hate but who keeps saving him. The relationships all seem hard to believe, stilted and strained - as if the authors don't have much experience with relationships in real life and so don't know how to write or draw them. Of all the Clamp offerings I've suffered through this was possibly the least painful, but in retrospect, it's just so not worth wasting time reading or watching.