This review is based on the 17 main volumes + 5 gaidens and various other side-stories relating to the series written by Takabayashi Tomo including Comiket doujinshis published by her. *Contains spoilers!*
What happens when an author with a history of writing BL changes her pen name and wants to write Boys Gag instead of Boys Love meets a fujoshi editor and they hire a BL mangaka as the illustrator? The answer is a perfect recipe for disaster!
maru-MA is an older isekai premise with some typical harem and BL elements included. Shibuya Yuuri gets flushed down a toilet and ends up in an isekai where he
is crowned as the Demon King, like every other isekai MC he gets super powers and his own harem with an obligatory (abusive) tsundere, but there's a slight twist here: instead of hot girls, it's the hot (gay) guys that are after him! And to rub some salt on wounds, Yuuri happens to be straight.
It's an LN so art doesn't make much of a difference. For the first few volumes it was honestly terrible, typical yaoi anatomy but the story at the beginning is quite well written so I can easily look past it. The art really improved in the later volumes and the characters look much more proportionate and decent till the last published volume at least.
What would you do if a hot bishounen insults you left and right on your first meeting and then proceeds on to insulting your mother?
Since he's so hot, you'll hold back your urge to punch and slap him instead, right? Beauty totally matters, ugly people are the only ones you should punch obviously!
Now what if slapping turns out to be the way they propose in the other world?
Well, congratulations, you are now engaged to another man, a hot 82-year bishounen, not to mention the guy who welcomed you with hostility and contempt! AND same sex marriages are perfectly normal in our gay-sekai so "but we are both guys" isn't a very good excuse, you are trapped for all eternity (or as long as the fujoshi author wants it)
BUT you hate him, he hates you, you didn't know about the custom and you are straight so let's just forget that such a thing ever happened, right?
Wrong! You have no choice but to keep the engagement going because your fiance turns out to be gay and falls completely head-over-heals for you after you kick his butt in battle. Moreover, he shows absolutely no signs of wanting to break the engagement and starts behaving like a complete tsundere jerk. And you obviously don't want to hurt his pride by letting the whole nation know that the former prince was dumped by the new king, he never did anything wrong after all and it was completely your fault for slapping him in the first place. Besides, beautiful people are born with extra privileges and deserve to be treated with more respect irrespective of how badly they treat you.
By rule of thumb, if the person interested in you is gay and bishie your sexuality or opinion doesn't count! You have two choices:
1. Go selectively gay now!
2. Go selectively gay by the end of the series after being harassed and abused.
Leaving aside the bad parts, the other world is on the verge of a war breaking out between the humans and demons and as the new peace loving Demon King, Yuuri tries to do everything in his power to prevent it. The premise of the other world itself is quite well made unlike your typical game-like modern day isekai. In the other world there exist 4 forbidden boxes which could potentially destroy the world, each of them has a "key" which is a body part of a person. The whereabouts of the boxes as well as the keys for most part are unknown and various countries are seeking them in order to rule over the world. This plot is exactly what carried the entire series through.
The setting indeed is interesting has a lot of potential and to some extent it really was explored but the fujo-pandering with Yuuri and Wolfram really brings down the entire series. Even though the author claims that the series was never meant to be BL, she keeps on putting in content that is ambiguous enough to be interpreted in either ways giving the fujoshis some bait to not only bite on to but to keep on munching on. To add to it the toxic western fujoshi fandom with their LGBT propaganda and shipping only make matters even worse.
Unfortunately, the much recent content heavily relies on fujo-service and is very much inconsistent with the contents of the main story as well with the characters, the editor and author are simply trying to push on the BL tropes and the "Royal Couple" on to the readers at all costs which is what I hate the most about this series. Much of the writing is bad to the point it comes as a surprise that it was the same person who wrote the 17 main volumes.
I won't go into detail of each character but the personalities of the the characters are very inconsistent and hardly receive any development. Initially the author developed a certain image of the characters which was eventually blown out of the window to end up being mere whims of the author and editor. "I think this guy is so cool so to hell with his personality up till now let's just write him to be the complete opposite", "I think I hate this character so let's make him look like a fool and then bitch about it on our official twitter". In the main volumes they are simply victims of circumstances and behave accordingly but are back to square one soon after.
Conrad and Gwendal were about the most decent and level-headed characters among others. Conrad, in particular, was complex enough that the author admitted that he was the most difficult to write and even wanted to kill him off. I guess you can't expect much from BL authors, they are far too used to their tropes to actually write decent characters and interactions. I'll certainly have to give her credit for at least trying.
Wolfram, the fujo-magnet, is the most shallow character, he has no reason to fall in love with Yuuri but simply does. He also comes off as one-dimensional and fits in the category of BL and tsundere tropes. Fans might argue that he is the most "developed" but he still can't even seem to understand that Yuuri is straight and he needs to let go of him. His behavior is simply right down horrible and can be seen constantly bickering about and shouting or even hitting and throwing things at Yuuri. He is of the opinion that being Yuuri's fiance, he has every right to sleep with him or even have sex and is constantly trying to make sexual advances on Yuuri, even tries to rape him in one such attempt. Yuuri's consent on the matter of course doesn't matter! It's no wonder that fujoshis completely latch on to him.
The female characters are certainly problematic. The author has said that she likes writing "strong" women but her works contain a complete slut who changes lovers like clothes, a feminist who constantly keeps on saying how useless men are, some plot armor to hold Yuuri and Wolfram's engagement together and the remaining are just useless background fujoshis who ship Yuuri with the other male characters so they can bait fans with many countless pairings. The plot armor called "Greta" in particular was really annoying. She is often mentioned as being small and cute and everyone is supposed to like small children so she simply behaves as a vector to keep Yuuri and Wolfram together, her role as plot armor was really amplified in "Love Letter" and is often used as an excuse to not to break the engagement in the latter half of the series. Gisela and Flynn were among the better written ones.
For most part it was a good read and I liked much of the subtle comedy silently slipping in at the right moments, the characters were sometimes enjoyable other times got quite annoying. The pacing of the story isn't all that good and due to having many characters and the story taking place at multiple locations there is a lot of switching back and forth between scenes and sometimes it just spoils the mood. That was particularly the case while reading the Seisakoku arc with things getting tensed up in the other world the story would switch back to Earth at crucial moments. It was my favorite characters that motivated me to finish reading chapters that didn't particularly interest me. For the side stories, I really enjoyed Conrad and Yuuri's interactions, they were really relaxing to read. As I mentioned earlier, all the unnecessary BL took out a lot of the enjoyment and left me really annoyed sometimes.
It had a great plot and interesting premise if the author would have chosen to leave aside the fujo-service then the series certainly would have appealed to a wider audience and received more popularity. The whole problem with this series is that it often emphasizes on an unhealthy and one-sided relationship and gives off the vibes that as long as you are pretty, you can do any shit you want to those around you and everything will be acceptable. Seeing how the series keeps on heading in a bad direction I wouldn't really recommend others to read it. And if you do plan on reading this then please read the original Japanese version, fan-translations aren't worth it.