Hana Yori Dango, or Hanadan, as I call it, may seem like a stereotypical shōjo manga, UNTIL you realise it set half the stereotypes followed by shoutouts manga today. It is internationally famous and has spawned countless dramas in different parts of Asia and also has an anime adaptation. This, right here is what started it all.
This manga follows the story of Makino Tsukushi, a middle class girl going to a school for rich people. All she wants to do is fit in and graduate, but then enter the F4, the group of popular and rich boys in the school. They are well revered and feared. One day, Makino’s friend falls off stairs and injures the leader of the F4, Makino stands up for her and insults them, and Doumyouji Tsukasa, the leader of the F4 is impressed by her courage and the fact that she isn’t swayed by his influence. He develops a crush on her, but Makino likes Hanazawa Rui, the quiet and aloof member of the F4.
Shōjo manga underwent huge reforms in the 1990s, with hits like this and sailor moon, so for its time, Hanadan has a pretty unique plot, at some points, I felt like it was unnecessarily stretched out, but that’s fine.
Since this manga came out in the late 90s, the art and overall character designs looks quite dated. But, it keeps improving over the course of the manga, and towards the end, it looks more or less like the style followed today.
The strongest point of the story, the characters develop extremely well over the course of the manga.
Back in the 1990s, Japan hadn’t really jumped on the feminism bandwagon, but we have three extremely strong female characters- Makino Tsukushi, Shizuka Tōdō and Tsubaki Dōmyōji.
Makino is the inspiration for the “poor hardworking girl with a lot of perseverance” trope followed today. But, I have to hand the baton of my favourite characters to the Doumyouji siblings- Tsukasa is somewhat close to my ideal man and he develops wonderfully along the course of the series- from a violent bully to a kindhearted boyfriend, but occasionally his violent side does show. Tsubaki is also a character I love- she is simply hilarious and reminds me of how I fought with my own brother as a kid.
The rest of the F4 is nice too- Hanazawa Rui starts off as an introvert but ends up opening up to Makino after sorting out his feelings, my second favourite character development. Mimasaka and Nishikado deserved better, in my opinion, but you can see the impact Makino had on this group of boys who were feared as bullies.
I enjoyed this manga, and I simply couldn’t put it down, I laughed and cried with all the characters and I just felt so happy and warm inside, and I closed the book with a smile on my face.
This manga is definitely worth a read, please don’t judge it to be stereotypical simply because it’s an older manga, but look at its strengths- being such an impactful manga that has inspired countless other such stereotypes, Hanadan is a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and I’d definitely read it again and again. When I want to read it, I’ll make sure to see this review before I engross myself in that ride.
Thank you for reading!