Romance manga can be many things. They can be funny and sweet, but they can also be heartbreaking and sad at times, especially when they mirror everyday, real life relationships. They often times fall into other genres, such as drama, comedy, sci-fi, action, fantasy, and more, so while romance manga as a whole may not be for everyone, I do think there's a series within the genre that everyone will enjoy.
Some of the romance manga on this list delve into happy relationships, while others highlight the good times as well as the hardships that come with them. I think there is a misconception sometimes that romance manga always has to be feel-good. This is definitely one of the genre's appeals, but there are some that take a harder look, and even sometimes a darker look, at the concept of love. Love can very easily turn into obsession, which forms a more twisted romance, or they can involve hardships that make them sad and heartbreaking, and some of the series on this list highlight just that.
If you are looking for a happy, touching series to read, though, don't worry, because there are plenty of those on this list as well! I just wanted to include some of these more offbeat takes for those of you who are looking for something a bit different to read.
Whether you like your manga to be all about the romance or prefer your series to have a romantic subtext, you like romance classics or want to experience new modern favorites, hopefully there's something for everyone on this list.
That all being said, here are the best romance manga you need to check out!
Your Lie in April by Naoshi Arakawa
Passion can be a fleeting thing. Sometimes we can become less passionate about the things we love as a result of things we do ourselves, like overworking ourselves, but it can be caused by the hands of others, like parents who push their children too hard to become perfect at what they do. In piano prodigy Kosei Arima's case, it's the latter, so when his mother suddenly passes away, he abandons his love for the instrument. Sometimes we forget why we do something and why we love doing it, but sometimes we just need a reminder.
That reminder is Kaori Miyazono—a violinist whose uninhibited style contrasts with Kosei's reserved demeanor and pushes her way into his bubble. Your Lie in April is a story about two individuals, one who is burning with passion and another that has lost it, but it's also about finding fulfillment, joy, and love in life as well as paving your own path. Because our two main characters have been through a lot, this is quite a heartbreaking series, but it's heartwarming and moving too, thanks to the connection these two form.
The relationship between Kaori and Kousei is what makes Your Lie in April so effective. The symphony—both literally and figuratively—between these two characters is a big reason as to why this one hits all the right notes, but it's the emotions this one stirs up as you watch these two express their feelings through not only their words and actions, but their music as well, that make it a truly special read.
Nisekoi: False Love by Naoshi Komi
Nisekoi: False Love by Naoshi Komi is a romantic comedy that follows Raku Ichijō, the son of a Yakuza leader, who made a pledge to his friend when they were young that he would marry her. He later meets the daughter of a rival gang's boss, Chitoge Kirisaki, who turns his once peaceful life upside down. So their families won't fight anymore, they have to pretend to be a couple. On top of maintaining this facade, Raku continues the search for his long-lost love and works to keep the peace between warring mafia families.
If you are a fan of school romances, Nisekoi: False Love is worth checking out. Apart from having good comedic timing and hilarious yet relatable moments, Nisekoi: False Love feels fresh thanks to its unconventional premise.
Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun by Izumi Tsubaki
Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun by Izumi Tsubaki is a romantic comedy manga as well as a 4-koma manga, meaning the pages consist of four panels of equal size. This is oftentimes used for gag comic strips, and this series is just that, but it's also a romance manga as well.
In this series, our main character, Umetarou Nozaki, is a manga artist and he loves his manga so much that he spends his days doing research for it. So, his everyday life and everything he tries is simply a means to an end to gain understanding and experience that will help him write his manga. This is where the humor in this story really kicks in. But the comedy in this story really picks up when he meets Chiyo Sakura, who ends up falling for him. Of course, Nozaki is totally oblivious to this.
A big reason as to why Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun is such a good manga is its characters. Our main characters, Chiyo and Nozaki, and their relationship, may be the main focus of this series, but they aren't the only stars in this series. A number of colorful and interesting personalities are introduced along the way that make this one even more of a comedic and lovable read.
Call of the Night by Kotoyama
Call of the Night is a modern take on classic romance vampire manga. Ko Yamori is a middle school boy who's become bored with his current life and has developed a bad case of insomnia as a result. To deal with his trouble sleeping, Ko roams the streets at night. One night, he meets Nazuna, a vampire girl he's determined to fall in love with.
To his surprise, Nazuna bites him and before he knows it, he finds himself immersed in the world of the vampire. From then on, he has one goal, to become a vampire himself, so that he can enjoy the quiet of the night and forever escape the bores of everyday life. The path to achieving his goal is a little complicated, though, because vampires aren't simply created with a bite in this story, they are born out of love.
What makes Call of the Night unique is that is not only takes inspiration from multiple different genres, but that it makes use of them well. It has enough mystery to keep you guessing, but there's a little bit of romance and elements of horror sprinkled in at times too.
Kotoyama's depiction of the night, and its beauty, is compelling. There's much to love about nighttime—the dark yet vibrant skylines, the neon or warm glow of the street lamps and lights, the emptiness of the streets and commonly crowded areas like playgrounds, pools, and schools. Watching these two characters, Ko and Nazuna, grow and bond together in the nights they spend together, and their dynamic with one another, makes Call of the Night both an endearing and fun read.
Orange by Ichigo Takano
Orange highlights the regrets we may have in life, and how, if given the chance, we might change the past. When sixteen-year-old Naho receives a letter from her twenty-seven-year-old self, her life is suddenly thrown into flux. The letter warns her about a new transfer student and tells her to keep an eye on him, but why? Naho must decide what to make of the letter and its cryptic warning, and what it means not only for her future, but for Kakeru's as well.
Orange is unique because it blends sci-fi and romance together, and this blend creates an incredibly unique as well as interesting story. The concept of the past, and how we as humans may be driven to change it, is something that has been explored in manga before, but the motivations of, as well as the connections between, the characters make it unique.
At first glance, Orange appears to be a simple story, but it's so incredibly complex. It delves into serious topics and themes and dives deep into its characters' lives, so it's an emotional, relatable, and absorbing read. The time travel and sci-fi edge make it stand out, but its the relationships that are forged between the characters in Orange that make it such an unforgettable read.
My Dress-Up Darling by Shinichi Fukuda
My Dress-Up Darling is about Marin Kitagawa, a confident girl who loves to cosplay, who finds Wakana Gojou in the sewing room at school one day and discovers he has a talent for sewing. She asks him to make her next cosplay outfit, which pushes him out of his comfort zone and his shell.
What I find most exciting about My Dress-Up Darling is that it's not only a romance story, but also a story about two individuals who bond over their shared interests. A love growing out of that feels completely natural to me, and it's something that many of us aspire to have. A relationship that grows out of connection.
The messages in My Dress Up Darling are sweet and touching. It's inspiring you to believe in yourself but also to be yourself no matter what others think. So it's not only about finding love, but it's also a love letter to loving yourself.
The Flowers of Evil by Shuzo Oshimi
The path to finding love isn't always easy and it can be messy, as seen in The Flowers of Evil by Shuzo Oshimi. This is one that showcases the dark side to romance, but it's a coming-of-age story as well. It doesn't feature your traditional MCs, but rather ones that are misfits in their class and town.
Takao Kasuga is a boy who'd rather be reading a book or shopping for them at his local used bookstore. He likes a girl named Saeki Nanako, a popular and outgoing girl in his class. He knows nothing about her and has never talked to her, but idolizes her to the point that he calls her his "muse". One day, he notices her bag of gym clothes lying on the floor. Thinking he's the only person in the room, he makes the rash decision to pick them up and take them home. From this day forward, Kasuga's normal existence is shattered, because his classmate Sawa Nakamura saw him do it.
Not only did she see him do it, but she's going to make him pay for his sinful deeds. Nakamura takes this opportunity to essentially blackmail Kasuga into doing anything she wants just when he's about to close the distance between he and Nanako forever. Sounds simple enough, but things get more complicated over the course of this story.
The Flowers of Evil isn't your happy-go-lucky, warm and fuzzy read. It is a tale of twisted romance and a story about how those that don't quite fit in, or stand out from the norm, are deemed "strange". It's very easy to take the safe route and fit in, but making a conscious choice to fully embrace yourself, as well as others, is an even more admirable one, and I think this is what The Flowers of Evil is about at its core.
A love triangle of sorts forms as a result, but this proves to be problematic and what starts out as a struggle between teens escalates fast. It has a very unconventional yet welcome approach to romance that makes it stand apart in the genre. If you like drama or psychological manga, there are plenty of both in The Flowers of Evil as well.
Blue Flag by KAITO
Blue Flag follows a love quadrangle between classmates and best friends. The story follows Taichi Ichinose, who doesn’t know why he can’t stand his classmate Futaba Kuze. But when third year high school begins and both find themselves in the same homeroom class, along with Taichi’s childhood friend Toma Mita, a star athlete, Futaba opens up to Taichi and admits she has a crush on Toma. She then asks for his help in confessing to him, but Toma seems to already have a secret crush on someone else.
Blue Flag, like many of the series on this list, is successful because it is well-balanced. The tone shifts in this series are top-notch. One moment you'll be laughing with the characters, and the next you'll really feel for or sympathize with them.
Romance-wise, you have feelings that have been developing for years, but you also have feelings that are just beginning. You see how these characters appreciate and interact with one another as friends, but you also see how they really feel about each other and learn more about their secret love interests through their internal dialogue.
Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya
Fruits Basket expertly conveys emotion, sets tone and mood, and develops its characters. It takes a lot for a series to keep me around and fully interested, but I never once felt bored while reading the series. It has everything from humorous, light-hearted moments to emotional, serious moments, which make it funny and endearing but also give it a lot of depth. Because of this, it is one of the most well-balanced series on this list.
Fruits Basket follows Tohru Honda who, due to certain life events, moves into a tent. Little does she know, though, her new home lies in the land of the mysterious Sohma clan. After finding and meeting her, they offer to take her in. Through her time with them, Tohru finds out that the Sohma clan is hiding a secret from the rest of the world: They transform into the animals of the Chinese Zodiac when touched by the opposite sex.
Tohru meets more of the Sohma clan over time, so you meet a lot of new characters along the way. Each character is celebrated and given a proper backstory, which makes you gravitate towards them all and there is no shortage of interesting personalities in this series. With such a large cast, it would be easy for some characters to be overshadowed, but this doesn't happen in Fruits Basket. All of the characters get their time to shine and are well-developed, and their dynamics with one another as well as a group are incredible.
You see these characters developing relationships with one another, from friendships to romantic relationships, and the types of relationships that exist within this series are vast. Topics, such as unrequited love, forbidden relationships, giving up on your relationship because you think the other person is better off without you, trauma, loss and grief, and more are explored. You watch these characters heal in their relationships with one another. They learn from each other and become stronger as a result, but you also see the other side of the coin. Some characters hurt others or are hurt from their relationships as well.
Since it explores so many different relationships, Fruits Basket is a series that can connect with many. It's heartwarming, moving, but it also knows how to hit you in the feels and it can be quite a tearjerker too.
Tokyopop released singles of Fruits Basket, but they are now out of print. Yen Press later released the Fruits Basket Collector's Editions.
Horimiya by Daisuke Hagiwara & HERO
The romances in Horimiya are refreshingly real and it tells the story of two individuals, Kyouko Hori and Izumi Miyamura, that hide their true selves at school. Kyouko is popular and is loved by her peers, but outside of school, she has no time to socialize, because she has to stay home and take care of her brother.
On the other hand, Miyamura is thought to be a mysterious, glasses-wearing otaku. In reality, he is kind and has piercings and tattoos. Hori and Miyamura run into each other outside of school—neither looking like they normally do at school. The two connect over this experience and share with one another the secret side of themselves that no one else at school knows about.
Our MCs, Miyamura and Hori, meet early on in this story and their connection grows fast, so Horimiya jumps into things quickly, but not so quickly that it sacrifices any build-up. Because the romance isn't overdone in this series and we follow the relationships in Horimiya both in and outside of school, all of the relationships feel natural.
Horimiya is a simple, no-frills story that features realistic relationships. The most beautiful thing about the series, though, is its message. Horimiya shows us all that its okay to be different, and that some day, somewhere, someone will come along who loves everything about us, even the things we try to hide from everyone else.
Yona of the Dawn by Mizuho Kusanagi
Yona of the Dawn follows Yona, whose charmed life as the princess of her kingdom is changed forever on her 16th birthday when she witnesses the murder of a loved one. With her childhood friend Hak's help, Yona escapes the palace. She vows to take back the kingdom and it follows her on her journey, alongside her allies, to do so.
Yona of the Dawn is more so adventure than romance, but the romance is definitely there in this series. Moments of romance pop up every now and then, and when they do they are subtle and sweet, but it isn't the main focus of the story. Where Yona of the Dawn really shines is its characters. It has a wonderful cast and there are a lot of interesting personalities in the series that add to the story.
On top of being full of adventure and romance, Yona of the Dawn is set in a historical as well as a fantasy setting. On one hand, there are political motivations and strategies happening in this series, and on the other, you have these amazing legends and tales that are not just being told, but are being brought to life. Yona of the Dawn mirrors the human experience, has one of the best female MCs, and it does many things from action to romance well.
Some volumes of Yona of the Dawn have been flickering in and out of stock. I'm keeping track of all of the volumes on my manga restock list, so be sure to check there for any expected restock dates that may be noted.
Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku by Fujita
Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku by Fujita is a rom-com manga, and while it very much follows its main characters and their romantic relationships, it is also about their dynamic as a group and how they bond together through their interests as otaku. In addition to Genshiken, Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku is one of my favorite manga that highlights otaku culture and it features a fantastic cast of characters.
More so than anything, Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku is a comedy. While the romance is definitely there and it tells the story of multiple different romantic relationships, it’s more so a story about a group of friends who are bonding together over their love for manga, anime, video games, and more, so romance is not the only focus of this story. The humor in this series is relatable and hilarious; The facial expressions are funny, and the comedic timing is perfect. It’s a heartwarming but also comical read.
One thing I really like about Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku is that, depending on who the characters are with, the dynamics change as they do in real-life. How we act with our friends varies in how we act with our significant others and our coworkers. We see these characters in the workplace, out and about, and at home. We follow them in the present as they go about their daily lives, but we also get glimpses into their past. Because of this and more, you really connect with the characters.
As far as romantic relationships go, you have a hot-headed couple that have been together since high school. They butt heads, but they mean well and truly love one another. There's a couple that have been friends since they were kids and decide to finally become an item after all these years. You also have another relationship that has yet to begin and is just in the friendship stages. Everyone is at a different place romantically, so all levels of relationships are explored here.
Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku actually began releasing as a doujinshi, but Kodansha later picked it up for release. 2-in-1’s of the series were later released by Kodansha with English translation. There are 11 volumes in total to read, so it’s a relatively quick read! There are three variants of the sixth and final volume, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Kinokuniya exclusives, that you may want to keep an eye out for as well.
It’s one of my all-time favorites, and while it may sound like it may have a simple premise, this series has a lot to offer. It will make you laugh, but it will move you in unexpected ways as well.
Nana by Ai Yazawa
Nana by Ai Yazawa tells the story of two Nana's, Nana Osaki and Nana Komatsu, who move to Tokyo after turning 20 years old: Nana O. to pursue a professional music career with her punk band, Black Stones, and Nana K. to join her friends and move in with her boyfriend. Despite having different personalities and ambitions, the two find similarities with each other and become close friends and roommates.
Nana is unique because you watch two friends, who come from different walks of life, bond together over their experiences, both positive and negative. You watch them relate and connect with one another despite their differing personalties and interests to overcome their heartbreaks, but also rejoice in happy times and celebrate their successes as well. It goes to show that we all, no matter who we are or where we come from, can relate with one another through shared experiences, and this is part of what makes Nana such a successful series.
The relationships and characters in Nana are complex and their emotions are conveyed expertly on page. Any time a manga creator can show me how a character feels, rather than just tell me, I'm impressed, and Ai Yazawa does just that.
Nana is relatable given that the main characters are pursuing their individual dreams and I love that it takes a mature look at what it means to be a young adult and the common struggles that come with being one, from love to going to college and forming one's career. As far as the romance in Nana goes, it explores not only the joys that come with love, but the heartbreak that can come with it as well, and this makes it not only a realistic, but also a multi-dimensional read.
Beck by Harold Sakuishi
If you are looking for a manga that has romance in it, but it isn't the main focus of the series, Beck by Harold Sakuishi is a must-read. Beck is an incredible slice of life story that follows a rock band, the struggles they encounter on their way to “making it”, and the responsibilities and relationships they juggle alongside the band. Beck does an incredible job at conveying the difficulties that come with being a musician, like how hard it is to get your name out there, but it also expresses the joy that comes with following your passion and it celebrates the camaraderie that is built between the members of this band.
In addition to the band dynamic, Beck highlights the relationships the members build outside of the band as well (this is where the romance comes in), so it’s a well-rounded story that not only takes a look at their lives in the band, but outside of it also. Beck has strong characters, and the interactions between them is what makes this series shine, but it also balances comedic and serious moments well.
When it comes to manga about music or coming-of-age stories, none do it quite as well as Beck. It’s a classic that's underrated for how incredible it is, but even more so than that, it's one of the best manga I've ever read.
Beck was released with English translation by Tokyopop, but the volumes are now out of print. To learn more, check out my Out of Print Manga Guide!
Kaguya-sama: Love is War by Aka Akasaka
Kaguya-sama: Love is War is the ultimate "will they, won't they" manga. The mind games in this series are incredible. Over the course of the chapters, you'll watch main characters Kaguya and Shirogane battle it out, trying to convince the other to confess their love. In some ways, watching them is like witnessing a chess match between two highly talented and intelligent individuals, but with added drama and theatrics that spice things up.
I personally enjoy the series because it's humorous to read, and you have to love the irony of the whole series. For Kaguya and Shirogane, admitting their love for one another would be like admitting defeat to the other, but in reality, they'd both win in the end. But, it's their stubbornness and unwillingness to admit their feelings that give the manga its purpose, and this adds humor to its premise. In addition, you have other personalities like Yuu Ishigami, Chika Fujiwara, and many more that bring a lot to the table as well.
The thing I appreciate the most about Kaguya-sama: Love is War is that it feels like a complete original. With it being a rom-com, it could have very easily fallen into the same tropes that other series commonly do, but it doesn't feel rehashed in any way. It's the series' humorous and unique take on love, though, that makes it one of the best.
These are my favorite romance manga to have been released so far! Since there are so many romance manga, I have a lot more I want to add to this list over time. I will continue to update this post as I read more new and incredible romance series, so stay tuned. In other news, check out all of the new manga that are releasing in 2023!