Found Families and Frightening Demons: Should You Be Reading ‘Karneval’?
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What happens when a young thief winds up rescuing a boy from certain doom at the hands of a demon out to eat him? Apparently, it's the start of one of several beautiful friendships in Touya Mikanagi's Karneval, a fantasy manga series with a wide cast of characters and gorgeous art that sees two main characters try to unravel multiple mysteries in their world.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Karneval follows the adventures of teenagers Nai and Gareki as they travel with the defense organization "Circus" in order to try and solve the mysterious (and suspicious) disappearance of Nai's "most important person," Karoku, and unravel the circumstances behind Nai's very existence.
After Gareki saves Nai from a hungry demon, the two are plunged headfirst into fantastic intrigue as the Circus organization tries to find out what connects Nai with their opposing organization, Kafka. The series combines tropes and techniques from multiple genres, with Mikanagi incorporating elements of conventional and urban fantasy alongside sci-fi elements commonly associated with the "Mad Scientist" trope.
With Hirato, captain of the Circus' Second Ship, and his best fighters Yogi and Tsukumo, the two teenagers go on an adventure to find out the truth behind Nai's origin, which takes them to multiple countries and pits them against horrifying villains --- many of whom have murky motives that have yet to be fully revealed.
WHO'S IT BY?
Karneval is writer/artist Touya Mikanagi's longest running and best received series. She's also worked on four volumes of the Arcana anthology series, as well as the now-completed ROOT REXX --- Honey Melody. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram, where she shares updates on her work and photos of cosplayers.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
At first, Karneval almost tricks you into thinking that you're getting a simple action-focused manga with a fantasy slant and the occasional dark moment. After all, the first volume opens with Nai about to be eaten or enslaved by one of the monstrous Varuga that lurk in this world's shadowy underbelly, but then, within a chapter or two, it sets up this image of Nai as an adorable airhead who just happens to wander into trouble all the time.
Gareki and Nai are adorable in Mikanagi's art style, and the banter between the characters --- especially in the earlier books --- can be disarming and distracting. But as Karneval continues, the darker plot elements in the series take center stage, and several gripping mystery elements take hold.
Another amazing aspect of the series is how the characters grow up and change over the course of the series. Gareki in particular undergoes incredible growth as he deals with the loss of his own family and trying to find where he belongs in a world where demonic figures secretly rule entire cities. You find yourself really caring about these kids and their journey, especially when Karoku makes his first appearance outside of Nai's memories, and the drama really starts to pick up.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
Fans of found-family narratives and fantasy series set in interesting alternate worlds, and anyone that can be charmed by a super cute and sort of spacey main character.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?
In the US, Karneval is published by Yen Press in a 2-in-1 omnibus format. Each 400-page collection can be bought online at Comixology or in print from your nearest retailer. Seven collections are available in print at the time of this writing.