A Full Review
Just last week, I was reading a story where multiple characters struggled to answer the question, "What is love?" This week I'm tackling the same topic but from a different angle. Over the course of one volume, our lead answers the question, "What is love?" and is it really something worth striving for in the manga Is Love the Answer? by Uta Isaki.
Serialized in Hatsu Kiss from 2020-2021, Is Love the Answer? (Kimi no Sekai ni Koi Wanai) is a coming-of-age drama about a young woman questioning her identity and discovering she's an aromatic asexual. Our protagonist is Chika Hanai, and the story starts with her romantic experiences and entanglements in high school and ends with her as a freshman in college. The high school portion is short and really serves as a prologue to Chika's decision to study far away from home in Tokyo as a psychology major. Soon after arriving at college, Chika makes new friends with fellow psych majors and becomes housemates with the psych professor she admires and a grumpy senpai in a domed-shaped house. Thanks to their help, Chika becomes more confident and comfortable about her identity.
The manga breaks down and questions what is "normal," "obvious," and "common sense" about romantic feelings and sexual attraction. These normal, obvious, and common sense notions are the story's central themes as Chika and her high school "friends" and classmates refer to her as an "alien" for not falling in love and doing it with a boy. Chika goes to college only to discover more of the same among her new friend group. Chika feels so uncomfortable and out-of-step with others that she lost her sense of self in the process. At one point, Chika begs the psych professor she admires to teach her, "How to be human." The alien motif is accompanied by cool and fun sci-fi imagery.
Besides quashing what is normal, obvious, or common sense about romantic feelings and sexual attraction, the manga has great messaging about identity and how people identify. That message is you don't need to conform to the letter of the definition but rather you decide if it applies to you, and that's great for someone like Chika and by extension you, the audience.
In summary, Is Love the Answer? is a great, solid, and uncomplicated mature story about sexual identity with an asexual protagonist, but you don't have to take my word for it. I've seen a lot of people singing the manga's praises since its release in January 2023.
Check out the manga via Kodansha's site here. Note the manga is officially rated 16+ and contains sexual violence.
What to read after Is Love the Answer? if you're looking for more asexual representation:
Mine-Kun is Asexual by Uta Isaki (same mangaka; digital-only release via Irodori Comics)
She Loves to Cook, and She Loves to Eat by Sakaomi Yuzaki (published by Yen Press)
What to read after Is Love the Answer? if you're looking for a similar read:
Ladies on Top by NEJIGANAMETA (published by Seven Seas)
Last Gender by Rei Taki (published by Kodansha/Vertical)
Our Dreams at Dusk by Yuhki Kamatani (published by Seven Seas)
Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura (published by Kodansha)