A Partial Review
(NOTE: Love & Heart is intended for a mature audience. 🔞)
Love & Heart (Koi to Shinzou) by Chitose Kaido is a 10-volume romance/mystery/horror manga. Serialized on Hakushensha's Manga Park app from 2017 to 2021, Love & Heart is about a college frosh named Yoh Yagisawa and how her life got flipped upside down after reuniting with an old childhood friend and living with him. Yen Press has been releasing the manga in print and digital since March 2021, and the company will release volume 6 on December 13, 2022.
Yen Press describes the story:
After a messy breakup, college freshman Yoh Yagisawa returns home only to find she has an unexpected male roommate! Introducing himself as her old childhood friend who moved abroad, handsome Haruma Hirose is back to do a homestay. He's totally hot, super nice, and always there when Yoh's in trouble... but could Haruma's timing be a little too perfect? Plus, the house next door, where he claims to have lived-didn't the family there all commit suicide...?
So, the first volume does an excellent job of pulling you into the story and introducing you to the main leads. Yoh is an above-average girl. More than just a pretty face, Yoh is a smart, independent, and plucky girl who was just breaking up with her boyfriend Noguchi over cheating when Haruma literally crashes into her life. Yoh may be smart, but Haruma is even smarter and devious—devious, dangerous, charming, and manipulative af. To her credit, Yoh doesn't 100% trust Haruma when she first meets him, and her distrust stems from her hazy memories of him. Is he really her childhood friend and the literal boy next door? Didn't his entire family die? Her doubts are also fueled by her best friend and voice of reason Touya, who harbors a secret crush on her. Through a series of events, Yoh completely trusts Haruma by the end of the first volume.
Like a slow-moving car wreck, the first volume really hits you with impending dread. You see how Haruma painstakingly manufactures Yoh's trust in him by saving her from a series of crises while orchestrating the breakup between her and Noguchi with the help of Tamaki, Noguchi's jilted ex-girlfriend. Also, you see how possessive Haruma is of Yoh, and we get a taste of just how far Haruma will go to have Yoh when he beats up two random exchange students whose only crime was talking to her.
Of course, Yoh isn't privy to the beatdown or any of Haruma's scheming. However, It's super painfully clear to the audience—us—that Haruma is bad news and a yandere. Basically, he's the dangerous lovesick, stalker boyfriend. The horror is watching Yoh share her home with Haruma and fall in love with him. Now, this is the type of horror I can enjoy. No blood or gore. Not a lot of scary imagery but quite a bit of unnerving down-to-earth themes. Just a girl who's obliviously charmed by a monster. Happens every day IRL, just not to this extent.
After this explosive first volume, volumes 2 and 3 can feel disappointing and slow, especially upon reading for the first time. In volume 2, Yoh runs into more trouble. Instead of a neighborhood stalker and a bad boyfriend, she has to deal with a two-faced student council president, and in volume 3, Yoh reunites with Wakana, a two-faced "friend" from middle school. Haruma saves her again from both crises. In the background, Touya struggles with his jealousy and pent-up romantic feelings for Yoh as he watches Haruma advance his relationship with her. Meanwhile, Yoh's air-headed college friend Sawako is watching everything unfold with a half-hearted smile on her face. Everything comes to a head in volume 4.
Volume 4 is a turning point for the story. The Wakana storyline ends, and we're hit with a few surprises. Some come courtesy of Haruma, of course. More importantly, Yoh and Haruma officially start dating while Touya and Sawako team up to reveal Haruma's true nature. The story ratchets up even further in volume 5 when Haruma and Yoh's relationship progresses even further and the mystery behind what happened to his family is finally revealed, which isn't pretty and brings me to the plastic wrap.
Yen Press gave volumes 1-4 a "T" for "Teen" rating but skipped over "OT" for "Older Teen" and straight up gave volume 5 an "M" for "Mature." Also, Yen Press slapped on a parental warning label. If you're thinking, "Yay, smut!" I'll ask you to curb your enthusiasm because volume 5 features some basic sex. Nothing spicy, sensual, or sweet. No. the "Mature" rating is for all the manipulative stalker boyfriend plot I went over plus Haruma's family tragedy plus the sex plus the post-sex after-glow. As Haruma caresses a blissfully sleeping Yoh, he vows to make her completely dependent on him. That's the man's goal, and he is succeeding at it. So, in case you missed the fact that this manga was about a toxic, Lady Gaga-style "Bad Romance" from volume 1, well volume 5 makes it crystal clear that it better be what you came here for. (Cuz, I don't know what to tell you.)
This manga should have been rated "M" from the start. It's interesting that Yen Press applied the label just now. When accessing Love & Heart on Manga Park, the site asks if you're 18+. Now, I don't know when the site asked users for their age, but considering Japan is further ahead of us in releasing the series, wouldn't Yen Press get a heads-up...?
So, from volume 5 onward, you can expect an "M" rating plus the explicit warning label. No clue when, if ever, the earlier volumes will be corrected. So, if you see plastic wrap on any of the volumes, that's why. Additional content warnings include child abuse and neglect, suicide, attempted murder, mental illness, abduction, and physical assault and violence. For what it's worth, the sex was consensual. (And who knows? Maybe it will kick up a notch in the next volume or so.)
In summary, Love & Heart is successful at being a mystery romance with horror themes thus far, and I'm really enjoying the series. I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, especially those who are sensitive to certain topics and themes, but if you're looking for a dark romance between young adults (both characters are 18), definitely read Love & Heart.