It is finally time to review the Kaguya manga! I finished this one back in 2022 but of course it is a pretty big title so reviews like this take a while. It was a title that really surpassed any ideas or predictions I would have had about it. I certainly wouldn’t have assumed it would have reached my top 15 of all time the way that it did but here we are. While the series may have limped its way to the ending with the final arc, the rest was all amazing and it’s a series with tons of replay value. It’s all super emotional with lots of great character development and writing all the way through. I don’t think we’ll see another series that’s part romance like this ever be quite as good. Kaguya just nailed the comedic romance bit.
The basic premise of the series quite directly follows the title. Kaguya is extremely wealthy and belongs to the Shinomiya family which owns a good chunk of the world. She is a member of the student council and has some of the best grades at school. Everyone knows her as the most popular girl that everyone respects but she has one secret which is that she is in love with Shirogane, the student council president. Meanwhile Shirogane’s family isn’t wealthy at all but he managed to study hard enough to go to this prestigious academy and even become the president. What he lacks in family reputation and status he makes up for in hard work and dedication. He hopes to eventually win Kaguya’s heart as well.
The thing is, neither one can admit to this because the first one to confess their feelings would lose the war. Love is a power struggle and so admitting your love first would cause you to be at a massive disadvantage. So they have to each scheme to get the other one to confess first but that is easier said than done. Can they pull this off or will they only end up getting into trouble? Snooze and you lose after all as someone else might show up so time is ticking. Additionally there are two more council members in the comedic Chika and the depressed Ishigami. Together this student council is going to have a lot of fun!
Right off the bat I have to say that I really enjoy the premise. See, you are automatically avoiding the “sudden” romance that destroys most romantic plots. The main two have liked each other for a long time now, in fact well over a year passes by with nothing happening in chapter 1 since they are too afraid to make any moves and that’s not even counting that they liked each other prior to the series starting. So this is a slow burn romance and there are no rebounds to think of. They’ve liked each other from the start and that’s just how it is. So already we’ve got several wins here. Now of course this is only focusing on their romance as not every romance here is great but the main one is important.
The contest also adds a nice spin on things since as the reader you know that both characters like each other but of course they don’t realize that. So that’s a fresh dynamic as well and you get to see their inner thoughts as they work on the mind games. That is the best success of the series which is that it also works as a very psychological series. The characters talk about what love really is and how the mind works as they all try to play each other like a fiddle. I always figure the one weakness of being too detailed is if someone isn’t a genius then the plan won’t work because it overestimates what the response will be. That risk is lessened since the characters are in such a distinguished school though.
Both Kaguya and Shirogane are at the top of their class too so they know what they are doing. Shirogane may have the slight edge in grades but they are really neck and neck. I also like the overthinking in the manga because it is fun to do that in real life as well. Like if a girl hands you a ticket to a baseball game. Is that a subtle date, just a friendly gesture, is it a test? You have to ask yourself a million questions in an instant and come up with the right answer all in a split instance. There isn’t time for hesitation or doubts since both would also work against you. The manga will freeze this moment as you see the everyday possibilities floating in Shirogane and Kaguya’s minds. A lot of the thought trails are very realistic as well.
Everyone does this to an extent because your mind is always active even when time is frozen. It’s why there are all kinds of time displacement techniques you can find online which are super interesting. Like trying to see how long you can keep your eyes closed and count up before you end up falling asleep or losing count. Losing yourself playing sports or video games and then trying to match that time doing something less fun. Your mind can easily trick you into thinking that one hour is quick in one moment and then long in another. It’s all pretty fascinating but I digress. Needless to say that the psychological elements here are fantastic without a doubt.
The artwork is also very solid. I will say that it is a series where you will notice the artist reusing character expressions and poses with different characters a lot, particularly if you binge the series. It is probably hard to avoid in a slice of life title like this though because there are only so many things you can do and ways of having the characters talk before it all starts to blend together. It’s always very clear what is happening at any given time though and the simple style works very well for the series. Even when there are long blocks of text and essays you are able to read them all without any issue. That’s the sign of a great title after all.
The writing is great and a lot happens here. The series initially starts off very upbeat with some drama but it’s mostly either in a parody kind of way or not meant to be taken too seriously. Gradually this begins to change as we get some origin stories that are legitimately emotional like Ishigami’s. Then this leads up to a climax that is very serious with high stakes in the last arc. I would say that the series is much better at the light arcs than the serious ones and that makes sense because it’s the kind of series that this was crafted to be. It got to be a really famous title because of all the witty banter and fun gags/writing. I can see why the author wanted to end on a serious note but the problem is just that it was hard to take things too seriously.
What I would have done is make the final arc less action packed. Yeah you heard me right, for once I would remove the action because it just didn’t feel right and gets a bit cheesy when you see the kids doing so well. Instead I would change this to be more of a mind game thriller. Have the heroes trying to find a loophole in the will or they have to go through a bunch of games in order to defeat the villains. The high stakes could be signing a contract that they will work for the villains if they lose or something. I feel like this would be much more in line with the rest of the series and would have worked really well. It would still have a serious tone and be something more like Liar Game than Indiana Jones.
For the comedy side, I won’t say every joke lands of course since that’s not possible but the reason this series is elite is because most of them do. The series has higher peaks in terms of humor than most titles could even dream of. The main cast is also very solid which leads to a whole lot of great banter and dialogue moments. The series would not be nearly as good if the characters weren’t solid so the series had the right priorities here. You get a strong core of characters and move from there. I liked all members of the student council quite a bit. Put Ino, Chika, and Ishigami in any similar setting and they likely outpace the main characters there. I’d then go a step further to say that Shirogane and Kaguya would shine in any setting, even one that is not similar. The characters are just really well crafted at the school and this includes the classmates. Only the villains aren’t very interesting which takes us back to the final arc again.
The series has its share of story arcs as well like with vacations or dealing with a romance but like an action series where each arc is clearly defined and I break them down, I’ll likely just incorporate those events while I talk about the character that it’s relevant too. So lets jump into this cast now and I’ll also talk about their respective romance plot and any important developments that came into play for them. This is a fairly long series so you can bet that a whole lot did happen over time.
Naturally we have to start with Kaguya herself here. After all the series was named after her so you could say that she is the main character. While you could say that, I would argue that Shirogane is still the true main character here. It’s pretty close to 50/50 but I just feel like we see his perspective just a tad bit more and he tends to jump start the biggest moments in the series. The dynamics between the two characters are what really causes the series to shine and I liked that Kaguya has a cold edge to her. Later on in the series we get to see her in her original icy persona and that worked really well.
I’d really be up for a prequel going into more details on that part of the saga. In a way there may not be many more details to show so I’m not sure how feasible it would be to make a long series but I’m sure they could at least do a mini series on it. We briefly see the dynamic after Kaguya retreats into herself but that’s it. Kaguya has several personalities within herself all fighting for control and I enjoyed the court scenes there. At the end of the day Kaguya is always someone who is ready to give good advice and really help out. She has really solid friendships and dynamics with all of the council members. It’s another strong part of the series since it can be easy in a series like this to miss one or two combinations but the series goes out of its way to make sure that each character interacts with each other and gets their own dynamic going.
The ending of the series involves Kaguya’s family a great deal so as you can imagine they really get to step in as well and we see how they had a real impact on her life and values. The school really helped her to become a lot more normal over time. The series also plays up how she can be naïve in some things well without overdoing it and making this an annoying trait. It also never forgets that she is a genius so she picks up on things really quickly.
Then we have Shirogane who really worked hard to try and stand out for Kaguya. It wasn’t easy but by getting the best grades and leading the council he put himself in a very good position there. I like his confidence which serves him well in battling Kaguya during their debates. Kaguya is better at planning and setting up intricate traps while Shirogane’s strength is in his quick reactions and thinking off the cuff. That ends up working well in challenges where she catches him on the back foot like with the umbrella trick. He has less family drama to worry about although throughout the series we know that something happened involving his mother but surprisingly that plot barely gets much of a payoff. She shows up at the very end but super briefly. This allows Shirogane to focus more on the main school adventures which works well enough though.
He also does take his job as president very seriously and is always trying to help the other students succeed. You can always count on him to do the right thing even if it means that he might lose some sleep. Managing to perform all his duties while leading the school in grades was really impressive. This guy really put in the work and never had any doubts of waivered in his path. He was just a really strong character through and through.
Chika is the main comedic character here although to an extent you can say they all are so that might be abbreviating her character personality a bit too much. She is meant to be a full foil to the other characters because she doesn’t overthink anything. She is quite intelligent but mainly just does whatever she wants and is always hard to predict. As a result she ends up being a great wildcard in their constant battles which works great to really expand the dynamics. Often times she will crush both of their plans and they have to scramble to set something up.
She doesn’t have a romance plot going on so she is able to just focus on being the comic relief. There is also a subplot where she fights the ramen kings and that was always entertaining. I am always up for a good ramen even if it’s not one of my favorite foods. I would end up eating it more like her as in I would just dive in while all the kings have very elaborate and intricate ways of doing this. Chika keeps the crew grounded and is always good for a lot of laughs. She knows how to manipulate people as needed given her family history of politicians and works in well among the group. Even her backstory is suitably humorous even while being a bit more serious.
Then we have Ino who joins in a bit later than the rest of the group. Her thing is that she is really big on following the rules. While it may sound like that would be easy for her to be integrated among the group you have to remember that while they are good at their jobs, they do mess around a bit. So what Ino brings to the table is that she often gets disillusioned with the group or misreads a situation causing her to panic. It takes her a little while to really get used to the group and stop panicking at the antics. She probably has the saddest backstory next to Ishigami’s as well so she had to go through a whole lot. Ultimately she did get through it all though and fit into the cast well.
I would say that she is a lot of fun either way and she does add a lot to the dynamic which is the important thing here. She interacts with Ishigami the most and given the composition of the group you would probably figure they will have a romance right? Well yes that is a big part of their plot but this romance is one that I can’t get behind quite as much. For one, I liked their banter as friends and rivals which would really be lost if they went that route. Additionally Ishigami already liked Tsubami a lot o it would feel a bit too soon for him to be changing sides like that. So this romance I could only possibly support if it didn’t happen until well after the end of the series like with a sequel title or something. Even then I would like them to delay it for as long as possible so we get more banter.
Of course this carries over to Ishigami’s side where I can confirm I wasn’t big on the romance there. His first one with Tsubame works reasonably well as him not really realizing his feelings of gratitude for what they were and falling for her. At least that’s the way I interpret it since she effectively saved his life along with the rest of the group and so that ended up turning into affection. I don’t think he would have really been ready for the relationship there and of course it would have also taken time away from him hanging out with the crew and just having fun.
As it is I really enjoyed the early Ishigami with how paranoid and depressed he was the whole time. He had a nice deadpan kind of humor that worked really well here. Still I did appreciate that he had one of the biggest character arcs in the series. I would even go as far as to say that it was the biggest because he almost completely changed character personalities by the end. He really became a new person after the whole cast helped him out and it was nice to see. The series has really good inspirational beats like that scattered throughout. You know that he’ll be fine going forward and gone are the days where he wasn’t sure of himself and basically got bullied into submission.
Hayasaka may not be a member of the council but I would say she’s the next biggest character here. She advises Kaguya on all romantic matters and is also just a great butler. She takes care of everything around the manner and serves all kinds of roles as needed. At school she even has her happy persona so that she can still guard Kaguya there. Ultimately this even leads to her getting a real character arc of her own as well as a bit of a tragic romance since she also likes Shirogane but you know there is no hope there. Some things just aren’t meant to be after all.
Her personality really stands out due to how serious she is. Even when she is putting on a mask, you can see the real her the whole time. She brings a whole lot to the table and I also liked the friendship she had with Shirogane by the end. In some ways they knew each other better than their best friends since they didn’t have to wear any masks or pretenses while around each other. At least not after Shirogane figured her out anyway. Hayasaka is a character who is easy to root for because she had already sacrificed so much in order to help Kaguya. She’s just a very selfless kind of character.
I wasn’t a big fan of Nagisa. Half the time it’s hard to know how genuine her romance plot even is because it feels like she just enjoys messing with everyone. Her boyfriend is no better. It’s hard to even know his name so because of that he’s always referred to as “Nagisa’s Boyfriend”. That’s not a very good look for the guy now is it? Both of them are mainly around just to be annoying or to break Maki’s heart since she liked the guy first. Well, snooze and you lose so I wouldn’t blame Nagisa for that one. I just felt like these two didn’t add a lot to the series and their gags were fairly expendable.
Now Maki is a character that I actually found to be very sympathetic. She just ended up liking the wrong guy. Basically he was taken so now she has to get over him but that’s a lot harder than it sounds if this is the person you really wanted to be with. The reason you think of the term rebound when someone moves on quickly is because it seems like that person wasn’t as important as you made it out to be. For Maki it hurts a lot because she was just a tad too slow and very nearly could have had him. Additionally he was the only boy she wanted and nobody else will do. Perhaps in time she will be okay but it’ll take a long time.
Unrequited feelings where one person just never confesses always ends up being really emotional and I find those romances to be really interesting. Maki took the high road in not actually confessing afterwards and that’s the right move because you do need to back off when someone is off the market. Usually this also comes with an unconscious filter where you stop being so attracted to that person but other times it can take a minute so you just have to calm down and keep your distance in the meantime. Maki does stay strong throughout and only breaks down among close friends. She’s a great character to look to on how to act when the going gets tough.
Then you have Kei who gets a decent role as Shirogane’s kid sister. Her role never gets huge or anything but she’s a fun enough character. She actually makes you feel bad for him since by all accounts he has done a great job of being her big brother but she tends to be in a rebellious phase when he’s around. I wouldn’t even say he’s being overprotective at any point but jut tries to be supportive. Fortunately she really looks up to Kaguya so that sort of helps balance things out. I would also say they do get along even if they banter from time to time.
Shirogane’s father is a guy who really got to be a lot of fun by the end of the series. He is always ready with something crazy to say and put everyone on the spot. The guy is also great at multitasking as we find out that he has managed to be a great gamer on the side. This guy has many talents and is just hilarious whenever he shows up so he ends up being one of the more likable characters. He also appeared just enough where you got to see him doing a lot but none of his gags or gimmicks ever got overplayed.
Osaragi is easily one of my least favorite characters in the series. She is a girl who doesn’t really know what she wants to do and ends up taking it out on everyone else. She doesn’t accept responsibilities for her own mistakes and has an excuse for everything. She gets a backstory but all it did was remind me how bad she was of a character. If anything I felt like she looked worse and worse as I went through the series even though you’re supposed to at least feel bad for her later on. It just felt like she caused all of her problems on her own and they kept on snowballing and snowballing the whole time. Turning her back on Ino was definitely the worst offense of all though.
Tsubami gets a big role near the middle of the series/end of the beginning. Ishigami liked her and she was a really big focus in his whole road to recovery. She definitely has a hard time making up her mind though and in a way she did a number on the guy even though she wasn’t a bad person. She just made some mistakes along the way. Ultimately I didn’t mind her, I thought she was good overall and a solid reflection of someone trying to do the right thing but just not knowing what to do. For example she did reach out to Ishigami initially to help him get out of his shell and enjoy life more. The problem is that the kindness meant so much to Ishigami that he fell for her afterwards and she wasn’t able to deal with it.
It’s hard to know what to do when someone likes you and you just can’t return the feeling. You feel a bit responsible if you were really friendly the whole time because even if that wasn’t the intention you start to wonder if maybe you were flirting a bit accidentally. So she didn’t end up handling this well for sure and ultimately just ran into one of the risks of being nice.
Mikado is a character who didn’t do a whole lot but he did have some potential. He is a tragic character in the sense that he has always liked Kaguya but you knew that he was doomed from the jump. I give him props for doing his best to watch out for her and help out in the final saga even though I was naturally hoping that they wouldn’t get together. The romance just wouldn’t have been a good idea there but he took it well and stayed gracious so that’s good. I had a soft spot for the character.
The Shinomiya villains are mostly all pretty similar. I can’t say that I cared much for any of them to be honest. Sure some were nicer than others or at least didn’t appear to be cruel for no reason but for the most part they were all just not very interesting. You really didn’t care about these guys in the slightest and it’s another reason why the final arc was weaker. You needed to give them some purpose and a reason to exist if you wanted them to enhance the arc. Maybe if they had been introduced earlier that would have ended up helping a lot.
Overall, There you have it. That’s Kaguya in a nutshell. It’s a top tier title with great characters and just a lot of fun overall. You will be investing a lot of time into the series and it is worth every second. It’s not every day you see a series like this and so I was sad to see it go. I’d highly recommend checking it out right now. Who knows, maybe some day we’ll get a sequel series although it doesn’t feel like one is needed. I would hope they could all go on some kind of big retreat for a month in the mountains or something so we could get a lot of fun banter there even though they are grown up. In a lot of ways having them in the school setting is part of the magic though so you do need that.
I can’t wait to reread the earlier volumes and finish it. Fell off the wagon due to COVID delays in shipping and such, but I was enjoying it a lot.
Definitely this one has so much replay value that the re reading until you get to where you were up to will be a lot of fun too. I look forward to reading the author’s other manga one of these days too