I remember reading some of Mars when I was in college, although I never finished the series. It's an older shoujo manga from the 90s and the style is very similar to Yoko Kamio's Hana Yori Dango. Like Hana Yori Dango and Peach Girl, as well, the storyline is a lot darker, featuring some pretty tough subjects, like death, bullying, abuse, sex, and forbidden love.
The story is about a shy girl named Kira and a bad boy named Rei. They remind me a lot of Tsukushi and Rui from Hana Yori Dango in terms of personality and the way they're drawn, except Kira is shier and an artist and Rei is a manwhore motorcyclist. One day, Kira is sitting on a park bench drawing when Rei comes by and asks for directions. Instead of answering, she hastily scribbles him a map... only it's got one of her drawings on the back: a picture of a mother and her baby.
Struck by the poignancy of the image, Rei ends up reaching out to her when he finds out that they share the same class. From there, he becomes her friend, modeling for her pictures, and saving her from the advances of a pedophilic teacher in their school. The more Kira gets to know him, the more she realizes he's not as "bad" as she thought: he's quite depressed and has a fascination with death and darkness, spurred on by his friend Akitaka's near-death and leg amputation.
The relationship takes another dark turn when the girls in their classes get jealous of their relationship and start bullying Kira. The bullying is pretty vicious, which is another way this feels similar to Peach Girl and Hana Yori Dango. Modern readers may balk at it, and call it unrealistic, but I'm sorry to say that bullying was way more out of control in the 90s and having been bullied at that time myself, I can definitely assure you that the admins were way more hands-off than they are now. I was shoved around and pushed into a wall and had someone threaten to light by books on fire.
So yeah, bullying. Definitely a thing.
Anyone who likes shoujo manga with substance will enjoy Mars. The romance develops at a natural pace and the meet-cute actually feels like a solid means of connection. I also liked the secondary characters, like Tatsuya, Rei's friend who has a crush on Kira, and the evil Harumi, Rei's friend-zoned girl pal and ex-lover who thinks that she has first dibs for liking him the longest. Gag. There's a lot of drama and the art is gorgeous and I'm absolutely dying to see what happens next. This was just the thing I needed to get me through my quarantine-induced book funk.
5 out of 5 stars