Oshi no Ko Volume 1 Manga Review (Spoiler‑Free)

Idols in Disarray

Content Warnings: Discussion of death, bullying, harassment, & suicide.

A few weeks ago saw one of the biggest anime premieres of the year with Oshi no Ko, and no, I’m not just referring to the episode length. The series made a huge splash with its 90-minute first episode which covered the entire first volume of the manga. We’ll be looking at that first volume today while also diving deep into Akasaka’s inspirations from the sometimes misguided idol industry.

Oshi no Ko‘s first volume in a Nutshell

While you’re probably here after watching the anime series to know if the manga lives up to it (hint: it does in spades!), I won’t spoil what happens in the volume. It’s better to experience the magic of the narrative itself than read it in a summary.

But to give an overview, the first volume of Oshi no Ko follows rural OBGYN doctor Gorou who gets a visit from Japan’s biggest idol – Ai. The only problem, she’s pregnant and only 16 years old; two very big issues for an idol industry known for its “pure” idol types. These issues raise their ugly head when a fan gets wind of what is going on.

How Oshi no Ko Frames Its Manga

For those already familiar with Aka Akasaka’s Kaguya-sama: Love is War manga series, you understand how this man is able to make even the simplest plots a fun page-turner. The man himself even calls Oshi no Ko volume one a “prologue” to the rest of the series. While I don’t know where the series will go from here, or how the plot will stay fresh, the first volume is one of the most gripping reads in manga.

The characterization of Ai and the rest of the family is heartwarming, fresh, and surprising. While yes, there are a lot of secrets with the whole “16-year-old idol” being a mother thing, Ai having the backup of her manager and the doctor is fun to read, as are the kids’ interactions with each other and the world around them. There’s not a bad character in the series so far, with even the smallest of glimpses into the world of entertainment giving us a fun look at a child star in their prime. On the flip side, the way Ai’s children move the plot forward feels like cheating on behalf of the author, but ultimately that feeling moves to the background as the plot is enjoyable enough for it to pass, the “rule of cool” and all that.

Ai on stage with two of her band members

This is all helped as well by the absolutely stunning art. Scum’s Wish artist Mengo Yokoyari teamed up with Akasaka (at his request!) to not only ground the series with realistic backgrounds and design but also keep up the fantasy with some truly magical frames for Ai on stage and with the starry-eyed character designs. Akasaka was right to bring Yokoyari into the series for the art; Yokoyari is one artist that is uniquely qualified to toe the line between Akasaka’s requests for highly detailed panels and the heavy theme that is needed to convey the emotional depth of some of the story beats and fun idol times.

Oshi no Ko and the Japanese Idol Industry

Ever since the Japanese idol industry opened up to the West in the early 2000s via the Internet, stories on how idols are treated, the rules and regulations they must follow, and issues with fans have trickled out from Japan to the rest of the world. Scandals are rife, whether warranted or not. Former AKB48 member Minami Minegeshi made headlines around the world when she had to shave her head in a tear-filled apology video that was more reminiscent of a hostage video than something from the official AKB account. The same company came under fire years later for bungling the safety of NGT48 member Maho Yamaguchi, who was attacked at her home in a management-run apartment complex. This caused parent company AKS to cancel its major shows for the year due to fan outcry. Then there was the death of pro-wrestler Hana Kimura in early 2020, who was bullied relentlessly by fans online after an alleged staged event on the semi-reality show Terrace House that painted her in a poor light, resulting in her taking her own life.

I could go on, but the depth of depravity in the idol industry that Akasaka can draw from is wider than the oceans and deeper than any cave system. As a fan of the idol industry, seeing those events happen in real-time has given me great pause on supporting these conglomerates that only want to churn out the next hit to make the most money from the cutest girl of the day.

Ruby and Aqua as babies in Oshi no Ko volume one getting excited at Ai's concert

For Oshi no Ko, the series came at the best time. Thanks to the rise of outspoken VTubers, there’s a growing trend against “pure” idol types, who are still tightly controlled. And the fall from grace of Japan’s biggest groups like AKB48 and Keyakizaka46.

The first volume at least paints the industry in a realistic light, going behind the scenes to the headspace of one of the biggest idols. Though Ai is mostly unrealistic in the fact that she hadn’t once collapsed during a live show like AKB48’s Atsuko Maeda or Keyakizaka46’s Hirate Yurina, the amount of work, the level of fervor from fans, and the expectations she has all tracks with the industry she is part of. A lot of the unrealism in this aspect comes from the fact that volume one is a contained story and needs to get to the main meat, glossing over some aspects I’d love to see explored in later volumes.

Should You Read Oshi no Ko Volume One?

It’s a matter of preference on whether or not you’d prefer to read the first volume of Oshi no Ko when you can get the exact same story in the anime. The manga is able to give the reader the option to read at their own pace while being able to focus on the details of each drawn panel, of which Yokoyari’s art does not disappoint.

Ai commenting on something being "good"

Each panel is as electric as the anime while carving out its own space. With the anime set to end soon and no knowledge yet of a second season (if it happens), getting in on the manga now will ease you into reading to get the rest of the story. It helps as well that the manga is a great time, even if you’re familiar with the story.

Oshi no Ko is published in English by Yen Press. The manga is available to purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop (Support local bookstores!), and Right Stuf.

Who worked on Oshi no Ko

Original Story By: Aka Akasaka
Art By: Mengo Yokoyari
Translation: Yen Press
Edited By: Abigail Blackman, Carl Li (Yen Press Editorial)
Design: Andy Swist (Yen Press Design)

Cheers to Yen Press for providing a review copy of Oshi no Ko. Receiving a review copy of this title has in no way altered the opinions expressed in this article.

The Good

  • Great story
  • Fantastic art
  • A page-turner from front to back
  • Shines a light on a dark industry

The Bad

  • Not the anime
  • The children's subplot doesn’t gel that well with the rest of the down-to-earth story 

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