This manga takes place in the modern day. 16-year old self-proclaimed ninja Recca, a girl he chose as his master, and a group of friends who become increasingly close fight against an incredibly evil business man trying to find a certain magical artifacts, which are called madougouin this series. This manga focuses on fights, character back stories, and small bits of comedy. Each character has their own madougou which they must cleverly use to fight against their opponent. The characters strength comes from learning new abilities from their madougou and due to their determination to protect each other. It has a very good, diverse cast of characters who get good development throughout the series and are given good backstories. This manga does include a lengthy tournament.
I was introduced to this series through fansubs several years ago. I felt that the series started off very strong, then got linearly less interesting, but then ended strong. Years later, I found that the anime series (which was 42 episodes) was based off of a manga series (episode 42 was roughly equivalent to volume 16 out of 36.) I found scanlations for the manga and finished the series. Later I read the first 16 volumes as well, after the series was released by Viz.
This is a highly recommended series as long as you're not tired of shonen cliches. In my opinion, it is one of the top shonen fighting manga because of the great detail in defining the character's motivations and the pure awesomeness of the main character's power.
There are three points which I count as weaknesses. The first is the art quality. The first 16 volumes are not very fun to look at, in my opinion. However, if you view this series as I did with the anime transitioning into the manga, this point is negligible. The second is the fights themselves. Many of the fights really aren't that interesting, specifically the ones where the victor is determined by "Oh, I suddenly found a new ability of my madougou that I didn't know about before." This is not so bad though because there are a fair number of fights that are determind by the fighter cleverly using their known abilities. The final weakness is the tournament in the middle. While I understand why the author did it, it lasted too long and pales in comparison to the less cliche feeling and more revelation filled story arcs of the beginning and the end.
In any case, this series is in my top ten manga list. Seeing these characters struggle and achieve their goals have motivated me, somehow. "I must Protect my Princess" is a great life mantra, in my opinion. Plus, thinking about summoning flame has done wonders for my imagination. Definitely take a look at this one.
[warning! ending spoilers follow]
In addition to the three points of weakness I gave before, there is one more. The ending. This is probably just my preference, but... when you think about it, the whole series took place in less than a year. I would have really liked a look into the future to see how the characters turned out in the long run. Yes, I realized that the story was over and the whole thing isn't real anyway, but I would have enjoyed it more if the author showed the lives of the characters a bit after things got calm. It's easy to grow, develop, bond, and such during a large crisis... but what happens once life is no longer crazy? True, I'm asking for to much, probably, and it's probably just because I get too interested and involved with the characters in the story.
As a counterpoint, the ending does completely "end the story" without any lingering mysteries or any chances for continuation.
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