Honey Lemon Soda is a shōjo manga about Uka Ishimori’s relationship with fellow high-schooler Kai Miura. The manga feels like a mix between Kimi Ni Todoke and Fruits Basket because Uka Ishimori is likable and kind but insecure. The manga has traditional beats in their characters’ interactions that lead to comedic moments too. Honey Lemon Soda Volume 1 starts strong with compelling main characters that let you sit back and enjoy their journey. Created by Maya Murata with translation by Amanda Haley and lettering by Chiho Christie, Honey Lemon Soda Volume 1 is worth picking up.

Honey Lemon Soda Volume 1 Has A Chance Encounter Set Change in Motion

Uka Ishimori has wonderful parents. Uka’s innocence and goodness shine, but some people love to dim another’s shine. So, her middle school life is anything but fun. Nicknamed “Rocky” in middle school, based on the “Ishi” in her last name, which means “stone,” Uka experienced a lot of bullying. The fact that she gives no reaction leads to increased harassment by her peers. When she’s knocked down by her classmates outside of school while deciding which high school to attend, Shinsei Academy or Hachimitsu High School, she meets Kai. 

Kai approaches, sets down his lemon soda and grabs the flyer for Hachimitsu High. He tells her that school will suit her and that he’s going to that school too. Then he walks off. But for Uka, that interaction is enough. A gorgeous boy saw her and did not bully her. Determined to change her life and make friends, Uka enrolls at Hachimitsu. Cheering for Uka is easy. Her character shines, having a sparkle all her own. Her insecurity adds a layer of relatability as well. She is a good-natured and sympathetic character, given her desire for friends and her fear of talking. It’s hard to speak when you’ve experienced bullying.   

Reminiscent of Other Beloved Characters

Despite Uka’s motivation, making friends takes a lot of work. Whether her shyness is natural or an effect of her middle school bullying, the result doesn’t change. Her character resembles Sawako from Kimi Ni Todoke or Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket. They all exude kindness and unintended humor. But there is sadness too. Seeing Uka practice saying “good morning” in an empty classroom is sweet and a little heartbreaking. Also, like Kimi Ni Todoke, Kai inspires and brings out the best in Uka, as Kazehaya did for Sawako. These nuances of character are what add depth. 

Although Kai’s approach is more combative than Kazehaya’s, Kai lectures her about her penchant for apologizing for every little thing. It leads to some hilarious phrases as Uka changes the words “I’m sorry” to something else. Serialized in English from Yen Press, Honey Lemon Soda Volume 1 is more sweet than funny, but it hints at plenty of potential laughs in future volumes. Uka’s unintentional humor makes her character more distinct. In the first volume, Uka’s arc trajectory is clear. Readers get to journey with her as she changes. That comes with all the stops and starts moving forward entails.

Uka Puts in the Work With Sparkling Illustration

Honey Lemon Soda Volume 1 cover art of Uka Ishimori shyly standing beside Kai Miura.
Honey Lemon Soda Volume 1 cover art.

Even though Kai is Uka’s inspiration, Uka is the one putting in the effort. The first friend Uka makes, Ayumi Endou, is thanks to Uka helping her in math class. Emotionally, the first volume realistically captures the various personalities. Uka flees when bullies from middle school make fun of her in front of Ayumi and her classmates. Seeing them laugh at Uka, who’s just trying to live her best life, is angering. This is why changing one’s self is challenging; circumstances and people can curtail that determination. 

Given the title, Honey Lemon Soda, the illustrations fit well, incorporating a lot of sparkles around Uka. It’s as though her confidence and dream slowly fizz to the surface like opening a soda bottle. Refreshing could be another apt description for this manga. Rather than sectioning the volume into chapters, they call them “Sparkle,” a beautiful way to underscore the heartwarming quality of the series. 

Perhaps a Love Triangle on the Horizon

Classmates might think Kai is cool, but his youth shows. While Kai cares and feels drawn to Uka, his kindness is abrasive rather than gentle. There should be development on that front. But it makes for possible drama later between Kai and his friend, Tomoya Takamine. After all, Tomoya notices Uka too. He’s the type of friend that prods at people’s feelings. Seeing Kai’s defensiveness and annoyance is funny but typical in this genre. Smooth characters, hothead characters, and sweet characters are all standard in the manga. 

A Refreshing Start

While soft and sweet, Honey Lemon Soda must move beyond the classic characters and tropes to stand out. The potential is there. The first volume is adorable, with a beautiful blend of humor and heart brought to life by Uka and Kai’s gradual relationship. Combined with the illustrations, Honey Lemon Soda Volume 1 brings laughter and joy. Readers take a journey remembering the pangs, hilarity, and awkwardness of first love. It’s exciting to think where this series might head. Comedy and a love to root for are always a dynamite combo.

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