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by Kevin Cormack,

Kowloon Generic Romance

Manga Volume 1-6 Review

Kowloon Generic Romance Manga Volume 1-6 Review

32-year-old Japanese realtor Reiko Kujirai hasn't been feeling herself lately. She loves living and working in Hong Kong's densely-packed, heavily overpopulated Kowloon Walled City, nurturing an intense crush on her slightly younger co-worker Hajime Kudou. Unfortunately, there's a strange emotional distance between them, and there's also something "off" about her beloved city. After all, wasn't Kowloon demolished years ago? Why is it still standing? As puzzle pieces lazily fall into place, Kujirai embarks on a long, slow identity crisis as she realizes nothing about her life is what it seems.

Kowloon Generic Romance has a story and art by Jun Mayuzuki. These volumes were translated by Amanda Haley, lettered by Abigail Blackman, and published by Yen Press.


This is one of those mystery-focused manga that's almost impossible to discuss without some significant spoilers for at least the first volume. Author Jun Mayuzuki holds her cards incredibly close to her chest, so if there's even a chance you'd consider reading this stunningly beautiful, haunting, and thought-provoking manga, I'd urge you to read the first volume immediately, and then return to read the rest of this review.

Mayuzuki is best known in the West as the author of the manga After the Rain, adapted to animated perfection by Wit Studio in 2018. Her striking facial designs, eye for subtle details, and accurate evocation of the bittersweet emotions behind conflicted characters' complex romantic yearnings make for an engaging, compelling read. There's no competition – Kowloon Generic Romance is my absolute favorite currently-running manga, and it's criminal that its brilliance seems to have gone more or less unnoticed by the majority of English-speaking manga readers.

What is it that makes a person? That existential question has engaged philosophers for as long as independent thought has existed. Is it genetics? Upbringing? Culture? Memories? Bespectacled protagonist Kujirai begins to question her personhood as she realizes in the opening chapter that, bizarrely, she no longer needs to wear her glasses. Her story begins wordlessly, her confusion building as she squints through her lenses, trying to make sense of a blurry, confusing world. We observe her daily routine, nibbling on cooled watermelon slices before smoking a cigarette on her balcony, fixing her clothes, and heading out to work.

Mayuzuki builds an evocative picture of the lost Kowloon Walled City – tiny apartments haphazardly jam-packed together, with only tiny, narrow walkways between them. The main streets are thronged by people bustling from small stores to myriad restaurants and street food stands. Directional arrows, signs, and graffiti adorn every corner and wall. This place doesn't just look lived in; it looks worn-down, patched together, and ready to collapse in on itself at the slightest mishap. Kujirai is in love with Kowloon, entranced by its people and culture. One of the story's central themes is nostalgia and its emotional similarity to love.

Every character seems to have something holding them back, rooting them to the past, a feeling that makes them nostalgic for something they are scared to lose. "Nostalgia is the feeling of wanting to hold something tight to your heart." Mayuzuki succeeds spectacularly in evoking a profound sense of nostalgia for a place I've never visited. At least in our world, Kowloon no longer exists following its demolition in 1994, and reading this manga that so intoxicatingly depicts it as a real, living place engenders a vague feeling of loss, a quiet prickling sadness that something has passed from the world, something that now can only be experienced second-hand. Through clever imagery and gorgeous scene composition, Kowloon Generic Romance makes me feel things like no other manga has ever before. You might reductively call it "immaculate vibes."

Although Mayuzuki piles mystery upon mystery, her overarching plot is in no hurry to progress – it's not until the most recent sixth translated volume that some of my theories about this world have finally been confirmed – even if only in the vaguest of terms. Sometimes, reading a volume is an exercise in calculated frustration, if only because the sometimes devastating cliffhangers leave me desperate for more. In particular, the conclusion of volume five left me screaming. Published at the rate of two to three volumes per year, I imagine there's plenty of screaming left in me yet as I devour each slowly published volume.

The lead character, Kujirai, is an unusual yet magnetic protagonist. Her style is effortlessly cool, with her large spectacles, short hair, figure-hugging Chinese-style top, and tight pencil skirt. Every volume cover features her posing with a cigarette. Although she's frequently shown smoking within the pages themselves (as does her love interest, Kudou), this isn't quite as integral to the plot as the recently-released Smoking Behind the Supermarket with You. For some reason, Kowloon Generic Romance is sold shrink-wrapped by Yen Press with a warning for "Explicit Content" emblazoned on the front cover. I can't for the life of me think why this should be the case. Although this is indeed a mature, emotional, and adult story, there are no sexual situations, violence, or even cursing. Is it shrink-wrapped only because of the frequent depictions of cigarette smoking? I worry that such a decision actively detracts potential buyers – once you see the beautiful interior art, it's hard to put these volumes down.


Kujirai's main issue is that it seems she is not the "original" version of Reiko Kujirai. Her memories only go back six months; she does not recall arriving in Kowloon, and there are items in her apartment that she didn't buy – they belong to her previous version. The earlier Kujirai iteration was engaged to Kudou, who seems to realize the woman he now works with is not his former lover – he knows more than he's letting on. The mystery of the original Kujirai's fate is still ongoing, and the current Kujirai feels conflicted over learning about her predecessor's past. Much of her main story arc is about her becoming her own, independent person, separate from her previous self. She is assisted in this endeavor by two delightful and amusing female friends – harassed seamstress Youmei and multiple part-time jobs-working Xiaohei. (It's a running joke how often she turns up working in random establishments all across Kowloon.)

Side character Dr. Miyuki Hebinuma, who is as suitably slithery and snake-like as his name suggests (Hebi means "snake" in Japanese, plus, horrifyingly, he has a forked tongue and an all-over-body snake tattoo), crosses paths with Kujirai and Kudou on a couple of occasions, though mostly his plotline runs separately and parallel to the main story. A heavily BL-flavored aspect follows his conflicted relationship with (male, despite his name) former bartender Gwen. Hebinuma is a plastic surgeon who points out that there's only so much he can do to alter a person's face – their wrinkles, facial muscles, and expressions are altered by their experiences, tying his worldview into the overall existential theme of what makes a person. He seems to hold many answers about Kujirai's disturbing circumstances as he continues investigating the progressively deepening mysteries around this version of Kowloon's existence.

In the sky above Kowloon and Hong Kong hangs a vast and mysterious shiny polyhedron, viewable in almost every critical manga panel, that seems to be an expensive government project called "Generic Terra." It's central to some of the more SF-tinged mysteries, as whatever it does ties in with the overarching themes of duplication, preservation, and human identity. One character even warns, "We'll be punished for building this thing." So far, answers about its true purpose and nature have been mostly absent, as Mayuzuki seems more focused on keeping her world-building directly related to her central characters.

As the story progresses and the mysteries deepen, this version of Kowloon gradually shifts towards being a more spooky place, with missing people, boarded-up apartments, mysteriously blocked walkways, deleted computer records, and strange disembodied phone-line voices. Why should people outside Kowloon not eat or drink any food or fluids there? What are the residents being fed? Has the floating Generic Terra wrecked Hong Kong's Feng Shui, disrupting the flow of chi, and wreaked some reality-altering abomination? Something about this Kowloon is wrong, and only some people can sense it. Whether there is a sinister underlying reason for any of this remains to be seen. Still, despite its incredibly slow pace, I am profoundly invested in Kujirai's, Kudou's, Gwen's, and Miyuki's story. I worry that Mayuzuki has set up so many Lost-esque mysteries that any resolution is bound to disappoint, but perhaps, in this case, it's the journey (and those immaculate vibes) that will stand the test of time.

Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. Yen Press, BookWalker Global, and J-Novel Club are subsidiaries of KWE.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A+

+ Gorgeous, sensual art. Intriguing concept, fascinating philosophical conundrums directly related to interesting, sympathetic characters.
Achingly slow plot progression, the absolute definition of a slow burn, requires much patience from the reader.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Jun Mayuzuki
Licensed by: Yen Press

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Kowloon Generic Romance (manga)

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