When the story begins, Natsu, a young man prone to motion sickness when travelling, and Happy, his talking cat, are looking for a fire dragon called Igneel. They encounter and eventually save a 17-year-old girl named Lucy, who wants nothing more than to be part of the wizards' guild Fairy Tail. Lucy can use Gatekeys, which can summon powerful beings, but she doesn't have the kind of connections that would get her on such a famous guild. Fortunately for her, Natsu is part of Fairy Tail, and it isn't long before Lucy joins Natsu and Happy in a dangerous mission to rescue another Fairy Tail wizard.
I remember when I first read the first volume of Hiro Mashima's debut series, Rave Master. Although the series had some charm, both the artwork and storytelling needed some serious improvement. I'm happy to report that, with his newest series, Mashima is starting off strong. His artwork has come a long way, and the story is still perfectly understandable, despite a large cast of characters and an unusual world that requires a decent amount of setup. I suppose my biggest complaint might be that many of the characters in this story resemble characters from Rave Master so closely that I thought, at first, that this world might somehow be the same as the world in Rave Master. I don't think that's actually the case, although Mashima does succumb to the temptation to give one of his Rave Master characters a cameo appearance: Plue the "dog" (his head looks like that of a snowman, so I refuse to refer to him as a dog without the quotation marks) shows up briefly as one of Lucy's celestial spirits.
This new world sounds like an interesting one. Most wizards in Mashima's world are organized into guilds, some of which are more popular than others. The wizards of Fairy Tail are so popular they show up often in Lucy's favorite magazine, Weekly Sorcerer. Of course, the main reasons Fairy Tail shows up so often is because of it's gorgeous women (Mirajane of Fairy Tail) and handsome men (Loke of Fairy Tail), how often its members (mainly Natsu) are responsible for destroying property, drunkenness (mainly Cana Alberona), public nudity (mainly Gray), and more. Although the guild's Master finds it annoying to have to deal with the anger of the Council, he doesn't really care what his guild members do as long as they work hard at their magic and follow they path they feel is right (sounds hokey, huh? Well, that's shonen manga for you...).
The magical powers of the characters in this story are a big draw. I can't wait to see the other celestial spirits Lucy can call up, and Natsu, who was raised by a dragon, has a lot of interesting abilities as well. Mashima doesn't even get around to showing readers what all the other characters can do in this first volume, so there's still that to look forward to, as well. There are exciting battles, several (if not all) of the characters have painful pasts/secrets, there's plenty of humor, and there's lots of potential for dangerous/exciting/funny missions.
Because this manga is published in the US by Del Rey, it has the added bonus of a few pages at the end of the volume that further explain certain details and translation issues that come up during the story. The translator explains anything that was difficult or impossible to translate properly (in this case, puns provided the translator with the most difficulties). I really enjoy these sections because they tend to provide a lot of random information about the Japanese language and culture. Del Rey is always careful about providing good and informative notes, and this volume is no exception. Unfortunately, these notes may be part of the reason why Del Rey's manga is slightly more expensive than that of some of its competitors - brand new, no discounts, this first volume costs $10.95, in comparison to the $9.99, $8.99, or $7.99 prices offered by some other publishers.
- Rave Master (manga) by Hiro Mashima - Haru is a teenage boy who lives alone with his older sister. After catching a weird-looking creature that everyone keeps insisting is a dog (it looks like a cross between a snowman and...something), Haru finds out about the power of the Rave Stone and receives a magical sword. He leaves his older sister in order to go on a journey to find the other Rave Stones and is eventually joined by a girl named Elie, who has no memory of her past. The story is a bit rough around the edges, especially in the earlier volumes, but those who liked Fairy Tail might want to try this series, which Mashima did before Fairy Tail.
- One Piece (manga) by Eiichiro Oda; One Piece (anime TV series) - Luffy wants to find One Piece, the treasure left behind by the pirate Gold Roger, but first he's got to get himself a crew. Luffy is cheerful and willing to fight when necessary in order to do what he thinks is right, but his career as a pirate is made somewhat difficult by his ability to be like stretchy elastic - although this power comes in handy, it also means that he can't swim. The artwork of this series reminds me a lot of Fairy Tail. However, One Piece has other things in common with Fairy Tail, including lots of action, a sense of humor, and a hero with a heart. If you decide to check out the anime version of this series, be aware that this is a series with a history of heavy editing and censorship (now that FUNimation is handling it, however, I think things have probably gotten a lot better).
- Moving Pictures (book) by Terry Pratchett - This is the tenth book in Pratchett's Discworld series. The alchemists of the Discworld have invented moving pictures, and this discovery leads to the creation of Holy Wood, home of the fledgling "clicks" industry. Everyone tries to get involved in moving pictures, but it gradually becomes clear that this new industry is having a bad effect on reality. Those who'd like something with quirky, laugh-out-loud humor that also occasionally involves magic and guilds might like this book. Actually, it's almost possible to start with any book in the Discworld series, so, if you don't like the sound of this book, look up some of the others and try whichever one deals with a theme that you like. Terry Pratchett's website has a chart that lists the main characters and themes or subjects of satire for each of his books.