This series was by far my biggest vacation winner: I read more volumes of it (14!) than any other series, I read all the volumes I had at my disposal, and I enjoyed it so much that it was painful not to have more available (and painful to have gaps in what I did have).
I love this series. I watched the anime and tried the first manga volume a while back, but I decided I probably wouldn't ever buy the manga, because I didn't want to commit to something long-running. I think I may have to change my mind about that. I had forgotten how much fun Kyoko is.
Somehow, Nakamura manages to draw things out without driving me completely crazy. There's no sign of how long it's going to take for Kyoko to accomplish her goal of becoming a bigger star than her ex-boyfriend. It may take a while for Kyoko to recognize that she has feelings for Ren. I don't care - I love this series anyway.
Kyoko is awesome, clueless one minute and pulling amazing acting skills out of thin air the next. Even though the formula for characters' awesomeness seems to be pretty much the same each time - the character has some sort of horrible acting block or obstacle, it comes down to crunch time, and the character pulls off a brilliant in-character improv session - I eat it up each and every time. It's so much fun to read!
The romance in the series is good, too, somehow made even better by Nakamura's decision to have it progress achingly slow and even take a backseat to all the acting drama. Ren realizes he loves Kyoko well before Kyoko has the same realization about Ren. Ren backs off a bit because of some dark stuff in his past I haven't read about yet (is it in one of the volumes I had to skip, or a future volume? I guess I'll find out some other time), but he seems to get over that a bit. Even so, he doesn't try to force Kyoko to admit she has feelings for him too. I loved that Yashiro freaked out about this, while Ren seemed barely phased by Kyoko's obliviousness.
Again, I love this series. It's shoujo with a nice sprinkling of shounen. There's romance and relationship drama, but then there's Kyoko, who would not be out of place as the main character in a shounen series, shouting "I want to become stronger" and being underestimated by others right up to the moment where she does something completely fantastic.
As usual, if you're leery of spoilers, you may want to avoid reading the descriptions below and just skip to the read-alikes/watch-alikes section at the very bottom.
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 5) - Moko and Kyoko audition for a soda commercial, facing off against a rich longtime enemy of Moko's. Moko comes up with a brilliant "fighting friends" scene for the audition, while Kyoko does an amazing on-the-fly "making up" scene. True, I pretty much knew how things were going to go in this volume, since I remembered this part from the anime, but I still loved it. This volume really reminds me of shounen manga, with Kyoko as the underdog main character who manages, through guts, determination, and a good dose of awesomeness, to pull a win out of thin air.
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 6) - Kyoko and Moko get the soda commercial job. When everyone at the agency comes down with colds later, Kyoko gets assigned to be Ren's substitute manager (she doesn't know it, but her main job is actually to make sure that Ren takes the time to eat). Then Ren comes down with a cold, too, and Kyoko takes care of him. Ren starts to question his feelings for Kyoko. Although he liked her when they were children (she still doesn't know he was the boy called "Corn"), he disliked that she started acting only to get revenge. Ren starts to wonder if that's really the case, though. Could Kyoko really become this good and dedicated of an actress with revenge as her only motivation?
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 10) - Kyoko and Ren both have parts in a drama called Dark Moon, a remake of an older show that used to be hugely popular. Kyoko stresses over how to create a Mio (her character) that is better than the Mio of 20 years ago - and comes up with chillingly angry rich young lady who isn't faithful to the old Mio but may be even better. I love this volume. Okay, so I love most of Skip Beat!'s volumes, but I especially enjoyed seeing Kyoko give everyone the chills as Mio.
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 11) - Ren is in a serious acting slump, unable to figure out how to act like Katsuki, a man who finds himself falling in love with a girl he shouldn't love. While trying to help Ren get over his slump, Kyoko inadvertently helps Ren realize he's falling for her. Kyoko has no idea that the 16-year-old girl Ren has feelings for is her. Kyoko has a bit of a block when it comes to love and anything to do with herself, so I'll give her a pass on this bit of denseness. This volume gets bonus points for having Yashiro acting as a matchmaker - I love it, it's cute and hilarious (even though I can't help but wonder if Yashiro ever gets to have a life of his own).
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 12) - If Ren can't come up with his own Katsuki, he'll be fired. Kyoko doesn't know he's going to be tested, but she helps Ren practice anyway. During this practice, Ren accidentally reveals a dark side of himself he has tried to keep hidden (and almost kisses Kyoko!). The volume ends with Ren's test for the part. Heh. While Ren's almost-kiss with Kyoko had my shoujo-loving heart pounding, I couldn't help but laugh later when I realized that Kyoko was much less affected by the scene than Ren. Poor Ren!
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 13) - Ren's Katsuki test gets underway. By his request, it's improv, and he does beautifully, even getting his costar to act the way he wants her to act. In this volume, it's revealed that Ren has issues with his father overshadowing him (or possibly abuse? - but from what I read in later volumes, I'd guess that's not it). Kyoko also starts to realize that Ren loves her and that she loves him in return, but then she blocks all of that out and convinces herself otherwise, because she doesn't want to love anyone again.
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 14) - Kyoko and Sho cross paths again, and Kyoko tells him off for not fighting hard enough against Vie Ghoul, a visual kei band that is clearly copying off of him. Meanwhile, Yashiro is going crazy wondering why Ren isn't worried that Sho might win Kyoko back. Kyoko goes to film Dark Moon on location at Karuizawa and bumps into Sho again...and he's still being copied by Vie Ghoul. For those who are interested, this is the volume in which Ren watches Kyoko playing a beautiful angel in Sho's promo clip.
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 15) - Vie Ghoul's Reino becomes interested in Kyoko and begins stalking her. When he actually goes after her, Sho tries to save her. Reino threatens to ruin Kyoko's Mio by leaking a rumor to the tabloids that he raped her. Ren arrives on location and hears about Kyoko's stalker (but not that he's Reino)...and then he finds out that Sho's there. It was actually painful to realize that I didn't have volume 16 available, because I really wanted to see how Ren would handle Sho, particularly since Ren still had the scene from the previous volume in his mind, when he overheard that Sho had hurt Kyoko. As for the "I'll spread a rumor I raped you" stuff...well, that was icky for multiple reasons. I dislike Reino.
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 17) - Kyoko has another run-in with Vie Ghoul's Reino, who happens to have ESP or something and sees a fragment of Ren's violent, dark past (and that Ren is a foreigner) via "Corn"'s stone. Reino leaves, and Kyoko starts working on another drama and worries that playing Mio has typecast her as a bully. Then she is assigned to take care of Shuhei Hozu (Koo) as part of her Love Me section duties. Koo used to be Katsuki in the old Tsukigomori (the show Dark Moon is a remake of) - and he also seems to have some kind of history with Ren.
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 18) - It seems that Koo and Kyoko's boss have teamed up for some reason, and Koo is supposed to torment Kyoko until she breaks down and complains to Ren. Koo can't keep up the tormenting in the face of Kyoko's relentless cheerfulness and professionalism, however, so instead he tries to teach her how to create characters by having her act as his 15-year-old (later changed to 10) son, Kuon (suspiciously similar to Corn!). Ren sees her do this and is also shocked to come face-to-face with Koo. Again, OH THE PAIN, I didn't have volume 19 available. I so wanted to see how Koo and Ren would interact. I suspect that Koo is Ren's father (although it's kind of weird that there were no hints of this during the Dark Moon volumes, because this would mean that Ren was playing what used to be his father's role, which should have been worth some angsting).
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 20) - This is the worst volume of Skip Beat! I've read so far, but even this volume is better than some other series' best. Basically, it's what amounts to a Lame Filler Volume - a Christmas special. When Kyoko hears that Maria doesn't celebrate Christmas or her birthday (December 24th), she tells Maria they should have a thank you party instead, to thank all the people they know. Maria goes for the idea, even though it's a blatant attempt to get her to have something as close to a birthday party as she'll allow. The party is huge, over-the-top, and great fun for everyone. And then, on the stroke of the 25th, Ren gives Kyoko a rose for her 17th birthday, Moko gives her a gift she bought without even knowing that the 25th was her birthday, etc. It's all very sweet. Maria gets to see her workaholic father, and Kyoko has never gotten to celebrate her birthday on the 25th before.
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 21) - Kyoko's having a rough time with her new drama, in which she plays a bully named Natsu. She doesn't know how to do the character justice, she arrives late to her first reading, her childhood training to take over an inn makes her incapable of naturally acting like a normal high school girl (which she needs to be able to do to play Natsu), and the director just wants Natsu to be the same kind of bully as Mio. Plus, Kyoko has a co-actress who's secretly trying to screw things up for her with the director.
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 22) - Kyoko gets Ren to teach her to walk like a female model (I have such a weakness for fictional guys who are manly enough to do girlie things without feeling like it makes them less manly), which she applies to creating her brilliant new Natsu. Almost everyone loves her new Natsu. The only one who doesn't is a girl named Chiori, the one who tried to mess things up for Kyoko in the previous volume. In this volume it's revealed the Chiori probably started acting as a child, was typecast, and ended up not being able to get past the role that made her famous.
- Skip Beat! (manga, vol. 23) - Kyoko is bullied by Chiori and gets back at her by really getting into her role as Natsu, forcing Chiori to play the best Yumika she can. Their bullying scene sent chills down my spine, it was so good. In the end, Chiori and Kyoko make up, and Chiori becomes a Love Me member. Then Kyoko gets all wound up about Valentine's Day, remembering her hatred for Sho. Reino appears to tell her she'll be giving him chocolates (he actually likes her, even though he knows she's not capable of love at the moment...and, um, even if she were, I doubt she'd fall for a jerk like him). The volume ends with Kyoko finding out that she got Ren's birthday wrong - she thought it was on February 19th, but it's actually on the 10th, and she doesn't have a gift for him yet. Again, argh, I didn't have the next volume. So painful...
- Gravitation (manga) by Maki Murakami; Gravitation (anime TV series) - If you'd like another story with some craziness involving a character who wants to become a star, you might want to try this. Just be aware that it's BL (the romantic couple is two guys). Also, this is one of the few cases where I'd recommend watching the anime over reading the manga it's based on. The manga is an insane mess. The anime tones this down. If, after you see the anime, you want more, then go read the manga, but don't say I didn't warn you. I've written about the first volume of the manga.
- S.A (manga) by Maki Minami; S.A (anime TV series) - Another series with a stubborn and determined heroine who's not even thinking about romance and has no idea that the male main character is in love with her. I've written about the anime.
- Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Another series with a pair that reminds me a little of Kyoko and Ren. Arima, the main character in this series, also has dark stuff in his past. Yukino, like Kyoko, has one goal in her life that she's completely focused on. In Yukino's case, that goal is to be adored by everyone. This is another comedic school story, although be warned that the manga, in particular has some darker moments (due to Arima's past).
- Maid Sama! (manga) by Hiro Fujiwara; Maid Sama! (anime TV series) - I haven't seen or read this series yet, but, from what I've heard about it, it seems like this one might appeal to those who like Kyoko. The main character is a hard-working girl who is determined to do what she has to to achieve her goal. This is another romantic school comedy.