A new licensed manga reader app called Azuki launched recently, offering digital manga from Kodansha and Kaiten Books. As I scrolled through the list of titles, I asked my friends what’s worth checking out on there, and one of them recommended I Want to Hold Aono-kun So Badly I Could Die by Umi Shiina.
I Want To Hold Aono-kun So Badly I Could Die, Volumes 1-7
October 2017 to March 2021
“Is this a yandere thing,” I asked, and was reassured that no, it is not about a girl obsessively stalking a random dude. I also learned the creator of Chainsaw Man, another manga I read recently and loved, drew fanart of the titular Aono-kun, and decided that if it’s good enough for Tatsuki Fujimoto it’s good enough for me.
I Want to Hold Aono-kun So Badly I Could Die is one of the scariest horror manga I’ve ever read.
Yuri Kariya is a shy, quiet girl who falls in love with Aono, the first boy who’s ever nice to her. Unfortunately, two weeks after they started going out, Aono gets hit by a car and dies. As she’s about to kill herself in despair, the boy’s ghost appears and stops her from doing so— and discovers that she’s the only one who can see him. With the help of Aono’s best friend Fujimoto and socially anxious horror-movie fanatic Mio, Yuri tries to figure out how to get Aono to pass on, while also growing as a person.
This is more than a simple paranormal romance, however. Aono occasionally appears to be possessed by something malevolent and frightening— what Yuri and her new friends call “Dark Aono.” Not only that, but he’s not the only spirit in town, and the other spirits are a lot less nice even on a good day. The way ghosts work in this world is presented like a map that’s unfolding bit by bit as the story progresses, like a logic puzzle the characters are trying to solve with what limited information they have. Except sometimes, a drastic change will completely reframe what the reader thought they knew about the situation, and it’s moments like that that make Aono-kun so compelling and so terrifying. The minute you realize what’s happening is not what you thought was happening, and that neither you nor the protagonists know what the new thing means, is the minute dread sinks in and you have no choice but to keep reading to find out what happens next.
But besides the intriguing mysteries presented by the worldbuilding, the characters are easy to root for. Aono genuinely cares a lot for Yuri, and he helps her realize that she doesn’t deserve to be treated the way her family treats her. Mio and Fujimoto are also genuinely good friends, and the three (well, four if you count Aono) of them work together really well, with their vastly different strengths and weaknesses. While the teenagers and children in Aono-kun face unimaginable horrors, the narrative reinforces an overall theme that children are not responsible for their mistreatment at the hands of adults, and in fact adults have a responsibility to keep children safe. It’s both more powerful and more hopeful than I expected to see in a horror manga about a ghost boyfriend.
The art of Aono-kun is… a little off putting, with minimal shading and flat faces that come off as amateurish. The lines are very clean and simple, with sparse detailing except when needed to really sell a scary moment, but the faces are often awkward and stiff. It feels a little old fashioned in how clean yet thick the lines are, and how flat the faces and expressions are. It does work, the narrative beats land fairly effectively, but I can’t help but wonder what it would look like in the hands of a more experienced or technically skilled creator. I also wonder if the art is what puts people off from reading this, because the story is incredible! But I’ve never heard anyone talk about this comic besides the one person who recommended it to me. I got used to the art style pretty quickly, and the weirdness added to the charm.
Fans of paranormal romance and ghost horror are absolutely sleeping on this manga. The romance is adorable, the horror is terrifying, and the friendship is what keeps the whole thing together.
I Want to Hold Aono-kun So Badly I Could Die is currently available only in digital form in English.