No. 1 manga of 2022 is both creepy and emotionally captivating

The cover of the first volume of “Hikaru ga Shinda Natsu” (“The Summer Hikaru Died”) by Mokumokuren

Hikaru ga Shinda Natsu (The Summer Hikaru Died)
by Mokumokuren (Kadokawa)

Despite being an unknown newcomer’s first online serialization, “Hikaru ga Shinda Natsu” (“The Summer Hikaru died”) came in No. 1 as the most popular among manga for men in the 2023 edition of the periodical “Kono Manga ga Sugoi!” (This manga is amazing), published by Takarajimasha Inc.

After only reading the first two volumes available in print, I was completely hooked.

The story is set in a mountain village seemingly in the Chubu region of central Japan. Yoshiki, a high school student, notices something unusual about his childhood best friend Hikaru. About six months ago, Hikaru went missing in the mountains for about a week but came back safe and sound. For some reason, however, Yoshiki is the only one who thinks that’s impossible.

One summer day, Yoshiki finally confronts Hikaru in front of a candy shop.

“You’re not really Hikaru, are you?”

“Please, please don’t tell anyone,” says whatever is pretending to be his best friend — a creepy slimy blob that lives in the mountains.

It had taken over Hikaru’s body and come down to the village. Yoshiki finds it extremely weird but accepts it because all he wants is to have Hikaru by his side, even if it’s a fake Hikaru. What follows are strangely peaceful, somewhat happy and slightly dangerous summer days for Yoshiki and Hikaru (or what used to be Hikaru).

If I were to categorize it, I would say it is a horror manga with yokai supernatural beings. However, a majority of the story depicts their everyday life in the countryside, such as spending a lazy afternoon with friends, slowly pushing their bicycles home at twilight and the sound of annoyingly loud cicadas.

Then, every once in a while, like a sudden tear in the fabric of the story, something strange occurs to give readers the creeps.

Personally, it reminded me of “Higurashi no Naku Koro ni” (“When They Cry”), a popular PC visual horror novel set in a rural village that was also hugely successful as both a published novel and an animated film. If you were hooked on that game, you will definitely find yourself absorbed in this manga.

Not much happens in the story, but it continues to be emotionally captivating because it portrays their friendship in an extremely subtle way. Yoshiki secretly has feelings for Hikaru that are more than just friendly, which is why he cannot completely reject Hikaru’s impersonator. At the same time, Hikaru’s impersonator has also inherited the feelings the human Hikaru had for Yoshiki.

Their relationship, which gradually fosters an urge to protect each other, is a type of eroticism that goes beyond sexuality. This is probably one of the main reasons why this manga became such a hit on TikTok soon after its serialization began.

The history of the village, which involves villagers performing a ritual to seal “something” in the mountain, is gradually revealed, and the manga begins to grow larger in scale as a horror story.

A major turning point is probably coming up soon, and I’m sure the author will not disappoint.

Incidentally, the mangaka’s unique pen name was taken from the name of a shoji (paper sliding door) yokai. This yokai, Mokumokuren, also appears in the manga and anime of “GeGeGe no Kitaro” by the late Shigeru Mizuki.