This review will contain spoilers for the manga and anime series Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku. While the manga may vary slightly from all other forms of media, it may have similar story elements and could be considered spoilers.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to misgendering/gender assumption as it appears in the manga.
Narumi and Hirotaka have been friends since childhood when they bonded over their love of nerdy hobbies. For Narumi, she loved manga and anime. For Hirotaka, his love of video games dominated everything else in his life. However, as their carefree childhood days flew by, Hirotaka soon realized that he cared for Narumi almost as much as his video games. Unfortunately, though, those idyllic days of childhood bliss faded away, and so did Narumi and Hirotaka's friendship.
As adults, Hirotaka and Narumi end up working at the same office. While they don't immediately kick off as friends again in adulthood, they find solace in each other's company once they reveal that their previous obsessions have only intensified. Able to be 100% herself with Hirotaka, Narumi spends a lot of her time complaining and confiding in him, whether it be about her fujoshi-related hobbies, work concerns, or even her failing love life. Hirotaka, still infatuated with Narumi, faithfully stands by as her shoulder to cry on. One day, though, listening to another tale of woe from Narumi due to her various love interests leaving her because of her otaku hobby, Hirotaka takes the plunge. He asks Narumi:
Why doesn't she just date him instead?
And so begins the struggle of love between a closeted fujoshi and a game-obsessed, antisocial otaku. What could go wrong?
This is beyond precious. It's a bunch of fluffy romances situated against the backdrop of otaku culture, work life, and, in later volumes, college life. There are three couples, the main couple being Hirotaka and Narumi, but the side couples help carry the story along. I don't think I would have liked this story as much without them, although Hirotaka and Narumi give me all the warm fuzzies. Part of the reason the multi-couple setup works so well is that we get to see couples in different stages of their respective relationships. For our main squeeze, it is the start of a new relationship. For Hanako and Taro, we have the long-term couple moving into the next stage of their relationship. Finally, we have Naoya and Ko, a pair that isn't a couple yet but long to be. So, no matter what type of relationship you prefer in your romance manga, you get a little taste of all of it in Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku.
Another reason this manga is so great is that we get a depiction of otaku culture that isn't just a bunch of NEETs. I find that typically, if otaku culture or fujoshi/fudanshi culture plays a significant role in the plot, the characters are usually NEETs or are portrayed negatively and need fixing. That is not the case at all here. Some display your standard antisocial tropes, but others are actually social butterflies. Seeing the diversity within the otaku culture, especially those of successful adults, is refreshing, to say the least (especially for someone like me who is a working, successful adult otaku myself). It makes it feel much more realistic because many of my friends, even my husband and myself, are reflected in many of these couples and situations. For example, I heavily relate to Narumi as a formerly closeted fujoshi, while my husband is similar to Hirotaka as a bit of an antisocial gamer. Most readers would be hard-pressed not to find someone they relate to among the characters presented in this.
Now, while we are meant to root for Narumi and Hirotaka as the main couple, I did find myself falling more in love with Naoya and Ko. I think part of this is because there is more tension since they don't start as a couple. There were times when I found myself hoping the Hirotaka-Narumi and Taro-Hanako portions would hurry up and end so we could hurry back to Naoyo and Ko. To be clear, the other couples aren't boring or anything. However, since they are already in established relationships, a lot of that good old “will they, won't they” tension is lost. Naoya and Ko just add a nice splash of fluffy drama that isn't present among the established pairs.
Unfortunately, my least favorite coupling is Taro and Hanako. I am not sure what that says about me, but I found them to be a bit annoying and overtly aggressive with each other. They are meant to be a bit of comic relief as Narumi and Hirotaka navigate their relationship problems, but I often felt they overstayed their welcome. I enjoyed them a lot more once we got to see their backstory as childhood rivals to lovers, and their ending was one of my favorites as we heard their pregnancy announcement, but overall, they were still my least favorite. My favorite was Naoya and Ko, as they are “the beans that must be protected” this time around, with Hirotaka and Narumi being a close second. Before I wrap all this up, let me just say that Hirotaka gives me major daddy vibes. That is all.
This title is a breath of fresh air for the romance manga genre. This is a sweet-as-candy series with everything your little romantic otaku heart could want. All wrapped up in a lovely little package. My only qualm is that I sort of wish we had some diversity in the genders of the couplings, such as a male-male coupling or a female-female coupling, but otherwise, there is a lot to be had between the three couples we see in Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku. This has become a staple in the romance genre, and I'll recommend it for a long time to newcomers.
Have you read Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!