Before Carry On and the rest of Rainbow Rowell’s Simon Snow trilogy, Rowell published a book that started it all, the world in which the idea of Simon and the world of mages was born — Fangirl.
Fangirl is a coming-of-age novel that follows the story of Cath Avery, a freshman struggling to survive her first year living on campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln by day, and the beloved Simon Snow fanfiction author Magicath by night. Cath is thrown for a loop before the semester even begins, as her twin sister Wren makes the decision that she doesn’t want to room with her in an effort to gain some independence from their tight knit relationship. Meanwhile, Cath is faced with a harsh reality when she realizes that she’ll need to branch out from her fanfiction if she wants to pursue a career as an author. Oh, and there’s this boy…
Earlier this year, Rowell announced that her 2013 hit novel was being adapted into a manga. Fangirl, Vol. 1: The Manga is the first of the four-volume adaptation, written by Sam Maggs (The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy) and illustrated by Gabi Nam, published via VIZ Media. Volume 1 takes us from Cath’s arrival at school up through till Wren’s mistaken “911 Muggsy’s!” text.
If you’ve come here looking for the short and sweet answer, I can keep it simple by saying this — if you enjoyed Fangirl, you absolutely need to read the manga.
When I initially learned that a manga adaptation of Fangirl was on the way, I felt a mixture of excitement at the idea of new illustrated Cath and co. content, along with some curiosity as to how exactly the story would translate in this new format. Fangirl is told from Cath’s perspective, and the events that take place in the story are largely driven by her internal monologue and decision-making processes. So would we lose context along the way throughout the panels of the manga?
Any and all lingering concerns were immediately vanquished upon diving into Volume 1, as Maggs was precise about the way that she went about adapting the story. Throughout the manga, there are dedicated speech bubbles for Cath’s own personal thoughts, explanations, and commentary that function smoothly alongside the spoken dialogue between the characters. Rowell created Cath with a distinct voice and personality, which carries the heart of the story and makes it so very relatable for readers, and Maggs took care to encapsulate this and translate it successfully into a new medium.
This manga adaptation serves as a fantastic companion to Fangirl. Although visualizing the world of a novel from the unique perspective that you build within your head is one of the best parts of reading, it’s also unbelievably satisfying to be given the opportunity to see a tangible visual representation of a story that you already know and love. Maggs and Nam were an absolute dream team to make this venture a reality. Nam managed to perfectly accentuate so many of the characteristics that Rowell attributed to her characters as she carried them over to a new format with her artwork. The characters felt easily recognizable; I was able to pick out Nick as soon as I saw his eyebrows, and Reagan’s various facial expressions couldn’t have been more appropriate and spot-on for the way Rowell initially described her. The flexibility to use playful and exaggerated facial expressions in this type of format also greatly lent itself to the overall vibe of the book,.
One of my personal favorite parts of the manga is that it gave me a newfound level of appreciation for the original book as a whole. Seeing Cath’s story told in an illustrated format provides an opportunity for readers to take in certain scenes from a different angle and to look at different characters and events with a new set of eyes. For example, there was something incredibly endearing about the way that Levi’s never-ending smiles and eagerness (and his FLOPs) came across in Nam’s drawings — I love him even more now than before!
As a huge fan of the real life Carry On series that was born from the pages of Fangirl, it was very exciting to see illustrated versions of Gemma T. Leslie and Cath’s versions of Simon and Baz. I was actually surprised — and very pleased — by the amount of times that Simon and Baz appeared in Volume 1. The manga plays on Rowell’s excerpts from Leslie’s books and Magicath’s fanfics by providing visuals on the scenes as Cath is writing them. Rowell even wrote some new things and changed existing parts up for the series so that the scenes would adapt more smoothly.
Overall, Fangirl, Vol. 1: The Manga was a very enjoyable read. It stayed true to the original story, maintaining the plot and utilizing most of the original dialogue with minor adjustments, as necessary. And even though it follows the source material closely, it doesn’t feel at all redundant or repetitive. This is a must-read for all fans of Fangirl, one that absolutely cannot be missed.
Fangirl, Vol. 1: The Manga is now available.