Manga has its share of tall, powerful, and muscly. In fairness, that’s a pretty common theme in comics generally and there are also a pretty decent number of equally scantily clad ladies who handily wield sacred weapons and, it has been observed by my 8-year-old, are more likely to have what little clothing they were wearing at the beginning of the battle still intact at the end of it.
There’s a second thread that runs through manga, however: that of those who are underestimated because they’re small, but who more than make up for their size with skill, training, and determination. They’re the first ones on the field or court in the morning, the last ones to leave at night, always willing to give more when someone else would give up, generous to a fault, and definitely the person you’d want guarding your back. Others may overlook them but if you’re lucky enough to be counted among their friends, then you know better.
You know that though they be but little, they are fierce.
Here are four of my favorites:
Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirohama
Only those born with powers can do magic.
At least, that’s what Coco has always been told. She can dream of being a witch all she wants, but it’s never going to happen so she may as well come down from the clouds and live the life that’s been dealt her and feel lucky to meet the occasional witch who comes through town and might deign to let her watch them work their spells.
Coco, however, refuses to give up.
And one night, when she follows the visiting witch Quifrey out to the barn, she discovers she was right to persist because it turns out anyone with the right tools can do magic. Her discovery leads to tragedy when Coco tries her own hand at spell casting and accidentally turns her own mother to stone, but Quifrey offers her an opportunity: train at his Atelier, and one day she’ll have the skill to change her mother back. Coco accepts and begins her studies, mastering challenges of the body, mind, and soul, refusing to give up until she has reached her full potential and freed her mother.
Haikyū!! by Haruichi Furudate
One of the things I love most about Hinata is that he refuses to believe the thing he wants is impossible. He’s seen someone else do it, seen “The Little Giant,” competed in the national volleyball championships, and that means Hinata can do it as well.
Is that necessarily true? No, of course not. That’s not the way the world works. But where does thinking, “Well, I guess maybe I can do the thing,” get you? Nowhere because “maybe” isn’t a goal. Maybe doesn’t get you through a three-year struggle to recruit a team or practicing with whomever will have you. It doesn’t get you out of bed at 4 a.m. to be on the court at 5:00. It doesn’t convince you to put aside disputes with your rival or ignore insults or keep you running back and forth until you puke (okay, that last one is a little extreme and also gross).
Hinata has plenty of reasons to go with maybe. But he chooses a giant “I will” ten times his size instead. We should all take up that much space in the world.
Black Clover by Yuki Tabata
Asta is very much the chihuahua of the Black Bulls squad; much smaller than the other dogs but also louder and frequently irritating. He’s also loyal to a fault and can for sure chew an enemy’s leg off, especially in defense of someone he cares about. Also, he’s part demon.
Asta has never let any one aspect of his person define him, insisting that it’s his whole that matters. Sure, he’s short, but it doesn’t stop him from swinging a big damn sword. Fine, he doesn’t have magic, but he ended up with a grimoire anyway and guess what, it has anti-magic. Yes, he is a commoner (or was, at least, raised as one), but that won’t stop him from being the Wizard King.
Never count Asta out because he is one thing; he’s a lot of other things as well. He is the sum of his parts. And not being able to add is a you problem.
Dawn of the Arcana by Rei Toma
Nakaba is married to Caesar for the good of her kingdom. They…do not hit it off. Mostly because he is a narcissistic jerk who tells Nakaba that she is his property. No one is as surprised as they are when, after spending time together, and after Nakaba saves Caesar’s life, they actually begin to not only like, but perhaps, fall in love with each other.
And, as it turns out, Nakaba is the more powerful members of the power couple: as the Arcana of Time, she has visions of the future and of the past, both of which allow her to change fate. This sets her and Caesar in the path of dangerous politics, old vendettas, and new rivalries that could tear them apart and spark the war their marriage was meant to prevent.
Books, covers, people, size, etc. No judging. I mean, how many of you would place bets against your infants or young toddlers in a diaper-change wrestling match? I was a nanny for years and I’ve had two of my own and I am here to tell you that a child in motion will stay in motion until they stop to laugh because they peed in your face (and yes, the ones with vulvas can do it too). If you found these four characters inspiring, you’re in good company; most of their fictional friends, and a good number of their IRL fans do as well. If I left any of your favorites out, drop us a line on Twitter @BookRiot.com.