The world of manga is, to say the least, vast. Beyond the action-packed adventures and fantastical quests that might come to mind first, we’ve also got stuff for foodies, mash-ups of horror and romance, even manga about cats! There’s truly something for everyone, as long as you know where to look.
One sub-genre I personally really enjoy is slice-of-life, which is exactly what it sounds like: just a peek into everyday lives, no huge overarching conflict or three-act structure necessary. (If you’re interested in a deeper dive on non-western story structure, you can see my post on kishōtenketsu). I’m notoriously terrible at keeping track of what’s going on in denser stories, so I love the quiet atmosphere and leisurely pace of slice-of-life that allows me more freedom to pop in and out without the need to remember every little detail.
Even within slice-of-life, there’s quite a wide array of types of stories available, but for the purposes of this list, we’ll be focusing on slice-of-life romances. I feel like the lines can get a little blurred here because, obviously, romances do have an overarching throughline. But I see these slice-of-life romance manga as windows into our characters’ entire lives, showing us their daily experiences at school/work, with friends, as well as in their romantic pursuits. So get ready for some gentle feels and enjoy this selection of slice-of-life romance manga!
Slice-of-Life Romance Manga
Kimi ni Todoke by Karuho Shiina
Due to her quiet demeanor and long, black hair, Sawako Kuronuma has been dubbed Sadako (as in, the girl in the well from The Ring) and shunned by her high school classmates. In reality, Sawako is a sweet girl who simply wants to make friends, though her shyness makes it difficult. When popular boy Shota Kazehaya begins to talk to her, Sawako’s world opens up as she learns to communicate and build relationships — not just her romance with Shota, but also lovely friendships with other girls at school.
Horimiya by Hero and Daisuke Hagiwara
At school, Kyoko Hori is very popular, known for being both smart and attractive. In contrast, her classmate Izumi Miyamura is seen as a gloomy otaku and loner. Outside of school, however, both are completely different: Kyoko is a homebody who devotes all her time to taking care of her younger brother, and Izumi is a pierced, tattooed, stylish guy. When a chance encounter leads the two to discover each other’s true identities, they agree to keep what they know secret from everyone else at school.
Kaguya-sama: Love Is War by Aka Akasaka
Miyuki Shirogane and Kaguya Shinomiya are the president and vice president, respectively, of the student council at the prestigious Shuchiin Academy. Though the two have developed feelings for each other, pride prevents them both from confessing to each other. Thus begins an ongoing battle between two geniuses, with Miyuki and Kaguya coming up with scheme after scheme trying to get the other to confess first.
How Do We Relationship? by Tamifull
Despite not having much in common, university students Miwa and Saeko decide to start a romance of convenience, because it’s tough finding other queer women to date. Despite the challenges — clashing personalities, misunderstandings, and their respective baggage — the two women work together to navigate and build their relationship, slowly discovering they might have something real.
Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya
One of the best-selling josei manga in history, Nodame Cantabile follows the lives of university students studying classical music. When Shinichi Chiaki, an arrogant perfectionist and aspiring conductor, meets Megumi Noda (or “Nodame”), a carefree and eccentric pianist, he first finds her infuriating while she falls for him quickly. As they spend more time together, though, these opposites grow together in their relationship while also pushing each other to be their best as musicians.
Blue Flag by KAITO
Taichi and Futaba, two students in their third and final year of high school, begin spending time with each other after Futaba reveals to Taichi that she has a crush on his friend Toma, the star athlete, and asks for his help. Things get complicated though, as Taichi begins to develop feelings for Futaba. To make things even more convoluted, Toma has a crush on Taichi, and Futaba’s best friend Masumi has a crush on her! As messy as such a love quadrangle might sound, the story is actually a quiet, thoughtful romance that handles the teen angst with great sympathy and sincerity.
A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori
All the other manga in this list are contemporary, so here’s a historical pick to mix things up! A Bride’s Story is set in a rural, Central Asian town located along the Silk Road during the 19th century. A young woman, Amir, has come from a distant village in the mountains to marry the much younger Karluk. Though the series is primarily about the development of Amir and Karluk’s relationship, it also visits the everyday lives of other young women in the village and their relationships with their own fiancés and husbands.
My Love Mix-Up! by Wataru Hinekure and Aruko
Aoki has a crush on Hashimoto, the girl who sits next to him in class. One day, he discovers that she has a crush on Ida, the guy who sits in front of him, when he borrows her eraser and finds she’d written Ida’s name with a heart on it. To make things even messier, Ida sees Aoki with the eraser and thinks he has a crush on him! But thanks to this mix-up, the two high school boys begin to pay more attention to each other and develop real feelings. This sweet manga follows Aoki, Ida, and their friends as they navigate high school life, friendship, and young love. (And there is a recent drama adaptation that I am obsessed with, which can be found streaming on the service Viki.)
Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku by Fujita
Narumi is a fujoshi who has had bad dating experiences in the past due to boyfriends finding out about her interests, and now tries to hide her otaku identity at all costs. One day, she runs into her childhood friend Hirotaka, discovering they are now coworkers. Hirotaka is a game otaku himself, so the two decide to date each other out of convenience. This manga is a fun, feel-good romance and love letter to otaku culture.
What Did You Eat Yesterday? by Fumi Yoshinaga
Okay, okay, so this isn’t quite a romance per se, since the main characters are already an established couple and the story doesn’t exactly focus on relationship development, but hear me out! Shiro and Kenji are a middle aged gay couple who live together in Tokyo. Each chapter follows the men as they encounter various scenarios in their work or home lives, as well as features Shiro preparing exquisite meals for himself and Kenji (there are even recipes included between chapters!). Though you won’t necessarily be getting the angst or swoons typical of the romance genre, I did want to include it for its portrayal of a queer relationship. The manga has been lauded for its accurate representation of gay life in Japan as well as for how it confronts issues of LGBTQ+ rights in Japan while maintaining a relaxed tone.