I bought the first volume of Hikaru no Go at the mall the other day (DAMN you, rageprufrock).
Yes, it's about twelve-year-olds. Yes, they play Go. No, there is no reason for this to be the best manga ever.
And yet somehow...it completely is.
The story in brief is that Hikaru Shindou, a sixth grader, finds a Go board in his Grandfather's attic that is haunted by the ghost Sai, a court Go player from hundreds of years ago. After Sai pleads and sobs, Hikaru agrees to play Go, even though he's never done it before. Hikaru's antics get him kicked out of his Go class, and he ends up at a Go salon, where he meets another kid his age, Akira Touya. The difference is that Akira has been training his whole life to follow in his father's professional Go footsteps, and he does not take it well at all when Hikaru, at Sai's direction, beats the pants off him.
For one thing, the art has a very clean, uncluttered look that I don't have any trouble following. A lot of time action stuff, like Saiyuki, gets to be too much, too confusing, and i can't tell who is doing what. Now granted, Go is not action-packed, but i don't feel like Takeshi Obata is trying to jam ten minutes of TV ass-kicking into three panels.
For another, Hikaru Shindou is the cutest. kid. evar. I had to keep rereading pages because i would interrupt myself squealing about the cute. When sociofemme came home, all i did was hand the book over the table and wait for the squee. He's such a perfect little sixth grader, just plowing on ahead by brute force, ghost or not. He talks a good game, but he's really a soft touch, even trying to make Sai happy.
And for a third thing, you just want to hug poor Touya, because he just has no idea wtf is going on. One minute he was the best thing ever, and the next some kid with highlights who can't even hold a Go stone is giving him a teaching game? There's one panel right after Hikaru beats him a second time where he lays his forehead down on the table, his world clearly crumbling all around him, and your heart just breaks for him and his short pants.
I did comment to ellen that one might wish that Sai was little less...squealing pre-adolescent girl. But Ellen says that I may be asking too much of the Japanese as a people.