Heroic Adventures, “Boy’s Love”, and Cute Monsters?
By Weng Chi-An ∥ Translated by Roddy Flagg
Jan 16, 2024

(This article is originally published at Readmoo)

Take a team of intrepid adventurers, multiply by BL romance, add monsters both vicious and cute… it sounds like a formula for manga success. But what if that reliability brings its own risks. Perhaps the reader has just finished a similar work and will find the formula formulaic? Or maybe expectations continually ratchet up, meaning every story has to be bigger and better than the last?

Formulas for success are helpful, but come with their own problems. Particularly so now, when genres are constantly subverted and mashed-up and the “guaranteed bestseller” formula of last century is now little more than a distant legend. So how to move on? One route is disruptive innovation. Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, for example, switches up the point of view, defying the reader’s “natural” expectations. Another option is to stick to what you know, but know it better. Rather than churn out another formulaic tale, identify the essence of the formula, the variables that attract readers, and put those back at the heart of the story.

Gene’s The Shimmering Summoner takes the latter approach, and with great success.

The story’s protagonist, Robin, is a summoner. Magic runs in his family: his father is a skilled mage. Robin, though, is a magical weakling. He tries to conjure up warriors and monsters, but gets only random useless objects. But he is not the type to let a lack of ability stand in the way of ambition and still dreams of becoming a supernova-level summoner and defeating a Demonic Dragon. But with his skills lagging so far behind his hopes, Robin spends most of his time boasting of achievements yet to come, while sponging off Bao, his loyal childhood friend. Bao, by the way, is a boy who loves to wear dresses.

By a remarkable coincidence (or perhaps, given his failure rate, a statistical inevitability), Robin one day summons up Kai, a boy prince. Kai tricks Robin into visiting the Demonic Dragon’s castle and Robin, too proud to admit incompetence, fights the beast alongside Kai. It’s a one-sided fight, until Robin discovers his true powers. The dragon is defeated and Robin wins his supernova-level stripes. Victory reconciles Robin with his father and leads to a spark between him and Kai, who is now revealed to be no boy prince but a full-grown man prince.

Robin’s new status brings a steady flow of up-and-coming challengers. To escape, Robin teams up with Kai and Bao and the trio sets off on a quest. During their travels Kai’s secret and Bao’s past come to light, while romance blossoms between Robin and Kai. Ultimately, the three face their final challenge.

Gene’s characterizations reacquaint the reader with the essence of heroic manga: growing, moving past self-doubt, and finding yourself. True heroes don’t perform great feats, they self-affirm and self-accept. Those who accompany the heroes, meanwhile, lend more than skills with sword or staff. They provide friendship and support.

The Shimmering Summoner features rich world-building, vivid characters, a fun and flowing story, but not one ounce of filler. Visually, there is plenty of detail with no loss of pace, easy switching between action and internal drama, and a range of terrifying monsters and cute little creatures. All this creates the charm of The Shimmering Summoner – an impressive achievement made to appear easy.

Developing that ability has taken years. Gene is not professionally trained, but has built up over a decade of experience since she started producing self-published works in high school. She drew webtoons for Comico before beginning the hand-to-mouth existence of a young creative, publishing serials and entering competitions. In 2019, she took the Bronze Prize for manga in Japan’s MCPO Awards. In 2020 she walked away from the Kyoto International Manga Anime Awards with the Grand Prize in both the manga and illustration categories.

Perhaps Gene too has been on her own adventure and the dazzling The Shimmering Summoner is, like those prizes were, steps on that journey? We’re sure to be seeing more extraordinary tales from this supernova-level artist.