This is one of my favorite manga series and one I was re-reading again just out of a desire to read something cheerful and warm-hearted. Silver Spoon is by the same author as Fullmetal Alchemist, her much more famous work. It follows Yuugo Hachiken, who decides to go to an agricultural high school in rural Hokkaido because he hit a plateau in mainstream academia and was pushing himself so hard to succeed that he’d lost all enjoyment in life. By going to Ooezo Agricultural High School, he thinks that he will easily be the best student and will also be able to live at the school dorms and stay away from his terrifying and overbearing father, who only wants academic success from him. At the beginning of the series, we meet Yuugo at the lowest point in his life, with a lot of internal hatred and shame towards himself for running away from his family and academic pressure.
But throughout the fifteen volumes, we get to see Yuugo’s life expand and his good-hearted nature (and inability to say no) win him a found family/friends who respect him and trust him. He’s able to find his footing and his purpose at school, and the story of inter-reliance and community is heart-warming. Arakawa is amazing at character design and in making the reader interested in Japanese agriculture. I learned a ton about the industry and the difficulties of making a living via agriculture in Japan. Arakawa comes from a farming family in Hokkaido and did a lot of research for this (she has short comics in the back detailing some of her research trips), so the realism is very apparent throughout. It will also definitely make you hungry when you’re reading! All of the characters have their own unique hopes and seeing them all become friends and bounce off each other is very satisfying, and there’s not a boring moment. She’s a great artist in general, but especially for facial expressions — and horses, which are notoriously hard to draw! She’s really a master at the height of her craft here, and her ability to craft a satisfying narrative for a large cast of characters is super satisfying to read, especially the lessons about self-esteem and learning that she imparts.
Warnings for: animal death, bad parental relations that in my opinion verge into emotional abuse