Series Name: Haikyuu!! (High Kyuu!!)
Year of Serialization: Feb 2012
Author(s): Furudate Haruichi
Artist(s): Furudate Haruichi
Genre(s): Sports, Shounen, School, Comedy, Drama
Current Status: Ongoing
Moment of Reviewing: Chapter 22
Other Formats: Anime (Spring 2014)
A chance event triggered Shouyou Hinata's love for volleyball. His club had no members, but somehow persevered and finally made it into its very first and final regular match of middle school, where it was steamrolled by Tobio Kageyama, a superstar player known as "King of the Court." Vowing revenge, Hinata applied to the Karasuno High School volleyball club... only to come face-to-face with his hated rival, Kageyama!
(Source: Shonen Jump)
I was referred to read Haikyuu from a friend who has high hopes of it from a sports manga. It's not wrong to compare it to others like Kuroko's Basketball or Eyeshield 21 (both quality manga which I recommend) but the main difference here is the sport itself being Volleyball. It's not different as in the sport itself, but the popularity of the sport which is hard to find a sport which people know of vaguely but not enough so that the reader can still learn about it. Other such sports manga like Captain Tsubasa (soccer), Prince of Tennis (tennis) and so on are all popular sports which people actually do try to take out the time to watch on TV or have large tournaments and such which lead to viewers. Volleyball on the other hand is really only something you watch on special occasions such as the Olympics. Still, I think the idea of taking a not-so-popular sport, but one which is known enough to intrigue the reader is a hard feat but enough to keep them entertained with action.
Another thing I'd like to add is that Haikyuu will have non-sporty moments, which give a similar vibe to such sports mangas like Ookiku Furikabutte, so keep that in mind that it isn't all just training and playing.
The story is a simple one: Hinata Shouyou is a young kid who was inspired by a television event of Volleyball where this player, labeled the "Small Giant" sparks his interest in wanting to play the sport for himself, due to having the same similarity of being short. This inspiration draws him to play volleyball, trying to practice as much as other people and wanting to participate in his middle school tournament. It's here where he meets the rival character of the series, Kageyama Tobio who's a proclaimed "King of the Court" for his strong command over his team (for better or worse). Wanting to be able to beat Kageyama one day, Hinata goes to Karasuno High, which has its own volleyball team, only to find out that his intended rival, Kageyama also attends the same school.
So the plot is a little simple, and is very similar to other sports mangas which have the same type of character: inspired to play a certain sport from someone who's good at it, and then some sort of story is set in stone from there. It's very cliched to the point of me thinking of the characters have been done before, but hey, you can't exactly create completely unique characters from the beginning, but don't let that turn you off from it. Haikyuu's plot might not be it's strong point but it has some nice characters aside from the main character, and doesn't focus purely on volleyball itself, but the relationships with other characters (what I meant when you get similar vibes if you've read Ookiku Furikabutte).
Onto characters, there's Hinata Shouyou who's the main protagonist of the series, a typical "never give up" type of character, like many characters from shounen who just don't want to give up. He refuses to give up from the inspiration that the Small Giant gave him and has an strange affinity to jump incredibly high. A simple character, but has his quirks which make him interesting enough to keep reading. His rival, Kageyama Tobio is another very common character in shounen, the type who's arrogant and just wants to win and never relies on anyone but himself, which should be like that considering he's dubbed "King of the Court". These two characters being the main two have a heated rivalry and generally act like cats and dogs together. Personally I think the two have a relationship similar to Naruto and Sasuke, or Kagami and Aomine (to compare with another sports manga), a very heated thing where the arrogant believes he can do it on his own, but the other one wants to prove their worth to them, earning their respect (something Hinata does to Kageyama fairly early).
Of course there are other like-minded characters which you can relate to: the senpais of Hinata and Kageyama who have been in the volleyball club for a lot longer than them are all very relatable. Whether its Tanaka, the hot-headed guy who gets really competitive when in a game, or Sawamura with his rather intimidating personality in game but outside of the game is calm, there's a relatable character for everyone to love.
Art style for the manga is probably what intrigued me the most about Haikyuu. It's not exactly a common style of manga drawing you see from Furudate Haruichi, and it's rather hard to describe. The best way for myself to describe his art style is that the people in particular look rather perverse and feel a lot different from what you'd usually see manga drawn like. Nonetheless it works well for him and this manga in particular, just like any other series with a questionable art style like One Piece. Mostly, Furudate's work is either something you'll either love and be completely captivated by it, or something you'll hate and is repulsive to you.
Because this is a sports manga, one thing I feel should be done in this particular genre is how well they teach the reader about the sport in question. Naturally when reading a sports manga and you have no knowledge of the sport, it would be nice to learn about it from time to time instead of not knowing anything about it when you're so far into it. I believe Furudate does a very good job of this when writing Haikyuu. Volleyball isn't something that a lot of people really know about, so I found it refreshing to learn about Volleyball as a sport and how its played, which isn't something I got when I was watching other sports manga like Kuroko's Basketball (I heard the manga is better at this). You learn right from the beginning of the main positions and roles: the setter (Kageyama) who sets up the plays for the spiker (Hinata), the rotations players make in accordance to the game itself and the scoring system (which I felt could be explained better). It's not a perfect way of describing the sport of volleyball, but it gets the message across quite well to readers new to the sport.
In the end, I'm not too far into Haikyuu so far (there are 87~ chapters so far) but the character development is great, especially for Kageyama who started out as an arrogant player and is an enjoyable read. Compared to other sports manga based on popular sports to Haikyuu, I think it's worth giving it a few chapters to get used to the characters and see how the gameplay works. If you're not a fan of the manga, an anime adaptation is scheduled for Spring 2014 if you'd rather watch that.