When it comes to manga based on light novels it’s unusual to find any that aren’t rooted in the isekai genre. However things are starting to change for the better there and an early indicator is the new series The Apothecary Diaries, a new manga from Square Enix Manga based on a popular light novel series.
The story follows Maomao, a young woman who is trained as an apothecary but is working as a servant in the inner court of the imperial palace (a place where the emperor’s consorts and servants live) after being kidnapped from her home. Maomao lives her days peacefully, going about her duties, that is until she finds herself solving the mystery behind some of the consorts and their offspring falling ill.
Afterwards, she’s picked up by the head eunuch, Jinshi, who has noticed Maomao’s abilities with medicine and feels she would be better suited to working as a food taster under the Emperor’s favourite consort. Maomao isn’t thrilled to be in a higher paying position with more of her pay going back to the kidnappers, but quickly changes her tune when she realises the position means she has more free time to practise medicine again!
Jinshi hasn’t just brought Maomao on-board as a food taster though, he’s also noticed how intelligent she is and is prepared to make full use of her abilities to help solve any mysteries that pop up around the inner palace. If nothing else Maomao certainly won’t have a quiet day now!
The Apothecary Diaries is a down-to-earth and fascinating series. Like Ascendance of a Bookworm, your enjoyment of the manga will come from seeing the world-building and watching Maomao’s wacky antics. She’s certainly smart with vast knowledge when it comes to herbal medicine, but she’s also a child and can be stubborn in pursuit of what she wants.
Maomao and Jinshi play off one another well. Maomao is trying to hide her inner thoughts from Jinshi to not get wrapped up in anything troubling but, unbeknownst to her, Jinshi can already see right through her. He’s also fascinated by the fact she doesn’t find him attractive, given that all of the other women around him are held captivated by his pretty features. And if nothing else, Jinshi is one of the few people that can keep Maomao in line and bring her back when she’s lost in her experiments.
I am partial to mystery stories and coupled with a great protagonist The Apothecary Diaries certainly delivers. Because a lot of Volume 1 is setting up the story, we only get to see Maomao tackle a couple of cases, the initial set-up involving the consorts and their children falling ill and then one about a ghost. That said, both tales are interesting enough where you’re going to want to see more in the future, which is good!
Earlier I mentioned that The Apothecary Diaries is based on a light novel series and you can read that in English thanks to J-Novel Club, who have just started releasing Volume 1 on their website. Having read the light novel I think it’s worth checking out, but the manga has proven a great adaptation.
The manga has been handled by Nekokurage, who does a fantastic job of bringing this world to life. Characters and backgrounds are very detailed, especially when it comes to clothes and jewellery. Although the series is quite a dialogue-heavy one, Nekokurage manages to fit the quite large speech bubbles in among their artwork well. While we don’t get to see Maomao’s inner thoughts as much as we do in the light novel, the mangaka gives us a good sense of her thoughts and feelings through the artwork which more than makes up for losing some of the inner monologues.
As previously mentioned The Apothecary Diaries manga comes to the West thanks to Square Enix Manga and has been translated by Julie Goniwich. The translation reads well with no issues to speak of. The series is on-going in Japan at 7 Volumes and Square Enix have Volume 2 scheduled for release in February 2021.
Overall, The Apothecary Diaries proves to be a delightful read for fans of mystery series and those looking for something a bit different, especially if you like stories like Ascendance of a Bookworm. Accompanied by some detailed artwork, this is a must-read even for existing fans of the light novel series!
A free preview of Volume 1 can be found on the publisher’s website here.