This is a fascinating manga series by Kozue Amano that combines sci-fi, fantasy, and slice of life. The series takes place in the future, when Mars has been terraformed and renamed Aqua (because of all the water on its surface). The human colonies on Aqua are designed to resemble cities on Earth (called Manhome here). The people of Aqua prefer a much slower pace of life than people on Manhome, and aspects of life on Aqua more closely resemble Earth’s past.
A young girl, Akari, comes to Aqua to learn to become a gondolier in the city of Neo Venezia, which resembles Venice. Female gondoliers, called Undines, give tours of the city, giving Akari plenty of time to admire the beauty of her new home and meet interesting people.
There are two parts to this series, called Aqua and Aria. The two Aqua books are the prequel to the main series, Aria. Aqua is only two volumes long, and it covers Akari’s arrival on the planet, her introduction to life on Aqua, and the people who will be her friends. In Aria, Akari progresses in her training as an Undine, eventually taking charge of the small gondolier company she joined when her mentor, Alicia, leaves to take a new job and get married. Each volume contains a few short slice-of-life stories about Akari and her friends and the little adventures they have on a daily basis and the life lessons they learn.
The series has received some criticism for being slow and lacking danger and adventure, but that is not really the point of the series. The main purpose is to show people how to appreciate the small pleasures of life. The sci-fi and fantasy elements (the spaceships, advanced environmental controls, intelligent Martian cats, and even the occasional appearances of the legendary Cait Sith) are mainly background to the stories about the magic of friendship and simple pleasures. It’s a great series for relaxing when you’re stressed out, and it makes nice bedtime reading. There are some picturesque ideas in the books that can be nice to imagine when you’re trying to fall asleep, peaceful but fascinating, like the way that the shuttle’s walls turn transparent when Akari arrives on Aqua, making the passengers feel like they’re flying in with the seagulls, and later, there is a mansion that has been turned into a bath house, with water flowing through the rooms and ruined areas of the house.
Not all of the books have been published in English yet, but the series is in the process of being reprinted with color images as Aria: The Masterpiece. Since not all of the books are available in English, you can read the summaries of the rest of the series on Wikipedia. Eventually, at the end of the series, Akari becomes a full Undine and takes over the running of Aria Company when Alicia leaves to get married and take a new job at the Gondola Association. In the very last story, Akari acquires a trainee of her own to mentor, and there are hints of a possible romance between her and Akatsuki, who had previously had a crush on Alicia.
The series has also been made into an anime, although the parts that I’ve seen deviate from the books in some ways. One of the running elements through both the books and the anime is that Akari often writes letters to someone about her life on Aqua, her friends, and the beauties and wonders that she discovers in her new city. For most of the books, you don’t know who she’s writing to, and it’s a surprise when you find out, part of the fantasy element of the stories. In the anime, this element is more straight-forward, and role of the recipient is given to another character, the girl who eventually becomes Akari’s trainee.
Books in the Series
Akari arrives on Aqua in Spring.
Akari’s first summer on Aqua.
Akari’s first autumn on Aqua.
Akari’s first winter on Aqua
Akari has been on Aqua for a full year, and it’s spring again. Akari meets some new friends and learns more about the history of some of the friends she already has.
Akari spends her second summer on Aqua and makes some new friends, including the founder of Aria Company.
The girls’ training progresses, and Akari meets Alice’s mentor, Athena.
Once again, winter comes to Neo Venezia. Akari learns more about her mentor’s trainee days and has a glimpse of her own future and that of her friends. Akari has more magical experiences, and Alice finds a new president/mascot for Orange Company.