Title: Noragami: Stray God
US Publisher: Kodansha
Status: Ongoing (Print & Digital) Currently at 24 Volumes.
Age Relevance: Middle School and Up.
How Essential Is It?: Nice to Have
Curricular Connections?: Best for independent reading.
Reader’s Advisory Tags: Supernatural, made into an anime, long running series, comedy, Japanese culture.
Content Warnings: Mild language, use of an ableist slur, some drinking, supernatural violence, discussions of death, suicide, self harm.
Publisher Synopsis: Yato is a homeless god. He doesn’t even have a shrine, not to mention worshippers! So to achieve his ambitious goals, he’s set up a service to help those in need (for a small fee), hoping he’ll eventually raise enough money to build himself the lavish temple of his dreams. Of course, he can’t afford to be picky, so Yato accepts all kinds of jobs, from finding lost kittens to helping a student overcome bullies at school.
Noragami: Stray God is an older series that at some points shows its age in terms of tropes, language, and visuals, but is ultimately a perfectly fine shonen supernatural action series with engaging illustrations. While it’s not necessarily ground-breaking, there are some high points, and it would be a solid addition to a secondary library looking to expand its offerings.
The first chapter introduces us to the series protagonist, Yato, by way of a young girl who is being bullied by her classmates. This first chapter is actually a strong argument for including this series in the school library- the series artfully weaves a thread between otherworldly spirits being a root of negativity and humans having personal responsibility for their behavior. One of the things a good supernatural manga does is that it doesn’t wipe away a person’s self or responsibility to others. xxxHolic is probably the best example of this, but Noragami also does a good job. When the supernatural threat is gone, the charcter still needs to learn to grow internally. From an SEL point of view, this makes for great modeling and an entryway to discussion with students about external and internal struggles.
The rest of the first volume proceeds to deal with how Yato, a wandering god with no shrine or worshippers, becomes associated with the other two main characters: Hiyori and Yukine. While helping a young boy find his lost cat, Yato dashes in front of a bus, and Hiyori, a teenage girl with a secret passion for boxing, thinks she needs to save him. This results in Hiyori becoming separated from her body on a regular basis.
This separation is indicative of Hiyori being in an “in-between” state. It becomes more and more of a problem for her, and she insists that Yato help her. The levels of Yato’s helpfulness are fairly low, as he’s somewhat self absorbed and unreliable.
The volume ends with the pair encountering the spirit of a teenage boy, who becomes Yato’s shinki, a pure spirit that can take the form of a weapon. Ultimately, the trio have a rough start, setting the stage for further adventures.
Ultimately, it’s a fine manga, and there’s certainly an audience for it. The illustrations are interesting, and there’s an interesting dynamic among the three protagonists who all need each other to some extent, but also do not quite get along.
One thing I should point out is that this is rated 16+, and that’s because Yato drinks beer.
There’s also a line where an ableist slur is used, which wouldn’t generally get used in a current translation. I was actually surprised it was there- it certainly is a dated way to translate something. That said, it could be missed quite easily because it’s in a gag throwaway panel.
Otherwise, my recommendation is that if this fits your collection development policy and you’ve received enough requests for it, this series is probably a good fit for secondary libraries and public library collections. If your students or patrons like xxxHolic, Blue Exorcist, or In/Spectre, this is a good readalike. If you’re looking for a more romantic take on this sort of story, go for Kamisama Kiss!