Equal parts wondrous and heartwarming, Magus of the Library is a manga with a positive outlook on the world, drawing out the inner beauty in people and the power of the written word. In the world of Magus, the invention of the printing press has just begun to make waves throughout society. Although books are becoming more affordable for common people, few possess the ability to read. Public libraries aren’t seeing much use except from children who have grown enamored of the heroics of the fictional pirate Shagrazzat.
One of those children, a boy from the slums named Theo, is in love with reading, but his poor upbringing and appearance make him unwelcome in his village. He does his best to keep his chin up, but he can’t help but wish for a hero out of a story to come and take him away on an adventure. Such an opportunity appears with the arrival of four kafna, librarians representing the central authority of Aftzaak, a city renowned for its library containing a vast collection of the world’s literature.
Magus offers plenty of lore to chew on as it builds its world, but Mitsu Izumi eases readers in by introducing a simple case of a missing grimoire and building from there. Although the central moral is repeatedly “be good to people and people will be good to you,” the cast of distinctive characters gives the impression that a greater tale is building under the surface. The emergence of elemental powers and mythical creatures seems perfectly natural, as if the reality of books is beginning to spill over into Theo’s impoverished village life.
As much as I want to love Magus of the Library unconditionally, some readers may be rubbed the wrong way by the way the manga tackles discrimination. The artist has the best intentions, using the story to explore poverty and class divisions. Still, readers from Western countries are likely to have a difficult time seeing the fair-skinned, blond-haired Theo dealing with prejudice from the predominantly dark-skinned, vaguely Arabic populace. While I’m still on board to see where Izumi is going with this, I can’t make my recommendation without mentioning a major detail that might cause readers sensitive to racial issues to scratch their heads in confusion.
Magus of the Library is otherwise a fantastic manga, spinning a story informed by the history of written text, classic literature, and even some sly nods to modern manga greats like Fullmetal Alchemist. At the end of this first volume, our protagonist has only just taken his first step out into the greater world beyond his village, and I’m eager to see where the artist will take us next. Recommended.
story and art: Mitsu Izumi