In a quiet, rustic kingdom where magic is accepted as a fact of life, Coco longs to become a witch, but everyone knows that only people born with special talent can wield magic. So she works at her mother’s out of the way tailor shop until she stumbles upon the truth: anyone can use magic with the right knowledge, and witches have been concealing this from the populace to prevent the all-out magical wars of old. In no time, Coco is off to the magical atelier of handsome male witch Qifrey, learning spells alongside his apprentices while Qifrey searches for the forbidden book that helped Coco unlock the most closely guarded secret in their world.
“You can’t know what you’re going to be until you grow up, right?” reasons the opening page of Witch Hat Atelier. “So what about witches? Is it the same for them?” The egalitarian idea that anyone—with a little help and a lot of practice—can become a witch is irresistible to any reader who’s ever dreamed of getting an invitation to Hogwarts. Magic spells are cast by drawing patterns in pen and ink, suggesting that art—the kind of art that produced this very manga!—is magical. The apprentice witches proudly show off their ink-stained fingers like comic artists after a long day of inking pages. Coco is delighted to join this appealing magical order, even after she’s subjected to dangerous magical trials and the disapproval of her resentful new roommate, Agott. In the background, there are suggestions that witch society, creating enchanted technology for the masses while hoarding magical power, has a dark side that the chipper Coco doesn’t yet suspect.
The clever, enjoyable story benefits from stunning artwork. The delicately inked pages have the look of old-fashioned storybook illustration, filled with ornate embellishments and careful renderings of the witches’ cottages, workshops, tools, spells, and inventions. The imaginative settings range from Ghibli-like pastoral scenes to expansive, dreamlike fantasy landscapes. Witch Hat Atelier is an enchanting manga, as engaging to read as it is lovely to look at. Recommended.
story and art: Kamome Shirahama