He was the hottest thing in school until she showed up. Somehow more handsome and manly than Haruma Ichinose, Yuki Mogami is the perfect prince. At first Haruma's upset at having his life of perfect handsomeness derailed by a girl, but before too long, he's madly crushing on her while fervently denying that any such thing is going on. This may not sound like a particularly innovative set up for a romantic comedy – especially if you've read Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, but by god, does Saisou make it work.
This sort of light romantic comedy is deceptively difficult to pull off. It relies on us being able to sympathize with the protagonist(s) while also finding their situation absolutely ridiculous, and that's a tough balancing act to pull off. Add in the shorter page count involved in this book as a whole (it's a scant 130-odd pages) and creator Saisou really has their work cut out for them. Fortunately for us, they're good at walking the fine line between romance and comedy in the various situations Yuki and Haruma find themselves in, while also being very clearly aware of the tropes of romantic comedy as a genre. While not every joke sticks the landing, there are more touchdowns than stumbles.
In large part this is because the contortions that Haruma puts himself through in his attempts to woo Yuki (without looking like that's what he's doing) are astounding. He follows some of the basic conventions of the genre by strictly insisting that he doesn't feel anything but rivalry for her, and this leads to him pulling off such tsundere classics as pretending not to want the muffins she made in home ec and the whole unfortunate love letter episode. He is, of course, only fooling himself – his best friend Miyamo watches over him with a slightly jaundiced eye, alternately ribbing Haruma and attempting to sabotage him gently. This takes the form you might expect, and it's impressive that none of his machinations (or those of Yuki's childhood friend) come off as mean. It's more like they're operating on the idea that if Haruma can't admit to himself (or them) how he really feels, why should they do anything but take him at his ludicrous word?
Yuki herself puts on a good show of being oblivious. In fact, she might BE oblivious, because one very self-aware chapter makes it clear that her life has been blessed (or cursed) by the shoujo manga gods, and that's rubbing off on Haruma a bit, too. We don't get to spend much time in her head, with the story being primarily told from Haruma's point of view, so it is a little difficult to ascertain if she's got a crush on him as well. As of this volume, I might not put money on that, but again, that could simply be how Haruma sees her in her ridiculously shoujofied life. In a lot of ways, Yuki's current feelings are less important to the humor of the story than the fact that Haruma sees her as equal parts the girl he likes and a walking manga cliché. (I anticipate that that will change going forward.) A piece of him struggles to believe that the handsome girl prince trope is actually happening before his eyes, and there's the sense that part of the reason he can't admit to anyone, including himself, that he likes her is because the whole situation is so weirdly unreal.
That is definitely something that the story leans into. All of the classics of the teenage rom-com manga are present (or at least a lot of them), and even when Haruma doesn't notice that they're happening, we absolutely do. From lampooning the hot-childhood-friend-becomes-your-teacher trope to having the class put on a gender-swapped "Cinderella," She's My Knight plays all the hits with a deft enough touch that it doesn't feel like lame comedy or a retread. The characters whole-heartedly embrace the fact that they're in a romantic comedy, especially the hot-childhood-friend-turned-teacher, who is clearly living his teenage manga dreams as the annoying side character/rival. Haruma alternates between wanting to escape the lunacy of his own story and leaning into it as staples like the horror movie date and getting locked in the gym storage room come out to play. If you can't guess what the one thing Yuki turns out to be afraid of is, I will be surprised, especially given that last trope I mentioned.
She's My Knight approaches its storyline with just the right touch. It isn't anything we haven't seen before, but it's also fully aware of that fact, and it takes great joy in using the oldest, hoariest standards of its genre and letting you know that it knows what it's doing. It balances visual gags – such as Haruma always picturing himself as taller than Yuki in his fantasies even though the opposite is true – with self-aware humor and other jokes nicely, and the art is attractive in a standard sort of way. That there's nothing ground-breaking even about the way the characters are drawn somehow adds to the self-aware qualities of the story, because it feels like even the art is pointing out how very manga-like the situations are – and, of course, it is a manga, which adds a layer to the proceedings. This isn't the book to pick up if you're looking for something brand new in the romantic comedy line, but if you know the tropes and tricks of the genre and enjoy seeing them parodied, this digital-only (as of this writing) release is absolutely worth checking out.