Hana-Kimi is short for Hanazakari no Kimitachi e, which translates to “For You in Full Blossom“. But obviously even the Japanese people think that’s a bit of a mouthful, hence the abbreviation.
The story follows Ashiya Mizuki, a Japanese-American girl who idolizes a Japanese track and field star named Sano Izumi. When she discovers that he’s given up the high jump, she wants to discover why and to try to convince him to take it up again. She convinces her parents to let her go to Japan and attend the same high school. But Ohsaka Academy is an all-boys school, a fact that Mizuki somehow manages to hide from her parents (I guess this was before the internet?). So she cuts off her long hair, buys a tight vest to hide her A-cups, and, of course, because this is a genderswapping shoujo manga full of hijinks, discovers upon arriving that she’s been assigned to the same dorm room as Sano himself.
This manga has the potential to be hella stalkery and creepy, but it has just the right balance of naivete, romantic tension, charm, and comedy to be awesome instead.
The cast of characters is really what makes it work. The plot is pretty standard: hot springs trip, accidental drunk smooching, beach vacation, school sports festivals, double genderbending at school dances, etc. But the characters are hilarious and well developed and just wonderful. There’s Sano’s friend Nakatsu, who finds himself crushing on Mizuki and has to come to terms with the fact that he’s apparently gay. There’re the dorm heads: the sports nut, the drama nut, and the ladies’ man. There’s Nakao, the cute gay boy who has a sad crush on said ladies’ man dorm head. There’s Mizuki’s headstrong American best friend Julia, and the hilarious, snarky, amazing school doctor, Umeda. He is gay in the manga, but… straight-washed? in the drama, which was annoying.
Hana-Kimi was one of the first manga I ever read, and it’s really just adorable and romantic and, although it’s got its problems and problematic issues (especially in regards to homosexuality), but it’s no worse than any other manga or anime is in that regard. If you’re looking for a cute story that’ll take you a while to get through (the manga is 22 volumes long) I definitely recommend it.