Natsume is an orphan who sees spirits called yokai. In Japanese folklore, Yokai are a class of monsters that are mostly portrayed as humans, but can shape shift into other forms. In Book of Friends, they are interchangeable as demons or spirits.
Not only can Natsume see them, but he has been tortured by them all his life. One day, Natsume meets a demon named Nyanko who is trapped in a lucky cat statue. Nyanko can also change into his natural form which is a giant cat three times the size of Natsume. It’s pretty scary when he stands over Natsume while he sleeps, wondering if he should eat him. Gives new meaning to waking up with a cat on your chest!
Nyanko tells Natsume his grandmother used to play games with demons. She saw the supernatural too and for reasons he is yet to understand, she locked hundreds of demon promises in a book called the Book of Friends. Whoever owns the book may call the demons and they have to obey their orders. Nyanko follows Natsume and kind of helps him because he wants the book himself to control demons. Natsume tells Nyanko he can have the book when he dies.
Just like any good hero, poor Natsume doesn’t want to own demons. He just wants to get rid of them so they stop trying to kill him. By calling the demon’s name, stuffing the paper with their name on it in his mouth and clapping, the demon promise is released from the book and therefore, the spirit is free to live their life without fear. However, if Natsume tears, burns, or in any other way destroys the page with their name on it, the demon will tear, burn, or die in whatever means the paper did.
During Natsume’s quest to free the demons, he meets many different, strange spirits. They remind me of the minister creature at Beetlejuice’s wedding. One spirit he meets (and eventually frees) is Tsuyukami, the God of Dew. Once worshipped by many, he has only one worshipper left, an old lady with little time to live. As his worshipper’s dwindle, Tsuyukami gets shorter and smaller until he is now just the size of Snap, Crackle, and Pop. He peeks around Natsume’s bowl one morning and asks him to be free.
Each spirit is different and I enjoyed finding out who Natsume will meet next! Some are sweet, like the one who used to be a swallow bird, and just wants to see the man who picked her off the pavement and put her back in her nest, but others are horrifying. This is a fun read for anyone into demons or spirits.
This manga is available at Amazon, for Kindle or print.