WARNING! Can possibly contain SPOILERS!
I recently finished reading this yuri manga, "Girl Friends". And I have to say it pleasantly surprised me.
As you may see in my "favorite genres" section on Anime-Planet, I'm a big fan of yuri and shoujo-ai. This manga caught my interest not only because of the title but also because of the character designs. It seemed nice enough so I decided to give it a try but I didn't expect much.
At first, it seemed like I was right. Roughly the first half of manga focuses on one of the protagonists, Mari who never really had any friends and so she is very confused when Akko, the second protagonist, approaches her one day and tries to be friend with her. Mari is slowly getting to know the other girls and making more friends but she spends most of her time with Akko. At first, she thinks that they are just best friends but later she starts thinking about Akko being more than just a friend. One day, when Akko invited Mari over, they drank a little and Akko passed out due to her low tolerance to alcohol. Mari, without thinking much, kisses sleeping Akko and later freaks out when she realizes what she has done. This leads to a conflict between the two friends as Mari is too embarassed to look Akko in the face. However, when she confesses to Akko what she has done, Akko dismisses it, saying that friends kiss all the time, it's nothing serious. This only serves to confuse Mari even more and start doubting if she really is in love with Akko. She tries to go out with a guy from her elementary school and Akko helps her to get some make up for her date. However, Mari emotionally breaks, stating that her love cannot ever be fulfilled. Akko is confused by Mari's outbreak and tries to consolidate her by saying she would fall madly in love with her if she were a guy. Mari doesn't hold out and forcefully kisses Akko. She then runs out without saying a word as Akko ponders if she got her friend's feelings figured wrong.
From now on, the manga shifts from Mari's point of view to Akko's. Mari starts to avoid her and Akko wonders about Mari's true feelings for her as well as about her own feelings for Mari. However, later on, Mari shows up, saying that she only joked and didn't mean it seriously. She is still going out with her boyfriend. Akko is disappointed by hearing this but isn't sure why. Finally, she comes to a conclusion that she is actually in love with Mari. When Mari breaks up with her boyfriend, she takes her to karaoke to cheer up. There, Mari apologizes for lying to Akko about lying that her confession at Akko's house was just a joke. Akko realizes this is her chance and kisses Mari to show her that she feels the same way.
Akko is finally happy, knowing that she was able to finally acknowledge her feelings for Mari and even rejects a potential boyfriend, stating that she is already going out with someone (that someone being Mari). However, Mari acts like nothing happened and ignores Akko's affectionate behavior. This confuses Akko who starts to think that Mari actually isn't in love with her anymore and that she was too late to convey her feelings for Mari. However, it turns out that Mari simply thought that Akko kissed her only as a friend and didn't think Akko really loved her. Fortunately, they realized their feelings for each other.
The last few chapters are pretty light-hearted, dealing with Mari helping her old friend from elementary school for a date with a boyfriend and Akko getting jealous. Akko thinks that if she doesn't act quick enough, she will lose Mari so she starts looking up internet porn to get inspiration on what to do with Mari. Later, Akko decides on the last moment to go to different school than Mari after they graduate and Mari feels betrayed. Mari tries to solve the problem by going to the same school as Akko but realizes that it would be pointless. They eventually accept that they won't be on the same school and promise that they will join their future and live together forever.
At beginning, this manga seemed kinda dry and was more like a slice-of-life than yuri, things got much, much better after Mari kisses Akko. Unlike many mangas of the same genre, it manages to go from uncertain feelings to love while most other works are always stuck with the girls being unsure about their feelings and it doesn't really resolve. But not in "Girl Friends".
The design of the girls was awesome, really enjoyable and what especially caught my attention was the physical development of characters. We see the protagonists and their friend in a span of several years and they do change a little bit in just a year or so. What I mean is that while in other works the characters have always the exact same look, unless there's a time skip. In "Girl Friends" the characters' appearance changes slowly, naturally and fluidly. I didn't really notice the change before I started reading it again from the beginning after finishing it.
To sum it up, "Girl Friends" is one of the best mangas I've ever read. It gets the pacing right, it gets the character designs right, it gets the story substance right and it just never feels that something could have been done better. The story can be a bit boring in the beginning but it soon changes into absolute awesomeness. Certainly worth reading if you just slightly like Yuri or Shoujo-ai.