The Apothecary Diaries Review: Is It A Romance?

    The Apothecary Diaries feels like every Shojou stans dream. It's beautiful, engaging and getting an anime adaptation soon. But is The Apothecary Diaries truly a romance?

    I have a bone to pick with all of these manga with great female leads that almost always end up being exclusively a romance. But not with The Apothecary Diaries, which has a lot of potential for a romance, but still remains pretty true to its mystery roots. Now, considering that The Apothecary Diaries is soon getting its anime adaptation released, it’s been drumming up a lot of hype amongst those like me that enjoy female led manga, without them being the garden variety of flowery Shojou we’re so used to. 

    Despite its setting and some of the subplots in it, The Apothecary Diaries is not a romance. Or well, that’s not the main plot of the story. The Apothecary Diaries is, instead, a Seinen that revolves around mystery, political drama and maybe a hint of a love story, here and there. But yes, The Apothecary Diaries is less of a romance forward tale, and more of a historical mystery. But does that mean there is absolutely no romance whatsoever? Well, no, that isn’t true. 

    While Maomao is definitely an independent protagonist who doesn’t show any need for a love interest, that doesn’t mean she can’t connect with people around her. She’s socially awkward, yes, but that doesn’t make her oblivious. I mean, she grew up working in the Red-Light district, following her father in becoming a pharmacist herself. Geishas and workers around Maomao found her endearing and she learned plenty from their conversations. But safe to say, her scientific endeavors are more interesting to her than finding a Prince Charming

    Of course, it’s when you’re not looking for a love interest, that the world gives you one. But that’s one of the many aspects of The Apothecary Diaries that I genuinely enjoy. None of the relationships or plot developments feel inorganic. I wouldn’t call it a long winded romance, but a natural progression where our main heroine makes allies, simply by focusing on what she does best. So, if you’re in the mood for a well-rounded mystery that has great cast chemistry, here’s why The Apothecary Diaries is a good fit.

    The Plot: Local Weird Pharmacist Kidnapped And Sold To The Palace?

    Apothecary Diaries

    Look, Maomao didn’t ask for what’s happening to her. I mean, she grew up in the Pleasure District of her country, just minding her business and doing what she does best: Dispensing cures for ailments and maybe dabbling in some poison research from time to time. She was besties with all the geishas, and had a good head upon her shoulders, even with her obsession with ingesting lethal ingredients and trying to find antidotes for it. 

    So, when she was kidnapped from her relatively normal life and thrust into being a maidservant in the Royal Palace, well, it was better than being dead, right? Over here, she could survive, play her cards right and make it through. And so, Maomao lays low, doing what she can to just live through the day without letting her spirit break. Despite everything she has been through, it didn’t deter her curious nature, just making the best out of the situation she was in. But the real breakthrough happens when she is not only able to diagnose that the Emperor’s twins are sick, but also secretly help nurse them back to health using her intensive medical knowledge. But as much as she wanted to stay anonymous, the truth about her skills comes out and she finds herself being part of the Emperor’s Inner Court, thanks to the machinations of Jinshi, a Palace Eunuch whose influence grants him many advantages. 

    And Jinshi understands Maomao’s true value, even with her bizarre antics and almost insane thirst for knowledge. Jinshi sees a woman who might rise above the ranks, thanks to her uncanny ability to solve medical mysteries. Just one question though: Can Maomao truly survive the political landscape that is the Inner Court, simply by being her brilliant self? You bet!

    The Breakdown: Maomao Likes Solving Mysteries (By Ingesting Poison?!)

    Apothecary Diaries

    My Kingdom Come for a female lead that knows she is amazing! No, I’m serious. One of the first things that got me to pick up this series was the promise of a female protagonist that didn’t shy away from her own greatness. Maomao is only eccentric because she has full confidence in her intelligence and capabilities, which is a rare thing to find in the world of female led manga and anime. It’s just very refreshing to see. 

    But that doesn’t mean she’s the only reason to get into the series. The Apothecary Diaries prides itself on a strong lead, yes, but that’s all backed up by a cast made up of extremely memorable characters and a plot whose strengths lie in its storytelling. With all the maids, the consorts and even a bonafide harem, I expected a convoluted story with lots of character drama that really never went outside of the usual harem tropes we see. Instead, we get a nuanced take of Palace proceedings, historical mysteries that are intriguing and Maomao, who could care less what you think about her. 

    Though, it’s not like she’s perfect all the time. But I enjoy that Maomao isn’t a typical Mary Sue type character. She’s certainly intelligent, but there are cases where she stumbles upon the truth by chance, rather than getting there through her abilities. But it’s her curious nature that sells the story so well, elevating The Apothecary Diaries from a basic Palace Romance to a genuinely interesting Mystery. And she sees the beauty around her, which by the way? The art style here is impeccable. From the gorgeous imperial China setting, to the character designs, The Apothecary Diaries is as aesthetically pretty as it is engaging. 

    But what about the romance aspect? Well, while The Apothecary Diaries isn’t a romance, that doesn’t mean it has 0 romantic elements at all. With Jinshi, you could see his interest in Maomao evolve from mere curiosity to genuine care. It’s just that the romance isn’t the main focus, but an accessory that enriches the setting of the story, adding a little more magic to the mysteries of the Palace. 

    There is just so much to love here. The main meat of the story is the many medical anomalies that Maomao is called to fix, and her slow rise amongst the ranks. But in between, The Apothecary Diaries is loaded with character dynamics that add to its appeal, making sure there isn’t a real dull moment when you’re experiencing the story.

    The Verdict: The Apothecary Diaries Is A Seinen With An Elusive Romance Subplot!

    Apothecary Diaries

    Okay, yes. The Apothecary Diaries is extremely worth getting into, even if the romance here is pretty much in the background. To a diehard Shojou fan, that must feel like an anomaly. But I think even then, you should give it a try. We rarely get any Seinen manga or anime that have a girl in the most prominent role, let alone be actually engaging and fun to go through. But The Apothecary Diaries simply works
    And hey, I’m still rooting for Jingshi and Maomao to get together.

    Because while I’m not here for the romance alone, the shipping part will always be fun regardless! Here’s hoping that Maomao can put off being a medical genius long enough to notice Jingshi. But not too soon of course. Slow burn romances are best when developed and savored properly, after all!

    Anza Qureshi
    Anza Qureshi
    Anza Qureshi is a writer, licensed dentist and certified Uchiha fangirl. When she isn't doing root canals or listing down anime waifus, you can find her screeching about her favorite JRPGs across social media.

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      • Considering Cina itself is a made up country inspired by Regal China, I get what you mean! However, I thought the Red-Light District felt influenced by both the Chinese and Japanese, plus their appearances, I chose to use the term Geisha. But I guess they could also just be more intricately dressed courtesans!

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