By Kakifly. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialized in the magazine Manga Time Kirara. Released in North America by Yen Press.
When K-On!'s anime burst onto the scene in 2008 (and, like most manga series that run in Kirara, no one had heard of it in North America before it got an anime), its popularity was almost immediate. And, after a brief wait to ensure that yes, this was going to be more like the popularity of Haruhi and not like the popularity of, say, Doujin Work, the manga was licensed by Yen Press. It seems like forever since that happened, but now Volume 1 is finally here, and for fans of the series, it's worth the wait.
The manga itself is a typical 4-koma, which is to say we get a lot of short gags. We're introduced to hyperactive Ritsu and her put-upon friend Mio, who want to join the Light Music Club (well, Ritsu does, and is dragging Mio along). Finding the club has no members, Ritsu quickly drafts a passing girl, Tsumugi, who plays keyboards and enjoys watching people be 'interesting'. Given Ritsu plays drums and Mio plays bass, all they need is a guitar player, who turns out to be Yui, a young and somewhat ditzy girl... who has no experience playing guitar. Not that that stops her from joining the club anyway.
It should be noted that the character designs here are clearly meant to play to the 'moe' crowd, and some may find them a little too cutesy. However, while the cast do have moe traits, they manage to be fleshed out enough so that they feel like real people to me. Ritsu, for example, loves to tease her friend Mio, and pretty much does it to the point where Mio strikes back with beatings. It's a typical double-act that we've seen many times in anime and manga before. Unlike many of those acts (Azumanga Daioh, I'm looking at you), we don't wonder why in the world anyone ever hangs around with Ritsu. Her teasing never gets to the point where *we're* annoyed - only Mio. And we can even see why, despite Mio's irritation, they are best friends. She also has odd moments, when she's not flaking out, where she does get to be the responsible leader of the band. (I will admit, she's my favorite.)
K-On! is scheduled to be four volumes long, and I will admit that if you're wondering how the characters grow and develop over the course of the next three volumes, this is likely not the manga for you. Characters in this type of manga are there to be comedic and cute, and no doubt by the end of the series Ritsu and Yui will still be flaky, Mio will still be shy and twitchy, and Mugi will still enjoy fantasizing about the other girls being yuri in front of her (except they aren't). But for this series, that's OK. It's what I want to see. The girls playing their instruments, eating snacks, and having one joke every four panels. It's a warm, comforting feeling. I like this manga as it makes the characters real and likeable.
I note that this franchise is quite popular with young males on the internet, something which, as manga publishers know, rarely translates into sales the way it does with franchises that are popular with young females on the internet. So, for the guys who will have their excuses out: Yes, the honorifics are all present and correct, including Rit-chan and Sawa-chan. Yes, there are color pages throughout. Yes, the translation is smooth and readable while still staying true to the original and endnoting when necessary. Yen has done a great job here. You have NO EXCUSE not to buy this if you support K-On! in any way. Buy it. Support authors and publishers in ways that don't just correspond to 'Your torrent is 57% complete'.