By Hidekaz Himaruya. Released in Japan by Gentosha, originally serialized as an online webcomic. Released in North America by Tokyopop.
Since my review of Hetalia Axis Powers Volume 1, I have gotten quite a bit immersed in the world that is Hetalia. I now have the 2 DVDs that Funimation released of the anime. I'm also au courant with Hidekaz's blog entries, and have developed quite a taste for Austria/Hungary fan fiction. I worried as I started to read the 2nd published volume of Hetalia from Tokyopop that I would have lost my objectivity, that I would completely fail to explain to the casual reader who knew nothing of Hetalia why they should pick this up.
Then I came to my senses and shook my head. WHAT casual readers? Seriously, anyone who would grab the 2nd manga of Hetalia Axis Powers is not going to be a neophyte. They're going to be someone who wants to read the bit with Switzerland and Liechtenstein, as the printed volume diverges from the original (he doesn't have a grumpy lunch with Austria here), someone who wants to squee about Italy crawling into Germany's bed naked at random times, someone who doesn't particularly care that Taiwan is introduced in the huge epic cast biographies at the start but doesn't actually appear in the book. It is, in short, for the fan. The fan who has already read this entire book online already, but will buy it all over again anyway.
So what *do* we get here? Well, we get Hidekaz writing randomly about whatever the heck he wants. Despite the cliffhanger of Volume 1, almost none of this volume deals with the time period of World War II itself. Most of it seems to take place in modern times (indeed, the Russia chapters depend on this), and are anecdotes that go on for about 5-6 pages, then move to a different set of countries and a different set of jokes. And as this is a 4-koma, I sometimes use the word "jokes" in air quotes, as they are more mildly amusing than anything else.
But the time period is irrelevant, as is the plot. We're being immersed in a world here, so it doesn't really matter that Austria and Hungary, so prevalent last chapter, disappear here, as we get a pile of new countries to meet. How much you like these largely depends on how much you like the ethnic exaggeration of that particular country. I found the Canada chapters dragged, mostly as I think 'invisible, nice, and constantly being compared with America', while accurate, does not really lend itself well to fun situations. On the other hand, I loved seeing Switzerland and Liechtenstein's interaction, as their adorableness is contrasted very well with Liechtenstein's near-tragic past. And while Ukraine can be annoying (I had hoped her breast's sound effects would be an anime-only thing, but there they are, boinging every panel), Belarus is fantastically insane, tearing apart Russia's door and insisting that they MARRY NOW. It bears little resemblance to the *real* relationship between Belarus and Russia (Hidekaz will occasionally ignore history for comedy, something his history buff fans generally do not), and in a series with someone as tsundere as Switzerland and kuudere as Austria, it's good to have a yandere to complete the set.
I had mentioned in my review of Volume 1 that I thought it would sell very well, and it would seem I was right - since that review, there's only been one week where it hasn't been in the NYT best-seller list, and it's still there a good 3 months later. Only Naruto and Black Butler have had that kind of insane staying power. Hetalia fans (who are, not coincidentally, predominately female) love everything about Hetalia. The anime, the manga, the webcomic, the sketches, the drama CDs, the songs, the fanfic, the fanart, the cosplay. Hetalia is less a franchise than an industry. As such, my review is mostly irrelevant, but for the record: I thought this was a rather weak volume of Hetalia, but enjoyed it nevertheless.