When your identity and profession are centered around being a quintessentially tough and ruthless protector of everyone around you, how do you lighten up and make friends?
This is the core question of Cells at Work and Friends!, a shoujo manga first serialized in Bessatsu Friend starting in February 2019. As its name implies, the manga is a spinoff of the popular Edutainment manga Cells at Work! written by Kanna Kurono and illustrated by Mio Izumi. While Cells at Work! creator Akane Shimizu does not actively write or draw this series, she does serve as its supervisor.
Friends is the story of Killer T, a squad leader of Killer T-Cells who protect a human body. Even though he's a respected and admired leader who can slaughter pathogens with the best of them, he's grown tired of the hyper-aggressive, aloof, and grumpy personality that's left him without close friends and unable to enjoy some of his interests openly. And so, the story is about his efforts to reach out and make friends without compromising his tough-guy image...usually with hilarious results.
Tropes present in this work include:
- Abuse Mistake:
- IM1235 offers to help Killer T with what she thinks is a romantic relationship. He mentions that he yells at them every day and threw them to the ground, and IM1235 thinks he's domestically abusing a girlfriend. He was actually talking about trying to be friendlier towards the Killer T squad.
- Adult Killer T says he needs to confess to Platelet, a child. IM1235 thinks he means confessing romantic or sexual feelings. What he actually means is confessing that he threw away her coagulation factor, something that she needs to do her job, without knowing what it was.
- Anthropomorphized Anatomy: Staying true to the franchise's core conceit, all characters are anthropomorphized versions of human body cells.
- Battle Discretion Shot: While fights with viruses break out fairly regularly, almost all of the actual fighting occurs offscreen. Justified in that this is a character-driven comedy and not an action manga.
- Bruiser with a Soft Center: The premise of the manga, given this Killer T has to balance his softness and desire for companionship with his toughness and duty.
- Cast of Expies: Cells in this body are very similar to the ones in the main series' body, though it mostly ends at physical resemblance. From the main trio alone, we've got Killer T (looks like the Commander and has the same problems), U-2145 (a straighter-haired U-1146), and IM1235 (a less accident-prone AE3803 with pigtails).
- Cat Smile: Helper T Cell always sports one.
- Cuteness Proximity:
- Dendritic Cell loves making and carrying around plushies of cute lactic acid bacteria.
- Exploited in the summer festival chapter. Killer T notices the Killer T stand isn't selling products as well as the stands selling cute things, so he ends up wearing a cute lactic acid bacillus costume to attract customers.
- Killer T reacts like this to a cat in chapter 18. Dendritic Cell thinks it's a species of lactic acid bacillus, and sniffing the cat immediately gets him out of his slump.
- Delinquent Hair: Killer T bleached his hair blond as part of the process of trying to change his character and image to fit that of a tough Killer T Cell.
- Edutainment: Much less focused on biology lessons than its parent series; arguably, most of the lessons here are more social in nature: being comfortable with oneself, being honest, and the dangers of hiding behind a persona rather than genuinely being yourself.
- Embarrassing Hobby: Taken to an extreme by Killer T, who has taken his Jerkass Rated M for Manly image so far that he doesn't feel like he can openly do anything "unmanly" like...have friends, attend parties, play cell phone games, or watch sappy romantic comedies for fear that he would lose the respect of his squad and the populace.
- Good Is Not Nice: Killer T follows this philosophy not because he genuinely wants to, but because he doesn't think he has much choice. He's afraid that if he starts being nicer and more sociable, he will lose the respect of his subordinates and the population at large. While his fears are almost certainly exaggerated, it's implied that he isn't completely wrong.
- Enforced in that the primary job of a Killer T-Cell is to destroy the body's own cells should they be infected with a virus, so becoming too friendly with other cells theoretically could compromise his mission. Killer T does allude to this fact in passing, but it isn't a key focus of the story.
- Goomba Stomp: While Killer T prefers to use his fists, he's not above using this to ward off a virus attack.
- Lighter and Softer: Is this to the main series, which despite its younger-audience Edutainment leanings, could still be quite bloody and dark. Needless to say, it's a completely different beast from Cells at Work! CODE BLACK.
- Lost in Translation: One of the videos this Killer T rents is MHC & JK. To the Japanese, this is a Shout-Out to P to JK, another series serialized in Bessatsu Friend, but since this series is localized into English under the title My Boy In Blue, the shout-out is lost.
- Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: Combined with a bit of Idiot Ball in Chapter 3, "Ransomware," where Killer T's underlings find his broken cell phone, see or overhear bits of information, and come to the least reasonable conclusions possible.
- Gory Discretion Shot: A censor mosaic makes an appearance when a virus-infected cell gets knocked out of a tree.
- Rated M for Manly: Even though the comic focuses on Killer T's social awkwardness and desire to come down from his tower of testosterone, make no mistake: he really is a badass squad leader who can stop a viral invasion almost single-handedly.
- Shōjo (Demographic): The series is serialized in Bessatsu Friend, a well-known shojo Anthology Comic, thus putting the series's demographic as this.
- Some of the videos Killer T rents include Love, Golgi Apparatus, & Other Delusions, My Little Nucleosome, and Defying Synapse-kun.
- One of Killer T's Naive T-Cell subordinates is drawn in the style of Effector T from the parent series, who himself was a reference to JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.
- The Vibrio Parahaemolyticus bacterium in chapter 17 is drawn like a Fist of the North Star character and is referred to as "the villain from Fist of the N-... Vibrio."
- Sleepyhead: Implied with Helper T Cell. He's asleep when the cedar pollen shows up in chapter 4 and wears pajamas with his eyes closed when threatening the bacterium in chapter 17.
- Super Title 64 Advance: This spinoff appropriately runs in Bessatsu Friend, matching titles.
- Testosterone Poisoning: Most of the humor comes from Killer T's overly masculine outward behavior and the social awkwardness it's trying to mask. It's funny, but also a little sad — Killer T openly admits to himself that he took his drive to become a manly, merciless germ-killer so far that he can't make friends or openly pursue some of his hobbies, but he doesn't feel like he can show a softer side now.
- Unmanly Secret: Despite his overtly masculine exterior, some of Killer T's hobbies are not that manly. For example, it seems his favourite genre is Romantic Comedy, and some of the videos he rents are of the Shōjo type.