bITS 'N CHUNKS
I love reading yuri or girls' love (I don’t really make the distinction between yuri & "softcore" shoujo-ai) manga, but I think it's fair to say a lot of it is very same-y. Yuri still trails behind yaoi/boys' love in popularity and profitability, so a lot of mangaka understandably keep whipping out the same tropes over and over to increase their profile and of course make money. The more experimental manga tend to be one-shots and often reserved for anthologies. And the experimental ones are free to get as…weird as weird can.
That's how I stumbled onto Mare a few years ago by one of my favorite yuri mangaka Morinaga Milk. Morinaga-san is really cool because her art is so feminine and delicate and she's largely unfettered by stereotypical yuri tropes, but she's not afraid of a little hentai. Even her works that kind of push that direction -- school girl lesbians for example -- usually have some subversive element to keep it from being the same ol' same ol'.
Morinaga-san is probably best known for Girl Friends, which is one of the best damn school girl romance dramas out there in the English speaking world, dare I say ever because I'm going there. Mare is an earlier work that looks to have been published in a highly specialized hentai magazine because it's pretty hardcore and there's demons.
Wait, what? Demons in my lesbian manga?
Well, yeah. And I say highly specialized because Morinaga-san incorporates some of the more obscure demons from Pseudomonarchia Daemonum and The Lesser Key of Solomon. The main character, Mea, is a powerful and amoral witch who hides out in a girls' school while feeding her pet beasties and summoning demons. While she's there, Mea inadvertently exposes some of the dark secrets of the school like co-ed affairs, abortions, even murder. Later on, there's a plot where another witch at the school challenges Mea but it ends too abruptly to even be satisfying.
So, Mare barely counts as a yuri manga because it really just involves Mea being rather loose with her sexuality and her attachment to her roommate/classmate, but it's definitely one of my favorite occult-themed manga. Themes of the occult in manga usually skew more towards the shounen or seinen demographic and, yeah, there's Judeo-Christian demons and long three volume fights but it never feels like substance. The works of Go Nagai (Devilman & Devilman Lady) keep my interest as well. And then there's the truly esoteric and nigh incomprehensible side, which would be something like Neon Genesis Evangelion. But despite the second half being a let-down, Mare just felt so substantive in the way that it accurately incorporated witchcraft, minor demons, sigils and invocations, and a smidge of social commentary. Then it, you know, goes to hell. But if you have the time, like ambiguous lesbian relationships, and cute evil little girls, check it out.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...