Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow
Written by Fuyumi Ono
Released in the U.S. by TokyoPop
Slugline: Even in Japan, the books are better than movies/anime
Yoko was the stereotypical good girl, desperately working too hard just to be like everyone else in her high school and fulfill everyone else's expectations of her, but she is swept out of this world and into the Twelve Kingdoms, with demons, flying tigers (I wonder if that is some sort of joke on the WW2 US flying unit in China) and green monkey swords. This is what the anime is based on, and you can see the hasty joints of the work where it broken apart in order for it to work in the anime format.
Because the story is basically about Yoko's journey, a solitary one, in which she first discovers what it means to be alive rather than dead to the world, then what it means to be open to others and trust once you decide that what you are and what you do mean something. The novel expands the time experienced by the characters, so that weeks and months fly by and developments that felt odd and rushed in the anime are smoother here. In the anime the solitary nature of the journey had to be overcome because it wouldn't have been much fun to run episodes where the main character doesn't even talk, so they gave Yoko companions. However, that immediately and irrevocably changes the nature of her journey. While the anime was okay, this light novel is much stronger and still is a relatively quick read with a large type on small pages.
The Twelve Kingdoms, Sea of Shadows is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.