* For more information on the Japanese zodiac, the Juunishi curse and the Souma family, please scroll down to the bottom of this page for links *
Fruits Basket revolves around Tooru Honda, a high student that is recently orphaned when her mother dies in a car accident. Alone and unwanted (her relatives actually bicker over who'll have to take her in!) Tooru goes to live with her grandfather. Things are ok for a while, but when Tooru's aunt and cousins decide to move in with gramps too, she has to temporarily move out while the house is being renovated. Unwilling to be a burden on her friends, Tooru does what anyone in her position would do: she pitches a tent in the woods until it's ok for her to move back in! The manga itself begins one week later...
While walking through the woods on her way to school one day, Tooru stumbles onto a house where she meets Shigure Souma and his cousin Yuki. Later that night, after she gets back from work (Tooru works as a cleaning lady to pay her school tuition), she runs in to the Souma's once again...only this time it's in front of her tent! They take her back with them to their house, and while she's explaining everything, the unthinkable happens: her tent is completely buried in a landslide! Tooru spends the night at the Souma's and the next day Shigure offers to let her stay with them. She accepts, but only on the condition that she earn her keep by doing the housework and the cooking.
Things are fine until another member of the Souma clan shows up: Kyou Souma. While he's trying to beat the crap out of his sworn enemy Yuki, Tooru tries to stop him by grabbing him from the back and *poof* he transforms into a cat! As she's freaking out, she accidently falls on Shigure and Yuki and they too turn into animals (a mouse and a dog)! Now that they've been found out, Shigure (still in his doggy-form) lets Tooru in on the Souma family secret: they each turn into animals from the Chinese Zodiac when hugged by someone of the opposite sex! Only 12 Souma family members have this gift two of them being him and Yuki. Kyou, or the cat, is not a member of the zodiac but still has the ability to transform.
Without giving away too much, the manga focuses on the 12 Souma members that have the gift (plus Kyou), and the affect that Tooru has on their lives and vice versa. All the characters aren't your typical happy/genki manga types. Tooru was teased and bullied when she was a kid and the most important person in her life (her mother) was taken away from her. The Souma's also have it tough. This ability that thay have to turn into animals is more of a curse than it is a gift and not only are they unable to have any physical contact with other people, but their lives are completely controlled by the tyrannical and sadistic Akito Souma (the head of the family).
One of the main reasons why I love this manga so much is that in addition to the all the humor and romance, there is also pain and tragedy. None of the characters are perfect and none of them are totally happy. One of the lessons of this manga (and there are a lot ^^), is that it doesn't matter who you are or how different you are from the norm because you do have a place in this world, somewhere where you belong and are accepted. For the romantics out there, a love triangle does form between Yuki, Tooru and Kyou, but it's not the main storyline. Tooru, Yuki, Kyou and Shigure form a surrogate family between them and with the introduction of each new character, another angle and another shroud over the circumstances surrounding the Souma curse is lifted.