Dixie is the daughter of Korean immigrants to Los Angeles whose life has been very hard since 1997, when Korean-owned businesses were targeted during riots. Dixie’s a diligent student, but with plenty of frustrations, some of which she exorcises via the Korean martial art of hapkido. Recently, however, a crush on the prime student Adam means she’s lacking focus, which isn’t good with the national championships coming up. The $100 entry fee is expensive for Dixie’s parents, but they place an importance on hapkido’s representation of Korean culture as second only to education.

Mike Carey fits all that information and a whole lot more into three short opening chapters that never seem as dense as they actually are, partly down to Sonny Liew’s distracting cartooning, strong on personality and movement. A supporting cast of Dixie’s best friend Avril, local teenage gangster Dillinger, idiot rich boy Schofield, and Dixie’s annoying younger twin brothers are also introduced in those three opening chapters, varied and all interesting, used to consistently pile pressure on Dixie.

The re-gifting element occurs around a third of the way through, wonderfully set up by Carey who’s already noted the literalism of boys and their lack of intuition. That’s characteristic of both his observational and naturalistic methods and the attention to detail employed throughout. Especially clever is his underlining of Dixie’s family circumstances, causing readers to squirm every time Dixie makes another misjudgement that’s going to cost money. Liew handles these scenes nicely, his loose style never over-playing the resulting expressions and reactions. Despite her mistakes, Dixie is very likeable, and it takes Liew to bring this home. Credit also to Marc Hempel for the inking. Liew’s style is loose, but detailed, and Hempel brings out the refinement without sacrificing anything.

The plot unwinds like a superior rom-com, with so much of what’s presumed to be incidental detail actually being clever foreshadowing. The central event is that hapkido competition, which Carey uses to pull his cast together, each of them having something riding on it, and interestingly it’s not a contest that separates sexes. During the competition one event becomes inevitable, the big emotional crisis outweighing everything before it, but Carey applies a clever twist to that also leading to a very satisfying finale.

DC’s Minx line arrived a little too early for the young adult market that would flourish five years later, but almost all their graphic novels were finely crafted, dramatic and entertaining at the time. See the recommendations and discover a decade since publication hasn’t changed that, and Carey and Liew’s other collaboration My Faith in Frankie also fits the mould. Like Rana Telgemeier? You can’t go wrong with Re-Gifters.