A manga series by the artist group known as CLAMP. The first volume collection was released on February 16, 2001 and at the time of this writing is still being continued. A new volume comes out every 3-4 months or so. As of August 2002, they are on the sixth volume.
The story is set either in an alternate reality or the near future where personal computers can take any shape their owner likes. As you can imagine, that means there are lots of cute female computers running around. That's not to say that there aren't other shapes of computers available. Some elect to have their computers take on the shape of cute males, while others are vaguely creeped out by the idea of human-looking computers and have animal-shaped ones instead.
One of the things that works very well in this story is the term "persocon." In Japanese, the word for a personal computer is "pasocon," which comes from a shortening of two words. The Japanese are very fond of this, take pokemon for example. CLAMP gives this name a double edge, making the "paso" part of "pasocon" mean person, as opposed to personal.
It begins with our protagonist, Motosuwa Hideki, who is a poor college student looking to buy one of these female-shaped computers. Lo and behold, one day after work he finds one carelessly thrown away in the alley. Unsure of what exactly to do, he takes it home. Something appears to be wrong with it, and Hideki goes asks his more computer knowledgeable friend for help. It seems like someone forgot to install an OS into this particular persocon.
The main protagonist's persocon is named Chii. This is because when she is first booted up, that is the only thing that she can say. Eventually they discover that even though she apparently has no OS, she still has some learning programs installed into her. So Hideki spends a great deal of time teaching her the basics of social interaction. This is where most of the comedy in the series comes from, including one scene where Chii doesn't understand what panties are for and wears them on her head.
Chobits deals quite a lot with the social ramifications of artificial-intelligence. The persocons in the story look human, and can be programmed analyze situations and react in human-like ways. But the fact of the matter is that persocons are not human (or are they? The story so far seems to indicate no, but the tone is gradually changing). The funny thing is that nobody really seems to care. Guys take their persocons out on dates, and they don't get funny looks from other people. Some people become so involved with their persocons that they abandon all other social interaction. This of course leads to many hurt feelings, such as people who have had their lovers stolen from them by the persocons. One character seems to have had something like that happen to her, and now harbors a deep loathing for female persocons.
One exceptionally touching scene so far in the story involves one of the characters revealing to Hideki that he programmed one of his persocons in the image of his dead sister. He says that although he knows that the persocon is not actually his sister, sometimes they act so similarly that he forgets. It is implied that there was one point where the character completely lost himself in his self-created delusions and was violently pulled back into reality. The exact situation is not described (at least not yet) but one can only imagine...
The odd theme of self-delusion by making these persocon seem human is also seen continually through the story. For instance, one of Hideki's friends has a small "notebook" persocon, which is in the shape of an animated female doll that is about ten inches tall or so. When printing out messages, she uses a pencil. Hideki asks his friend about this, saying that he thought persocon would be able to print out information instead of writing it out. His friend replies that although she can print out info if she's hooked up to a printer, he prefers to have her write because "it's cuter."
An anime for this series is being aired in Spring 2002 in Japan. Since it's still pretty early in the production phase, no known American release date is scheduled. Here's to hoping it won't stink. There is currently an official English translation of the manga by Tokyopop.
Dramatis Personae (relatively spoiler-free):
Motosuwa Hideki- Clueless male protagonist. Ronin studying at a college preperatory school. Not very good with manners, but a good guy at heart. Virgin. Finds Chii in an alley.
Chii- Main persocon of the story. Ivory hair, light brown eyes, cute in that waifish-pixie sort of way. Starts off as a tabla rasa, though a past life has been hinted at. Also has a evil twin in her subconscious, who continues to make vague allusions regarding her past and instilling doubt into her current situation. Usually her evil twin wears gothish black and purple clothing with lots of buckles.
Shinbo- Hideki's school buddy. Proficient with persocons, but by no means an expert. Owns a portable persocon named Sumomo. Seems to rather off-handedly tell people that Hideki is a virgin.
Sumomo- Portable persocon. Fits easily inside a backpack. Main functions seem to be taking messages, alarm clock, and telephone.
Hibiya Chitose- Hideki's landlord. May be more than just a landlord
Kokubunji Minoru- Perpetuator of the teenage genius computer hacker myth. Knows a lot about persocons, and has custom-built many himself. First year junior high-school student (which places him at about 12 or 13, I believe). Hideki often goes to Minoru for advice regarding Chii.
Oomura Yumi- Hideki's coworker. Has large soft breasts (because it would be scary if they were hard). Has a crush on Hideki, which seems mutual. Often gives Hideki self-made baked goods.
Bunny- Main character of the Dare mo inai machi (Town where Nobody was) picture books. Chii likes this series, and for some reason the books seem to be about the exact situation that Chii and Hideki are going through. The bunny also has a dark bunny foil, similar to Chii.
Ninja Persocons (not official name)- Two persocons who were introduced close to the closing of the second volume. So far they have done nothing much except wear sunglasses and sleek black outfits while posing in a cool manner on or under streetlights. They appear to be looking for Chii.
Some other minor characters have not been included, as their relevance to later parts of the plot are still unknown.