As a vehicle for introducing manga readers to some of their titles, Del Rey Books' manga omnibuses provide plenty of value for the buck. Recently picked up a copy of Clamp's xxxHolic Omnibus Edition, a $12.95 thick-as-a-brick paperback collecting the first three volumes of this shoujo series that's currently available through Barnes & Noble. I found the teen-rated (Ages 13+) book to be both a good bargain and a decent introduction to the series proper. Some first volume manga pbs are so focused on providing background info, often through short self-contained stories, that you don't fully get a sense of where the series is going until you finished two or three volumes. By the end of the xxxHolic omnibus, though, you'll probably have a clear sense whether you want to continue with the series or not.
The series' hero is a young lad named Kimihiro Watanuki, a bespectacled youth who lives by himself and is plagued by recurrent visions of ghosts. Beset by nebulous, yet monstrous looking, creatures, he unwillingly takes refuge ("My legs ran me in here on their own!") in a mysterious house inhabited by a hard-drinking, long-legged "time-space witch" named Yūko Ichibara and two hyper-cutesy kid assistants named Maru and Moro. To Yūko, the young boy's appearance is "hitsuzen," a naturally fore-ordained event, and though the quick-tempered boy doesn't have much patience with a lot of the woman's mystico-babble, he still finds himself working for her in the house as chief-cook-and-bottle-washer on the promise that she'll eventually take away his spirit sight. As it happens, Yūko's house is a shop "where wishes are granted" for whatever the witch deems a fair price.
Not an unfamiliar premise: the mysterious shop where unsuspecting customers come to find their lives ironically, sometimes horrifically, changed (see, for example, Pet Shop of Horrors). The Omnibus edition gives us two stand-alone tales which adhere to this format. In the first volume, Watanuki meets a young habitual liar who is experiencing an increasing paralysis as a result of her lyin' ways; Yūko gives her a ring to stave off the paralysis, but it proves only a temporary stopgap. If the girl doesn't deal with her bad habit, the witch asserts, she won't have a lot of time. In the third volume, a second young girl customer purchases a container with a monkey's paw inside it. As expected, the new owner makes a series of disastrous wishes that eventually leads to her doom.