After several years of languishing performance and asset outflows, Janus Capital (NYSE:JNS) finally seems to be turning the corner. The firm's growth-oriented style of investing has found more favor with the market this past year, and performance at most of its funds is improving. Investors have stopped pulling money from the funds, and many people are now looking at Janus in a new light.

If you're seeking a new fund in which to invest, consider one option from Janus that's not afraid to look a little bit different from the market.

Contrarian investing
Janus Contrarian (FUND:JSVAX) is currently the firm's fourth-largest mutual fund. It's run by longtime manager David Decker, who's been with the fund since its February 2000 inception. This offbeat fund invests in neglected areas of the market, attempting to uncover opportunities that others may have missed. Decker looks across the globe and across market capitalizations for companies that are undervalued based on estimated future earnings.

Investors should take confidence in the substantial portion of Decker's own net worth invested in the fund. Far too often, fund managers are reluctant to "eat their own cooking" by investing alongside their shareholders. Decker earns extra points in my book for putting his money where his picks are. Managers with their own money on the line are less likely to make unwise short-term moves that temporarily boost performance at the expense of longer-term returns.

A bird of a different feather
Because Contrarian has such wide flexibility, its portfolio often differs from that of the typical large-cap fund. For example, the fund currently holds almost 39% of its assets abroad. This includes 11% in Indian stocks and a 5% exposure to both Japan and the United Kingdom. The international exposure has undoubtedly helped Contrarian over the past few years, since foreign markets have handily outperformed the domestic stock market in that time. However, should international stocks take a breather, this fund will likely get socked.

Contrarian also sets itself apart by maintaining a significant exposure to smaller stocks. Currently, the fund has roughly 38% of its portfolio in mid-cap stocks, roughly the same proportion it's had since its inception. This freedom to invest in smaller stocks has also boosted performance in recent years, as mid caps have pulled ahead of large caps.

Janus Contrarian's investment process often results in a more concentrated portfolio. Right now, the fund is heavy in the financial-services and industrial-materials sectors, with top holdings in firms such as real estate operator St. Joe (NYSE:JOE) and glass manufacturer Owens-Illinois (NYSE:OI). Recently, the fund's performance has been helped by a strong showing from Owens-Illinois, along with Liberty Global (NASDAQ:LBTYA) and student loan provider SLM (NYSE:SLM), which posted returns of 24% and 40%, respectively, during the second quarter.

Proof positive
The performance picture at Contrarian is truly impressive. The fund has posted an annualized 11.7% return from March 2000 through July 2007, compared to just 2.5% for the S&P 500 Index and 3.4% for the average Morningstar large-blend mutual fund. The fund has beaten the S&P 500 by a wide margin each year since 2003, including an impressive 53% return in 2003.

More recently, the fund is also ahead of the S&P 500 by 11% so far in 2007. Contrarian currently ranks No. 1 in the Lipper multi-cap core fund category for one-year and three-year trailing returns through July 2007. The fund has made few missteps, and its willingness to invest in overlooked corners of the market has served it well in both positive and negative market environments.

Finding a fit
Bear in mind that Contrarian's offbeat investing style comes with considerable volatility. This fund would probably not function well as a core holding, because of its concentrated approach and heightened risk profile. Instead, Contrarian would likely work best as a smaller, supplemental allocation within a mutual fund portfolio.

If you decide to buy this fund, you need to understand that it may hit some snags every once in a while, and that it will perform differently from the broader market. But in a world of mutual funds that often look and act alike, Contrarian is a welcome departure from the everyday investment.

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Fool contributor Amanda Kish lives in Rochester, N.Y., and does not own shares of any of the companies or funds mentioned herein. The Fool's disclosure policy marches to the beat of its own drum.