By Yamada Tomoko from The Citi exhibition Manga
How does one define shojo manga (girls’ manga)? As a child, I believed that
only Japan had shöjo manga. The idea may have come to me from magazines and television. I began to have my doubts, however, when I read a manga essay in Hayaboshi Nanao’s The Nanao Syndrome (Nanao no shökögun, 1982), vol. 2, and learned that England, too, had what seemed to be shõjo manga. Later, while reading books about manga, I learned that the famous musical Annie, starring a little orphaned girl, had its source in the cartoon Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray, which started circulation in 1924. I also learned that during the 1950s, English magazines directed specifically at young girls were publishing cartoons about the ballet, for example, Ballet Dancers by David Walsh (1952), and Belle of the Ballet by George Beardmore and Stanley Houghton (1954). Aware that manga differ from place to place, here I would like to share some of my impressions of Japanese shōjo manga.
In practice the Japanese term ‘manga’ encompasses a wide range of media, but for now I am thinking of the kind of manga that appear in panels across several pages, with speech bubbles, dialogue and stories about male and female protagonists who undergo a transformative or unusual experience. Normally, after being published in several issues of a manga-focused magazine, measuring 2-4 cm in thickness, manga series are systematically compiled in the form of small pocket-book-size volumes (tanköbon). We are now in a period of transition, when manga can be purchased not only in actual bookstores but also online, and the format of a publication can be paper-based or electronic. In 2017, manga magazines and tanköbon together generated almost half of all publishing revenue in Japan-660 billion yen ($4.6 billion) out of 1.37 trillion yen ($9.5 billion). The question remains as to how much of this revenue was derived from manga aimed at girls and women, but girls’ and women’s manga seem to occupy about one-third of the space allocated overall to manga in bookstores. As a conservative estimate, then, perhaps at least one-sixth of manga are aimed specifically at girls and women.
From the late 1990s to the early 2000s
People around the world were enjoying two globally broadcast anime: Sailor Moon (based on Takeuchi Naoko’s manga, published 1992-97) and Cardcaptor Sakura (based on the manga by CLAMP, published 1996-2000). When people from abroad discuss these two works, their most frequent and most favourable impressions concern the representation of various conditions of gender and forms of love. Generally, what is understood is that, though gender equality is not discussed explicitly, it is conveyed as an important message. In Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura – but also in the onginal shojo manga on which these anime were based- an openness about gender consciousness is presented not as exceptional but as rather ordinary.
In my experience, when people who know little of the subject first hear uhe term shojo manga, they tend to assume that it refers to manga in which the main characters are young girls (shöjo). However, although it is a genre aimed at chidren and teenagers, shojo manga has an almost unnoticed history of depicting quite transgressive approaches to gender, as seen, for example, in the celebrated, poch-defining manga Princess Knight. Princess Knight was originally published by Tezuka Osamu between 1953 and 1956 and then again in new variations during the 1960s. It tells how, due to the action of a mischievous angel, the main character Sapphire has both a male and a female soul. Another example is Rose of Versailles (Berusai no bara, 1972-73) by Ikeda Riyoko, in which the protagonist Oscar is a beautiful woman who dresses up as a man. This work played a large part in establishing wider public interest in and acceptance for shöjo manga. Of course when the genre is viewed as a whole, we find many shojo manga from both the past and the present whose protagonists are indeed young girls.
Japanese shōjo manga formed as a genre during the 1950s.
At this time manga artists were predominantly male, with only a few women in the field. During the 1960s, however, love stories were produced by increasing numbers of female artists, who were older than most of their young readers. During the 1970s female artists were now closer in age to their readers and only a few male artists were still drawing shōjo manga. At this point the genre saw innovations that built upon previous works. For example, around the time of the publication of Rose of Versailles, many works were produced featuring only boys, both love between boys and friendship approaching romantic love. Representative of the period are HagiOMoto’s The Poe Clan (Po no ichizoku, 1972), Heart of Thomas (Tõma no shinző, 1974), and Takemiya Keiko’s Kaze to ki no uta (unofficially known in English as The Poem of Wind and Trees, 1976-84). In addition to these works, which also appeared in tankõbon volumes, each one around 200 pages in length, girls’ manga magazines of the time introduced many works whose protagonists were boys and sometimes young men. There were even depictions of boys who due to family circumstances were burdened with caring for young children.
What did shojo manga have to offer by depicting boys as protagonists, or by depicting relationships between boys that included sexual love? Maybe they simply gave girls a chance to see a lot of handsome members of the opposite sex. Or maybe girls and women who found it oppressive to be female took pleasure in human relations and love liberated from femininity. It also seems that readers who suffered in the awareness that their sexual orientation stood somehow in the social minority derived from these manga the courage to live. This message would also have reached readers who were not young girls, and one has the impression that male fans of shōjo manga rapidly increased in number around this time. Evidence for this includes the appearance of numerous shōjo manga critiques written by men. Shöjo manga that depicted the world of boys’ love did not precisely overlap with the stories of male homosexual love drawn by men, or with the real-life experiences of homosexual men, but perhaps it was this openness that allowed the genre to capture the hearts and imaginations of a broad range of readers.
To my way of thinking, shōjo manga may have been able to foster such a positive reception because in previous periods the genre was driven less by readership numbers and other such statistics than by an interest in untangling the human heart. Having said that, early shōjo manga endeared itself to girls mainly through stories about men and women or mothers and daughters: that is, through stories of human relations that approached conventional social reality. Since the 1970s, however, it seems to have become almost commonplace for shojo manga through settings that are positively unconnected with reality, to depict new gender roles and modes of communication, in tales not just of boys’ love’ but also of science fiction, fantasy and homosexuality. Examples include They Were Eleven
(Jūichinin iru, 1975) by Hagio Moto, Sons of Eve (libu no musuko, 1975-79) by
Aoike Yasuko, / Like John (Johane ga suki, 1979) by Öshima Yumiko, Mari and Shingo (Mari to Shingo, 1977-84) by Kihara Toshie, Star of Cottonland (Wata no kunihoshi, 1978-87) by Öshima Yumiko, Patalliro! (1979) by Maya Mineo and Prince of the Place where the Sun Rises (Hi izuru tokoro no tenshi, 1980-84) by Yamagishi Ryöko. It seems to me that by empathizing with the characters in these manga, the reader learns how to respect those people who are different from herself. On the other hand, perfectly “ordinary” love stories in which the main character is a conventional female girl certainly continue to be popular today.
Through the flourishing fanzine market and Comiket, which has been supported since its founding in 1975 mainly by female contributors, bõizu
rabu (boys’ love) has become a major genre attracting mainly adult women readers. Depending on the size of the book store, the bõizu rabu genre can occupy from one to several shelves of a manga section. The 1980s saw the arrival of manga genres aimed at adult women, along with specialized magazines that continue to be published today. It strikes me as notable, however, that for some reason we have no term to describe as a whole the genre of manga aimed at adult women, and that for the most part even manga aimed at adult women are categorized as shöjo manga. A separate but also interesting aspect of the field is the increasing number of female manga artists who grew up reading shöjo manga and who are now publishing in men’s magazines.
There are many wonderful things about Japanese shõjo manga and the woks to which they have given rise and it makes me happy to know that the genre is becoming more familiar to audiences worldwide.