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What Shôjo Manga Are and Are Not

A Quick Guide for the Confused

For most Japanese below the age of fifty, such categories as shôjo ("girls") manga and shônen ("boys'") manga require no definition or clarification. They are as plain as the nose on your face. But to outsiders, it seems, the categories are perplexing, and therefore a little explanation is required.

Most people seem to think that shôjo manga are distinguished by certain features of content and style. For example: the eyes are unusually large (even by manga standards); flowers and bubbles are often seen floating in the background; they are romances; or they invariably have a female protagonist. I've seen fans debate these fine points on English-language message boards for ten years or more, and when I intervene and offer my own two cents (based on 15 years of studying shôjo manga, their readers, their creators, their editors, their publishers, and their retailers), participants are usually disappointed. This is probably because, after they have plumbed the depths of style and content ad nauseam, I simply tell them that shôjo manga are manga published in shôjo magazines (as defined by their publishers), and shônen manga are manga published in shônen manga magazines (likewise defined by publishers).

I'm sorry, but that's really all there is to it. Naturally, there will be certain leanings in one genre or the other, since they are geared at different sexes, but just as you will find sci-fi shôjo manga, you will also find romantic shônen manga.

To be honest, though, things are complicated by differences in target age groups. Although male manga are easily classified as shônen ("boys'") or seinen ("men's"), female-oriented manga are not so neatly divided. This is probably because the first successful manga targeting adult women were labeled as "ladies' comics," and these comics quickly acquired a stigma that fans of shôjo manga did not want to be associated with. If you think of ladies' comics as soap operas on paper, you may begin to see why. It wasn't really until the 1990s that sophisticated and intellectually stimulating manga for women began to really get a foothold in the manga industry in Japan. Those of us who make a living talking about or working with manga will call them josei-muke ("woman-oriented") or josei ("women's") manga, but such terms never really caught on with mainstream readers. To those readers, such works are still shôjo manga, or else just plain manga. But readers have no doubt, in most cases, about whom the target audience is. To make things even more complicated, there are many manga today that are created by female artists, and deal with themes of interest to women, but which are published in "gender-neutral" magazines, and have many male readers as well as female readers. Think of these as "indy" or "underground" manga, even though many are published by huge publishing houses.

So how's a poor Anglophone to tell the difference? Well, although I read manga in Japanese, I've tried to compile a list a manga that have been translated into English and which are classified as "shôjo," either rightly or wrongly.

The following are correctly classified as shôjo manga, though the targeted age bracket, as well as style and content, may vary wildly:

  • A, A'
  • Alice 19th
  • Angel Sanctuary
  • Banana Fish
  • Basara
  • Boys Over Flowers
  • Cardcaptor Sakura
  • Ceres, Celestial Legend
  • Changeling
  • Chicago
  • CLAMP School Detectives
  • Clover
  • Confidential Confessions
  • DNAngel
  • Doll
  • Dream Saga
  • Duklyon
  • Erica Sakurazawa: Angel
  • Erica Sakurazawa: Angel Nest
  • Erica Sakurazawa: Between the Sheets
  • Erica Sakurazawa: The Aromatic Bitters
  • Erica Sakurazawa: The Rules of Love
  • Forbidden Dance
  • Fruits Basket
  • Fushigi Yugi
  • Girl Got Game
  • Hana-Kimi
  • Hands Off!
  • Happy Mania
  • Hot Gimmick
  • Kare kano
  • Kodocha: Sana's Stage
  • Legend of Chun Hyang
  • Love Song
  • Magic Knight Rayearth
  • Marmalade Boy
  • Mars
  • Mink
  • Miracle Girls
  • The One I love
  • Paradise Kiss
  • Passion Fruit
  • Peach Girl
  • Pet Shop of Horrors
  • Planet Ladder
  • Please Save My Earth
  • Princess Knight
  • Promise
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena
  • The Rose of Versaille
  • Sailor Moon
  • Shirahime-Syo
  • Suki
  • They Were Eleven!
  • Tokyo Babylon
  • Tokyo Mew Mew
  • Tramps Like Us
  • Wild Act
  • Wish
  • X/1999
  • X-Day
  • Zodiac P.I.

The following examples are not shôjo manga. Most are boys' or men's manga that give expression to (heterosexual) male fantasies and fears of the opposite sex. Presumably they are mistaken for shôjo manga because they feature female characters prominently and/or feature romantic relationships. Most can be enjoyed by girls and women, as well, but the original intended audience is male. If the leading male is an unremarkable Average Joe (e.g., Oh, My Goddess, Maison Ikkoku, Dance Till Tomorrow, Love Hina, et cetera), then you can be pretty sure it's not shôjo manga. In shôjo manga, the heroine is often an "ordinary girl," but the leading man must be tall, handsome, and cool.

  • Ranma 1/2
  • Video Girl Ai
  • Oh, My Goddess
  • Chobits
  • Love Hina
  • Dance Till Tomorrow
  • Silent Möbius
  • PitaTen
  • Maison Ikkoku
  • Corrector Yui
  • Flowers and Bees
  • Miyuki-chan in Wonderland

Then there's the genre of "boys' love" or "yaoi." These feature romantic and sexual relationships between male characters, but these are nothing like gay comics made by and for gay men. Because they are made by and for women (and read by many teen girls, too), they are, strictly speaking, a subgenre of shôjo manga, but most fans see them as entirely distinct genres, and while some readers enjoy both, most prefer one or the other. If you like the genre of "slash," chances are you'll like this genre. Examples that I have found translated (legally) into English are Gravitation and Fake. Some other shôjo manga, such as Banana Fish, and perhaps even A, A', can be classified as "boys' love," but these days the name tends to refer only to works that are published in magazines dedicated exclusively to the genre, such as B-Boy. Although only a few boys' love titles have been translated legally, many are available online as "scanlations."

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Posted 1659 days ago
yeah it's true. not all romance,emotional and beautiful manga must always be shoujo and not all actions, adventures and challenging manga must be shonen.

i think mangas should instead be typed according to genre like movies (romance/action/horror/thriller/investig ation/drama/epic/etc.) instead of separating them by gender-based sound "shoujo" or "shounen"
 

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Matt Thorn ()
Cultural Anthropologist
Associate Professor
Faculty of Manga
Kyoto Seika University