The world of manga and anime is organized quite differently than that of Western comics and animation. Aside from the different genres that exist in Japan, different manga and anime works are also classified based on their targeted demographics. We have already talked about the shōnen category, which encompasses manga and anime for boys age 12-18, and in this article, we are going to talk about its gender-based counterpart – shōjo.
Shōjo anime and manga are designed for a specific target audience – girls aged 12 to 18 years. In the center of the plot, as a rule, there is a girl and the question of her becoming a person; often there are love relationships of varying degrees of intimacy, much attention is paid to the development of characters’ images, male characters are very beautiful, noble, brave and selfless.
This article is going to be all about the shōjo genre. You’re going to find out what shōjo means, what it represents and how it evolved throughout the years. You’re also going to get some information on the most popular and best-selling shōjo magazines and titles. It’s going to be fun so stick with us until the end.
The meaning of the word shōjo
Since shōjo literally means “girl” in the Japanese language, the genre is in the West known under several different names: girls’ manga, or anime for girls. The parallel terms shōnen, seinen, and josei also occur in the categorization of manga and anime, with similar qualifications. The term itself was originally coined by Japanese publishers and advertisers.
Cultural anthropologist Rachel Matt Thorn classifies a Japanese comic as a shōjo manga if it has appeared in a shōjo manga magazine; this is a very simplistic definition of the genre, but it is not incorrect. Namely, the publishers of the respective magazines announce which manga category a manga magazine specializes in.
For example, Akimi Yoshida’s action thriller Banana Fish is drawn in an atypical shōjo manga, realistic and clean style similar to the works of Katsuhiro Otomo, but still appeared in the Bessatsu shōjo comic, aimed at middle- and high school-aged girls. The male counterpart to the shōjo manga is the shōnen manga.
The history of shōjo manga and anime
The first comics for girls appeared in Japanese girls’ magazines such as Shōjo Club at the beginning of the 20th century. These were drawn by men and were still conceived as “Yonkoma Manga”, i.e., entertaining comic strips. In 1949, for example, Shōsuke Kuragane created the comic strip series Anmitsu-hime for the monthly magazine Shōjo, in which the names of the main character and all other characters are derived from sweets.
However, girls’ manga only became successful in the form of long comics with a continuous plot, in the form of story manga. Osamu Tezuka created the first story manga for girls from 1953 to 1958 with Ribon no Kishi for Shōjo Club. It was about the Princess Saphir, who is raised as a boy because of the cunning of an angel who gave her a man’s heart into the world. The angel is sent to earth by God to take away Saphir’s heart so that she can marry the prince from the neighboring kingdom.
Tezuka drew inspiration from the female Takarazuka theater company for Ribon no Kishi, and drew the comic using the same tools that had brought him to success in manga for a male audience—with a proximity to cinematic storytelling and a character design influenced by Disney films. Other male comic artists also created shōjo manga along the lines of Ribon no Kishi in the 1950s, often because they were not accepted in shōnen manga.
Some of these artists, such as Tetsuya Chiba, Leiji Matsumoto, and Shōtarō Ishinomori, went on to become extremely well-known shōnen manga authors. The first weekly manga magazines for girls were also founded in 1962 and 1963 – Margaret by the Shūeisha Publishing House and Shōjo Friend by the Kōdansha Publishing House. The monthly manga magazines Ribon and Nakayoshi had already been founded by these two publishers in 1955.
Margaret and Shōjo Friend were aimed at a slightly older audience than their monthly counterparts. Although Machiko Hasegawa had already worked for daily newspapers with her comic strip series Sazae-san since 1946, women only later established themselves in the shōjo manga scene. In the 1960s, Toshiko Ueda, Hideko Mizuno, Miyako Maki, Masako Watanabe, and Chikako Urano gradually shaped the attitude that shōjo manga were comics by women.
Chikako Urano achieved popularity with the Attack No. 1 (1968–1971) manga and paved the way for sports in girls’ manga. Sumika Yamamoto created with Ace wo Nerae! a very successful tennis manga from 1972 to 1980. The group of 24 around Moto Hagio, Yumiko Ōshima, Keiko Takemiya and Riyoko Ikeda revolutionized the girls’ manga from 1969.
The few women who had published shōjo manga up until then had followed the patterns set by the men. The 24s changed that with the introduction of new themes and unconventional drawing techniques focused on aesthetics. In her 1800-page work, The Roses of Versailles (1972–1973), Riyoko Ikeda placed a fictional female character in the context of the French Revolution, who, as a general at the French court, had a man’s job and ultimately died for the revolution.
Moto Hagio’s manga Thomas no Shinzō (1973-1975) is about a homosexual love affair at a European boys’ school. Keiko Takemiya also used the same motif in her bestseller Kaze to Ki no Uta (1976-1984). The popularity of these homoerotic stories influenced many other female mangaka, led to the founding of their own magazines like June, and eventually to the establishment of their own genre (yaoi).
With the success of the 24s, women finally took over the shōjo manga and only a few male artists were able to assert themselves in the girls’ manga (such as Shinji Wada, Mitsuru Adachi and Maya Mineo). With magazines like Mimi, which catered to teenage girls ages 14 to 21, more mature shōjo manga emerged from the mid-1970s, leading to the development of josei manga in the early 1980s.
One of the most important titles in Mimi was Waki Yamato’s manga adaptation of the classic story Genji Monogatari. In the 1980s, it was mainly everyday stories with self-mockery that prevailed in shōjo manga. Manga like Momoko Sakura’s Chibi Maruko-chan (since 1987) about the life of a naughty elementary school student and Noriko Sasaki’s veterinarian series Dōbutsu no Oisha-san (1989-1994) sold several million copies.
Towards the end of the 1980s, many animators who had first worked in the amateur manga scene made professional publications, including Yun Kouga, Minami Ozaki, and the animator team CLAMP. From 1992 to 2004, Yōko Kamio created Hana Yori Dango, the best-selling girl manga in Japan with sales of 55 million.
The focus is on a girl from a poor background who goes to a rich private school and finds herself involved in love affairs there. A comic series about girls who transform into superheroes with magical abilities was created by Naoko Takeuchi with Sailor Moon (1992-1997). Sailor Moon achieved international fame.
Top 10 shōjo anime you need to see
As we finish our article, we are going to bring you a short list of the best shōjo anime series you can watch. Some of them are classics, others are still running, but all of the titles on this list are definitely worth a watch in our opinion and you can pick any of them to start with. The titles are going to be placed in no specific order, so this is not an actual top list, but rather a list of the 10 best shōjo titles you can enjoy, without thinking about whether one of them is better than the other:
- Fruits Basket
- Natsume’s Book of Friends
- Banana Fish
- The Rose of Versailles (Lady Oscar)
- Cardcaptor Sakura
- Skip Beat!
- Kaichou wa Maid-sama!
- Kamisama Hajimemashita