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When a non-manga about shoujo manga is more interesting than a shoujo manga

Shoujo manga is interesting…. OF COURSE! 🙂

But I sometimes find it even more interesting reading others’ commentaries, or studies, on shoujo manga – below a summary and a quick review of those non-manga that I found “even more interesting”. This post can also be treated as a continuation of this.

By the way, I am presenting the materials below NOT because I agree with everything in them but because I found those thoughts and ideas were provocative although arguable at times. I just like the idea of being able to study shoujo manga from different prospectives which I would not have thought about before. : )

A quick outline of this rather LONG post:

– What is literature? What does literary mean? – Can it apply on shoujo manga?
– What does shoujo manga ACTUALLY represent?
– The Divided Self
– Philosophies in shoujo manga
– “Lady Comics” = female porns?
– Shounen-ai, June, BL, Yaoi….. = feminism?
– Back to the basics


What is literature? What does literary mean? – Can it apply on shoujo manga?

It is difficult to define a “literature”, and it is confusing, especially since I read some debates on whether or not Jane Austin’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, should be treated as a literature due to its romanticism! In his article, “What is Literature: A Definition Based On Prototypes” (1997), Jim Meyer suggested that prototypical literary works should demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • Written texts, marked by careful use of languages, in a literary genre
  • Aesthetic reading and the author’s intention
  • Weak implicatures and openess

I will come back to the first characteristic latter, since it involves a “visual language’ of manga which will be covered later. In terms of aesthetic reading, Meyer emphasised the importance of readers interactions and gave an example of a definition of aesthetic reading:

The reader performs very different activities during aesthetic and non-aesthetic readings. The contrast derives primarily from the different in the reader’s focus of attention during the reading-event. In non-aesthetic reading, the reader’s attention is focused primarily on what will remain as the residue after the reading – the information to be acquired, the logical solution to a problem, the actions to be carried out…. In aesthetic reading, in contrast, the reader’s primarily concern is with what happens during the actual reading event…. [The reader] pays attention to the associations, feelings, attitudes, and ideas that these words and their referents arose within him.


Furenki (Yume no Ishibumi) ©Toshie KIHARA

Finally, Meyer suggested that a literary work should be characterised by a more open interpretation, thus the importance of distinction between ‘explicatures’ (e.g. “The park is some distance from my house”) and “implicatures” (e.g. “The park is further from my house than you might think”), i.e. “meanings which are present but which as less strongly present“, as Meryer puts it.

So the way I understand it (rightly or wrongly) in a shoujo manga context: Take Furenki for instance, when Tsuyuchika was questioned by the court for the reason for his affair, his first reply was, “I want a woman“. The directness of his response shocked everyone, for it was considered rude and unaesthetic. So Tsuyuchika refined his response, “my wish for my lonely soul to be comforted by the sweet lovely flower…. However I address it with beautiful words, is it not the intentions are the same?”….. Tsuyuchika’s comment probably sums up (nicely) the difference between explicatures and implicatures.

In the meantime, I am pondering if I can interpret “weak implicatures and openness”as the same as “ambiguity and ambiguous ending”….? Hmmm.


As I have reiterated a zillion times before, I never doubt once about the “literature quality” of some of the shoujo manga – especially since Ryumei Yoshimoto, an eniment Japanese literary critic, has compare shoujo manga to literature, contributing to an acceptance of the notion that manga narratives are essentially literary.

Front Cover

InWriting and Seeing: Essays on Word and Image“, Yoko Ono’s essay shows a correlation between contemporary Japanese literatures and shoujo manga by studying in details the techniques of literal/verbal expressions in shoujo manga. Ono’s essay also highlights the significance of gender aspects in Japanese society – by standing up against a male-dominated literature world in the late 60’s, concurrently with the arrival of feminism, nonprofessional women started to write and expressed themselves in their own words, published their writings which were well received. The shoujo manga narratives derive from these styles of writing; a female protagonist speaking in the first person. As it was first seen in a new wave of works by the Year 24’s, the use of first person narratives, in conjunction with complex structures of voice bubbles, panels and framed/ unframed texts, drew insights into characters’ emotions. By expressing the inner-worlds of the heroines, the artists also gave depth to the shoujo manga narratives which attracted larger readerships of adult males, and intellectuals.

… I guess for some, this is nothing new. But it is good to see the literary quality of shoujo manga IS being recognised academically! : )


What does shoujo manga ACTUALLY represent?

Since manga “reflects the reality of Japanese society…. [and] depicts other social phenomen, such as social order and hierarchy, sexism, racism…. and so on” (ITO, Kinko), I thought it would be fair to also explore other approaches of studying shoujo manga, especially on gender and sociology aspects, besides a focus on arts.

I am blessed with Google Books being available that eased my pain of digging, finding and buying/ borrowing books which might/ might not be of any help in my “quest of study”. After reading a fair amount of essays and articles written by the scholars around the globe, and albeit the fact that I was gladly enlightened by the ideas and approaches they presented, I still found it hard to be convinced by some conclusions which were (or seems to be) drawn based on one or very limited numbers of, if not wrong, examples of shoujo manga!

watshi noAmongst the mountains of scholars’ papers on shoujo manga, there was one thing in common however: a reference to Yukari Fujimoto‘s “Watashi no Ibasho wa Doha Ni Am No?“, in which it clearly shows its writer’s extreme knowledge of the history and social contexts of shoujo manga.

The rather long title of this book actually reads, “Where Do I Belong? The Shape of the Heart as Reflected in Shoujo Manga“. With hundreds of examples and pictures of classical pieces (which a lot of us are familiar with ^^), Fujimoto explains how shoujo manga reflects an adolescent girl’s intense desire to have her self-identity affirmed positively by the self and others in a Japanese society.

This book is structured in sections by themes of shoujo manga, including:

  • Love, romance and the traps
  • Description of sex and dealing with matureness in shoujo manga
  • Roles of family – traditional vs non blood/kinship-related
  • Appearances of different age groups, seasons, and times in shoujo manga
  • Intersex and androgynous characters
  • Trans-gender and lesbianism
  • Women at work and the roles of females in different societies
  • Meaning of life – death and wars, reborn/ reincarnations, clones, evolutions and SF.

My confession: there is A LOT of Japanese for me to digest in this book – two years on since I bought the book, I am still trying to digest it bits by bits! So I am relying a lot on Google resources to help me on the translations…… I just wish there is a translated copy in english!!!!

Fujimoto is known to be a vocal commentator and critics. Her arguments presented in this book may be debatable, depending on how you look at it. One example is her views on shounen-ai and the depictions of rape. In her book, Fujimoto suggested that, adolescent girls (i.e. readers of shoujo manga in the 70’s and 80’s) have developed a fear of sex, which is different from a sexual desire, as the roles or females were being strictly defined by the Japanese society then.


Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi ©YAMAGISHI Ryoko

In a way, their desires for sex, if any, would be hidden or being condemned in reality, which as a result, impeded their psychological developments from adolescence to womanhood. In a vicious cycle scenario, these girls, confused and lost in their identities, could eventually become misogynistic towards their own sex. In fact, it was this sort of misogamy atmoshpere that nurtured the rapid development of shounen-ai manga narratives in the 70’s (e.g. Prince Shotoku from Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi by Ryoko Yamagishi and his “hatred” towards women).

Fujimoto also suggested that, due to the androgynous (or gender-blending) natures of the shounen-ai characters, the female readers were free to experiment by reading them as the self, not as others, or vice versa. Take the case of Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi as an example – through the eyes of Prince Shotoku, readers were able to sense his contradicting feelings between his hatred towards women and the desire for the love of his mother. So whilst the shounen-ai narratives were popular partly because of the misogamy, readers were also able to turn their eyes to the positions where females roles were strictly defined or imposed on by the male-dominated culture. Fujimoto concludes that the misogyny has actually exposed the ways in which women were forced into self-hatred, and thus started to echo as expressions of the greatest understanding of womanhood.

I did find Fujimoto’s arguments hard to absorb at first, but her arguments were supported by some interviews on manga artists when they were asked about their works in the 70’s. Do bear in mind that this book was published in 1998, many of the featured manga were published in the 70s and 80s. In the bunkoban version (2008), Fujimoto made a comment about the development of shoujo manga to date, especially on yaoi and BL, for which her arguments (on shounen-ai) may not be applicable.

The bottom line is, Fujimoto’s arguments above presented me a picture of how it would be like and what shoujo manga would mean to me, if I were an adolescent girl experiencing it in the 70’s…. This book is a real treasure! : )


The Divided Self

manga no shaOne of the recurrent themes of shoujo manga is the herorine’s identical gender-bending twins, started by Osamu Tezuka’s Ribon no Kishi. Yukari Fujimoto (yes, her again!) explains in “Manga no Shakaigaku“* that this was the first form of “divided self” seen in shoujo manga, in which it symbolised a woman in her disguised transgender form was freed from society restrictions and being able to carry the normal duties of a man. (NB. Fujimoto has also used Ribon no Kishi as an example in “Watashi no Ibasho wa Doha Ni Am No?” to explain the nature of cross-dressing female characters in shoujo manga.)

In shoujo manga, the “divided self” reflects the contrast between “the self” in reality and “the ideal self” who carries other’s expectations on “the self”. Moto Hagio is one of the innovators of shoujo manga narratives using the “divided self” concept.

As she has said in many of her interviews, Hagio would project herself (and the “ideal of her”) into some of her narratives. Hagio’s employment of mirror and reflective self as seen in “Bianca“, clones (“A.A’ “), as well as haunting memories of the past (“Thoma no Shinzo“) are the indications of self reflection and symbolisms of self-recognition after experiencing a conflict between rejection/ acceptance of “the self” and other’s projections of identity on “the self”.


Bianca ©HAGIO Moto

In “Shakespeare in Asia“, scholar Minami Ryuta compares the forms of Shakespeare’s plays in shoujo manga, in particular the use of twins in a metaphorical way. Likewise, the form of twins is a popular device in shoujo manga to indicate the motif of the divided self . An example of this is the use of conjoined twins, which can be interpreted metaphorically as the dichotomy of good and evil within one self. In the early days of shoujo manga, these twins often appeared as horrific but sympathetic creatures of Frankenstein-alike scientific experiments. The separation of the twins, often occurred after surgeries which led to the death of one of the twins, symbolised a rebirth of the new self embracing both the goodness and weakness. One of the examples Fujimoto gave to support this argument was Hagio Moto’s Hanshin.

Again, Fujimoto’s essay is full of Japanese, but fortunately complimented by a lot of shoujo manga examples and images. Basically, if I understand it correctly, Fujimoto’s essay demonstrates how different forms of “divided self” are employed in shoujo manga to imply a process of realising and understanding a realistic definition of the (female) self at the end.

In case anyone is interested in the topic, I would also recommend reading “Another Half and/or Another Individual: Representation of Twins in Manga” by Mio Bryce. “Juliet no Tamago” (by YOSHINO Sakumi) was used to demonstrate the representations of twins (“self and the other”) in shoujo manga.

*Fujimoto, Yukari (2001), “Bunshin – shoujo manga no naka no ‘mo hitori no watashi’


Philosophies in shoujo manga

desireIt should be fairly obvious by now that there is a great deal of philosophies which can be found in shoujo manga! For me, it helps to read more about the concepts of “Otherness” and “Desires” which, seem to be applied quite often as psychoanalytic approach in shoujo manga. (e.g. HAGIO Moto’s for one, YOSHINO Sakumi’s for two and…. etc!)

I was recommended reading “Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure” by René Girard.

Unfortunately, it was not an easy read and I almost cried with tears either bored or in pain trying to “decipher” the meanings words by words! But once I manage to crack even by a tiny little Girard’s hypothesis of “mimetic desires” for instance, what I used to think was confusing in shoujo manga suddenly became clear to me…. I found my enlightenment in shoujo manga through Girard’s model of desires! (Lol.)

For anyone who may be interested, I came across an online essay (in Japanese) in which René Girard’s idea of mimetic desire-rivalry was discussed using YOSHINO Sakumi’s “Shounen wa Kouya o Mezasu” as an example.

PS. I have lightly touched on the subject of “mimetic desires” here using Sakumi Yoshino’s “Juliet no Tamago” as an example.


“Ladies Comics” = female porns?

booksIts cover is hot as its title! “Porn Studies” (2004) is exactly what’s said on the tin: Studies on the Porns!

So why I am bringing this here? It is because there is an essay by Deborah Shamoon on “ladies comics” (redesu komikku). Digress: I am still confused by whether or not “ladies comics” is josei, despite of what was entered in Wikipedia. If I have read it correctly, Matt Thorn seems to suggest there is a difference between the two. Anyway, in this case I am only referring “ladies comics” as those containing substantial amounts of erotic and sexual contents for whatever purposes.

Are “ladies’ comics” = female porns?

Apparently so, according to Shamoon, by the fact that “the displays of naked (female) bodies engaging sexual activities may suggest the two are of the same genre” (cites Allison, Anne).

However, the writer pointed out, “Looking at ladies’ comics only in terms of porn for men can in fact lead to confusion…. what may appear visually similar can, in the context of different audiences and different generic expectations, have radically different meanings. In ero manga, the female body is displayed for the enjoyment of the male reader, while in ladies’ comics, the display of the female body arouses the sexual desire of the female reader through the endless play of difference and similarity between her and the characters….

Without putting images of an ero manga here for comparison (for obvious reason!), in terms of the contexts of arts, I guess the differences would be how the panels and frames are structured, besides the drawing styles of different artists. For instance, shoujo manga is known for its uniqueness in its panel-frame structures as a way to accentuate the emotions of manga narratives and the expressions of characters. I would assume the same applies in ladies’ comics.

What is more interesting about Shamoon’s essay is the discussion (and quoting Fujimoto Yukari) on rape fantasies appeared in ladies’ comics, that the depictions of rape allowed female readers to psychologically “let go” and experienced the nature of a sexual fantasy and desire without incurring guilt of doing so.



NB. Fujimoto’s comments on BL above echoes what was discussed in “Watashi no Ibasho wa Doha Ni Am No?” (see above).


Shounen-ai, June, BL, Yaoi….. = feminism?

0. cover

For me, the best way to learn about a shoujo manga, is to hear/ read what does its creator say/ think about it…..

So here comes “Fumi Yoshinaga’s Taidanshuu” (よしながふみ対談集), a fascinating collection of conversational records between the manga artist and her friends/ colleagues about shoujo manga, Year 24 and, in particular, their views on BL and Yaoi! Featuring also Moto Hagio, Chica Umino (creator of “Honey and Clover“), Kazuma Kodaka (pioneer of commercial BL manga), Shion Miura (author of “Mahoro ekimae Tada benriken (Tada’s Do-It-All House), et.al.

The book is intended to be read as if it was a diary containing personal views, just as it would in any open and casual conversation between friends. Whilst some people may disagree with those views, or even find them offensive (according to some reviews I have come across with!), I found this book is refreshing to read on a contrary.

Not only because this book is packed with witty and sharp-tongued comments given by the manga artists, highlighting the humorous and “wicked” sides of those artists, but also in a way, it gives an in-depth insights into the minds of these artists who are THE original creators of those most-talked-about shoujo manga! Let’s put it this way: Could there be any better way of studying their works, other than reading what the manga artists actually think about their (and others’) works? 🙂

Scroll all the way down to read some quotes from this book. (Be warned: my translation sucks!)

PS. There is actually a great section on the conversation between Fumi Yoshinaga and Moto Hagio. I wish I have the patience to translate parts of it and share here! (May be someone can help? *wink*)


Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom, edited by Antonia Levi et. al.

20140220-223514.jpg This one is interesting in its own way – not because of its contents, but rather the reviews and criticisms it received were, well, “interesting”…. 🙂

The title is somewhat misleading though; expecting it to be a collection of scholars’ essays on BL manga studies, but instead it was read like tedious reports of bad journalism… I am putting it here to show off the fact that I have read it, unfortunately.


Back to the basics


Without going into too much details, below a list of books with some of those provide in-depth details of the manga drawing techniques. In particular, I enjoy reading Fusanosuke Natsume’s “Manga Wa Naze Omoshiroinoka-Sono Hyogen to Bunpo” (1987), as it provides many examples to demonstrate how the differences in techniques could impact the outcome of a manga.

(NB. The edition that I read is translated in chinese: 日本漫画为什么有趣 (2012). I am assuming the translations are consistent with its original edition…. : )


Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives, editied by Toni Johnson-Wood

imgres-3from Amazon: “This book contains an important collection of essays by an international cast of scholars, experts and fans. It provides a one-stop resource for all those who want to learn more about Manga, as well as for anybody teaching a course on the subject….. Containing sections addressing the manga industry on an international scale, the different genres, formats and artists, as well the fans themselves, “Manga: An Anthology of Global and Cultural Perspectives” is an important collection of essays.”

The book was a great read for me, the fact that it is in ENGLISH!

My main interest was on Neil Cohn’s essay on the visual language of manga, which is an analysis on the narratives of shoujo manga using a linguistic approach. To conclude, “Cohn expands Schodt’s hypothesis that manga is another language with a unique grammar“.

Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics by Paul Gravett

Front Cover I did see a copy of it in the library. But giving there was only a very limited amount of discussions on shoujo manga, I passed. Having said that, I was running out of time when I saw it and gave it a quick flip through only – apologies if I gave it the injustice!

Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga by Frederik L. Schodt

Front Cover I was told this book is a MUST read since it is the first “manga study” written in English.

Albeit its section on shoujo manga is not extensive (to my mildest disappointment), the descriptions on the artists and their masterpieces were in-depth and greatly covered. Very well written indeed.

Reading Japan Cool: Patterns of Manga Literacy and Discourse by John Ingulsrud et.al.

imgresThe sole reason I was attracted by this book is because of its title, or more specifically, the words, “Manga Literacy”.

A description summary from Amazon: “There are manga publications that attract readers of all ages and genders. The diversity in content attracts readers well into adulthood. Surveys on reading practices have found that almost all Japanese people read manga or have done so at some point in their lives. The skills of reading manga are learned by readers themselves, but learned in the context of other readers and in tandem with school learning. Manga reading practices are sustained by the practices of other readers, and manga content therefore serves as a topic of conversation for both families and friends. Moreover, manga is one of the largest sources of content for media production in film, television, and video games. Manga literacy, the practices of the readers, the diversity of titles, and the sheer number of works provide the basis for the movement recognized as Japan Cool. Reading Japan Cool is directed at an audience of students of Japanese studies, discourse analysts, educators, parents, and manga readers.”


To close off my post, here is an article by Keith Maillard that summarises the goodness of shoujo manga!

Bon Appetit!


Quotes from “Fumi Yoshinaga’s Taidanshuu“:
“.. ‘Homosexual [gay] has a mind similar to the girls’ in shoujo manga; shoujo manga reflects homosexuality because it features a gay character‘ – that would perhaps be a common general thought of a man who reads shoujo manga. Assuming that is the case, it is indeed a wrong approach to [reading] shoujo manga….” (with reference to “Wata no Kunihoshi” (The Star of Cottonland) by Yumiko Oshima.)

“…. Homosexuality [that appears in shoujo manga] is a reflection of [an artist’s] sexual desires… turning the desires into the depictions of rapes and taboos…”

“… rather than saying ‘wanting to be raped’, as rape causes pain and psychological traumas in reality, it is more like saying….. ‘Please Play With Me!'” (in regards of the rape scenes in BL.)

“…. Men, be it about cakes, food, or architecture… they just want to stack it up because it is a p***s in their eyes.”

“BL to tanbi*…. is like ‘Ladies Comics’ to ‘shoujo manga’.” (*”Tanbi” was used to describe “JUNE” and “shounen-ai” in this case.)

“Until to date, there is still a majority of people recognising Keiko Takemiya sensei as the pioneer of BL. Albeit the influence of Year 24 was undeniably significant, if one looks into the history of BL…. more credits can be given to Kazuma Kodaka sensi for her works in BL. Indifferent to JUNE that carries the sense of (im)morality and desires, I feel BL gives a strong focus on the interactions between two males, but not about a love relationship between two homosexual males…. It was Kazuma Kodaka sensi who defined BL…. and Emikuri sensi who first put this in doujinshi drawings.”

“A lot of people became shoujo manga artists because of Year 24. But these days, the links between BL artists and Year 24 seem to have disappeared. Then of course, we can still see the trace of Year 24 in the works of, say Keiko Nishi, Ichiko Ima, et.al.”

“I received feedback from my fans about my works being ‘refreshing’….. My works are nothing special from the BL works of others. If I must say, the only difference is probably because of a sense of presence of Year 24’s styles in my works…. Those who have read my books would be able to tell immediately that ‘Yoshinaga is a fan of Year 24!“. For those have not, I hope my works will serve as an introduction to Year 24’s for them.”

“In Kodomo no Taion, I structured a sequence of panels vertically on a page. It was the way that Yumiko Oshima sensi often deployed in her works.”

“I recommended my friends reading Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi [by Ryoko Yamagishi] but was told ‘it was not interesting at all‘ and they did not finish reading it…. It was the same with the works of Oshima sensi!…. Their response after reading her works was, ‘very cute and fluffy‘…. !”

“There was a time when I was so frustrated by those men who pretend to have a great knowledge of Year 24’s works…. They often misunderstood the true meanings of Oshima sensei’s works….. There are always men who would analyse Chibi as the projections of girls [readers] in shoujo manga – how wrong!! The person who we truly connected with should be Suwano as we watched Chibi with him. Ridiculous comments such as ‘The resonance the female readers felt for Chibi represents their desires to stay young forever‘ – this is certainly not how we thought!”

“Shoujo manga is about [depictions of] ‘THE moment’…. In Oshima sensei’s, there bound to be a moment when a girl steps into womanhood…. Her manga is never really about being a girl forever….”

“Whilst it seems like the members of Year 24 worked on the same theme, which is the transitional moment to adulthood (i.e. coming of age), I can think of Yoshino Sakumi sensei as the one who depicts about “staying as an adolescent girl forever”….. using suicide as a device to terminate.”

“Shoujo manga became popular because it reflects reality and shows guidance in its own way….. People are “tricked” by the cuteness of shoujo manga on its surface. ”

“It would be interesting to ask those oyaji why they don’t read Nana. But why don’t they?… Instead of saying they ‘don’t read’ (it), it is more like the majority of them ‘are not interested in reading (it)’…”

“What shoujo manga actually depicts are the true identities of females; perhaps it is a reality that men are unwilling to face.”

“When I read Antique Bakery, there was a scene where the abducted kid would be fed patisseries, killed and then eaten by the abductor…. this made me thought of this manga as being scary.”

“I have a habit of sharing with friends my summaries of the manga I really like…. But I was struggling when it comes to summarising Gin no Sankaku.”

“How should I put it…. it was like a monstrous looking man suddenly appears from nowhere, holding onto his musical instrument…. It is hard enough to describe this character.” (on Gin no Sankaku.)

“To me, there is nothing special about SF – from stories to depictions…. I found it harder to draw daily and normal surrounding things, thus I like to draw using themes based in overseas countries or in the worlds of unusual. Lately, I finally started a story based in Japan. But there are still unusual things happening in the story; it is easier to depict a world such as that.”

and on and on and on……



2 thoughts on “When a non-manga about shoujo manga is more interesting than a shoujo manga

  1. “I have a habit of sharing with friends my summaries of the manga I really like…. But I was struggling when it comes to summarising Gin no Sankaku.” ==> This is soooooo true!!!!

    Thanks again for this article ^^ .

    Posted by a-yin | June 17, 2014, 12:36 pm


  1. Pingback: Escape maneuver “hanami” ! | HEARTS OF FURIOUS FANCIES - February 11, 2015

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