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Femininity In Shojo Manga And Josei Manga Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 4267 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Why do people enjoy pop culture, specifically manga? People wish to escape from reality by either agreeing with artists’ criticism of the real world or drowning in the “realistic-imaginary” world drawn by them. The imagination of manga artists is quite limited; they have to bring something to talk about from their lives and experience. Therefore, pop culture is the cultural representation of society, and as such gender identity depicted in manga is also likely to reflect reality quite well. For example, Osamu Tezuka, a Japanese manga artist also known as “the god of comics”, created Astro Boy, which reflects Japanese people’s desire to be powerful, to get rid of their deep despair after World War II. One Piece, the most popular manga in Japan which has sold more than 200 million copies, has become a bestseller because it succeeds in displaying friendship, effort and victory in a well-structured fantasy world, thereby giving people motivation to read and enjoy both reality and fantasy. By reading manga, especially bestsellers, even foreigners can learn what Japanese people want from their society, because the characters in manga are Japanese people themselves or what they want to become.

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There are five categories of manga: kodomo manga (for children), shonen manga (for boys), shojo manga (for girls), seinen manga (for adult men) and josei manga (for adult women). I decided to investigate shojo manga and josei manga because the range of shonen and seinen manga is too broad. As boys tend to read more manga than girls, some manga which target both boys and girls go into the category of shonen manga. Furthermore, shonen manga usually contain adventurous content so that not only boys but also girls read them; thus, it is difficult to characterize as being manga only for boys or men. As a result, the top-selling shonen manga magazine, Weekly Shonen Jump, sold 2.8 million copies whereas the top-selling shojo manga magazine, Ciao, sold only 1 million copies in 2007. Shojo manga and josei manga are rather easy to categorize because they only target female readers with typical drawing styles and similar storylines.

In this research, I will discuss how femininity is expressed in several popular shojo and josei manga series. I chose Hana yori Dango: Boys over Flowers and From Me to You: From Me to You for shojo manga, Nana and Nodame Cantabile for josei manga. These manga series are popular enough to represent what most Japanese women want to read and enjoy. Boys over Flowers has sold the largest number of copies in the history of shojo manga – over 60 million copies. From Me to You has sold only 8 million copies in total but its sale ranked 8th in 2009. For josei manga, Nana has sold 45 million copies and Nodame Cantabile 30 million. Boys over Flowers, From Me to You and Nana represent the type of manga with love stories, where female characters struggle to find true love. On the other hand, in Nodame Cantabile, female characters are usually able to achieve both love and success in their careers; this type of manga is realistic for career women engaged in both family and society. Every manga, even didactic manga, includes love, since complex human relationships make its story more interesting.

In Part II of this essay, I will talk about the historical background of manga in general, and introduce how shojo manga and josei manga have developed their own positions in Japanese manga market, thereby emphasizing the importance of those two types of manga in Japan. Then in Part III, I will investigate femininity expressed in popular shojo manga, such as Boys over Flowers, From Me to You, Nana, and Nodame Cantabile. I selected two manga each from shojo manga and josei manga to compare and contrast the difference in depiction of females in two different genres. Those four manga will also be divided according to their contents to compare women in love and women on their careers. In Part IV, I will further investigate gender ideology and social norms creating such difference in descriptions. Japanese history and tradition will explain how femininity in manga has been established with the development of femininity in society.

Historical Background and Importance

Manga is currently so popular that One Piece has sold more than 2 million copies in Japan, but the history of such popularity is not very long. Manga is actually not an academic term, as the word does not appear on encyclopedias, including The New Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encyclopedia Americana. Manga is a Japanese term, referring to “a Japanese genre of cartoons, comic books, and animated films, having a science-fiction or fantasy theme and sometimes including violent or sexually explicit material.” “Ukiyo-e”, woodblock prints of daily life, and “Emakimono”, a traditional narrative art painted on scrolls, are considered to be ancestors of modern manga. Historians also suggest two post-war processes shaping modern manga; manga was influenced both by American cultural influences, such as American comics and Disney cartoons, and by the expansion of Japanese publishing industry after World War II. As many manga artists enter the market, they began to create their own style of manga, which is different from that of western manga.

The outbreak of the war shrank Japanese manga market because of economic crisis and political upheaval; however, manga remained popular even such troubled times. Manga artists tried in many ways to develop manga industry. In 1947, all kinds of censorship were prohibited; Article 21 of the Constitution of Japan declares that, “Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed. No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated.” This freedom of speech encouraged many writers and artists to enthusiastically publish creative work. However, it was not until Osamu Tezuka appeared that manga gained national popularity. He was the first person to establish the Japanese manga form and introduce “cinematic style”, in which panels constitute a motion picture to add dramatic effect on certain scenes. His well-known manga, such as Kimba the White Lion (1950-54), Astro Boy (1952-68), and Princess Knight (1953-56), have constantly been reproduced as animations and movies.

Machiko Hasegawa was the pioneer of shojo manga. Although the first shojo magazine, Shojo kai, appeared in 1903, there were not many female artists then. Most shojo manga, such as Princess Knight by Osamu Tezuka, were drawn by men. Ironically, male artists consequently prepared the way for female artists; many female artists, including Michiko Hasegawa emerged and led the shojo manga market. Hasegawa started to draw a daily comic strip, Sazae-san, for Fukunichi Shimbun on April 22, 1946. Sazae-san is important because its story on daily life and women’s experience later became a guideline for shojo manga. Hasegawa also exhibited developed femininity in her manga; she refused to the traditional concept of “ryosai kenbo”, which means “good wife, wise mother.” Instead, female characters in Sazae-san are strong and enduring just like Hasegawa herself.

Then in 1970s, five notable artists, Moto Hagio, Riyoko Ikeda, Yumiko Oshima, Keiko Takemiya, and Riyoko Yamagishi entered manga industry. They were called “The Magnificent 24s” because most of them were born in Showa 24 (1949). Those female artists revolutionized shojo manga in many ways. First, they eventually gave opportunity to other young female artists; before the Magnificent 24s appeared, shojo manga was mostly drawn by men although it is for girls. By then, women were able to read only what men want to show. Therefore, the role of the Magnificent 24s was important because publishers would hire female artists only after they noticed that women could draw best-sellers. Riyoko Ikeda became popular by publishing The Rose of Versailles (1972), a historical drama based on the French Revolutionary period, and Kyoko Ariyoshi by Swan (1976), which illustrates the struggle of a young ballerina. By the 1970s, female creators were no more minority, and current shojo manga are almost “exclusively created” by women. The Magnificent 24s also established “shonen-ai” or “yaoi” genre, in which beautiful boys fall in love to each other. It should have been a shock to Japanese society that some artists like Moto Hagio and Keiko Takemiya are brave enough to draw “radical” manga in such a firm Confucian culture. It was a huge success.

// Thanks to the effort of many manga artists, manga plays an important role in Japan nowadays. According to the Japanese Information Media White Papers 2005, manga publication comprises 40 percent of the entire Japanese publication industry, which means the influence of manga cannot be ignored. More than 20,000 titles of manga are published annually in 300 magazines, and the annual sales figure of manga is approximately $4.5 billion. Shojo manga is also very popular in countries other than Japan. The New York Times has said that shojo manga has “become one of the hottest markets in the book business” and that two publishers, Viz Media and Tokyopop, “have been the leaders in the American manga market, which has more than doubled since 2002, helped along by a $5 billion business in related animated films, TV series, and licensed products like dolls and action figures.” The sale of shojo manga is also very large, forming 30 percent of the total manga sales.

Josei manga is also for women, but for adults. Josei manga is not very different from shojo manga whereas shojo manga is somewhat different from shonen manga. History of josei manga is also not much different from shojo manga because they both have the same origin. Josei manga is a bit more realistic since it targets adults. Nana and Nodame Cantabile are good examples; not like some superheroes in shojo manga, female characters in josei manga struggle to live in society. Therefore, comparing shojo and josei manga will be interesting as artists attempt to balance reality and fantasy differently for those two genres.

History of shojo manga is important because it is closely related to the rise of femininity in Japan. Right after the war, there were not many female artists because Japan was still a male-dominated society. Japanese government still encouraged women to follow “ryosai kenbo” and keep their households well. However, in 1970s, Japan needed human resources to maintain its rapid growth; so, many women were able to get a job and contribute to the society. Therefore in 1970s, many female artists appeared to express their opinions by manga; their work met the demand of Japanese girls to read manga written from the female point of view. For a long time, development of manga has portrayed reality quite well, which is a good reason why people should read manga carefully.


In this part of the essay, I will talk about femininity expressed in four popular shojo manga. As many people read manga to find relief from reality, female characters in manga are usually either talented or fortunate in order to help readers get vicarious satisfaction. Like the shonen genre that often portrays ‘a loser male surrounded by many females,’ the shojo genre also focuses on ‘a loser female gets prince charming.’ In manga, many female characters are able to achieve a better social status or a source of pride although they do not eagerly pursue them. Although they sometimes have to choose between love and a career, they always overcome such obstacles and gain both, which means Japanese women are not willing to lose either of them. Japanese manga artists usually do not draw reality itself; instead, they draw a developed version of femininity so that female readers may enjoy vicariously.

Boys over Flowers (Original Title: Hana yori Dango) by Yoko Kamio ran from October 1992 to September 2003, and was collected into 37 volumes. In this manga, Makino Tsukushi, the female protagonist, is a poor student who enters an elite high school called Eitoku Academy. She wants to live peacefully, but she decides to fight against F4 (Flower 4), a notorious bullying group of handsome and wealthy boys, when they start to bully her friend. Domyouji Tsukasa, the F4 leader and the heir of the most powerful family in Japan, starts to like Tsukushi’s strong and vital personality. Tsukasa consistently reveals his feelings towards Tsukushi, but her mind constantly oscillates between Tsukasa and Hanazawa Rui, another F4 member and Tsukasa’s best friend. Since Rui helped Tsukushi when she was bullied by Tsukasa, Tsukushi has the impression that Rui is kind and helpful. Therefore, Tsukushi tends to lean on Rui when her relationship with Tsukasa does not go well. Tsukasa sometimes hates this ambiguous attitude of Tsukushi; yet, Tsukasa and Tsukushi always confirm their close connection after they are far from each other. At first, Tsukasa follows Tsukushi to show his love; at the end, Tsukushi searches for Tsukasa and achieves her love despite all obstacles between her and him.

In Boys over Flowers, Tsukushi is a courageous and independent girl, who even challenges Tsukasa exercising absolute power in the academy. When all of her classmates bully her by throwing eggs or getting rid of her desk and chair, she does not surrender but instead kicks Tsukasa on his head. Even when she and Tsukasa start to love each other, Tsukushi refuses to depend on Tsukasa’s wealth and power. She keeps saying “I do not want you to protect me. We will not be able to associate on an equal footing if you start to protect me. I do not like that.” By depicting Tsukushi, Kamio wants to portray a new type of Japanese woman, because Japanese people usually do not express their feelings easily. There is a good anecdote showing the passive attitude of Japanese people:

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In Japan, a young man and woman meet and fall in love. They decide they would like to marry. The young man goes to his mother and describes the situation. “I will visit the girl’s family,” says the mother. “I will seek their approval.” After some time, a meeting between mothers is engaged. The boy’s mother goes to the girl’s ancestral house. The girl’s mother has prepared tea. The women talk about the fine spring weather; will this be a good year for cherry blossoms? The girl’s mother serves a plate of fruit. Bananas are sliced and displayed in an exquisite design. Marriage never mentioned. After the tea, the boy’s mother goes home. “I am so sorry,” she tells her son. “The other family has declined the match.” … To a Japanese, the answer is obvious. Bananas do not go well with tea. (Minatoya, pp. 101-102)

“Ryosai kenbo” is an outdated term, but modern girls are still influenced by the concept of “good wife, wise mother” as their behaviors usually resemble their mothers’. Tsukushi is a special character in that most Japanese girls hide their opinions. Most of them cannot act like Tsukushi because they have not been trained to give their opinions at their homes. Still, they read Boys over Flowers because they yearn for Tsukushi’s straightforward attitude; Tsukushi yells to Tsukasa on behalf of the female readers.

Although Tsukushi wants to stay strong, she also expresses the weakness of women and receives much help from Tsukasa and F4 members. Although she keeps saying “How can I wear Channel?” or “You should have asked me,” she eventually follows Tsukasa to his island and enjoys the trip. She also keeps hurting Tsukasa and Rui as she thinks about Rui when she is with Tsukasa, and thinks about Tsukasa when she is with Rui. Unintentionally, Tsukushi makes herself more attractive by pushing and pulling effectively. Many women want their boyfriends and husbands to be like Tsukasa, who can understand women’s weakness and oscillation of mind. By reading Boys over Flowers, Japanese women dream about having such wealthy, handsome and understanding boyfriends.

From Me to You (Original Title: Kimi ni Todoke) by Karuho Shiina has only sold 8 million copies in total because Shiina started her manga in 2006. It is one of the most popular shojo manga recently; it was one of the four prize-winning manga in the 32nd Annual Kodansha Manga Award. Sawako Kuronuma, the main character in the manga, is a shy girl who cannot express her feelings easily. Her classmates fear her because they never see Sawako chatting with other people, and she resembles a horror film character “Sadako”, which becomes the nickname of Sawako. Some classmates even misunderstand that Sawako can see ghosts and curse people. Although she is an honest and innocent girl, nobody has recognized it before Shota Kazehaya. Shota tries to talk with Sawako, although it may influence his popularity. Following Shota, many people recognize Sawako’s advantages; she also begins to change herself after she finds several close friends, since she wants to have closer relationships with them. She is like a child, learning how to live with other people. It takes some time for Sawako to acknowledge her love toward Shota after he confesses his love. Sawako has not been familiar with expressing her opinions, but she at last confesses her love in front of Shota.

Sawako Kuronuma is a slightly exaggerated representation of Japanese women because Japanese people do not express their feelings easily. It is because they respect harmony, written as “å’Œ” and pronounced as “wa.” Since Japan is an island, there was no threat of invasion, so Japanese people were used to living by themselves. Unlike Koreans who had to help each other to repel invasions of China, Japanese people are not willing to interfere in other people’s lives. Even modern Japanese people use the honorific form of language to each other and do not ask personal questions such as age and family relations. They are expected to be where they are supposed to be and do their given work. They emphasize harmony, which consequently limits the behavior of individuals.

Such background history may be the reason why From Me to You becomes popular. Japanese women need their own Shota who can help them feel free from the restriction of society. Sawako serves her class devotedly and wants to have good relationships with everyone, but everyone avoids her because of her appearance and way of talking. Her good deeds do not pay off only because of her external qualities. However, Shota gives Sawako self-confidence so that Sawako starts to talk bravely in front of other people. She barely talks to other people at first, but later, she boldly defends her close friends, Ayane Yano and Chizuru Yoshida, from bad rumors. As Shota says, nobody will know Sawako’s thoughts unless she talks about them directly. Although Shota, Ayane and Chizuru help Sawako to face the broader world, it is Sawako herself who manages to speak to other people and make relations with them. Just as Takehiko Inoue depicted how a beginner of basketball can grow into a stable player in Slam Dunk, Shiina carefully instructs readers to have self-confidence and express their feelings to build close relationship by introducing a beginner of social life. Sawako learns how to make friends, resolve misunderstandings, spend time together with friends, and love other people step by step.

Although Sawako works hard to express herself, she is a representation of “ryosai kenbo.” What she experiences with Shota is always fresh to her, so she readily depends on him. In the whole series, she keeps thinking about spending time with Shota to become a good wife. As a middle school student, Sawako has to think about the future and enter a prominent high school; yet, she only thinks about making a new relationship called love. Because target readers of From Me to You are “shojo”, Shiina mostly talks about their favorite topic, love. On the other hand, in josei manga such as Nana and Nodame Cantabile, artists are also concerned with realistic obstacles and the future of female characters.

Nana by Ai Yazawa is one of the most popular shojo manga in Japanese history; its sales record is about to exceed that of Boys over Flowers. This manga has two female characters, both of whom are called Nana. Nana Komatsu, nicknamed Hachi by the other Nana, departs from a small town for Tokyo as soon as she hears the news that her boyfriend, Shoji Endo, has been admitted to a college of fine arts. She plans to enjoy urban life and find true love in Tokyo. On a train to Tokyo, she meets another Nana, Nana Osaki (Nana from now on), who goes to Tokyo to succeed as a singer. The two Nanas meet again at an apartment and they decide to live together abruptly. Since Nana was a girlfriend of Ren Honjo, a member of the popular band Trapnest, Hachi gets to know members of Trapnest and Black Stones (BLAST for short), the band in which Nana is the lead vocalist. Hachi falls in love with Nobuo Terashima, the guitarist of BLAST, and Takumi Ichinose, the leader and bassist of Trapnest, after she breaks up with Shoji Endo. She decides to marry Takumi after she conceives his baby.

Nana has become immensely popular because female readers can choose their favorite character between the two Nanas. Some women prefer to follow the guidance of men, and others prefer to lead their love by themselves. The former may enjoy reading Hachi’s story, and the latter Nana’s story. First, Hachi represents a passive woman. Takumi does not tell Hachi anything in advance when he delays his marriage registration to help Ren and Nana marry first, and decides to disclose their love to the public. Takumi puts more emphasis on his band and business than on Hachi in that he forces Hachi to follow what he decided. When Hachi bears Takumi’s child, he directly suggests that Hachi marry him and move to a new house to prevent any scandals related to the child. He also prohibits Hachi from participating in the birthday party of Shinichi Okazaki, the bass player of Blast, and Layla Serizawa, the vocalist of Trapnest. Takumi does not want Hachi to make any trouble that may affect the popularity of Trapnest. Because Hachi has been such a big fan of Takumi ever since Trapnest was established, she mostly does not complain about his decision. Just as she said, Hachi chooses Takumi although she knows about his personality.

Unlike Hachi representing passive women, Nana represents active women. Like Tsukushi in Boys over Flowers, Nana wants to achieve both independent success and love of Ren. Since Ren once left her to be successful, Nana is eager to succeed as a member of Blast, not as a girlfriend of Ren. She refuses to accept Ren’s assistance, but competes against him on the equal stage. Her pride is so great that she takes off her clothes which Ren bought for her. She thinks that Ren will not fulfill her weakness at first, but Ren’s confession of love also makes her acknowledge herself loving Ren. Readers like Nana’s honest worry and success in her career.

Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya talks about two classical musicians, Megumi Noda and Shinichi Chiaki. Megumi Noda, or “Nodame” is a piano student at Momogaoka College of Music. She is extremely talented but she is so ridiculous that she does not pay much attention to playing the piano. Shinichi Chiaki is also talented but not like Nodame; he is a perfectionist who practices violin and piano diligently to become a conductor. They accidentally live next door to each other, and Nodame runs into Chiaki’s house often to eat dinner or to sleep. While Chiaki takes care of Nodame against his will, he starts to notice the potential ability of Nodame. Chiaki’s intelligence strengthens as Maestro Franz von Stresemann, an internationally famous conductor, trains him, and Chiaki’s sensitivity also grows as he takes care of some crazy people such as Nodame, Ryutaro Mine, a violin student, and Masumi Okuyama, an okama timpanist. Nodame also starts to face music more seriously, and her talent begins to be recognized internationally.

Nodame, the female protagonist, does not have much interest in becoming a pianist at first. Although she originally wants to become a kindergarten teacher, Chiaki leads her to the musical world. Not like Hachi in Nana, Nodame does not choose one from career and love. Her dream to perform with Chiaki in a big concert hall keeps Nodame playing piano enthusiastically despite many obstacles. As she faces many opportunities, she starts to get out of Chiaki’s influence. At last, Chiaki recognizes that his role as a conductor is to control Nodame “Cantabile,” which means flowingly and melodiously, as he says “Did the God tie me in Japan to bring her here?” In Nodame Cantabile, male and female characters all help each other to make a beautiful orchestra united with harmony and cooperation.


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