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Good Enough Shoujo

What the hell does that mean?



So, here's a ✨ shoujo discourse ✨ topic that predates everyone. What's the topic? How and why shounen (and seinen) series appeals to girls, women, and femme people. I'm calling it "good enough shoujo." Good enough shoujo™️ manga (or anime) is the series that's not technically shoujo (aimed at girls like Neighborhood Story, serialized in Ribon Magazine), josei (aimed at women like Something's Wrong With Us, serialized in Be Love Magazine), or joseimuke (aimed at a female audience in general; aka "shoujousei" in American/Western fandom) but shares enough traits that it gets a pass. It's well... good enough except in the only way that matters: targeting a female audience.



Skip & Loafer, a seinen manga, is displayed/shelved with other shoujo manga in a Kinokuniya store
Spotted inside a Kinokuniya

You probably have heard the sentiment good enough shoujo™️ expressed in a number of ways. Consider the following:


"A mix of shoujo and shonen"

"A shounen/seinen disguised as a shoujo"

"Shounen/seinen series with a lot of shoujo appeal"

"Honorary shoujo"

"Shoujo-coded"

"Shoujo-esque"

"Shoujo-like"

"Shoujo-adjacent"

etc.



Sometimes "honorary shoujo" and the like are used as jokes (and are excused from this discussion). Other times, the moniker is used as a snappy (and lazy) way to express that a series would appeal to shoujo fans or female fans in general. (This instance is not excused from this discussion. Do better. 😒) However, more times than not, people are serious about calling things that THEY KNOW aren't shoujo, "shoujo," and will fight you to the death over it. That bothers me, and I have to ask---nay---yell,


"WHAT ON GOD'S SCORCHED, POLLUTED EARTH DO WE AS 'SHOUJO FANS' GAIN FROM DOING THAT?!"

I mean, other than disassociating our tastes from that of a 40-year-old Japanese salaryman?


LumRanmaYasha tweets "Here's the demographics breakdown of Maison Ikkoku fans!" Male voters came out in force 3:1; NKH TV Graphic shows a majority of men in their 40's like Maison Ikkoku the anime
Is the like ratio for the manga similar to this too? T_T

Continuing down the Rumiko Takahashi track. Just because. Inuyasha, Lum, and Ranma 1/2 having a targeted demographic of young and teenage boys because they ran in Weekly Shonen Sunday doesn't stop girls or anyone from liking the manga (and anime). You can enjoy any piece of media even though it wasn't made "with you" in mind. Observe the NHK Rumic World poll results from 2019 in which 70% of the voters were women, and the majority of voters were between the ages of 20 to 29.



Now, you'd think just pointing to the magazine/website/publisher and saying, "[insert property] is/was serialized in [male-targeted magazine] so it's [male demographic], but hey, it's great that women can enjoy it, isn't it?" would end the argument, but you'd be wrong. You'd also think that pointing out that every piece of media, especially media made for a profit, has a target audience, and companies work hard to keep said target audience engaged for their bottom line would also end the argument. You'd also be wrong because people have wild definitions of shoujo and can spot a "shoujo-adjacent" series from a mile away. 🙄


(Narrator: they cannot recognize shoujo series for shit.)



Noragami comment on Twitter
Noragami by Adachitoka (Monthly Shonen Magazine)

Whatever the endgame to this exercise of calling things that aren't shoujo, shoujo, was/is we have arrived and continue to have arrived. Shounen manga and anime are often seen as the default, the "general audience," compared to shoujo and josei manga. Publishers are still calling shoujo and josei manga a niche. Oftentimes, shounen properties are the budding animanga fan and connoisseur's first (and for many, only) experience with the mediums. Seinen stuff is a close second, especially battle, fantasy, and action/adventure fare. English publishers have licensed and released a wide variety of shounen and seinen manga, from romance to fantasy to horror and action/adventure, to the point that people think that shoujo (and josei) doesn't have the same breadth or depth of genre and stories.


YouTube screenshot pointing out how shoujo and BL are niche
Comic-Con at Home 2021 Manga Publishing Industry Roundtable


SuBLime Manga's comments about how yaoi is a niche market on Twitter;
SuBLime Manga

So, you can stop with the shouseinen (technically called "dansimuke") apologia think-pieces and explanations. Simply put, most "shoujo-friendly" works within that demographic doesn't need the extra support by way of "Hey females, you'll like this too! It has normal romance and boys in it!" Thanks to anime adaptations, games, and merch (the so-called "media mix") plus word-of-mouth and the effort publishers put into marketing their works to you (ex. taking out print and digital ads, posting it on socials, swag at cons, booth decorations, exclusive store collaborations, paid promotions via creators/influencers, etc.), dansimuke manga gets a lot of support. Yet, even though manga is booming and we're starting to see the diversity in the manga space rivaling and surpassing the mid 2000s, joseimuke works, including the shoujo-adjacent yaoi and yuri genres, are still seen as niche. Meaning, your favorite joseimuke works do not receive the same level of support as their dansimuke counterparts. Shoujo (and josei) works often do not get an anime adaptation or merch.


Additionally, there is the audience split. Girls and women have no problems reading anything made for boys or men. However, it's not true when it comes to boys and men reading works for girls and women. I've said this before, but most boys, men, and general shounen/seinen animanga fans are underread in shoujo and josei works. Finally, dansimuke manga (and anime) appealing to a broad range of fans has been a topic of discussion for decades. For example, Animerica Extra, a monthly manga magazine published by Viz Media between 1998 to 2004, ran this article in its second issue (archived by Animehouse_CA).


Animerica Extra column "Girl-Friendly Jump" talking about how Shonen Jump magazine is appealing to a female market
Thanks to Animehouse_CA for archiving Animerica Extra magazines

Fast forward a bit, and you see articles like this:

The Mary Sue article; headline: Who Says Girls Don't Watch Anime That's 'For Boys'?


And then, there's today, give or take:

Game Rant article 2022; headline: How Shounen Has Begun to Overtake the Shoujo Genre
What???

CBR article 2022; Headline: Why Are There So Many Manga Disguised as Shonen?
-_-

CBR article 2022; headline: Romantic Killer: The Shonen Series Perfect for Shojo Fans
Did VIZ pay CBR for all of these damn articles? lol!

Screen Rant 2023 article; Headline: New Crunchyroll Anime is the Mature Series Female Fans Need to Watch
The Masterful Cat is Depressed Again Today is a shounen manga turned anime

Even the reasons given for why girls like shounen and seinen animanga remain unchanged. A lot of the reasons boil down to cute boys, hot men, halfway decent (or *le gasp* actually great) female lead or prominent female characters, and romance uwu, which okay, fair. But, that would cover a lot of manga (and anime) regardless of genre or demographic. While pretty boys, great female leads or characters, and romance are useful (and lazy) shorthand explanations to explain why girls and women enjoy series like Inuyasha, these explanations don't account for how girls, women, anyone would mistake a shounen series for a shoujo one. People may confuse Inuyasha for shoujo or would make their case as to why Inuyasha is shoujo, but few would confuse series like Attack on Titan, The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You, Space Brothers, Vinland Saga, The Promised Neverland, Sankarea, Haikyuu, Zom100, Demon Slayer, or Planetes as shoujo (or josei). Know what I mean?



Inuyasha is my favorite shoujo [heart eyes emoji] tweet/post on X/Twitter. 4 "shoujo-esque" gifs from the anime are included.
I was joking! Totally kidding. Unless...

The Good Enough Shoujo™️ List

Which brings me back to the term "good enough shoujo." Good enough shoujo™️ is animanga that aren't shoujo (or josei) but could pass as one or be confused for one and appeal to girls, women, and femme people in general. The list of things that lead people to confuse a property for shoujo or to justify their dansimuke property as shoujo is long, and when you put everything together, well...wouldn't that form a "genre" in the classic definition of the term?


Genre (noun): a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content

-Merriam Webster dictionary


More food for thought later. But right now, the list.


The good enough shoujo™️ list includes:

  • Manga written by female or nonbinary authors

  • Female main characters

  • Strong female leads/characters

  • Romance

  • Romance plus slice-of-life, drama, comedy, and fantasy

  • About girls and women

  • Femme themes and things + Big emotions

  • Pretty people

  • Lack of "male gaze" fanservice

  • Setting

  • Art style

  • Shoujo by association

  • Square Enix manga

  • ✨ Vibes ✨


Some of these are self-explanatory, but some aren't. So, let's break it down.


The Nitty Gritty Details

So, unpacking the list in detail, we have 13 reasons why a shounen (or seinen) manga may feel like a shoujo/josei manga starting with...


Yukibana no Tora manga page shows a samurai girl holding up a dead rabbit
Yukibana no Tora by Akiko Higashimura

Manga written by female or nonbinary authors. Manga written and/or illustrated by a woman (ex. Jun Mayuzuki) or nonbinary person (ex. Yuhki Kamantani) often get mistaken for shoujo (or josei) manga. Sure, shoujo does have a lot of female writers and illustrators now, but did you know that shoujo manga was dominated by male mangaka once upon a time? Then, the "Year 24 Group" came along and changed the game for both girls and boys comics. Fast forward to today, and female mangaka may be dominating the manga industry. According to Gamerant, over 70% of mangakas are female. (I can't find a good source to back this so take it with a grain of salt.)


Additionally, your favorite shoujo (or josei) mangaka has probably written a shounen or seinen comic, but the reverse won't be true. 😒(Certainly is true for my favorite shounen mangaka Rumiko Takahashi. She has NEVER written a shoujo/josei comic. NEVER. Also true for mangaka Kaoru Mori, Yoshitoki Ooima, Aki Irie, Akira Amano, and more. All women by the way.)


From shoujo/josei manga to seinen manga and back again, look no further than Akiko Higashimura. Akiko Higashimura is best known in the U.S./English-speaking Western fandoms for her josei works like Princess Jellyfish, Tokyo Tarareba Girls, and Blank Canvas, but did you know she has written a lot of seinen works? Her seinen works include Yukibana no Tora (Big Comic Spirits/Hibana), Omo ni Naitemasu (Morning), Meropan Dashi! (Morning), and Maru Sankaku Shikaku (Big Comic Original). So, using the logic "women mangaka = shoujo manga" to call something shoujo isn't really a good reason. Women write for boys and men too. Like your favorite male mangaka, female mangaka can write and draw stories that captivate a wide audience. We just don't give them credit for it in the shoujosphere. It's the double standard that never ends.


Reddit post in r/shoujo; title: Seinen written by women (ik it's a shoujo space but ppl here know female mangakas more so [skull emoji])
Yep, we know. A lot. 92 comments with 50+ unique series


Female main characters. Story follows a female main character or an all-female cast. (Ex: Ran and the Gray World by Aki Irie)


Strong female leads. A "strong female lead" means a well-written, well-developed, and active female character who has agency in the story; She is a complex and multifaceted character. She makes decisions and takes action to affect the events of the story. Her presence and absence are felt in the story. If she can kick ass and take names, then that's a bonus. (Ex. see literally any Rumiko Takahashi work)


Maison Ikkoku art; Godai and Kyoko standing under a crudely drawn umbrella
Maison Ikkoku by Rumiko Takahashi (Big Comic Spirits)

Romance stories are queen. Even if the story has an inkling, a crumb, a whisper of romance, the manga suddenly is a "shoujo" and "for the girls" now. It's annoying af, especially given that not all shoujo manga is romance manga. Not all shoujo manga is romance manga! NOT ALL SHOUJO MANGA IS ROMANCE MANGA! NOT. ALL. SHOUJO. MANGA. IS. ROMANCE. MANGA! (That includes anime too!) Did everybody get that?!




Plus, romance as a genre or a plotline does NOT work that way. You can't just drop romance in a story and call the whole manga a romance. There is a major difference between reading a love story, a romance story, and a story with romance as subplot, and it all boils down to genre conventions, audience expectations, and narrative focus and outcomes. There's even a difference between reading a shoujo and shounen romance from the pov to typical plotlines and endings. I mean there has to be other than intended audience, right? Otherwise, every romance maybe short of hentai, ecchi/smut, and fanservice series written and drawn by a woman would be a shoujo manga, and that can't be right. Can it?




(Two fanservice manga about cosplay and romance. Both were created by female mangaka for different audiences.)




DLsite Garumani Otome & BL website
DLsite Garumani Otome & BL website

Struggles with romance can be seen particularly when it comes to romance as subplot since its one of the most flexible subplots around, able to exist in a variety of stories. Meaning, romance as subplot exists in a fuck ton of animanga. (And non animanga too! Think movies, novels, TV, games, etc.) Romance adds instant drama and tension to the story and can provide motivation for a character's actions. Simply put, a romantic subplot can help move things along...except when it doesn't.


Romance as subplot is frequently seen in manga across genres and demographics. In the shounen and seinen demographic examples include Case Closed by Gosho Aoyama (almost every character is paired up and given time to shine, lol), Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi, and Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo. It should go without saying, but subplot does NOT equal main plot. The shoujo-manga-turned-anime series Yona of the Dawn (written and illustrated by Mizuho Kusanagi for Hana to Yume magazine) serves as an example of this every single day.


dumbass comment about Yona of the Dawn; essentially skip everything but the romance stuff
May the manga you want licensed be forever stuck in digital subscription hell.

No, you can't skip all of the political dealings, the war, the character and world-building, action/adventure, and the Nadai arc, to get to Hak and Yona, if it even happens. It's not a guarantee because that is not what the story is about! And even if they do end up together, that's a bonus. Imagine the worst happens and Hak dies. If Hak croaks, Yona will be sad sure, but she'll buck the fuck up and carry on. She's got things to do, like a kingdom to save and run. So, to skip all of what makes Yona of the Dawn, well Yona of the Dawn, is a crime. If you say Yona of the Dawn is your favorite romance series, then you either haven't read many romance series or you do not like romance as a genre, and that is completely okay. Just admit it. (Please, spare me!)



In closing out this bullet point, romance is more complicated and not as easy to write than people give it credit for. Romance in a story can be a plot, genre, theme, a goal. Just many things. The genre is vast, and it's frustrating that English publishers have a narrow view of shoujo and josei manga and especially shoujo/josei romance manga.


(Sidebar---Thank the goddesses for yaoi. For some reason, we got all sorts of bl stories in print now, and I'm very satisfied. I don't know who I have to thank for that, but thanks. You deserve everything good in life.)



Anyway... As a genre in fiction in the good ole USA, romance is mostly read, enjoyed, and written by women as I pointed out in my shoujo imprints article. Men are underread in romance, and it's even worse when it comes to romance manga. It's to the point that they think anything "wholesome," less than a harem, sex, ecchi, hentai, or fanservice, can't possibly be aimed at them or is "subtext"! BOys and men are underread in joseimuke manga. I wonder if there's any correlation between shoujo, romance, and men's general disinterest or aversion to it....


Kono Oto Tomare panels shows a boy grabbing a girl's wrist and talking to her passionately
Kono Oto Tomare by Amyuu (Jump SQ)

Reddit post about Kono oto Tomare
Yep, it's a shounen manga turned anime, but don't let that stop you from reading (or watching) it. If you're interested in a manga, just read it.(Preferably legally.)

SoL, drama, comedy, and fantasy are also "shoujo-friendly" genres. Besides romance, slice-of-life, drama, comedy, and fantasy stories are often confused for shoujo or peddled to girls and women as such, especially if it has romance in it. Actual shoujo manga, like Children of the Whales, Banana Fish, Natsume's Book of Friends, No. 6, and Tomie that focus on action, adventure, mystery, sci-fi and horror are often seen as atypical, exceptions to the rule, or may be confused for shounen, which makes all the girlies that enjoy stories outside of romance or mostly read non-romance stories want to go postal. (It's me. I'm girlie.)



(Animanaga fans aren't the only ones that wrestle with the concept of demographic and genre. Asking Chat GPT for manga recommendations is funny, frustrating, and sad. Sounds like the average social media user or Comic Book Resources listacle/article at times.)



About girls and women. Stories about a girl or woman's life often get mistaken for shoujo (or josei). Examples include stories about motherhood and gender roles in marriage and domestic life (Talk to My Back by Murasaki Yamada), women's reproductive system (Kounodori: Dr. Stork by You Suzunoki), women's bodies and health in general (Cells at Work! Lady by Shigemitsu Harada and Akari Otokawa). It's important that boys and men read stories about girls and women. It's also important that girls and women read stories about boys and men.


No matter how you slice and dice it, nobody has carte blanche on genres, themes, tropes, settings, characters, and well, anything that goes into storytelling. That's true in manga as it is in everything else. Writing a story and selling a story are two separate things. Sometimes, our problems are with how a story portrays girls, women, and femme characters, which is why we may voice strong opposition to some shounen and seinen works while elevating others.


Other times, our problems stem from how a story is sold to us. I don't have solid stats or research in front of me on this topic, but I can't help but be frustrated by men not following similar media across demos and genres when it comes to animanga. I got to ask. If Junji Ito was slated/known/introduced as a "shoujo horror mangaka," would he be as popular as he is now? Because damnit, he is! He writes for Nemuki+ magazine, and a lot of his works stem from that magazine or the defunct Gekkan Halloween as I pointed out in my article on the Viz Signature imprint. Yet, he's known as a "horror mangaka." Would he just be an exception to the "shoujo sucks" rule? 😑


Your Lie in April manga spread shows MC meeting manic pixie dream girl that's destined to die
Your Lie in April by Naoshi Arakawa (Bessatsu Shounen Magazine)

Femme themes and things + Big emotions. Stories that explore femme themes and things like makeup and fashion, shopping, magical girls, relationships (all of the relationships, like platonic, familial, mentorship, etc), emotions, gender, social issues and topics (like feminism, family), and lgbtq+, especially yaoi, is often pegged as solely "for girls and women." To be fair, a lot of shoujo manga explore those topics so it's easy to think stories like Smile Down the Runway by Kotoba Inoba, Bless by Yukino Sonoyama, and Mame Coordinate by Sachi Miyabe are shoujo or josei when they are not. (Dudes like fashion and cute things too!) Additionally, manga with big emotional storylines, like first love, heartbreak and personal growth, are often pegged as shoujo as that's what shoujo manga tends to explore. In short, manga that evoke empathy and create strong emotional connections with its audience are often pegged as shoujo. (Ex. Your Lie in April by Naoshi Arakawa)


Little Bitty Pretty One. If the story follows a male lead or group of male characters, they better be pretty; bishounen = "pretty boy"; biseinen = "handsome man"; ikemen = "good-looking guy"; This isn't only extended to the male characters. Stories about or featuring cute, huggable girls that you just want to protect sometimes get mistaken for being shoujo, but that's usually cleared up upon learning the power of Moe. (Ex. Thigh High Reiwa Hanamaru Academy by Kotobuki, Axis Powers Hetalia by Hidekaz Himaruya, Azumanga Daioh by Kiyohiko Azuma)


Kasane manga; Kasane holds a knife to a girl's throat and looks away  into a mirror offscreen; Kasane is stunned at how beautiful she looks
Kasane by Daruma Matsuura (Evening)

Sketchy by Makihirochi; kodansha blurb about the manga; I highlighted the "josei manga" part; It's not a josei manga.
Sketchy is not a josei manga. It was serialized in Kodansha's seinen magazine Young Magazine the 3rd and Monthly Young Magazine before moving online.

Lack of "male gaze" fanservice. Like "strong female characters," male gaze is a concept that is hard to articulate and point out in media. Male gaze in particular because it's often seen as "normal" and "not a big deal" in media, and media literacy is crashing through the floor so it pays to be diligent. Anyway, male gaze is a term borrowed from cinema and coined by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey. Simply put, women and girls are viewed as people rather than sexual objects.


It's more than just inappropriate camera angles, like framing the boobs during a dialogue scene or upskirt shots during a fight scene. The male gaze also affects how boys and men are portrayed. Picture this: the battle is in full swing. The hero, battered and bruised, takes off his shirt, revealing a six-pack. He tosses his shirt while searching the crowd for his love interest, "his girl," on the sidelines. He flashes her a grin and says something witty before turning his attention back to the villain. The battle music swells. (Yes, even in manga form. Don't @ me.) Words are spoken. Then, the villain and hero rushes at each other. You get the picture. None of this is for the girl's benefit. This is for the male audience. Power male fantasy is a thing.


Finally, "male gaze" can be perpetuated by anyone of any gender, and what I have described above is the more "obvious" form by which we see and experience male gaze in manga and anime. See Ermi's Anime video for a closer look at how male gaze affects Akebi's Sailor Uniform and learn how the show made clipping toenails...weird. It's a show that really knows and understands its (male) audience.


Setting. Stories that take place in "typical shoujo settings" like high school often get mistaken for shoujo manga, especially high school romance stories. (Ex. Horimiya by Hero, Insomniacs After School by Makoto Ojiro, and The Fragrant Flower Blooms With Dignity by Saka Mikami)


Spy x Family; Anya is drawn in a shoujo art style
Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo (Jump+) (Damian views Anya through a "shoujo filter" for the lolz and shorthand for he's in love with her.)

Art style. When people say the art looks like shoujo, they are usually referring to one or two things. One, they refer to the character's lovely and detailed, saucer-sized soulful eyes, which were created through multiple highlight points and gradients. Two, they refer to the amount of sparkles and flowers in the background. True. Shoujo has that, but there's more than meets the eye. Few people would talk about the paneling. Shoujo manga isn't concerned about borders or white space between panels. It's complete chaos and anarchy. (....Or maybe that's just my essays.) The layered panels of thoughts, text, sound effects, and drawings floating in space cause readers to pause and focus on character's emotions (and to process wtf is going on). In contrast, shounen and seinen manga have rectangularly-defined, no nonsense, let's-get-the reader-through-the story-quickly panels. Shounen and seinen manga tend to be not as creative or loose with their paneling compared to shoujo manga, but that may change thanks to the digital manga publishing becoming a thing.


Shoujo manga also features little shading, but it does have a liberal use of screentone and gradient. Finally, there's the delicate, thin linework seen in the complex character designs. Nobody mentions these things because that's harder to analyze and articulate. I couldn't tell you the difference between shoujo from shounen manga using art with such clarity if I hadn't watched the video Shojo Manga: The Power and Influence of Girl's Comics, particularly Mia Lewis's presentation. Additionally, in searching for shoujo art, I stumbled across this How to Draw Manga video where a disembodied hand draws while discussing the differences they see between shounen and shoujo heroines. May not be the most accurate, but I think it's worth a watch.


Now, this is all modern art. The art has changed over time, and it's clear that shoujo manga has had a big influence on shounen and seinen manga. (And yes, shounen and seinen manga have impacted shoujo and josei works. Art is NOT created in a vacuum.)


(Let's play spot the shoujosei. Can you do it based on art alone? Check your answers at the very end of the article.)


Shounen (and seinen) boys have gotten prettier, rounder. Some even got those shoujo-esque eyes going on. Add a rivalry between two male characters, and you may have summoned a fujoshi and started a shipping war to last through the ages. #SasuNaru4evr Not to mention that your favorite shoujo writer has probably done a shounen or seinen manga (or more), and just because they switch magazines and demographics, doesn't mean they suddenly leave their brain and storytelling abilities at home. Likely the things that attracted you to read their shoujo works will still be there in their non-shoujo works (and vice versa), just maybe with some slightly different art. (Maybe.)


Finally, if you're wondering where josei is in all this, it's complicated. There's virtually no difference visually between shoujo and josei manga among other things that's best left to explore another day. (Check out Colleen Manga Recs' video on josei manga if you're interested in learning the difference between shoujo and josei manga.)



Shoujo by association. If a mangaka known for writing joseimuke manga writes a dansmiuke work, sometimes the dansimuke work gets confused for shoujo manga or is just peddled as such. (Ex. Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun by Izumi Tsubaki the mangaka behind shoujo The Magic Touch and Oresama Teacher, Yakuza Fiancé by Asuka Konishi the mangaka behind josei Haru's Curse, March Comes in Like a Lion by Chica Umino the mangaka behind shoujo Honey and Clover)


Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun manga panels shows a girl confessing to a guy
Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun by Izumi Tsubaki (Gangan Online)

Square Enix ruins everything. If you want to talk about publishers, manga, and magazines blurring the lines between shoujo and shounen, then look no further than Square Enix, publisher of the popular shounen and seinen Gangan family of magazines like Gangan Fantasy, Gangan Joker, and Young Gangan. Gangan Fantasy (aka GFantasy) is a shounen magazine that specializes in fantasy and supernatural series, and it's home to several popular series like Black Butler, Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun, Disney Twisted Wonderland, Nabari no Ou, Saiyuki, and more.


Other popular Square-Enix-published dansimuke series include Full Metal Alchemist, The Case Study of Vanitas, Soul Eater, The Apothecary Diaries, and more. A lot of these series are loved by girls and women, and GFantasy series in particular often get mistaken for shoujo. However, few series have actually left the magazine and cross-over to a shoujo or josei magazine. Saiyuki is a famous case. The original manga is shounen, but it's sequel and spin-off series, which continue to this day, are serialized in Monthly Comic Zero-Sum, a female-targeted magazine. But that's all traditional publishing.



Gangan Online homepage
Gangan Online

Gangan Pixiv homepage
Gangan Pixiv

Square Enix is also home to the online web magazine Gangan Online, the app MangaUp, and online web magazine Gangan Pixiv. Unlike other manga reading websites like Hakusensha's Manga Park, Square Enix's Gangan Online, MangaUp, and Gangan Pixiv do not have handy demographic labels by their works. So, setting aside the traditionally published manga in their male-oriented magazines, where does that leave all of the manga that were published online only? And, how is it that some of them are classified as sho---


Gangan Pixiv logo and motto in Japanese
Gangan Pixiv

--jo. Ohhhhhh.



Brute force translation of Gangan Pixiv via Google Translate; Translation: Daily and extraordinary delusions and desires, things that seem possible but cannot be experienced. An emotional comic that makes you feel close to your emotions!
Something...something...Emotions! Got it.

Alright, I guess. I still have my hang-ups in regards to anything Square Enix. I check a few databases and brute force translate Japanese sites to confirm before I give up and go, "I guess it's shoujo. Fuck it."

Moving on to my last point...



Hooked on a Feelin'. IDK. You can't pinpoint it. Je ne sais quoi. Just ✨vibes.✨




And, there you have it. The checklist. The 13 reasons why Inuyasha may feel like a shoujo but isn't. It's good enough shoujo™️. However, manga, whose appeal can be attributed by its close proximity to shoujo, isn't the only type of shounen/seinen manga that girls and women enjoy. It's 2023, and we still have to tell the bros that girls do indeed watch and read their high-octane, action bullshit. Ya know, the stuff that's seen as traditionally or stereotypically shounen. The duh-it's-shounen, shounen. Not only do do they watch and read it, but they enjoy it too. Why? Because girls and women are complex beings that can enjoy a variety of stories and genres like action and horror. They can enjoy stories written by men that stars excellent, well-developedmale characters but less than stellar female characters. (See a lot of manga from Shonen Jump magazine.) Not every shoujo-enjoyer loves romance or enjoy the type of romance stories that get the shoujosei-seal of approval from fandom at large. Also, it may be due to the fact that these stories are just constantly thrown in their faces and pushed hard.



(High-octane bullshit but I love this opening.)



Same as it ever was

The good enough shoujo™️ defense(?)/whatever is very limited and reductive. Which brings me back to my frustration with how I see good enough shoujo™️ deployed in the wild. It's always, always, used for the most basic shit or something that would have a female audience anyway to the point where they are taken for granted or ridiculed for enjoying that show and participating in fandom. (Nevermind that girls participating in fandom is how things go platinum, get staying power in the animanga community.) Series that wouldn't need much help or convincing in any case. Examples include Inuyasha, The Apothecary Diaries, Black Butler, The Ancient Magus' Bride, and Skip & Loafer. Girls, women, people will watch and read that regardless. I mean, they are good. Some of these series you may have a hard time convincing targeted-male audience that it was made for them like Tiger & Bunny and Oshi no Ko for example.



dumbass Oshi no Ko Twitter comment
Shoujo is for things you don't like in a story...got it. Good thing Oshi no Ko is a seinen manga turned anime.

(The North remembers how Inuyasha was parodied and talked about back-in-the-day. Particularly, the Robot Chicken sketch where the dad feigns interest in his daughter's favorite show to the point of being annoying just so he can win back the TV to watch sports. ALSO, I couldn't find the damn article, but there's this one article in Anime Insider where Inuyasha and Kagome tied for first place as the most annoying anime character ever followed by the piglet pope from Trinity Blood. If anyone has it, holler at me.)



Worst case scenario: publishers like Crunchyroll totally agree with the good enough shoujo™️ crowd. According to Crunchyroll, The Apothecary Diaries and Skip and Loafer are shoujo anime. So, I'm sure some girlies are feeling vindicated right now. (Don't worry Seven Seas did not add Skip and Loafer manga to the shoujo/josei category on its website, and the company doesn't try to sell it you that way. Kinokuniya on the other hand...)





This is Crunchyroll's definition of shoujo:

Shojo: The springtime of youth, that look you give your first crush, and that extra sense of fashion. These girls have it all.

It's a wrap. It's a lost cause. All of that translates mostly to romance featuring girl mc's. The rest of the "Shojo" category has Fantasy, Magical Girls, Slice-of-Life, and Romance as subcategories/genres with over 40 series total listed. So, if you're in the mood to watch "shojo anime" on Crunchyroll, that's what you can expect. No Natsume's Book of Friends, Raven of the Inner Palace, Love of Kill, Why Raeliana Ended Up in the Duke's Mansion, Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts, The Yakuza's Guide to Babysitting, A Girl and Her Guard Dog, My Love Story with Yamada-kun at Lv999, Ice Guy and His Cool Female Colleague, etc. Those are shelved/tagged elsewhere on the site. However, Yona of the Dawn is filed under "shojo." It's filed under "romance." 😑 Crunchyroll curated what is shoujo on the site, same with the shounen and the defacto adult category seinen. (Nope, no "Josei" because fuck you. It doesn't exist.) Not everything is divided between those three "genres", but the anime that do get shelved in them probably won't surprise you. (Or at least they shouldn't.)


From a manga perspective, publishers like Kodansha, Viz, Seven Seas, and Tokyopop have also defined what shoujo/josei mean and curated it into a "genre." I've already written about the "shoujo-coded" manga imprints and how they emphasize and feature romance manga above all genres. I've also discussed some of Kodansha's few mentions of shoujo/josei marketing in this article. So, to add on what I have said before and tie everything together, these publishers seem to be applying the principles of good enough shoujo™️ to some of their non-shoujo works. The result is less Requiem of the Rose King, X, Please Save My Earth, or Mermaid Scales and the Town of Sand and more Romantic Killer. The result is less Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan or The Yakuza's Bias and more Sketchy, Kasane, and 1122 For a Happy Marriage. The result is less My Dog is a Death God and more The Dragon Knight's Beloved, which is hysterical. Both of these are drawn by the same mangaka, and both were serialized in josei manga magazines, but only one gets tagged as shoujo/josei. Do you want to guess why?



Shojo & Josei Must-Reads includes two seinen manga that has been crossed off
To Kodansha's credit, at least they added a fucked up horror manga to the list; still not a josei though as it ran in Evening Magazine

So, when you say a shounen or seinen manga is good enough to be a shoujo/josei manga and it includes several of the items I've pointed out above, then you're really not saying anything new. You're just reinforcing what everyone and their mama and their daddy think of shoujo already. You're not helping the more-manga-from-this-specific-magazine-that-just-happens-to-be-targeted-at-girls-and-women-please agenda. You're just doubling down on what publishers have been saying for years. At least publishers are finally saying the quiet part out loud. When you generally ask for more "shoujo manga, please", they hear, "more romance manga." Got it. Now, would you like that with or without lgbtq+?



(Okay,maybe not the yuri part out loud in case they scare the boys and girls.)


Shoujo Fans vs. Shojo Fans, FIGHT

When a publisher, store, or other similar high authority points out Romantic Killer or The Apothecary Diaries as shoujo or josei, I'm annoyed and sometimes angry, but at least, I understand where they're coming from. In some cases, they're trying to make a buck without really trying. In most cases they're trying to pair down a vast amount of works into something manageable and sellable to a specific female audience. Curated like your TikTok #FYP. (#Romcom, #Romantasy, or whatever.)


Yen Press tweet "Wow! Look at all those shojo manga!" (pic of m/f shoujo romance manga)
M/F shoujo/josei romance manga

In a just world, the request, "Recommend me a good shoujo manga to read." would be just as nonsensical and fucking exhausting a request as, "Give me a good manga to read." (Just ask Google or Chat GPT at this point, seriously.) But, it isn't. I'm just being a hysterical, pedantic ass at this point because we all know that shoujo means every "romance" manga with a female MC short of hentai written by a woman or no series similar to battle and action/adventure shounen from Shonen Jump or any related magazine. Got it. Just cuts down the list of manga available to read by a fuck ton. Thanks. (sarcasm)



Which brings me back to the fan's response to shoujo and more specifically good enough shoujo™️. The lines that good enough shoujo™️ fans draw are infuriating, arbitrary, and oftentimes in league with what publishers and stores have been saying and shoving down our throats for years. Oftentimes, good enough shoujo™️ becomes a case of "let the right one in." In other words, gatekeeping based on the list above and the fan's preferences, and that would be romance. Where rubber meets the road for good enough shoujo™️ is when it comes to yuri manga, yaoi manga, and smut/ecchi and fanservice works. Much like most animanga discourse, we're still trapped in 2003 (being very generous) when it comes to these topics. For example, yuri.


Sometimes, when yuri is brought up, it's with the excuse that it's "made for men," and we may have to rethink that. According to researcher Erica Friedman's Global Yuri Fandom Survey, 50% of the 1,611 yuri fans polled identity as female. Friedman's research lines up with what others have found to be true in the English fandom as well as what English publishers have been saying for years. A large amount of female fans read (and watch) yuri.


(BTW, a female mangaka wrote and drew this for a seinen mangazine.)


In a way. It makes sense. A lot of yuri is:

✅ made by women

✅ is a romance or falls into the "shoujo-friendly" genres (slice-of-life, drama, comedy, and fantasy)

✅centers female characters and their lives


Case closed.


In any case, there's hope on the horizon for yuri manga as people are putting it out there as a genre "for everyone." I've seen people try to do the same for yaoi, and it's just not clicking. 😑Yaoi is still trapped in hell in spite of the numerous research surrounding it. For the nth time, it's not just horny straight women that like and enjoy the genre (that would just be me, hiiiii). We don't all identity with femboy ukes; some of us are #TeamSeme (like me), and finally it's not all "fetishization" and "sexualization." You can still have a good storyline with smut in it. (Or, are the m/f pairs the only ones that can have fun?)


Plus, you don't need to be the gender, sexuality, etc. of the characters you write and draw. Good authors know how to write fully fleshed out characters that are different from their own being. It takes research, practice, empathy, and some rewiring, but it can be done. But that's a discussion for another day. The take away is that if we're going to canonize Inuyasha, Yakuza Fiance, Skip & Loafer, and The Apothecary Diaries as "shoujo" or "josei," be prepared to entertain manga that may not be of your taste or liking as shoujo/josei. For example, Kasane, Saiyuki, Romantic Killer, The Yakuza's Guide to Babysitting (switched from a seinen to a shoujo magazine), yaoi, yuri, and...Case Closed?!



Chances are, you still won't be satisfied or happy with the result. Be prepared for publishers to pick up on trends and tastes and run with them. (See the Romantic Killer thing.) The shoujo/josei genre/demographic/whatever may widen to include shounen/seinen series, but shounen/seinen genre/demographic will still remain the same as it ever was. Fans and non-fans will still remain none-the-wiser or care, and the world will keep spinning. Publishers are now introducing us to manwha and manhua for better or worse, but we'll have to save that discussion for another time. Just know the girls are fighting, and they will continue to do so with an anime line-up that includes Doctor Elsie and Blue Box next year. 🙄 2024 will be lit.



Tweet says: like I'm sorry but we NEEEEEDDDD to make a distinction with these things because not only shoujo manga fans are shoujo manwha fans too
They're wrong. It's the same. It's all "romance." The only difference is online consumption vs print consumption. Save this for another time.


So What?

Wait---


Are you saying that *I* am the downfall of shoujo manga publishing in the American/English-language manga market just because I call a few series "shoujo-adjacent?"


No, silly. That's a big leap.


I'm saying publishers and the majority of shoujo enjoyers and general animanga fans agree that shoujo simply is:

✅cute boys, hot men (with actual yaoi or shippable, yaoi fujobait being a bonus)

✅ character-focused writing

✅ female leads/prominent female characters

✅written by women (with a target female audience as a bonus rather than a requirement)

✅ romance is the main genre or features prominently in the story


Now, K.I.S.S.


It's the romance, silly. The marketing machine has been underway for 20+ years in this direction, and there is no turning back now. It's too late to turn back now. The only value shoujo/josei has to the average manga fan is that it's "romance for girls" rather than what those terms mean and how they are used in Japan.


So, let's be for real on this. If shoujo is going to be romance forever, at least give me ALL the romance located in shoujo and josei magazines in print. We don't need to go to the seinen or shounen side of the aisle for romance of all genres. That's what I find the most incredulous and insulting of all. For horror? Sci-fi? Sure, may not be big nowadays in modern shoujosei, but it was all the rage in classic shoujosei. Good luck finding a publisher or two willing to go for broke cranking out vintage shoujo or josei for a young female audience that doesn't care and an older female audience that "doesn't exist." But, romance of all things?! Pleeeaaase....


Give me options in PRINT. Smut, supernatural, paranormal, shifters, aliens, omegaverse, rockstar/celebrity, dark, short boy/man x tall girl/woman, older woman x younger man, oji-san, multicultural, interracial, polyamory, Christian/religious, historical, horror, time-travel, mystery, western, etc. Where are my medical romances?! Viz printed the final volume of An Incurable Case of Love in April of 2021, and no one has bothered to release any more since.



Let's slap REAL shoujo romance on a milk carton and fucking find it. Or better yet, tell publishers that's what "we" want IN PRINT.


Now, if you're in the group of shoujosei enjoyers that love mystery, action/adventure, horror, and other genres, then don't despair too much. There are quite a bit of hidden shoujosei to enjoy in print and digitally. You just won't be told that they are shoujosei because the publishers don't want to scare the bros.



Conclusion

Here's TLDR. If your first instinct is to compare or explain how the shounen/seinen animanga can appeal to female fans or canonize it as "shoujosei," do us all a favor, and just don't.



Shoujosei fans have a history of being mansplained on why they would like certain shounen/seinen animanga via articles, reviews, and fandom for decades and unnecessarily so. Girls and women have a history of reading and enjoying media aimed at men or "a general audience," but the same cannot be said of boys and men enjoying media aimed at girls. The reasons given for why a girl or woman may like an anime or manga boil down to romance, hot guys, character focused writing, and female leads/prominent female characters. It's so predictable that it's meme-able.


Tweet by @ayanarts regarding shoujo
Tag yourself. I am at "Natsume's a shojo."

Publishers have basically narrowed down the shoujo and josei demographics into one niche "genre," and it's mostly romance written by women for girls and women. The machinations, which made this happen, are not coming undone anytime soon, if ever. That's bad news. The worse news is that shoujo fans, in general, don't mind this. They like romance, regardless of where it originated from. As long as the romance manga was written by women, feature strong female characters, and lacks the "male gaze", they are willing to adopt series made for boys or men (i.e serialized in shounen or seinen magazines) as shoujosei, which I call "good enough shoujo™️."


My call to action is to continue to love what you love. You like Skip and Loafer, The Apothecary Diaries, Romantic Killer, Inuyasha, Noragami, The Ancient Magus' Bride, great. Continue to love and support those series. Just don't call it romance, unless it is, and definitely, don't call it shoujo or josei because none of those were intended for a female audience. Just love it as a shounen or seinen property. Just love it for what is rather than what you wish it would be. Because, if the shounen/seinen (technically called dansimuke) anime or manga were a joseimuke (the technical term for shoujosei) anime or manga, then favorite mainstream dansimuke animanga like Inuyasha may not be the massive hit it is today.


If you're searching for a real love, check out these magazines Hana to Yume, Nakayoshi, Sho-Comi, Be Love, Kiss, Flowers, Monthly Comic Gene, Comic Elmo, Mobile Flowers, Petit Comic, Ane Friend, Aria, Cookie, Cocohana, YOU, Jour Suteki na Shufu-tachi, Feel Young, For Mrs., Melody, Dessert, Mystery Bonita, Monthly Comic Zero-Sum, Love Jossie, Cheese!, and more. Romance is a diverse genre, and it's only one of many that shoujosei have to offer. However, if shoujosei is only limited to and advertised as "romance for girls" in the U.S. and related markets, then let's work on getting some variety IN PRINT. It exists. We're just not getting it, and I'm tired of settling for good enough. Aren't you?



That's it for this essay/rant and possibly this year. Happy Reading & See you in 2024.



(P.S. I am joking about the trademark TM. I'm sure someone has used "good enough shoujo™️" somewhere.)


Answers to quiz from above:

  1. I Guess I Became the Mother Great Demon King's 10 Children in Another World by Ema Toyama (shounen)

  2. After the Rain by Jun Mayuzuki (seinen)

  3. Tokyo Babylon by Clamp (shoujo)

  4. Vampire Dormitory by Ema Toyama (shoujo)

  5. We Can’t Do Just Plain Love by Mafuyu Fukita (josei)

  6. The Yakuza’s Bias by Teki Yatsuda (josei)

  7. Beck Mongolian Chop Squad by Sakuishi Harold (shounen)

  8. Prince Freya by Keiko Ishihara (shoujo)

  9. Arata by Yuu Watase (shounen)

  10. Raised By the Demon Kings! by Kosuke Iijima (shounen)

  11. Ceres by Yuu Watase (shoujo)

  12. Peach Mermaid by Haru Akebono (shoujo)

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