Discovering manga for adults via Viz's Shojo Beat imprint
As promised, I reveal the method behind the madness that is my list of manga for adult readers from Viz Shojo Beat's catalog. If you didn't read my rec list, don't worry. I'll refresh your memory. However, if all you want is a list of titles to try and go, then click here.
With that said, I'll walk you through the inspiration behind my previous post. Then, I'll talk about Shojo Beat again but briefly before moving on to age ratings and finally closing this article with a call to action. Alright, let's hop to it!
You're the Inspiration
I'm writing an essay about how publishers market and think about shoujo (and josei) in the U.S., and spoiler alert—it's
(Mostly) m/f romance written (mostly) by women for a female audience
Female-led stories focusing on relationships and emotions written mostly by women in the genres of drama, slice-of-life, comedy, and fantasy
Not everything is or can be a "shoujo" or "josei" from a U.S. publisher's p.o.v. Like it (or not), "shoujo" is practically synonymous with "romance" in the U.S. (and related markets). That's the bad news. The good news is we're in a circa 00s shoujo boom again. (Some players have returned too.) It's just not brought to you by 1-3 companies or 1 imprint anymore. It's spread out among multiple publishers and imprints, and the titles will not all be called "shoujo" or "josei." That's just in physical books. I've long lost the plot and point of that essay other than "Look at all of this shit!" and have fallen into a deep, dark hole. (Send help.)
Writing my epic tome means I've once again crossed paths with the manga market leader Viz Media, LLC and its imprint "the leader in shojo manga" with whom I've been in a love/hate relationship for some time now Shojo Beat. For those unfamiliar, the Shojo Beat imprint is a part of VIZ Media, LLC, an American manga publisher, anime distributor, and entertainment company. The brand has a page on VIZ's site as well as active Tumblr and Twitter accounts to interact with fans. (You can learn more about the history of Shojo Beat in my article here.)
So, I finally opened up a Tumblr (@ThatMangaHunter), and I started to read Shojo Beat's old Tumblr posts. They are a hoot and a wealth of information, and in reading them, I came across this old post about josei series (aka manga for adult women). Shojo Beat does publish manga for its adult readers, but those readers may not find them so easily, hence the post. However, the post was written back in March of 2016 and was only later updated in late January 2018 to include SP Baby. It was this Tumblr post in conjunction with my unfinished rant/essay on shoujo and Colleen Manga Rec's well-timed video on "shoujo starter packs" that got me thinking and feeling nostalgic.
For those unfamiliar, the ULTIMATE Shoujo Starter Pack is a fun recommendation video where Colleen walks you through the chart they created. The chart has cheeky categories like the "trashy one" (near and dear to my heart), the "drama that gave your trauma," and "the high school romance." They invited you to fill out the chart and post the results under the hashtag "shoujostarterpack." I saw the event unfold in real-time on Twitter, and unsurprisingly, there were a lot of Shojo Beat manga on those charts besides the "Arina Tanemura" category. (Arina Tanemura's works are all through Viz).
The chart could have easily been the Shojo Beat Starter Pack. No offense to anyone, but that's how it felt for me to fill out the chart myself, especially since some of the non-Viz-published stories I'd like to put down are long out of print (like Land of the Blindfolded and After School Nightmare) or worse out of print and never completed in English (like Cantarella -I was reading Mirror, Mirror and a lot of historical novels back then). So, my 'Member Berries chart looks like this:
However, if I set the parameters to shortly before the pandemic to now, when I got into manga again, it would be a little diverse and look like this:
In doing the above exercise, my thinking quickly went from "What was my first shoujo manga?" to "What was my first josei manga?"
My First Josei Beat Manga
Butterflies, Flowers by Yuki Yoshihara was my first josei manga from Shojo Beat. (And technically, it's Shojo Beat's first josei manga too.) For the uninitiated, the series is a smut office romcom about an ex-aristocratic woman who gets an entry-level job at a real estate firm and reconnects with a former servant. The former servant is now her boss. The two form a romantic relationship. Hilarity ensues. I often credit this manga as my foray into josei manga.
However, that's not...really true. I realized this way after the fact, but my first josei manga (and anime) should probably be credited to Petshop of Horrors by Matsuri Hino. Other possible firsts include BL like FAKE by Sanami Matoh. So, Butterflies, Flowers being my first foray into m/f smut josei manga is probably the most accurate statement, and I happened to find it by chance browsing in a Borders (rip) right around the first volume's release in late December 2009/early January 2010. The book was wrapped in plastic and had a "Mature Content" label on the front. I flipped it over to read the synopsis, and I thought it sounded hilarious. I was right. That first volume and the rest of the series have been on my shelf ever since. It was one of the few series I checked release dates for and bought as soon as I could. I had to have it.
Setting aside technicalities and the trip down memory lane, the reason why I attribute Butterflies, Flowers as "my first josei manga" is because it was the series that made me sit up and go, "This is different, like nothing I've read before from Shojo Beat or anywhere else. This isn't 'shoujo.' What is this?" It also really helped that the "Shojo Beat" logo and brand were stamped on the manga. Because if the familiar pink SB logo wasn't on there, I might have mistaken Butterflies, Flowers for something else because this series had irreverent and otaku humor that I had long attributed to shounen and seinen manga and anime. Also, the manga was plain goofy. The art would dramatically change styles and genres all for the sake of a joke. All of it left me wondering, "What is this thing, and where can I get more of it?" I eventually learned that this was josei manga and that josei manga is vast thanks to some college anime club senpais and Google-chan.
Shojo Beat's List
All of this is to say that what I think or would tag as "josei manga," what I found via research, or was told was "josei manga" doesn't line up 100% with what Shojo Beat says is "josei manga," and what the publisher says goes. This matters because it affects licenses and audience expectations. Thanks to Shojo Beat being in the game the longest, they have set the standard for what is and what isn't "shoujo." (I don't think the Shojo Beat's influence extends to josei so much since there is so little of it in the catalog ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ , but I could be wrong on that front. ) To that end, it's really telling what Shojo Beat put on and left off the list in 2016.
According to Shojo Beat, the following series, listed in chronological order, are josei:
Nana (2005) rated T+ (v. 1-7) and rated M (v. 8+)
Honey and Clover (2008) by Chica Umino (serialized across three magazines; started its run in a shojo magazine but ended it in a josei magazine: Cutie Comic, Young You, and Chorus which is now Cocohana) rated T
Butterflies, Flowers (2009) by Yuki Yoshihara (Petit Comic) rated M
Happy Marriage (2013) by Maki Enjoji (Petit Comic) rated M
Midnight Secretary (2013) by Tomu Ohmi (Petit Comic) rated M
Spell of Desire (2014) by Tomu Ohmi (Petit Comic) rated M
Idol Dreams (2015) by Arina Tanemura (Melody) rated T
Everyone’s Getting Married (2016) by Izumi Miyazono (Petit Comic) rated M
SP Baby (2017) by Maki Enjoji (Petit Comic) rated M
Analyzing the list, Shojo Beat pulled these titles from magazines aimed at adult women. (Cookie is complicated and started its life as a shojo magazine if this wiki article can be trusted. The magazine's demographics changed.) Additionally, all of these titles except for Idol Dreams and Honey and Clover are rated "M" for "Mature." Lastly, all of the series has adult main characters. However, that still doesn't explain a few things. The list lacks two series Kaze Hikaru (2006) and So Cute It Hurts!! (2015).
Kaze Hikaru was serialized in Flowers magazine and has a "T+" for "Teen Plus" rating. Flowers is a josei magazine so why Kaze Hikaru was left off the list is anyone's guess. I'm guessing it's because the main leads weren't adults, and Shojo Beat didn't want to advertise the manga in that way? Plus maybe it wasn't doing so hot in sales for them...? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (It's just a missed opportunity to me.)
On the other hand, So Cute It Hurts!! could have been left off for a simpler reason: the series wasn't rated M at the time of the original post. (Could have totally mentioned it in the update like SP Baby...) The series maintained a "T" for "Teen" rating for volumes 1 to 11 (released between June 2015 to February 2017) and then jumped up to M with volume 12 (published in April 2017). The rest of the series maintains an M rating, and now, you can find it advertised in the back of other mature series like Yakuza Lover. This case reminds me of another series that I recently read and reviewed Love and Heart. 💀 (Although in Love and Heart's case, it should have been rated M from the beginning just like Nana.)
If Shojo Beat were to give a fully updated list, I'm sure it would have all of the M-rated series and stories with adult leads from manga serialized in women's magazines, which pretty much sums up my own list, with a few exceptions like Kaze Hikaru, Neighborhood Story, and Fushigi Yûgi: Byakko Senki. I included Neighborhood Story primarily because it's an old series from the 90s. The people who know about it, have been casting summoning spells for it, and are likely to pick it up (but not the only ones) are adults already familiar with Ai Yazawa's other works Nana and Paradise Kiss. In fact, Neighborhood Story is the precursor to Paradise Kiss, which was serialized in the defunct adult women's fashion magazine Zipper.
By that logic, I should include the other two Fûshigi Yugi series Mysterious Play and Genbu Kaiden. Fushigi Yûgi basically followed its audience from adolescence and teenage years to adulthood like Ai Yazawa's Tenshi Nanka ja Nai/Neighborhood Story/Paradise Kiss trilogy did, and similar to those fashionable stories, each iteration of the Fushigi Yûgi saga is a standalone book. (I explained the entire Ai Yazawa thing in my upcoming late 2023 releases list.) So, I putGenbu Kaiden and Mysterious Play on the honorable mentions list.
Before somebody yells at me, the sequel to Revolutionary Girl Utena: After the Revolution was serialized in Flowers too, but unlike Neighborhood Story or the Fûshigi Yugi saga, you'll have to have read Revolutionary Girl Utena first as After the Revolution is not a standalone story which is why both series are on my honorable mentions list. Accounting for the other stories with adult leads as main characters but didn't originate from women's magazines, you get my full main list and honorable mentions list.
Here is my full list in ABC order:
Butterflies, Flowers (2009) by Yuki Yoshihara (Petit Comic) ⭐
Everyone's Getting Married (2016) by Izumi Miyazono (Petit Comic) ⭐
Fushigi Yûgi: Byakko Senki (2020) by Yuu Watase (Flowers) ⭐
Happy Marriage!? (2013) by Maki Enjoji (Petit Comic) ⭐
Honey and Clover (2008) by Chica Umino (serialized across three magazines; started its run in a shojo magazine but ended it in a josei magazine: Cutie Comic, Young You, and Chorus which is now Cocohana)
Idol Dreams (2015) by Arina Tanemura (Melody)
An Incurable Case of Love (2019) by Maki Enjoji (Petit Comic) ⭐
Kakuriyo: Bed & Breakfast for Spirits (2019) by Waco Ioka, Original Story by Midori Yuma, and Character Design by Laruha (B's Log Comics)
Kaze Hikaru (2006) by Taeko Watanabe (Flowers)
Midnight Secretary (2013) by Tomu Ohmi (Petit Comic)
Nana (2005) by Ai Yazawa (Cookie) ⭐
Neighborhood Story (2023) by Ai Yazawa (Ribon)
So Cute It Hurts!! (2015) by Go Ikeyamada (Sho-Comi) ⭐
SP Baby (2017) by Maki Enjoji (Petit Comic)
Spell of Desire (2014) by Tomu Ohmi (Petit Comic) ⭐
Yakuza Lover (2021) by Nozomi Mino (Cheese!) ⭐
Behind the Scenes!! (2016) by Bisco Hattori (LaLa)
Fushigi Yûgi: Genbu Kaiden (2005) by Yuu Watase (serialized across magazines; started in Sho-Comi and finished in Zoukan Flowers) ⭐
Fushigi Yûgi: Mysterious Play (2003) by Yuu Watase (Sho-Comi)⭐
Library Wars: Love & War (2010) by Kiiro Yumi and Original Concept by Hiro Arikawa (LaLa/LaLa DX)
Revolutionary Girl Utena (2017) by Be-Papas and Art by Chiho Saito (Ciao)
Revolutionary Girl Utena: After the Revolution (2020) by Be-Papas and Art by Chiho Saito (Flowers) ⭐
Snow White with the Red Hair (2019) by Sorata Akiduki (LaLa/LaLa DX)
Hopefully, I didn't miss anything! It should be noted that I went by only what's listed on the site so all of these are active licenses. Also, the stars (⭐) indicate that the series is available to read via the new Viz Manga subscription service. Note that any "M" mature-rated manga can only be read outside the app on a web browser!
So there you have it. Article complete.
Oh, wait. It just can't be that simple can it? (Yes, it can, but humor me for a bit.)
I mentioned age ratings throughout the post, and it's about time I address that. Manga sold in the U.S. and other similar markets have age ratings on them because we sort fiction books by age and category rather than gender and publisher as they do in Japan as Japanese to English translator @Saffronapplepie explains on Twitter. To put it in U.S. book terms, shoujo and its counterpart shounen (aimed at young and teenage boys) cover middle-grade, young-adult, and new-adult fiction or readers aged 8 to 25. Josei and seinen (targeted at adult men) would cover new adult to adult fiction or readers aged 18 and older.
However, there isn't much of a standard in how manga publishers age rate their books in the U.S. It's up to each company's internal system when it comes to rating these books, and publishers want the biggest audience possible for each work so most books are picked up, licensed, and rated with teens in mind. So, manga categorized as "adult graphic novels" in the U.S. results in sales charts that look like this:
Which begs the question, what is manga for adults anyway by U.S. publishing standards? So, that's a fun topic for another time, and now, you get a sense of how my other essay is going. Not good.
In any case, it's important to note that Viz has four age ratings, and they are "A" for "All Ages," "T" for "Teen," "T+" for "Teen Plus," and "M" for "Mature." Viz explains the entire rating system on its website here. Rest assured, Viz puts a symbol on the back of each book and has a short explanation of what it means on the inside cover.
Going by Viz's explanation, I could possibly include the T+ series on my rec list... but nah. There are a lot of series rated T+. Plus, that method would exclude T series like Snow White with the Red Hair, whose main lead is 19. To some people, just having characters aged 18+ and out of high school is essential for manga to be "suitable for adults." Besides Snow White with the Red Hair, it would also exclude other T-rated series with college-age leads like Behind the Scenes!!.
On the other hand, some people may not enjoy manga series showing lots of sex (see Yakuza Lover), violence, or other mature themes so the T+ rating is a good compromise. You get some mature themes but not too much. Finally, just because something is T+ or below doesn't mean it couldn't be suitable for adults or, better yet, written for them like Kaze Hikaru and Fushigi Yûgi: Byakko Senki. Both of these series are rated T+ and were serialized in the josei magazine Flowers. However, not every rating system is perfect, and accidents occur. As I mentioned above, So Cute It Hurts!! and Nana serve as interesting examples of age ratings gone wrong.
In any case, being able to find stories you can connect to and enjoy reading at an older age is the key to keep reading and enjoying manga. Unfortunately, the manga in the U.S. and related markets still heavily favors the yutes so we're going to have to go out of the way to let publishers know that we're still here and reading manga post 25, 30+, and we would like to read "mature" manga. If only we knew what mature manga was to publishers besides just the M-rating or the smut that's out there...
So, hopefully, this uh, article thing, brings you one step closer to finding manga that suits your changing tastes. Looking at where a manga is published in Japan and age ratings stateside are ways to find more mature manga. Keep in mind that not every M-rated manga is smut. For example, Everyone's Getting Married is not smut but rather a mature office romance series. Lastly, I will be crafting more "manga for adults" rec lists but without the accompanying essays. (Once is enough, lol.)
Stay tuned if you're interested!
In conclusion, the list I outlined above and in my previous post was inspired by my interest in how publishers like Viz's Shojo Beat define and market shoujo and josei to its readers, nostalgia thanks to Colleen's video on shoujo starter packs, and my long search for more "mature josei" and "stories for adults." It's interesting what publishers deem for adults versus what readers might think and choose for themselves. It's clear that Shojo Beat is operating on a different rule set than readers. I'm not 100% sure what those rules are, but I gave it the old college try. My list consists of titles that were serialized in women's magazines, M-rated titles, and stories containing adult characters. (Download the list as a pdf here.)
So, I gave my list and thoughts on josei manga within Shojo Beat's catalog. Now, it's your turn. If you'd like, you can share the josei manga you're reading or have read from Shojo Beat's catalog with this chart:
Alternatively, you can share your general "manga for adults" recs via this chart here:
(You can right-click to download the above images or download them (plus Colleen's chart) via the Imgur link here: https://imgur.com/a/HZNbGBg.)
That's my list and thoughts on the josei manga in Shojo Beat's catalog. Check these out in print or digitally via the Viz Manga app or your favorite e-book store. Let me know what you're reading via Twitter @ThatMangaHunter.
Now, go read. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯