Manga: Something I’ve grown up reading, coveting and sharing with others. The thing about it is that after a while I found myself grown up—a woman and reading more of a specific genre. While shojo manga has always and will always have a special place in my heart as I addressed here, I feel like I need to acknowledge how I stumbled upon Josei manga and how it cememted itself into my bookshelves.
Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is Josei? Pronounced “JOH-say”, it is what I like to call Shojo manga’s big sister. OR final form. Famillar with the manga genre known as Shonen? As in “Shonen Jump”? Shonen is to Seinen as Shojo is to Josei. Where Shojo’s targeted audience is somewhere between 12-18 years of age, Josei’s targeted audience targets the age group directly after that: adult women.
(As this is manga you are reading Right to LEFT)
I like to think that there are three major differences that set Josei apart from Shojo.
1.) More mature most def more complex stories that touch on themes such as higher education, careers and family life.
The joys and pitfalls of marriage and children are popular subjects that often weave themselves into many different Josei manga.
The importance of solid female friendships (and maintaining them) is yet another popular theme.
2.) Way more realistic romance. Way more. And by realistic, I mean…
Yes, I’m talking about SEX! Gone, mostly are the shojo sparkles that flutter off the eyelashes of the cute school girl about to confess to her senpai and replaced with panels that are of folk involved in more intimate scenes of affection.
3.) Characters that are slightly older—It’s not uncommon to have a protagonist or
a set of characters that are older, from late teens to late twenties and beyond.
I started reading my first Josei titles in high school under the guise that they were Shojo. I wasn’t disappointed. Far from it. I was just hit by cupid’s arrow down a path that would have me stumbling and discovering more and more Josei manga. Here are just a few of my favorite Josei titles, their contributions to the genre and why I loved them…. (And I kept this as spoiler free as much as I could, folks…)
1. Mars ( TokyoPop) Created by Fuyumi Soryo
What’s It About: The unforgettable collision that is the meeting of sixteen year Kira and Rei and the story of how they fell in love and fought to keep it. Kira is someone who fades into the crowd. She’s shy, very quiet and keeps to herself. She has a phobia of boys, is shunned by her classmates and chooses to focus on her art. Rei is charismatic, handsome, charming and always the life of the party. He is loved by all and somehow still manages to hold most people in his life at a distance. He perpetually gets in trouble with authority figures and rides away on a motorcycle. In other words, they are both worlds apart yet still feel drawn to each other. They fall in love. They both find this “star crossed lovers” thing not something they signed on for. This is their story.
You should read it if: You love a long series that includes an rollercoaster ride of feels. This manga isn’t child’s play. It’s deep and certainly haunting at times. The creator Souryo Fuyumi is known for her tales of intense character development and mature content matter. This manga touches upon everything from sexual assault to mental illness to suicide. Another really important theme that’s universal in this manga is young adults experiencing and acknowledging that “looks are deceiving” . People are deceptive. Parents, teachers, people in power can just be adults with masks on, fooling you and taking advantage of you. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, much? Sometimes the most honest people are the ones that society tells you that are the worst.
Why I loved this series: Something about how no love is perfect. Truly. People are flawed. People are broken. But love can find them. For some, love can even change them for the better.
Finding the right person, even if both parties are polar opposites can bring about a change to inspire people to grow up, step outside their comfort zones and even learn to heal from the traumas they have endured. Both main characters seriously grew up so much throughout the series (2 years time span roughly) , it just serves to a testament that this is quite possibly one of the most realistic romances I’ve ever seen in a book I’ve picked up.
Lasting Legacy: Popular enough to inspire a television drama series in Taiwan. Also helped serve as a solid foundation for Tokyopop for selling future titles that were josei/shojo related.
Length of Series/Availability: 15 Volumes all together published in English under Tokyo Pop + 1 volume of side stories (16 in total) OUT OF PRINT. But still sold online very cheap via Amazon. If you wander through ebay long enough you might catch someone selling a partial or full set.
2. Tramps Like Us also known as Kimi Wa Pet (Tokyo Pop) Created by Yayoi Ogawa
What’s It About: Meet Sumire Iwaya. She’s 28 years old, living in a spacious apartment in Tokyo with a career she loves and is well suited for: a journalist. She well respected by her bosses, her work is heavily decorated, she’s also bilingual– knowing both Japanese and English. She happens to be very educated, having gone to both Harvard and Tokyo University. She’ s also drop dead gorgeous. Life is fine, perfect, even until her boyfriend of several years beaks the news to her that his girl on the side is pregnant and he wants to do the right thing by her and marry her. Which means ending things with Sumire. Ouch. Then her boss gets drunk and tries to come to her. Gross. At her wits ends, she knocks out his false tooth. Woah. Then she’s demoted at work. Ouch, again. One night she’s walking home and kicks a cardboard box that’s outside her apartment complex. Like did she know there’s a body in there. A man. Alive, thankfully. This person turns out to be homeless 20 something year old Takeshi who Sumire takes in and keeps as her “pet” and nicknames him “Momo” after her childhood dog.
You should read it if: You want a manga that doesn’t fixate on the doe eyed young lass in her school uniform daydreaming about her crush and passing exams so she won’t have to take supplemental classes in the summer. Sumire is a GROWN WOMAN, with GROWN WOMAN ISSUES. She’s dealing with gender stereotyping at work, the ever present biological clock ticking away and a family that expects nothing less than perfection from her. She’s almost thirty and unmarried. She can’t and doesn’t want to quit smoking. She’s placed on a pedestal by nearly everyone so she never knows when to let her guard down, which exhausts her to no end.
Why I loved it: Sumire is the quintessential “Independent Woman” here. She has it all. But she doesn’t. Enter Takeshi, the much younger, much more carefree, much more unstructured but no means less complicated man who ends up living in her loft. She can come home to her “pet” and kick his ass in video games, play with his hair as she reads a newspaper…Sumire can relax around him. She can take out her contacts, put on her ugly sweats and watch melodramatic anime with him and cry. She doesn’t have to be perfect around him.
She can let down her hair, so to speak. Of course, she finds the relationship changing and constantly being challenged throughout the series by seemingly everyone including: her future boyfriend, her best friend, her sisters and many other people. I wont drop any major spoilers but it is worth the ride here. Sumire, who is accustomed to not depending on people, not allowing people to “save” her, learns to not let her guard down. To let not let too many people in… She learns that in doing so you may just find exactly what you were looking for. You may find exactly what you needed.
Lasting Legacy: Popular enough that a television drama was made in Japan. NOTE: this manga just happened to a win a prestigious Kodansha Manga award. Holla at your girl.
Length of Series/Availability: 14 volumes in total published in English under Tokyo Pop. (OUT OF PRINT) I actually ended a friendship on the grounds that I lent this series to a friend and she lost some of the volumes…and didn’t offer to replace them or help me hunt some of them down on the internet (which I learned became very expensive. Le Sigh.)
3. Suppli also known as Sapuri (Tokyo Pop) Created by Mari Okazaki
What’s It About: Minami has always been a hard worker. In fact, she pours herself into into her work–which is admirable. Then at 27 years of age, her boyfriend of seven years dumps her. She strives to throw herself into her career even more: but by doing so she finds that she has been living her life without really living it. Without truly experiencing life. So starts a journey of learning how to reconnect to people, how to depend on (and how to cherish) friends, how to be in love again and most importantly–how to gain the courage to set out and get what she wants in life.
You should read it if: You love reading about mature characters. SIKE. If you love a tale of adult women seeking love in a world where their careers and other societal factors come first. Workplace drama, Workplace romances, workplace assholes. You name it. Adulthood presses down on the neck of all the characters here: male and female and we start to see glimpses of everyone’s struggles. Whether they be being a single father, being love with an older woman, being in love with someone who is unavailable, ADULTERY, or even being an womanizer. (That itself isn’t a valid struggle–just mentioning it for the two women involved.) My point is STUFF HAPPENS HERE.
What I LOVED about this series: Sure this is about Minami learning to fall in love again. With another man. But she’s also kinda starting to fall in love with herself. And learn about herself. What she does want? What does she love? Picking yourself up off the floor after heartbreak is indeed, not an easy task.
But it’s something that women do. Heartbreak comes in different forms: from a breakup of a relationship, from work related stress, from not having a stable enough support system, from not being caught up with professional or personal goals… Reading Minami’s adventures made me appreciate that are writers in this world that recognize that women are intricate, complicated but complex characters: each one with desires, dreams and hopes. Each one with that sees her life as a vehicle to one day get the happiness she wants and deserves.
Lasting Legacy: Inspired a Japanese drama. Also responsible for a lot of angst on my part–Seriously, Tokyo Pop. Thanks. (see below)
Length of Series/Availability: All together there are 10 volumes and one extra volume containing a side story, I believe. Yet only 6 volumes were published in English under Tokyo Pop. Upon further research, I found that that the series was finished–just not in English. There’s a French translation of the series which includes the remaining volumes I never was able to read.
4. Bunny Drop also known as Usagi Drop (Yen Press) Created by Yumi Unita
What’s It About: Life always loves to throw curve balls at us, right? Just ask 31 year old bachelor Daikichi when he goes home to attend the funeral of his grandfather to find that the old man had a child with a much younger woman…That child who is a little girl who is now—his much younger aunt?!?!?! With the mother of the child nowhere to be found and all his relatives bickering amongst themselves trying to pass the girl onto someone else, Daikichi decides to take the girl, named Rin in himself. Daikichi is clueless. He’s like a fish out of water, this parent thing is harder and way more complicated than it looks.
You should read it if: You enjoy the “slice of life” manga genre. This is not a manga for everyone. One, being that the target audience of Josei isn’t FOR EVERYONE. Two, the clueless Daikichi navigating the new and strange world of being a parent is hilarious and heart warming. There’s no ninjas here (although Rin sneaking up on Daikichi happens). There’s no soul reapers, magical girls, demon kids or talking animals. This is simply the story of a new family being born, a man learning how to be a surrogate parent and a child learning to open up again after being cast off and discarded.
I loved it because: This manga took me by surprise. I didn’t know that I would love it so much. It really shows us that the word family is…subjective. Not all families are the same. Not all families need to be the same. Daikichi is experiencing the role of a parent, a single parent in society and having to the combat the negative aspects of it. As he learns on the job when he has to work things around his schedule and overhear unkind things about employees with children. Or trying to figure out transportation wise how fast he can get Rin to school then get to work and keeping track of things like loose teeth and school supplies. This is a beautiful story of a love that blossoms, of a family that is formed. Of a bond that grows and takes the readers by surprise with just how touching Rin and Daikichi’s story is.
Lasting Legacy: Spawned an anime series, a television drama, live action film adaption and even a spinoff manga short.
Length of Series/Availability: ten volumes in total. Licensed and translated in English. NOTE: The ending made a LOT of readers want to R-A-G-E-Q-U-I-T manga, at least Josei manga. So reading past the first four volumes might scar you for life. The first four volumes are perfect. the first four volumes are bliss. Reading past that might make you dislike the whole series. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you. I’m still wondering how something so beautiful could go so wrong.
5. Princess Jellyfish also known as Kuragehime Created by Akiko Higashmura
What’s It About: The blossoming of 18 year old Tsukimi, who lives in an apartment complex called the Amamizukan with other otaku women where no men folk are allowed. She and the other tenants are something like social outcasts who try their best to avoid most of the outside world and take joys in each of their obsessions. One night Tsukimi seeks out to save a jellyfish from death by a neglectful petstore employee at her local pet store in the neighborhood. She is aided by a stunning woman who is everything Tsukimi is not: beautiful in a flashy way, confident and clearly not afraid to speak her mind. Her mysterious and gorgeous good Samaritan follows her back to home and soon she finds that she is a HE! He turns out to be Kuranosuke, the son of a local politician who cross dresses for fun (and to escape the pressures of his strict and demanding family). Tsukimi hopes to never see him again after she initially gets him out the apartment complex now knowing his true gender but as fate would have it he is connected to her, the other tenants and the Amamizukan as it’s neighborhood is threatened by plans of redevelopment.
You should read it if: If you love female empowerment. This manga screamed female empowerment from the first book in. Seriously. There’s the simple grand importance of female companionship and accepting who you are–even if you are a little, or a whole lot of weird. But also stepping back and going out of your comfort circle to make sure you aren’t letting the world pass you by. When you open yourself up to new experiences you just may find yourself on top of the world. Oh yeah, you just may fall in love too. Oh, yeah the male supporting characters are well written, don’t take away from their female counterparts, are all hilarious in general and add to the craziness that is this manga.
Why I loved it:
Or hell, whatever they want. This was on the most important themes in the manga to me. Main character Tsukimi’s mother was sick quite often during her daughter’s childhood. Her mother soon passed away. Before she did, she encouraged her daughter and doted on her to enjoy what she loved. Yet social anxiety and other things kept her confined her to not be confident in who she was and not live life to the fullest. The bottom line is this: reminding girls that you can become what you dream of, what you desire. Don’t box yourself in and close the ceiling down on yourself. Don’t let the sky be the limit. Reach for Saturn. And while Tsukimi was the youngest here, at 18 years of age–I believe that this is a message that adult women need to hear too.
Lasting Legacy: Countless pieces of gorgeous fanart on tumblr that I’ve seen, an 11 episode Anime series, an live action film adaptation is set to premiere at the end of this year in Japan. ALSO: this manga won the prestige Kodansha Manga Award a few years back.
Length of Series/Availability: 13 volumes. As of now–it’s not licensed to be printed in English. And it may be a while until it is, sadly. It is available online in scantalation form but not in a printed-in-English-and-officially-licensed-way. While I encourage folks to always buy the manga once it’s licensed here in the States…it may be a long time till we see that happen. Until then…
To wrap this up, if there is one truth that we should keep evident in our hearts it’s that manga is and will always be important. I cherished it from the starting point that is my childhood through my adolescence to the present time which is my adulthood. I figure I’ll be an old lady reading Dr Slump to my great grand babies stopping only to adjust my glasses and to sit up straighter in my rocking chair. It’s important to note that when you grow up reading manga, sooner or later you find yourself reading a volume of some manga that causes you to reflect on something in your adult life. It may also serve to parallel an experience you’ve yet to encounter. Josei manga has had such a big impact on me because I’ve seen life lessons in those panels.
I’ve seen women stand up a little bit straighter to call out some jerk to defend their friends. I’ve seen female characters shift through self doubt and stare failure right in the eye. I’ve seen relationships end and the women folk involved mourn and grieve and eventually one day, start again. I’ve seen myself drawn on countless pages of Josei manga: in love, heartbroken, and scared–backed into a corner. I’ve found myself on pages of Josei manga: vindicated, victorious, and fearless–refusing to give in to fear and circumstances. The relationship I’ve had with Josei Manga is unlike any other and a love letter I hope to continue to write for years to come.