Once upon a time, I waxed poetically about my love for Josei manga (here and here) and how those stories were just what I needed leaving adolescence and into my grown woman years. Josei is still an underrated genre in manga, and I am here to do my part and evangelize some more about one of my favorite genres that I can never read enough.
Here’s a list that includes Josei titles for you manga readers, and the only guidelines here are that these all are just one single volume and that they are messy as hell for your enjoyment! Up the ante here! From sleeping with around with the guy your stepmother is cheating on your father with to tearfully being unable to wear the cute but expensive maternity underwear, Josei has it all!
Note: As Josei is geared for older audiences as Senien as to Shonen, please note that an age rating of older teen, 16+ years is recommended for the titles on this list.
Publisher: Vertical (Kodansha)
Creator: Kyoko Okazaki
Availability: Print only
Love, lust, capitalism, and desire for more all converge in Pink which follows Yumiko, a young woman who is working two jobs. Her nine-to-five job at an office bores her to tears and her side hustle as a call girl at night is just enough to feed her pet Croc. Life is a bit dull until she does a little snooping and finds her stepmother’s sugar baby is the much younger Haruo, a college student and aspiring writer–things liven up for once. Yumi’s never been a kept woman, or someone’s pet, so will she consider a different kind of life with Haruo around? A whole lot of drinking, blackmail, dramatics, and threatening with her pet crocodile means revenge is a dish best served cold and good times are had until they aren’t.
Created by legendary mangaka artist Kyoko Okazaki, Pink is an unapologetic manga about a young woman wanting to color her world and find new thrills to experience. Sure, there’s musing on being young and having thoughts about relationships, but there is so much to love about the complexities of family and finding ways to cherish the good times in this narrative. Yumi’s apartment becomes a home away from home not just for Haruo, but her precocious younger half-sister. Yumi goes through the book musing and pondering about her body, the female body in different places, and the work she has to complete to get the things she needs and wants.
This is a volume of Josei that I will recommend every time because Yumi’s story is so fun and cringeworthy to read. I loved the weirdly endearing dynamic of the relationship that she has with her school-aged half-sister who initially reveals the sugar-baby relationship between the mother and the much younger man. Noted, I haven’t read much manga centering sex workers, so this work was a nuanced manga that thankfully doesn’t villainize her but instead explores her motivations and some of her inner desires in life. Pink is a brilliant, contained volume of manga of a young woman searching for her happiness and of all the many ways to color her life that still feels fresh and relevant even though this work was published at the tail end of the 1980s.
Recommended for: For fans of Unusual Pairings, Stories about Sex Workers, Works with Criticism about Capitalism and Art
Mangaka: Asuka Konishi
Translator: Hannah Airriess
Availability: Digital & Print
Natsumi’s younger sister Haru was her whole world and now she’s gone. After the funeral ceremony, Natsumi reluctantly agrees to date her sister’s fiancé Togo at his request. As time passes, they both come to learn so much about each other and the complicated relationship that they both shared with the now-dead Haru who died young. Haru’s Curse complicates a generous story about falling in love and all the untold expectations we have of ourselves and those we love.
Reading the synopsis alone could turn you away from this manga based on how very soap opera-like the story could venture out to be. Instead, Haru’s Curse turned out to be this haunting but beautiful tale of grief, sisterhood, and the messiness of love, both familial and romantic. Featuring a narrative that centers on two sisters who loved each other the most and two young adults who find themselves navigating murky emotional waters, this English-language debut by mangaka, Asuka Konishi is a searing, heartbreaking read.
Through Natsumi and Togo, there are some intricate narrative threads masterfully sewed together about growing up, finding agency, and standing on your own two feet that are so well executed on the page that I return to reread Haru’s Curse again and again even when I know it will break my heart each time. This is a volume of Josei that I will recommend every time because, on this list, this manga best illustrates that love and the act of loving someone is never always rainbows and sunshine. As romanticized as falling in love is, this manga is a reminder that loving people can be painful, but it can also be the catalyst to taking ownership of your life and what and who you desire to hold dear. I believe that this manga also reminds us of the fragility of life and how suffocating it can be when the people we love leave us behind.
Recommended if you like: Complex Family Situations, Grieving Characters, Love Triangles
I Don’t Know How to Give Birth!
Publisher: Yen Press
Creator: Ayami Kazama
Translator: Julie Goniwich
Availability: Digital and Print
I am so glad that in recent years the manga industry has been giving us more and more diverse titles coming into the English language market that includes manga exploring gender and sexuality exploration, autobiographical manga, and–manga about motherhood. I Don’t Know How to Give Birth! is a standout manga as it runs the gauntlet from hilarious to heartwarming to eye-opening on one woman’s journey to motherhood and all the challenges and joys it brings. I love getting to read more autobiographical manga, and this volume caught my eye as it is presented in such a visual and humorous way.
At the end of each chapter, both the mangaka, Kazama, and her husband, Konno Azure, also a manga artist, each have a page where they share a one-panel comic and add commentary from the perspective of the mother’s and father’s experiences. It’s a funny and insightful little piece of commentary that I started to anticipate the pages throughout the book. These endearing pages serve as short bursts of advice, like how to support your pregnant partner’s food cravings and finding ways to best prepare yourself for the challenges of breastfeeding. It will surely ring true for parents at all stages of life: trying, new, and seasoned.
This is a volume of Josei that I will recommend every time because while I was laughing (and cringing) throughout, I loved Kazama’s personal reflections on figuring out why she wanted to be a mother and why this endeavor of childbirth was so important to her. Reading to see her not underestimate herself when it came to the mountain of medical tests and procedures needed to prep her body for not just pregnancy but for birth pulled at my heartstrings. Also noting that while infertility is still very much taboo in some countries and communities, seeing the manga artist move past her embarrassment and shame to get to a place of better understanding and health was super inspiring. Shout out to the mamas and birth givers of the world! I am so much better equipped to understand what hardships y’all go through and what miracle it is to bring another life into this world.
Recommended for: Autobiographical work, Manga about Motherhood, Comedic Manga
My Broken Mariko
Creator: Waka Hirako
Publisher: Yen Press
Translator: Amanda Haley
Availability: Digital & Print
Tomoyo Shiino has been the one constant friend and grounding force in her childhood friend Mariko’s life. From an unhappy childhood with an abusive father to deep-seated depression and self-loathing to cancerous relationships, Mariko has survived it all thanks to Tomoyo by her side. She’s bandaged her up and rescued her. She’s gotten angry at her, for her, and on her behalf. When Tomoyo is utterly blindsided by news of her best friend’s death, she is determined to liberate Mariko’s ashes for one final journey together. My Broken Mariko is a tear-jerking, heavy read on friendships and the circumstances that befall young women who never quite make it back whole from being beaten on by the world for so long.
Of all the manga on the list, this one may carry the most trigger warnings as it does explore suicide, suicidal ideation, and a survivor of several types of abuse present in the narrative. This is a volume of Josei that I will recommend every time because it is a daring manga on closure and the failures of friendships: the ones we imagine and the realistic ones that we have no control over. Tomoyo sets out to redeem her dear friend but also herself as someone who could never truly save her destructive friend who moved from one trauma to the other. My Broken Mariko is a beautiful and saddening tale of the great love between friends in a world where one half of the duo experienced more darkness than light.
This manga effectively defines heartbreak, survivor’s guilt, and closure on the page. My Broken Mariko is forever ingrained in my heart as such a messy and heartfelt offering on the purest form of love through friendship and the incredible journey one friend takes to give another a final sendoff deserving of her.
Recommended for: Fans of Manga About Friendships Between Women, Grieving Characters, Psychological Plots
My Wandering Warrior Existence
Publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
Creator: Nagata Kabi
Availability: Digital and Print
Nagata Kabi, the award-winning creator of such works as My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and My Alcoholic Escape from Reality, brings us the fire once again with her latest manga titled My Wandering Warrior Existence. This work follows the mangaka when she attends a friend’s wedding and suddenly wants one of her own. Upon further evaluation and soul searching, she realizes that the wedding is just superficial for her. What she truly desires, what she truly longs to love and be loved. So, she sets out on a journey to figure out dating apps, learn about modern romance, and most importantly, move past trauma and self-doubt to come to a place of loving herself.
This is a volume of Josei I will recommend every time because Kabi is a powerhouse whose auto-biographical manga is worth reading, period. Her manga is, at times, hard to read through but always profound and manga that I always find myself reaching for the next book. What makes My Wandering Warrior Existence a standout from Kabi’s other works is that this book builds upon lessons from her previous works. This manga builds upon all the insecurities she has faced before in confronting her ideals and fears on her gender expression, her health issues, and navigating her own sexuality at her own pace.
Here in this book, she is asking herself more monumental questions and working through more complicated feelings. I truly felt so honored to be back along for the ride to read about this latest leg in her journey. Self-love is probably the overarching theme in this manga. Getting to witness Kabi find that place where she is better equipped to define living life more fully is so thrilling and satisfying. This single volume of the manga is an illustrative reminder that while we all have hang-ups and flaws, having agency in the decisions we make in life–and having support is the ultimate gift. More so a greater gift for those warriors weathering out the tougher chapters in their lives which may also include readers who may pick up this book and find pieces of themselves on the page.
Recommended for: Fans of Autobiographical works, Manga Exploring Gender and Relationships, Manga Exploring Mental Health
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