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Page from long running shōjo manga Glass Mask by Suzue Miuchi, demonstrating archetypal shōjo art conventions Page from long running shōjo manga Glass Mask by Suzue Miuchi, demonstrating archetypal shōjo art conventions

Shōjo or shoujo is a term used in English to refer to manga and anime aimed at a young, female audience; the term being a transcription from the Japanese 少女, literally 'girl'. The genre is stereotyped as melodramatic stories of romance with a female protagonist, and drawn in a flowing style where beautiful characters with huge, intricately drawn eyes become spontaneously surrounded by flowers, stars, and bubbles. Shōjo works, however, cover a huge range of subjects, from historical drama to science fiction and by no means all adhere to the same artistic sensibilities or conventions. It is, in the end, not a style or a genre (as the closest American equivalent, the "chick flick," would be), but a demographic.

Shōjo manga has its roots in Meiji era reforms, and then the manga expansion in the 1950s, with titles like Princess Knight by Osamu Tezuka. However it took off with a new wave of female authors beginning in the 1970s - centered around the Year 24 group, named as such because they were all born in the 24th year of the Shōwa period (1949). In particular, Moto Hagio, Keiko Takemiya and Yumiko Ōshima were instrumental in redefining manga from a female perspective, and inventing the shōnen-ai genre. Around the same time but not as conveniently born in the same year, Suzue Miuchi, Riyoko Ikeda and A-ko Mutsu have created equally influential manga.

Shōjo anime has been a part of television animation from its beginnings, Tōei Dōga starting the 'magical girl' emphasis with Mahō Tsukai Sally and Himitsu no Akko-chan in the second half of the 1960s. Also active at the turn of the 1970s were Tōkyō Movie Shinsha with sports anime Attack No. 1 and Ace o Nerae!, and the 1979 historical drama Versailles no Bara has been highly influential. The 'World Masterpiece Theatre' series by Nippon Animation, based on classic works of Western literature, began in 1975. While not aimed solely at female viewers, it had a huge impact, running for two decades from and widely syndicated outside Japan. Magical girls were everywhere in the 1980s, notably with the various Mahō no... series by Studio Pierrot, but the genre became recognized in the west through Tōei's Sailor Moon, begun in 1992.


Meaning and spelling

As shōjo just means 'girl' (少女) in Japanese, the equivalent of the western usage will generally include the medium: girls' manga (少女漫画 shōjo manga), or anime for girls (少女向けアニメ shōjo-muke anime). The parallel terms shōnen (少年 lit. 'boy'), seinen (青年 lit. 'young man'), and josei (女性 lit. 'woman') are also used in the categorisation of manga and anime, and are qualified the same way. Though the terminology originates with the Japanese publishers, cultural differences with the West means application in English tends to vary wildly, with the types often confused and misapplied.

Due to the vagaries involved in the romanization of Japanese, 少女 (written しょうじょ in hiragana) may be transcribed in a wide selection of ways. By far the most common is shoujo, largely because it follows English phonology, preserves the spelling, and requires only ASCII input. The Hepburn transcription shōjo uses a macron for the long vowel, though the prevalence of Latin-1 means a circumflex is often substituted instead, shôjo. It is also common practice to just ignore long vowels, shojo, however this is sometimes discouraged due to potential confusion with 処女 (shojo, lit. 'virgin'). Finally Nihon-shiki type mirroring of the kana spelling may be used, syôjyo, or syoujyo. None of these many variants are any more 'correct' than the rest, unless a particular style guide is expected to be followed.


Western adoption

Young girls on the cover doesn't mean young female readership. Azumanga Daioh ran in Dengeki Daioh, targeted at young male interests Young girls on the cover doesn't mean young female readership. Azumanga Daioh ran in Dengeki Daioh, targeted at young male interests

Fans in the west have adopted a wide range of Japanese anime and manga terminology, however the strong stylistic and thematic similarities between a sector of shōjo works has lead to the term being thought of as a genre or style, sometimes with an attempt to assign it by degrees. This has lead to a wide variety of titles that would be classified as something else by their Japanese creators labeled shōjo by western fans. Anything non-offensive and featuring female characters may be referred to as shōjo, such as the light seinen comedy manga and anime Azumanga Daioh.[1] Similarly, as romance is common element of many shōjo works, any title with romance, such as the shōnen Love Hina[2] or the seinen Oh! My Goddess are liable to be mislabeled. In addition westerners often declare that particularly violent, gory, or sexually explicit works "can't possibly" be shōjo, or disbelieve that shōnen-ai titles are aimed at girls rather than homosexual men.

This confusion is by no means limited to the fan community, the terms are also widely misrepresented in articles aimed at the mainstream. In an introduction to anime and manga, Jon Courtenay Grimwood writes:

"'Maison Ikkoku' comes from from Rumiko Takahashi, one of the best known of all 'shôjo' writers. Imagine a very Japanese equivalent of 'Sweet Valley High' or 'Melrose Place'. It has Takahashi's usual and highly-successful mix of teenagers and romance, with darker clouds of adolescence hovering."[3]

Takahashi is a famed shōnen mangaka, though Maison Ikkoku is one of her few seinen titles: serialised in Big Comic Spirits, aimed at males in their 20s. Matt Thorn, who has successfully made a career out of studying girls' comics, attempts to clarify the matter by explaining that "shôjo manga are manga published in shôjo magazines (as defined by their publishers)".[4]

The US comics industry in particular has struggled with understanding, let alone competing with, shōjo manga. Having historically failed to produce anything that appeals to female audiences, they had to cope with Sailor Moon vastly outselling all domestically produced graphic novels aimed at their core young, male market. [5]

As such publishers and stores have problems retailing shōjo: unsure of the 'right' way to spell the word, licensees such as Dark Horse Comics misidentifying several of the seinen titles, and in particular manga and anime aimed at a younger audience in Japan is often considered 'inappropriate' for minors in the US.[6] As such, titles are often either voluntarily censored or remarketed towards an older audience. In the less conservative European markets, content that might be heavily edited or cut in an English release is often present in French, German and other translated editions.

One effect of this conflict has been a move by US companies to use the borrowed words that have gained name value in fan communities, but separate them from the Japanese meaning. In their shōjo manga range, publisher VIZ Media attempt a reappropriation of the term, providing the definition:

shô·jo (sho'jo) n. 1. Manga appealing to both female and male readers. 2. Exciting stories with true-to-life characters and the thrill of exotic locales. 3. Connecting the heart and mind through real human relationships.[7]

The desire to disassociate the word from it's meaning, 'girl', seems largely in fear of putting off potential new readers, particularly male ones.

Manga and anime labeled as shōjo need not only be of interest to young girls, and some titles gain a following outside the traditional audience. For instance, Frederik L. Schodt identifies Banana Fish by Akimi Yoshida as:

" of the few girls' manga a red-blooded Japanese male adult could admit to reading without blushing. Yoshida, while adhering to the conventions of girls' comics in her emphasis on gay male love, made this possible by eschewing flowers and bug eyes in favor of tight bold strokes, action scenes, and speed lines."[8]

Such successful 'crossover' titles are the exception rather than the rule however, for archetypal shōjo manga magazine Hana to Yume, 95% of readers are female, and a majority are aged 17 or under.[9]

Shōjo Magazines in Japan

The strict definition of shōjo being that a story is serialized or published in a magazine designated as shōjo, here is a list of past and current Japanese shōjo manga magazines, separated by publisher. These can be published on a variety of schedules, the most common being bi-weekly (Margaret, Hana to Yume, Sho-Comi), and monthly (Ribon, Betsuma, Betsu Fure, Lala).

See also



  1. ^ Azumanga Daioh mistakenly identifed as 'shōjo comedy' on the MIT Anime Club website, last modified August 19, 2004
  2. ^ Chobot, Jessica Shojo Showdown, defending choice of Love Hina as #5 in the 'Top Ten Shōjo Manga', IGN, December 2, 2005
  3. ^ Grimwood, Jon Courtenay (Issue 19, 2006). "Every Picture...". Books Quarterly, p. 42
  4. ^ Thorn, Matt (2004) What Shôjo Manga Are and Are Not: A Quick Guide for the Confused, last modified August 19, 2005
  5. ^ Sailor Moon Graphic Novels Top Bookstore Sales, ICV2, August 14, 2001
  6. ^ Shojo Update:Your Comments and Our Answers, ICV2, August 23, 2001
  7. ^ Nasu Yukie ([1996] 2004) Here is Greenwood 1. San Francisco, California: VIZ LLC. ISBN 1-59116-604-7
  8. ^ Schodt, Frederik L. (1996) Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga - Japanese Comics for Otaku. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 1-880656-23-X
  9. ^ Data on Hana to Yume (xls), Japanese Magazine Publishers Association, last modified October 06, 2003

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