(Continued from previous part)
Shonen mangas for young boys are not the only ones to have taken centrestage in the manga industry of the immediate post-War era. Here, we see another paradox of the Japanese world of comics, in comparison with that of the rest of the world. Whereas female comic readers in most parts of the world comprise only a minority within a minority, it is the total opposite in the Land of the Rising Sun. Yes, those of the fairer sex who don’t read comics are considered the minority in Japan. Hence, the understanding in Japan is this: if boys have shonen mangas, then girls, too, have shojo (young girl) mangas.
Shojo-style comic art as seen in the manga Skip Beat! (スキップ・ビート!, Sukippu Bīto!)
In the 1950s and early 1960s, when the manga industry was still largely male-dominated, shojo mangas were for the most part produced by male artists themselves. One renowned example is the 1954 manga Princess Knight (リボンの騎士, Ribon no Kishi) by none other than the Father of Modern Manga himself, Osamu Tezuka. Nonetheless, Tezuka and the other male manga artists soon came to the realization that girls ought to understand girls better than guys do, thus it would be better to have them handle shojo mangas for female audiences. With this in mind, they started to recruit more women into the manga drawing profession.
Tezuka's shojo manga, Princess Knight (リボンの騎士, Ribon no Kishi), which failed to garner widespread popularity from the Japanese female audience of the 1950s
Tezuka and the others did just the right thing. Whereas manga consumerism among females was plummeting under male dominion over shojo mangas, this pattern was reversed after female power pervaded the manga industry. Prominent women artists who made their debut in the 1960s, such as Yasuko Aoike (青池保子, Aoike Yasuko) (1948 – ), Minori Kimura (樹村みのり, Kimura Minori) (1949 – ) and Waki Yamato (大和和紀, Yamato Waki) (1948 – ), who were then only in their teens, understood exactly what the female soul yearned to see in comics. They, along with many other women manga artists yet to come, produced numerous shojo masterpieces that revolved around stories of fantasy, romance, drama and fabulous costumes, some of which were based on fairy-tale-like settings in Europe’s past.
As a result of the gradual influx of more female artists into the booming manga industry, several shojo manga magazines that paralleled their shonen counterparts started to invade the market. Prominent examples include Shojo Friend (少女フレンド, Shōjo Furendo) and Margaret (マーガレット, Māgaretto), which began publishing in 1963, as well as Shojo Comic (少女コミック, Shōjo Komikku), which began publishing in 1968. These manga magazines became even more popular with free gifts such as stickers, paper dolls and cards.
Margaret (マーガレット, Māgaretto), one of the most popular shojo manga magazines that remains popular up to now
The late 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of an influential group of female manga artists known as the Year 24 Group (２４年組, Nijūyo-nen Gumi). Named so because most of the members of this group were born in or around Showa 24 (1949), it became the revolutionary driving force that propelled shojo mangas to unprecedented popularity. Its members included, amongst others, the three women artists whom I’ve mentioned above, as well as Keiko Takemiya (竹宮恵子, Takemiya Keiko) (1950 – ), Riyoko Ikeda (池田理代子, Ikeda Riyoko) (1947 – ) and Moto Hagio (萩尾望都, Hagio Moto) (1949 – ).
(*Showa 24 refers to the 24th year of the Showa Period, of which Showa 1 or the 1st year of the Showa Period (1926) is the year in which Emperor Hirohito ascended the throne.)
As compared to shonen mangas, shojo mangas were able to attain widespread popularity among female readers because it touched on subtler issues closer to the woman’s heart. Besides portraying in-depth boy-girl romantic relationships, most shojo mangas of that era focused on the subtleties of a woman’s psychology and featured detailed settings, costumes and character development that gave the overall mood of the story. Settings applied were frequently based on European history coupled with fairy-tale like imaginations. Riyoko Ikeda’s The Rose of Versailles (ベルサイユのばら, Berusaiyu no Bara) is a classical example, and remains a well-known shojo manga up to this day.
The Rose of Versailles (ベルサイユのばら, Berusaiyu no Bara), a classical example of shojo manga
However, some members of the Year 24 Group also experimented with conventionally shonen themes such as science fiction, sports and issues of human existence. Keiko Takemiya was one such example, in which her science fiction/space exploration manga series Toward the Terra (地球へ…/ テラへ…, Terra e…) garnered widespread popularity amongst both boys and girls. A shojo-based sports-themed manga entitled Attack No. 1 (アタックNo.1, Atakku Nanbā Wan), which was inspired by the Japanese women’s volleyball team in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, also gained a considerable following.
Toward the Terra (地球へ…/ テラへ…, Terra e…), a manga/anime based on the theme of science-fiction/space exploration
Despite all these divisions in the manga world along the lines of shonen and shojo, this is not always the rule in every case. Indeed, the lines of distinction between shonen and shojo are sometimes blurred, even up to this day. There are quite a number of girls who read shonen mangas as well, and a considerable number of boys, albeit mostly hidden, fancy reading shojo mangas too. Both shonen and shojo mangas have evolved over time to cover a large variety of themes catering for every age group and category of audiences. As such, young boys and girls who start reading mangas at a young tender age grow up being unable to grow out of their manga reading interest, merely because there’s always a manga or two out there that suits their tastes at every stage of their lives.
Since the 1970s and 1980s, many unique sub-genres of manga have started to appear in the market, each catering for a different category of teenage and adult audiences. Educational mangas (学習漫画, Gakushū-manga) cover a vast variety of school subjects such as physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology and history, and are also used to provide information about potential occupations that a student may be pondering over. Political mangas (政治漫画, Seiji-manga) portray various political issues that may serve to raise ideas and trigger discussions among politicians. Business mangas cater for businessmen who may be searching for new business strategies and ideas. There are also literary mangas, documentary mangas, and the list goes on. No doubt, from highly educational content to explicitly pornographic and homosexual content, mangas have become one of the main means of delivering them to the general public.
Examples of the many educational mangas (学習漫画, Gakushū-manga) available in the market
It is also not uncommon for a highly popular manga to be adapted into an anime. In fact, in this modern day, many existing animes in the market are actually based on popular mangas of the same title, for example Tsubasa Chronicle (ツバサ･クロニクル, Tsubasa Kuronikuru), Detective Conan/Case Closed (名探偵コナン, Meitantei Konan) and K-On! (けいおん!, Keion!). Such animes that gain exceptional popularity may subsequently be adapted into live-action shows acted out by real-life casts, for example Detective Conan/Case Closed and The Prince of Tennis (テニスの王子様, Tenisu no Ōjisama).
Detective Conan / Case Closed (名探偵コナン, Meitantei Konan), an example of a popular manga that has been adapted into an anime series
Tsubasa Chronicle (ツバサ･クロニクル, Tsubasa Kuronikuru), another example of a popular manga that has been adapted into an anime series
In a nutshell, mangas have evolved over the decades since its modern inception to become part and parcel of Japanese culture and Japanese popular culture fandom today. From its beginnings as a form of sequential art exclusively for the elite nearly a millennium ago, this unique form of art has progressed by leaps and bounds over the centuries and especially in the past few decades, garnering an ever-increasing fanbase along the way. Mangas have served differing roles throughout Japanese history, ranging from being means of storytelling to being media for political satire and tools of war propaganda. Today, we can see manga pervading every level of Japanese society, so much so that even former Prime Minister of Japan Taro Aso (麻生太郎, Asō Tarō) was caught reading manga in public during several occasions. And the fandom doesn’t just stop in Japan – it has now become a worldwide phenomenon!
Former Prime Minister of Japan Taro Aso (麻生太郎, Asō Tarō) - your not-so-ordinary politician who has gained widespread popularity amongst anime/manga fans for being one himself!
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