Manga Studies #8: Shōjo Manga History: The Obscured Decades by Dalma Kálovics

11 Jun

Previously on Comics Forum, Monden Masafumi shed light on the fact that Japanese shōjo manga discourse tends to prioritize a gender-related perspective, disregarding the majority of graphic narratives which do not fit a subversive reading of the genre, or even dismissing them for their allegedly conservative representation of femininity. But this is not the only one-sided approach to shōjo manga, there is also a historical bias at play. Shōjo manga of the 1970s, notably works by the so-called Magnificent 49ers (see below), have been the main focus of discussion, overshadowing other eras, both before and after. In the following overview, I will outline how the 70s and especially the 49ers ended up as the center of attention, how this favoritism has obscured other periods, and finally how views on shōjo manga history are beginning to change.

Before the 70s, girls’ comics were only rarely mentioned in articles. While recognized as distinct from comics for boys, the differences between the two were not dwelled upon.[1] One of the first critics to actually consider shōjo manga was Ishiko Junzō, a central figure of manga criticism in the late 60s. In his book Notes on Postwar Manga (1975) Ishiko dedicates a few pages to girls’ comics, describing the genre as unique to Japan and conceding also that it has been considered sub-par to shōnen manga and thus barely researched.[2] In his short historical overview, he dismisses the shōjo manga of the 50s, and underlines the birth of weekly shōjo magazines in the early 60s, which, in his opinion, signaled the emergence of a mature kind of shōjo manga marked by female artists like Watanabe Masako, Mizuno Hideko and Maki Miyako.[3] In an attempt to explain the Western-looking doll-like character designs, the fascination with princesses, pianists and ballerinas, and the popularity of the so-called ‘haha-mono’ (mother-and-daughter) topos inherited by the magazines from rental (kashihon) shōjo manga, he elaborates on the despair of blue-collar workers and their dream of a ‘second–fictional–homeland’.[4] In relation to the 70s, however, Ishiko laments the dominance of romance, which seems to overshadow any other theme, such as history (for example, the French revolution in The Rose of Versailles) or sports (as in Aim for the Ace!).[5] Apart from the exaggeration, it is noteworthy that Ishiko’s preferences apparently lie with pre-70s shōjo manga. However, these views did not take root in shōjo manga discourse.

Ishiko’s views were quickly marginalized with the arrival of new critics and the actual start of shōjo manga criticism in the mid-70s. Due to the immense success of some shōjo manga titles even outside of the manga scene, such as Ikeda Riyoko’s The Rose of Versailles, and the then innovative works of artists like Hagio Moto, Ōshima Yumiko, Takemiya Keiko and Yamagishi Ryōko—collectively called the Magnificent 49ers[6]—the genre suddenly found itself the center of attention[7]. Although previously considered inferior, even in the socially disdained field of manga[8], newspapers and magazines articles about shōjo manga grew abundant, making the genre a social and cultural phenomenon.[9] Magazines dedicated to manga like Dachs and Puff ran specials about the 49ers, and Eureka released a whole issue about shōjo manga in 1981, concentrating mainly on the 49ers. Shōjo manga as such had been popular among girl readers before: the magazine Shūkan Margaret achieved an unbroken record in circulation among the shōjo weeklies with 1.17 million copies in 1969[10], a growing number of magazines were founded in the second half of the 60s, and the market flourished. What changed in the mid-70s, however, was that shōjo manga broke out of the closed world of teenage girls. Not only adult women, but also men started to read these works, and they were finally deemed worthy of criticism.[11]

The critics who highlighted the shōjo manga of the 70s, and in particular the 49ers, were part of a new generation who—in stark contrast to Ishiko’s focus on the social dimension—wanted to discuss manga as manga, without recourse to external factors or other media. The main representatives of this approach, like Murakami Tomohiko, Yonezawa Yoshihiro and Nakajima Azusa, were born in the 50s, and as such belonged to the first generation which grew up reading manga.[12] They believed manga should be discussed from the personal perspective of the individual reader or even creator[13], which came to be called “watashi-gatari” in Japanese.[14] These critics had ‘discovered’ shōjo manga through the 49ers and tended to concentrate on their favorites, like Hagio Moto, Takemiya Keiko, and Ōshima Yumiko.[15] Although these artists were rather exceptional, in that they were neither representative of the genre’s majority nor among the most commercially successful ones, they were regarded as the peak of shōjo manga history, the taken as the evaluative standard for the whole genre.[16] According to Fujimoto Yukari, this privileging of the 49ers tempted critics to turn their back to everything before this era, deeming it worthless and mere ‘pre-history’.[17]

Hashimoto Osamu, belonging to the then new generation of critics, discussed the female manga artists of the 70s, and not only 49ers, in his monograph Fried burdock for maidens in full bloom, one of the very first books on shōjo manga; however, due to the extremely subjective and personal tone, the two volumes of the book (1979, 1981) are hardly usable for solid research. The most detailed shōjo manga history was written by a central figure in this generation of critics, Yonezawa Yoshihiro. His A history of postwar shōjo manga (1980) remains a must-read for any student of shōjo manga to this day. Interestingly enough, in the foreword of his book, even Yonezawa, although previously representative of the critical preference for the 49ers, reflects on this bias and calls for a holistic approach to shōjo manga history, including the consideration of highly popular artists of the 60s-70s such as Satonaka Machiko, Shōji Yōko and Igarashi Yumiko.[18]

Yonezawa’s monograph is an enormous work: after a short introduction to prewar shōjo magazines he pursues the postwar history of shōjo manga up to the end of the 70s, describing trends through representative artists and works, and contextualizing them with respect to changes in media, readership and—to a lesser degree—social history. But as Yonezawa himself admits in the afterword, his book is neither meant as a critical discussion of shōjo manga nor does it attempt to define shōjo manga; it is neither a personal recollection nor a proper historical analysis[19]—yet, in part, it is both of these. The book can appear challenging for those without at least some basic knowledge about shōjo manga, largely due to lacking years of publication and occasional jumps in time, as well as to the huge amount of data collected. Still, Yonezawa’s work remains the most detailed monograph about the history of shōjo manga, including little-studied periods. Although Iwashita Hōsei spots a certain inclination to the 49ers, which features as the Golden Age of shōjo manga in the book, Yonezawa was clearly one of the few advocates of researching the overlooked early decades of the genre.

Ten years after A history of postwar shōjo manga, Yonezawa approached the topic again, albeit in a different form. In the A children’s history of the Shōwa-era series he edited two volumes about shōjo manga subtitled The world of shōjo manga I-II (1991). The two volumes introduce girls’ comics from 1945 to 1989 based mostly on Yonezawa’s previous book, with additional essays by prominent artists and critics. Unlike the text-heavy A history of postwar shōjo manga, however, the two volumes are richly illustrated and therefore should be treated as an addition to the previous monograph rather than a substitute.

Remarkably, in the foreword to the second volume Yonezawa notes how he realized that most manga titles, even ‘classics’ published before the second half of the 70s, were not available anymore.[20] This sheds light upon the other important factor in ensuring a focus on the 70s at the expense of previous eras: accessibility. Regular publishing of shōjo manga in collected volumes (tankōbon) under a specific label started in 1967[21], but unlike today, when almost everything is available in paperback, only selected, highly popular series were released. Thus, the majority of graphic narratives disappeared with their magazine issues. In contrast, every title popular in the 70s was published in tankōbon format back then, and due to the constant attention of fans and critics, these manga have been regularly reprinted. Nowadays the majority of pre-70s shōjo manga is only accessible through the shōjo magazines they were initially published in and these can only be found—with issues missing from most series—in some libraries or over-priced auction and collector shops. This fact contributes significantly to these periods falling into oblivion, while the 70s maintains a central position in shōjo manga discourse.

Despite Yonezawa’s books, critics of shōjo manga continued to concentrate on the 70s, clinging to it as the standard of the genre, and rendering not only the shōjo manga preceding the 49ers, but even works that came after, invisible.[22] While there is no denying their achievements, the Magnificent 49ers were in reality a side branch of shōjo manga development: the complex, literary narratives and the ornate visual style were not maintained; shōjo manga took up a lighter tone with simpler designs. This, however, remains unreflected in shōjo manga research. Even in the 90s, when the expressive tools and ‘grammar’ of the medium drew attention in manga discourse, the 49ers were once again singled out. Ōtsuka Eiji, for example, identified the particularity of shōjo manga as the portrayal of the characters’ inner world by means of monologues (and thus a significant amount of text outside the speech balloons), which, he argues, were discovered and explored by the 49ers.[23] The monologue, however, had already appeared and spread in shōjo manga in the 60s, as did many other traits, such as the huge eyes, the curly locks and the fashion, the flowery backgrounds and the multi-layered paneling.

At the end of the 90s—as Monden introduced in his article—Fujimoto Yukari set the trend of gender-based shōjo manga discourse with her first book, Where is my place in the world? The shape of the heart as reflected in girls’ comic books (1998), and she continues to be the main advocate of such a reading. However, this new approach did not alter the focus on the 70s in shōjo manga discourse. On the contrary, aside from a handful of representations of cross-dressing heroines in the 50s and 60s, the artists of the 70s—mainly the 49ers—were the first to examine gender and sexuality in shōjo manga.[24] Hence it does not come as a surprise that the gender-based approach pioneered in Fujimoto’s book focuses on this period. But as Monden pointed out, Fujimoto’s book is strongly influenced by her own personal experiences.[25] Still, in recent years, Fujimoto turned to earlier artists, examining the stylistic beginnings of the genre. In her essay, Takahashi Macoto: The Origin of Shōjo Manga Style she identifies Takahashi as the ‘source’ of shōjo manga, mainly with respect to seemingly unrelated full-body shots stretching across the whole page (so-called sutairu-ga), which are rarely seen nowadays.[26] While it is undeniable that Takahashi’s dreamy illustrations inspired many shōjo manga artists, it must not be forgotten that he is an illustrator rather than a mangaka proper (despite creating several graphic narratives in the 50s), and designs alone do not make a genre. Nevertheless, Fujimoto’s attention to the 50s induces a welcome change to the seemingly unshakeable focus of shōjo manga discourse.

Following Fujimoto, in the 2000s, new female researchers offered gender-oriented theories with a soft spot for the 70s. Oshiyama Michiko, in her book Discussion of gender representation in shōjo manga: Forms of ‘cross-dressed girls’ and identity (2007, revised 2013), pursued cross-dressing heroines through the history of shōjo manga[27], and Ōgi Fusami examined shōjo manga’s stylistic Westernization from the perspective of gender, concentrating mainly on works of the 70s. She argued that westernized designs allowed girls to free themselves from the fixed gender roles of mothers and daughters in patriarchal Japanese culture.[28] Relatedly, she stated that the style of shōjo manga was established in the 70s and has not changed much ever since.[29] This can be easily refuted by taking a look at the simple paneling or pared-down design of current mainstream titles such as From Me to You or Blue Spring Ride, which indicate once again that the 70s cannot serve as the standard against which to measure everything else in the genre.

In recent years new researchers have started to question the established shōjo manga discourse, rediscovering the so-called pre-history of the genre. In his book Aesthetic mechanisms of shōjo manga: An open-minded history of manga aesthetics, related to the imagined role of Tezuka Osamu (2013) Iwashita Hōsei explores why Tezuka Osamu’s shōjo manga works—aside from Princess Knight—have been neglected in scholarly discussions. According to Iwashita, it is precisely these dominant views on shōjo manga—the positioning of Princess Knight as the ‘origin’ and of the 49ers as the ‘standard’—that make it hard to address these manga, as they do not fit into the norm.[30] Although Iwashita considers shōjo manga history only in relation to Tezuka’s works, his points are equally valid for all pre-70s shōjo manga which have been ignored due the same levelling. Iwashita himself notes the neglect of 50s-60s shōjo manga, calls for their reconsideration, and pleads for a re-appraisal of shōjo manga history.[31]

The bias towards the 70s in shōjo manga discourse has left undone many tasks for those who want to explore the genre’s history. Starting from the male-dominated monthly magazines and the very first female artists of the 50s to the shōjo weeklies in the 60s and the rental scene, there are still many stylistic and thematic facets of shōjo manga left to discover, and additional avenues to explore, such as the media of shōjo magazines, including other contents like novels, illustrated short stories and articles.


Eshita, Masayuki, 2006. Manga kosho mania (Second-hand manga mania). Tokyo: Nagasaki Shuppan

Fujimoto, Yukari, 2009. Shōjo manga to jendā (Shōjo manga and gender). In: Natsume Fusanosuke & Takeuchi Osamu, eds. Mangagaku nyūmon (An Introduction to Manga Studies). Kyoto: Minerva Shobō, pp. 168-172

Fujimoto, Yukari, 2012 [2007]. Takahashi Macoto: The Origin of Shōjo Manga Style (trans. Matt Thorn). In: Frenchy Lunning, ed. Mechademia 7. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 24–55

Ishiko, Junzō, 2011 [1976]. Aa, shōjo manga yo, omae wa doko e? (Oh, shōjo manga, where are you heading?). In: Ishiko Junzō, Manga/Kicchu: Ishiko Junzō sabukaruchā-ron shūsei (Manga/Kitsch: A collection of Ishiko Junzō’s theory on subculture). Tokyo: Shogakukan, pp. 212-217

Ishiko, Junzō, 1994 [1975]. Sengo Manga Nōto (Notes on Postwar Manga). Tokyo: Kinokuniya Shoten

Iwashita, Hōsei, 2013. Shōjo manga no hyōgen kikō—hirakareta manga hyōgenshi to Tezuka Osamu (Aesthetic mechanisms of shōjo manga: An open-minded history of manga aesthetics, related to the imagined role of Tezuka Osamu). Tokyo: NTT Shuppan

Konagai, Nobumasa, 2001. Watashi no shōjo manga-shi (My history of shōjo manga). Tokyo: Nishida Shoten

Monden, Masafumi, 2015. Manga Studies #7: Shōjo Manga Research: The Legacy of Women Critics and Their Gender-Based Approach, (accessed 2015/05/31)

Nakajima, Azusa, 1995 [1991]. Mizō no jidai (The era of the unprecedented). In: Yonezawa Yoshihiro, ed. Kodomo no Shōwa-shi—Shōjo manga no sekai II (A children’s history of the Shōwa-era—The world of shōjo manga II). Tokyo: Heibonsha, pp. 88-89

Ōgi, Fusami, 2004. Shōjo manga to ‘seiyō’—shōjo manga ni okeru ‘Nihon’ no fuzai to seiyōteki imēji no hanran ni tsuite (Shōjo manga and the ‘Occident’—About the absence of ‘Japan’ and the abundance of westernized designs). In: Tsukuba Daigaku Bunka Hihyō Kenkyūkai, ed. ‘Honyaku’ no keniki: bunka – shokuminchi – aidentitī (The realms of ‘translation’: culture – colonialism – identity). Tsukuba: Isebu, pp. 525-554

Ōgi, Fusami, 2010. ‘Ekkyō suru’ shōjo manga to jendā (Transgressing shōjo manga and gender). In: Ichiki Masashi, Motohama Hidehiko & Ōgi Fusami, eds. Manga wa ekkyō suru! (Manga beyond borders). Kyoto: Sekai Shisōsha, pp. 110-134

Ōtsuka, Eiji, 1996. Shōjo manga no shōhi shakaishi—‘24-nen gumi’ no hassei to shūen (A history of shōjo manga from the perspective of consumerism—The rise and fall of the ‘24-nen gumi’). In: Inoue Shun, ed. Design – Mode – Fashion. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, pp. 177-192

Takahashi, Mizuki, 2008. Opening the Closed World of Shōjo Manga. In: Mark MacWilliams, ed. Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime. New York: M. E. Sharpe, pp. 114–36.

Uryū, Yoshimitsu, 2009. Shōnen manga no hakken (The discovery of shōnen manga). In: Iwasaki Minoru, Kitada Akihiro, Komori Yōichi, Narita Ryūichiu & Ueno Chizuko, eds. Sengo Nihon sutadīzu 2—60-70-nendai (Postwar Japanese Studies 2—60s-70s). Tokyo: Kinokuniya Shoten, pp. 223-237

Yonezawa, Yoshihiro, 1995 [1991]a. Kodomo no Shōwa-shi—Shōjo manga no sekai I (A children’s history of the Shōwa-era—The world of shōjo manga I). Tokyo: Heibonsha

Yonezawa, Yoshihiro, 1995 [1991]b. Kodomo no Shōwa-shi—Shōjo manga no sekai II (A children’s history of the Shōwa-era—The world of shōjo manga II). Tokyo: Heibonsha

Yonezawa, Yoshihiro, 2007 [1980]. Sengo shōjo manga-shi (A history of postwar shōjo manga). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō

Dalma Kálovics is a PhD student at Kyoto Seika University, Japan. She earned her M.A.s at Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary, Budapest in German Language and Literature and Communication specialized in mass communication in 2007. During her studies she co-hosted a radio show about manga and anime, and after graduation she started to work as a translator for Asian comics and as the editor of Mondo, a magazine dedicated to Japanese popular culture. Dalma is researching the changes in shōjo manga of the 60s focusing on female artists, with an additional accent on shōjo magazines as media for girls’ comics.

[1] Iwashita 2013: 47-48

[2] Ishiko 1994 [1975]: 116

[3] Ishiko 1994 [1975]: 120

[4] Ishiko 1994 [1975]: 124

[5] Ishiko 2011 [1976]: 212-217

[6] There is no official membership and sometimes even Ikeda Riyoko is counted among them, though her works were quite different from the literary style of the others. Nakajima Azusa mentions Ikeda as part of the group (Nakajima 1995 [1991]: 88) while Yonezawa does not include her. Members are recognized according to how the 49ers are defined, and those who count Ikeda to the group seem to focus on artists who brought something new to shōjo manga at the time.

[7] Yonezawa 1995 [1991]a: 4

[8] Yonezawa 2007 [1980]: 18

[9] Yonezawa 2007 [1980]: 263

[10] Konagai 2011: 38

[11] Yonezawa 1995 [1991]a: 4

[12] Uryū 2009: 236

[13] Uryū 2009: 236

[14] Uryū 2009: 236

[15] Takahashi 2008: 130

[16] Iwashita 2013: 48-52

[17] Fujimoto 2009: 170

[18] Yonezawa 2007 [1980]: 18

[19] Yonezawa 2007 [1980]: 333

[20] Yonezawa 1995 [1991]b: 6

[21] Eshita 2006: 98-99

[22] Iwashita 2013: 49-52 and Fujimoto 2009: 170

[23] Ōtsuka 1996: 183

[24] Yonezawa 1995 [1991]b: 80-86

[25] Monden 2015

[26] Fujimoto 2012

[27] Monden 2015

[28] Ōgi 2004: 550

[29] Ōgi 2010: 111

[30] Iwashita 2013: 44

[31] Iwashita 2013: 273

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