Category Archives: Manga Studies

Manga Studies #10: What are you reading? Approaches and reasons for looking at language in manga by Giancarla Unser-Schutz


As a fan of manga outside of Japan, there comes a time when one is no longer able to stand waiting for translated editions. Perhaps you search online for scanlations, or head out to your local Japanese bookstore to buy them in the original. Needless to say, taking the latter choice draws its own new problems, primarily being how to read the text, whether by taking Japanese language classes or studying on one’s own. In both cases, it can be the beginning of a long, sometimes frustrating but always exciting journey in acquiring a new language. In full honesty, this is not a general story, but rather my story—and perhaps many readers’ too. While I did not start reading manga anticipating learning Japanese at the time, let alone having it as a specific goal, it would not be an underestimation to say that the linguistic elements of manga quickly became one of the most important aspects for me as a reader.

However, while language skills are clearly a crucial part of reading manga, there is a tendency to underestimate its linguistic side. Pressed to define manga, most people would probably mention their visual side, but it is less certain how many would stress the role of language. While it is hard to find examples as extreme as McCloud (1994), who subordinated language to the visual in comics by reevaluating language as a visual element because it appears as written text, stressing manga’s visual aspects appears to be a deep-rooted tendency in critical evaluations. As Saika (2013, 197–199) notes, post-war criticism of akahon (red-book) manga—cheap manga books popular in the post-war period influential in the development of today’s story-manga—amongst manga artists such as Shimizu Kon, Kondō Hidezō and Yokoyama Ryōichi focused on the lack of artistic skills found in akahon and their overuse of linguistic elements, picking up critical themes brought up in the 1930s by the manga artist Kitazawa Rakuten.

Yet, the linguistic elements of manga are clearly important to the reading experience, for both non-native and native speakers alike: after all, native speakers also need to gain the skills necessary for processing manga. In reality, there are many reasons to think that language is a very important part of modern manga, and below I will review four different approaches and reasons for focusing on language in manga: the role of language in the development of modern story manga, popular perception of manga’s influence on language, manga’s usefulness as a resource for linguistic research, and tying it back up, the use of manga in Japanese language study.

Approaches to language in manga
1. Language had an important role in the development of modern story manga

First, language appears to be crucial in enabling the complexity of story-oriented manga. According to Takeuchi (2005), language in manga used to be redundant in nature. However, starting in the post-war period, language increasingly came to complement the pictures by adding information not directly expressed in the images. Thus, where previously a drawing of a boy fishing might have been accompanied by the line “I’m fishing,” in later manga, the line would only indirectly describe the action, such as “my mom makes great fried fish.” This move away from redundancy is significant because it allows for juxtaposition between drawings and written text, one of the most important characteristics of comics by some accounts (Harvey 2001). It also has an impact on manga’s readability. Upon showing students of English as a second language the same comic with different verbal components, Liu (2004) found that while comics whose verbal components were more difficult—and thus less strongly linked to their visual component—somewhat helped beginner students, they were actually harder to interpret for advanced students than the text presented alone, suggesting that images may present conflicting information. By inference, the non-redundancy of language in manga suggests that they can be difficult to process, which would go against popular discourse: as Ikegami (2013) has noted, the idea that manga are easy to read is deeply rooted, even though manga literacy requires intense exposure.

Language also appears to have played an important role in the development of the shōjo manga genre. It is generally argued that shōjo manga came into itself in the mid-1970s and early 1980s with the so-called Magnificent 49ers (Hana no 24nen gumi). Interestingly, both Ōtsuka (1994) and Takeuchi (2005) have pointed out how the shōjo manga from this time period began to use text in very unusual ways, particularly in that it often used written text outside speech bubbles. Floating through the drawings, such written text appeared like a poem or monologue, leading to a multiplicity of voices and acting as a window into characters’ inner selves. While it appears these kinds of written texts as a strictly-shōjo manga characteristic has decreased (as a result of increased intertextuality between shōjo manga and shōnen manga and the apparent difficulty of their reading for some (Ōtsuka 1994)), some of these differences do still exist, if in somewhat different forms: in my research, I have found that shōjo manga seems to use more handwritten, out-of-speech-bubble, non-onomatopoeic language, which appears to also create a multiplicity of voices and intimacy to the text (Unser-Schutz 2011).

2. Manga are popularly viewed as influential on language

The general public also appears to approach manga as verbal texts. Readers find inspiration in their words, demonstrated by the plethora of books collecting manga sayings, such as They’ll Change Your Life! 1,000 Great Sayings from Manga (Nihon Hakushiki Kenkyūjo 2012) and the five-volume Manga Sayings to the Heart (Gakken Kyōiku Shuppan 2014). Manga consistently rank at the top of influential things on young people’s speech in surveys by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs (2015a), with 45% of respondents in 2015. Yet the manga-are-easy discourse re-emerges as a problem, as clear from parents’ many posts on advice sites, from the mother worried about her child’s grades on the child-rearing site PapiMami (sarah 2015) to the parent who wants their child to read books other than manga on Yahoo! Chiebukuro, the Japanese Yahoo! Questions (Anonymous user 2005).

This perception licenses making manga the scapegoat for many linguistic ‘ailments’: one example is the use of the masculine first-person pronouns boku and ore by young women, for which manga are often blamed, as in Endō’s (2001) survey results amongst female college students and Nakamura (2007), who found similar anecdotes amongst elementary students. Of course, popular opinion is not fully reliable; young readers do appear to read manga more than non-manga books, at a little over 30 minutes per day (Cabinet Office 2007), but only 2.6% of people only read manga, whereas 54.1% read both manga and non-manga books, suggesting they do not replace other types of books (Agency for Cultural Affairs 2015b). There are hints that popular perception is increasingly positive; advice doled out by professionals is not necessarily negative, as in the response given to the parent worried about grades above. As I discuss in Unser-Schutz (2015), the role of manga in language change is also not very well established, and probably does not warrant the concern it receives. Yet, given the impact that these assumptions have on the discourse surrounding manga reading, they are still pertinent points for anyone interested in the social perception of manga.

3. Manga’s characteristics make them a unique resource for linguistic research

How manga are perceived ties into questions of language attitudes and folk linguistics, making manga a prime source for these issues, but manga are a prime resource for linguistic research for others reasons as well. Because different types of text are presented as visually different to clarify their roles, manga can be a resource for examining how language is used in different contexts. Research on onomatopoeia—words imitative of or mimicking real sounds—has particularly flourished. There are few contexts where onomatopoeia would be used as creatively and frequently as they are in comics; research such as Inoue’s (2009) have picked up on this by examining the formation of onomatopoeic neologisms, and manga have also been useful for cross-linguistic comparisons and translation research on onomatopoeia (Fujimura 2012; Inose 2010; Kawasaki 2006; Mizuno 2003; Takahashi 2006).

The most popular topic on language in manga in recent years is likely yakuwari-go or ‘role language’. Kinsui (2003, 205) defined yakuwari-go as the kinds of speech used “when one can recall a particular image of a person . . . upon hearing a particular style of speech . . ., or when given an image of a particular person one can recall a style of speech that it would seem they would very likely use . . . .”—that is, stereotyped speech associated with given images or types of people. While stereotyped speech has long been a topic in the field of stylistics, naming the phenomenon has given a new focus to the topic, and yakuwari-go appear to be especially important to manga: Kinsui (2007b, 98) himself has claimed that manga would not be without it. Since the term’s coinage, a flurry of research has come out; in addition to two volumes edited by Kinsui (2007a; 2011), there have been 64 articles dealing with yakuwari-go since 2001 on Ci.Nii, the research database run by the Japanese National Institute of Informatics. While they do not all have to do with manga, many do; like onomatopoeia, cross-linguistic comparisons are common themes, such as Jung (2005), who showed that the elements used in creating stereotypical speech are different in Japanese and Korean. While the problematic discourse on manga’s easiness may have led some to be hesitant to look at its language, the volume of research coming out on yakuwari-go clearly establishes manga’s potential as a linguistic resource.

4. Manga are increasingly used as a resource for Japanese language learning

Finally, manga are clearly an important motivation for many students of Japanese, with up to 80% choosing to study it because of an interest in manga and/or anime (Kumano 2010). It has also been suggested that students get into them easily (Okazaki 1993) and that the familiarity students have with manga can encourage student engagement (Murakami 2008). This is one of the few contexts where manga’s presumed easiness is viewed positively; it has been suggested that the visual aspects of manga can offer clarifying information to make characters’ relationships, situations, and grammatical structures easier for readers to understand (Kaneko 2008, Murakami 2008), making them ideal for non-native speakers in need of help interpreting.

Of course, as Liu’s (2004) research has shown, this assumption may not be well-formed, pointing to the need for more data-based research on the use of language in manga. Chinami (2015), who reviews the characteristics of manga in terms of Japanese language education, specifically notes three problems that need to be dealt with: selection of appropriate series, both in terms of student interest and applicability to language study; sufficient linguistic research and series analysis; and the creation of appropriate classwork. Practical ways to use manga are especially crucial, and there have been some proposals, such as Hongo (2007), who examined a back-translation task to engage with context, and several proposals have focused on the use of manga to examine viewpoint and expressions in narrative contexts (Takemura 2010; Tanapat 2013; Tawarayama 2013). There has also been some development of open resources like, a website created by the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute, Kansai (2010) based on Kumano’s and her team’s research. aims not just to teach Japanese through manga, but also to help readers study language specific to manga, such as yakuwari-go by character types. By presenting practical applications for topics such as yakuwari-go, efforts like these present themselves as one of the final products of the research conducted on the characteristics of language in manga, offering an important outlet for the knowledge thus gained.


As should be clear by now, there are many reasons to look at language in manga, and just as many possible ways to approach them; naturally, not all of the possibilities have been laid out here, either. As hinted at earlier, the use of language in manga is closely tied to manga literacy and the skills needed to be a competent manga reader. The relationship between text and image is also a topic worthy of its own article and cuts across many of the issues brought up above, from the development of linguistic elements in manga to yakuwari-go. There is a vast range of possibilities when taking up language as a topic for manga research, any of which would contribute to our understanding of manga as a medium and manga in society. If there is anything critical to say, it is that precisely because research on language in manga can be conducted in so many different ways and with so many different goals, there sometimes seems to be a lack of communication between the different fields. In the future, attempts to further and more comprehensively integrate the ways that language can be approached in manga and draw out connections between the different topics would be particularly useful.


Anonymous user. 2005. “Kodomo ni dokusho o sasetai no desu ga, manga bakari yondeimasu.Yahoo! Chiebukuro. March 15.

Cabinet Office Director-General for Policy Planning. 2007. “Daigokai jōhōka-shakai to seishōnen ni kansuru ishiki-chōsa hōkokusho.” Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. December.

Chinami, Kyōko. 2005. “Manga de manabu nihongo: Manga o tsukatta nihongo-kyōiku no kanōsei.” In Manga Kenkyū e no Tobira, edited by Kusaka Midori, 133–53. Fukuoka: Azusa-shoin.

Endō, Orie. 2001. “Onna no ko no ‘boku/ore’ wa okashikunai.” In Onna to Kotoba: Onna wa Kawatta ka, Nihongo wa Kawatta ka, edited by Orie Endō, 30–39. Tokyo: Meiji-shoten.

Fujimura, Noriko. 2012 “Oto no nai oto o moji ni suru koto no jiremma: Manga ni okeru gitaigo-hyōgen no bunseki kara.” Bunka Kankyō Kenkyū 6 (March): 62–71.

Gakken Kyōiku Shuppan. 2014. Kokoro ni Hibiku Manga no Meigen Zengoshū. Tokyo: Gakken Kyōiku Shuppan.

Harvey, Robert C. 2001. “Comedy at the juncture of word and image: The emergence of the modern magazine gag cartoon reveals the vital blend.” In The Language of Comics: Word and Image, edited by Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons, 75–96. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press.

Hongo, Tomoko. 2007. “Nihongo no hanashi-kotoba no tokuchō o gakushūsha ni dō kizukaseru ka: 4-koma manga no einichi-honyaku purosesu o katsuyō shite.” Nihongo Kyōiku Hōhō Henkyū Kaishi 14(2), 58–59.

Ikegami, Satoru. 2013. “Manga o yomu to iu keiken: Manga tekisuto no kaishaku tetsuzuki ni miru rikai no tassei.” In Manga Janru-Sutadīzu, edited by Ibaragi Masaharu, 220–58. Kyoto: Rinsen Book Co.

Inose, Hiroko. 2010. “Manga ni miru giongo/gitaigo no hon’yaku-shuhō.” Hon’yaku Tsūyaku Kenkyū (10): 161–76.

Inoue, Kazuko. 2009. “Manga ni okeru nihongo onomatope no shin ‘kōzō-hyōgen’.” Ōsaka Daigaku Gengo Bunkagaku (18): 69–85.

Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs. 2015a. “Heisei 26-nendo ‘Kokugo ni Kansuru Yoron Chōsa’ no kekka ni tsuite.” October 20.

Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs. 2015b. “Heisei 20-nendo ‘Kokugo ni Kansuru Yoron Chōsa’ no kekka ni tsuite.” October 20.

Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute, Kansai. 2010. “Outline: About anime/manga no nihongo.” Japanese in Anime & Manga.

Jung, Hyeseon. 2005. “Nihongo to kankokugo no yakuwari-go no taishō: Taiyaku-sakuhin kara miru honyaku-jō no mondai o chūshin ni.” Shakai Gengo Kagaku 8(1): 82-92.

Kaneko, Shirō. 2008. “Jissen! Manga kyōzai o tsukatta jugyō.” Gekkan Nihongo 21(5): 28.

Kawasaki, Kayo. 2006. “Nihon no manga no supeingo-yaku ni okeru giongo/gitaigo no hyōgen-bunseki (nihongo-kyōiku ni mukete).Lingua 17 (November): 105–23.

Kinsui, Satoshi. 2003. Vācharu Nihongo: Yakuwari-go no Nazo. Tokyo: Iwanami-shoten.

Kinsui, Satoshi (editor). 2007a. Yakuwari-go Kenkyū no Chihei. Tokyo: Kurosio Publishers.

Kinsui, Satoshi. 2007b. “Kindai nihon manga no gengo.” In Yakuwari-go Kenkyū no Chihei, edited by Kinsui Satoshi, 97–108. Tokyo: Kurosio Publishers.

Kinsui, Satoshi (editor). 2011. Yakuwari-go Kenkyū no Tenkai. Tokyo: Kurosio Publishers.

Kumano, Nanae. 2010. “Nihongo-gakushūsha to anime/manga.” Hiroshima Daigaku Ryūgakusei Sentā Kiyō (20): 89–103.

Liu, Jun. 2004. “Effects of comic strips on L2 learners’ reading comprehension.” TESOL Quarterly 38(2): 225–43.

McCloud, Scott. 1994. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: Harper Paperbacks.

Mizuno, Ayu. 2003. “Nihongo to chūgokugo ni okeru onomatope ni tsuite: Honyaku manga no hikaku kara.” Gengo to Kōryū (6): 129–47.

Murakami, Yoshifumi. 2008. “Manga kyōzai no meritto/demeritto.” Gekkan Nihongo 21 (5): 27.

Nakamura, Momoko. 2007. ‘Sei’ to Nihongo: Kotoba ga Tsukuru Onna to Otoko. Tokyo: NHK Publishing, Inc.

Nihon Hakushiki Kenkyūjo. 2012. Jinsei o Kaeru! Manga meigen 1000. Tokyo: Takarajimasha.

Ōtsuka, Eiji. 1994. Sengo-Manga no Hyōgen Kūkan: Kigōteki Shintai no Jubaku. Kyoto: Hōzōkan.

Saika, Tadahiro. 2013. “‘Manga’ o kaku koto to ‘manga-ka’: Shokugyō toshite no ‘manga-ka’-zō o megutte.” In Manga Janru-Sutadīzu, edited by Ibaragi Masaharu, 192–219. Kyoto: Rinsen Book Co.

sarah. 2015. “Seiseki ga sagaranai ka shimpai! Manga-bon bakari yomu kodomo e no eikyō to wa?” PapiMami. October 20.

Takahashi, Michiko. 2006. Manga ni okeru warai no onomatope no eiyaku.” Tōkyō Denki Daigaku Sōgō Bunka Kenkyū (4): 147–50.

Takemura, Miwa. 2010. “Nihongo-bogowasha to chūgokujin nihongo-gakushūsha no danwa ni mirareru shiza: Pāsonaru-narativu to manga byōsha no hikaku.” Hiroshima Daigaku Daigakuin Kyōikugaku-Kenkyūka Kiyō Dainibu Bunka-Kyōiku Kaihatsu Kanren Ryōiki (59): 289-298.

Takeuchi, Osamu. 2005. Manga Hyōgengaku Nyūmon. Tokyo: Chikuma shobo.

Tanapat, Raruaisong. 2013. “Tai nihongo-gakushūsha ni okeru shiten hyōgen no shiyō ni kansuru bunseki: 10-koma manga no byōsha o tōshite.” Nihongo Kyōiku Hōhō Kenkyū Kaishi 20(1), 58-59.

Tawarayama, Yuji. 2013. “Katari no shūketsubu no gengoteki-tokuchō: Nihongo bogowasha/hibogowasha ni yoru 4-koma manga no naiyō o tsutaeru katari kara.” Gunma Daigaku Kokusai-Kyōiku/Kenkyū Sentā Ronshū (12): 59–70.

Unser-Schutz, Giancarla. 2011. “Language as the visual: Exploring the intersection of linguistic and visual language in manga.” Image&Narrative 12(1): 167–88.

Unser-Schutz, Giancarla. 2015. “Influential or influenced?: The relationship between genre, gender and language in manga.” Gender & Language 9(2): 223–254.


Giancarla Unser-Schutz is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Psychology at Rissho University, Japan. She earned her PhD at Hitotsubashi University in Japan in sociology. Her research focuses on the role and characteristics of language in manga, using quantitative data from a corpus of popular series. She has particularly analyzed (1) the structural characteristics of language in manga, (2) the lexical and orthographic makeup of manga, and (3) characterization through linguistic patterns. Comments and feedback are always appreciated at

1 Comment

Posted by on 2015/11/24 in Manga Studies, Uncategorized


Tags: , ,

Manga Studies #9: Studying Garo, the magazine by Léopold Dahan

The monthly manga magazine Garo (published by Seirindō 1964–2002) has gained a certain visibility outside of Japan throughout the past few years: more and more of its authors have been translated and recognized, exhibitions are being held [1] and articles released, even in non-specialized magazines.[2] While Garo authors and their work attract increasing attention outside of Japan, the magazine itself doesn’t seem to be a popular topic within manga studies despite – or precisely because of – its link to the so-called “alternative manga” (Asagawa 2015), the 1960s counterculture, the rise of a new readership and its role as an aesthetic forerunner during its first decade of existence. Bearing this in mind, this column will try to give an overview of the sources currently available on the magazine itself, identify those which can be used as proper academic references and demonstrate the possibilities afforded by studying the magazine itself, going beyond the focus on its authors.

As one begins to make preparatory research on Garo, the first thing that becomes evident is, aside from a few anthologies or anniversary publications,[3] there is a lack of books dedicated to the magazine itself, whether in Japanese or Western languages. There does not even exist a contextualization of the magazine within postwar manga culture. So, where to begin studying the magazine itself? Apparently, by consulting non-Japanese sources. Béatrice Maréchal was one of the first to have taken an academic approach to Garo and several of its representative authors. Her article “Garo, magazine rebelle” published in Angoulême’s magazine 9e Art (2004) and her essay on one of the most well-known Garo authors, Tsuge Yoshiharu,[4] in a special issue of The Comics Journal (2005) were pioneering works in which she compared the Garo authors to the watakushi shōsetsu (“I-Novel”) of modern Japanese literature. Maréchal has not produced academic work since shortly after the defence of her PhD thesis, “Myself as in oneself: narrating the self in comics – The Japanese founders” in 2005, but Ryan Holmberg, an art historian, who chose Garo for his PhD (2007), is still writing about related issues, for example in his column for The Comics Journal Online, “What was alternative manga?”. Another non-Japanese researcher worthy of note is anthropologist Tom Gill. Due to his professional interest in outsiders in Japanese society, he has published a number of meticulously researched essays on Garo authors, especially Tsuge Yoshiharu, following in Maréchal’s footsteps (Gill 2011a, 2011b, 2014). The work of these three critics provides a good jumping-off point for academic endeavors, but there also exist a limited number of Japanese publications.

The keyword “Garo” only shows three results in the Japanese Society for Studies on Cartoons and Comics (Kani, 2009, 2011; Shimamura, 2013). Furthermore, these articles are not about Garo itself, but rather Garo-related authors. Apart from these, most texts on Garo in Japanese are prefaces, afterwords, paragraphs or small chapters in manga histories. In a nutshell, the magazine is almost always presented as follows: Created by editor Nagai Katsuichi and artist Shirato Sanpei as a publication site for the latter’s new long-running series Kamui-den (1964-1971), Garo’s non-commercial approach and unconstrained editorial policy provided the breeding-ground for numerous highly original manga artists (such as the frequently cited Tsuge Yoshiharu), giving rise to a new manga readership, university students. Such writings are usually historical and synoptic (Kure 1997 [1986]: 150-176; Takeuchi 1995: 104-120; Ishiko 1988: 342-350; Yoshimura 2008: 131-134), although approaches that emphasise the 1960s and the 70s are also available (Ishiko 1994 [1975]: 126 -127; Tsurumi 1987, 1991: 63-70; Takano 2002; Sakurai 2015: 188-197). Sakurai’s recent book, for example, is well informed, which makes it a reliable reference to anyone studying post-war manga, kashihon [rental comics] and gekiga. The only available volumes exclusively dedicated to Garo are based on accounts from contributors (Nagai et al. 1984; Aihara et al. 1991; Gondo 1993). Garo Mandala by Aihara et al. contains a very valuable list of all the authors, essayists included, and their publications by date from the first issue to June 1991. This exhaustive list was created on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the magazine (Ono & Shimizu 2014), but the essays that are included in the same book are mainly personal impressions and subjective accounts, as has been  characteristic of manga criticism in Japan (Berndt 2014).

Whereas literature dedicated to Garo, the magazine, is scarce in Japanese, this is not the case for Garo-related authors of the “first decade”, namely Shirato Sanpei, Mizuki Shigeru, Takita Yū, Sasaki Maki, and Tsuge Yoshiharu. All have at least one book dedicated to them, which inevitably touches on the magazine in part. Sometimes such publications contain original approaches, as for example the biography of Takita Yū by Menjō (2006). To my knowledge, Menjō, an art school professor specializing in “entertaining” or popular literature, is the first to suggest a realistic print-run number for Garo’s Golden Age of around 50,000 copies (2006: 174). This significantly deviates from the inflated 80,000 copies proposed by Nagai in his autobiography, which number has subsequently been reused in even the most reliable materials (Maréchal 2004; Holmberg 2010; Leblanc 2013). The abundance of publications on Garo authors is somewhat surprising as authorism is more developed in American and European approaches to manga than in Japan. Here, Garo occupies a very special position: in contrast to other kinds of manga, it hasn’t yet been approached from the angle of Media Studies, which is typically the preeminent tendency in Japanese manga discourse. That is to say, an approach to Garo as a “media in the sense of a set of practices which interrelate artists, editors and readers, and are tied but not limited to technical medium and the cultural industry” (Berndt 2014) is still virgin territory, even though Media Studies could be the most promising way to approach the magazine, leading to a redefinition of its position in post-war manga on fresh ground. For example, ties between the editor, the artists and the readers can be observed in the readers’ column. Often sharply critical, letters gave an influential feedback to the authors (being, for example, one of the reasons why Tsuge stopped drawing new stories for two years[5]). Examination of the magazine also reveals that Garo aimed at a readership evolution from kids to students, which can be considered as an early sign of the forthcoming rise of seinen [youth] manga from the 1970s onwards. Regarding the cultural industry it is interesting to note that Garo and Garo-related authors have created bridges and crossovers to other media, especially within the counterculture: Shirato’s manga Ninja Bugeichō was adapted by director Ōshima Nagisa into an animation-like film, Hayashi Seiichi created posters for underground theater troupes and musicians; and Mangashugi (Manga-ism), the first magazine dedicated to manga criticism (although resembling a dōjinshi [fanzine] in terms of diffusion) was motivated mainly by a desire to write about Garo authors.

Against this backdrop, the question remains as to why Garo and its authors aren’t subjected to the familiar Media Studies approach. It may be a simple lack of interest, or possibly a symptom of the fact that non-commercial manga aren’t “manga” enough for Manga Studies. Some authors actually exclude Garo from manga history. Frederick Schodt, for example, mentions Garo only once in his seminal monograph Manga! Manga! Manga: The World of Japanese Comics – “Garo a now-famous comic magazine that has often featured non-conformist artists” (1983: 150) – and he does not include it in the index. His use of the past tense in this reference speaks for itself. In 1983, the year when his book first appeared, Garo’s Golden Age was already over, and the magazine itself looked back on its past: Nagai’s autobiography was published in 1982 and the first Garo anthology in 1984, establishing the magazine as patrimony. If Garo played an important role, it is likely to have been during the first decade of its existence (Holmberg 2010). This was also pointed out by Paul Gravett, whose richly illustrated book Manga, 60 years of Japanese Comics is unfortunately one example of a superficial and non-critical approach to manga in general and to Garo in particular. It contains a number of factual errors, for example: Tsuge started working for Garo in 1965, but not as an assistant to Mizuki (Gravett 2004: 132); Sasaki Maki is not a woman (Gravett 2004: 139), and Garo is not likely to have reached its highest circulation in 1971 (although this is subject to debate[6]). Gravett is not unusual in making these mistakes; Petersen, for example, misspells Tsuge Yoshiharu’s name as Tsuge Yoshiharo (2002: 179).

The recently published Comics, a Global History is also problematic. It devotes one chapter to “Garo and Alternative Manga” (Mazur & Danner 2014: 79-87) for the sake of completeness, but this chapter doesn’t contain anything new and doesn’t specify the meaning of “alternative” either. The dichotomous scheme between “alternative” and “mainstream” is far more nuanced in Japan than it is in Europe and America, where those two notions are often regarded as mutually exclusive. With respect to Garo, it is noteworthy that Mizuki was publishing in a mainstream magazine released by publisher Shōgakukan when drawing for Garo, while Shirato was working for the commercial publisher Kōbunsha. The notion of “alternative” in relation to manga, along with a detailed examination of the non-Japanese discourse of “alternative manga”, would be a rewarding research subject. The huge gap between Japanese-language discourse and the rest of the world in regard to the notion of “alternative” in general and Garo in particular is also evident in the case of Tatsumi Yoshihiro. He contributed to the magazine at a rather late point in time and contributed relatively little – around six short stories a year from February 1970 to January 1975. While outside of Japan he is appreciated as the “godfather of gekiga” and reviewed in the mainstream press, in Japan he is not widely known. Ironically, his death was first announced on Paul Gravett’s website and well relayed (for example, on the homepage of the digital edition of the French daily journal Le Monde), but the information was not confirmed in Japanese sources until a few days later, and even then did not make the front pages. Another example of reverse-importing is manga monthly Ax’s April 2015 issue which commemorates Tatsumi. It includes an article by Asakawa, but not a newly written one; it was initially published in 2005 on the request from the Korean comics magazine, Sai Comics, before finally becoming available in Japanese ten years later (Asakawa 2015).

It is also interesting to note the different approaches taken in non-Japanese writings on Garo, and to consider the potential cross-cutting approaches they contain. In Jean-Marie Bouissou’s Manga, History and World of Japanese Comics, one of the mostly widely referenced books on manga in French, Garo is quoted in the part on manga history, but not in the one on the 1960s, as one might expect. Under the title “From Apogee to Decline: 1990-” (Bouissou, 2010: 119-120), Garo is introduced as a representative of a “second sector” that as of now has disappeared, but that previously revitalized the mainstream manga scene, i.e. the “first sector”. This approach – in addition to the fact that Garo refused the buyout offer by Shōgakukan in 1967, which eventually led to the launch of the commercial seinen magazine Big Comics (Nagai 1982: 239-243) – suggests a meaningful starting point for Garo studies: the industy’s past may help enlighten its present. Bouissou touches also briefly on Garo author Tsuge in the very last section of his book, called “So many genres”, indirectly referencing Maréchal when he calls him a creator of “watakushi manga” (I-comics): “Tsuge is the creator of a genre that didn’t appear in American comics before the late seventies, when it was named the graphic novel.” (Bouissou 2010: 353). A question remains a to the extent to which Tsuge can pass as the originator of autobiographical comics, and this presents another interesting lead. It is noteworthy that Kure Tomofusa, a well-known Japanese critic, omits Tsuge in his comprehensive monograph, in the part is dedicated to manga artists, though admittedly he does write about Mizuki and Shirato (Kure 1997 [1986]: 231-238).

Thus, due to the lack of solid references and clear conceptions, the academic literature about Garo remains incomplete. Rather than simply regretting this current state, we can actually try to draw conclusions from it. One is that the necessary groundwork it is yet to be done. A key element for understanding the birth, rise and influence of Garo magazine and to define its “alternative” identity, is the need to dig out its roots in kashihon manga (rental comics) and gekiga. For instance, the three original “pillars” of the magazine – Shirato, Mizuki and Tsuge, as well as the editor, Nagai, were actually kashihon manga veterans. Solid knowledge of the kashihon manga market and its authors is vital for the study of Garo, as is kamishibai (paper theater) (Tsurumi, 1991: 63-70). Fortunately, there are a lot of materials on kashihon manga in Japanese (which is also paradoxical, given the scarcity of the primary sources), and this field of studies seems to be particularly vivid, as indicated by the productivity of research groups such as Kashihon manga Kenkyūkai. The latter’s papers often deal with gekiga and other early “alternative manga,” executing a certain academic meticulousness. Kashihon manga and gekiga authors prepared the ground for Garo’s birth, and their influence is an indispensable part of Garo’s DNA. Early gekiga were created for rental libraries, and although they tried to get rid of humor and lightness in tone, they were still destined for kids. Nagai was a kashihon manga editor before launching Garo, and this is likely the reason why “junior magazine” is written on the cover of the first 20 issues of the magazine. In the beginning, Garo had clear educational goals, coupled with antiwar orientations and government criticism. This highly interesting fact is rarely mentioned, except by Ryan Holmberg (2010) and Claude Leblanc (2013). This leads us to the issue of access to the material. For the main part, the literature on Garo (at least in Western languages) is based on preexisting essays and not on primary sources. This partly explains the similarities and the reiteration of clichés.

As demonstrated above, currently available sources on Garo are not scarce, but nevertheless they do not meet the requirements of academic research, which might be inevitable given that these are often written by critics rather than trained academics, and if by academics, then not by manga specialists. Although there is plenty of literature dedicated to Garo authors in Japanese, the magazine’s role, place, and legacy is yet to be discussed. At the same time, the role of Garo seems to be overrated outside Japan: it is often oversimplified as an influential “avant-garde alternative” magazine. This column is a call for deconstruction, an invitation to reconsider and rewrite Garo’s history from the start, including background studies on kashihon manga and gekiga, and considering the industry of the mainstream manga magazines, since the birth of the magazine was the result of a long genesis and its rise closely linked to the socio-cultural context of the 60s and 70s. It goes without saying that access to the primary source, the magazine itself, is imperative if anyone is to confirm, or deny, that “Garo represented the first true, concerted movement toward comics as a medium of personal expression and creative freedom anywhere in the world” (Mazur & Danner 2014: 16).

Work Cited

Aihara, Koji et al., 1991. Garo Mandara [Garo Mandala], Tokyo: Tbs-Britannica.

Asakawa, Mitsuhiro, 2015. Tatsumi Yoshihiro to nihon no shoki orutanatibu manga shīn [Tatsumi Yoshihiro and the beginning of the Japanese alternative manga scene], in Ax, vol. 104, pp. 23-32.

Berndt, Jaqueline, 2014. “Manga Studies #1: Introduction,” in Comics Forum, web:

Bouissou, Jean-Marie, 2010. Manga, histoire et univers de la bande dessinée japonaise [Manga, History and World of Japanese Comics], Arles: Philippe Piquier

Ishiko, Jun, 1988. Nihon mangashi [History of Japanese comics], Tokyo: Gendai kyōyō bunko.

Ishiko, Junzō, 1994 [1975], Sengo mangashi nōto [Notes on postwar manga history], Tokyo: Kinokuniya shoten.

Gill, Tom.

——2011a. “The Incident at Nishibeta Village: A Classic Manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge from the Garo Years”, in International Journal of Comic Art, vol. 13, spring, pp. 475-489.

——2011b. “Fetuses in the Sewer”, web:

——2014. “‘Chiko,’ ‘A View of the Seaside,’ and ‘Mister Ben of the Igloo’: Visual and Verbal Narrative Technique in Three Classic Manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge”, web:

Gondō, Susumu, 1993. Garo o kizuita hitobito [Those who built Garo], Tokyo: Holp Shuppan

Gravett, Paul, 2004. Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics. London: Laurence King Publishing

Holmberg, Ryan.

——2007. Paper megaphone: “Garo” manga, 1964—1971, PhD thesis, Yale University.

——2010. Garo Manga: The First Decade 1964-1973,, New York: Center for Book Arts.

Kani, Yōsuke.

——2009. “Sasaki Maki o meguru gensetsu” [An analysis of discourse concerning Maki Sasaki], in Manga Kenkyū, no. 15, pp. 28-53.

——2011. “Garo jidai no Tsuge Yoshiharu – Mangashugi o chūshin to shita dōjidai gensetsu no bunseki” [Tsuge Yoshiharu in the days of Garo: an analysis of contemporary discourse on the example of the magazine Mangashugi], in Manga Kenkyū, vol. 17, pp. 8-33.

Kure, Tomofusa 1997 [1986]. Gendai manga no zentaizō [Overview of contemporary manga], Tokyo: Futaba bunko.

Leblanc, Claude, 2013. Garo 1964-1974: Une histoire dans l’histoire [Garo 1964-1974, A History inside History], held from 22 March to 25 March 2013, Paris. Re-used in ManGaro/Heta-Uma exhibition, 17 October 2014 to 1st March 2015, Marseille.

Maréchal, Béatrice.

——1999. “Les paysages de Tsuge Yoshiharu” [Tsuge Yoshiharu’s landscapes], in Daruma, vol. 5, Arles: Philippe Picquier.

—— 2004. “Garo, magazine rebelle [Garo, rebellious magazine], in 9e Art, no 10, Centre national de la bande dessinée et de l’image, pp. 48-53.

—— 2005. “On Top of the Mountain: The Influential Manga of Yoshiharu Tsuge,” in The Comics Journal Special Edition, vol. 5, pp. 22–28.

——2005. Moi tel qu’en soi-même : le moi narratif dans la bande-dessinée : les fondateurs japonais [Myself as in onself : narrating the self in comics : the Japanese founders], PhD thesis (Linguistic sciences), EHESS, Paris.

Mazure, Dan & Alexander Danner, 2014. Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present, London: Thames & Hudson.

Menjō, Tsuyoshi, 2006. Nukeraremasu ka: Watakushi mangaka, Takita Yū [Can you get out? Takita Yū, mangaka of the self], Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha.

Nagai, Katsuichi.

——1982. Garo henshūchō [Garo’s Editor-in-Chief], Tokyo: Chikuma Books.

——et al., 1984. Garo Nijūnenshi mokusei morutaru no oūkoku [Garo, 20years history of the Kingdom of the Wood Mortar], Tokyo: Seirindō.

Odaira, Namihei, ed., 2014. “Manga, la révolution Garo” [Manga, Garo’s revolution], in Zoom Japan, vol. 43, Ilyfunet: Paris, web:

Ono, Kōsei & Masashi Shimizu, 2014. Garo to iu jidai [The time of Garo], Tokyo: Seirindō.

Petersen, Robert S., 2002. Comics, manga, and graphic novels, Santa Barbara: Praeger.

Sakurai, Tetsuya, 2015. Haikyo no zankyō, sengo manga no genzō [Echoes from the ruins, in pursuit of the origins of Japanese postwar manga], Tokyo: NTT.

Schodt, Frederick, (1988) [1983]. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics, New York: Kodansha International.

Shimamura, Masari. 2013. “Heta” na wake – Late 70’s-Early 80’s Garo, renzoku to danzetsu” [“Heta” na wake, Late 70’s-Early 80’s Garo, Continuity and rupture], in Sankakuboshi, vol. 2, Gakushūin University, Tokyo, n.pag.

Shirato, Sanpei et al., 2012. Garo/COM 1964-1970, Tokyo: Kōdansha.

Takano, Shinzō, 2002. Tsuge Yoshiharu 1968, Tokyo: Chikuma bunko.

Takeuchi, Osamu, 1995. Sengo Manga gojūnen-shi [50 Years of Post-war Manga History], Tokyo: Chikuma Library.

Tsuge Yoshiharu, 2000. Nejishiki Tsuge Yoshiharu sakuhinshū [Screw-style: anthology of Tsuge Yoshiharu works], Tokyo: Seirinkōgeisha.

Tsurumi, Shunsuke.

—— 1987. Cultural History of Postwar Japan, Londres: Routledge.

—— 1991. Manga no dokusha to shite [As a Reader of Manga], Tokyo: Chikuma shobō.

Yoshimura, Kazuma, ed., 2008. Manga no kyōkasho [Manga’s Course Book], Kyoto: Rinsen shoten.

[1] Holmberg, 2010; Leblanc, 2013, 2014.

[2] See for example Odaira, 2014.

[3] All in Japanese. See for example Nagai,, 1984; Gondō, 1993; Shirato,, 2012; Ono & Shimizu, 2014.

[4] Japanese names in this essay are presented in the Japanese style: Surname first, given name last.

[5] Tsuge, 2000 : 446

[6] Nagai claims that Garo circulation first reached 80000 copies by the end of 1966 (Nagai, 1982: 236).

Léopold Dahan is a research student at Kyoto Seika University, Japan. He earned his M.A.s at Paris Diderot University in France in Japan Studies. His researches are dedicated to “alternative” and avant-garde in relation to manga, and comic’s media specific narration possibilities, focusing on the 50’s-70. He also translate manga and write for the French comics magazine KABOOM

1 Comment

Posted by on 2015/07/13 in Manga Studies


Tags: , ,

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

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

Leave a comment

Posted by on 2015/06/11 in Manga Studies


Tags: , ,

Manga Studies #7: Shōjo Manga Research: The Legacy of Women Critics and Their Gender-Based Approach by Masafumi Monden

Shōjo manga varies in style and genre.[1] But despite this diversity, there is a certain conception of shōjo manga aesthetics, dominated by images of flowers, ribbons, fluttering hem skirts, and innocent-looking girls with large, staring eyes.[2] Traditionally, the beginning of shōjo manga has been equated with Tezuka Osamu’s Princess Knight (Ribon no kishi), but more recent studies have instead focused on prior texts,[3] namely the creations of Takahashi Macoto, who was influenced by the so-called lyrical illustrations (jojōga) of artists such as Nakahara Jun’ichi, Takabatake Kashō and Takehisa Yumeji.[4] Manga influenced by jojōga have arguably prioritized visual qualities.[5]

The importance of visual qualities has increasingly been recognized in shōjo manga studies.[6] However, most critical examinations of shōjo manga place emphasis on the role of narrative structure and representation of gender. This applies particularly to those who read shōjo manga as a medium to challenge conventional gender roles. As Iwashita Hōsei points out, female manga researchers especially have tended to focus on biological and socially constructed gender (2013a: 58). This column discusses two such works, Fujimoto Yukari’s Where is my place in the world? (1998, revised edition 2008) and Oshiyama Michiko’s Discussion of Gender Representation in Shōjo Manga: Forms of “Cross-dressed Girls” and Identity (2007, revised edition 2013).

While studies of shōjo manga have been around since the 1970s, it is still a new and developing discipline. However, on closer inspection, a pattern emerges. Studies of shōjo manga, both in Japanese and English, particularly but not exclusively by female scholars, examine the genre as a subversion of patriarchal order which is assumed to limit young women to a state of powerlessness due to their fixation on “female” gender.[7] As stated by Takeuchi (2010: 96), such reading of shōjo manga usually focuses on works published in the 1970s, notably gender bending narratives about boys in love with other boys (e.g. Hagio and Takemiya’s famous works), or cross-dressed heroines (as Ikeda Riyoko’s The Rose of Versailles). This discursive trajectory then leads to the “queer” genres of Boys’ Love (BL, or yaoi) or more recent fighting heroines in male attire.[8] Conversely, this leads to a lack of scholarly interest in “typical” or “conventional” shōjo manga, typified by flowers, ribbons, and innocent girls with large, staring eyes.

Remarkably enough, those who use shōjo manga to challenge conventional gender norms often revoke “girlish qualities,” and by implication (girlish) femininity. For example, shifting the focus from the specific 1970s titles to BL or cross-dressed fighting girls in the late 1990s, and from there to more recent shōjo manga, sidelines the majority of 1980s and 1990s shōjo manga. That period was predominated by so-called school-life narratives set in Japan, in continuation of the “maiden-esque” (otomechikku) style of the 1970s.[9] Perhaps because of their emphasis on girlish qualities, such mainstream shōjo manga like Honda Keiko’s Moon night, starry dawn (Tsuki no yoru hoshi no asa, 1983-5) have been perceived as less subversive than the ones which visually, and hence explicitly, blur the distinction between masculine and feminine.

The underlying perception of (girlish) femininity as unfavorable, is exemplified in the monographs by Fujimoto Yukari and Oshiyama Michiko. Fujimoto’s Where is my place in the world? (1998), one of the most frequently cited works in shōjo manga studies. Based on her extensive experience as a magazine editor, Fujimoto offers close readings of shōjo manga through the concept of gender. Her book illuminates changes in shōjo manga, and rather than merely following the usual trajectory of shōjo manga discourse (starting from the 1970s and jumping into the 2000s), she casts light on understudied artists such as Nishitani Yoshiko, Ichijō Yukari, Matsunae Akemi, and Shimizu Reiko. Moreover, her analysis of shōjo manga pursues not just one, but several representational issues, including romance, growing up, family, society, career, and female relationships. Fujimoto’s analysis is strongly influenced by her personal experiences as an informed reader “who has immersed herself in reading shōjo manga for 30 years”(190). In other words, her reading of manga is neither supported by solid social, cultural, or historical evidence, nor by a theoretical framework. Furthermore, due to her initial position as an editor and manga critic, her writings may be classed as journalism rather than scholarship. In addition, Fujimoto tends to describe her personal reading history as a shared experience among female readers, as distinct from male readers who supposedly do not read shōjo manga.

Fujimoto argues that shōjo manga represents girl readers’ fear of sexuality, and hence their perception of “femininity,” a word which she uses almost synonymously with “female sexuality” in a derogatory tone (50). For Fujimoto, shōjo manga is a medium for women, a text that reflects the values of women most accurately, including the ideology of romance, which teaches female readers to dedicate themselves to love, whether mutual or unrequited (14). Men, she writes, do not fall into that “trap” because they know romance is another name for lust (25). Her negative casting of “femininity” is also evident in her interpretation of Boys’ Love, where she endorses the view that “beautiful boys” in shōjo manga (and yaoi) are nothing more than girls without the female body, and are hence liberated from (unfavorable) feminine sexuality, which for her is synonymous with passivity and objectification in the beginning (142-3).

Takahashi rightly notes that critics like Fujimoto (and Yokomori Rika in a similar way) overestimate the power of shōjo manga narratives in influencing their readers while undervaluing their visual properties (2008: 134). In addition, as Takemiya Keiko states, manga is a popular media, aiming at appealing to a wider audience (2011: 96). This latter remark relates to the necessity for manga of staying sensitive to social trends and creating an affinity between the readership and its contents. It also illuminates the fundamental characteristic of manga, let alone shōjo manga: to entertain. Moreover, even among female readers, reading experiences of shōjo manga can differ depending on factors such as social status, generation, and taste. In this regard, Fujimoto’s almost fan-like approach actually indicates how readers make sense of shōjo manga differently.

Fujimoto mentions that the aim of her book is to trace changes in shōjo manga through the themes of romance, sexuality, family, and business, and she begins with the description of “genuine” shōjo manga works (by Nishitani Shōko and Ichijō Yukari) (4). However, in the chapter where career is concerned, she uses manga clearly not targeted at girls, but more precisely described as “women’s (josei) manga” – probably because she attempts to illustrate the deviation of shōjo manga from works where hetero-sexual romance was a quintessential tool to affirm the identity of the insecure and passive girl, to those where the girl has started to actively claim a “place for herself.” This raises questions about what shōjo manga, after all, is.

There seems to be a growing concern about this issue. Kan et al. (2012), Iwashita (2013a), and  Kuramochi (2013) offer the following definitions: Kuramochi, a curator at Kyoto International Manga Museum and specialist in shōjo manga, cites the museum’s criteria of: “works that are initially published in shōjo manga magazines” (2013: 203). This is based on a media studies approach with a special focus on readership, which Iwashita also utilizes. But manga are increasingly published without specific age and gender targets or format specifications (e.g. online). Correspondingly, Kuramochi suggests defining shōjo manga as graphic narratives that turn on the “maiden (otome) switch,” triggering dreamy, girlish imaginations (204). Visual properties are, quite obviously, essential for such imaginations.

Oshiyama Michiko’s study of cross-dressed heroines in shōjo manga (2007) takes a path similar to Fujimoto’s. Her work offers extensive data on shōjo manga featuring female characters in male attire from the 1950s to 2000s, with interviews with the artists (particularly Ikeda Riyoko) and reader comments published in magazines. Oshiyama’s numerous examples of manga works, most of which were initially published in such shōjo-targeted magazines like Nakayoshi, Margaret, LaLa, and Chao, correspond with Kuramochi’s general definition of shōjo manga and thus are more “typical” than Fujimoto’s. It is quite obvious, however, that Oshiyama, too, tends to perceive (girlish) femininity as a negative quality that restricts women. In such a view, “masculinity” equates to intelligence, agency, and independence while “femininity” equates to passivity, dependence, and oppression. For Oshiyama, Oscar in The Rose of Versailles (Berusaiyu no bara, 1972-3), a cross-dressed heroine who becomes the commander of the Royal Guard and is responsible for the safety of Marie Antoinette in France on the eve of the Revolution, is the “first” example of a cross-dressed young woman who truly possesses both masculine and feminine attributes, and is unrestricted by the conventional gender norms (209). Another manga to which Oshiyama pays particular attention is Saitō Chiho’s Revolutionary Girl Utena (Shōjo kakumei Utena, 1996-8) in which a teenage girl dressed in male school uniform engages in a series of sword duels whose winner will receive the “power to revolutionize the world.” According to Oshiyama (278), after Utena, the heroine in male attire that had challenged the established notions of gender became rare while the theme of cross-dressing continued to exist in manga such as Nakajo Hisaya’s Hana-Kimi (Hanazakari no kimitachi e, 1996-2004) and Hatori Bisco’s Ouran High School Host Club (Ouran kōkō hosuto kurabu, 2002-10). But here, the concept of cross-dressing has become a fashionable prop to make the narrative more dramatic. The loss of gender-subversive challenge is further highlighted in the 2013 revised edition of Oshiyama’s book where she provides a close analysis of Hatori’s work.

Although focusing on cross-dressing, Oshiyama does not pay much attention to dress (apart from the ribbons and dresses of Tezuka’s Princess Knight and Ikeda’s The Rose of Versailles). Instead, she substantiates gender differences by means of differently depicted chins, eyes, and eyelashes. Eyes are important in shōjo manga [10], but as their rendering can vary between artists, they might not be the most reliable analytical tool for examining gender-related meanings. Moreover, Oshiyama seems to imply a one-dimensional appearance of femininity with Oscar being the only character able to assume both female and male traits according to context and partner. Her argument can be summarised thus: male attire indicates the female character is liberated and active, while female dress suggests she is oppressed and passive. This is particularly notable in Oshiyama’s analysis of The Rose of Versailles where she perceives the frill and lace-clad female characters as being “trapped” in conventional femininity (2007: 184). Both Fujimoto (134) and Oshiyama emphasize the importance of cross-dressed heroines in shōjo manga, and both argue that the history of shōjo manga begins with a princess in male attire. However, though cross-dressing has been vital, it has also been overemphasized. In fact, other genres have been likewise important, such as ballet manga, for example.

Ballet manga have been created since the early 1950s [11], and thus the history of ballet manga may correspond to the history of shōjo manga itself. But until recently, ballet manga has received almost no serious scholarly attention.[12] One reason for this lack is that ballet manga have been perceived as not “gender-transgressive” enough. This brings to mind the inclination of shōjo manga studies to perceive (girlish) femininity in a derogatory way.

Are other interpretations of femininity in shōjo manga possible? The concept of “feminine” beauty as conveyed visually in shōjo manga through a cascade of gauzy ballet costumes and fluttering dresses can indeed be a very powerful, and empowering, tool. The graphically voluminous decoration of women’s dresses as such can very well signify power through visibility. Full skirts, bodices, and sartorial decorations give substance to female claims of importance by increasing their physical size to at least double that of men. This idea applies to the depiction of Marie Antoinette, juxtaposed against the uniform-clad Oscar in The Rose of Versailles, for example in the scene at the ball where Oscar declines Marie Antoinette’s persuasion to dance like other court ladies because she is, first and foremost, a military person.[13] While the scene itself might be symbolic of Oscar’s “transgression”[14], visually, readers are drawn to the “feminine” presence of Marie Antoinette who, due to her dress, appears almost three times bigger than Oscar. Ikeda herself stated in an interview that in order to keep girl readers engaged in historical manga, she needed to use beautiful and glamorous props such as beautiful dresses.[32]

Indeed, the meanings ascribed to “feminine” or “girlish” dresses in shōjo manga can be far more complex, as ballet manga of celebrated artists like Takahashi Macoto and Maki Miyako have exemplified.[33] From the 1970s onwards, manga by artists such as Yamagishi Ryōko and Ariyoshi Kyōko increasingly used the romantic beauty of ballet as a means to offer more serious and realistic depictions of psychological complexity and sexuality. Takeuchi Naoko’s figure-skating manga The Cherry Project (1990-1) and Mizusawa Megumi’s Toe Shoes (1997-8), originally serialized in Nakayoshi and Ribbon (Ribon) both predominantly shōjo-targeted, are addressing such realities as the value of ambition, hard work, and daily practice, while confronting also the negative effects of training like injury, however lightly. The highly romantic art of Yamagishi, Ariyoshi, Takeuchi and Mizusawa, which manifests itself in the flowing full skirts of tulle, ribbons and scattering flowers, undoubtedly helped such underlying themes to be comfortably communicated to the reader. Therefore, highly “girlish” visual qualities materialized in the use of dresses, flowers, and romantic narratives should not be missed.

The above survey of shōjo manga studies is intended to show that attention to qualities other than explicitly gender-subversive narratives can be equally important for advancing the genre as a scholarly topic. Paying more attention to visual and fashion aspects as well as less known works and thematic sub-genres can further illuminate the cultural uniqueness of shōjo manga.


Dollase, Hitomi. T. 2010. “Shōjo Spirits in Horror Manga.” U.S. –Japan Women’s Journal, no. 38, pp. 59-80.

Fujimoto, Yukari. 1998 [2008]. Watashi no ibasho wa doko ni aru no? Shōjo manga

ga utsusu kokoro no katachi (Where is my place in the world? The Shape of the

Heart as Reflected in Girls’ Comic Books). Tokyo: Gakuyō Shobō.

— 2012 [2007]. “Takahashi Macoto: The Origin of Shōjo Manga Style” (trans. Matt Thorn). Mechademia 7(1): 24–55.

Honda, Masuko. 2010. “The Genealogy of Hirahira: Liminality and the Girl” (trans. T. Aoyama and B. Hartley). In T. Aoyama and B. Hartley, eds, Girl Reading Girl in Japan. New York: Routledge, pp. 19-37.

Ikeda, Riyoko. 1994[1972]. Berusaiyu no bara (The Rose of Versailles), vol. 1. Tokyo: Chūōkōron-sha.

Iwashita, Hōsei. 2013a. 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.

— 2013b. “Sutairu-ga to sutairu” (Style illustration and Styles), Eureka, Vol. 45-16, pp. 195-202.

Kan, Satoko, Hitomi Dollase, and Kayo Takeuchi, eds, 2012. Shōjo manga wandārando (Shōjo Manga Wonderland). Tokyo: Meiji shoten.

Kuramochi, Kayoko. 2013. “Nakahara Jun’ichi to shōjo manga (Nakahara Jun’ichi and shōjo manga),” Eureka, Vol. 45-16, pp. 203-210.

Kyoto International Manga Museum, ed., 2013. Baree manga: eien naru utsukushisa (Ballet Manga: An Everlasting Beauty). Tokyo: Ōta shuppan.

Monden, Masafumi. 2014. “Layers of the Ethereal: a cultural investigation of beauty, girlhood and ballet in Japanese shōjo manga.” Fashion Theory, Vol. 18, Issue 3, pp. 251-296.

Ogi, Fusami. 2001. “Gender insubordination in Japanese comics (manga) for girls.” In John A. Lent, ed., Illustrating Asia: Comics, Humor Magazines and Picture Books. Richmond, UK: Curzon, pp. 171-186.

Oshiyama, Michiko. 2007 [2013]. Shōjo manga jendā hyōshōron: “dansō no shōjo” no zōkei to aidentiti (Discussion of Gender Representation in Shōjo Manga: Forms of “Cross-dressed Girls” and Identity). Tokyo: Seiryūsha.

Prough, Jennifer. 2011. Straight from the Heart: Gender, Intimacy, and the Cultural Production of Shōjo Manga. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

Schodt, Frederik L. 1983. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International.

Shamoon, Deborah. 2012. Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girl’s Culture in Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Suter, Rebecca. 2012. “Orientalism, Self-Orientalism, and Occidentalism in the Visual-Verbal Medium of Japanese Girls’ Comics.” Literature & Aesthetics 22.2., pp. 50-71.

Takahashi, Mizuki. 2008. “Opening the Closed World of Shojo Manga.” In

Mark MacWilliams, ed., Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime,. New York: M. E. Sharpe, pp. 114–36.

Takemiya, Keiko. 2011. “1970 nendai no shōjo manga ni okeru geijutsusei e no shikō to sono mokuteki” (1970s Shōjo Manga’s Aspiration to Art and Its Purpose). Bijutsu Forum 21, No. 24, pp. 96-98.

Takeuchi, Kayo. 2010. “The Genealogy of Japanese Shōjo Manga (Girls’ Comics) Studies.” U.S. –Japan Women’s Journal, No. 38, pp. 81-112.

Welker, James. 2006. “Beautiful, Borrowed, and Bent: “Boys’ Love” as Girls’

Love in Shojo manga.” Signs 31(3), pp. 841–870.

Yamada, Tomoko. 2013. “The Emergence of Ballet Manga; and the Role of

this Exhibition and Catalogue.” In Kyoto International Manga Museum, ed., Ballet Manga. Tokyo: Ōta shuppan, pp. 32-35.

Masafumi Monden is a fashion and cultural studies researcher affiliated with the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He earned a PhD from UTS in 2012. His growing publication record includes a book chapter on the history of ballet and clothing in Japan (edited by Valerie Steele, 2014) and a research article on ballet manga and dress (Fashion Theory, 2014). His first monograph Japanese Fashion Cultures: Dress and Gender in Contemporary Japan will be published in 2015 (Bloomsbury Academic). Particular research interests include transnational cultural flows, beauty and the role of fashion in the periodical press, ballet, opera, music video, cinema and manga culture.

[1] Iwashita 2013a: 11; Schodt, 1983: 101

[2] Honda 2010 [1980]; Kan et al 2012: 7

[3] Iwashita 2013b: 196-7

[4] Fujimoto 2012 [2007]; Kuramochi 2013; Takahashi 2008

[5] Kuramochi 2013: 208

[6] See Welker 2006, Takahashi 2008, Fujimoto 2012[2007], Suter 2012, Iwashita 2013a

[7] Ogi 2001; Kan et al. 2012: 14; Dollase 2010: 74

[8] See Ogi 2001; Oshiyama 2007; Shamoon 2012

[9] Kan et al. 2012: 17-8; Prough 2011: 51

[10] Iwashita 2013b: 195

[11] Yamada 2013: 32-5

[12] See Monden 2014

[13] Ikeda 1994 [1972]: 89

[14] Oshiyama 2007: 168

[15] 1980 cited in Oshiyama 2007: 241

[16] Kyoto International Museum 2013: 11; Monden 2014: 274-8

To read more from Comics Forum’s Manga Studies column, click here.


Posted by on 2015/03/10 in Gender, Manga Studies, Women


Tags: ,

Manga Studies #6: Takeuchi Osamu and Manga Expression pt. 2: The Historiographic Basis of Manga Formalism by Nicholas Theisen

In part one, I showed how the manga artist Tezuka Osamu and his body of work function as more than a mere object of analysis within manga studies but as a totalizing discourse upon which a number of larger critical concerns are projected. This has the rather odd effect of rendering “Tezuka” a milieu which can absorb even those critiques which seek to overcome a Tezuka-centric purview as to what manga might be in both historical and formal terms. I used the critical writings of Takeuchi Osamu not to evaluate them as such but to demonstrate the discursive mechanics of this totalizing absorption. In part two below, I will once again use Takeuchi’s critical oeuvre to examine, in addition to how the critic’s own personal predilections can become subsumed into seemingly objective claims, the assumptions underlying manga formalism: how manga fit with other media, how manga is understood as children’s literature, and how manga is treated as, if not entirely presumed to be, a predominantly postwar phenomenon.

Jaqueline Berndt, in her essay, “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” identifies four generations of manga studies in Japan. The first, emerging in the early 1960s, is identified with the journal Shisō no kagaku (The Science of Thought), and the second, from the late ‘60s into the ‘70s, with the journal Mangashugi (Manga-ism). Both of these generations were largely concerned with manga as a sociological phenomenon. The first sharp turn in manga studies discourse came with the third generation, the so-called “first person narrators” (boku-gatari) for whom manga critique was not only a function of one’s subjective, emotional response to comic reading but, as “reader” rather than “scholar,” the manga critic “functioned as an arbiter of taste and a means for the fan community’s self-affirmation.”[1] The turn away from a sociographic approach to the study of manga was, then, commensurate with an increased parochialism, wherein the values of a limited, fannish readership were held to be the ideal. This turn, while problematic, was nevertheless liberating for women writing about shōjo manga, which in the 1970s and 1980s was still widely denigrated.

Takeuchi most properly belongs to the fourth generation, emerging in the 1990s, which she identifies with Yomota Inuhiko and Natsume Fusanosuke, who seemed to eschew the subjective criticism of the previous generation as well as the sociologically oriented criticism of even earlier ones in favor of semiotics or, more specifically, manga hyōgen/manga expression: “[Yomota’s and Natsume’s] semiotic approach was intended to claim manga as an autonomous medium by explicating its unique means of expression from an internal perspective.”[2] I say “seemed to eschew,” because while the study of manga expression seeks to make objective claims about how manga are put together, those claims quite often betray their origins in the critic’s personal experiences. For instance, I noted in part one how Takeuchi set his own experiences reading Tezuka’s manga as a child against the “fashionable” trends of the 1960s and ‘70s in order to make the rather bald assertion that Tezuka lay at the heart of it all as well as how Natsume, thinking back on his earliest work, could see that it stemmed from his own particular interests and was, as such, rather limited.

The particular kind of manga formalism that followed from the more subjective criticism that preceded it did not entirely leave the “first-person narrators” behind. In fact, the study of manga expression, despite its objective pretensions, is profoundly subjective, though in ways that are not immediately apparent. What is not always clear and yet must be kept in mind is that formalist approaches, while broadly empirical, are not strictly descriptive—rather, something is first presumed to be manga (even while excluding a number of textual artifacts that go by that designation), that “something” is broken down into structural components, and then a formal theory based on those components is used as a lens to look back on manga in toto.[3] One only ever gets the occasional glimpse of what manga is presumed to be, though in Takeuchi’s critical corpus these manga presumptions are somewhat more common and easier to identify.

For Takeuchi, the study of manga expression is but one facet of the study of a much broader range of means of visual [re]presentation in all popular media. He identifies both Natsume and Yomota as initiators of the study of manga expression, but then almost immediately turns the discussion to how he believes it to be much older than the work of those two foundational critics. He locates manga hyōgen (i.e. manga expression) within what he refers to simply as hyōgen (i.e. expression/presentation), by which he appears to mean all visual expression in media, thereby combining the visual aesthetics of forms as disparate as film and children’s picture books (ehon) under one large hyōgen umbrella.[4] This understanding of manga among other media goes all the way back to the beginning of his career as a manga scholar/critic, 1989’s Manga to jidō bungaku no “aida” (“Between” Manga and Children’s Literature), and is central both to his own manga formalism and to the place the study of manga expression occupies within the history of manga studies. It is for this latter reason especially that I have preferred the work of Takeuchi in examining how manga formalism fits within a larger discourse to Yomota or Natsume, even though those two are, arguably, far more influential. It is in Takeuchi’s broader purview that the historiographic assumptions underlying manga formalism, even in those works for which the history of manga seems not to be a concern, is revealingly laid bare. Takeuchi himself does not explicitly point to these assumptions, but because his critical works have been directed both toward the history of manga and occasionally toward the history or, at least, important moments within the ongoing discourse of manga studies, we can see both how certain presumptions concerning what manga is (i.e. its formal properties) are embedded in historiographic treatments as well as how those histories inform what kinds of manga (and, in Takeuchi’s case especially, what kinds of graphic narrative generally) are chosen as the most common object of seemingly objective formal analysis.

In his overview of the study of manga history,[5] Miyamoto Hirohito identifies two rather sweeping though nonetheless useful categories of manga historiography: one which regards manga history as going back to the 12th century illustrated scrolls (emakimono) Chōjū jinbutstu giga, a common locus for the “origins” of manga, and one which takes the end of World War II as the proper point of departure for manga history.[6] Of these two categories, Takeuchi is placed quite rightly in the latter, especially given the title of his most well-known historiographic work, Sengo manga no 50nen-shi (50 Year History of Postwar Manga), published in 1995, which clearly takes the year 1945 as a point of demarcation. These groupings are, moreover, not limited to Japanese language manga studies discourse. Both Paul Gravett’s Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics (published in 2004) and Sharon Kinsella’s Adult Manga take the postwar era as the proper historical locus for the study of manga, the latter going so far as to claim manga, rather dismissively, to be a “strikingly contemporary phenomenon,”[7] with little in the way of explanation as to what that might mean.

The “postwar,” by which is meant not just the immediate postwar period but every year since the end of World War II, works well enough as a historical frame of reference, precisely because the history of modern Japan, in Japanese language discourse especially, is so pervasively, though not universally, divided in two: one period beginning roughly from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and a second from the Allied occupation in 1945. The postwar as a historiographic frame is not limited to formalist approaches. Tsurumi Shunsuke’s Manga no sengo shisō (Thoughts on Manga in the Postwar) considers the impact of a number of postwar manga artists, but his formal considerations, such as they are, appear in the context of a long historical treatment of doodles (rakugaki) in Japan.[8] Moreover, none of the formalists identified here—Natsume, Yomota, or Takeuchi—simply disregard the significance of pre-war manga. Takeuchi’s Kodomo manga no kyojin-tachi: Rakuten kara Tezuka made (Giants of Children’s Manga: from Rakuten to Tezuka), for instance, closely examines a number of manga artists from this period. Rather, postwar manga is seen as initiating a distinct shift, a novel mode of expression that prewar manga fails to fully encapsulate. This stylistic shift is commensurate with the cultural and political upheaval in Japanese society under the Allied occupation and subsequent economic boom. Arguably more than any other nation, Japan was radically transformed at the end of war with the emperor’s public rejection of his “divinity,” the occupation, the rewriting of the Japanese constitution under Allied pressure, the dissolution of the army, the restructuring of the Japanese economy, and the sudden influx of foreign media after years of privation.

A number of disparate frames of reference—manga as children’s culture, manga expression as media expression, and manga as postwar phenomenon (despite continuities with the prewar/wartime[9])—come together in the opening of the first chapter of Takeuchi’s 50 Year History of Postwar Manga. He begins with the political upheavals of 1945 and continues with the sudden change in lifestyle of the Japanese populace as a result of American films and fashion trends. From there, Takeuchi turns to the subject of his book, so-called “story manga” (i.e. long form[10] narrative manga), about which one might claim a “new style of expression” (atarashii stairu no hyōgen), yet Takeuchi himself considers matters to be not so clear cut. Manga is, for him, a creature of mass media, so his first entrée into discussing manga in the postwar concerns itself less with form (i.e. panels, speech balloons, figures, etc.) than with format. The distinction between form and format here is a crude one but is meant to show how Takeuchi’s formalism is not merely a function of what one sees on any given page but also of the printed format in which it appears, be it book or magazine or whatever.

This, then, leads him into a discussion of akahon, “red books” so called for their predominantly red covers. Unlike the hardbound volumes of popular pre- and postwar manga series, akahon in many ways more closely resembled magazines without actually being so, staple-bound newsprint with cardstock covers, selling for as little as five yen, a price suitable for purchase by and for children.[11] In the postwar era, as Ryan Holmberg notes, “[p]hysically and stylistically, they [were] clearly products of an age of want. They [were] flimsier, sometimes due to lack of high-grade paper and printing facilities after the war, sometimes from simple cost-cutting. The anything-goes energy of the age fueled many artistic innovations, some lost to history, others becoming the foundation stones of story-telling in postwar manga.” Despite going back long before, the akahon of the postwar are, for both Takeuchi and Holmberg, creatures of a very particular time and place, whose innovations become foundational for all manga to follow. The sense that is given, then, is not that manga did not exist in this prewar era but rather that those manga are largely other to what we see nowadays.

This focus on print media and, more specifically, print media for children makes sense of a number of peculiar inclusions and exclusions in Takeuchi’s larger critical practice. For instance, the Gendai manga hakubutsukan, 1945-2005 (The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Manga, 1945-2005), which Takeuchi edited along with Yonezawa Yoshihiro and Yamada Tomoko, omits a number of prominent comic strip (koma manga) artists (Hasegawa Machiko, the creator of Sazae-san, being the most glaring omission) yet includes a number of highly regarded artists/writers of emonogatari (illustrated stories). The inclusion of illustrated stories alongside the rather spare inclusion of comic strips can be accounted for somewhat by the fact that the manga magazines of the midcentury were far more mixed than the monthly and weekly magazines of today. Those magazines contained both manga and emonogatari in addition to puzzles, game boards, glossy photos, and a number of other visual media. Moreover, the koma manga that Takeuchi et al. do include are those that are found in these mixed media periodicals for children. Those they do not include, for the most part, are to be found outside them in newspapers and other periodical media aimed at, if not an exclusively adult, then a general audience.

Thus, what is regarded as manga in the first place, manga at all, as far as Takeuchi is concerned, stems from illustrated narratives produced for children in the immediate postwar. This presumption becomes the object of formal analysis, and the principles derived therefrom become the frame of reference for examining manga from all time periods. How this retrospection works can be seen in how Takeuchi, in Giants of Children’s Manga, characterizes Kitazawa Rakuten’s Chame manga as “for children,” despite the fact that many of the periodicals in which those strips appeared, Tokyo Puck, for instance, could not be meaningfully understood as being exclusively for a younger audience.[12] According to this purview, then, which makes invisible much of the manga “for adults” (or for a general audience) that preceded the war and persisted thereafter, the juvenilia of postwar manga print media grows into the more adolescent and young adult-oriented manga of the late 1950s and ‘60s and so forth and so forth in an easily digestible myth of progress. If permitted to speculate, I would say this is because, as I have argued elsewhere, shōnen manga of the postwar function, in practice if not in intent, as generic rather than as tailored to a certain gender and age demographic. According to this somewhat concealed logic, then, manga “for children” provide the base structure from which later manga presumably emerge.


Berndt, Jaqueline, 2008. “Considering Manga Discourse: Location, Ambiguity, Historicity,” in MacWilliams, Mark W. ed., Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, pp. 295-334.

Gravett, Paul, 2004. Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics. New York: Collins Design.

Groensteen, Thierry, 1991. L’univers des mangas: Une introduction à la bande dessinée japonaise (The Universe of Manga: An Introduction to Japanese Comics). Tournai: Casterman.

Holmberg, Ryan.

— 2012. “The Bottom of a Bottomless Barrel: Introducing Akahon Manga” in The Comics Journal, January 5, 2012. Accessed August 10, 2014,

— 2012. “Manga Finds Pirate Gold: The case of New Treasure Island” in The Comics Journal, October 1, 2012. Accessed August 10, 2014,

Itō, Gō, 2005. Tezuka izu deddo: hirakareta manga hyōgenron e (Tezuka is Dead: Toward an Enlightened Theory of Manga Expression). Tokyo: NTT Shuppan.

Kinsella, Sharon, 2000. Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japanese Society. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Lamarre, Thomas, 2010. “Speciesism, Part II: Tezuka Osamu and the Multispecies Ideal” in Mechademia vol. 5: Fanthropologies. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 51-85.

McCarthy, Helen, 2009. The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga. New York: Abrams ComicArts.

McCloud, Scott, 1993. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press.

Miyamoto, Hirohito, 2009. “Rekishi kenkyū” in Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō, pp. 96-101.

Nakano, Haruyuki, 2007. Nazo no mangaka Sakai Shichima: “Shintakarajima” densetsu no hikari to kage (The Mysterious Manga Artist Sakai Shichima: The Light and Shadow of the Legend of “New Treasure Island”). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Natsume, Fusanosuke.

— 1992. Tezuka Osamu wa doko ni iru (Where is Tezuka Osamu?). Tokyo: Chikuma Library.

— 2013. “Where is Tezuka?: A Theory of Manga Expression” trans. Matthew Young in Mechademia 8: Tezuka’s Manga Life, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 155-171.

Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō.

Ōtsuka, Eiji, 2013. Mikkī no shoshiki: sengo manga no senjika kigen (The Form of Mickey: The Wartime Origins of Postwar Manga). Tokyo: Kadokawa Sōsho.

Schodt, Frederik L., 1983. Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics. New York: Kondansha International.

Suzuki, CJ. “Manga Studies #4: Traversing Art and Manga: Ishiko Junzō’s Writings on Manga/Gekiga” in Comics Forum, August 11, 2014. Accessed August 17, 2014,

Takeuchi, Osamu.

— 1989. Manga to jidō bungaku no “aida” (“Between” Manga and Children’s Literature). Tokyo: Dai Nippon Tosho.

— 1992. Tezuka Osamu-ron (On Tezuka Osamu). Tokyo: Heibonsha.

— 1995. Sengo manga 50nen-shi (Fifty Year History of Postwar Manga). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

— 1995. Kodomo manga no kyojin-tachi: Rakuten kara Tezuka made (Giants of Children’s Manga: From Rakuten to Tezuka). Tokyo: San’ichi Shobō.

— 2005. Manga hyōgen-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to the Study of Manga Expression). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

— 2009. “Manga kenkyū no ayumi” (“A Walk Through Manga Studies”) in Natsume, Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu, eds., 2009. Manga-gaku nyūmon (Introduction to Manga Studies). Tokyo: Minerva Shobō, pp. 248-257.

Takeuchi, Osamu and Koyama Masahiro, eds., 2006. Anime e no hen’yō: gensaku to anime to no bimyō na kankei (Adaptation to Anime: The Subtle Relationship Between Anime and Original). Tokyo: Gendai Shokan.

Takeuchi, Osamu, Yonezawa Yoshihiro, and Yamada Tomoko, eds., 2006. Gendai manga hakubutsukan 1945-2005 (The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Manga 1945-2005). Tokyo: Shōgakkan.

Theisen, Nicholas, 2013. “13a. The Problematic Gendering of Shōnen Manga” in What is Manga?, May 27, 2013. Accessed August 10, 2014,

Tsurumi, Shunsuke, 1991. Manga no dokusha to shite (As a Manga Reader…). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Yomota, Inuhiko, 1994. Manga genron (Principles of Manga). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Nicholas Theisen is a research fellow with the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Iowa. His research is interested broadly with textual and formalist issues in poetry, popular music, and comics, and he has written articles on the comics of Dave Sim, Tezuka Osamu, and Miyazaki Hayao. He is currently at work completing a book project which reconfigures comics as a hermeneutic practice rather than as a visual form. He is also the creator of the blog What is Manga?

[1] Berndt, 303-304.

[2] ibid., 304.

[3] Though I have limited myself to a discussion of manga, one could easily substitute each instance of the word “manga” in this paragraph with the words “comics” or “comic,” and the argument would largely remain the same.

[4] Takeuchi, “Manga kenkyū no ayumi,” 250-251.

[5] Miyamoto, 96-7.

[6] Miyamoto’s purpose in identifying these two camps, it should be noted, is to critique them and to show how treating manga as a postwar or as a transhistorical phenomenon are both problematic.

[7] Kinsella, 19.

[8] “Comics [manga] have their origins in doodles, and in the modern day comics are one source of doodles.” Tsurumi, 89.

[9] Ōtsuka Eiji’s Mikkī no shoshiki: sengo manga no senjika kigen (The Form of Mickey: The Wartime Origins of Postwar Manga), for example, attempts to disrupt the convenient distinction between pre- and post-war and tries, to a limited degree, to re-assert continuity.

[10] “Story manga” (sutorii manga) is a relatively recent term, and “long form” here is a rendering of chōhen, a term actually used in the immediate postwar period.

[11] Exchange rates fluctuated wildly during the occupation, but in 1949 the rate was fixed at 360 yen to the US dollar, making five yen roughly equivalent to the purchasing power of a single US penny.

[12] What is more, the trajectory of Giants is one meant to arrive at Tezuka, the most common locus for the postwar stylistic shift.

To read more from Comics Forum’s Manga Studies column, click here.

1 Comment

Posted by on 2015/01/09 in Manga Studies


Tags: , ,

%d bloggers like this: