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.
Category Archives: Women
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. 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. 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, 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. Manga influenced by jojōga have arguably prioritized visual qualities.
The importance of visual qualities has increasingly been recognized in shōjo manga studies. 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).
Between Supermen: Homosociality, Misogyny, and Triangular Desire in the Earliest Superman Stories by Eric Berlatsky
The Superman “shield” most familiar to contemporary readers is a pentagon. Emblazoned on his chest, it is a recognizable symbol of the “first superhero” whose emergence in Action Comics in 1938 gave birth to the genre most associated with the history of American comics. Interestingly, however, the symbol has little resemblance to that which first appeared on Superman’s chest in his debut. In those early days, Superman, created, by Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist), had a simple triangle on his chest, with a sinuous “S” in its center. The shift in insignia is largely insignificant, but the original shape is reflective of the ways in which those early stories revolve around a “love triangle” that is both familiar and unconventional. 
For the last several years, I have been creating and teaching popular courses at Ball State University using comic books as required course readings. Many people thought I was crazy, and they are probably right, but my methods worked. When the most recent course, Gender through Comic Books, caught the eye of the Ball State’s Integrated Learning Institute, they asked me to teach an online course. At first, I thought it was simply an online version of my current class that would be offered to Ball State students. I quickly found out that I was wrong. They wanted me to offer the class in a form that they had not yet attempted. They wanted to have the class offered as a MOOC.