A Look at Shojo and Josei Manga
In a society where a lot a media targeted at women are often disregarded no matter their quality, and media targeted at men are praised no matter their quality, it is sometimes complicated to openly enjoy anything. Sure I enjoy media from all across the spectrum of the ‘gendered division of marketing’, but I won’t bring it up to any stranger. Because I gravitate in circles that tend to be snobbish about media (not that they are very knowing, mind you — I often had to enter a heated debate about how yet another cult genre movie isn’t a movie ‘so bad it’s good’). And ultimately I don’t want to spend my life arguing about cultural pieces that I hold dear with people who have never seen and never will. Hey, I am human; sometimes I just want to get hammered in peace at parties.
But there is a genre unapologetically marketed for women that I equally unapologetically enjoy. It’s shojo and josei manga. They can be bright pink (I really don’t like pink), have questionable translations for titles…I am here for them. And I won’t hide. It’s true that as a general rule I won’t hide my passion for any manga. But shojo will always have a very special place in my heart. It might be because my first manga series was a magical girl. But still. I really like shojo and josei.
Not to say that there aren’t things that irk me the wrong way in shojo and josei manga. The ‘not like other girl’ trope or ‘the average protagonist’ trope get old really fast. But still I wanted to share with you my personal favorites. Thus, if you were tempted to give a try to shojo and josei you will have an idea of where to start. Or if you are already on this band wagon you might discover new titles to enjoy.
Also if you don’t see your favorite series here, don’t panic! Just put it in the comment sections. I like discovering new things too.
Author: Takaya Natsuki
Number of issues and status: 23 – Complete, however a spinoff is on progress.
This is one the most classic choices I could have made. But hey, there is a reason why Fruit Basket is a classic. Spoiler alert: it’s because it’s good. Fruit Basket is the story of Tohru Honda, a young high-schooler who, because of family issues, is currently homeless. She ends up being rescued by the prince of her high-school, Yuki Soma. He welcomes her in his house where he lives with his older cousin, Shirogane Soma. Unfortunately Yuki is attacked by another one of his cousins, Kyo Soma. Tohru tries to separate them. This leads to her discovering that the Somas are cursed. Thirteen individuals in the family, who is actually as big as a clan, are haunted by their Chinese zodiac sign. They transform into their assigned animal when someone of the opposite sex hugs them.
The rest of the story focuses on the Soma’s curses. I won’t say much more in term of plot because I would enter spoiler territory pretty fast. But I will expand on the themes of the story. Fruit Basket deals with growing up, family, friendship, forgiveness, and love. In order to do so it presents a full cast of characters with different issues doing their best to turn into the best version of themselves. All the characters are endearing and they are diverse enough that you will have no problem having several favorites (hi Yuki, Ayame, Momoji, Saki, Hatori I love you). The series showcases several toxic relationships, not exclusively but notably between parents and children. While the design is very cute the story explores quite heavy subjects. But in the end Takya Natsuki does right by every single one of her characters.
Yes Fruit Basket is a classic shojo manga and it deserves it.
Kaichou wa Maid-sama!
Author: Fujiwara Hiro
Number of issues and status: 18, Complete.
Kaichou wa Maid-sama! follows Misaki Ayusawa. She is an high-schooler (prepare to hear that a lot) whose father left her family several years ago leaving her to live with her mother and little sister. Because of this Misaki is full of hatred for men. The family is struggling to make ends meet and that’s why Misaki is attending the cheapest high school in town. It’s a recently open-to-girls high school where close to 70% of the students are boys. Misaki is the president of the student committee and is known as the demon president. Indeed, when she isn’t busy excelling at her studies and at sport she is keeping an iron grip on the school discipline to be sure that the girls are having a safe schooling experience. But she has a secret. In order to earn a bit of money to help her family she is working in a maid cafe. Something she absolutely doesn’t want any for her schoolmates to know.
So of course someone discovers it. And this someone is Takumi Usui. The only person who is a better student than her and who often makes girls cry because he rejects their love confession. Misaki is mortified. She manages to convince him to keep it secret but he keeps tagging along because he finds her interesting. From this point the manga follows the adventures of Misaki and Takumi, who are slowly falling in love with each other but it’s complicated.
You have guessed it Kaichou wa Maid-sama! is a romance manga. It is extremely well executed. The main pair has chemistry and both of the characters are interesting in their own rights. The cast of secondary characters is colorful and attaching. This manga features a lot of positive female relationships. But the themes of the story are also particularly well treated. It is notably about accepting oneself as we are. There is also the a lot about learning to show vulnerability to your loved ones and I really liked it. Also the manga is really funny. Like really.
Yona of the Dawn – Akatsuki no Yona
Author: Mizuho Kusanagi
Number of issues and status: 27, in progress.
Yona of the Dawn is a jewel. It is a high fantasy story set in a Chinese/East Asian inspired world. The title character is Yona, the only daughter of the king of the kingdom of Kouka, a sixteen years old girl. She is living a pretty idle life up until the moment her father is murdered. She is forced to flee the capital in the middle of the night with only her childhood friend and bodyguard, Hak, to keep her safe. Hak is promptly accused of having killed the king and kidnapped Yona so they are both trapped in a never ending flight.
To add insult to the injury, the kingslayer, who now occupies Kouka’s throne, is no other than Soo-Won, Yona’s cousin and crush but also the childhood friend of both Yona and Hak. Yona decides to start a quest to find the four dragons and be able to make Kouka a better place. The four dragons are part of the founding legend of Kouka. They are four warriors blessed with divine powers who have sworn allegiance to Kouka’s first king, king Hiryuu. And, as she meets the current incarnations of the dragons, it appears that Yona is the reincarnation of Hiryuu.
Yona of the Dawn is an epic story that will delight every fantasy lover. One of its best qualities is its characters. They are incredibly attaching and complex. Even Soo-Won isn’t actually the villain of the story and is given excellent justifications. I still have trouble forgiving him though. Apparently I am the human embodiment of Hak on that. I am particularly fond of Yona’s relationship with the dragons. They share a single bonds but every relationship is unique and important.
There is currently no end in sight for Yona of the Dawn. And that’s great. Please Mizuho Kusanagi, keep blessing us with this wonderful manga.
Kamisama Kiss – Kamisama Hajimemashita
Author: Suzuki Julietta
Number of issues and status: 25, Complete.
Kamisama Kiss is an urban fantasy story taking place in modern day Japan. Nanami Momozono is a poor high-schooler who has to endure her father gambling problems and debts. One day to escape his creditors her father disappears which leaves her homeless (what is it with manga and disappearing fathers and homeless teenagers?). While despairing in a public park she saves a man from a dog and he offers her to go stay at his home. Home where he isn’t currently living.
Turns out his home is a shinto shrine and the man was the god of the place. Nanami is now the interim goddess and has inherited the god’s messenger: Tomoe a very grumpy and powerful kitsune. The rest of the story features several arcs centering around different figures of Japanese mythology with an overarching plot. This plot focuses on Tomoe’s mysterious past.
The manga includes gods, yokai, time travel and high school drama. It is a very energetic story whose mystery is very well handled. It features some of my favorite tropes such as villain decay. I love the characters (for a change) and especially the relation between Tomoe and Akura-Ou. You like Japan, you like urban fantasy, there are good chance you will like Kamisama Kiss.
Author: Mitsubachi Miyuki
Number of issues and status: 14, in progress.
One the two manga on this list that I do not own (yet), Namaiki Zakari is a romance manga taking place while its characters are in high school and at university (yes!). Yuki Machida is an high-schooler who is also the oldest siblings of 6. Because of the role and responsibility she had to take in her family she is used to not being very assertive with her feelings and desires. She still has enrolled herself as the manager of the boys’ basketball team to be closer to the boy she secretly love. But since she has never voiced her feelings the boy ends up going out with another girl.
For the rest of the club Machida is a responsible cold girl who would never start working for the team for such a futile reason as love. However one of the boy, the very talented and nonchalant Sho Naruse, did notice and starts having an interest in Yuki.
Namaiki Zakari started as a fairly, albeit extremely well executed, traditional shojo manga. However, the story develops and gets more original with every chapter. I absolutely love Yuki as a protagonist. She is a very serious very hard working girl always finding time to help others. However she lacks emotional maturity in part because she has always tried to not be a bother. Having this mix of maturity and lack of emotional maturity is very pleasing. I also really like that Naruse is actually younger than her. It is quite unusual in shojo manga, so is having the story continue after high school. Also the manga corrects some of its early mistake such as having a lack of positive female relationship for Yuki outside of her family. And it works pretty well as a sport manga too.
Angel Sanctuary – Tenshi Kinryōku
Author: Kaori Yuki
Number of issues and status: 20, Complete.
Genre: Technically it’s a shojo, but really who knows what this mess is?
Trigger warning: while my critique will not touch most of this, Angel Sanctuary features incest, rape, child death/murder etc etc (it’s a shojo am I rigth?!).
Angel Sanctuary is my most problematic fave. It is the love child of an author that I love and it is my favorite series from her and among my favorite manga period but it’s not for everyone.
It follows the story of Setsuna Mudo, an high-schooler (I promise it is the last story where the main protagonist is in high school) who is quite good at finding trouble. One the reasons he keeps looking for trouble is because he is romantically interested in his one year younger sister, Sara, and doesn’t want to have to face that. But he gets entangle in a cosmic conspiracy. An angel wants to bring back the inorganic angel Rosiel whose has been sealed on earth by his twin sister the organic angel Alexiel. In the mean time some evils want to bring back Alexiel, who has led an insurrection against God, and has been condemned to reincarnation for her crimes. As it happens Setsuna is the latest reincarnation of Alexiel.
Setstuna gets entangled so well that he gets Sara killed, after they declared their love for each other, and destroys Tokyo after awaking his powers. The rest of the story is about Setsuna travelling to hell and heaven to bring his sister back while everyone gets entangled in an even more complicated cosmic situation.
If you like complicated and twisted story with characters with more than dubious morality facing cosmic forces and trying to go against cosmic plan get in. Angel Sanctuary tells a story of unconditional love (all the kind of love not just romantic) and where it can leads us. It is also a story about taking responsibility for your actions. It deals with gender issue, predestination etc. I love it, okay? I love the art, that is lavishly beautiful, and I love the characters. Especially the secondary characters such as Belial, Raphael, Michael, Yue, Kurai, Katan, Astaroth, Sevoth-tart etc etc. It struck a chord in my young teenager life and I will always love this manga.
A Bride’s Story:
Author: Kaoru Mori
Number of issues and status: 10, in progress.
Well Bride’s Story is a beautiful historical manga taking place in central Asia and following mainly women in their daily life. It is interesting, it is beautiful, it is well documented, it is funny, it is touching and there is suspens. If you want to know more about it I direct you toward my longer review of the series.
But check out this other series by Kaoru Mori: Emma. It takes place in the 19th century in England.
Tramps Like Us – Kimi wa Pet:
Author: Yayoi Ogawa
Number of issues and status: 14, Complete.
The other manga on the list that I do not own (yet) because I borrowed it from the library and it is not available for sale in France anymore. AGONY!
Tramps Like Us follows Sumire Iwaya, a talented young journalist who isn’t living the best moment of her life. She was transferred to a less prestigious unit of the newspaper for having hit her superior who was a misogynist pig. Her boyfriend also left her for the girl he was two-timing her with because he was intimidated by her career. In addition to all that, Sumire is starting to have trouble combining her public persona of successful business woman who is also a cold beauty and her less traditionally accepted way of life. Indeed she like watching pro-wrestling, smoking, and playing video games. Also she is very unsure of herself, hence the public persona.
One evening while coming back home she finds a young man, Takeshi Gouda, sleeping in the street. She agrees to have him live in her flat under the condition that he accepts to be her pet and goes by the name Momo. Being her pet is absolutely not kinky. It includes listening to her sharing her day and fears without judging, playing video games with her, and letting her wash his hair from time to time. Takeshi, who apparently has already exchanged sexual favors to stay at women’s places, finds the deal to his advantage and obliges. He becomes Momo.
The rest of the manga follows the development of their relationship but also Sumire quest to learn to love and accept herself. She also reevaluates the values she has adhered to. What she wanted in life, what was acceptable in herself and what wasn’t. Actually Sumire is on her way to become a more happy person by becoming her authentic self. Considering that there are good chances that Sumire at the beginning of the manga is me in ten years (plus the good hair) I am always happy to read the story of how she got happy. Also Takeshi isn’t your typical male character and he learns to assert himself. I love him.
Special mention Ōoku: The Inner Chambers
Author: Fumi Yoshinaga
Number of issues and status: 15, in progress.
I haven’t read Ōoku: The Inner Chambers entirely. I have read 5 volumes but I love it. It is alternate history. It takes place in Tokugawa Japan. A strange disease has emerged. It only kills boys and young men. As a result the population of men in Japan is reduced to 1 man for 4 women. Therefore the men are kept inside or sold in prostitution by their family because they have become of great value. The political power is also held by women (the manga explains in great details how this came to happen). The Inner Chambers refers to the personal ‘harem’ full of men of the shogun.
The story explore the political and some personal intrigues brought by the situation. It follows the history of Japan pretty closely but it cleverly twists it. For example the interdiction for foreigners to enter Japan is also a measure to prevent the outside world to discover the situation. While the political intrigue is of the outmost importance the personal drama is high too. By god, Arikoto and Chise are star-crossed lovers and it hurts so much.
Long story short I will keep on reading this manga and I warmly recommend it.
That’s it with my personal recommendations. I hope some titles caught your attention and that you will enjoy them as I did and still do. Don’t hesitate to comment with your own favorites shojo and josei manga.
Stan Lee, Architect of Modern Comics, Dies at 95
It is with a heavy heart that we all read the announcement that comic book writer, editor, and executive producer, and all about godfather of modern comics (particularly Marvel), Stan Lee, has passed at the age of 95. A career spanning from 1939, when he was hired as an assistant to Timely Comics, which would later become the Marvel Comic empire we know today in the 1960’s, he worked as everything from inkwell re-filler to writer until 1972, when he became a publisher. He became the figurehead of Marvel Comics and shepherded the publication through some of its darkest times. Later in life, he worked on his own projects, including a two-season reality show on Syfy, Who Wants to Be a Superhero?.
Lee was responsible for several of today’s most enduring comics characters, including the co-creation of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and the X-Men. While at times his business practices were considered controversial, he was widely adopted by many in the comics community as a grandfatherly figure. Indeed, it’s become a fan favorite moment in the current slate of Marvel Cinematic Universe films to spot a “Stan Lee cameo” with each new movie. He’s also had cameo roles in FOX-produced Marvel films, including X-Men, and also “crossed streams” to appear on DC’s Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. His final credited comic book cameo appearance was in Sony’s Venom.
Lee reportedly died this morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, CA. Carry forward, true believers.
Images courtesy of Marvel Comics
The Wicked and the Divine + The Unforgiven and the Redeemed
There’s something special about WicDiv one-shots. They have a pattern and a very distinct kind of narrative: after each arc, we take a leap back in time to get a lost piece of the big picture. At the beginning of each new arc, the truth becomes clearer to us. The latest arc, Mothering Invention, has introduced something of a spanner in those works with the occasional flashbacks to ancient times, to the bloody days of Ananke and the first Persephone. By now, there is comparatively little we don’t know.
For centuries, Ananke has continued to preserve her existence by sacrificing Gods in each Recurrence and inhabiting Minerva’s physicality to ensure the next cycle happens without a hitch. Ancient Persephone’s gambit is for somebody to eventually break that cycle by taking advantage of the rules to the game between the two Goddesses. So, what’s new this time around? Strictly speaking: not much. But do we really need a reason, a morsel of truth, to have a one-shot? Can we not just enjoy a story of doom and despair, beautifully illustrated by guest artist Ryan Kelly (of Lucifer, Local and New York Four fame)?
Yes, yes we can, dear reader.
Also because this may just feature my favourite Lucifer so far.
“This is my body… which is given for you.”
Naturally, spoilers ahead.
This story takes place in Avignon, France in the year 1373, which is telling enough about the setting: Roman Catholicism and heaps of death from the Bubonic Plague. As per WicDiv tradition, the icons on the prologue circle reveal the Gods remaining: Lucifer and Minerva. This means we arrived late to the party, and the Maiden-Crone duo probably have all they need for their ritual. Still, this is an interesting subversion since Lucifer tends to be one of the first Gods to bite the dust in this comic series.
The first thing that comes to topic proper here is the design. Kelly’s pens are as sharp for detail as always. The rainy, grey-blue choice of inks helps enhance the dready atmosphere, and it also does wonders when it comes to contrasts – for example, when looking at (gorgeous) Sister Lucifer’s hell-red eyes. However, the contrast extends also beyond colour and into how detailed the plague’s sores on the general population are. Furthermore, Lucifer’s Hellboy-esque sheared horns add an unsettling, painful tint to the Sister’s beauty. This very much falls in line with the contemporary ways of modesty and self-repression.
On to the story now. At the behest of the Mother Superior, Sister Lucifer greets a messenger – a young girl with an ailment of her own – who has come seeking she who walks through the plague untainted. In a matter of two panels, we get the nature of this Recurrence’s Lucifer. Despite becoming the incarnation of evil (according to the Catholic paradigm), she is very much a devout person, and believes that nobody is irredemeable. The messenger comes on behalf of another, an old, very sick woman who wishes to give confession. Being the only one untouchable by the plague, Lucifer is the one to call.
After a two days’ travel, they arrive at their destination. But a wild pack of flagellants, foreign to the village, has shown up. These folk believe that self-harm will spare them from the disease. It has not worked brilliantly, as they’re very obviously ill. The Good Sister tells the young girl to wait while she handles the situation. Now, things are looking pretty bleak in this little affair. The flagellants don’t look kindly upon the church, let alone the “Devil Girl”. What follows is an unpleasant show of implied and explicit carnal punishment. After mentioning that she had already been burned at the stake, to no effect, she disrobes herself nude.
The scars on her back reveal herself to have been a flagellant herself.
But neither the nudity, nor the usage of the proverb “do to me as you would have done unto you” leads to any sultriness – something which has become something of a trope in several indie comics and mediums. No, Sister Lucifer sets herself to be lashed as the flagellants do to themselves. This she does to humble them, and evidence their hypocrisy. Their actions come out of vanity rather than actual wish for redemption. After telling them they will not live to see the next day, she encourages them to repent as they will. So, the Sister and the young messenger carry on without further disturbance.
Finally, at the village, Lucifer meets the old woman, whose sight vexes her. Despite being severely marked by the plague, she is still very much alive. This is Ananke, and she has summoned Lucifer to know why, after two years, the Devil Girl is still sane, quite unlike her 455 ADD counterpart. This exchange is pretty revealing about French Lucifer. In spite of witnessing the diversity of the Pantheon, she deems her peers ‘false Gods’. Regardless of what she’s experienced, she still abides to the narrative of her belief and hopes for a peaceful afterlife. But Ananke knows better about such matters.
Ananke still claims that Lucifer will eventually go mad and cause great disaster. But Sister Lucifer is stubborn like that, or maybe her worldview and faith (however rigid) makes her impervious to Ananke’s words. The old woman notes she’s always been troublesome one way or another. Lucifer realises in that moment that the Messenger that brought her here was the same girl who introduced her to Ananke over two years ago. If you haven’t guessed already, yes – this is Minerva of this age, and she needed very little to convince the Sister to meet Ananke.
The old Goddess notes this has never happened before. Even before Ananke dropped the big reveal on her, the young woman already knew she was Lucifer. Judging by the brief flashback of her ascension, she lashed her own back even before becoming the Devil Girl. Thus, it becomes obvious just how heavy the burden of faith has been on the young woman. Or has it? Later in the conversation, Lucifer tells of her human birth. Her mother died from the plague, but the child lived. It was basically a miracle. But her father did not see it that way. He thought it should have been the child who died, and he never let her forget that. As foul a parent as the plague itself.
Thus… Lucifer, the Unforgiven. I’m gonna go off on something of a tangent here, but I’m a bit infatuated with this Lucifer as a character. So, let me have this. While the Christian view will always hold Lucifer as sire of all evils, one must never forget they were also an angel, a light bringer originally. This duality lives reversed in Sister Lucifer. She is deemed a devil in origin, but her choice to take on the religious office turns her into a light bringer. A rather dim light, but a light all the same. All of the things she says about redemption, those are not hollow words. But she still, tragically, does not recognise that switch in her. Perhaps because that would be vanity and pride, vices associated with the Devil.
Okay, tangent over. Ananke confesses, meaning she spells out all of her plan to Lucifer. This means, what she’s been up to from the beginning, her goal, and her part in the deaths of all the Gods. But, she does keep one thing to herself: Minerva’s role. Then, a bonus. Ananke got bored from how the world was coming along, so she essentially took action to prune civilisation a bit. When asked on how the plague started, Sister Lucifer alludes to what most believe, either the miasma, or the poisoning of the wells. She herself believes her own birth caused the plague.
Ananke dashes all of it by revealing the truth. Someone from the last Pantheon created the disease as an experiment. Then, to test it, the Old Goddess boarded the tainted ship in Crimea and sailed it herself to Italy. That’s right, Ananke imported the Black Plague with her own immune flesh. She is responsible for a far, far greater number of deaths than just Lucifer’s peers. The true devilry has been lifted off Lucifer’s shoulders, but there is no relief to be had. The Devil Girl, with Ananke’s knife in her hands, looks on the old woman with murderous eyes.
At this point, we’d expect savage comeuppance, no different than the carnage Ananke unleashed on her sister all those centuries ago. But Lucifer is not Ananke. The Good Sister pierces the palm of her own hand with the knife and extracts a bit of her own flesh. You can see where this is going… The Transubstantiation of Lucifer, blasphemous as all Hell… and oddly not at the same time. Placing her flesh in Ananke’s mouth, Lucifer completes the communion by burning Ananke and herself to death in Hellfire. The words she spoke while being lashed earlier, “Father, forgive me”, return with a darker reprisal. The comic’s cover doesn’t do the real thing justice, does it?
Unforgiven no more, this is Lucifer Redeemed, burning for the sins of Ananke.
All the while Minerva looks on from the distance, with a full bag in hand…
So, that’s it for this special one-shot, and at the risk of letting my loud-as-thunder voice permeate this review… HOW THE HELL DOES KIERON GILLEN UP HIS GAME EVERY DAMNED TIME, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO THESE ONE-SHOTS!? Of course, this is just a personal opinion. While I can’t think of any actually inferior one-shot, the quality curve with these special issues has been, for me, consistently rising. I wouldn’t be surprised if another future one.shot (if it were to happen) could take the top spot in my favourites. But for now, this is definitely my favourite WicDiv one-shot. And this is my favourite Lucifer, period.
And who knows, when it comes to comics, Kieron Gillen may just have become my favourite.
The Wicked + The Divine 1373 AD Credits
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Art / Cover: Ryan Kelly, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson
Images courtesy of Image Comics