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September 28, 2005

Words, Visuals, Sex and Girls

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

If you still cling to the idea that the printed word is central to culture, then I've got news for you. If you assume that boys are far more drawn to visuals and to comic books than girls are, think again. And if you believe that the taste some girls have for watching boys get romantic and have sex is a rare one, you've got another thing coming.

The NYTimes Sarah Glazer writes about the success -- in America! -- of shojo, or manga for girls.

Sample passage:

Manga sales alone surged to $125 million last year, from $55 million in 2002, and girls and women account for about 60 percent of manga's readership. The strongest market right now is among girls aged 12 to 17 ... At the Brooklyn Public Library, according to one librarian ... four of the top five young-adult books on the current reserved list are shojo books ...

But parents and teachers ... might be caught off guard by some of the content of the girls' favorite books. Among the best-selling shojo are stories that involve cross-dressing boys and characters who magically change sex, brother-sister romances and teenage girls falling in love with 10-year-old boys. Then there's a whole subgenre known as shonen ai, or boy's love, which usually features romances between two impossibly pretty young men.

Coming in December: Harlequin romance stories presented in manga format.



posted by Michael at September 28, 2005


Nobody has anything to say about manga? About imagery becoming so important and words moving into the supporting role? About chicks and comic books? About Japanese pop and how sexually perverse it often is? And about how that's begun to make its way into the American consciousness? I'm ... shocked. Stunned. Amazed.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 29, 2005 10:24 AM

I'm a bit interested to see how the whole deal will work out -- Manga/anime has certain conventions that I suspect clash with the basic stories of Harlequin romance novels. Personally I don't think it's a winning combination.
I grant that girls are into manga -- But I don't see them as in it for the drawing style. A lot of emphasis in the American comics industry is centered around drawing and the dynamics of visual storytelling in the comic medium (panels, text bubbles, etc). This is not to say that such an interest doesn't exist in manga either, there are some really amazingly well drawn manga, but I suspect that what really turns girls on is the culture of the stories. From what I know about girl-oriented manga, there tends to be a rather extreme amount of cutesy-girlishness, in fact this is its distinguishing factor, yet mixed with a very adult sexuality in a way that is very un-western. I don't exactly follow trends in Harlequin books either, but I bet the stories they tell will not appeal to the average manga reader, as they will seem stodgy and conventional (not that the manga they read isn't as stodgy and conventional, it just comes from a different set of conventions than they were born with).

And Michael, geez, you expect a lot from your readers! I wonder how you manage to accomplish anything during the day with the amount of blogging you do. How are we mere commenters supposed to be able to comment quickly enough to keep up with your postings? (Personally I think I'd have an easier time keeping up with posts and comments threads if the site were designed a little differently -- Say with a "Recent Entries" and a "Recent Comments" sidebar on the right. I also think it would be interesting to try and do some kind of topical thread-merging/archiving, so that comments on a particular post aren't just empty words thrown into the void, but actually contribute to a continuous, larger, ongoing discussion.)

Posted by: . on September 29, 2005 2:00 PM

My 14-year old daughter has been something of an addict of this stuff for a few years. She's not into the stories of boy-on-boy action. She's more into characters who combine male and female identities.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 29, 2005 2:04 PM

I had plenty to say about girls' manga, manga in general, and the differences between manga and Western comics, right here. It was the introductory essay to an issue of the magazine I edit, The Comics Journal, devoted almost exclusively to shoujo manga. It also featured the first major print interview with one of the pioneers of the form, Moto Hagio. You can see the table of contents for the issue at this link.

Posted by: Dirk Deppey on October 1, 2005 5:41 PM

Although boy love manga stories may be something of a specialized taste, anime in books, movies and television represents something of a second renaissance of the Japanese graphics arts tradition in the West. In the past there was the Western interest in Japanese prints and woodblocks. Beginning in the 60s (in cartoons like “Simba the White Lion” and “Speed Racer” in the past to “Sailor Moon,” “Robotech” and “Cowboy Bebop” more recently), Japanese animation has become more respected and admired. Manga and graphic novels are just the next step. And like so much other stuff, this is reinforced by the Internet, which lets people outside of big centers of Asian culture in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco participate and learn about these new trends.

I used to eat lunch at a Japanese noodle café which had lots of standard manga books available to view while eating. It was easy to follow the main action of the story, though obviously a lot was missed by not being able to read the language. But I would notice bilingual Japanese American teens explaining things to their non-Asian buddies, which must at some level help make the manga tradition more familiar to other non-Asians.

As Dirk Deppey has pointed out, there is an interesting overlap between the conventions of some types of fan fiction and some types of manga, so it is not surprising that this is becoming more popular here. By the way, it is interesting to check out the anime section on, as well as the informative essays by animation writer Charles Solomon (who regularly writes for the LA Times).

Posted by: Alec on October 2, 2005 6:24 PM

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