In our final section of our series, we take a look at shojo manga in North America.
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Origins of Shojo Manga
Part 3: Riyoko Ikeda (Part 1)
Part 4: Moto Hagio
Part 5: Keiko Takemiya
Part 6: Interlude: The Rose of Versailles Franchise
Part 7: Riyoko Ikeda and The Influence of The Rose of Versailles, 1990s
Part 8: Riyoko Ikeda and The Influence of The Rose of Versailles, 2000s
Shojo manga (and the animated adaptations of these manga) have had a strong cultural impact on recent generations of fans in the United States and Canada. During the past fifteen years, fan discussions and fannish artistic production have nourished diverse interests in Japanese cultural products, which are beginning to exert a stronger influence on mainstream geek media.
In 2002, the now-defunct manga publisher Tokyopop launched a program it called “Global Manga,” which was kicked off by the Rising Stars of Manga talent competition. The winning entries were published in a volume of the same physical dimensions as the publisher’s Japanese manga titles, and there were eventually eight volumes of The Rising Stars of Manga, with the last appearing in the summer of 2008. During this time, certain winners were encouraged to submit proposals to Tokyopop, which published their work as OEL, or “original English language,” manga. Because Tokyopop’s bestselling titles where shojo manga, about half of their OEL manga were characterized as shojo as well.
One of Tokyopop’s most commercially successful original OEL manga titles was M. Alice LeGrow’s eight-volume series Bizenghast, which, like Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, is a shojo story with shonen elements. LeGrow’s story takes the adorable mascot creatures, monsters-of-the-week, cute costumes, adoring and beautiful young men, and powerful female villains of Japanese manga for girls and transplants them into the small Massachusetts community of Bizenghast, which becomes an Edgar Allan Poe-ified Gothic wonderland after dark. The art style combines the huge eyes and wide panels of fan-favorite shojo manga like Cardcaptor Sakura and Fruits Basket with steampunk Art Deco motifs and Edward Gorey-style line etchings. The artistic and narrative conventions of manga and the stylizations of Western fantasy are so blended and intermixed that it’s impossible to tell whether Bizenghast is a manga with American influences or a graphic novel with Japanese influences.
As Tokyopop began its decline in 2008, an imprint called Yen Press rose to fill the void. The publisher’s magazine Yen Plus solicited reader contributions, which resulted in both one-shot and continuing OEL manga appearing within the pages of the magazine. These titles were written and drawn by women and featured clear shojo stylizations. In addition, Yen Press’s parent company Hachette began releasing manga adaptations of some of its biggest young adult properties, including Gossip Girl, Gail Carriger’s The Parasol Protectorate series, and Twilight. All of these manga adaptations are imbued with a strong shojo feel.
What Yen Press seemed to be jumping on was the idea that manga could reach an audience of young women (and young-at-heart women) who may have felt excluded from traditionally male-centered genres like action comics and science fiction. These female readers increasingly came equipped with access to online and in-person fandom networks, which could help ensure the longevity and profitability of any given franchise, as was famously the case with Star Trek and Harry Potter.
As a result of the creation and growth of an audience for shojo manga in North America, it’s easy to see a definite shojo influence on mainstream entertainment media. One of the most interesting incarnations of this trend is Cartoon Network’s animated television series Adventure Time, whose producers have actively scouted young talent from places like comic conventions and fannish art sharing websites such as Tumblr. A number of these artists are women from the generation that grew up reading and watching shōjo series such as Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, and easily identifiable references to these titles occasionally pop up in the show. As a result, Rebecca Sugar, a former storyboard artist for Adventure Time, was given a green light by Cartoon Network to create a magical boy show, Steven Universe, which features all manner of references to anime, manga, and video game culture. Since its first season aired in 2013, Steven Universe has received an overwhelming amount of support from both Adventure Time fans and the enormous shojo anime and manga fanbase on Tumblr.
Seeing better representation of diverse female characters in shojo manga has encouraged more young women outside of Japan to seek careers in comics and animation. In the future, we will probably see an even stronger embrace of shojo-related narrative influences, art styles, and fandom cultures as the members of the Adventure Time and Steven Universe generation start coming out with their own work. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of shojo manga, which continues to be as vibrant, appealing, and supportive of a diversity of female and gender-nonconforming identities as it was in the 1970s.
This panel and series of essays is copyright Kathryn Hemmann and L.M. Zoller 2015-16 and was originally presented as the panel “The Sparkling World of 1970s Shojo Manga” at Geek Girl Con 2015.