The Silence on Josei Manga

So Ed Chavez posted a really interesting question on twitter the other day. Why aren’t we talking about Josei?

It made me think a bit about the genre, reflecting on the things that have been posted and realised, yes, we’ve been quite mum about Josei. There’s hardly any people talking about it. Interestingly, there are people saying Josei in relation to a manga and loved them dearly (Wandering Son, Pink, Helter Skelter, Sakuran, etc.) but it is a surprise that as readers and to a degree, critics, haven’t really voiced what we think of the genre. Even academics hardly pay attention to josei with only one book and a handful of articles discussing the genre.

Is it because it’s hard to talk about what women want? Is it because women would rather escape in the pages of shoujo or shounen and be immersed in a fantasy rather than face the reality of loneliness, fears, and worries of an adult woman?

Maybe. I say that as a woman who hardly talks about Josei as a genre. I’ve actually mentioned a couple of Josei titles and authors in this blog but I really haven’t exhausted the genre as I have boys’ love.

At most I can reflect on my interactions with my friends and sixty percent will admit that they refuse to touch Josei things for various reasons (too boring, too sad, rather read shounen, i like my shoujo/bl fantasy, etc.) and the remaining forty will admit that reading Josei has been painful. Beautiful but painful. Josei manga touches on issues that trouble women at their worst, containing insecurities piled up by years of media identifying how women should be. What women must be.

In yesterday’s discussion, Ed Sizemore raised the point that maybe it’s because the likes of Frederik Schodt didn’t talk about it. Well he did in Dreamland Japan but back then it was labeled as Ladies’ comics. レディースコミック (Ladies’ Comic) is a different animal compared to what we know as Josei. He featured Comic Amour and Yan Mama for mothers. He also did a feature of Milk Morinaga but I’m surprised he didn’t touch upon comic magazines like Feel Young, Young You, or Chorus where all the josei action was really happening. I mentioned that Schodt’s focus on Ladies’ comics was at most a predecessor to what we know as Josei today. In reflection, maybe Schodt’s feature is also the reason why people hardly talk about it. If women are so hooked on crazy fantasies of housewives, then really it’s not worth investing time on it. Back in the day, I reckon that we identify a Josei title if it had some kind of explicit sex in it since they never really showed that in shoujo (and boy was I sooooo wroooong about this). There was also a time that josei titles were associated with yuri too.  Surprisingly, this messy view of josei is also true for me in the academe, where in my old university, the sociological exploration on why women are drawn to these kinds of materials are considered irrelevant. The reality is I needed to get out of that university just to find one that would consider this a relevant issue.

It’s interesting how quick we are to dismiss the interest of housewives while people still continue to sing and dedicate issues of journals and books to Osamu Tezuka. I find this particularly frustrating when manga has so much to offer but sadly, that’s just how the world turns and sadly things like this stay outside of the radar.

Take for example the interest in Insufficient Direction by Moyoco Anno. It’s basically a story that captures the relationship of Moyoco Anno with her husband Hideaki Anno. But looking at the asks in Vertical’s tumblr; people are more concerned in reading more about Hideaki Anno’s thoughts on his works or influences rather than read about his marital bliss. But what about Moyoco? Can’t we be interested with Moyoco Anno’s work process and inspirations too?

The silence on Josei might also be a reflection on our own neglect for things related to women. It’s not just men neglecting women but even women neglecting women. And this might be deliberate for some but it can also be something that we’ve just forgotten or taken for granted. I wonder if it’s a reflection of our submission to “the man” and how we can’t be bothered fighting the system anymore. Interesting how this thought has suddenly become a feminist argument but really, if anything, Josei manga is perhaps one of the most feminist genre out there and that should be recognised.

I think, more than ever, it’s time we should be talking about Josei. With more Josei titles coming in English, people can finally have an idea on how amazing this genre is and how diverse and subversive it can be.

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22 thoughts on “The Silence on Josei Manga”

  • There is very little josei in the US market. If there was more of it, more people would be talking about it. I’ve read some of the titles you’ve mentioned and can’t say I’ve really liked them. The art style is a big turn-off for me. As far as relating to the characters in the story, that’s a bit of a miss too, since I have nothing in common with characters from Sakuran or Helter-Skelter. Utsubora was nice (is it josei?) I do have Wandering Son on my reading list. Of the ones I’ve liked, probably Tramps Like Us come to mind and Happy Marriage?! was kind of fun. I’m very much looking forward to the latest French volumes of Heart-broken Chocolatier, Ane no kekkon, Princess Jellyfish and Hana no zubora meshi.
    Josei doesn’t just have to be about romance, but then how do you distinguish it from seinen? By the magazine it runs in? I don’t always look that sort of information up. So to sum it up, I’m all for more josei or seinen titles, manga about real life (with maybe a dash of fantasy) but those titles don’t sell well in the US and so it’s a vicious circle. It’s probably hard for US companies to license josei, but I’m just not sure they are giving us the best there is in the genre. Hence they don’t have as many readers. Repeat.

  • Really, I find myself balking when people, especially men, start handwringing about what kind of things women ~should~ be reading or talking about. Also, I feel like this is important: women disliking manga about women ≠ women disliking women. My life is full of interesting women and their irl triumphs and tragedies. Honestly at my age the things my friends and I have done and been through are way more amazing than any fiction. But I will say my life is almost gender-segregated, which is one of the reasons I like BL.

    I have to admit the only josei title I’ve read is Setona Mizushiro’s Mouse/Carp, because men. And I have What Did You Eat Last Night on preorder. Again, men. I know a couple of Vertical titles, Pink and Utsubora, feature boobs etc., and sorry, after a lifetime of seeing boobs-for-men in all media all the time, I’m over it. I’m also not reading about a young woman forced into prostitution (Sakuran). No. Or a world ruled by women (Ooku). If anything, I get the impression these kinds of titles are a form of pandering to men while pretending to be “about women” much in the same way BL is “about men” while pandering to women. I say pander away, cuz I love BL, and if men are reading those josei titles for the boobs, great. I’m just zero interested.

    • Thanks a lot and I do agree that not talking or reading about women doesn’t mean not liking women. As I said, at times, it’s just neglect or just the organic reality that it’s my life.

      Well, I’m not one to criticize titles entailing boobs, body images, and media for women. The strength in the likes of Pink and particularly Helter Skelter is these are texts written by women who have struggled for years to understand what their boobs signify to themselves and not to anyone. And there’s more of it apart from the porn as much as there’s more to BL than just a good hot fuck. The examples you gave have strong messages on exactly the kind of women’s issues women face in Japan (and maybe a reality for some parts of the world). I can’t force you to read them, but I must contest that these stories are more than just pandering to men.

      Of course, I cannot sway everyone’s reading interests. As I said, there are women who are also just not interested in these things. But I do appreciate your honest opinion on the matter and it shows how diverse our preferences are as female readers.

      • Fair enough, I hate the way BL is perpetually dismissed/ghettoized as “porn,” and I don’t mean to do the same to josei. And I hope I didn’t come across as judging or putting down anyone for their reading choices, that wasn’t at all my intention. My gut reaction is pure prejudice based on whatever glimpses of artwork/storylines I’ve seen, exacerbated by a looong lifetime of exposure to media made for “the male gaze” and an impression that certain people — people who get to decide what manga gets released in english, and who have their own prejudices against BL and its readers — presume to know what’s best for women to read.

  • “The silence on Josei might also be a reflection on our own neglect for things related to women.” – or as you said tastes and well, I don’t think anyone is obliged in reading something because s/he has to, much more when it’s not for job and spends his/her time and money on it. It also might be the case that certain media are left for our entertainment while we still try to keep up to date with and are active in the changing society.

    That said, I read almost from any demographic (no kodomo and very few shounen). Meaning I do seek josei. And the josei works licenced in English by Vertical and Yen Press are great and I’m very happy for them but I’d lie if I didn’t say that
    a. I’m not interested in all of them (eg. I don’t care about any mangaka’s married life; I’d rather have them rumble on their inspiration and work),
    b. last time I searched josei in bakaupdates and emanga there was a big portion of Arlekin manga which isn’t my cup of tea. I can’t say I’ve read that many josei or that I’m aware of all of the titles available in Japan, but from the dozen josei titles I’ve read very few dealt with parenthood, work problems and working out real relationships and most of them were just an extension of the fantastic romance we get in shoujo. For me, it’s the opposite: I usually read to think and feel touched and troubled; if what I read isn’t challenging, if it’s just another sappy romance with all the cliches which bore me or make me cringe (see Ohmi Tomu’s women who suffer from something resembling Stockholm Syndrome), then it’s a disappointment and probably a waste of my time -at least, that’s how I perceive this, and I don’t say this to snob anyone.

    “There was also a time that josei titles were associated with yuri too.” – If I don’t misunderstand, you say that josei aren’t to be associated with yuri? But they were associated because GL and BL can present stories that reflect lgbtq issues in a mature way. Such stories probably did run in josei magazines. And even if they didn’t, I don’t see a reason not to have audience mature -queer- women, especially yuri, which might reflect women’s problems and struggles.

    “Surprisingly, this messy view of josei is also true for me in the academe, where in my old university, the sociological exploration on why women are drawn to these kinds of materials are considered irrelevant. The reality is I needed to get out of that university just to find one that would consider this a relevant issue.” – Could you pls elaborate? I think I’m missing something here and it could be due to English being my second language :/

    Lastly, I think we should remember how there are ‘josei’ stories under the seinen tag (Sakuran is tagged seinen in bakaupdates for example, and it must be due to where it was serialized).

    • Oh dear. I hope you don’t mind the TLDR.

      On interest: that can’t be helped because people really have different tastes and preferences in what they want to read. I know my tastes are not for everyone and I have friends who feel my recommendations, at times, can be a bit heady and difficult. It’s preference, mostly. With regards to Insufficient Direction, I think it’s still a hilarious read and while it’s not a manga that prattles on their influence and work habit, these things can still be reflected in the couple’s interactions.

      On Josei: this is difficult because a lot of the good stuff is really left untranslated. There are a couple of titles which you can seek via manga updates and some of them are writers in BL so if you don’t read those kinds of works, you probably won’t have the chance to find them. There might be some titles translated by fan groups and you can go to those groups to see what they’ve released. It’s a tough market and it’s only recently that English publishers are entertaining other genres. I suppose patience will do for now. If patience is not your virtue, I do strongly suggest learning Japanese.

      On Yuri and Josei: I’m not saying yuri is not josei or that it shouldn’t be. As I said, there was a time that josei was associated with yuri because at that time, josei works in English (mostly fan translated) had yuri themes. Works by Erica Sakurazawa and Konno Kita were widespread then. This was back when Naruto, Dragon Ball, and Bleach were still unlicensed so that was a looong time ago. Because of that, Josei was associated with yuri. Of course now, we discover that it’s a lot more diverse than that so it’s not just yuri but josei is as diverse as seinen manga, focused particularly on women and gender issues. But even that is just the tip of the iceberg. Like 40% are awesome and I’m imagining 60% is just Harlequin romances.

      On Academe and Women’s Issues: Here’s the truth about the the world of academics (research, studies, etc. etc.), only a few people will talk about women’s issues and interests across different academic fields and disciplines. Not to say that other issues are irrelevant but gender studies is still a growing discipline and traditional universities still find it hard to embrace women’s issues, more so, gender studies. It’s frustrating but that’s just half of the problem. Cultural studies is another field that academics don’t care about. More so comic studies. Why should we study comics? They’re just comics! They serve to entertain and nothing more. Now that is a conversation I get a lot in my previous university. When I started tackling women’s interest in comics, the next question was “Does this even matter? Why should we care the kinds of comics that women read?” And for me that was important so I transferred to my current university so I can pursue this research and be surrounded by academics who feels the same as I do. I hope that explains things.

      On Josei in Seinen: Josei authors in seinen is a reality and it is a good thing. Primarily because josei authors have a smaller reach in a josei manga magazine than they would in a seinen. So you see a good number of Josei authors who are writing in male magazines and honestly, I’m happy that’s happening because it’s changing the face of seinen manga. In fact, I find it a bit subversive because male readers of the magazines are becoming aware of women’s issues just with the stories of these women. Moyoco Anno is a great example. There are also other stories that are josei-like but are written by men and are published in seinen manga. In Morning, for example, there’s Nurse Aoi and Hataraki Man. That said, even their presence in a male-oriented magazine is not enough to make an impact. I’ve seen a couple of women disappear from seinen manga magazines and a couple that struggle to survive (if only they’re brilliant or have stories that are quite appealing to both men and women). It’s a different ball game when they get to seinen, but some authors are truly exceptional at this. Yoshinaga Fumi is probably one of the best in this.

      I hope those answers help.

      • I never ever mind long replies 🙂 Thanks so much for taking your time to explain!

        – I do read BL, just not the rape=love ones (99% of the times). It’s not like I hate romance of any kind (if you’ve been at my blog, you’ll see I have a seperate column for BL, GL and I also review here and there some hetero); it’s that I like it with a dose of realism, taking in account the needs of the people involved, and it’s even better when other themes are involved, too.

        – I really need to learn Japanese, but I need a teacher and that costs perhaps too much for me now. I’ll have to sit down, discipline myself and try on my own :/

        -Oh, I know Erica Sakurazawa a little bit. My boyfriend has some of hersn published by Tokyopop. I had no idea that Konno Kita was known back in the day. I’ve seen scanlations of her works just recently popping up. I like her more than Sakurazawa but my fav is Okazaki Mari for now.

        – This negativity is sad indeed. If they are willing to dissect other types of manga why not these as well, as you mentioned. In what they call entertainment, the habits and lives of a society may be seen, which is always interesting. The fact that you found a university, though, that offers you what you wanted is awesome! 🙂 I’d like to learn more about this, too! If possible.

        – Very enlightening everything you explained in the last paragraph! (btw Hataraki Man is one of my fav anime; is the manga off the hiatus now?)

  • When you mention women neglecting other women, it makes me think about some psychological articles about the “queen bee” syndrome and how women end up emphasizing what the system stands for.

    • Lol. Queen Bee makes me think of Mean Girls. XDD But yes. There is an attitude like that within women but not everyone expresses this “queen bee” attitude. Some can be quite passive and really can’t be bothered with such ideas. I think among fans, the last one is more of a struggle because quite a good number of Josei texts puts these troublesome issues up front and when we reach for a manga to escape, the last thing we want to see is another woman’s problem. Sometimes, I feel this way too. How often do we, both men and women, read manga with the thought that “Ah, this makes a political statement.” or “This text is feminist.” It’s such a draining process and one that often impedes on one’s enjoyment of a text.

      So yeah… it’s difficult. But I think it’s something quite necessary.

      • It’s amazing how we have the ability to take cartoons and comics seriously. 😀 I think the same goes for video games and the whole misogyny problem. Statements are necessary, but most fans never think of the bigger picture because “entertainment is just entertainment”

        Persistent marketing is the enemy of critical thinking.

    • That may be the case but at the same time it all depends on what US Comic Culture is like and how publishers try to appeal to a larger market (and that might be shounen). There is an increased interest in publishing seinen and, to an extent, josei manga. Vertical and Yen Press have been releasing them so those might be good alternatives to seinen. Not sure how easy they are to acquire in bookstores but at least there’s Amazon?

      • When I went to see Kodansha talk about Titan at Kinokuniya, Ben Applegate actually talked about the continued struggles of seinen in the U.S., but he hopes that series like Vinland Saga are read over here.

        American bookstores still have seinen and josei. The Barnes & Noble stores (NYC) I’ve been too have a decent stock.

      • No idea. I have lived in Japan for the past 15 years, so I have ignored the bulk of both the US and the Japanese comic markets for quite some times now. I read perhaps 3 new collected volumes (tankobon) a year.

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