Men vs. Shoujo and Josei Manga

Men vs. Shoujo and Josei Manga

I read this article a little while back from Rocket News 24 discussing why men won’t read shoujo manga (manga for girls) and josei manga (manga for young women) when women and girls will read shounen manga (manga for boys) and seinen manga (manga for young men). So I thought I’d throw my 2¢ into the mix about this topic just because I can. 😉

The Thesis of Men Not Liking Shoujo and Josei Manga

Manga-ka MATSUDA Naoko put forth a theory in her manga series Shoujo Manga to explain why men apparently don’t like shoujo and josei manga. Here’s the page in question from the manga (originally shared by Tina Yamashina, an American living in Japan).

Here’s the translation from Rocket News 24.

Man: “If…if shojo manga really were interesting, wouldn’t more men be reading them?”

Woman: “You’ve got it all wrong. It’s not that men don’t read them because they’re not interesting.”

“Women read shonen manga and seinen manga. Men don’t read josei manga, but not because they aren’t interesting.”

“Men have no problems with women pursuing them while they, the men, hold onto their own values. But they absolutely can’t stand getting closer to a women’s values.”

I’m lead to understand that Japanese manga fans agree with this sentiment. However, I wasn’t really clear what “getting closer to a women’s values” meant. Then I saw certain Western folks whom I follow gushing over this, I came to one conclusion. Matsuda-sensei is basically saying that men are misogynist for not reading manga geared to a female audience since women have to problem reading manga geared toward a male audience.

AstroNerdBoy vs. Shoujo and Josei Manga

I haven’t read a great deal of shoujo manga or josei manga, but I’ve read several to be sure. Indeed, one of my top 10 favorite manga is a shoujo manga — Fruits Basket. It gets melodramatic toward the end of its run and Takaya-sensei’s shift to simplistic character designs take away from some of the enjoyment, but overall, I love the manga. That said, I got into the manga having first gotten into the anime adaptation and really wanting to know the rest of the story. At the time, I had no clue it was “shoujo.”

Fruits Basket

Cardcaptor Sakura — I knew it was a “mahou shoujo” title, meaning magic girl, but when I watched the anime and later read the manga, I didn’t care that it was for girls. I knew the series was very popular among anime/manga fans, so I wanted to be educated. I ended up really liking the series and have been chapter blogging the new sequel that came out.

For Codename: Sailor V and the subsequent Sailor Moon manga, while the girl characters were cute with legs that went all the way up, the story was rather mediocre to me. As such, I never finished reading Sailor Moon.

For Gakuen Alice, had TokyoPop not died, I would have continued to read this shoujo manga. The story was quite good and the artwork is pleasant to look at. I wish someone had license rescued the title ’cause I’d love to know how it all ended.

Kare Kano was good until Tsuda-sensei got lost in the weeds exploring the past of the parents of her male and female leads. Honey and Clover is a good manga, but very melodramatic. I haven’t wanted to read again ’cause I hated the ending.

There are other titles I’ve read; some forgettable, some OK.

What About the Shoujo and Josei Manga You Don’t Read?

To be honest, I don’t read manga titles because they are shoujo, shounen, josei, or seinen. I read manga titles because something about them catches my interest. It could be artwork from the manga. The anime adaptation often makes me seek out the source manga. It could be buzz that comes to my ear or recommendations blog readers make to me. The demographic isn’t much concern. What I want is something with a good story, good character development, attractive character designs, and for my English adaptations, Japanese honorific usage.

Honey and Clover

The one problem I’ve had with some shoujo manga is that the artwork doesn’t appeal to me. However, there are some shounen manga with that same issue. I’m a visual kind of guy, so that’s what needs to hit me first. That’s why when the American comic strip Dilbert first came out, I didn’t read it for years because the artwork is ugly. However, this is where the buzz and other elements come into play to make me take notice and decide to see what it is all about, ugly art notwithstanding. Today, I love Dilbert.

Looking at the artwork for Matsuda-sensei’s Shoujo Manga series, I would just move on because nothing about it grabs me.

That said, I don’t see a lot of buzz for shoujo or josei manga in the circles I walk through. So I suppose that goes into Matsuda-sensei’s thesis about men not reading shoujo or josei manga.

Does it Matter?

The whole reason for the two male and two female demographic formats in Japan is marketing. So if shounen or seinen manga appeals to girls and women an top of the intended male demographics, then that’s just icing on the cake for the publishers. Although the shounen and seinen manga-ka may not be trying to do so, clearly something some of them are doing draws in the female audience as well.

On the other hand, the manga-ka writing/drawing shoujo and josei manga aren’t doing anything that draws in male audiences. This apparent assumption that men aren’t reading manga for females because they are misogynist is just nuts. Yes, I know that in Japan, there’s a notion that the men miss the traditional male/female roles in society. (And that is partially what I think is contributing to Japan’s critical birth rate crisis, but that’s another topic.) However, some popular shoujo or josei manga haven’t been massive breakouts without male support.

At the end of the day, can’t folks just read what they want? I despise this notion that one should “support” things just because one needs to do so. Just because shounen and seinen manga happen to be drawing larger female audiences doesn’t mean that men MUST start reading shoujo and josei manga.

Conclusion

I guess Matsuda-sensei is ultimately complaining that manga-ka for shoujo and josei would have to change their style and such to appeal to men. If men weren’t such misogynist, this wouldn’t be the case. I’m sorry she (and apparently way too many other people both in Japan and outside Japan) feels this way. The fact of the matter is that people should read what they want to read. It isn’t men’s fault that shounen and seinen manga titles can often have a broad appeal beyond the male demographic.

For me, I’m going to continue to read the things that catch my interest. It won’t matter if it is shounen, shoujo, seinen, or josei. 🙂

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28 Responses to “Men vs. Shoujo and Josei Manga”

  1. Well I think the topic should be closer to why do Japanese men not read shojo manga.
    That some male generally interested in Japanese graphic narrative should enjoy
    the Shojo genre is good but not applicable to the problem.

    Now I am not able to say definitively why the Japanese men do not care for shojo manga
    because I do not have comparable experience.
    But it seems to me that Japanese men are extremely nervous about adopting any
    “women’s ” values because they are insecure in there masculinity.
    In childhood they are dominated by their mothers and in adulthood
    by the male ethic of the Salaryman. They must get along with their
    co-workers and they can show no weakness except deference to
    their bosses.

  2. El Goopo says:

    Wow, what a cringe-worthy argument. If you make material exclusively for one audience, then don’t complain that other audiences dislike it. That’s just pathetic. Aim higher than for a niche, and you’ll not have to complain. Plenty of josei/shoujo manga are appreciated by men, but when you go around reinforcing gender stereotypes, you’re only reminding them to not admit it.

    • ghostbeetle says:

      I don’t necessarily mean to make a big thing out of this but just how do you think one can “make material exclusively for one audience” – by which I assume you mean “one gender”?
      That accusation seems to imply a thouroughgoing reification of gender. But gender is not something that can be reified, it’s a social construct.
      Because this distinction of shoujo and shounen is based on the socially constructed gender dichotomy I expect that the perception of this enormous divide in readership to also be something of a construct. Or, at least, not nearly as clear-cut as these ‘reports’ seem to indicate.

      ANB, there is a fairly well-known phenomenon in gender studies that women have been traditionally expected – and taught – to show interest in specifically male-geared subjects, whereas men are not so ´conditioned’ in the other direction. It is bound up with the normative marginalisation of the female in societies where the male is seen as the default position, what is ‘normal’. That is probably the main source of sexism today. And it is really tricky because this kind of sexism often is not in individual convictions people might hold, but in the socio-cultural framework underlying those convictions.

      I suspect that your experience of reading and taking pleasure from (some) shoujo titles does not so much indicate those shoujo titles as special within their field, as that it simply indicates a somewhat broader mindset in you yourself, in this regard, than can be ascribed to society as a whole? Maybe? (And maybe I’m just talking out my butt instead. YMMV.)

      • AstroNerdBoy says:

        In my opinion (take it for what it is worth), this muddying of the term “gender” is just a first world thing. When compared to the rest of the world, we in the first world (and especially in America) don’t have the very real problems others in the world have. As such, we in the first world tend to invent problems to have. That’s not to say these problems aren’t very real to us, but if society collapsed, I strongly believe that you would see society return to traditional male/female roles. I base this on human history combined with how things are in the third world. In that light, the term “gender” would return to meaning what it always meant until very recent times.

        In terms of reading shoujo manga, I wouldn’t say I’m more broadly minded. In my early anime/manga fandom, anime and manga were just that. The only subdivision was hentai. Otherwise, I saw anime and manga series as drama, action, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. It wasn’t until later that I learned about shoujo/josei/shounen/seinen divisions based on the magazines said titles were published in.

        And I’ve just learned that Spotted Flower is considered a josei title. 😆 I had no clue until very recently.

        • arimareiji says:

          Hola… hope things have been going well. (^_^)/

          When compared to the rest of the world, we in the first world (and especially in America) don’t have the very real problems others in the world have. As such, we in the first world tend to invent problems to have.

          There’s a lot of truth in the first part, but the second part… this truth covers so much ground it’s hard to even get a good start on it. It ranges from desperate blame-shifting to agonizing over trivial issues (because the massive real ones are too scary to deal with); from social-media wrath storms to ballooning persecution complexes (out of control on every side) fed by the media. I think Frank Herbert’s books would have classified most of it in the same family as ghafla, the abominable distraction.

          That’s not to say I think there’s no basis for what Matsuda-sensei infers. Given how pornified a lot of manga is now… I’d guess that “sensitive” males (myself included) drift away from manga in greater frequency, leaving more who are uninterested in fare without fanservice. That would suck for mangaka who focus on communication and relationships, in any genre. And it would really suck for mangaka who focus on stereotypically-“girly” fare. But complaining about the trend as if it imparts some deep wisdom about the true nature of all males doesn’t mitigate any aspect of it. And by some people’s lights, it’s pretty darn sexist.

          Trying to not ramble too much – thank you for listening. (^_^)

          • AstroNerdBoy says:

            Given how pornified a lot of manga is now… I’d guess that “sensitive” males (myself included) drift away from manga in greater frequency, leaving more who are uninterested in fare without fanservice.

            You don’t have to be a “sensitive” type to not want ecchi manga. I’m with you all the way here, though I’d consider myself a regular guy, but a nice guy too. I admit that I tolerate a lot more fanservice than maybe I should. If the story is good enough, I’ll turn a blind eye to it. But at the same time, I wouldn’t send these titles to my various nieces and nephews who like anime and manga.

            Trying to not ramble too much – thank you for listening. (^_^)

            You’re always welcome to blather away. 😀

          • arimareiji says:

            You don’t have to be a “sensitive” type to not want ecchi manga. I’m with you all the way here, though I’d consider myself a regular guy, but a nice guy too. I admit that I tolerate a lot more fanservice than maybe I should. If the story is good enough, I’ll turn a blind eye to it.

            Considering the climate, I should’ve probably been a lot clearer… by sensitive, I absolutely don’t mean the crowd inventing trite reasons to be offended while ignoring much bigger issues. (Seeing a crowd of them throwing tantrums at a respectful Jordan Peterson on youtube was an eye-opener. (>_<)) I mean something closer to the semi-parodic 90's "sensitive guy", wanting to empathize to the point of self-abnegation. On a scale between stereotypical drunk frat boy, and sympathetically listening to the woman you're pining for while helping her see she wants someone else – probably an 8-8.5. (^_~)

            I'm in the same boat wrt tolerating fanservice… I sometimes even appreciate it if it's tasteful, genuinely artistic, and serves a purpose to make the story better. But anything gratuitous is a turnoff, from violence to nudity to masochism (i.e. NTR). And it seems like I keep seeing at least the last two getting more and more extreme.*shrug*

          • AstroNerdBoy says:

            Ha!ha! NTR. Yeah, not going there after I learned what that was about. ^_^;

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      I don’t disagree there.

  3. mudakun says:

    Afraid because:

    1) Next thing, you turn the page and two guys are…

    2) There’s all this relationship/ social positioning/ unsaid stuff for pages and pages and pages… (Brain Hurts!)

    3) Males and females work and party in very same sex grouping in Japan – the couple culture thing is rare. (females are reading the male stuff looking for 1) a quick dumb read 2) shipping ideas?)

    4) There is shojou for guys: Yuri pr0n. Just here for the skin, paying no attention to the fluff at all, nosirreeee Bob! (whut? Komura’s ALICE, they kept their clothes on. Cheated…)

    Ps WTF is Kuzu no Honkai ???

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      1) Hahaha! 😆
      2) That’s part of the melodramatic aspects combined with Japanese cultural influences.
      3) I don’t disagree there.
      4) Yeah, I’ve heard of that. Certain mahou shoujo titles were said to be geared toward a male audience back when I was exploring the genre years ago. I was told this stemmed from guys lusting after the Sailor Moon babes, even though that was targeted at girls.

      As to Kuzu no Honkai, I don’t know anything about it. I think it is a seinen title.

  4. Wesley Nichols says:

    Yes, I know that in Japan, there’s a notion that the men miss the traditional male/female roles in society. (And that is partially what I think is contributing to Japan’s critical birth rate crisis, but that’s another topic.)

    Is there a chance that you will write an article on this topic? I am curious about your views on this.

  5. Why the misogyny? Because these men are afraid to be called queer. Also, women are different and fear of the unknown is genetic. Learning about girls’ and women’s values can answer a lot of questions, like why is she mad, why is personal conversation so important, why is she so sensitive to perceived slights, et al. I love “kimi ni todoke” because the characters are so appealing. I love the girls. Eg, I would love to be loved by Sawako, and Ayane’s mother would be a terrific partner. Be courageous, guys, get in girls’ heads and learn about the better half.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      I may be too old and certainly not Japanese enough, but I wonder if Japanese men are really afraid to be called queer. These same men seem to have no problem fapping to the otoko no ko sub-hentai genre of boys looking like girls (traps) for the male protagonist to have sex with. (Well, if Genshiken Nidaime is to be believed, which I do.)

      • WMC says:

        Yeah, I was projecting my American bias, but some things are universal, like the fact that women are wired differently from men, to rabid feminists’ anguish. Could the aversion of Japanese men be due to fear of female political and social equality? Not my assumption, just a conjecture.apanese authors like Shinkai-sensei do terrific work, like his “The Garden of Words,” in which this issue doesn’t seem to be a problem. Also, for me public baths would be pretty embarrassing, but not apparently with Japanese men. And sex among family members doesn’t seem to have the intense taboo as in the states. I try to keep and open mind, but sometimes it’s difficult.

        • AstroNerdBoy says:

          Could the aversion of Japanese men be due to fear of female political and social equality?

          Well, there might be a lament of the loss of how Japanese society used to be set up and run.

          And sex among family members doesn’t seem to have the intense taboo as in the states.

          Well, outside of H stuff, there are still taboos. Cousins might not be seen as bad, but I’m not sure.

          • WMC says:

            Hard to believe low birthrate is culturally induced. If it is, Japan has a serious problem. Is it Japanese women’s reluctance?

            By te way, I think I’ve finally got a grip on why ghosts appear so often without any doubt about their presence. It’s Shinto, the way of the spirits. As soon as I realized that everything has a spirit, the presence of ghosts became just a corollary. There appears two ghosts that I really like in Japanese fiction. Marnie in the anime “When Marnie Was There,” and Kaori in “Your Lie in April.” Kaori is alive but not well during the bulk of the story about the lives of young concert musicians, Kosei and Kaori. She’s a quirky violinist and he’s a troubled pianist. In the last volume, Vol. 11, He must perform at an important event while an unsuccessful operation on Kaori takes place. She dies in the middle of his performance and appears very plausibly as the violin accompanist. What’s interesting is that she appears as herself when she had forced him to accompany her a year ago in a contest. Instead of just following the score, which is pretty much expected at such events, she jumps into her own spectacular interp. The crowd goes wild, but the judges frown. During the performance Kosei looks up sidewise from the piano at her and sees how beautiful she is. At his later concert, at the end of the book, Kaori appears in the middle just as she had been a year ago. They have helped each other. Kaori has brought Kosei out of his nonplaying and Kosei has given Kaori the chance to reach the audience with her music.

            The lie in “Your Lie in April” is Kaori’s She had lied about her crush on Kosei’s friend in order to be next Kosei. This is only revealed in her letter to Kosei that she writes just before the unsuccessful operation. She dies, he lives now successfully, and their spirits live eternally. Great stuff.

          • AstroNerdBoy says:

            Hard to believe low birthrate is culturally induced. If it is, Japan has a serious problem. Is it Japanese women’s reluctance?

            In my opinion, it is a combination of things. Japanese women have gone Western and rejected traditional Japanese roles for women. As such, many are more interested in material things rather than families. On the male side, they are still bound by Japanese tradition in terms of work and such. However, with Japanese women breaking with tradition, my sense is that Japanese men are fleeing to other sources to achieve female comforts, including hentai stuff, which can cater to any fantasy they want.

  6. WMC says:

    Thanks. In many manga the happy housewife still appears, often authored by a man. An exception would be “kimi ni todoke,” whose author is a woman, and who portrays Sawako’s mother as a stay at home mom. The author gets boys and men right, as equal protagonists with Sawako and her girl friends. But of course it’s fiction. A powerful teammate, who happens to be a beautiful girl, is one of my favorite things.

  7. sanchi says:

    if I can put this in the right words. How strong are the cultural values per each country? Japanese and Americans view male and female differently, and then add the ‘victorian’ or English morale codes to proper behavior to the american thinking. Strong male or female roles that have high separation by gender strengthen the conservative cultural norms, allows less experience on the other side. Manga can give a potential view or perspective or model of behavior for the opposite gender, and how they think, or see the world, which can draw that kind of audience, and also the readers compare what they read with their own gender.

    Then one goes even more mixed with the cross-gender mangas. I wonder if there are any demographics on that audience. Example, that cross-dressing Maids Cafe, or that manga where the male MC falls in a pond with magical properties of the last person that drowned in it, and changes from male to female anytime water/rain gets him wet… Ranma 1/2 or something like that.

    American is moving away from the ‘victorian’ concept of being totally covered up and nothing worn that is skin tight, to showing more skin or fan service in day to day activities and on TV. It has ratings to warn viewers of its context. But in Japan – not so much, and nudity isn’t as hidden or blocked out.

    Example: 70s samurai films from Toho.

    Japan shows the film having naked women, sex/rape, body parts cut off with spurting fountains of blue and red blood. No rating since Japan didn’t have any, where adults and kids can see it anytime. Zatoichi/Blind swordsman with Child as a example or most movies that had Toshiro Mifune (samurai) or Sony Chiba (ninja/Tokyo Detective) as the main character.

    In the US its at least a R for mature audiences, and even X for sexual content and language, where the age to see it is recommended and somewhat enforced.

    ‘Shin-san’ or in the US ‘Crayon’ (Cartoon Network), showing his butt and pen*s in a children’s manga and anime talking or obsessing about women in their underwear, or his mom’s boobs and butt or of other girls boobs or butts is covered or censored out of the US TV.

    So its kinda like setting what that society’s proper norm of behavior, and allows the reader into understanding or role model to what it takes to be a male or a female, a safe way and no embarrassing confrontations.

    • WMC says:

      Thanks. I’ve always liked the non-Victorian culture of Japan. It’s obvious in manga and anime that things are delightfully different. Their low birthrate still concerns me.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      When I lived in Japan, on Sunday late night, we used to watch some show that had hot, Japanese teen babes in skimpy bikinis. Often, Japanese porn actresses would show up and be topless. They’d review Japanese porn movies. However, those movies are heavily censored. It is illegal to show genitals an any form in Japan. From time to time, I read about raids on places in Japan selling uncensored porn.

      That said, when I lived in Japan, shounen manga and anime often had descriptive, topless nudity. Ranma 1/2 is one such title. Dirty Pair was another. Today, shounen manga has to have non-descriptive, topless nudity if nudity is used. I believe seinen manga still can be pornographic to a limited degree, to include descriptive, topless nudity.

  8. Krono says:

    Today, shounen manga has to have non-descriptive, topless nudity if nudity is used.

    Not true, at least not for any legal reason. Jump SQ is a monthly shounen magazine running series such as Blue Exorcist, Gate 7, Seraph of the End, New Prince of Tennis, and Twin Star Exorcists. It also runs To Love-ru Darkness, which routinely contains explicit topless nudity. Similarly one series currently running in Weekly Shounen Jump is Yuragisou no Yuuna-san. It’s a fan service filled romcom series, and while the topless nudity is censored in the magazine itself, the volumes for the series remove the censorship for the topless nudity.

    So it’s clearly possible, it’s just considered a risk to success that most series don’t care to take.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      Thanks a ton for correcting me here. I was aware of the To Love-ru franchise and knew it was ecchi. I didn’t know just how H it was until I looked it up, based on your post here. To Love-ru Darkness is pretty much softcore H. Ironically, while looking for UQ Holder spoilers, I stumbled into another softcore H shounen title called World’s End Harem. I have to say that this really shocked the heck out of me. I honestly thought titles like this (Kiss x Sis for example) were all relegated to the seinen market.

      Anyway, thanks for opening my eyes.

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