Gender and the Manga Industry The manga (aka comics) industry makes up about 40 percent of all publications in Japan. In fact, Japan`s comics industry is probably the largest in the world. Whether is is sci-fi, adventurue, baseball, romance, gourmet cooking or S&M, one can always find a manga catered to his or her personal interests. Coming from a western perspective, where comics were traditionally written for boys, it intrigues me how important a role mangas play in the Japanese way of life.
Whether it is on the train, in salons, or coffee shops, one can always see a person sneak a peak at a manga of his or her own choice. Therefore, I can`t help but think that such a powerful medium must have a huge influence on gender in the Japanese society. In such a highly gender differentiated society, how does the widely popular medium of manga reflect the female role in the culture? Can we see mangas as a reflection of society`s gender status (through the characteristics of girl and boy manga)? Do females also behave according to the way gender is portrayed in the mangas?
In my essay, I will analyze the difference between Shonen and Shojo mangas, what underlying message they convey, what Shojo manga is specifically about, why women (old and young) enjoy reading it and lastly, what does it say about the reality? Although mangas can be traced as far back as the 12th century, it is during the 19th century that mangas became an important part of people’s lives in Japan.
Manga is a realm where artists reflect social change through the creation of new ideograms and fashionable stories. In such a repressed and regulated society, mangas were first used as a form of complaint.
In this medium, artists were able to express their personal attitudes towards the society. In addition, mangas also function as a means of entertainment and relaxation. Japan`s lifestyle can be hectic and stressful, leaving no time for the people to incorporate leisure activities with their families. Mangas, therefore, became a cheap way to forget about the stringent society Japanese people must conform to. Through humor, science fiction, romance and sexually and violently oriented stories, the constantly repressed citizens can escape, at low cost, this over-informed consumer society.
So what does mangas reflect about gender issues in the Japanese society? First of all, mangas are divided into 2 main types – Shonen manga and Shojo manga. While Shonen manga is written mainly for boys and tends to focus on action, Shojo manga is more concerned with feelings, moods, relationships and situations. Shojo manga focuses on young ladies and the relationships they encounter in life. This main difference in the style of the mangas obviously reflects the personality of men and women. The tone of the mangas is different for different genders to educate them differently and offer different perspectives.
In Shonen mangas, the main character is usually a heroic boy that is out to save the world. The boy acquires a certain superpower and encounter great obstacles at the end. This symbolizes and teaches what boys can enable themselves to do. It helps boys believe that they are special and can solve any hardships in the society. In a more extreme extent, it gives boys the idea that they, as the young generation, can rescue Japan and cleanse it. In short, Shonen mangas became a realm that generates ideas to help the imperfections in society.
It reinforces the masculinity traits that boys are suppose to acquire and represents how boys should handle problems. This shows the male responsibility and dominance in society. Shojo manga on the other hand serves a different purpose for the women. One important note of Shojo manga is that it is created by a male artist. The father of Shonen manga, Tezuka Osamu, also started the Shojo manga genre. This shows that Shojo manga is created from a male perspective and thus, reflect how women should be in the society or in the mind of a male. In the manga, the girl characters have huge eyes and small mouths.
Girls are portrayed as “cute” in the mangas and are more involved in emotional problems rather than action lives. The earlier Shojo mangas are mostly written in a European setting, where the main character lives in a big European house and meets the ideal white prince and falls in love. In a negative way, Shojo mangas can be analyzed as a medium that reinforces female inadequacy or incapability. It can reflect the submissiveness of women in the Japanese society. In addition, it shows that women focus on nothing but romance, love and unimportant things in life.
In my mind, Shojo mangas provide an illusion for young ladies that teach them how to dress, how to look and how to win popularity among men. However, from a more positive perspective, it creates a realm for women to escape society. In a highly repressed society, Shojo mangas became a space where it can replace adolescence and reclaim childishness. As girls become women in the Japanese society, they have a huge responsibility in being the “wise mother and good housewife”. Their success is reflected by how well they take care of the household.
Therefore, it puts a big burden on women as they become older. Shojo mangas are popular among both young and older ladies because it resist this notion of responsibilities to attain freedom. It is only in Shojo mangas that women can escape a second of reality and reconnect to the dreamy and childish world they long to live in. Mangas become a private space where they can dream of the magic fantasy world and attain happiness. Interestingly, while Shojo mangas reflect gender roles in the Japanese society, it also helps women escape this restricted role in society.
As I find the connection between gender roles and mangas, I can`t decide whether it is a positive or negative influence on gender roles. But I am certain that it does reflect gender differences in the Japanese society. However, the Shojo genre is changing. The storyline is not only about girls and romance but about girls as action heroes. Sailor Moon, for example, promotes girl power and proves that women are also capable of rescuing the world. In addition, the cute female physical characteristics are slowly changing. Women characters in Shojo mangas are acquiring more male traits and stronger personalities.
Present Shojo mangas are described as transgender mangas where it is hard to make the distinction between male and female. Besides the two main types of mangas in the manga industry, a third realm of merging genres is slowly approaching. A mix between genders (both physically and emotionally), mix between powers and tones of the mangas show a new revolution in the manga industry. This shows a response to society with the notion of gender. If my hypothesis, the idea that mangas reflects gender roles in society, is true. Can we see this merger of genres as an implication that the importance of women is rising in the society?