Shoujo is Good

Recently, debate about shoujo manga has centered around “girliness.” Although the word can have multiple meanings, in the context of shoujo it generally refers to pink hearts, sparkles, and school romance, all things you may very well see if you are to pick up a random volume of shoujo. Writers have been addressing how the girliness of shoujo is seen by people of all varieties, girls, guys, those intimately familiar with manga and those who hardly know anything, and any issues that arise from that perception.

The definition of shoujo manga comes into question as a result. Is shoujo defined by those aesthetic and thematic tropes, or is it something much broader? Is shoujo manga simply any comic that runs in a shoujo magazine, no matter the content? But while these are all very good questions, I feel like they are obscuring a very important idea that is more fundamental to manga and storytelling in general.

Setting aside whether or not shoujo is limited by tropes, average girls and impossibly handsome men covered in hearts and sparkles do not preclude good storytelling. It may not be someone’s cup of tea to read about the trials and tribulations of a 14 year old’s love triangle, but there is no ironclad rule stating that such a story cannot be not only entertaining but also legitimately good and able to speak to a wider audience.

Brigid Alverson equates shoujo manga with trashy romance novels, stating, “You read your chosen genre for relaxation, not literary quality.” While I do read shoujo for my own comfort, I also actively look for literary quality in it and am frequently rewarded as a result. I do not believe that it is some rare feat to find strong storytelling and strong characters in shoujo, whether it’s from the 70s or from this past decade, and that is also largely because I do not see shoujo as being limited by convention.

I’m not saying that one should just accept everything without a critical eye, but simply that when the reward is less stellar, one should not necessarily condemn the tropes from holding back shoujo, but perhaps view it as an individual story failing to use those elements in an effective manner. The potential for good, strong fiction is still there and the fact that the heroine’s parents died, conveniently leaving her to fend for herself, is not a death sentence for quality.  It is not only possible to appreciate both shoujo which has all the trappings of “girliness” as well as shoujo which eschews that aesthetic, but to appreciate both on equal levels. Just because you enjoy the unorthodox doesn’t mean that the orthodox is inherently worse or vice versa. Shoujo is both and everything in between, and in every case, whether the manga are adhering to convention or not, good stories can be told, and found, on a regular basis.

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5 thoughts on “Shoujo is Good

  1. That’s only fair, isn’t it? The guys get a lot of fanservice and fluff content as well. But still, I think the problem is that anime has become segregated into “shoujo” and “shounen” and so forth. It makes all of these tropes something to be expected, rather than something to be condemned. Much like pantsu flashes and gainaxing.

    Frankly, though, I can understand that younger audiences aren’t necessarily going to care for things like plot or content, and that marketing is going to trump meaning for money. It’s just a shame that I have to sit through endless annoying and over-repeated gimmicks to get something decent these days, shoujo or otherwise. It was so much easier back when I didn’t have many anime under my belt.

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  2. Comparing shoujo manga overall as equivalent to trashy romance novels is like saying all VN adaptations are limited to harem fanservice and all shounen manga are unending and filled with hopeless amounts of filler to satisfy the MC’s skyrocketing power levels… >.>
    Lol close-mindedness.

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  3. The curious thing is that the term “shoujo” is technically a marketing term rather than a straight genre category – i.e. this is a shoujo manga because the target audience is young girls (elementary and high school) – sparkles and bubbles are only in there because that just happens to be what a plurality of young girls like. That being said, the term certainly has morphed into something more of a genre label due to the similarities a lot of titles in the category share.

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    • Agreed, I think it’s supposed to be a demographic rather than a genre. However, it’s clearly associated with certain tropes and motifs, as is shounen/ seinen/ josei etc., etc.. What’s also interesting is that certain ‘shoujo’ titles are serialized in ‘shounen’ magazines (e.g.: some of Minari Endo’s works in Zero Sum), and vice versa, which I assume might be part of a bid to counteract some of these preconceptions and thus appeal to a wider audience.

      Any way, as with any ‘genre’, it’s not so much about the affection/ disdain for some of these typical tropes and motifs, but how they are used to tell the story…

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  4. In the end, isn’t most manga (shoujo or otherwise) read for “relaxation” rather than literary quality? I enjoy manga as much anything, but it’s not the best medium for great literature. Neither is that it’s purpose, I don’t think.

    That said, my favorite manga are those that surprise the reader by being smart. When a manga does this, it appeals to my want for a strong read, just as well-drawn manga appeals to one’s artistic appreciation. But in the end, if I want to read a piece of great literature, I’ll pick up Steinbeck or some other great author over even a critically-acclaimed anime…not that I do much of this lately. :P

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