In linking to the Comics Worth Reading discussion of available josei manga, Simon (NSFW) Jones asks a really interesting question:
“Given the generally poor understanding of manga genre terms (which more often than not reflect marketing and publication roots than actual content) in the U.S., how haphazardly these terms are used by publishers, and how some books simply cannot be marketed the same way here as in Japan because of differing cultural limitations and tastes, should we even bother using these words?”
There are plenty of relatively recent examples of books where the original demographic designation (shôjo, shônen, josei, or seinen) isn’t really useful or doesn’t translate. Particularly fluid is the seinen designation, which can certainly be applied to violent and/or sexy action epics but is actually a lot more inclusive in terms of genre, tone and style.
(Q: What do xxxHoLic, Eden: It’s an Endless World!, Vagabond, and Gon have in common? A: All were originally serialized in seinen magazines, or at least that’s what Wikipedia would have me believe. I’m certainly open to correction by people who know better, though I’d also bet I could find four equally diverse examples from the seinen category.)
So, yeah, I think I tend to agree that these demographic designations lose something when they’re applied in a system that isn’t driven by the same kind of publishing structures. It’s not exactly a “this way lies madness” problem in the grand scheme of things, but the categories don’t always stand up to that much scrutiny. And seriously, I hope people take the original demographic categorizations with a grain of salt, because there are great books in all of those categories, and I think you’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t read something just because it’s “for girls” or “for men.”
Here are some moments in questionably useful categorization:
Translucent, by Okamoto Kazuhiro (Dark Horse): romantic dramedy about school-aged kids originally published in a seinen magazine, Comics Flapper, but marketed by Dark Horse (quite appropriately, I think) for people who enjoy books from the shôjo category.
Antique Bakery, by Fumi Yoshinaga (DMP): character-driven workplace comedy, originally serialized in a shôjo magazine, Wings, that skews slightly older than you might expect (16 to 20) and seems to have a boys’-love bent. Often categorized as yaoi or shônen-ai because it one of its main characters is gay and because a fair chunk of Yoshinaga’s work has been in the yaoi category, it’s also been tagged as josei by some (including me) who hadn’t taken the time to look too deeply into its origins.
Andromeda Stories and To Terra…, by Keiko Takemiya (Vertical): character-driven space opera by a creator who is part of the Year 24 Group of pioneering women manga-ka who essentially redefined shôjo manga and gave birth to the boys’-love category. To Terra… was originally serialized in a shônen magazine, Gekkan Manga Shônen. (Does anyone know what the original home for Andromeda Stories was?) Personally, I think that Takemiya’s crossover success is just another reminder of how awesome she is, and that shônen can be just as emotionally nuanced as manga from any other category.
The Drifting Classroom, by Kazuo Umezi (Viz): hyperactive horror originally published in Weekly Shonen Sunday, released in English as part of Viz’s Signature line with a “Mature” rating. I swear, all you need to do is lovingly render the indiscriminate slaughter of children, and suddenly it’s not suitable for kids any more. Seriously, this does illustrate (in a somewhat extreme fashion) the fact that age ratings do tend to bump up when a book is licensed for release in English.