Give me land, lots of land

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.

Emma, by Kaoru Mori (CMX): period romance originally published in a seinen magazine, Monthly Comic Beam, which is also home to Yuji Iwahara’s King of Thorn (Tokyopop).

ES, by Fuyumi Soryo (Del Rey): character-driven science fiction, originally serialized in a seinen magazine, Weekly Morning, by a creator probably best known for her shôjo work, like Mars (Tokyopop).

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.

8 Responses to Give me land, lots of land

  1. Chloe says:

    I’m pretty sure Andromeda Stories had a run in “Duo,” at least the Asahi Sonorama version, but there might have been some serialization deal going on in Monthly Shonen Magazine too.
    That aside, I actually find the seinen label appropriate for most of the seinen works you touched on above (although, there’s no denying, seinen’s got quite a span.) Generally, when I look at seinen, it can be a combo of visual elements, plot elements and vibe in general- but doesn’t need all three per se, unlike shoujo or shonen, which can make it seem bewildering in comparison. Primarily, I think a lot of seinen is concerned with unravelling little bits of the human psyche for the reader, particularly in light of the placement of the reader demographic on the cusp of adulthood and youth. So, things like Translucent and Eden are both appropriate, as although separated by light/dark benign/mature topical matters, they still push their characters to their own little catharsis and thus offer up some aspect of human nature or morality for contemplation by the reader. That’s why you get cold hearted killers (Vagabond) and time space witches (xxxHolic) in the same bag.

    Conversely, you could just read the little label Viz puts on stuff…

  2. davidpwelsh says:

    That’s a really good analysis, and I think it applies equally well to ES (which is as much about the protagonist learning to connect with people as individuals as it is about saving them from danger) and Emma (overcoming societal constraints and emotional reticence to do the thing that will make you happy).

  3. jun says:

    That’s an interesting idea about seinen, Chloe.

    I admit to being anal-retentive about labeling, but I likewise am very eager to read and collect the best series out there, no matter what designation they may receive. I have examples from all four main demographics in my collection.

  4. […] David Welsh lists some manga that don’t fit comfortably into their (Japanese) assigned categories. […]

  5. Ed says:

    Hah! Wings is a josei magazine (as you noted it is marketed to 16-20 year olds… not shoujo age). If you were to look for these books in stores they would not be in the shoujo section (even if a title like Princess Princess, also from WINGS, would possibly fit into shoujo more than josei).

    I have always said seinen is simply mature manga. Which is why Yoshinaga Fumi’s latest is in seinen magazine Morning, along side Vagabond, Moyoco Anno’s Hataraki-man, a josei looking nurse manga called Nurse Aoi, a manga about kittens called Chi’s Sweet Home and my favorite a soccer manga called Giant Killing. The art might not look seinen, in some cases the art might look as simple as Azumanga Daioh, but the writing is definitely mature and challenging.

  6. Some “moe” titles (stuff featuring cute schoolgirls, mostly), which in Japan run in magazines aimed at teenaged boys or adult men, in North America are marketed to kids. Yotsuba& is one; In Japan, it runs in Dengeki Daioh, which is either Seinen or older Shounen, not quite sure. In my public library, Yotsuba& is in the children’s section.

    I love Yotsuba&, but I kinda try not to think to hard about the original audience.

  7. Matt Thorn says:

    Andromeda Stories was serialized in Asahi Sonorama Publishing’s monthly Manga Shônen, from the November 1980 issue to that magazine’s final issue (May 1981), and was then continued in Duo, the magazine that replaced Manga Shônen, from it’s founding issue (October 1981) to November 1982. Yeah, more info than you would ever want or need, but what can I say? I’m a geek. The long and short of it being that Andromeda Stories is classified as shônen.
    Magazines like Beam are classified as seinen by default (which is to say, they contain R-rated material, but do not use such labels as seinen or josei), but whereas as most seinen magazines are clearly male-oriented, Beam probably has more female readers than male. Even Shônen Jump is jokingly referred to as Shôjo Jump, since it is widely believed (though the editors won’t ‘fess up) that girls and women now comprise a majority of its readers. This is why most of Shônen Jump‘s manga today include plenty of easily-yaoi-ized, hot guys as supporting characters, even if the protagonist is a dopey kid like Luffy or Naruto. Some, like Death Note and The Prince of Tennis forgo the traditional dopey-kid protagonist entirely and are just hot guys on parade. (“Hot,” of course, being a subjective matter….) The irony is that editors have to be subtle about this kind of pandering to female readers, not just because it could alienate male readers, but because a lot of female readers, enjoying the voyeuristic thrill of peeking into a male world, would be turned off if they knew the editors were deliberately catering to them. Go figure. Compare that situation with the one in the Anglophone world, where female readers of superheros angrily demand that editors explicitly cater to them. Funny animals, we homo sapiens.

  8. Matthew says:

    I read in that guide to manga that came out in the fall that a bunch of the horror manga that comes out was originally aimed at girls when it was publishedin Japan. BUt now it’s being aimed at…I have no idea. Nobody as it sells pretty poorly it seems.
    And I’m totally amused at the person mentioned prince of tennis in the comic above, as it only sells to girls in our shop.

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