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Fanservice Friday: A Girl’s (G)Fantasy

Many female manga fans regularly read shonen manga. This is simply a fact. Women are infinitely adaptable and generally omnivorous readers. We like romance, intrigue, action, drama, satire, comedy, tragedy, and sometimes, porn. Most of us spent our school days reading books written by men, the classroom philosophy being that girls would read books written for boys, but boys would rarely read books for girls.

Popular entertainment thrived on this principle also, ensuring that most film and television with any real money behind it would be geared to male viewers. We’d come along too, the executives figured. And sure enough, we did. In fact, in 2009, women dominated the movie-going market, though only a couple of big hits were deliberately made with us in mind.

Though the Japanese manga industry offers girls a veritable treasure chest by comparison, girls still spend a lot of time in the shonen section of the store, enough so that publishers deliberately court a female audience, even for manga created for boys.

Watching the industry from the English-language side, we’re not always privy to Japan’s subtler trends. Titles are generally chosen here with American tastes and habits in mind, and Japanese demographic categories frequently become meaningless. Casual fans rarely know or care how their favorite titles are marketed in Japan, let alone what magazines they ran in.

But for those of us who read a lot of manga, and who are likely to identify books with their publishers, certain things eventually become apparent. This entry concerns a trend that’s become particularly fascinating to me as a female reader who enjoys quite a bit of shonen manga.

All of the cover art displayed above belongs to manga series that run in the same magazine. That magazine is Square Enix’s Monthly GFantasy. Its demographic? Shonen.

So why are these shonen titles plastered with fanservice… for girls?

Some of the licensed titles that have run in GFantasy include Switch, Gestalt (both published by Viz Media), Black Butler, Pandora Hearts, Zombie Loan, and Nabari no Ou (all from Yen Press). Something all these titles share in common (besides a gallery of drool-worthy bishonen covers) is that they’re all written and drawn by female mangaka. Though women drawing shonen is hardly revolutionary, a collection of so many in a single magazine seems notable indeed. And with the kind of artwork that’s being displayed to market this manga, it seems likely that Square Enix has gathered them for a reason: to draw in a female audience.

Though each of the titles I’ve mentioned contain fanservice for girls, some of it is so subtle, you’d never know from a quick glance. Gestalt, for instance, contains as much (or more) fanservice for male readers, with its female lead, Ouri, prancing around in outfits that reveal a bouncing bosom any shonen manga would be proud to display. All the women in Gestalt are voluptuous, while most of its men are somewhat nerdy, especially glasses-wearing Father Olivier who begins as sort of the hero of the piece.

Yun Kouga’s trick is in text more than in pictures, where she reveals in the first volume that curvy Ouri is actually a man, lending new, exciting undertones to a scene like this.

Gestalt is an older manga than the others on this list, running from 1992 to 2001, which may account in part for its more traditional boobs and butts. Kouga’s artwork, too, though attractive, lacks the excessively pretty bishonen that dominate many of the magazine’s current series.

Still, the story’s gender-bending heroine provides titillation for both its male and female readers, while bringing to mind Deb Aoki’s recent question on Twitter, where she asked if Shonen Jump manga might be the gateway drug to yaoi.

Of course, some of GFantasy‘s titles are more subtle than others.

Yana Tobaso’s Black Butler, in particular, makes use of heavy BL subtext (as well as actual parody text as illustrated above) to please its female readers, particularly playing up the relationship with butler Sebastian and underaged Ciel, tapping into not just BL fans but shota fans in particular.

While that particular type of fanservice is not at all my cup of tea, elements of shotacon can be found even in my favorite GFantasy series, Jun Mochizuki’s Pandora Hearts, a serious fantasy tale that uses inter-dimensional time incongruities to create a gap of quite a few years between hero Oz and his devoted valet, Gilbert. Though the fanservice to this end is far more subtle than in Black Butler, the situation allows for lots of lingering glances and tense undercurrents.

Mochizuki’s real talent for fanservice, however, shines through in her character designs and costuming. She fills the pages of Pandora Hearts with long, tousled bangs and oversized shirt and coat sleeves, infantilizing even her creepiest characters in a spectacularly cozy way. Though this effect is used indiscriminately, both on male and female characters, the males’ top hats, long coats, and careless tendrils enhance the look significantly.

Sometimes, of course, her artwork is just very, very pretty.

In the face of all this girl-centric fanservice, the question burning in my mind has been, “Is shonen really the demographic for this magazine?” GFantasy runs other series, of course, that don’t fit the picture I’ve been painting, but even so, series like Black Butler or even Nabari no Ou seem especially crafted to please a female demographic. Yet a quick (and even not-so-quick) web search reveals no conversation on the topic whatsoever.

Unsatisfied, I turned to Twitter to seek out those more knowledgeable than I, and received some interesting responses from some folks who regularly buy and research magazines in Japan.

Sean Gaffney, in particular, had some interesting things to say. “… as the years have gone buy, and ‘comics for boys’ and ‘comics for girls’ have come more and more to mean ‘comics for people who have money to spend’, the genres have been busted down as the magazines cater to what people want to buy … And if that means pretty boys, hey, then pretty boys it is. Square Enix does not have a dedicated shoujo magazine, the way their competitors do … As a result, when they have a female friendly title, it has to go into one of those books.”

“But you’re right, no other title seems to lie about its genre more than GFantasy.”

And Tanbishugi pointed out these interesting facts: “Saiyuki and Loveless were originally serialized in GFantasy and later moved to Comic Zero-Sum which is a female-oriented magazine. Tactics also briefly ran in GF before it moved to another publisher.”

Also, regarding the BL background of some of the series’ authors, “Yana Toboso got her start writing Prince of Tennis doujinshi and Gackt RPS, and original BL under the pen name Yanao Rock. Naked Ape have also been fairly active in the doujinshi scene.”

And who do American publishers see as their primary market for these books? My request for insight from Yen Press received no response, but photos from last month’s Yaoi-Con suggest that women are good bet, at least for some titles.

So readers, male and female, do you read GFantasy titles? Manga Bookshelf wants to know!


Images copyright Yun Kouga, Peach-Pit, Naked Ape, Yana Tobaso, Jun Mochizuki, Square Enix, Viz Media, & Yen Press

Many thanks to David Welsh who proposed the title for this feature! Check back for more Fanservice Friday on the first Friday of every month!

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  1. Interesting and provocative way to kick off this series, Melinda!

    Rumiko Takahashi was the first manga-ka whose work I read, so I’ve always been partial to Shonen Sunday titles like InuYasha, Short Program, Arata: The Legend, and Kekkaishi, all of which are lighter on fanservice for male and female readers than the Square Enix titles licensed by VIZ and Yen Press. I’m certainly not immune to the pulchritude of characters like Miroku and Sesshomaru, it’s just a pretty small part of my reading experience. I think, too, my aesthetic preferences have never really canted towards beautiful men; I’ve always liked more rugged figures, and I’m more likely to find those in a seinen manga. Y’know… the Toshiro Mifune types.

    I’ve read most of the titles you discuss here, with the notable exception of Pandora Hearts. I know that’s a title you’ve been enthusiastic about — is it worth a look?

    • I think it would be, though of course I can’t be certain it’s to your taste. I’m a huge fan of Pandora Hearts, and though I’ve made a big deal over the pretty artwork, more than anything I just like that kind of fantasy. It’s pretty dark and creepy, and its premise is definitely surreal. It’s like… Fullmetal Alchemist, but on acid. ;)

      Thank you so much for checking out the new feature!

  2. I’m sorry, I was too busy drooling over pretty boys to read the article…..

    Actually, I enjoyed it. Good article, Melinda! I actually didn’t know all those titles were drawn by women. Sean mentioned that the genres have been rather smashed together. It may just be that simple. Women are a huge economic force. We spend most of the money (at least in America). So it makes sense.
    Back when Shojo Beat was getting canned, everyone was looking at the sales numbers, comparing it so Shonen Jump, which had double or triple the sales. The observation was that only girls read Shojo Beat, but both boys and girls read Shonen Jump, so many of the girls reading Shojo Beat were also reading Shonen Jump.
    Unlike Kate, I rather like the pretty boys (assuming they’re not overly done or overly effeminate; I do have a limit). I’m not reading Black Butler for the 12-year-old kid, you know. Sebastian is all sorts of swoon worthy. ^_^

    • Hee hee, thanks for coming by, Kris!

      Yeah, I remember that discussion around the demise of Shojo Beat. I wish that shojo manga got the same kind of crossover numbers that shonen manga does. *sigh*

      I’m not fond of Black Butler, but I can’t deny that I enjoy the prettiness of series like Pandora Hearts and Nabari no Ou. :)

  3. I’m actually more of a Dengeki Daioh guy myself yes im one of those guys (LOL) but seriously I read the first volume of Black Butler thought it was an interesting concept but it left me cold do to the translation. As far as Loveless goes while the title disturbs me the way some of the fans act is way scarier. But I have no real problem with Bishonen charcters in fact I find a totally “bad ass Bishonen.” More intresting than the more traditionally brolic Shōnen heroes like Goku or Ken from Fist of The North star because it’s far more satisfying for me to see a guy who looks like he could be arranging flowers rearrange some guy’s face.

    • What didn’t you like about the Black Butler translation? I don’t care for the series, myself, but not for that reason at all. So I’m curious. :)

      • Danielle Leigh says:

        awesome post, Melinda! My favorites up there are probably Black Butler and Nabari no Ou (Black Butler has grown on me over time, the first volume is uneven but I think it finds its voice a bit more in volume 2).

        I’m jumping in here to note about the translation…I’ve seen fans complain that they totally screwed up an important line. I think in the Yen Press manga Sebastian’s tag-line is something like “I’m a devil of a butler” when it was “I’m a helluva Butler” in scanlations (I’m totally basing this off what I think I’ve seen other fans discuss, I’m not that familiar with this work to be sure). The first just sounds awkward, while the second actually makes sense as a colloquialism and in the context of the story. Not sure what else, though, if other things are that “problematic” in the translation….

        • It’s interesting, I don’t even recall that as a tag line. Much more memorable for me was the stuff like, “I am the butler of the Phantomhive family. It goes without saying that I can manage something as trivial as this” (which is, in fact, what I quoted in my review of the first two volumes, heh).

        • This was actually a complaint I made as well, in my own review.
          I thought the pun on “I’m one hell of a Butler” was much more amusing than him coming right out and saying “I’m a devil.” I’m used to it now, but it really bothered me in the first volume.

        • When I went to the premiere of FUNimation’s English-language dub of the Black Butler anime at New York Comic-Con, they translated Sebastian’s signature line as “I’m one hell of a butler.” The crowd that showed up for this event, some of whom had stood on line in the hall for at least forty minutes before it started, was overwhelmingly female, including several who were cosplaying as the twelve-year-old Earl Ciel Phantomhive. Two of the latter took advantage of the question and answer period afterward to make in-character requests for the actor who did the English-language voice of Sebastian to help them tie their shoelaces and necktie, respectively. (After the second of these requests, which included the Ciel line “That’s an order,” the moderator intervened to rule out any further valet assistance from “Sebastian” due to the limited amount of time left for the panel.) The voice actor, though nice enough looking, bore little resemblance to the willowy bishounen Sebastian. But he delivered Sebastian’s lines in such an elegant British accent (despite having grown up in Texas) that the cosplayers’ eagerness to act out Ciel/Sebastian scenes with him was understandable.

          • It’s J. Michael Tatum! Who is adorable, and has a super sexy voice. I adore him. I’m a little ashamed to admit that that panel may have gotten me a little giddy. I’m not sure if I’ll be watching the series in English, as Daisuke Ono and Maaya Sakamoto are so perfect as Sebastian and Ciel. I love Tatum, but Brina Palencia is very hit and miss for me. But I’m glad to see they went with the “one hell of a butler” line.

      • Danielle Leigh says:

        also coming back to note that I think Black Butler has the same translator as the person who does Skip Beat! and I love her work there (that could be the editor’s influence as well, though).

        • Frequently, too, the Japanese creator specifically requests something be said a certain way. I always find it hilarious/slightly insufferable when fans of scanlations complain about supposed inaccuracies that were actually the author’s request. Which is not to say that this is one of those cases, because I simply don’t know. :)

      • Jsut some of the dilouge didn’t work for me or flow as well some of it was just a matter of personal taste like in volume one when Sebatian say’s “I’m a deamon of abutler” I thought it would of worked better if he said “I’m one Hell of a butler” but it’s been a while since I’ve read the sereis so I may be rembering it wrong.

  4. While I do read most of the series you mentioned and agree that they have very pretty boys, I think my favorite “fanservice” manga is Prince of Tennis :)

  5. Alethea & Athena Nibley says:

    We would like to contest that G Fantasy does not claim to be a shonen magazine. The Japanese Wikipedia article on the magazine says its target demographic is high school / middle school boys and girls. It goes on further to say it mostly centers on josei and seinen titles. (Sorry we couldn’t answer that question on Twitter; that’s what we get for sleeping in on the West Coast.)

    • Thank you for coming by!

      Can you tell me if that has always been the case? I realize as someone who does not speak Japanese, my ability to research this is limited. But English Wikipedia articles for the magazine & indeed for every single title serialized in it, past or present, list the demographic as shonen. That seems like a huge disconnect.

      Indeed, every single thing I can find about the magazine in English indicates it is shonen, though I’ll grant that there is very little to be found overall, which was part of the frustration that led me to write this article. :)

      • Alethea & Athena Nibley says:

        It may not always have been the case, since, as your first link explains, it did start as a special issue of GanGan. But on the other hand, the Japanese article on GanGan says that the target demographic is high school boys and girls, too. (It also says that the actual demographic is somewhat different, commenting on age rather than gender (a lot of college kids read it), so I think that if the target demographic had changed for either magazine, one of the articles would have said so.) It’s possible that G Fantasy was their way of saying, “No seriously, this can be for boys and girls.”

        There was also a short-lived spin-off magazine from G Fantasy called Stencil which was specifically a shojo magazine, but if G Fantasy started out as a spin-off of GanGan, then that might not mean anything.

        We can’t find the link to prove this, because it was really really old, but we remember finding something on the Studio Pierrot website, back around 2002-ish, that stated that the target audience for the Saiyuki anime was middle school and high school girls, and the anime started when Saiyuki was still running in G Fantasy. We also remember reading comments by Kazuya Minekura saying that she was surprised to find out that there were male fans of the series. So while we can’t find any proof other than our own memories, our theory is that it has always been that way.

        • I appreciate the information, so again, thank you. I am, though, still baffled that absolutely none of this information has ever made it into English. I researched this for *days* (it’s been a month since I put out requests for info on Twitter and to Yen Press, and that was after searching as hard as I could) and everything I could find staunchly said “shonen.” I couldn’t even find any conversations in which people discussed it as a question at all, aside from one comment in a random LiveJournal post where someone mentioned that they actively sought a crossover audience. Otherwise, every single person discussing these titles online in English has labeled the magazine as shonen.

          To be clear, I’m not questioning the accuracy of what *you’re* telling me. I’m just immensely frustrated at not having been able to find this information in English. I do not, however, aim to take my frustration out on you. :)

          • tanbishugi says:

            I can’t find anything about it on Square Enix’s site, but Japanese retailers (like this one: list it as a shounen magazine. Yana Toboso also refers to “Black Butler” as a shounen manga on her blog.

            • Alethea & Athena Nibley says:

              Ha ha, we can see why it’s so ambiguous. (Don’t worry, Melinda, we didn’t feel attacked at all. We’re constantly frustrated by the lack of definitive information on the internet ourselves.)

              Anyway! We’ve become obsessed with finding the right answer, so we took drastic measures. When you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s best to find someone who does and ask them. So we sent an e-mail to the G Fantasy editorial department. We’ll let you know if they get back to us!

        • I’ve often heard Saiyuki referred to as Josei. It took me by surprise the first time I heard it, actually.

  6. judi(togainunochi) says:

    I laugh because I read every one of the titles at the top of this article. Maybe I’m gender confused, but I read what I like and don’t pay any attention to the target audience. I can read Vagabond, Otomen, Skip Beat, Antique Bakery, and Dogs:Carnage and Bullets in a typical night. That’s probably why I read manga exclusively now.
    To me, I think Japan is still behind the times when it comes to stereotyping, or maybe it’s just more comfortable to put the square peg in the square hole. Perhaps, this is Square Enix’s way of recognizing that stereotype genres are out of date without putting up a headline stating “Hey, we think you’ll like this no matter what demographic you are.” It seems to me, economically, it would reach larger audiences.

    • Well, you know, I think the whole point of my article is that if you read these titles, you are likely not gender-confused at all. ;)

    • I always know the target audience, but it certainly doesn’t affect whether I like something. All the manga you mention sounds awesome to me. :)

    • I’m the same way, Judi, so your list (all series I like) made me laugh. I pretty much like anything unless it actively tries to make that impossible. I’ve read all the GFantasy titles above, and I’ve enjoyed them to varying degrees. I have noticed and wondered about the trend, but it’s bringing over good manga, so I’m fine with it. :) Thanks for starting some discussion about it. :)

  7. Of the titles you have listed, I’ve only read switch and Black Butler, although I’v been meaning to check out Nabari no Ou and may be persuaded by your description to take a look at Pandora Hearts too. I don’t really like the traditional shounen fight-defeat-train-fight-win sort of thing, so when I do read shounen it’s usually stuff like this. And there is no bishie too pretty for me. :)

  8. I’m male, and I read (and love) Nabari no Ou. It’s one of my favorite shonen series at the moment. For a ninja manga, there isn’t all that much action, but it’s still great. It plays out like a more mature Naruto in modern day Japan. I can’t say much else in G Fantasy interests me though. Things like Black Butler seem like fanservice for the sake of fanservice. While Nabari definitely has some Fujoshi bait, it’s not a priority. And I like that it’s self aware in a way. The main character is bishonen fujoshi bait, and he knows it, and he uses it to manipulate people in a comedic way. Anytime there’s fanservice, it’s always done in a wink-wink kind of way, I guess. The art style in the other G Fantasy series I know of are a little too froofy bishonen for my taste, but Nabari doesn’t really fall into that style as much.

    • I enjoy Nabari no Ou quite a bit. It’s the only manga that’s ever made me even remotely interested in ninja. Hee.

    • judi(togainunochi) says:

      With Nabari no Ou, I find it more character driven, especially when it comes to Yoite and Miharu. Their relationship is fascinating to me, with Miharu being a reluctant hero, and Yoite (to me) a reluctant villan. But there are more interesting relationships besides theirs.
      I really don’t see that much fan service, unless it’s because they are pleasant to look at.

  9. As a reader who’s bored by most straight romances (by “straigh” I mean stories where romance is the main point by far, nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the characters) and who is annoyed by the posturing and bored by the endless fights in most popular shounen, stuff from GFantasy is right up my alley. Pretty boys certainly help but I care more about the stories. Nabari no Ou is a favourite from the ones you mentiones. While I like both Black Butler and Pandora Hearts, especially when they’re concentrating on the dark stuff, their sense of humour doesn’t match mine so the jokes more often break the mood than amuse me. I haven’t tried Gestalt and really disliked Zombie Loan. Switch I liked enough to collect it all. Interesting thing about switch, the art style is, in my eyes anyway, distinctly different from most manga stuff. I wouldn’t really call it pretty, even if the individual characters are not bad looking at all.

    Actually I went and looked up (at Baka-Updates) what else Naked Ape has done, since I knew only about their current josei title Dolls, which runs in Comic Zero-Sum. They also have a new series in Kodansha’s new shoujo magazine Aria. Last year there was a oneshot published in Jump SQ and a one-volume horror story in something called Comic Kwai. They’re quite mobile with genre and publisher it seems.

  10. Hi Melinda! I was at yaoi-con this past weekend and was exposed to Black Butler for the first time! The cosplay for the characters was so compelling that we ended up watching the first few eps of the anime in the hotel room later that night.

    After the obligatory explanations of “WTF is going on?” (because I find anime frequently near incomprehensible in the beginning) and then subsequent exclamations of “Jeez, how old is this kid anyway??”, I finally said to Tricky, “This is a romance, right?”

    And she, having seen more of it than me, gave me this look of, “Uh…. no.” And I was like, “No seriously, how many books are in the series its based on? It must be a romance by the end of one of them.” Er?

    Then she said no again, and I was sad. LOL. Then two days later, they showed me eps of Junjo Romantica and I was happy again!

    Anyway, how are you?? Hope you are well.


  11. I actually talked about the demographic of G Fantasy to some people recently. Notably because of Black Butler, which apparently has a mostly female readership and I can only imagine few guys would like it.
    There are many things that do not make it to the english speaking world’s sources, demographics listed in databases are actually quite often wrong, sometimes on purpose.
    It just needs one person making a mistake (or just basing it on his personal judgement) when providing the first information. Everybody after that will then just refer to this first source, especially if it’s something so “small”. I’m a sure all these sources listing G Fantasy as shonen simply got their info from the same place.
    I’ve been wanting to edit the wikipedia article for some time, but the possibilty of it just going to be changed back without any further comment, as it happened to me too often already, if you bring in some new information that can only be sourced in japanese, demotivated me.

    Actually in Japanese book stores I have only ever seen Black Butler in the “for girls/ladies” section. Same for Pandora Hearts (eventhough that one I think can please male readers just as much).

    It’s however interesting to see that there seem to be some magazines moving away from the classifications of “shojo” and “shonen” and just use “fantasy manga (magazine)” instead.

    • It looks, however, as though this issue is ambiguous even in Japan. As tanbishugi mentions above, even Yana Toboso refers to Black Butler as a shonen manga in her blog & online Japanese retailers sell the magazine as shonen as well. So I suspect that the people categorizing it as shonen in English do have a basis for that.

      • Not that there is no basis at all, but until now it doesn’t seem like many different sources were used and compared (like obvious stuff as japanese wikipedia).

        I guess the retailers somehow have to classify it by themselves if the publisher doesn’t give any precision, since that is how their systems are organized a lot of times. F.ex. many bookstores have the sections “for girls”, “for boys” and so on. Same for some online retailers. So they just have to put it in one of these categories (while Black Butler ends up in shojo/josei section, Higurashi surely is in the Shonen/Seinen section).
        And then I guess it would be difficult to chose pure “shojo” for the whole magazine, considering all the series in it.
        Others, like, simply refer to the magazine as “fantasy magazine aimed at middle and high school students” or classify BB as “adult manga”, simply.

        Actually, Yana Toboso seems to want Black Butler to be a shonen manga, but apparently is having difficulties for people to recognize it as such. In her blog she is very happy if someone accepts Black Butler as shonen manga. In several posts she says things like “I tried to draw this picture shonen-ish”, “with this color it looks like shonen manga!”, “Black Butler won the price for best shonen manga at Japan Expo. I’m so happy they are accepting it as shonen manga!”, “BB was nominated for Shogakukans Manga Award, in the shonen section! Often when I tell people that BB is supposed to be shonen, I get an “eehh??” reaction. Now it seems I can proudly say “BB IS a shonen manga”.

        • If I was a bookseller, I’d put copies in both sections. Maximize the number of possible customers.

          But alas, I’m a librarian. I can only sneak YA books to the adult section if there’s a themed exhibit.

          • Reminds me of the back cover of the manga sudoku book (I don’t remember the exact title)

            “Attention booksellers! Double your sales! Put this book in the manga section and the games section!”

            However, I understand that inventory is a constraint for many off-line bookstores, so unless they think a book can sell enough copies in both section A and section B to justify sacrificing shelf space, they won’t do it.

  12. Ooh, so that’s why. I’ve been curious about the demographic of gfantasy. I’ve read all the titles above (except gestalt) from scanlations —-in my country there is no manga publisher—- ; their storylines as well as the bishounens made me think ‘is this josei?’ because they have the same ‘feel’ i got from mangas like amatsuki or dolls. The storylines doesn’t fit the usual shounen (as if there is the usual), and from what I’ve read they’re usually pretty… dark? emotional? But i like them. I can’t appreciate the bishounens though cause I’m a guy, haha.

  13. Hey! A female here!

    I actually read Black Butler, Nabari no Ou, and Pandora Hearts (my favorite). I might have missed one, but then that means I’m not that devote a follower. But I have been noticing lately that there doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference in shonen and shojo. In the things I read anyway…Maybe it’s just my reading choices.

  14. Amantaro Misaki says:

    I’ll have to check out some of these! I love Nabari No Ou c: it’s without a doubt my favorite manga series ^-^

  15. I like your term “gateway drug to yaoi”. God, I’m to deep in the rabbit hole now that I can’t see the light anymore.


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