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Pick of the Week: Women’s Manga

MELINDA: Something that’s been on my mind, lately, thanks to a yet-to-be-released podcast David and I recently participated in as well as the relative shortage of adventurous new readers for this month’s Manga Moveable Feast, is how difficult it can be to successfully sell manga intended for female readers, especially adult women. So, given the somewhat lackluster selection this week at Midtown Comics, I asked my fellow critics of the battle robot to join me in recommending a few series for women that tend to get overlooked.

I’ll begin with a recommendation for one of my favorite romantic comedies, Tomoko Ninomiya’s Nodame Cantabile, originally published in Kodansha’s Kiss magazine, and partially released in English by Del Rey Manga. Though the series was very popular in Japan, it never really took off here, leaving its run perilously stalled at 16 volumes (out of a possible 25). The story follows a group of music students through graduate school and into the beginnings of their careers, particularly eccentric pianist Megumi “Nodame” Noda and aspiring conductor Shinichi Chiaki. Though complaints can (and have) been made about the conservative nature of the students’ musical repertoire, the series’ music school setting rings stunningly true to my own experience, and its exploration of ability vs. ambition is pretty hard to beat. More than that, though, it’s terrific romantic comedy that just gets better and better as the series goes on. Though there’s been no inkling at all that Kodansha Comics might pick up here where Del Rey left off, I’d personally walk around in a Nodame sandwich board if I thought that would help make it happen. Give us more Nodame Cantabile! Please?

DAVID: Okay, Hinako Ashihara’s Sand Chronicles (Viz) is technically shôjo, having run in Shogakukan’s Betsucomi, but I believe the estimable Ed Chavez of Vertical once described it as something along the lines of “stealth josei,” so I feel recommending it in this context. I also feel comfortable doing so because it’s flat-out excellent, following its heroine from early adolescence to womanhood, dividing its time pretty much equally among high school, college, and working life, which makes it something quite unique in serial comics, at least in my experience. The scope of the story gives Ashihara so many opportunities to really dig into Ann’s psyche, her milestones, and her choices, good and bad, and Ashihara makes the most of those opportunities. Does Sand Chronicles occasionally indulge in melodrama? Yes, it certainly does, but that melodrama is characterized by sincerity and urgency rather than cheapness and manipulation. The eight-volume core story is supplemented by two additional collections of shorts that give insights into supporting characters and really enhance the whole tapestry.

KATE: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my recommendation is Mari Okazaki’s Suppli, one of many casualties of Tokyopop’s demise. I’d call it “working girl manga,” but that has an unsavory connotation, so instead I’ll call it “career woman manga.” The story focuses on a twenty-something college grad whose dedication to her job tanks a long-standing relationship. Not surprisingly, Minami turns to work to fill the void left by her boyfriend, pulling all-nighters, pitching her own ideas, and becoming more involved with her co-workers’ personal lives. She soon discovers that the office is teeming with romantic prospects, and plunges into a steamy affair with a co-worker while carrying on an aggressive flirtation with another. Though the sudsy story is a big draw, the art is the real star of Suppli: it’s crazy-gorgeous, filled with some of the most sensual imagery I’ve seen in a licensed manga. (No one does floral imagery quite like Okazaki.) Don’t let Suppli‘s unfinished state deter you from trying it; it’s smart and sexy, and makes an awesome bathtub read.

MICHELLE: I don’t think Fumi Yoshinaga is in danger of being overlooked, but when it comes to manga for adult women, one simply can’t say enough about All My Darling Daughters. The short stories in this collection revolve around Yukiko Kisaragi, a woman whose still-beautiful mother embraces life after a cancer scare and impulsively marries a much younger man. As Yukiko struggles to accept that the relationship is genuine, the other stories flesh out the lives of her friends, acquaintances, and relatives, showing how words and actions can have unintended consequences and that sometimes dreams just don’t come true. That makes it sound like a downer, but really the message is an uplifting one, as Yukiko comes to realize not only that her mother’s new husband is good for her, but that her own life is pretty damned good, as well. Sniffles will ensue, but they’ll be the good kind.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Readers, what titles would you like to add?

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  1. Kudos to David for mentioning Sand Chroncles but let’s not forget Honey and Clover or Igauna Girl either.

    • David Welsh says:

      Those are both favorites of mine, but Sand Chronicles felt the most neglected to me at the moment. Still, excellent reminders, and thanks!

    • I gave serious consideration to picking Honey and Clover, because it is josei and I do love it to pieces. While I do think anyone would enjoy the series, I wound up chosing All My Darling Daughters because of its specific appeal to adult women.

    • Another one that I forgot that’s great is With the Light by Keiko Tobe that one was just awsome from the old school looking art and charcter design to the painfully realistic charcters it’s truly another great but underrated title.

  2. Waaaaaah, dreams don’t come true! It’s one of the things that I both love and hate about Yoshinaga. I have loved every single one of her works, but so often it doesn’t end the way I want. :( It ends the way SHE wants, which is how it should be, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
    I finally got my copy of All My Darling Daughters in last week, and I really enjoyed it, but I felt a little depressed during some of the stories. Especially that poor girl who is always abused by shitty boyfriends. But every story Yoshinaga writes is so beautiful. I tried to explain the book to my husband, but he just made fun of it and kept trying to pick at my arguments. He better watch himself, because dissing Yoshinaga in front of me is grounds for divorce. ^_^

    Also, Melinda, I will join your sandwich board begging if that’s what it takes!

    • There’s some quote from Joss Whedon (whom I adore) that I will be paraphrasing most liberally, but it goes something like, “You have to give the audience what they need, not what they think they want.” I love it when storytellers have the courage to do stuff like this. Yes, I might want that dearly departed character to come back to life. I might want it very badly. But if/when it happens, will it negate or cheapen what has gone before? I certainly don’t want that!

  3. Safetygirl says:

    I would happily join in on a Nodame-sandwich-board-wearing army, if it could work. Which is why realistically, I’m waiting for the French release to catch up. On another note: it’s the sort of property that I was able to introduce to friends who would generally not read manga/watch anime because it speaks very universally to music nerds.

    Ooku would be my pick – it’s a well-fleshed out world – it follows the events from history, but she’s made it all fit so well. She opens up with a great, strong female character, the shogun Yoshimune, and then turns away from her to go into the past. It’s a thrilling mix of history, costume drama (and oh, what costumes!), and political intrigue, as well as some very human stories about the women who serve as shogun. Big thanks to Viz for not only bringing this story over, but for giving each volume such a nice presentation – even the translation has grown on me.

  4. Is there hope for Nodame?

  5. Thank you so much for this list! I read Suppli a few years ago, but never got to finish it! It has an odd name and well, thank you for posting a review!

  6. Useful info. Lucky me I discovered your site accidentally, and
    I’m stunned why this coincidence did not happened earlier!

    I bookmarked it.


  1. […] The Manga Bookshelf team focuses on manga written for women for their Pick of the Week. […]

  2. […] I admit that the Manga Bookshelf crew took a look at the Midtown Comics list and abstained from voting, but the ComicList is always at least somewhat different, and there are two items I wanted to […]

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