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3 Things Thursday: Shojo Manga

Welcome to a brand new weekly blog feature at Manga Bookshelf, 3 Things Thursday! For the inaugural edition, I’m going to begin by breaking the rules straight off.

In a recent Manga Out Loud podcast, one of my favorite manga critics, Ed Sizemore, mentioned casually that he hadn’t read much good shojo. While the definition of “good” is likely to vary greatly from critic-to-critic on a topic so subjective, I figured I’d start my 3 Things off by listing three currently running shojo manga I think are especially worthwhile. And since so many of my favorites are older manga, I’ll cheat a bit by also listing three “classic” manga I recommend as well. These are not to be taken as my “TOP ThrEE FAVORITES OF ALL TIME” by any means, but rather three of each that simply spring to mind. I do think it’s interesting to note that every single one of them is/was published by Viz Media. So here goes!


3 favorite current shojo series:

We Were There | Yuki Obata | Viz Media - Few manga out there have affected me on a personal level as deeply as this one has. From my review of volume one:

“What’s nice about this manga is its simplicity and quiet honesty … The characters’ greatest obstacles are themselves, just like in real life … To achieve this, We Were There takes popular manga stereotypes and turns them into real people. In place of the clumsy, helpless shojo heroine, we have Nana, who is exactly as awkward as any average girl entering a new school, no more, no less … In place of the brooding, dangerous love interest (or its inverse–the shining, popular prince), we have Yano, who is often thoughtless, occasionally kind, and though he is definitely hiding some real pain behind his carefree image, is mostly just confused about his feelings, much like most teenaged boys.”

More reviews here.

Crown of Love | Yun Kouga | Viz Media – This dark, complicated tale of ambition and obsession will be complete in four volumes as of November 2nd. From my review of volume one:

Crown of Love is the retelling of an older series by mangaka Yun Kouga, originally serialized in 1988. That series was only two volumes long, with an ending described by the artist as “abrupt.” … where Kouga succeeds, and stunningly so, is in her characterization. There are no shojo stereotypes here, despite appearances … The fact that the characters seem to know just how screwed up they are is what rescues them from being too disturbing to bear … As always, Kouga’s art is a highlight of her work. There’s something essentially cheerful and straightforward about her layout and designs that gives a story like this an even darker tone than it might have with a more overtly sinister look. Also, though the story is far from light-hearted, there is a clarity to Kouga’s visual storytelling that keeps it from becoming mired in its own weight.”

More reviews here.

The Story of Saiunkoku | Sai Yukino, Kairi Yura | Viz Media – A brand new favorite, this series got my attention immediately with its complicated characterization and strong female lead. From my discussion of volume one:

“Despite the fact that I’d heard positive buzz about this series … I admit I was more than skeptical. The manga’s opening chapter didn’t do much to sway me, either, with its gag sensibility and creepy romantic overtones … Fortunately, it quickly became clear that my first impressions were just wrong … though the story first seems to be crafted out of the same, tired tropes … each of these standard elements–the happy-go-lucky heroine, the over-the-top humor, the contrived matchmaking–becomes fresh and even insightful in Sai Yukino’s hands … Like all of us, the roles they each play with each other are the result of everything they’ve had to do to survive their lives so far. Nobody is perfect (or even perfectly evil, at least from what we’ve seen), and since flawed characters are generally the most compelling in any story, this makes for a very rich experience overall.”

Full discussion here.


3 favorite “classic” shojo series:

Basara | Yumi Tamura | Viz Media – This multi-volume epic is a must-read for any fantasy/adventure fan. It also features a fantastic female lead who manages to be both vulnerable and kick-ass throughout. From Michelle Smith’s review of volume 25:

“I admit it: I cried. At things happy, sad, and both at once. I’ve invested three years in this series and can happily say that it was worth it. I’m not going to give any details on how things go down, so suffice it to say that the ending is very satisfying. I must’ve reread the last few pages three times to savor all that Sarasa had accomplished … Basara is probably the best manga I have ever read. Thanks, Viz, for taking a chance on it.”

Does any more need to be said?

Expect a full-out ode to this series here sometime in the near future.

Banana Fish | Akimi Yoshida | Viz Media – I probably have written more about Banana Fish than anyone ever should, but this story of gang wars, organized crime, drug trafficking, and government intrigue actually is one of my favorite series of all time. From Making the case for Banana Fish:

“Sure, this story is about street gangs, organized crime, blah blah blah, but what it is really about is this relationship between Ash and Eiji, and how it changes them both throughout the course of the series … I finished volume 19 (and the post-series one-shot, Garden of Light) months ago, and it still sticks with me, the story of these two, haunting the back of my mind in some way all the time … My husband once asked me, “Is Banana Fish yaoi?” and my immediate response was, “I wish”. . . What I meant was that I wish I’d ever read a boys’ love manga as interesting and well-plotted as Banana Fish. I’ll take that a step further. I wish I’d read more manga in general as interesting and well-plotted as Banana Fish, and I read a lot of manga.”

More posts here.

Please Save My Earth | Saki Hiwatari | Viz Media – Everything I need to say about this series I’ve said before. “A group of teenagers who share collective memory through their dreams about their former lives as alien scientists observing earth from the moon?? You could not possibly come up with something more appealing to the twelve-year-old me.” From History of a Daydreamer:

“Four volumes in, I said to friends, “It’s like they removed my teenaged brain and stuck it on paper for all of Japan to read.” This only became more true as I continued through the series. The plot is dense and complicated, mostly revolving around the tangled relationships and jealous rivalries that extend far beyond the characters’ past lives and in to the present … What’s really stunning about this story is how well and how believably the young characters carry their adult past-selves. As far-fetched as some of the plot manages to get, I absolutely believed every word and look from these characters…”

Read it all here.

Readers: What are three of your favorite shojo series? Tell me in comments or in your own blog!

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Comments

  1. Somehow I just knew the three classic shojo would be Banana Fish, Please Save My Earth, and Basara in some order! Now if only Viz would do us all a service and publish them in Big, I’ve not read Basara before but I love the other two.

  2. Fun feature!

    Three current favourites:
    Shinobi Life
    Rasetsu
    Skip Beat

    And three finished, if not exactly classic, ones:
    Penguin Revolution (My love for this manga knows no bounds. Everybody says they like it but it never makes anyone’s list of favourites.)
    After School Nightmare
    Fruits Basket

    I’m only halfway through Banana Fish but I suspect it might have made the list if I had reached the end. Too many volumes to buy at once! I’m also really looking for the Story of Saiunkoku, I hope to get to it soon.

  3. judi(togainunochi) says:

    My current ones are Seiho Boy’s High School, Otomen , Natsume’s Book of Friends. My older(classic) ones Nodame Cantabile, Ouran High School Host Club, and Here’s Greenwood. I’m not sure if they had to be finished in category of classic, so I took liberties. I used one that might never finish, one that will finish soon, and one that was finished. Hope I’m not disqualified. :) This was fun!

  4. Ooh, fun feature and cool choices! It’s neat to hear what other readers’ three picks are too :D Everyone’s got a slightly different approach.

    I’ll go with Karakuri Odette, Kimi ni Todoke, and Dragon Girl (even though it’s not quite out yet) as my current series, and for classics, Kare Kano, Kaze Hikaru and I Hate You More Than Anyone. The last two are, like judi’s picks, not finished here (and at 28+ volumes in Japan, I wonder if KH will ever be finished anywhere) but they’re longer and slightly older series, and all three are titles I’ve read over and over again and love to death. I’m probably due for a reread of Kare Kano, as it’s been a couple years now.

  5. For me, older is almost always better, at least when it comes to manga! My three classic favorites are They Were Eleven, Swan, and From Eroica With Love, with an honorable mention for Itazura na Kiss. I’m not following too many current shojo titles, though I’ve been enjoying Your My & Secret and Sand Chronicles, and think The Story of Saiunkoku shows promise.

    • Oh, I particularly love They Were Eleven very, very much, so thank you for listing that one!

      • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

        I’m lucky enough to own Four Shoujo Stories, but I would kill for someone to put They Were 11 back in print in English, preferably in a deluxe volume with its eqaully brilliant sequel, Horizon of the East, Eternity of the West and the shorter gag comics about Tada and Frol’s Space Street.

        • I have it in Four Shoujo Stories *and* the original Viz floppies (which are cheaper and easier to find, I think) but yeah. I wish it would be rereleased for a new audience.

          • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

            You win ;) I think you’re right, that they’re easier to track down. I love all the stories in Four Shoujo Stories (only recently, upon re-reading it, did I really appreciate how smart Shio Sato’s Changeling was–I’d love to read more from her). It’s pretty frustrating being such a big fan of 11, and not being able to read the sequel (I haven’t even found a basic plot synopsis in English–so can just try to figure out what I can from the pretty art).

  6. And how I overlooked Kaze Hikaru escapes me… but that would be at the top of my list of ongoing titles.

    • Oh, I’ve thought of several titles that I should have listed in my top three, but I figure we just go with the moment. :D

      • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

        Would it be too pedantic to suggest that Kaze Hikaru is josei, not shoujo? Of course if that’s true I guess a number of manga mentioned (like 7Seeds which also is a Flowers title) would be victim as well…

        • I’ve been avoiding making any comments like that, since I intended this exercise just for fun. I’ve seen quite a few josei titles mentioned so far (and even one seinen title in an offsite post), but I’ve just been letting it go. :)

  7. Well, I’m honored that’s for sure. Thanks for the list.

    I have read They Were Eleven, although I thought it was shojo for some reason. I’ve read and I love Drunken Dream. Look for a review soon.

    Now I need to take notes.

  8. Ongoing favorites:
    1. Kaze Hikaru – The center of my manga universe. Deeply historical, with wonderful characters and a manga-ka who geeks out over her subject.
    2. Ouran High School Host Club – It’s wrapping up so satisfactorily, yet staying true to itself.
    3. Butterflies, Flowers – I know it’s technically josei, but it’s SB here. It would be creepy if not for its crazy sense of humor, which makes it my current favorite, trashy-ish read.

    Classic:
    1. Kodocha – Pure goofy, all-ages crack, and wonderfully adapted.
    2. Swan – I was just falling in love with this series as CMX announced their closing. Still images that manage to capture movements, and unlike some other manga of its time that I’ve read, the emotions aren’t so overpowering that they derail the story.
    3. Fushigi Yugi – Sailor Moon was my gateway drug, but FY is the hard stuff that got me HOOKED on manga.

  9. Eric Henwood-Greer says:

    I NEED to read Basara–everyone whose opinion I respect on manga tells me so. (I bought the first two volumes when they came out, but both were left outside by me right after buying them, and completely destroyed in a crazy rainstorm overnight–I was so upset and annoyed I think it’s stopped me from just buying them again). But YES to both PSME and especially Banana Fish (which I think is one of the top 3 translated mangas of all time). The fact that neither was a big hit–and that Banana Fish’s subject matter and art seem to mean that many of the mature shoujo fans who would most like it stay away, is seriously deeply upsetting to me. (I’m still annoyed Viz never even published the spin off volume, Private Opinion, though volume 19 does collect the other shorter spin offs). I place Akimi Yoshida up there with any of the “Magnificent 49ers” (Or Year 24 Group or whatever you want to call them), and really wish any of her other titles (Lovers’ Kiss is a shorter fave of mine) would be published in English. Criminal that both it and PSME are out of print.

    • Yes yes yes you need to read Basara. :)

    • Oh, and yes, I want Private Opinion very much. *sigh*

      • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

        Besides my anger at the Rain Gods for destroying my early vols of Basara, I admit due to funds and all the unread manga sitting on my shelf, I’ve been hesitant to delve into such a LONG series. (I do have some random vols I found for under a dollar of the French translation, but I assume picking the title up at vol 14 wouldn’t do me much good). But I think I should put it next on my list (especially since I know with these longer titles from Viz there’s a tendency to have random volumes go out of print and become near impossible to find).

        And yeah, Private Opinion, sigh. I’m surprised it hasn’t even been scanlated–and my fall back for so many manga not out in English–to read them in French-0-won’t work here because unfortunately Banana Fish didn’t seem to be a big hit there either. They published the same 19 vols as us, but no Private Opinion, and even those vols are out of print (Kata for a while promised they were going to release Akimi Yoshida’s excellent looking Yasha, but it seemed to be dropped).

        What you said about the characters of Banana Fish really staying with you is true for me. I really should re-read it (I think I’ve already read it at least twice), because the actual convulated plot twists and details are extremely hazy for me. Yet many of the scenes and emotions, particularly some of the quiet ones Akimi handles so masterfully, have really stuck with me.

    • I think you’d love Basara a lot, Eric. :)

  10. It’s kind of shocking to look at my “still collecting” shelf and realize…there’s not a lot of shoujo on there. How did that happen? O.o It’s not like I don’t have a mile long list of shoujo I want to read; I just don’t have the money to buy them! Well, here’s my list for my favorite current series anyway:

    1. NANA – Love, love, love, love, love x infinitity.
    2. Rasetsu – It’s got hot guys and exorcisms — a winning combination in my book. Plus the love triangle between Rasetsu, Yako, and Kuryu just keeps getting better with every volume.
    3. Butterflies, Flowers – I’m kinda hesitant putting this one on the list. Not only is it technically josei being disguised as shoujo here, it’s not really one of my favorites either. It’s funny and sexy, and I like it well enough, but, yeah. Kind of just listing it so I’ll have a number 3.

    As for complete series:

    1. Fruits Basket – My favorite series ever!
    2. Ceres: Celestial Legend – I’m a huge Yuu Watase fangirl, and in my opinion, “Ceres” is definitely her masterpiece.
    3. High School Debut – A high school romance that is fun and refreshing, with one of the best manga couple ever: Haruna and Yoh. It just makes me smile.

    • It’s kind of unbelievable that NANA didn’t end up on my list, considering how much time I put into talking about it, so I’m very glad others have been mentioning it!

      • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

        NANA would be on my list (which I’m afraid to create and commit to) as well, although a part of me already worries about whether it can be listed as on going… (*Makes puppy dog eyes at Yazawa-sensei*)

  11. three faviourte Shojo sereis

    Wish by Clamp
    Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya
    and Clover by Clamp

    • Yay CLAMP!

      • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

        I think I’ve turned my back on CLAMP ever since I realized that they’re never gonna finish X–which (along with Tokyo Babylon) was one of my first manga loves. Yes, yes, completely silly I know. Still, recently I found all of Wish for very cheap, and picked it up, and was unexpectedly utterly charmed by it.

  12. Well, most of my favorites have either a) already been mentioned or b) were never (properly) published in English … let’s see what I can dig up anyway …

    The gateway: Mars by Fuyumi Soryo. My hook into shojo. I’ve revisited it recently, and if I were to read it for the first time it would probably not be a favorite, but it has a bucketload of sentimental value.

    A favorite just for me: Dolls by Yumiko Kawahara. I like having at least one favorite that is nobody else’s favorite (I don’t want to have the exact same tastes as everyone else) and for shojo this is the just-for-me favorite. I love the art-style, and while I don’t like all of the stories equally, there are enough that I love to elevate the entire series. And yes, I like it more than Pet Shop of Horrors.

    Recent discovery: Gakuen Alice. I think it’s too early to say this is a favorite of mine, but I just started, and I want more.

    • Oh, I’m so happy to see someone list Mars!

      • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

        I’m in full agreement in regards to Mars. I admit, if I re-read it I probably wouldn’t be quite as enchanted (although since reading and loving Fuyumi Soryo’s ES and some of her Cesare, I’m a bigger fan of the manga-ka than ever). But at the time it came out, there still was so little int he way of translated shoujo manga. I already was enjoying, for what it was, Peach Girl, but then came Mars which was the first *serious* shoujo romance I can remember reading in English. Back then, I seriously thought that type of shoujo would never catch on in English, so it was a great joy to have. Now, of course, high school romance shoujos are a dime a dozen, so Mars doesn’t seem as unique (though I do think it’s still one of the better examples of the genre that we have).

  13. Wow, anyone who says that can’t have been trying very hard.

    I’m actualy not following that many ongoing shoujo series right now, but my current favorites are Kimi ni Todoke, 7 Seeds, and Aozora Yell. Kimi ni Todoke is available in English and has a ton of positive reviews, so I won’t really go into it here, but it just makes me sparkly-eyed and heart-bursty every time I read it. It’s so adorkable. 7 Seeds is by the author of Basara and is another post-apocalyptic adventure series, this time a survival story set directly after a natural disaster that kills almost everyone on earth. Five groups of young people were cryogenically frozen and are thawed automatically when the sensors deem the earth able to sustain life again. It’s really, really good. If you have read Basara, you know what an amazing story she is capable of telling, and IMO this is even BETTER. I really hope it eventually comes out in the US, because I would love for non-Japanese speakers to be able to read it. Aozora Yell is the current series by the author of High School Debut. I have loved everything she’s written, including her first series, Sensei!, which has not been released in English. Aozora Yell is yet another sweet, innocent high school story, this time about a girl who joins the brass band at school because it’s always been her dream to play the trumpet at Koushien (the national baseball finals).

    Older favorites are hard to choose, because there are SO MANY. I loved PSME and Basara, for sure, but since others have nominated those, I’ll go for something else (and unlike the current faves, I’ll try to choose ones only available in English). Sand Chronicles, Itazura na Kiss, and Nana. Itazura na Kiss is a great shoujo comedy, not true old school, but it has a much older feel than more modern series, that’s for sure. Sand Chronicles is a wonderfully complicated story about friendships and love and the scars a parent’s suicide can leave. Nana…well, everyone knows Nana, don’t they? Talk about wonderfully complicated.

    • I *really* wish 7 Seeds would become available in English. *sigh* And I’m glad to see Kimi ni Todoke on someone’s list!

      I was saying to David over in his blog response, I’m glad I limited my lists just to 3 each, because that left so many great series for other people to talk about! Also, I really need to get around to reading Itazura na Kiss.

      • 7Seeds was one of the “not published in English” titles I was thinking about. I have it in Japanese, but my Japanese-reading skills are terrible (though it has made me appreciate just how much Tamura uses pictures instead of words to convey the story). If only the French edition were not so expensive to buy & ship (and caught up with the Japanese) …

        • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

          I’ve been wanting to read 7Seeds for a while… Didn’t realize there was a French edition, hrmmm. *adds to list* Sara, I see that Amazon.ca has it (they’re hit or miss when it comes to French manga, but I did get the great translations of Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles and Oniisama E, as well as Ai Yazawa’s underated Last Quarter from them. Some other titles I haven’t found listed, only on the much more expensive amazon.fr). I live in Canada, so it may be different for you, but Amazon.ca’s prices and shipping costs are really quite reasonable, if that helps.

          • Thanks. I live in the other CA (California) but I have also found amazon.ca’s shipping to be reasonable and have sourced all of my Riyoko Ikeda through them. In the past, they didn’t sell 7Seeds. I guess that changed. Wow, they even have the drama cd for sale (though I suspect it’s in Japanese). Anyway, it’s only up to Volume 9, and I can follow the story well enough (with some helpful plot summaries available online) that I don’t think it’s worth the expense if I can’t get a volume I haven’t read already.

            But I highly recommend picking it up!

  14. Ah, anyone who knows my shoujo manga sensibilities, knows that I’ve grown bored with We Were There, and basically hated Crown of Love.
    So here’s some 3 from me. :)
    3 current faves:
    Skip Beat!
    Ouran High School Host Club
    Sarasah (slipping some manhwa in there)

    3 past faves:
    Fruits Basket
    Angel Sanctuary
    Paradise Kiss

    • Oh, yes, I do have a copy of The Story of Saiunkoku sitting here, but have not read it yet. So I’m reserving my judgement there, though it sounds like something I’ll like.

  15. I had to ponder this for a long time. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

    Fave recent series:
    Kimi ni Todoke
    Kaze Hikaru
    High School Debut

    I note that I really want to read 7SEEDS and Aozora Yell from Travis’s list, so I suspect we have similar shoujo-y tastes! :)

    Classic favories:
    Basara, obviously
    Fruits Basket (David Welsh argued for its classic status, and I agree!)
    Antique Bakery (It ran in Wings, which places it on the shoujo/josei dividing line, but I think it qualifies!)

    Honorable Mentions:
    NANA (I love NANA, but I worry it won’t be finished)
    Boys Over Flowers and Marmalade Boy (I know they’re crackalicious at times but I love them anyway!)

  16. Ooh, great topic!
    1. Apothecarius Argentum: I love this series about the poisened Royal Apothecary and the princess he loves but can’t touch. I can’t sing its praises enough. I still want to hurt the people at DC who got rid of CMX and left me about 4 volumes away from its completion in English.
    2. NANA–the last volume made me want to cry. I hope Ai Yazawa is able to complete the series, but even if she isn’t, it’s still a masterpiece.
    3.Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden: the art is spectacular, the characters well-developed, the plot engaging, the emotions raw. A more mature, refined version than the original, from an obviously more mature and seasoned mangaka. I love it!

    Finished/completed in English:
    1. Please Save My Earth: I wrote Viz begging them to release this in a Big Edition. It’s an incredible series all the way around. I’d love to see the sequel translated, too!

    2. Lovely Complex: short boyxtall girl + humor= something I’d read even if it stretched 10 volumes more! Aya Nakahara’s funny bone hits all the right notes for me, and the central conflict can take place in any culture. Also, the live action movie is adorable! I’d love to see the anime, too!

    3.I’ve read to many to settle on a third…:( I have to give props to Fruits Basket for getting me hooked on Shojo to begin with. I loved it at the time I read it.

    I have recently begun Basara and all these positive reviews for it is getting me all excited! I’m currently on Vol. 4, but I think my library system has the whole thing!



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  2. […] (Manga Bookshelf) Beasi comes up with a fun feature, “3 Things Thursday.” The inaugural focuses on a category near and dear to my heart, shôjo manga. Melinda asks for folks […]

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