So it’s that wonderful time of year again and it’s about time for me to shrink into a little ball and wait for Christmas to be done with.
Yeah, I don’t like this time of year, but DO I really like getting presents. Who doesn’t? I find giving presents to be a lot of fun too because you get to see the delight on someone’s face when you give them the right gift. But there is that problem of knowing WHAT gifts to get someone, especially if they’re into manga. There’s a Jewish saying about opinion that goes: for every five Jews there’s at least eight synagogues. For manga fans, it’s for every five manga fans there’s probably about two dozen series they’re currently reading and about four dozen more they’d love to start reading! While that kind of does help widen the search radius, it doesn’t make manga fans easy to shop for. ESPECIALLY shojo fans…
So you’ve got a girl (girls really like manga, what can I say?) that you need a gift for. There’s a TON of shojo titles on the shelves, then there’s josei series, even sunjeong manhwa titles and not to mention non-shojo series that girls also like to read. (But I’m not even going to touch non-shojo.) So I’ve compiled here a little list of good shojo manga to get for girls.
For the budding fan: Sometimes it’s good to start someone off slow. Kare Kano is a good manga to start with because it doesn’t have a lot of complicated references to Japanese culture that could throw off a beginner. Plus, Kare Kano is a very simple, but very engaging romance. There’s plenty of comedy mixed in with drama and, most importantly, it’s very realistic and easy to relate to. Even better, it’s a pretty good manga for younger teens as well as older readers because it starts off light and by the time you get to the more mature later volumes, you’ll probably have a few years on you. Tokyopop is re-releasing the series in omnibus editions, so you can pick up the first three volumes a lot cheaper than you could individually!
For the comedy-lover: There are plenty of shojo rom-coms out there, but never have I seen more love for Love*Com and its unique sense of character dynamics. Sure, the series is pretty typical when it comes to the cliches of shojo manga, but you will never see another couple quite like this. Also, Aya Nakahara has a fantastic sense of design which really shows in her art.
For the one who likes her shojo unusual: I picked up a copy of Love Attack! Junai Tokko Taicho! by Shizuru Seino yesterday and enjoyed it a lot. It’s basically about two kids who aren’t afraid to throw punch falling in love with each other, but what really gets me is the two of them acting like a bunch of thugs. Every once in awhile, one of them would pull a face or react to something and suddenly don a “yakuza” face. I couldn’t stop laughing. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Black Lagoon lately…
For the guy who LOVES shojo: What a small percentage of the manga-reading population! I wish more men read shojo, if only to be able to talk to guys about my favorite kind of manga more. Otomen by Aya Kanno has recently stolen my heart, especially since male protagonists are rare (the only other shojo mangaka I can think who uses male protagonists regularly is Ai Morinaga and another manga further down on the list.) Instead of going Morinaga’s usual route of hilarious character torture, Kanno makes Asuka Masamune pretty relatable. He tries really hard to be manly in order to fit in, but deep down he’s super-girly at heart. The series is hilarious and says a lot about self-acceptance and being comfortable in one’s own skin.
For the history lover: Does your giftee looooooooove history? Well, shojo manga usually tosses aside history in favor of romance and whatnot, but Red River by Chie Shinohara is still pretty damn cool. History fans will drool over the detail of her drawing, especially in jewelry and scenery, and be satisfied by the way her characters strategize and factor in the technology of the times. Plus, Shinohara pays some lip service to famous historical figures like Nefertiti and Ramses I (known as User Ramses in the manga.) It’s not totally accurate historically, but it’ll get a history/shojo fan’s juices flowing.
For the fantasy lover: Technically, Red River falls under fantasy too, but since I’m a huge history nerd, I wanted to have two separate categories. For fantasy, I’m going with another pick from an older manga artist, Kyoko Hikawa’s From Far Away. I cannot even tell you how much I adore this story. The relationship between Noriko and Izark is so tender and enthralling to watch. You get totally swept up in their heart-wrenching story and it’s got pretty good action as well. Unfortunately, this one might be hard to find because Viz finished publishing it a few years ago. BUT IT’S SO WORTH IT!!
For more mature reader: Please, Please Me by Kisun is a fantastic josei-style (is there a manhwa term for josei?) manhwa that’s pretty good for someone who is more mature in what they read. It follows the stories of two roommates looking for love in some odd places. Unlike some josei manga, which tends to follow the romantic exploits of office ladies, Please, Please Me‘s main characters don’t have typical office jobs, which is delightful and makes them a bit more relatable in my opinion. This manhwa, however, is online only. It’s extremely easy to get an account and buy some manga to read, but if you’re looking for a hard copy gift for a josei fan, go with Suppli by Mari Okazaki instead.
For a light-and-easy read: Land of the Blindfolded by Sakura Tsukuba is an excellent choice if you just want to give your shojo manga fan something to just plain enjoy reading. There’s a lot of drama involved with the different powers of the characters, but they are able to overcome it and learn to have more normal lives. I think what really makes the series a good read is the warm sense of community the characters have with each other. They really bond over their experiences and you can feel it as you read. Again, the series has ended, so it might be hard to find, but you’ve got plenty of time before most of the gift-giving holidays start.
For the manga fan who says they don’t like shojo: Are you shopping for someone who says they don’t like shojo, but you think otherwise? Sometimes it takes the right series, but I think it also helps to ease them into it. Here’s where Mad Love Chase comes in. This new Tokyopop release about a demon prince trying to escape an arranged marriage by Kazusa Takashima, who is better known for her yaoi than her shojo. Mad Love Chase is undeniably funny and features a male protagonist to trick your giftee into thinking it’s not shojo. (But it is.) Anyway, the characters are fabulous and make up for the fairly weak storyline and all the times where the protagonist slips out from under his pursuers way too easily.
For the impossible giftee: Despite this list, you’re stuck on what to get as a gift. The solution? A gift card to their favorite bookstore or comic book store. No seriously. My friends apparently ALWAYS have trouble getting me gifts (I find this hard to believe) even though I’ve told a number of them to just get me a $20 gift card every time. Gift cards are impersonal, you say? Mm, maybe. I say they just give the giftee the choice to get what they want. You don’t always have to gift something that you’ve picked out for someone. If you still feel it’s too impersonal then get them a large sum gift card. That way you’re saying that YES, I may not have picked out something JUST FOR YOU, but I’ve given you enough to buy yourself something awesome. Any serious manga fan will dash straight for the graphic novel/manga section and stock up on their favorites.
I really hope you enjoyed reading this list and that it helps you give great gifts to shojo manga fans! I’d also like to thank David P. Welsh over at Precious Curmudgeon for suggesting this idea after both the NY Times and the Onion failed to deliver any manga suggestions on their own gift guides.
Have a happy non-specific holiday season you guys!