There’s a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot in the manga industry that actually bothers me quite a bit.
It goes: Girls will read stuff for guys, but guys won’t read stuff for girls.
There’s actually a fair amount of financial proof that not a lot of guys read stuff written for girls and girls read stuff originally written for a male audience, but I don’t have direct access to that kind of information and that’s not my point.
My point is that there’s some stuff that is “meant for girls” that could have a much wider appeal if marketed properly, so why don’t comic book publishing companies take that route?
I’ll explain further: Sure, there are plenty of comics (especially manga) that are clearly of no interest to most guys. A lot of shojo and josei manga are really just about light-fluffy romance and girls obsessing over stuff that most guys wouldn’t want to understand, let alone enjoy reading about. That said, there’s plenty of really awesome titles that are billed as shojo or josei, but could almost be gender-neutral.
Example one: Basara by Yumi Tamura, published by Viz under their shojo line.
I’m up to volume 12 of the series and while it’s got a female protangonist and one of the major plot points is a romance between two of the main characters, the story is about a people’s rebellion under a brutral post-apocalyptic tyranny. While there is the romance, overcoming the big problem comes first, which is more of a shounen trope. Sure, the art does lean towards a shojo style, but other works by Yumi Tamura, like Chicago, remind me more of Naoki Urasawa than Arina Tanemura. (Ha, wow, comparing Arina Tanemura and Yumi Tamura is like comparing Danielle Steel to Stephen King!)
Why didn’t Viz bother to publish under a more universal line if Basara had the potential to sell well with girls AND boys?
To be honest, Shogakukan billed Basara as shojo, serialized it in Betsucomi (a shojo manga magazine) and Viz probably just rode that wave. If I was a Viz editor or someone else involved in that decision-making process, I would have shoved it into their signature line because Basara has that potential to sell well to both genders. After all, it was pretty well-received by critics when it was released. Since I decided to pick it up, I haven’t heard a fan, male or female, say a bad thing about it either. But while some fans are less discerning about their picks, most male fans are just going to see the shojo logo on the spine of the books and turn the other direction.
It’s probably very easy to point the finger at Japanese publishers sticking to their slightly more sexist, but more accepted societal norms, but that does not mean U.S. publishers have to blindly follow them.
Going from Basara to something more recent, a Tokyopop release by Julietta Suzuki called Karakuri Odette, which I copy-edited as an intern for them. While it’s more likely to be categorized as shojo for many reasons, Karakuri Odette also doesn’t focus on typical shojo plots. Tokyopop even labeled it as a comedy series and it was billed as an a-typical shojo by critics. Yet, the cover design is hot pink and accented with hearts. Not to stereotype, but most male manga fans aren’t going to pick that up at a bookstore unless they’re shopping for their girlfriend’s Christmas gift. If the cover had been mostly green, which is an accent color on Tokyopop’s cover design, it would have faired much better with dudes just picking it up and seeing if it was anything they wanted to read.
I’m no expert at marketing (although I find it and advertising to be really fun, I almost wish I’d gone into PR instead of journalism,) but I feel like such niche targeting is detrimental to some series. I know when I was younger, I wouldn’t have touched shounen or seinen series because I totally thought they were all like Naruto, which I dislike, and not very good. Still, I was curious and if someone had put something out there without making it look like it was shojo or shounen, I would have probably gone for it and tried to read more series like it. I probably would have been more willing to pick up something different than pure shojo fluff.
I’m not saying the industry has to change how they categorize everything, I’m just saying that we could make SOME series gender-neutral where it fits and start lifting the stereotypes of shojo being JUST for girls and vice-versa.
Baka-Updates Manga’s genre site -This site goes into how they define each genre, which includes shojo, shounen, etc as well as regular genres.
Why Can’t Female Leads Be Happy Without A Boyfriend? -An article about the difference between comics and manga as well as shojo and shounen.