One For the Ladies | Shojo Beat

"Shojo manga explore themes such as emotion, identity, and love—they ruminate on the internal world of their characters. In this way, they are relevant to everyone."

Walk by the graphic novel section of your local Borders or Barnes & Noble and you might be surprised what you’ll find: girls reading comics. Though female readers used to be a huge portion of comics readership, devouring romance comics in the boom days of the 1940s and 50s, their numbers dwindled after the development of the direct market and the dominance of that adolescent male power fantasy, the superhero.

What is bringing women readers back to comics? Manga, and in a big way. Starting with the runaway success of the anime/manga juggernaut Sailor Moon in the late-90s, shojo manga—literally "girls’ comics," or Japanese comics created by female creators for female readers—gradually built a large, dedicated readership, creating huge sales in traditional bookstores rather than typical comic shops. Viz Media, one of the first publishers of Japanese comics translated into English and a supporter of shojo as early as 1996’s Four Shojo Stories collection, mixed shojo stories with their more action-packed shonen (boys’ manga) counterparts in their anthologies Manga Vizion and Animerica Extra before launching Shojo Beat, a monthly manga magazine concentrating solely on comics with a uniquely female perspective.

"Shojo manga are created by female manga artists and feature female protagonists, so it makes sense that female readers identify with the stories and the characters," says Jenifer Morgan, Magazine Managing Editor for Shojo Beat. "The stories have an appeal similar to that of TV series like The Gilmore Girls and Sex in the City. But there’s also the fact that unlike many American comics and shonen manga, shojo manga explore themes such as emotion, identity, and love—they ruminate on the internal world of their characters. In this way, they are relevant to everyone."

Shojo Beat mixes six serialized manga series that run across a gamut of styles with articles on culture, fashion, and other female-centric subjects, creating a blend of manga anthology and lifestyle magazine to appeal to the wide-ranging newsstand audience instead of traditional comics readers. Nana and Absolute Boyfriend are the most typically shojo of the six; the former, a massive hit and the basis for a live-action movie in its native Japan that proved a box office blockbuster last year, follows two young women who share a name, Nana, but couldn’t be more different as they try to find romance after moving to the big city after college, while the latter, the latest series from fan favorite creator Yuu Watase (Fushigi Yugi), features the boy-crazy ditz Riiko, whose luck changes when a remarkably life-like robot boyfriend named Night shows up on her doorstep. To balance out the romance, there’s also Victorian horror (the lushly illustrated Godchild), family comedy (the adorable Baby & Me), historical fiction (the samurai-era epic Kaze Hikaru), and even sports (the volleyball-centered Crimson Hero). Variety is a big part of any anthology’s appeal, and this one has it in spades. "The magazine is a kind of ambassador for the world of shojo manga," Morgan notes. "It offers a selection of exceptionally compelling and accessible titles, making it an ideal entry point for people unfamiliar with shojo manga. We’ve also tried to present readers with a range of genres and drawing styles so they can experience various facets of the art form in one place."

Though much of the ancillary material is gender-specific, the manga themselves are universal enough for any reader to enjoy. "The beauty of having a 200-plus–page magazine is that if there’s a page or two that doesn’t strike your fancy, you’ve still got plenty to read!" enthuses Morgan. "We do aim to include music stories, cultural articles, and other features that are likely to appeal to everyone, regardless of gender."

June marks Shojo Beats one year anniversary, and Morgan is more than pleased with the book’s performance so far. "The magazine has universally exceeded expectations," she reveals, "but there is always room for improvement, and we’re hoping to find new ways to present and refine content going forward." There’s very little that needs fixing, however, in a comic book with a virtually unheard of 96% female readership. What is it that American publishers are missing? "American comics have a very different style and voice than manga," Morgan reasons, "but any good story has the potential to draw in female readers. In the years to come, manga are bound to influence American comics more and more, and the results will be very interesting. "

Want to learn more? Read on below for more with Jenifer Morgan, then click HERE for detailed reviews of the first year’s worth of all six Shojo Beat series!

The Complete Interview with Jenifer Morgan, Magazine Managing Editor, VIZ Media

How would you describe Shojo Beat to the typical comics reader?

Shojo Beat contains six serialized shojo (girls’) manga (comics), plus preview chapters from new titles—all newly translated from Japanese to English for the first time. The magazine also includes articles on culture, art, music, fashion, gadgets, games, and other subjects frequently found in fashion and lifestyle magazines.

How did you get involved with Shojo Beat? Were you already a manga fan?

I was interested in Japanese video games and anime, but although I read some comics as a kid, my exposure to manga was limited. Now I’m really hooked on a few series.

How do you feel about the state of the magazine a year after launch? Did things happen according to plan?

The magazine has universally exceeded expectations, but there is always room for improvement, and we’re hoping to find new ways to present and refine content going forward.

According to your press kit, Shojo Beat has a 96 percent female readership, something virtually unheard of for a comic book. What do you think is shojo manga’s appeal to an American female readership?

Shojo manga are created by female manga artists and feature female protagonists, so it makes sense that female readers identify with the stories and the characters. The stories have an appeal similar to that of TV series like The Gilmore Girls and Sex in the City. But there’s also the fact that unlike many American comics and shonen (boys’) manga, shojo manga explore themes such as emotion, identity, and love—they ruminate on the internal world of their characters. In this way, they are relevant to everyone.

Do you think that mainstream American comics have the same potential to draw in female readers? What is it that they’re missing?

American comics have a very different style and voice than manga, but any good story has the potential to draw in female readers. In the years to come, manga are bound to influence American comics more and more, and the results will be very interesting.

What’s the typical Shojo Beat reader like—a long-term fan of comics and manga, or more mainstream?

What our readers have in common is openmindedness, creativity, and enthusiasm. Shojo Beat introduced some of our readers to manga; others have been reading manga for many years.

A lot of the ancillary material in Shojo Beat is extremely gender specific. Any worries about scaring off the male half of shojo fandom?

The beauty of having a 200-plus–page magazine is that if there’s a page or two that doesn’t strike your fancy, you’ve still got plenty to read! We do aim to include music stories, cultural articles, and other features that are likely to appeal to everyone, regardless of gender.

Which of the magazine’s titles do you most look forward to reading each month?

It is different for each member of the staff. I have especially enjoyed the lush drawing style of Godchild, the offbeat humor of Absolute Boyfriend (which translates very well), and the storytelling structure of Crimson Hero.

Which titles get the strongest reaction from fans?

Earl Cain Hargreaves (Godchild) has stolen a vast quantity of hearts, and of course creator Yuu Watase (Absolute Boyfriend) has a huge fan base. But certain chapters of each title have elicited strong reactions. Sometimes we’ll get a flood of Baby & Me fan art after a scene where Minoru looks particularly cute. And after Shoji cheated on Nana Komatsu (Nana), readers got really upset!

VIZ’s previous manga anthology, Animerica Extra, both typically featured shorter, self-contained stories, like "S.O.S." or the work of Keiko Nishi, in addition to longer works. Any chance that Shojo Beat will mix in any shorter stories with the ongoing ones?

Both Godchild and Baby & Me feature self-contained episodes. Shorter story arcs appeal to new readers who might otherwise feel overwhelmed, so it’s great that we can include them. Our goal is to be as flexible as we can and deliver what readers want most.

How do you decide which titles you’ll feature in the magazine and which ones go straight to graphic novels?

The magazine is a kind of ambassador for the world of shojo manga. It offers a selection of exceptionally compelling and accessible titles, making it an ideal entry point for people unfamiliar with shojo manga. We’ve also tried to present readers with a range of genres and drawing styles so they can experience various facets of the art form in one place.

What do readers have to look forward to in year two?

We have a lot of great surprises and extras on the horizon—things readers have been asking for—so stay tuned!

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply