The Origins of Shōjo Manga

By Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

“Nazo no Clover” (The Mysterious Clover) by Katsuji Matsumoto“Shōjo no Tomo” , Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha (1934) © Katsuji Matsumoto Art Promotion

“Ribon no Kishi” (Princess Knight) by Osamu Tezuka (“Shōjo Club” version)Original Source: “Shōjo Club,” Kodansha (1953–1956)

Known as the start of “Shōjo” manga:
“Ribon no Kishi” (Princess Knight) by Osamu Tezuka

“Ribon no Kishi”, Tezuka Osamu’s first full-length serial in a “Shōjo” magazine, was, according to Tezuka himself, “the first girls’ manga with a Japanese storyline” (from the afterword to the Kodansha edition of the complete series).

“Ribon no Kishi” (Princess Knight) by Osamu Tezuka (“Shōjo Club” version)Original Source: “Shōjo Club,” Kodansha (1953–1956)

The protagonist Sapphire, who possesses both a “girl’s heart” and a “boy’s heart” and is born as a girl yet raised as a prince, appears to have been strongly influenced by Takarazuka theater* and is regarded as a precursor to the “crossdressing girl” character trope in “Shōjo” manga.

*Takarazuka theater: A form of musical theater by the Takarazuka Revue, a troupe based in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, and composed of only unmarried females. The ideal male figure for women is projected onto the male roles, as they are depicted in “Shōjo” manga.

However, in terms of both “‘Shōjo’ manga with a storyline” and “crossdressing girl” characters, there are plenty of other pioneering works besides this one. We must not forget that “Ribon no Kishi” was created in the context of numerous other similar works.

“Nazo no Clover” (The Mysterious Clover) by Katsuji MatsumotoOriginal Source: “Shōjo no Tomo” (separate-volume supplement), Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha (1934)

Actually, this is the start of “Shōjo” manga:
“Nazo no Clover” (The Mysterious Clover) by Katsuji Matsumoto

Katsuji Matsumoto, who gained popularity as an artist of “lyrical paintings,”* a genre popular in “Shōjo” magazines, also created many works as a manga artist. The protagonist of his manga “Kurukuru Kurumi-chan” [Spinning Kurumi-chan], which was serialized in “Shōjo no Tomo” (Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha) before WWII and “Shōjo” (Kobunsha) after the war, was a popular character in the early stages of “Shōjo” manga.

*Lyrical paintings (jojōga): Cover art, frontispieces, and illustrations that decorated magazines targeted at young women that were popular from the late Meiji to the Taisho and Showa periods. Mainly depicting girls, different situations and emotions were implied through motifs such as leaning against a window, reading a letter, or playing an instrument.

“Nazo no Clover” (The Mysterious Clover) by Katsuji MatsumotoOriginal Source: “Shōjo no Tomo” (separate-volume supplement), Jitsugyo no Nihon Sha (1934)

His manga “Nazo no Clover” was published in 1934 as a large-format, separate-volume supplement to the “Shōjo no Tomo” magazine. Set in a Western-style foreign country, the manga portrays a masked girl who fights villains with a sword, predating “Ribon no Kishi” as a story with a “fighting girl” motif. The manga’s dynamically composed illustrations are also worthy of attention.

“Kanaria Ōjisama” [The Canary Prince] by Eisuke IshidaOriginal Source: “Shōjo Salon,” Kaiseisha (1951)

The pioneer of the “crossdressing girl”:
“Kanaria Ōjisama” [The Canary Prince] by Eisuke Ishida

Possessing various elements that overlap with “Ribon no Kishi,” such as a heroine who is born female but raised as a prince by mistake, “Kanaria Ōjisama” is an earlier example of the “crossdressing girl” motif in manga. To be clear, the “crossdressing girl” is a motif commonly seen in “Shōjo” manga since before WWII, not only in this work, but in others as well. Ishida, who was actively involved in children’s magazines since before the war, may not have been innovative in terms of his style of expression; however, besides “Kanaria Ōjisama,” he also made several other pioneering attempts, such as “Okorinbo Hime” [Short-tempered Princess] (1951), which depicts the story of a boy and girl who at first resent each other but eventually fall in love and get married.

“Fuichin-san” by Toshiko UedaOriginal Source: “Shōjo Club”, Kodansha (1957–1962)

Works by female manga artists active in the 1950s:
“Fuichin-san” by Toshiko Ueda

Toshiko Ueda, who began her career as a manga artist before WWII under the instruction of Katsuji Matsumoto, can be called a pioneering female manga artist. A detailed account of Ueda’s life can be found in the biographical manga “Fuichin Tsaichen!” [Rediscovering Fuichin!] by Motoka Murakami. Ueda’s iconic work “Fuichin-san,” which was serialized in “Shōjo Club,” draws from her experiences in Manchuria* to create a detailed portrait of life there.

*The former geographic name of China’s northeast region. Japan occupied the region in 1932 and founded the state of Manchukuo, but it was returned to China after WWII.

Protagonist Fuichin’s outgoing, straightforward demeanor and lively exploits are reminiscent of Astrid Lindgren’s “Pippi Longstocking” and other classics of children’s literature.

“Chako-chan no Nikki” (Chako-chan’s Diary) by Yoko ImamuraOriginal Source: “Shōjo,” Kobunsha (1959–1970), and others

“Chako-chan no Nikki” (Chako-chan’s Diary) by Yoko Imamura

“Chako-chan no Nikki” is the debut work of Yoko Imamura, who made her debut as a manga artist in her teens while assisting her father Tsutomu Imamura, a rental manga artist. The character Chako-chan, who first appeared in “Shōjo” (Kobunsha) in 1959, was subsequently utilized in “Ribon” and grade school magazines published by Shogakukan Inc.

When the manga was first serialized in “Shōjo,” depicting the love life of a real-to-life girl was uncommon—and in this context, “Chako-chan” offered a lighthearted portrayal of girls’ curiosity about boys. The work was ahead of its time in offering content that responded to the interests of its female readers, no doubt largely due to the fact that it began as a project to convert readers’ personal experiences into manga.

“Arashi wo Koete” (Beyond the Storm) by Macoto TakahashiOriginal Source: “Shōjo,” Kobunsha (1958)

Styles that spread in later “Shōjo” manga:
“Arashi wo Koete” (Beyond the Storm) by Macoto Takahashi

Ballet, which would later become an extensively used subject in many works, saw a surge in popularity in “Shōjo” manga in the late 1950s. One of the key players in this trend was Macoto Takahashi. Although Takashi only focused on creating manga for a short period of time, his works significantly influenced later “Shōjo” manga.

“Arashi wo Koete” (Beyond the Storm) by Macoto TakahashiOriginal Source: “Shōjo,” Kobunsha (1958)

Inheriting the tradition of lyrical painting, his female figures had big eyes and slender proportions. They were also portrayed in the form of “fashion illustrations,” large drawings of beautifully dressed figures removed from the story panels. The new territory opened up by Takahashi’s non-manga-like manga eventually reaches fruition as a style unique to “Shōjo” manga.

“Emiko Story” by Shotaro IshinomoriOriginal Source: “Shōjo Club,” Kodansha (1962)

“Emiko Story” by Shotaro Ishinomori

The “Shōjo” manga world today is centered around female artists, but in the 1950s, male manga artists created most of the manga, even those in “Shōjo” magazines. One such artist was Shotaro Ishinomori. His works in “Shōjo Club” are noteworthy for their experimental nature, as seen in Ishinomori’s conscious efforts to innovate manga as a genre of expression.

In “Emiko Story,” his last serialized work for the magazine, this experimentation is visible in the way in which he uses words to express his thoughts from the heart. By portraying the protagonist writing a composition, the final episode asks, “What is happiness?” This is a scene of introspection by the protagonist, but it is simultaneously a summarization of “Shōjo” manga by Ishinomori himself.

“Yuka wo Yobu Umi” (The Sea That Calls Yuka) by Tetsuya ChibaOriginal Source: “Shōjo Club,” Kodansha (1959–1960) ©Tetsuya Chiba

“Yuka wo Yobu Umi” (The Sea That Calls Yuka) by Tetsuya Chiba

“Yuka wo Yobu Umi” depicts a girl who slaps the boys that tease her. Although the series gained popularity for its use of an active female protagonist never before seen in “Shōjo” manga, it is also indispensable in the history of expression in “Shōjo” manga for its unique style of monologue.

The opening scenes of this work are often used to provide a recap of the story so far, which it does in the form of a monologue by the protagonist Yuka. These monologues are presented in an ambiguous manner that seems to both speak directly to the reader and also show Yuka reflecting on her own past. Since the purpose of these monologues is only to provide a “synopsis” of the plot, they have unfortunately been cut out of the standalone book version of the manga.

“Mimi to Nana” (Mimi and Nana) by Masako WatanabeOriginal Source: “Shōjo Book,” Shueisha (1962–1963) / “Shūkan Margaret,” Shueisha (1963)

Works that pioneered “Shōjo” manga’s unique style:
“Mimi to Nana” (Mimi and Nana) by Masako Watanabe

In the 1960s, an increasing percentage of the pages in girls’ magazines were occupied by manga, and this triggered a gradual shift from general magazines to manga magazines. “Mimi to Nana,” which started out in Shueisha’s “Shōjo Book” and then continued as a serial in “Shūkan Margaret” after the magazine was discontinued, was written in the midst of this period of change. Although it has until now never been released as a standalone book, it is one of the most iconic of Masako Watanabe’s stories of twins, which are repeatedly depicted in her work. Watanabe later scared off her young female audience by creating works of horror and suspense, but her style in the early 1960s embodied the “cute” look of “Shōjo” manga.

“Maki no Kuchibue” (Maki’s Whistle) by Miyako MakiOriginal Source: “Ribon,” Shueisha (1960–1963)

“Maki no Kuchibue” (Maki’s Whistle) by Miyako Maki

“Maki no Kuchibue,” a popular work serialized in “Ribon,” is a drama that revolves around the protagonist Maki, a young girl who aspires to become a ballerina and missed encounters with her long-separated mother. Tear-jerking mother-child stories were a staple of “Shōjo” manga at the time, but the beautiful figure of the girl drawn by Miyako Maki clearly stood out from other manga that came before it.

Her image of the young girl took the world by storm and is also known to have served as the model for the Licca-chan dress-up doll that became popular in Japan.

The popularity of her look is evidenced by the fact that there was actually a promotion in which the costume worn by the protagonist Maki, called “Maki-chan style,” was given away to readers.

“Honey Honey no Sutekina Bōken” (Honey Honey’s Wonderful Adventures) by Hideko MizunoOriginal Source: “Ribon,” Shueisha (1966–1967)

“Honey Honey no Sutekina Bōken” (Honey Honey’s Wonderful Adventures) by Hideko Mizuno

An apartment building called Tokiwa-sō housed many of Japan’s pioneering manga artists, including Osamu Tezuka, Fujiko Fujio, Shotaro Ishinomori, and Fujio Akatsuka. The sole female manga artist who resided there was Hideko Mizuno. In the 1960s, Mizuno paved the way for stories of romance between boys and girls, still considered a taboo subject in “Shōjo” manga at the time, in the form of a comedy reminiscent of foreign romance movies.

“Honey Honey no Sutekina Bōken” was a compilation of such comical romance stories, portraying romantic rivalry set all over the world in a lighthearted style. These initial love stories by Mizuno and other artists came to be depicted in more familiar and everyday settings and eventually became mainstream in “Shōjo” manga.

"Shōjo" (girls’) manga weaves together various elements, from fashion to romance, work, and lifestyle. Beyond simply being a form of entertainment aimed at young women, it has developed into a genre unique to Japanese culture and also attracts many fans overseas. Up-and-coming manga researcher Housei Iwashita provides commentary on 11 monumental works of “Shōjo” manga, including works from the dawn of the genre up until WWII, as well as pioneering works that set the precedent for others in terms of expressive style!

Credits: Story

Text: Housei Iwashita
Edit: Sayuri Kobayashi, Natsuko Fukushima + Yuka Miyazaki(BIJUTSU SHUPPAN-SHA CO., LTD.)
Supervisor: Hirohito Miyamoto(Meiji University)
Written in 2020

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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