Josei Manga Recommendations — General

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Welcome to my josei manga recommendations.

Sick of the fluffy, innocent romance? Tired of the unrealistic expectations of shoujo manga? Then this post is for you.

Josei manga is known for its realistic take on romance and for having a more adult feel.

You will learn just how harsh love can be and how difficult life is once you step into the world of paying your own taxes and rent.

If you are not too sure on the josei manga genre, head over to my earlier post defining what josei is. Just click the link and head over to What is Josei Manga? — How to Define and What to Expect

I love josei manga, not just because I’m the demographic they’re aiming at but also because it teaches me a lot about the transitioning to adulthood. I get that this is manga and things are exaggerated a little for creativity but in general, the way that josei portrays the struggles of adults (especially adult women) really puts itself a special place in my heart.

There’s not much josei translated into English and reading Japanese manga in the josei genre is pretty tough because they don’t have hiragana as an aid. As such, the josei manga here will all be official English releases to make things easier.

And so in no order of rank, here are my five recommended josei manga.

07-Ghost

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Source: amazon.com

I love love love this manga (ノ^∇^). It was one of the first manga I ever read and despite it being josei, the relationship between the characters captivated 13-year-old me greatly and I became a long-time fan of it.

Teito Klein is an amnesiac who is currently attending the Barsburg Military Academy due to his ability to wield a power called Zaiphon. He frequently has troubling dreams that he cannot comprehend and has only one friend in the academy, Mikage. One fateful day, Teito uncovers something unsettling from his elusive past and tries to assassinate the Chief of Staff, Ayanami as he is involved. Teito fails and is arrested, but Mikage helps him escape. He ends up in the 7th District Church and is taken in by the bishops to recuperate. Teito comes to a decision, deciding to recover his lost memories while also evading the military in the process. It is then Teito will learn who he is and his great importance in the world.

Very typical of josei manga, the cast is almost all-male and the emotional turmoil of the characters, especially Teito are all shown in the series.

You cannot help but feel for Teito (and by extension, the rest of the cast) as he grows from a confused, emotionless kid to a strong young man who is willing to do whatever it takes to right the wrongs of the past. Watch Teito as he regains his birthright as the prince of the now destroyed Raggs Kingdom and takes revenge on the Barsburg military (and by extension the empire) for causing him so much suffering.

With the Barsburg church, bishops, and the seven ghosts aiding him in his journey in recovering his lost memories and kingdom, Teito will come to understand what his role is in maintaining balance in this world and what he must do to save all that he cares about.

Men in touch with their emotions, action-packed scenes, and a complicated past all catapulted this manga to fame. I highly suggest you read this manga and experience for yourself the plot rich storyline and crucial character development.

*Plus the song Raggs Requiem from the anime adaptation is just so beautiful ~

Loveless

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Source: amazon.com

I remember watching the anime for this and feeling extremely sad ((´д`)) but that’s josei for you, touching mature themes.

12-year-old Aoyagi Ritsuka is an amnesiac with a troubled past. His mother abuses him claiming he is not who he used to be and his brother, the one who has always protected him, died two years prior. On the first day at his new school, Ritsuka meets Agatsuma Soubi who claims to be a good friend of his brother, Seimei. Soubi and Ritsuka work together to find the truth about his brother’s death and in turn uncover the dark mysteries that surround both of them.

This manga is a buttload of emotional angst as Ritsuka struggles to understand why his personality suddenly changed, causing his mother to lose it and start physically abusing him to “bring back her son”. To top it off, he doesn’t even remember what happened to him and has regular therapy sessions to understand why (dissociative identity disorder perhaps?? The manga doesn’t really say).

The manga also gets confusing as you read on, as the story seems to jump from place to place, but that’s what makes this series very intriguing. Who doesn’t love a good psychological thriller?

The relationship between Soubi and Ritsuka is complex and many (and I mean many) people have tried to figure it out. The feelings between Soubi and Ritsuka are sort of romantic? I guess? Like I said, really hard to tell. In addition, Soubi had intimate relations with Semei as well? I guess?

(; ̄д ̄)

Honestly, I think the mangaka wanted the reader to come to their own conclusions so whether Ritsuka and Soubi are in a romantic relationship or not is entirely up to you.

The characters are huge mysteries and us readers are not so clear on many things but that’s why I enjoy this series so much because it allows me to let my imagination run wild and make my own endings.

If you love psychological mysteries and thrillers, Loveless will be a good read for you and I guarantee you will enjoy it.

Nodame Cantabile

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Source: amazon.com

Enough angst! Let’s go to music college shall we ∠( ᐛ 」∠)_

Chiaki Shinichi comes from a musical family so as such he has lived overseas (in particular Prague) before. However, due to an incident, while flying, he has become afraid to take planes, restricting him to Japan where he now attends the Momogaoka College of Music. Chiaki is a perfectionist and is really talented in both violin and piano. However, he dreams to be a conductor. But knowing that his fear of flying will not allow him to travel overseas, he has to set aside that dream for more practical ambitions. One fateful day, Chiaki meets Noda Megumi (called Nodame by herself and friends) who is a talented pianist like himself but unlike Chiaki, Nodame is all over the place, playing only by ear (hence cantabile style) and refusing to follow the score. In addition, when they meet, Nodame falls head over heels in love with him to the utter annoyance of Chiaki. However, Nodame’s quirky personality may be what Chiaki needs, bringing more colour in his life since the day he gave up his conducting dreams.

I used to be a musician, playing both violin and piano like Chiaki. Unlike Chiaki however, I gave up music as I wasn’t improving very much and I had to aim for more practical things. So take me for my word when I say I understand the struggles that music students go through. What does the composer want with this passage? What technique should I use? How the heck is he/she better than me?! Those of you who lament over the lack of music manga will thoroughly enjoy Nodame Cantabile very much.

And Nodame is such a great character! You will fall in love with her eccentrics and boundless energy. She brings light to Chiaki’s life and helps him with his dreams. She even cures his fear of flying so that he can finally achieve his dreams of being a conductor. If that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is (*´▽`*)

The side characters are also great. The manga goes into their own stories so it’s not just Nodame and Chiaki in their struggles and triumphs. The adult world of music isn’t easy. It’s so competitive and people are doing whatever it takes to get noticed and succeed.

In any case, Nodame and Chiaki’s relationship is worth following. They fight, they laugh, and they cry together. Their relationship is very functional and will no doubt put a smile to your face.

If you are intrigued by the world of music and the struggles that come with being a professional musician, then I suggest you read Nodame Cantabile.

Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish)

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Source: amazon.com

You are beautiful no matter what you look like and what you love. Just have confidence and step out into the world.

Amamizukan is an apartment complex in Tokyo where the tenants are only women and no men are allowed. As such, all the tenants are NEETs who all have issues with men (from simple nervousness to utter dislike) and the outside world in general. Kurashita Tsukimi is one such tenant who has a fondness for jellyfish that stems from the memories of her deceased mother who used to bring her to aquariums. Tsukimi is also bad at interacting with others which prevents her from achieving her dream as an illustrator and finding proper work in it. She then meets Koibuchi Kuranosuke, a cross-dressing man who is the illegitimate son of a politician. He cross-dresses to avoid his obligation to politics and to feel closer to his deceased mother. Tsukimi now has to hide Kuranosuke’s gender from the other tenants, slowly getting closer to him in the process.

This series is basically about inner beauty and having confidence. It also shows that achieving what you want in life starts with you and you alone. People can intervene and help you but it’s ultimately your decision whether you want to change or not.

When Amamizukan is in danger of being redeveloped into a fancier district with hotels and such, the tenants are initially reluctant to voice their thoughts because they’re too afraid to step outside for fear of being ridiculed by the “beautiful and popular” people. It’s only when Kuranosuke pushes them to decide for themselves whether they want to change and prevent the building from being closed then they agree to a makeover and build their confidence step-by-step.

Tsukimi is the heroine of the manga but at the same time, she isn’t. Kuranosuke not only helps Tsukimi move forward with her dreams and overcome her shyness but he also helps the other women find their own inner strength. Ultimately, Tsukimi does it on her own and is able to support Kuranosuke as his equal with the other tenants cheering her on.

This is a manga that details one’s journey to self-acceptance and confidence and I’m sure you’ll enjoy this series as much as I did.

Chihayafuru

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Source: amazon.com

Have you heard of karuta before? Well, me too until I read this manga.

Ayase Chihaya is perfectly content just supporting her sister in her modelling career. One day, she meets Wataya Arata, a talented karuta player who convinces her to find her own dreams and work hard to achieve them just like how Arata is working hard to become Japan’s best karuta player. Chihaya then decides to take up the mantel of becoming Japan’s best karuta player and forms a solid friendship with Arata. As they grow up, Arata and Chihaya separate and it’s only in high school then Chihaya and her childhood friend Mashima Taichi form the Mizusawa Karuta Club. Chihaya vows to become the best karuta player in the world and stand on the same stage as Arata.

It’s hard being from a family with an overachieving sibling. Chihaya’s parents use a lot of their time supporting her sister as she takes on different modelling jobs which leaves Chihaya a bit lonely. It’s also hard to have a dream when your family doesn’t support you wholeheartedly. When Chihaya told her sister about how wonderful karuta her sister only responded with “what the heck is that?” and dismissed it completely. Chihaya only has her friends to rely on which makes her more dogged in achieving her dream of becoming the world’s best karuta player.

Chihaya learns what her friends mean to her, especially what Arata means to her. The love between them is undeniable but they are also rivals so their romance is on hold while they work to achieve their goals. While we love to support Arata and Chihaya, we also feel kind of sorry for Taichi, for he loves Chihaya too. However, Taichi is willing to put aside his feelings if it means seeing Chihaya happy in finding her dreams.

If you love a manga that delves into the concept of true friendships and love, I suggest you read Chihayafuru.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, josei manga dives into many categories and is a versatile genre that mangakas love to use.

Even though the stories are meant to be realistic, they are not at the same time. I think that’s what makes the josei genre such a beloved genre. We can dream while keeping it real.

I sincerely hope you enjoy my selections and as always, if you have anything to discuss with me regarding my selections, feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear it 🙂

14 Comments

  1. Hey Ann,

    I grew up reading anime and you’re right, I do sometimes feel like there is a part of me that’s already bored with the unrealistic anime plots, time for me to get into Josei! Planning to get the 07 Ghost, I was super into it when the anime came out, so nostalgic to see someone mentioning it too! I think Frau influenced my style back then, what’s your favourite character there? 😀

    1. Hi Riaz,

      Yeah I loved the anime so I read the manga to catch the rest of the story since it didn’t continue in the anime. Loved it all the way. My favourite character is Bishop Lance haha. I loved his Diva-like nature and how unserious he is sometimes. 

  2. Hi Ann,

    I have never really experienced much manga in my time but have always had an appreciation for this style of content. Thanks for your josei manga recommendations I will be sure to do a deep dive into the world of manga to check it out some more. I look forward to this.

    I really enjoy your style of writing Ann, keep up the great content.

    Your friend

    -Will

  3. Oh my god, this list has brought back so many good memories. I am from Thailand and I grew up reading mangas. Nodame Cantabile is my most favorite of all. I read all the manga, saw the anime and saw the J-Dorama lol It was such a light classical music theme and I just can’t with Nodame lol She is a mess but talented mess. I also love Chiayafuru as well. 🙂

    1. Same here haha! Nodame is such an interesting character. I mean, she’s so funny yet she’s so talented. Yeah, she’s freakin messing but we love her anyway hehe 🙂 Chihayafuru is a great manga, progress is a little slow but I’m looking forward to what’s to come.

  4. Josei Manga sounds right up my alley, romantic yet realistic, and adult. I appreciate you listing English releases. For me, I think that Loveless appeals most to me as I am a fan of thrillers. I like that the relationship between Soubi and Ritsuka is so complex. I like mysteries and like forming my own conclusions. All in all some great reviews here, and I’ll definitely be checking out Loveless further through your link here, well done!

    1. Loveless is …complicated but that’s why it’s so interesting to read. As an adult, we are kind of more interested in such introspective reads that provoke our minds. Loveless is a great thriller and I think you’ll really love it since you like mysteries, thrillers and the like 🙂 I liked it very much.

  5. Thanks for this awesome article on Josie manga although I’m a great fan of animations I have never heard or come across this particular one which you have recommended and while I was reading through your article it got me asking myself if I existed on planet earth, I am definitely going to try your recommendations and to think of it that it’s translated in English is super cool!

    1. This genre is a little elusive as people are more interested in energetic shounen or fluffy shoujo. I’m glad you wanna try reading some josei manga 🙂

  6. When I was a child, I was fond of reading local comics, those done by local Filipino artists. Today, I think that craving for comic stories translates to a new craving which is reading Manga stories. This is largely influenced by my girlfriend who happens to be a Manga addict. I will check with your list one by one to see the first Manga book that I’m going to try. Thanks for the list.

  7. I must admit that anime is not a style of visual entertainment that I have really taken an interest to. But that does not mean that I do not like the edginess of it and especially the anime for adults, the graphic deep nature of it. The movie that introduced me and got me interested in anime was Akira and then Ninja Scroll.

    I realize that Josei Manga are not in the form of movies as you portray them, yet they are still a visual entertainment for the mind and eyes. I would have to say that my favorite would be Princess Jellyfish because it reminds me of a Japanese co-worker I had when I was developing video games for Nintendo.

    If I remember correctly this co-workers name was Joi and she was also a graphic artist. She was unsure of her abilities but like I and many others told her, you do not have to stand in front of everyone and explain why your adaptations are what should be used for the game. Do some mini computer mock ups and let them speak for themselves.

    Once many of the senior designers saw her mock ups they came to love them and she came out of her shyness shell. Have confidence in what you can do and put it out there. Do not be afraid of rejection because it is just a stepping stone to greater things to come. Thank you for this review. It has brought back memories for me and a renewed interest in this style of visual art.

    1. I get that some anime can be off-putting so I completely understand you not liking it very much. Princess Jellyfish has been adapted into an anime that is pretty wonderful to watch. It’s the only work of Higashimura’s that I know that is popular with international audiences because of its message 🙂 Thank you for the lovely story, it put a smile to my face 

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