What is Josei Manga? — How to Define and What to Expect

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Welcome to my post on what is josei manga.

What is josei manga? I asked myself the same question when I first came across it. I’m sure many of you who are new to this term may be wondering the exact same thing. Some may at first categorise josei as shoujo but while the gender demographic is the same, the age group is definitely not.

Josei, in essence, is manga targeted at older women aged 18 to 45 years. As such, the manga is usually set during someone’s adult life, like in an office. Sometimes, the manga is set in university though people may debate whether a university setting is counted as a time where “mature understanding” is reached. In my experience, I know some people who still act like kids in university so I get where some people are coming from.

In any case, one thing to note is that josei manga doesn’t have very clear defining features so it’s a bit hard to recognise.

Luckily though, there are some little things that you can look out for when trying to actually determine if this manga is josei or not. You just need to peel back your eyes a little more. A little tiring I know, but its really worth it if you’re invested in reading josei manga (*•̀ᴗ•́*)و ̑̑

Keep in mind though, not all josei manga display all the characteristics I’m stating.

Realistic Romances

Of course, being a manga that is aimed at older women aged 18 to 45, there must be some form of romance in it. The romances are a lot more diverse, adding not only the usual heterosexual but also yuri and yaoi in some series.

Being a manga aimed at the typical office lady or housewife, the relationships delve deeper into the psyche of an adult’s mind, foregoing the high school crushes and innocent dates of days past. No more meet-cutes or heart-pounding confession scenes, replaced with vulnerabilities and sexual impotence.

As we all know, maintaining a romantic relationship (no matter what kind) is hard work. Couples will fight, they might cheat, they might marry and divorce later — all themes that are put forward in a josei manga.

Unlike shoujo, the intricacies of a romantic relationship are touched upon which can be a reliable defining feature for josei. Relationships can become really complicated and are subject to the whims of the people involved. You may love each other now but what happens when your separate or the norm changes? Will you be the same people as before?

Some series that fall into this category are not limited to but include Chihayafuru, Nodame Cantabile, Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish), and Paradise Kiss.

All-Male Cast (or almost)

This feature is typically found in shounen anime/manga which can get pretty confusing for some people.

However, I believe that there’s a difference between a shounen all-male cast and josei all-male cast which is the overarching theme of the manga.

Think of a very typical shounen male cast. Most of the time, you have a goofy or hyperactive main lead and his interesting friends form a 5-man-band, and go on some adventure to save the world or something. Not much complicated emotions there, for what is better than the power of friendship (*•̀ᴗ•́*)و ̑̑

Now, think of a josei male cast. Your main lead can be goofy but he can also be stoic, confused or even broken. He may have friends but adventure isn’t always the main staple of the plot.

He may be trying to achieve his dreams despite his sordid past. He may be on an adventure not saving the world but exacting revenge or reclaiming something that’s lost. The overarching theme of a josei manga isn’t always so straightforward like shounen.

In addition, lots of complicated emotions come into play and the all-male cast has to deal with all that throughout the entire manga. Power of friendship? Sure, but what if it isn’t enough?

Lastly, this may be a biased statement on my part but josei male casts are always bishounen men (beautiful men). There are such works of art (OMG, I can’t believe I actually said that |ョд゚) ) that you just want to stare at them forever. What can I say? They’re just really, really beautiful.

Some series that fall into this category are not limited to but include 07-Ghost, Karneval, Loveless, and Makai-ouji: Devils and Realist.

Some people may be surprised the 07-Ghost and Karneval are here but that’s because of my third defining feature of josei manga and that is…

Men Who are Empathetic to the Emotions of Other Men

Men in josei manga tend to be acutely aware of their own emotional struggles and express them openly. The surrounding men comfort and help them like how women help each other.

It’s not like “I’m there for your so keep fighting” like in shounen manga but it’s like “Tell me your feelings, and I’ll comfort you in whatever capacity I can give”.

I know what you’re thinking, some shounen has this too but the difference in josei is that it’s not just a touch-and-go kind of thing. It’s the closeness that the men have for each other to the point where it becomes a pivotal aspect in their relationship and not like in a “bro, you got my back” sort of way.

Sometimes, this nature of josei male casts is confused as yaoi and while I do understand while it can be perceived in such a way, I believe that not all josei male casts are intended to be going in that direction. They would be classified under yaoi or shounen ai otherwise.

Men that are compassionate towards other men, holding deep feelings that may or may not be romantic; that kind of vulnerability is something rarely seen in other genres.

Some series that fall into this category are not limited to but include 07-Ghost, Karneval, Loveless, and Makai-ouji: Devils and Realist.

Mature Themes

Time for some history:

Ladies’ comics (precursor to josei manga) boomed in popularity in the 1980s as a way for older women to have relatable content. However, adult themes started to appear in the manga and became more and more extreme so there was a request to separate the two. As a result, josei manga was created which supposedly has much less extreme content.

However, this didn’t stop mangakas from adding some mature themes in the mix albeit at a more inconspicuous level. This is to relate to the demographic and appeal to their interests — if explicit themes are so interesting to office ladies and housewives (but then again, Fifty Shades of Grey was also called “Mommy Pr0n” at one time).

Rape and domestic abuse are themes that are not uncommon in josei manga. Of course, those mangas will have disclaimers or be very coy about it, letting the reader come to their own conclusions.

As a general rule, manga with a somewhat higher frequency of sexual and mature themes are josei and not shoujo. The themes should not go to the extreme and be repulsive or traumatising to sensitive readers.

Some series that fall into this category are not limited to but include Loveless and Paradise Kiss.

Final Thoughts

What is josei manga and how define it? I have done my best to help narrow down your search a little but honestly, there are actually more ways to define it, especially when there is a sizable number of josei manga with traditional shoujo themes or josei manga aimed at housewives specifically.

I didn’t mention them here because there really isn’t much translated josei manga and the western world tends to ignore the josei classification in favour for shounen with perceived yaoi (due to the compassionate men), which is why 07-Ghost and Karneval are known to fans as shounen despite being actually josei.

In addition, like I mentioned, there’s a lot of josei manga with shoujo themes but not a lot are translated. In Singapore Kinokuniya, there was a huge shelf of Japanese josei manga that is untranslated and it’s pretty sad. The genre is really promising and it’s a shame we cannot enjoy it to the fullest.

However, we all can’t always be winners so we have to be satisfied with what we have right now. But if you are willing to go the extra mile, you can learn Japanese and Kanji and attempt to read the untranslated ones. I have tried but my Japanese isn’t advanced enough to read without the aid of furigana and a dictionary 😛 (that’s actually a main defining feature of untranslated josei manga. No furigana)

As always, if you would like to discuss josei manga and it’s definitions, drop a comment down below. I’d love to hear all about it 🙂

4 Comments

  1. I am 30 years old and I never used to watch cartoon as a kid . I was never interested in cartoon characters as a kid . When I came across this blog I was wondering what this excatly is all about . But after going though this article I realised that seinen manga was one of the earliest managazines published . It was really worth knowing . I need to do more research on this now . It is always interesting and great to learn something which is very new to us and something which we have never heard of . I need to thank you for it . Very interesting and educative article and I appreciate you for it .
    Thank you
    Sai

    1. Indeed seinen was one of earliest published manga. A lot of the famous seinen manga came out in the 80s and 90s when manga was beginning to become more international. I’m glad you learnt something new here 🙂

  2. Wow, just wow! As someone who grew up with anime, your topic is close to my heart. I’m so familiar with Jump! and the genres. Most of the time I watched shoujo and read a few of the mangas, especially Rurouni, my fave. 

    Your content is very extensive that you literally described every single thing a beginner could understand. Even up to this point, I’m still of confused with other genres. So, having this post of yours shed a light on the types and what to expect from these. Thank you so much.

    Cheers,

    Mecyll

    1. Hi Mecyll,

      I’m glad my posts are easy to understand 🙂 If you’d like to read more about me explaining other genres, you can head over to my Manga Guides page and feel free to roam around the posts I have there.

      Most of the posts there are explanations of manga lore and all there.

      Hope you enjoy the rest of my site,

      Ann.

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