The paperback island in a sea of manly storylines
Manga posters at this year's Paris book fair.
August 17th, 2012
05:08 PM ET

The paperback island in a sea of manly storylines

Editor's note: Danica Davidson is a writer whose articles have appeared on MTV.com, Publishers Weekly and the Los Angeles Times. She also writes English adaptations of Japanese graphic novels. She has recently finished her first young adult novel.

I’ve heard many women talk about different forms of prejudice they’ve faced in the comics world. As a journalist I've always found myself the only woman out of the who-knows-how-many journalists, publishers and writers participating in phone conferences to talk about new comic books.

Sometimes the men on these calls seem uncomfortable and not sure what to make of me.

But at anime conventions, I feel right at home beside other female manga fans. Attending these conventions, I’ve never gotten a sense of “You’re a woman so you don’t really belong here.”

Why such a difference? Publishers, manga journalists and fans I spoke to often raised the same points to explain manga’s popularity with women: more female creators, more variety in styles.

“The American comic industry has a very strong ‘superhero’ image, and while that isn't the entirety of the industry, that tends to be how people view it,” said Yoko Tanigaki, sales manager of Digital Manga Publishing.

“When manga first started coming over to the US, it offered women something different from the superhero comic – a different art style, more relatable female characters, a wider range of stories, among other things. Manga is more openly diverse – you see a lot more variety at first glance, and that makes it easier for women to find something that appeals to them.”

“You also have greater numbers of female creators crafting comics and manga in Japan than you currently see in the American comics market, which further increases the variety of choice for female readers,” pointed out JuYoun Lee, senior editor of Yen Press.

I didn't find any hard data on the exact number of male versus female manga creators, but Tanigaki, Lee and Leyla Aker, the Vice President of Publishing at VIZ, all agreed they were about even.

“There seems to be about an equal number of male and female mangaka at work,” Aker said.  “This gender parity is one of the major differences between the Japanese and Western comics industries.  I think one would have a hard time arguing that the greater number of female manga creators isn't a direct factor in the greater number of female manga readers.”

When asked the percentage of titles aimed toward women at their different companies, Tanigaki and Lee said that many of their titles overlapped and they often advertised more for readers in general. However, Aker said that about a third to a quarter of all titles on VIZ’s list are aimed for a female audience. Lee said that maybe 70% of Yen Press’s list is geared more toward women, and Tanigaki said 80% of Digital Manga Publishing titles are yaoi, shonen-ai, or shojo, which are traditionally read more by women.

“I honestly believe women are just as interested in the comic format as men no matter the country of origin,” said Robin Brenner, Creator and Editor-in-Chief of the graphic novel site No Flying No Tights and author of “Understanding Manga and Anime.”

“Women are just are more likely to pick up titles that acknowledge or seek them as an audience," she said.  Japan has been pursuing women and girls as an audience in earnest since the 1970s, whereas we here in the States left that audience behind in the 1970s (in the 1940s through the 1970s, there was an awareness of girls as a comics audience, although again they were rarely the target audience.)”

Brenner gave a little more background on the history of women and manga: “In the 1970s, Japanese editors of manga magazines decided to try something new.  They'd been producing comics for girls and young women since the 1950s, but they were never a roaring success.  They already had a number of female creators working in the business, so they smartly asked: if we want to sell comics to girls and women, why don't we hire some women to create them?  Thus, a number of legendary female creators got their start as primary artists on a number of famous girls titles (‘Rose of Versailles,’ ‘To Terra,’ ‘From Eroica with Love’)"

As a result, she said, from that point on, many creators of girls' and women's manga were women.  "They introduced elements that their male colleagues could not have predicted, and diversified the kind of content appearing in manga aimed at girls and women.  They also developed an artistic vocabulary distinct from shonen or seinen manga that is recognizable and distinctive,” she said.

“There are definitely American comics that are appealing to female adult readers, and several series that have significant female readership,” said Deb Aoki, a cartoonist and the Manga Editor at About.com. “However, when we're talking about female teens and tweens, manga definitely wins the race for readers in that demographic.”

Aoki listed diversity and female creators as two big reasons for this, but also pointed out that manga is more accessible than many of the famous American superhero titles in the sense you can jump right into them instead of going back through decades of dense storyline.

“For example, reading X-Men requires knowing a lot of back-history of the stories and the characters,” she said.  “Because mainstream American comics are largely geared to a readership who are already immersed in the Marvel or DC universes, and have spent years getting to know the mythology, the characters and the relationships between the characters, these stories don't offer an easy entry point for new readers.  By comparison, you can easily pick up ‘Sailor Moon Volume 1' or ‘Vampire Knight Volume 1' and get into the story immediately.”

Another aspect for the popularity, she said, was manga’s easy access at bookstores as opposed to comic shops.  Anyone just stopping in a bookstore could pick up a manga title.

Still, the most common reasons stressed for manga’s popularity with women were all the female creators writing (and personally knowing) what women like themselves enjoy reading, plus the fact there are just so many different types of manga for many different tastes.

“I do think that more female creators in the US would lead to more diversity of content and style in US comics,” Brenner said.  “The more women who are able to tell the stories, the more diverse and interesting those stories will be for everyone.”

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. benwalton z

    My name is Ben. benwalton z http://tes3t.com

    February 7, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  2. @SeemaSugandh

    I could not believe all the cute girl comic characters I saw two weeks ago in Tokyo @ Akihabara & Harajuku! Fabulous! #agree

    September 21, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  3. Mony

    Teacher and student rtehlionsaipSensei to WatashiFaster than a KissChocolate CosmosSensei!Sugar☆FamilyOresama Teacher Cold hearted, arrogant maleHana yori Dango (boy before flower)Cutie BoyWatashi ni xx Shinasai!Tokyo Boys GirlsKyou, Koi wo HajimemasuHot Blooded WomanPenguin BrothersKoukou DebutImadoki!Special AYamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge

    September 12, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Cabahug

      It's called fecal corfiolm bacteria, and yeah, if you can smell it, it's there. On the other hand, it's also EVERYWHERE. Inescapable. But I definitely wonder when I see someone's toothbrush hanging out in the company restroom. I'm no germophobe, but I'm not about to do that!

      November 14, 2012 at 4:11 am |
  4. Van

    Manga's got variety, more so then comics. I like comics, but manga more so.

    September 1, 2012 at 2:41 am |
  5. Kane Marko

    Interesting story....my dad told me that in the islands when monkeys would get too annoying, natives would put berries in a hole in a log and wait. Monkeys would come and reach in to grab the berries, but their hands wouldn't fit out of the hole when they made a fist to hold the berries. The monkeys were too dumb to let go, and the villagers would just come whack them over the head with big sticks. Now, using that theory, if we put Manga comics in a log........

    August 21, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Maty

      Or we could just crush your berries.

      August 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  6. tjet

    I have been a reader of Manga for many years. And I have to say that the Comics that have been writen in the last few years and even before that have the suspens, glamour,romance, anc comedy that you want in a relationship between two people.. I have loved the Manga CAptain harlock(my life on Arcadia) or Star Blazers(Star ship Yamato) and others. I ahve read Vampire Hunter D and that is Just a little out of my league, but I have friends who do read that. I have loved Anime and Manga for over 30Years.. But now I like Gundam Seed Destiny and Mobile Suite Gundam 00 and others that have to deal with a personal relationships between men and women and the love affairs that they have.. So I'm a Romantic...

    August 20, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  7. drowlord

    American comics are basically aimed at defective people. I tried to get into comics, but... starting when I was 15 until I was about 17, it became pretty clear to me that the medium was ridiculous. You basically pay $3 for around 20 pages, which might take 5 minutes to read if you take time to enjoy the pictures, and it comes out once per month in stories that makes little progress over the span of a year. I get antsy when my favorite authors write a book every year or two... But that's about 10-times the pace of a comic book story, and you get about 10 times as much entertainment for your dollar, too.

    Manga, in contrast, generally gives you something more closely approximating a complete story in a single volume.

    August 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  8. belladonna

    I find it interesting that women say they've experienced prejudice in the comic book world, but as a woman who's been reading comic books for 30+ years, I can't recall ever encountering any, either at the comic book store I've frequented or at the conventions. The only thing I've ever run into is the occasional look I get from the very young (the "hey, this lady's a grandma and she reads comic books!" expression, usually on a kid under eighteen). And no, I don't read manga. Just can't seem to get into it, even though I like the artwork. Give me superheroes any day!

    August 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Agreed… seems like she is looking for something to complain about.

      September 4, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  9. reithena

    I think the last paragraph here sums it up well. Look at the X-23 Comic...it was wonderful and had input from both men and women, including one series having Marjorie Liu.

    August 20, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  10. sqeptiq

    Big eyes, little nose, pointy chin. Boys and girls look alike. "you see a lot more variety at first glance"?????? Hunh?

    August 18, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Van

      It's not about at "first glance", to be honest.

      September 1, 2012 at 2:41 am |
  11. Kevin

    I like mango's.

    August 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Ashok

      Comics #16 (July 1940). a0I covered this heoornd member of the Justice Society of America in Podcast #15 (September 2005). a0Later, in the Silver Age of Comic Books, a new Green Lantern appeared on a new

      November 16, 2012 at 3:29 am |
  12. nytw

    Women should be home making sure the house is clean. President Romney will help ensure this happens.

    August 18, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Fred

      ...unlike President Obama who is making sure that they are out begging for food and trying to find a new cardboard box for their family to live in.

      August 19, 2012 at 10:26 am |
      • JJones

        If you are among the super rich like Romney and his clans then I understand why you are saying this. But if you are part of the 99ers, then you must be an idiot or a brain-washed dude.

        August 20, 2012 at 9:29 am |
      • Fred

        But if you are part of the 99ers, then you must be an idiot or a brain-washed dude.

        Oh, yes, things are so much better with the Kenyan in the White House.
        Hope and change? There are lots of Americans who HOPE that they have a little CHANGE
        in their pockets.
        Face it, Obama is a loser. He needs to get voted out and the sooner the better. He's totally clueless.

        August 20, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

        Oh, yes, things are so much better with the Kenyan in the White House

        I’m going to go with idiot and brain washed.

        September 4, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • EJ Naylor

      Leave your political tunnel vision in the wastebasket. It has nothing to do with manga. Brainwashed people like you should be caged.

      August 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  13. Olinser

    Why women enjoy manga? How about 'why women enjoy books'?

    The proper term for manga that is targeted at female audiences is 'shoujo'.

    Manga is a medium – NOT a genre, just like 'books' are not a genre – you have romance, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, etc. It is rapidly growing in appeal because it doesn't confine itself to small, specific audiences like American comics tend to do. For the most part, American comics feature superheroes catching bad guys and pretending that their creator is ever let them going to be injured. Manga, on the other hand, for example, has Hana Yori Dango, Hikaru No Go, Naruto, High School DXD and Berserk – all manga – In order, they are a romance, a story about a teen that grows to become a professional Go player by having a ghost perched on his shoulder, a young adult fighting series about ninjas, a story that essentially serves as an excuse for one big, unending fanservice parade, and the last one is probably the bloodiest story ever put on the page in any language.

    August 18, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • Anon

      What about fist of the north star? Its at least as bloody as berserk, if not more so.

      August 23, 2012 at 10:34 am |
      • Van

        Fist of the North Star is preschool stuff compared to Berserk. I don't know what Berserk you read, but it was banned in Malaysia at some point due to the gore and violence it had.

        August 31, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  14. Todd

    American comics are a pretty rigidly defined world, and I don't think anyone could honestly argue that both the product and the resulting social scene aren't heavily focused on men. The storylines and mythos are at times deep, original, and interesting – but the characters themselves are very bound by convention. The extremely muscular, rugged men and the very thin, busty women American comics always return to are both male fantasies that have little or nothing to do with women's interests or preferences. And no matter how good the story is, that aspect of the characters is alienating to female readers.

    Manga offers a lot more variation – many series that are palatable to either gender, and many that are primarily female-focused. I don't know that this is a "problem" per se, it's just a different approach to audience.

    August 18, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  15. Vision33r

    In American comics, it's predominantly male superheroes and stories. In Asian countries, mangas target a wide variety of audiences. Adults read mature manga, kids read mangas that feature child heroes, and women typically read mangas that feature romantic male lead characters.

    It has been noted that the entire Twilight series borrowed heavily from manga. The character Edward and Bella are so similar to many other manga/anime vampire stories that existed more than a decade before Twilight was even published.

    Vampire Knight manga is the perfect example.

    Hollywood really is out of ideas these days and borrows heavily from Asia these days.

    August 18, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Janie

      In fairness, I have a hard time picturing Stephanie Meyer, this conservative mormon from Bumblefart, Utah – being a huge consumer of manga. Everything about the Twilight characters and story was very generic and cliche'd. It's not that hard to believe two people (or a bunch of people) would come up with an idea very similar to it independently, because there's not anything unique about it.

      August 18, 2012 at 12:19 am |
      • Oswaldo

        Sadly, I am not a podcast acdidt. Although I listen to a few, I haven't gotten to the levels that both yourself and Danno are at. HOWEVER, if you are interested, we could make the Ryan Dow Cast a reality! We could do it on the way to SPACE!

        November 14, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Lily

      I love manga very much, and I cant believe you compared that trash to Vampire Knight. Edward could never take a role in any vampire related manga I've read and Bella would probably be killed on the spot. Unless you've actually read either one of those books you shouldnt compare them to each other, because they are nothing alike.

      August 18, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
      • Jina

        @ Lily – I haven't read the Twilight books or watched the movies, but based on what I saw in the trailers, I'm now picturing Edward up against Vampire Hunter D or Alucard from the Hellsing series. Thanks for the hilarious visual! :D

        August 20, 2012 at 11:41 am |
      • Dan

        Vampire Hunter D would kill Edward in 2 seconds. That might be worth drawing just to see it happen lol.

        August 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
      • CandyK

        I agree completely. never EVER compare the great Vampire Knight to that Trash. Vampire Knight is a way better romance (even though its technically insest) then twilight will ever be. Vampires do NOT sparkle. and no vampire is a "Vegetarian"

        August 29, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Pravin

      I didn't realize it was a pay for view mag, but yeah. How iornic. Actually kind of hits the point home. Everything I've ever done is on the net for free, and it's there without a penny to me. Even today's article and cartoon not a penny to show for it. If BF makes money from the mag, that's somebody between you and me trying to get some commerce going. I wish them good luck. If you want me, I'll be at the homeless shelter.

      September 12, 2012 at 7:43 am |