A Division of Gender Culture: The Shojo and the Sh-nen
Countless arguments have risen about the dividing line of Japanese animation and comics marketing, especially regarding the age and gender groups. When looking at a specific comic or animation on a shelf, one usually examines it and decided then and there whether it is a work specifically geared to girls (shojo) or one targeting an audience of boys (sh-nen). Sometimes it takes more than just a quick glance at the artwork, perhaps even leafing through the contents of the story, the action sequences of the pages in the comics, and the elements included within the work. For the enthusiast, this careful look at the divide also means examining magazines that publish specifically for boys or girls, or even a gender-neutral aspect.
Still, there is no denying that there will be a divide. Female and/or male authors might be writing specifically for women; and the same can be said about authors writing specifically with a male audience in mind. Not to mention that thematic interests in stories also tend to hover along specific age groups almost as often as gender differences. The major classification, however, still points to the shojo and sh-nen divide, and while this division can easily be said to be a matter of which magazines are publishing the works, there is no helping that one can definitely find constant patterns to tell between the two techniques of boy and girl marketing.
1. Anime and Manga Industry
To a Western perspective, it is almost unfathomable how the Japanese industry can sustain such a popular animation and comic culture. While American culture now acknowledges the plethora of comic book collectors, this culture still pales in comparison to the massive following that the Japanese have on their own comic industry. The industry is so large in fact that there are even international results -- such as foreign language translations of Japanese works. There is no doubt that Japanese society finds a particular norm in comics and animation as a main source of entertainment, perhaps even becoming guides when it comes to social and cultural lifestyles for others.
Manga (Japanese comics) grew out of a nation that had just started recovering from a war that had torn the country apart. By the 1950s, Japan had begun to experience a "period of economic and cultural growth," which led to the beginnings of what would become such a popular form of entertainment in the nation (Drummond-Matthews, Angela). While Japanese comics and artwork have always been a part of Japanese culture, the style had become revolutionized post-war, and in this manner, the popularity of manga skyrocketed. Chief vanguard in this revolution -- and rightly titled the "God of Manga" -- was Osamu Tezuka, a man inspired and influenced by the animated endeavors of "Walt Disney and Max Fleisher" (Schodt, Frederik L.). Recruited by a newly-formed boys' magazine, Tezuka went on to create Jungle Taitei ("Jungle Emperor") and Atomu Taishi ("Ambassador Atom"), which would later become well-known as the anime (Japanese animation) respectively titled Kimba, the White Lion and Astro Boy. From there, manga and anime success grew in leaps and bounds, often an ageless form of entertainment; mangaka (creators/authors) oftentimes found this medium a more appealing career prospect, as opposed to working in the medium of "novels or films which required education, connections, and money" (Schodt, Frederik L.).
Tezuka's style was widely followed hereafter. As opposed to the usual comic strips -- where the storylines were short and concise -- manga became long tales, with hundreds of pages in tow. Narratives became more complicated and audience-specific. This would undoubtedly lead to an influx of artists -- both male and female -- with varied points-of-view, enough so that an entire culture could be created within the manga and anime mediums. This is where the shojo and the sh-nen denominations come in.
2. Sh-nen, Boys' Comics
Having Tezuka at the helm and with the beginning magazines targeted specifically to males, it is no surprise that sh-nen manga, or boys' comics, makes up the largest denomination in the manga and anime sector. Sh-nen are "read by boys, men, girls, and women alike," and are "stories [that] reflect the fantasies and social history of an evolving Japan" (Drummond-Matthews, Angela). While demographics are certainly varied, the initial mindset is that this particular sector is aimed at boys, usually around their teenage years up to their late-20s. Themes range from a straight-up adventure story to a more complicated, more adult set of themes. Some are typically characterized by the drawing style -- rougher-looking males, overly voluptuous females; others are typified by their content -- violence, sexual gratifications, male fantasies; and yet others point out that one can easily tell the boys' content by the fact that almost no females come up as main characters in the stories (Ito, Kinko). This is, of course, not always true on certain manga and anime, but there are numerous amounts that fit these criteria.
Sh-nen are more easily categorized in subgenres, as opposed to shojo, which is much harder to discern with regards to genres. Typical boys' comics usually get split up into sports categories such as Takeshi Konomi's The Prince of Tennis, action/adventure such as Oda Eichirou's One Piece, horror such as Tsugumi Oba's Death Note, historical such as Nobuhiro Watsuki's Rur-uni Kenshin, mecha or giant robot such as Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Gigantor, and non-standard action series such as Yasuhiro Nightow's Trigun (Drummond-Matthews, Angela). For older male audiences, the seinen genre is also an option; these contain more adult themes, an example being Kouta Hirano's Hellsing.
Perhaps what further separate sh-nen from shojo, however, are the narrative and the storytelling of such works. For Drummond-Matthews, boys' comics follow a typical outline of a hero's adventure. There is the process of a "hero's journey," a set of stages illustrated in Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Drummond-Matthews, Angela). In this journey, the hero gets the call to adventure, initially refusing said call, crosses the threshold anyway, is initiated by many trials, and then returns victorious. A great example of this journey can be found in Eichirou's One Piece, where the main character and his friends undergo what can be characterized as the hero's journey. Monkey D. Luffy, a young man with unnatural powers, dreams of recruiting ten powerful crew members to his cause on his way to becoming a pirate king (call to adventure). While on his travels, Luffy is reluctant to act as a typical pirate, but retaliates and shows his powers to defend his friends (refusal of the call). Through his adventures, he enters unnatural islands across the world (crossing of the threshold), and thereby faces many opponents on the way (initiation). After every battle, Luffy and his crew members gain a considerable amount of knowledge about their strengths, as well as a degree of notoriety to boot (return). This type of story is similar to sh-nen manga across the genres.
3. Shojo, Girls' Comics
Shojo, or girl's comics, was on a rise during the 1960s and 1970s, a period that gave female artists the opportunity to express their views on various themes. Girls' comics gave "female artists and their viewers [a] sphere where they could openly resist, subvert, and re-appropriate the limited social participatory roles to which they were confined" (Choo, Kukhee). In this sense, then, shojo became important as a means of female ambition, one that most did not necessarily get in their society. In the manga and anime industry, girls' comics corner at least 30% of the global market, and the highest-grossing manga in Japanese history happens to be Yoko Kamio's Hana Yori Dango, or Boys Over Flowers (Choo, Kukhee). The age groups of shojo usually take the same form as that of sh-nen; most shojo manga are tailored toward teenage girls to young women (though most likely, older women are also typical demographics of this sector), with separate branches for a much younger and a much older audience. The style and artwork that shojo artists employ are softer, prettier men and women -- characterized most of the time with huge eyes on both males and females and feminine features on males; in sh-nen ai (a branch of shojo, meaning "boys' love"), these men are called bish-nen, or "beautiful boy" (Welker, James).
Subgenres are much more difficult to find in a set of girls' comic, though there did seem to be a trend on particular generations of manga artists. The 1960s and 1970s gave Japanese culture a plethora of girls' comics that focused on cross-dressing girls taking on the roles of males. Once more, Tezuka has inspired the onslaught of this type of work, penning Ribon no kishi (Princess Knight), a tale about a girl "with a boy's heart," raised "as a boy so that s/he can ascend to the throne of a kingdom" (Welker, James). Another popular cross-dressing work -- with a similar type of story -- is Riyoko Ikeda's The Rose of Versailles. Taking on…