- Shojo Manga! Girls' Comics!A Mirror of Girls' Dreams
Historically, many great comic books have existed in cultures all over the world. It may be, however, that in Japan the popularity of manga (comics) and its impact on visual popular culture and society are more significant than in any other culture. In contrast to the United States, where comic books are only for children or collectors, in Japan manga influences all of Japanese society, from preschoolers to adults. Its influence appears throughout Japan in commercials on TV, in advertisements, on billboards, and even in school textbooks.1 But Japanese manga is no longer just a phenomenon of visual pop culture in Japan. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the popularity of Japanese manga has spread worldwide through comic books, animation, and merchandise. But despite manga's popularity, not many people really understand its significance, its worldwide popularity, its appeal for children, and its difference from American comics. One of the major characteristics of manga is that it has split into boys' (shōnen) and girls' (shōjo) comics. Regardless of the subject depicted in the story, the main theme of boys' manga is how the heroes become men by protecting women, family, country, or the earth from enemies. The theme of girls' manga is how love triumphs by overcoming obstacles. These generalizations are true to a certain extent; however, [End Page 19] the theme of girls' manga has been changing in response to the changing roles of women in the still male-dominated Japanese society.
A Touring Exhibition of Shojo Manga
Since World War II, the role and the value of shojo manga have become significant in Japan, reflecting girls' and women's desires and dreams. In its subjects and expressions, manga reflects female aesthetics and fulfills female dreams. To explore the role of visual pop culture that impacts U.S. society through the phenomenon of manga in Japan, I created a touring exhibition in the United States to introduce manga's value and contribution to visual culture and society with a special emphasis on shojo manga.
The exhibition Girls' Power! Shojo Manga! has two purposes: to examine the worldwide phenomenon of Japanese comics and to develop the media and visual literacy of teachers, students, and the community. These purposes will be accomplished through this touring exhibition and symposia on the cultural and historical backgrounds of this Japanese visual popular culture that exerts such an influence on U.S. society. The exhibition's goal is to examine the treatment of gender roles in shojo manga and to examine how shōjo mangaka (girls' manga artists) have contributed to the development of a unique style of visual expression in their narratives, a contribution seldom discussed in the world of Japanese comics. This is the first touring exhibition of girls' comics that includes a discussion of gender issues in manga. The exhibition is intended to open minds to the value of visual popular culture.
More than two hundred artworks created by twenty-three renowned shōjo mangaka are introduced chronologically in three major generations over the last sixty years: the dawn of modern shojo manga (postwar-1960s), the development of modern shojo manga (1960s-1980s), and the new generation of modern shojo manga (1980s-present). The medium reflects the evolution of the social roles of Japanese girls and women during this period. The exhibition also documents how the visual composition of manga mirrors developments in Japanese aesthetics.2
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The Dawn of Modern Shojo Manga
In general, shōjo mangaka create manga for girls and women; however, these comic artists are not always female. Most shojo manga in the 1930s and 1940s were created by male mangaka. Four of them (Tezuka Osamu, Chiba Tetsuya, Ishinomori Shōtarō, and Matsumoto Leiji) were major contributors to the development of contemporary shojo manga in this early period, although they are now well known for their hit manga and animation for boys and men.3 The most notable among them is...