Jôsei (adult women’s) manga, the smallest of the four great manga categories, spans the same type of material covered in adult women’s fiction in America. Jôsei manga started to appear in the late 1970s, when the first generation of shôjo manga readers was growing up. A few short-lived manga magazines had targeted older female readers, such as Funny (1969), Jôsei Comic Papillion (1974), and Shogakukan’s still-running Petit Comic (1977). However, the market truly took off in 1980 with the appearance of Shueisha’s You, Kodansha’s Be Love, and Shogakukan’s Big Comic for Lady (a spin-off of their popular Big Comic line).
Just as seinen manga of the time were directed at adult male salarymen, the jôsei boom was aimed at female office workers in their twenties and thirties. Perhaps experimenting with what was forbidden in shôjo magazines, early jôsei were heavy on sex, full of taboo love affairs and erotic fantasies. “Typical readers are working women, who get little attention from men, and housewives who are tired of their marriages,” said Taiki Morohashi, who conducted a survey on women’s comics in the 1990s. All jôsei had acquired a disreputable aura by the time the sex comics split off into their own magazines such as Comic Amour. Thus marginalized, and typically known as redicomi (ladies’ comics), they soon became even more explicit. Less sleazy women’s love manga were produced by Harlequin, the famous romance novel publishers, who in 1998 teamed up with Japanese publisher Ohzora Shuppan to produce manga versions of their books. Both sexual redicomi and Harlequin manga stories tend to be only one volume long, and none of the former has been translated. Manga romance imprints, with names such as Heartful and Missy, fill the used-books section of Japanese bookstores.
Shodensha’s Feel Young and Kodansha’s Kiss (Illustration Credit 1.40) In the late 1980s jôsei grew in variety. Adopting the English loanword young, which originally described seinen comics aimed at college-age men, publishers aimed at younger, hipper, more mobile women. Shueisha’s Young You (1986), basically as conservative as its bestselling parent magazine, You, competed with more daring magazines such as Kodansha’s Kiss (1992) and fashion magazine publisher Shodensha’s Feel Young (1989). The ads in these magazines sell things such as jewelry, soaps, handbags, Internet services, and facial treatments. Kiss is best known in English for Tomoko Ninomiya’s music-school drama Nodame Cantabile (2001) and Yayoi Ogawa’s Tramps Like Us (2000), the story of a female professional who feels pressured to marry up for money and stability but takes in a younger, poorer, shorter man as her “pet.” Feel Young, a spin-off of the canceled erotic magazine Feel, is the most groundbreaking of the three; it published the individualistic comics of Erica Sakurazawa, Mari Okazaki, and Mitsukazu Mihara, as well as Moyoco Anno’s Happy Mania (1995), an outrageous comedy about a flaky, often jobless woman and the terrible men she sleeps with. Young You was canceled in 2005, but its star title, Chika Umino’s Hachimitsu to Clover (“Honey and Clover”) (2000), was transferred to Shueisha’s more successful magazine Chorus for the remainder of its run. The story of students at an art college, Hachimitsu to Clover is seen through the eyes of Hagu, a shy student who looks much younger than her eighteen years; the series features beautiful, whimsical art and was popular enough to be animated, a rarity for jôsei manga.
Jôsei stories are mostly realistic: tales of jobs, families, relationships, animals. Period pieces are not uncommon, such as Taeko Watanabe’s samurai drama Kaze Hikaru (1997), but fantasy elements are subtle and rare. However, many jôsei artists are former shôjo artists and bring their interests with them; Shogakukan’s diverse magazine Flowers has run adventure stories by Yumi Tamura and European period melodramas by Chiho Saito, as well as Moto Hagio’s Otherworld Barbara (2002), a labyrinthine science fiction psychodrama centered on a young girl who is discovered in a coma with her dead parents’ hearts in her stomach. A more conventional artist is Yôko Shôji, creator of the classic 1977 school drama Seito Shokun! (“Attention Students!”), who took her characters into adulthood in a sequel published in Be Love. Be Love and Flowers, although very different, represent the most upscale jôsei magazines; the bottom rungs are occupied by magazines with names such as Scandal, the manga equivalent of tabloids. With artists from so many different time periods and backgrounds, the better jôsei magazines contain a fascinating mix of art styles, from detailed to sketchy, lavishly flowery to cool and restrained.
Unlike shôjo, shônen, and seinen manga, so little jôsei has been published in English that it is possible to list all of it in one place. It is one of the last great frontiers of manga translation. In 2007, jôsei manga publisher Ohzora Shuppan announced the formation of a U.S. branch named Aurora Publishing, the first jôsei-focused publisher to do so.