Hey, why exactly isn't shoujo manga selling in the U.S? Krystalling proposes some theories as to why, and yes, she does ask whether the current crop is good enough.
Take a look at The New York Times‘ list of the U.S.’s weekly bestselling manga here for the last week of February/first week of March. Seriously, take a look and come back.
Did you figure it out yet? (Well, the article’s title has already spoiled it.)
On the U.S. weekly charts, shoujo and josei titles are MIA.
Where Have All the Shoujo Gone?
If you viewed the Oricon charts, you saw two shoujo titles (My Love Story!! Vol. 11 and Omoi, Omoware, Furi, Furare Vol. 2) made the top 10 manga bestsellers for the last week in February. You might be scoffing: “Two series? Big deal!” Well, these two were #1 and #3 respectively the previous week. In addition, shoujo title ReRe Hello Vol. 9 and josei From Five to Nine Vol. 12 also made it into the top 10 the same week. If you go back further, you can find several shoujo and josei titles in the lists.
For the U.S., the last shoujo to make it in the top 10 in The New York Times‘ Manga Bestsellers list was Kamisama Kiss Vol. 19 for the week ending October 17th. If you’re looking for a non-shounen/seinen that made the #1 slot on, you have to go back to the week ending July 17th! Even that really isn’t a shoujo title; The World’s Greatest First Love Vol. 2 is a boys’ love josei title.
I also took a look at Barnes & Noble’s manga bestseller list. At the time of this writing, out of the top 50 titles listed, only one shoujo was on there: the first box set of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. On Amazon’s hourly bestsellers for manga, shoujo series did a little better with some digital exclusives like You’re Mine. The first print volume in the list was Skip Beat! Vol. 36, coming in at #30 (and when I looked later, it had dropped to #60).
Manga buyers are about 50% female (and perhaps even the majority). And titles like My Little Monster did sell well enough for Kodansha Comics to include some fanbook material in its upcoming final volume. But why hasn’t a single shoujo or josei appeared in the charts for five months, perhaps longer?
Theory #1 – “Male-oriented titles sell better than female-oriented ones.”
Absolutely true for both Japan and the U.S. (among other nations). According to Oricon, in 2015, Japan’s top 10 bestselling volumes and series were all either shounen or seinen. You can even go further and look at the bestselling manga series of all times and at the most popular non-anime/manga shows and movies. Spoiler alert: they tend to target guys. I’m not going to go into the debate whether companies should be doing this or not, but the current situation is unlikely to change anytime soon.
But Japan has had several shoujo manga make their top 10 weekly lists, so why not the U.S.? Shounen and seinen outselling shoujo doesn’t explain why zero shoujo volumes has made it in the top 10 for months.
Theory #2 – “Shoujo manga is for girls!”
Guys can enjoy female-oriented media just as girls enjoy male-oriented titles. In both cultures, there is a lot more stigma for guys to read/watch shoujo series than the opposite. It’s a sad but true fact. In fact, some studies have shown more females are readers of magazines like Weekly Shonen Jump than males. Shoujo manga often have a focus on romance, and love stories are often seen as “too girly” by both men and women. Shounen/seinen are often written for a general audience; shoujo/josei rarely do.
However, shounen romances have made the top 10 in recent weeks in the U.S. (various volumes of Nisekoi and The Ancient Magus’ Bride).
Would shoujo versions of these series been as popular? A girl and a reverse harem trying to figure out the mystery of a lock and key or a more drama-filled love story between a wizard and an abandoned girl? What if they were the same stories, just serialized and published under different magazines?
In addition, lots of popular shounen titles feature female leads. There are slice of life titles like Yotsuba, comedies like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, and action series like Soul Eater.
Some shoujo do feature a male lead as well, like the recent Behind the Scenes!! So guys don’t mind having a female protagonist, but they balk at female-oriented ones?
This leads to the next point…
Theory #3 – “Shoujo manga isn’t as varied as shounen.”
I admit it: sometimes I get tired of the cheerful, hyper girl who falls in love with the most popular boy in school. But I also get tired of the scrappy boy who turns out to wants to be #1 and has extra-special powers. Let’s take a look in five words or less at Viz Media’s shoujo releases since they were the last ones to have a shoujo and josei make it into New York Times’ list.
- A pair of twins’ romances
- An exorcist and his assistant
- School president is a maid
- A schoolgirl turned god
- College student joins theater club
Granted, none of these cover a large range of genres and have minimal action. However, the selection is certainly out there, especially since this list only cover one publishers’ releases.
I do agree that school life stories appear to be more popular than ever. I think this is a combination of two things. First is the changing Nakayoshi magazine. It was the home of titles like Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Shugo Chara!, all which spanned long-running anime. While there are fantasy series running in the magazine, they’re less of the “battle against evil/spirits”-type. Nakayoshi was often associated with series for young girls, but they’ve been “aging up” the magazine by serializing, for example, Missions of Love. Secondly, the magical girl genre has seemed to change ever since Puella Magi Madoka Magica. While this series does not target girls, it played around with the usual tropes, and series starring fighting girls who transform will likely never be the same. Magical girl series often have huge crossover potential, and the lack of new hits puts a dent in shoujo sales.
Theory #4 – “The really popular series are just awesome!”
“Awesome” is subjective. There’s no doubt that many of these series have massive crossover and gateway appeal. Horror and action are easy genres to showcase the strengths of anime and manga, especially since a viewer or reader doesn’t need to know much (if anything) about Japanese culture to enjoy them. Attack on Titan Vol. 1 stayed on the U.S. charts for a number of weeks, but titles like Magika Swordsman and Summoner and the yuri title Citrus have rotated in. They’re popular, but they are hardly household names to many anime and manga fans.
Out of curiosity, I took a look at the two romances I mentioned previously (Nisekoi and The Ancient Magus’ Bride) and compared their stats on MyAnimeList and Anime News Network to Kamisama Kiss, the last shoujo manga to chart. The results were fairly interesting.
- Nisekoi had nearly twice the number of votes as Kamisama Kiss on MAL, but they tied on ANN. A Bride’s Story was way behind with only a small fraction of the others’ votes.
- On both sites, Nisekoi was rated the lowest, around 8.0 compared to 8.2-8.5 for Kamisama Kiss and about 8.3 for The Ancient Magus’ Bride. This may seem really close, but when these are stacked up against the thousands of manga series out there, Nisekoi ends up being a hundred or more — even several hundred — places behind Kamisama Kiss.
Of course, other factors come into play: Kamisama Kiss is the furthest along, and longer series’ sales tend to drop as they keep going. Nisekoi has the advantage of being distributed in the most popular manga magazine. And without knowing sales numbers, it is possible Vol. 20 could have sold more than Vol. 19 of Kamisama Kiss despite not being one of the top 10 sold manga for the week. (Probably unlikely though.)
This doesn’t mean I think The Ancient Magus’ Bride or Nisekoi are bad and Kamisama Kiss is good. I just find it interesting that, according to users of these sites, a less popular series and a lesser rated one made it into the top 10 but the follow-up to a former bestseller hasn’t.
Theory #5 – “The current shoujo series are not very good.”
Again, what’s “not very good”? In almost five months, not one shoujo title is considered “good”? As I mentioned, the latest volume of Kamisama Kiss has failed to match its previous volume’s success, but the series is quite popular across the Internet. Other volumes of Kamisama Kiss have also made the weekly bestsellers list.
The latest volumes of My Love Story!! failed to chart on The New York Times‘ list, but Japan places its latest volume at number one, and it stayed in the top 10 for at least another week!
Again, there are additional factors like recently released Kiss of the Rose Princess Vol. 9 having been finished a while ago in Japan and recent Japanese hits like Kurosaki-kun no Iinari ni Nante Naranai — which had a boost thanks to a live action movie — not being available in English. But no shoujo series are “very good” right now? Even ones with demons, a giant in love, or hot guys battling?
Theory #6 – “English publishers aren’t licensing the ‘right’ series.”
Debatable. What is the “right” series after all? Ones that are popular on scanlator aggregation sites? That’s not always reliable.
However, 2015’s bestselling shoujo series was Blue Spring Ride. Viz Media has released the author’s previous work Strobe Edge, but Blue Spring Ride is unavailable in the U.S. The anime is. In fact, Blue Spring Ride is just one of the latest shoujo anime to be released in the U.S. without its manga accompanying it (The World is Still Beautiful, Snow White with the Red Hair, Nijiiro Days). Compare that to the top hits of recent months like One-Punch Man, Attack on Titan, and Tokyo Ghoul. All three have their anime readily available in America. You don’t need to take Economics or Marketing 101 to know that sales and interest in either an anime or manga will drive sales of the other. Shoujo manga would also likely get a significant boost since a lot of shoujo anime end without a resolution, forcing those curious to finish the tale to buy the manga.
Titles like Yona of the Dawn that have their anime in the U.S. are still a ways off, with the first volume scheduled for August. Skip Beat!‘s anime release is still in the pre-planning stage with an Indiegogo campaign currently running. So any boost for the Skip Beat! manga is not likely to come for a quite a while.
So if you mean that licensors aren’t picking up shoujo manga series with cross-exposure, then yes, publishers aren’t licensing the best series. As for quality? That’s up to personal preference.
There you are. Several theories as to why shoujo manga has been MIA from The New York Times’ weekly manga bestseller charts.
So why did I feel like this was worth writing about?
Shoujo manga does have a large following (myself included). But what will happen once the current AAA series have run their course? What will companies license next? From a financial perspective, shounen and seinen are the safer bets. Yes, manga sales are growing, but more titles also means more competition. I’m glad for all the fans of these shounen and seinen fans, but many manga and anime fans owe their interest to shoujo series (Sailor Moon, for example). Not everyone can (or want to) start out with Attack on Titan or even cute titles with a female lead like Yotsuba&! It would be a shame if either a) the market became oversaturated with shounen and seinen titles or b) many of Japan’s current shoujo and josei hits fail to find U.S. success. Lots of girls – and guys — want their shoujo fix, and many of us don’t want to see female-oriented manga flounder.
So what do you think the real reason is? What shoujo title do you think will finally break the streak? Is there a series you think should be a bestseller?