A Short History of Girls Novels in Japan

Naoko in the News (But Only Briefly)!

We came across an article about girls novels that was published a little under a month ago (but our news source decided to take notice of it now). This article was written by Mariko Nakamura, who is a mangaka in Japan, and she chronicles girls (shoujo) manga, from how it began to what it is like today. One of the first shoujo novels ever created was Hana Monogatari (Flower Story), an anthology of 52 stories about romance. Some had happy endings, some didn’t, and not all the stories were about boy-girl relationships! The story was largely based on women from the Meiji period, and was created by legendary mangaka Nobuko Yoshiya (pictured around 1930, courtesy of Wikipedia). Nobuko’s first chapter was published in 1916 in a women’s magazine supplement called Shouji Yogahou. This was during a time where largely men were being educated, and this magazine was a sister supplement to men’s magazine. In 1943, when women in Japan got more rights, there was an increase of more magazines aimed for women (and not just supplements). Three volumes of Flower Story were published, and they were re-released in 1995. Mariko was on a mission to change the image of women from a foe to a friend, and didn’t see writing as a punishment (like many had thought in her day).

This lead to shoujo novels that portrayed free women. Women no longer kept their mouths shut in a male dominated world, and were so much more than the good housewife and mother that society had made them be. They were brave, wore western clothing, and cut their hair into bobs (it was a norm back then for Japanese women to have long hair). Wearing western-style clothing was akin to Japanese women dressing like women from the United States who were thought to be strong characters. This continued when Nobuko in 1925 took a big leap and moved away from the supplement and published her own magazine for the next 8 months, Kuroshoubi (Black Rose).

What has always made shoujo novels special is how the bonds between the girl characters are portrayed. This was especially true in the 80’s when publishers finally began to support shoujo manga. This allowed readers to really see girls for what they were, instead of just basing their opinions on the outside. All of these stories were inspired by Nobuko’s work, and provided a great mass of support for girls growing up in Japan at the time. In the 80s, the format of these novels also changed to mangas, and of course, this paved the way for many of the titles we see today. Later, the friendships between girls became more important than love, as evident in the series NANA by Ai Yazawa. Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon was a brilliant example of the power of friendship overcoming everything (when all the senshi fought together, they were unstoppable)! To all the girls who read these manga, every character is strong and brave for who they are in their personalities, and they inspire every girl to be true to themselves and to have a good heart.

While the mention of Naoko Takeuchi in this article was brief, we’re really glad that Mariko remembered it when she wrote about shoujo novels. Sailor Moon was really a legendary series, and though it has pretty much disappeared, it’s influence and story still lives on. When we redid the layout, I ditched the old slogan “Chasing Sailor Moon News All Over!” in favor of “The Legend Lives On” for that reason. The actors and crew have all come so far since then , and the story still lives on as a big influence and part of Japanese manga and anime history today. Sadly, Nobuko (who was born in 1896) is no longer with us today, she passed away at the age of 77 in 1973 of colon cancer. This was definitely one of the hardest articles we’ve ever had to translate and summarize for this site, but it was worth it. It didn’t really go deep into the evolution of shoujo novels, but it did at least give you all a taste of it’s roots up until now.

2 Responses to “A Short History of Girls Novels in Japan”

  1. Genevieve Says:

    Hey, there was a live action series of Sailor Moon not too long ago. 😀 The legend lives on, and all that!

    Very good article! It’s interesting how Japanese women looked for female characters to be role models and had them emulate American women of the time who were becoming free in a way themselves. The irony of little girls of my generation (early 90’s–too late for She-Ra etc.) pretty much only having Sailor Moon as one of the only “girl show” characters to look up to in non-Disney cartoons/comics does not escape me (and the series didn’t disappoint!).

  2. sailordees Says:

    This takes me back… I remember watching She Ra as a little girl but I remember being more fascinated with Kowl more than anything else. Rainbow Brite too… I can’t even remember how old I was when I watched those! As a tween though it was between Sailor Moon and Batgirl from Batman: The Animated Series. I still watch superhero cartoons occasionally to this day , you can never be too old to enjoy a good cartoon on Saturday Morning :p. My current favorites are Sushi Pack, Pucca and anything with Batman in it. This was a really hard article to research though, because there wasn’t much on a lot of the older works. I kinda wish that the author could have gone into it a little more because there’s a big gap between the old comics and modern day. I think to a certain extent that Japanese women in society are still trying to portray their takes on American women. You see this a lot especially in J-pop. People compare Namie Amuro to Jennifer Lopez all the time. I’m glad you enjoyed reading!

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