Composition: Kanako Wakui
From boys that make your heart flutter, to Cinderella stories coming true, shoujo manga is bursting to the brim with every girl’s hopes and dreams.
But what exactly are those hopes and dreams?
The manga app Palcy recently celebrated its one year anniversary, and as part of round two of a series of interviews, Matsuhara, editor of Nakayoshi, Mizugaki, editor of Bessatsu Friend, and Maeda, editor of Dessert, all sat down with Sukemune, editor-in-chief of Palcy, to discuss ‘what girls really want’. It was particularly interesting to hear from Maeda, the sole male editor of the group!
Shoujo Manga: Crazy about Love!
Matsuhara (Nakayoshi): Nakayoshi is aimed primarily at girls aged 10-14. Since we’re currently featuring Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, there are also quite a few older readers. I feel as though many of our readers are the relatively studious type, but have come to love manga too.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): Bessatsu Friend is aimed at girls in their teens, and our magazine’s theme is ‘falling in love with love’. Our readers are romantics who want to read love stories that make their heart flutter - that’s the majority of the manga we feature. Of course, I do believe we have quite a few readers in their 30s and 40s too.
We want you to read our stories and realize what a wonderful thing it is to fall in love, regardless of age - that’s the type of magazine we are.
Maeda (Dessert): Dessert is aimed at people who have already fallen in love. You could say it’s the After to Bessatsu Friend’s Before.As a magazine, we’re centered around ‘the moment your life changes’. We operate under the belief that one of the strongest catalysts for a girl’s life to change is when she falls in love, and we believe that the majority of our readers have already experienced that. We feature a lot of stories that deal with realistic themes that will resonate with high school girls and/or college students.
Matsuhara (Nakayoshi): All of the boys in Nakayoshi are gorgeous. Generally speaking, each manga will revolve around the protagonist and her crush. On the other hand, Himitsu no Chaiharo, which is about an elementary school student who is secretly involved with an employment service center for children in order to earn a lot of money, is also very popular.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): Probably any of our manga that deals with love-related dreams coming true, such as falling in love with your crush. One of our series, Gozen Reiji, Kiss Shi Ni Kite Yo, which is a love story between a celebrity and an ordinary high school student, has even been made into a movie. Kurosaki from Defying Kurosaki-kun is the most popular boy in school. He’s rich and athletic with perfect grades - but he’s also quite sadistic and referred to as a ‘Black Prince’. Kouta from P and JK is the older man you might have a crush on as a teen, but can’t do anything about this ‘forbidden romance’. As with all shoujo manga, our stories are about crushes and infatuation, but all of our most popular series focus on the characters themselves, rather than just romance.
Maeda (Dessert): The editorial staff of Dessert often say that our stories make a big deal out of the small things in life. You could say it’s the mundane made magical. Hananoi-kun to Koi no Yamai is about a boy who is head over heels in love with the protagonist, but there’s nothing particularly unusual about their story - the artist focuses on scenes that any couple might experience.
I would say that manga where both the boy and the girl influence each other in a positive way are popular. Stories about how wonderful it is to have met this specific person, or how a relationship with a specific person would go, or how you should act in a relationship. It’s not just about having the perfect partner - it’s about the joy of making a positive change to their life. After all, relationships are a two-way street. That’s how I feel anyway.
The Power of An Unlikely Love Story
Sukemune: That’s true, it feels like several series nowadays are challenging the archetypal idea of what kind of guy falls into the "love interest" category. It’s like they’re asking readers: "did you ever think that this kind of guy could be a potential love interest too?" From pro wrestlers to police officers, all kinds of guys are being given a chance.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): Not to mention, when boys and girls are the same age, boys can seem a little more childish. It’s like reminding girls that they can do better (laughs).
Matsuhara (Nakayoshi): Girls just love bad boys after all.
Sukemune: It’s the drama of a boy being part of the yakuza and being with the girl they love. Those kinds of characters are portrayed as very passionate.
Matsuhara (Nakayoshi): And it’s pretty cool to have someone fight in order to protect you.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): There are a lot of girls who read both shoujo and shounen manga, so they probably admire characters who are physically strong, but there aren’t many people like that in more realistic situations. Even if a character is physically strong, there aren’t many scenarios where they can show off their strength. But since the threat of danger looms over members of the yakuza, it gives the characters a chance to show off their physical strength, manga-style.
Matsuhara (Nakayoshi): Will you live, or will you die? There’s a certain thrill to not knowing if you’re going to be able to meet someone again because their life is in danger.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): It feels slightly more realistic than a shonen manga, but at the same time it’s still most definitely not going to happen in real life. It’s almost like a new kind of urban fantasy.
Sukemune: There’s the age-old goal of aiming for the top to consider too. Originally that might refer to becoming the leader of a kingdom, but in reality, the highest you could aim for would be to be promoted to CEO of a company, or something… which seems kind of small in comparison. I don’t know if becoming head of the yakuza counts as ‘aiming for the top’, but becoming the head of some organization is certainly something.
Maeda (Dessert): It’s like becoming the top of the food chain. And on top of having fought for their place at the top, they still treasure their time with their girlfriend most of all.
Sukemune: It’s definitely connected to how popular romance is at the moment. That said, being the wife of a member of the yakuza is a theme that’s been popular for a long time, and it’s easy to fantasize about.
Maeda (Dessert): I’m actually in the process of preparing to publish a yakuza-based story right now, but making it suitable for readers as young as Nakayoshi’s certainly sounds challenging.
Matsuhara (Nakayoshi): I believe that how things are portrayed is very important. I don’t mean that only in regards to yakuza-based manga, but it’s something we consider for all of our manga. We’re very careful about what we publish - we don’t want to publish anything that would make our readers feel bad, or hurt them in any way. We make sure there’s no discrimination or making fun of things like parents’ occupations. It’s important to portray bad things as bad. That said, it’s not that the manga in Nakayoshi is specifically aimed at young children. We don’t want to treat our readers like young children. Girls despise being treated like kids.
Listen up, Boys! Girls Don’t Just Want to be Good - They Want to Be Great!
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): For Bessatsu Friend, it’s ordinary girls who approach romance proactively. There aren’t really any stories where the protagonist dilly-dallies over whether or not she should tell a boy she likes him or not. Our girls take it upon themselves to win over their crush.
Sukemune: They’re not going to waste their own time.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): If anything, it’s not the end of the world if a character isn’t perfect, and has a few flaws. It seems far more realistic than a character who is super intelligent, or insanely beautiful. To give an example of a series we published in the past, Momo from Peach Girl comes to mind.
On the other hand, the protagonist from Takane no Ran San is beautiful, studious, and athletic, so she’s treated as if she’s way out of everyone’s league. But she herself is a little hurt by being treated this way, but since she’s actually a bit awkward, she just can’t bring herself to say it out loud.
Our readers are a bit older than the readers of Nakayoshi, and our protagonists are strong in a way that elementary school girls wouldn’t understand.
Maeda (Dessert): As for who’s popular right now, I think all of the shoujo manga protagonists from Kodansha are pretty heroic.
As for Dessert, there’s a lot of series aimed at girls who live in the suburbs and look up to what’s classically portrayed as city life. They want to lead this kind of lifestyle. Along those same lines, any protagonist like the heroine from We hope for blooming, who is always striving to become the best version of themselves they possibly can, is inspirational to our readers, and therefore popular. Dessert’s predecessor Shoujo Friend published Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern, which featured Benio, a cheerful girl who was always working hard to improve herself. We feature a lot of those kinds of characters in our magazine.
Sukemune: Haikara-san had a lot of guts. Not just when it came to love - she approached life in general proactively.
Maeda (Dessert): Even when boys tell girls things like, ‘You’re fine as you are!’, girls still may not feel they’ve reached their true potential. They want society to recognize them for their achievements. Of course, we also feature manga where our protagonist starts out as completely dependant on others and grows as a person along with the reader as the story progresses. There are all kinds of different protagonists.
What do Girls Really Want? They Opposite of What They Complain About!
Maeda (Dessert): I think the person who knows the answer to that best of all is the manga artists. They’re female too after all. During meetings, we ask questions like ‘What do you want more than anything?’ and ‘What’s the number one thing that would make a girl happy?’ and ‘What would make you happy personally?’. Then when they answer something like, ‘Right now, what I want most of all is for someone to acknowledge and praise my hard work’, we start to talk about what kind of boy do they want to be praised by, and what kind of things do you want to be praised for.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): Manga artists aren’t mind readers, and it’s hard to come up with a story that’s absolutely everyone’s cup of tea, so they draw what’s fun for them, and satisfies them.
Matsuhara (Nakayoshi): Whenever we have meetings to discuss what kind of story they will create next, we talk about our own love lives. The manga artists often end up getting ideas from that, if anything that sounds interesting happened.
Maeda (Dessert): People think they want a certain story, but the more we flesh it out, the more it differs from what was originally intended. The story becomes unique to each manga artist. What starts as wanting to be spoiled by several different guys, turns into a full-on reverse-harem scenario. Naturally, each manga artist has their own specific tastes too.
Sukemune: It’s hard to know what girls really want. They’re more likely to talk about what they don’t want. When I’m on the train, or in a cafe, I often hear girls criticizing guys for behavior they don’t like, or complaining on Twitter about them quite a lot. I don’t really know what they want to be done about it, just that they’re complaining for the sake of it.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): If you read behind the lines, what they’re really saying is what they want is the opposite of the kind of guy they complain about. Like an older guy who has a good job and spoils them. You can basically infer what they’re looking for. They don’t say it outright, but that’s what they mean.
Matsuhara (Nakayoshi): It makes me want to tell them that nothing will come of just complaining, so why don’t you think about things in a different way? When I see girls who are bad at expressing themselves always complaining about the same things, I feel sorry for them.
Sukemune: This might sound condescending, but if you suggested a manga starring a guy that’s the exact opposite of the kind of guy they’re complaining about, you might be onto something.
The Future of Shoujo Manga
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): The editor-in-chief of Bessatsu Friend often tells us to make a manga where the protagonist is straight-forward about what kind of guy she wants. Like, she’s honest about wanting to date someone really cool - if something really incredible like that happened. The manga artist themselves should be upfront about what they like too.
Lusting over a particular type of guy is something that will never disappear, and if you add a couple of old-timey elements, you can make it into a story set in a different era. The core of all great stories is essentially the same.
Maeda (Dessert): Our former editor-in-chief declared that they wanted to make every girl in the world happy. But that’s been the case from the very beginning, and it’s up to us to keep searching for what will make girls nowadays happy.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): I think any manga that makes girls happy can be classified as shoujo manga. Once you hit your teens, romance becomes a huge topic in your life. In the past, we’ve had series such as The Wallflower, which wasn’t a typical boy meets girl love story. Times are changing, and the way girls think is changing too. I really want people to know that shoujo manga nowadays isn’t just predictable or cliche - it’s really interesting! It’s not as if the only two types of characters that exist are guys like Christian Grey or guys like Prince Charming. There are all sorts of characters in between too!
Maeda (Dessert): To be honest, when I was younger I really thought that shoujo manga was the work of the devil. I’m expected to become this kind of guy? Impossible! But now I feel completely different. You could say I’ve learned a lot from shoujo manga.
Sukemune: The idea of the ‘perfect guy’ that’s enforced so much puts a lot of pressure on guys. That’s certainly a negative side to shoujo manga. But it’s more important to put that aside, and focus on what it takes to become a heroine.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): Guys may think that a conventionally attractive face makes the perfect guy, but that’s certainly not all there is to it. Though I’m not sure that what makes girls feel good when they read shoujo manga will also make guys feel good.
Sukemune: They plan to stay in a convenient world, so they don’t get locked into a narrow space.
Maeda (Dessert): The truth will be revealed. Female readers will not be fooled.
The Perfect Guy is One Who Makes Her the Heroine!
Maeda (Dessert): That’s difficult! I’d like to know the answer to that myself.
Matsuhara (Nakayoshi): I think the perfect guy is one who makes the girl feel like the heroine.
All together: That’s it!
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): He makes her feel like a princess.
Matsuhara (Nakayoshi): Since the goal of Nakayoshi is to make all our readers feel like the heroine, the perfect guy is one who treats girls like heroines.
All together: (Applause)
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): That said, it’s not that she wants the guy to do anything specific. Sometimes he doesn’t have to do anything at all. Some girls want a boy who just stands by while she stands in the spotlight.
Sukemune: ‘Just stand there and look pretty!’ They don’t have to do anything special. Just standing by her side is enough to make her feel good.
Mizugaki (Bessatsu Friend): Some girls even like the idea of being the one to comfort the boy instead. A boy doesn’t have to be perfect - he just has to make her feel like a heroine.
Maeda (Dessert): Just the act of making her a heroine is really cool in itself.
When it Comes to Shoujo Manga, Palcy is Number One!
Palcy features both famous older works like Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern, to currently popular works such as Ojou to Banken-kun.
Of course, we have more than just shoujo manga!
Starting September 12th, Million Joe will be fully available to read for two weeks.
There is also special edition content limited to Palcy, so we definitely recommend checking it out!