Of the four main demographics anime and manga usually fall under, josei is often the most underappreciated by mainstream audiences. Shonen anime, anime aimed at teenage and young boys, are often the most mainstream. Everyone knows about Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, My Hero Academia and so on. Anime and manga aimed at girls, known as shojo, are also incredibly popular, as seen with Sailor Moon or Fruits Basket. Most of the big adult-oriented hits tend to be seinen, stories marketed towards men.
However, josei, stories targeted at mature women, are often overlooked by mainstream anime fandom. They are regularly left out of the conversation when discussing the greatest anime and manga of all time. However, while josei anime and manga as a whole are under-discussed, several incredible josei manga have been massively successful. So why don't anime fans talk about josei as much?
Josei Anime and Manga Have a More Limited Appeal
Josei manga seem to have a disproportionately low level of circulation when compared to shonen, shojo and seinen manga. In 2007, You, that year's most popular josei manga magazine, had a circulation of 194,791 copies of its magazine. That same year, Weekly Shonen Jump had a circulation of 2,778,750. The best selling shojo manga, Ciao Magazine, circulated 982,834 copies, and Weekly Young Magazine, a seinen magazine, circulated 981,229 copies. You was canceled in 2018 due to low-readership.
One possible explanation is that anime and manga geared toward younger fans can naturally reach a wider audience. Young and old anime fans alike can watch a well-made shonen or shojo anime and be equally entertained, but an anime geared more toward adults, dealing with mature themes, will most likely either bore a younger audience or be inappropriate for them. However, this explanation does not explain why seinen, by comparison, is so much more successful than josei.
Manga artist Tina Yamashina speculated in a now-deleted tweet that this disinterest in josei manga might be because, despite women being okay with reading manga geared toward boys, men are uncomfortable "getting closer to a woman's values." However, a better perspective might be that male readers are uncomfortable knowingly "getting closer to a women's values", since many hit shonen titles, from Fullmetal Alchemist to Inuyasha, are written by women. Additionally, shojo titles like Sailor Moon have lots of male fans.
There are also successful titles that blend josei together with different genres. Such is the case with Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki, which started as a shonen title published in the shonen magazine Monthly GFantasy before switching to the josei magazine Monthly Comic Zero Sum by the time the third manga, Saiyuki Reload, came out. The genre shifted, but the series stayed as popular as ever. This is not a one-off example, either. Fujio Akatsuka's Osomatsu-kun was originally published in Weekly Shonen Jump. Its reboot, Mr. Osomatsu, targeted fujoshi (female otaku with an interest in BL shipping) and had spin-off manga published in the josei magazines You and Cookie. Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is a particularly fascinating example of a josei anime adaptation of a seinen manga.
There Are Many Successful Josei Anime and Manga
Despite josei's limited appeal, there are multiple mainstream anime and manga that count as josei. Some creators have managed successful careers creating multiple josei titles that range in genre and style. Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa, which remains one of the most successful josei titles not only in Japan but also internationally. Yazawa's Nana is technically shojo, but its darker content is widely considered a gateway to josei. Other popular josei titles include Princess Jellyfish, Usagi Drop, Eden of the East and Chihayafuru. One of the most acclaimed manga releases of 2017, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, is an incredibly personal josei manga.
With the exception of My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, all the aforementioned titles either started as or were adapted into anime. Anime often bring mainstream attention to manga that, while successful, might not have broken out in popularity. Such was the case with Demon Slayer, whose sales surged following its 2019 anime adaptation. Every season, far fewer josei anime than any other genre, so josei manga often go unnoticed by mainstream audiences.
There are some signs of a growing demand for josei anime. Aggretsuko on Netflix is one of the most mainstream josei anime and is going strong approaching its fourth season. Sayo Yamamoto's critically-acclaimed directorial works (Michiko & Hatchin, Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and Yuri!!! on Ice) have all relied, to varying degrees, on adult women for success. However, while there are many successful josei titles, there are surprisingly few of them in comparison to their rival demographics. Josei manga and anime deserve your attention.
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