What exactly is shojo manga?
“Shojo manga” refers to a genre of manga that is usually aimed at young girls and women between the ages of 10-18, although that’s just a ballpark figure. The genre encompasses several other sub-genres, such as magical girl and comedy. Some of the manga listed below also fall into the “josei” category, which is meant for women in their teens and above and deal with more mature themes.
1. Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon (美少女戦士セーラームーン)
Sailor Moon fights the bad guys of the universe with her Sailor Scout friends, all the while making time for high school and romance.
Perhaps the most classic of all classic shojo manga, “Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon” began running in 1991 and spanned 18 volumes. It has since been translated into several languages, including English, and was recently re-released in the United States with a new translation and new covers. The series covers the adventures of Usagi, a 14-year-old girl who finds a magical cat named Luna and receives the ability to transform into her magical girl alter ego, Sailor Moon. Of course, the story is much more complicated than that, and there is a reason why it’s the most-loved shojo series of all time in all its forms.
2. Cardcaptor Sakura (カードキャプターさくら)
Another favorite of the magical girl sub-genre, Cardcaptor Sakura follows 10-year-old Kinomoto Sakura as she strives to complete a set of mysterious, powerful cards.
Cardcaptor Sakura, written by the famous manga circle CLAMP, began in 1996 and ran until 2000. With a total of 12 volumes, the series also spawned a successful anime series as well as a few movies. Like Sailor Moon, it is one of the most beloved shojo manga of all time, owing to CLAMP’s graceful art style as well as their skilled storytelling ability. Much more than a simple story about Sakura and her magical powers, this manga manages to capture feelings of love and friendship that many adults may have forgotten.
3. Fruits Basket (フルーツバスケット)
Fruits Basket is certainly a shojo manga that thinks outside of the genre’s box.
Fruits Basket, which ran from 1999-2006, is unlike any other manga that was released during this time. An orphaned girl named Tohru Honda discovers that her classmate, as well as his extended family, are posessed by the animals of the Chinese zodiac. After she stumbles upon this secret, she moves in with them in order to try and break the curse. With a total of 23 volumes, the manga is a little long, but the story only becomes deeper and more complicated as the series progresses.
4. Kodocha (こどものおもちゃ)
Kodocha (the shortened version of the manga’s full title, Kodomo no Omocha) is full of hilarious moments, though it doesn’t skimp on its share of drama.
Kodomo no Omocha ran from 1995-1999 and follows the story of Kurata Sana, a child actress and television star. The manga begins as a simple, light story about Sana’s life and her interactions with her mother and classmates, especially her “enemy” Hayama Akito, but moves into darker and more mature themes towards the end of the series. While the change is a little jarring, the story remains captivating and the characters rich enough to keep the reader interested.
5. Love*Com (ラブ★コン)
Love*Com, or Lovely Complex, never has a dull moment in all of its volumes.
Love*Com, short for the manga’s official title of Lovely*Complex, was recently finished in 2006 and is a perfect blend of comedy and shojo romance. While the story is straightforward enough–very tall Koizumi Risa and very short Otani Atsushi, regarded as their school’s comedy duo, vow never to fall in love with each other, a promise which backfires–the characters are hilarious and the jokes never stop coming. One drawback, however, is the dialect: because the story takes place in Osaka, the original Japanese version is all in Kansai dialect and thus extremely hard to understand.
6. Nodame Cantabile (のだめカンタービレ)
Nodame Cantabile won the Kodansha Manga Award in 2004 for best shojo manga.
Another recent favorite, Nodame Cantabile ran from 2001 to 2009 and spanned 23 volumes. The manga consists of 2 arcs and follows Chiaki Shinichi and Noda Megumi through their lives as two music students with very different abilities and dreams. The series, like many of the others in this list, has also produced a drama adaptation and two movies. While the manga technically falls under the shojo category, it blends together several other genres to make a funny, heartwarming and extremely relatable story, even if you’re not into music.
7. Paradise Kiss (パラダイス・キス)
Paradise Kiss is a good read, but if you’re into fashion it adds an extra level of interest.
Paradise Kiss is a short series of only 4 volumes that ran from 1999 to 2003. It was serialized in the fashion magazine “Zipper” and has been translated into several other languages besides English, including Korean, French, Polish, Thai and German. The story focuses on a group of fashion students and their model, a “normal” high school student. While there is no need to have an interest in fashion in order to enjoy Parakiss, as it is often called, it is one of the central parts of the storyline.
8. Black Bird (ブラックバード)
Black Bird is currently still running in Japan, although it is simultaneously being translated into English.
Black Bird began in 2007 and is still running, though it remains one of Japan’s most popular shojo manga series. It centers around the main character, Harada Misao, and her powerful blood that is able to give demons remarkable power. Her childhood friend, Kyo, is the head of a demon clan and returns to protect Misao from the demons out to attack her. In 2009, the series won the Shogakukan Manga Award in the shojo category.
Gals! may be a little hard to understand due to all the slang, but it makes up for it in its vibrant characters and relatable themes.
Gals! ran from 1999-2002 and produced 10 volumes in that short time. The series concentrates on Kotobuki Ran and her friends as well as the “kogyaru”/”gyaru” sub-culture, which was very popular during the era as a fun, bright, quirky and specific lifestyle. Almost all of the chapters take place in Shibuya, the center of gyaru life, and follow the characters’ adventures in life and love. While the story itself is funny and light, some of the chapters delve into more serious issues in Japan, such as teenage suicide and enjo kosai (literally “compensated dating,” where men pay young women for services, some of which are sexual).
10. The One I Love (わたしのすきなひと)
Although not a series of volumes, The One I Love is a compilation of one-shots that focus on the theme of love.
The One I Love is a collection of slice-of-life, one-shot stories by CLAMP that all revolve around the theme of love. It was originally published in 1995 and translated into English in 2004. Each of the stories is followed by an essay written by a CLAMP member which reflects on the accompanying theme. While each one-shot is primarily focused on having a relationship, overall the stories are lighthearted, cute and completely understandable to those who have felt the same way.