Another Take on Getting Women to Read Comics: Getting Men to Read Manga

I don’t know who writes for doomkopf.com, but whoever he is, he had an interesting response to my Thought of the Day post and others who commented on the “getting your female significant other to read comics” idea. He compares the problems finding Western comics that interest women to the issues he’s had getting into manga:

I started looking at the various manga blogs and websites for recommendations. The majority of which were written by women. Understandably the recommendations leaned towards female interests which left me frustrated in trying to find titles that suited my interests. I suddenly understood what it is like for women new to comics having men recommend things to them. It quickly becomes confusing and overwhelming.

I think you can maybe take the idea “a woman recommended this, so it’s geared to female interests” a little too far — I know female manga readers who love books that are supposedly aimed at males (based on the original Japanese publishing plan) — but I do think that risks being true at this site. I mostly read “girly” manga, because that’s what I enjoy, but that’s why I am so glad to have Ed Sizemore’s contributions, to balance me out and provide a more well-rounded view of the format.

And for Mr. Doom, if you’re looking to step from superheroes into manga, you might start with Rurouni Kenshin, a historical samurai story with lots of people with exaggerated abilities. Or Wolverine: Prodigal Son, a manga take on the superhero character.


40 Responses to “Another Take on Getting Women to Read Comics: Getting Men to Read Manga”

  1. Caroline Says:

    I’m still not convinced that the conversation really has anything to do with whether or not American comics interest women, as much as it does with trying to force/trick other people to like something because it’s what you want them to like. (The ‘you’ being the hypothetical male whose wife won’t read comics.)

  2. Johanna Says:

    The questions of
    1) which interests it’s important for a couple to share and
    2) how to deal with things significant to you that aren’t to your SO
    are big ones when it comes to relationships, so I can understand someone writing what they think is a lighthearted fun piece not wanting to tackle them. But in general, if it’s important for a particular guy to be with a woman who likes comics, he should socialize more at conventions or make that part of his personal ad, instead of trying to convert someone later.

  3. Caroline Says:

    All true. And I think it *is* a worthwhile discussion to talk about how to get people interested in things you like, in general, and also to talk about why and whether certain things appeal more to women or to men. It’s just the appearance of the particular meme in the same form that gets tiresome.

  4. Daryl Surat Says:

    I like Rurouni Kenshin, and certainly the author was greatly influenced by Jim Lee and X-Men, but it’s still a comic that is ostensibly targeted for boys which is in fact targeted towards both male and female audiences. Such is the nature of modern shonen (“boy’s”) manga, which dominates the market. Since much of the shojo (“girl’s) comics that get released here do not take corresponding measures to deliberately appeal to male readers, I can see why the gentleman in question would think the way he does.

    The solution for getting men to read manga is simply to recommend they read seinen (“men’s”) manga, as the intended target demographic for these comics is the exact same demographic that Marvel/DC targets currently. Unfortunately, although seinen used to be commonly released in the 1990s, there are very few publishers/labels that release such works anymore. The most prolific seinen manga publisher is Dark Horse, an American comicbook publisher. Several works published under the Viz Signature label (not Viz Comics or anything else) are also seinen.

    Those are the titles to point men who currently read comics to if you want them reading manga as well. The ones primarily aimed at their demographic.

  5. Caroline Says:

    I think what I have an issue with is the way this discussion about what is ‘marketed’ to particular groups gets mixed up with what to recommend to a particular person. Demographic research/marketing trends are broad and have a lot of outliers. Marketers do the best they can, but a man trying to talk to his wife — who he presumably *knows* — isn’t facing the same limitations. What ‘women’ like as a group may not be all that relevant to what Johanna likes or what I like.

  6. Johanna Says:

    Daryl, do you have more information on the “boys’ manga is actually non-gender targeted” point you mention?

  7. Scott Says:

    Ah, but what if you don’t like Wolverine or samurai culture?

    I have tried (and will continue to try) manga but I’ve yet to find anything that grabs me.

    Partly, I have to admit, it is simply the visual aesthetic that turns me off… or at least doesn’t help me get into the story.

  8. MG Wood Says:

    Hello, I’m MG Wood (Doom) the one who wrote the post you linked to above. I just joined the Doomkopf staff and started posting for there this week, so much like manga I’m new to blogging. I do appreciate the response to what I wrote.

    Daryl’s response does a great job of explaining the problems I have had. I did go ahead and look at Rurouni Kenshin, including the helpful review, but it’s a good example of the kind of manga that does not interest me personally. I have been reading Vagabond which has similar themes but it suites me personally because of Inoue’s fantastic artwork (art style is a big deal to those of us that grew up on Western comics). Things like the Wolverine manga or the Batman manga do not really appeal to me as I would rather read those characters in the regular Marvel/DC format. I’ve enjoyed Naoki Urawasa’s works the most. A recommendation list branching off from Urasawa’s work would be the most helpful to someone like me.

    This is not to say I just want to read things geared for men or adults. I enjoyed the first volume of Yotsuba&!. I’ve read some of Ai Yazawa’s work such as Nana. While I’m not interested in romance stories in general I really like Yazawa’s art and storytelling skills. Its the same reason why I used to read Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise.

    Regrettably in my effort to keep things short I forgot to mention Deb Aoki’s manga blog in my original post. That was the most helpful site I found for someone like me but only about half of those recommendations suited me. It did make for a good start. Going beyond her list is where I become completely overwhelmed and frustrated as all I could find after that were recommendations for manga suited for females or the popular shonnen type manga which does not interest me.

    Thankfully it is not a issue of a lack of anything to read but a issue of being overwhelmed by the countless volumes of manga out there and trying to figure out what among them suites my personal tastes. It’s better to have too much then too little in this case.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Scott: You might try Planetes or the works of Naoki Urawasa — those are beautifully illustrated.

    MG: That’s a fair response. Recommending can be a process of refinement, as you respond to suggestions and we go forward. If you like Urawasa’s works, you might enjoy some of the other books in the Viz Signature line. If you like Yotsuba and gorgeous art, check out Aria. If you like Nana, you might like the earlier Yazawa series Paradise Kiss.

  10. vid Says:

    I have the same problems getting into anime as manga. I just find the art style off-putting and the stories not good enough to overcome my aversion to the artwork. I’d really like to see a Japanese comic that used a mostly realistic/naturalistic style rather than the big eyes/big head cartoonish like characters.

  11. Manga and Super Gods | Doomkopf.com Says:

    […] last post, but I ended up getting some good feedback thanks to Johanna over at Comics Worth Reading responding to what I wrote.   I realized I forgot to mention something important in my last post.  That being that Deb […]

  12. Daryl Surat Says:

    MG: Believe it or not, Yotsuba&! and Azumanga Daioh are ALSO seinen manga properties.

    vid: The art style issues you speak of are “generally” those emblematic of titles geared for children because the publishers make these properties under the assumption that they will adapt the series into a cartoon. Manga aimed at adults are slightly less prone to this. The example I always use is the artwork of Ryoichi Ikegami, artist for titles such as Sanctuary (regrettably out of print) and his wonderfully demented collaborations with Kazuo Koike (Crying Freeman, Offered, Wounded Man, etc). Other artists such as Kentaro Miura (Berserk) or even the artist that most influenced him, Tetsuo Hara (Fist of the North Star, which I should note was a CHILDREN’S series at the time), also tend to stray from the “big eyes/head” character designs that are off-putting to so many.

    Johanna: As a matter of fact, I can and have talked/written about this phenomenon very extensively such that it’s probably COMPLETELY off-topic in the comments section of a comics blog, but since you yourself asked, here you go! *deep breath*

    Cliff’s Notes version: for ~25 years the shonen manga anthologies (e.g. Shonen Jump) decide what titles continue or get canceled based on reader demographic survey cards included with every single issue. These cards, now standard issue for nearly all anthologies, include favorite character polls such that stories are retooled on the fly to feature higher ranked characters. When the results revealed in the late 80s that roughly 40% of the readers for these “boy’s” comics were actually girls, the shonen publishers, editors, etc began to deliberately consider the desires of female audiences (as denoted by the feedback) when designing characters and situations, and they’ve continued to do so ever since. For the sake of expanding their audience, some elements are added and some are removed or toned down (particularly “gore,” which is not the same as “violence”). Sort of like what taking things from “R” rated to “PG-13″ does for American movies. I refer to these works as “neo-shonen” to denote that they were made with both boys and girls/women in mind, though that term is by no means official. It also is not meant to be a judgment of quality, so it’s not like I’m saying “those aren’t REAL shonen!” or anything. I’m just saying that once upon a time, Violence Jack and Fist of the North Star were running in the very same places that currently run Inuyasha and Naruto.

    Of particular interest to shonen publishers are the “fujoshi”–female fans interested in romantic relationships between male characters, a la US “slash” fandom–as this group is willing to spend a lot of money and keep sending in those survey cards. But it is a balancing act to make comics that appeal to the significant female readership without alienating boys in the process. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. But this is why some highly popular shonen titles have predominantly female fanbases despite being “boy’s” manga.

    Yes, that’s the SHORT version. I’ve written about it in the pages of Otaku USA magazine, and I think also the website (http://www.otakuusamagazine.com). I also created a one hour lecture/presentation on the subject entitled “From Kenshiro to Kenshin: The Neo-Shonen Revolution” that charted the general alterations made to artwork and content over the last ~30 years as a result, using several specific examples. And it comes up on the podcast occasionally too. So if you would like me to support my claims, I could do so. But maybe you might prefer them in email since this is pretty long!

  13. Johanna Says:

    Wow, thanks for elaborating on that. I’m of mixed opinion about that effect. On the one hand, yay for taking the female audience into consideration. On the other, it sounds like another case of assuming “girls will watch/read entertainment for boys, while boys won’t do the opposite.” In the US, at least, that perception has led to an inbalance, where people concentrate on stuff for boys because girls will tag along.

  14. Daryl Surat Says:

    I’m not sure it’s really an assumption that it happens. The same reader survey data collected does suggest that the Japanese male readership for female anthology publications is approximately 5%, possibly less. Similar percentages were observed for the US manga anthology Shojo Beat which was targeted at girls until it went under earlier this year. If you have nothing better to listen to, I think we went back and forth on why that was the case roughly when it happened over here: http://tinyurl.com/ygaoo7q

    I wasn’t responsible enough at the time to list timestamps for exactly when that discussion starts, but the notes do at least cover what was discussed in the order they were discussed if you’re inclined to fast forward past a bunch of news items that are now like, 6 months old.

  15. Zoey Says:

    I think part of the problem too is that the manga that comes out in English here isn’t necessarily manga that will interest someone who doesn’t already have a taste for the format. I mean how many people, really, who have been growing up reading western comics all their lives are going to reach for something like Fullmetal Panic! or whatever? A lot of that stuff is dependent on you knowing what you’re getting into already. (Sounds familiar, hmm…)

    On a semi-related note, I think that when shoujo mags run stuff that appeals to both genders it doesn’t get presented as originally intended for a female audience over here. So things like Banana Fish or even sometimes Chicago don’t get immediately shoved into that “for girls” peg and it’s automatically assumed to be for boys.

  16. Johanna Says:

    I’m not at all typical, but I grew up reading Western comics, and I started this site to talk about them, but I’m not sure I would have kept reading comics at all if I hadn’t discovered manga several years ago. But I was, as you suggest, pushed into it, by an editor sending me some for review.

  17. Matthewwave Says:

    All it takes to get this man to read Manga is four little words: “Kazuo”, “Umezu”, “Hideshi”, and “Hino”.

    Guys are supposed to like horror, right? Show them some Umezu and Hino, might get ‘em. Maybe some Junji Ito, too.

    Or, if they’re into “literary” type comic books, show ‘em any of the Manga that Drawn & Quarterly is publishing — perhaps especially the great Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

    Matthew

  18. Scott Says:

    Planetes has been put on hold at my local library. Thanks for the suggestion. Urawasa is not in their collection, but I’ll check out the local comic shops and book stores.

  19. Johanna Says:

    Please come back and let us know what you thought after you’ve tried them. I’d like to know how well they worked for you.

  20. madeleine Says:

    The answer to this question is SEINEN. good seinen, like Vagabond.

    Seriously, if you like superheroes the leap to samurai is not such a huge one, and not to be all ‘men can only read manly comics’ but this is an extremely manly comic. In a good way. With beautiful art, loads of character development, and kickass fight scenes like you would not believe.

  21. thekamisama Says:

    Funny, the ad server put an banner for DragonBall Z DVD’s on this post when I am reading it. Obviously that manga has never had a problem finding an audience with adolescent boys and men who never stopped being them.

  22. Anon S. Says:

    Manga has never had a problem finding basement dwelling horny boys who have never seen a real women to look at the over-sexualized porny upskirt pics and storys… kinda like normal comic books.

    Makes me think it is the reputation that women should not read western comics that is the real culprit.

  23. Johanna Says:

    I think we’re reading very different manga.

  24. Anon S. Says:

    “I think we’re reading very different manga.”
    I am not so sure.
    Sailor Moon, vampire knight, and even Fushigi Yugi all seem to have the elements that are commonly given as to why girls wont touch western comics.
    I got to assume it is the stigma that is keeping women away from picking up X-men when she will turn around and pick up Naruto.

    The fact is that girls are told constantly that “REAL GIRLS DON’T DO THAT” and it is constantly reinforced by the fans.

    “Sometimes girls are told that they can’t or shouldn’t play RPGs or video games. But more often, I think, they are told that they don’t. The cultural message is sometimes wrapped in hand-wringing and good intentions, but the underlying assumption beneath “Why don’t girls play video games?” is still “Girls don’t play video games.””
    ~E. Cabell Hankinson Gathman

  25. Johanna Says:

    Oh, yeah, we are. I have more than enough manga stacked up to read, some seinen, some josei, some shojo — none of which involve “porny upskirt pics”.

    As for why women don’t read superhero comics, leaving aside the sexism: Even with its long run, something like Naruto is easier to start than something like X-Men. With Naruto, there’s a clear starting point, a clear next volume, and a single series to follow. X-Men has multiple titles, different creators doing different stories, stories that do nothing but refer to storylines that happened years ago… it’s off-putting to anyone who isn’t already indoctrinated, not just females.

  26. Anon S. Says:

    Your going to tell me that manga is less objectifying then spiderman/X-men?
    We thinks you just forgive it or don’t even notice. Maybe something like context is key?
    For every silly wonderwomen outfit we got a Tokyo Mew Mew transformation that is just as silly.

    “As for why women don’t read superhero comics, leaving aside the sexism:”
    No lets not, lets lay it on the table. Do you think western comics are more sexist story wise and image wise then popular manga?
    If yes then I challenge that perception. If no then it falls to the type of story’s being told… or that other idea.

    “it’s off-putting to anyone who isn’t already indoctrinated, not just females.”
    Right that effects everyone… so it would mot effect women any more then men so whats it got to do with why women don’t read superhero comics when InuYasha was popular with the girls?

  27. Johanna Says:

    I’m saying that manga is more diverse than superhero comics. While (let’s say) 90% of superhero books are sexist, the percentage of manga unfriendly to women is much lower. So there are more acceptable choices in manga — women can read it without running into the sexist titles if they want. That’s not true in superhero comics.

    My “leaving aside sexism” in superhero comics wasn’t denying it. I was saying that there were also other reasons that women wouldn’t be interested in that genre. Superhero comics (which are only a subset of Western comics, by the way) face more barriers in acceptance.

  28. Pink sparkly linkspam (November 16th, 2009) | Geek Feminism Blog Says:

    […] Another take on getting women to read comics: getting men to read manga […]

  29. Anon S. Says:

    “I’m saying that manga is more diverse than superhero comics. While (let’s say) 90% of superhero books are sexist, the percentage of manga unfriendly to women is much lower. So there are more acceptable choices in manga — women can read it without running into the sexist titles if they want. That’s not true in superhero comics.”
    But more women also read the sexist manga so…. its got to have other factors.

    “Superhero comics (which are only a subset of Western comics, by the way) face more barriers in acceptance.”
    Bingo! we got another factor!

    “While (let’s say) 90% of superhero books are sexist”
    God if they are so sexist why are we even trying to get people to read them?

  30. Johanna Says:

    Please prove that more women read sexist manga. The women I know reading manga are very sensitive to sexism and avoid those titles.

    I don’t know why you’d want to try and get people to read more superhero comics. Seems like something of a futile effort, when there are so many other great comic choices, in both series and graphic novels.

  31. MG Wood Says:

    I’m a bit confused by all this superhero talk. I thought Daryl already clarified this. It seems there is a assumption here that male readers of American style comics only read superheros and mindlessly violent books. That might have been true in the 90s but that is not true anymore. We tend to a read a mix from superheros at Marvel/DC to other genres like you get from the Vertigo line or small press books. The Walking Dead is the best example of what the typical male reader today likes. It is complex and well written with quality artwork (in black and white no less).

    This is why I was hooked on Naoki Urasawa’s work (Monster, 20th Century Boys, Pluto). It fits perfectly with the mix of titles that most male fans of American comics read now. As Daryl noted we are an older bunch now and prefer more mature writing.

    Most of my male friends have had the same problem as me. We would like to read manga but have no clue where to start since we are turned off by things like Naruto. Thankfully most of us are learning of Urasawa now but going beyond his work among manga is proving to be a real challenge.

  32. Ralf Haring Says:

    I gave up on Vagabond, which had too much posturing for me. If “manly posturing” is what is being looked for, I’d go straight to Lone Wolf and Cub.

    I think Fullmetal Alchemist is a good general purpose action-y recommendation. It got a dash of fantasy, a pinch of scifi, and enough meat to keep you interested before you realize the stories are superb. It’s one of my absolute favorite series, manga or not.

  33. Ralf Haring Says:

    For the more political-drama minded, I would recommend Eagle, though I’m not sure if it’s still in print.

  34. Anon S. Says:

    “Please prove that more women read sexist manga. The women I know reading manga are very sensitive to sexism and avoid those titles.”
    Deal.
    If I can prove a higher % of female readers will read a manga with misogynistic subtext over a western superhero comic will you give my argument some real thought?

    “I don’t know why you’d want to try and get people to read more superhero comics. Seems like something of a futile effort, when there are so many other great comic choices, in both series and graphic novels.”
    Sorry I thought the goal was getting women to read comics or something.

  35. Johanna Says:

    Ralf, I think Eagle is out of print, unfortunately (since I never got a chance to read it).

    Anon, comics is a lot more than just superheroes. I think those other choices are much better suited to female readers, as well as being easier to find (in bookstores instead of comic shops).

  36. Anon S. Says:

    :shrug:
    Are women not reading the other comics your talking about and if not why do you think that is?

  37. Hsifeng Says:

    Anon S. Says:

    “Your going to tell me that manga is less objectifying then spiderman/X-men?…”

    In other words, “…that comics originally written in Japanese are less objectifying than two series of superhero-genre comics originally written in English?…”

    That’s not like comparing apples and oranges, it’s like comparing an entire apple orchard and one crate of apples.

    “…For every silly wonderwomen outfit we got a Tokyo Mew Mew transformation that is just as silly…”

    For every silly Wonder Woman outfit we got a whole bunch of manga things, including yes a Tokyo Mew Mew transformation that is just as silly but also several other things from silly to serious.

    Johanna Says:

    “I’m saying that manga is more diverse than superhero comics…”

    Exactly! It’s the same way novels originally written in Korean are more diverse than mystery novels originally written in Swedish.

    Johanna Says:

    “Ralf, I think Eagle is out of print, unfortunately (since I never got a chance to read it)…”

    Ralf, get thee to a library, and don’t forget interlibrary loan! :D

  38. Strip News 11-20-9 | Strip News | ArtPatient.com | ArtPatient.com Says:

    […] Do we see with our eyes or our brains? Also, you can find some interesting discussions on Getting Women to Read Comics and Men T Read Manga. ♦ Tell it like it is, Rocket Bomber. Tell ‘em how it used to be before printing and how […]

  39. Strip News 11-20-9 | Strip News | ArtPatient Says:

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  40. guy Says:

    What hinders me most from reading manga is the fact that it’s increasingly more common that there’s no adaptation to western reading flow. It only adds to the annoyance the fact that some people, lots of people, defend that’s how it’s supposed to be, that it’s better this way, that’s “it’s manga, not comics” (as if it really was something other than “Japanese comics”).

    To me who started this whole thing of cheap half-finished adaptation and marketed it as “better”, “more true to the original” is a marketing genius. It’s perhaps one of the best examples of taking a flaw and turning it into a “feature”. At the same time it reduces the costs, and makes perhaps harder to people who are accustomed to the wrong reading order to read western comics, somewhat like an hermetic sealing to the competition. And many manga fans will readily approve it and boo anyone who attempts to do a better work of adaptation. It’s like a mixture of the work of a con man with the self-perpetuating mechanisms of a urban myth/meme. The con victims become themselves “infectious” and spread the con voluntarily and happily.

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