Sadly, putting this together has reminded me of how much we’ve lost over the past decade as most manga publishers with significant josei output have gone out of business. For more information on josei manga, which is manga aimed at adult female readers, check out this 2008 overview article or this post about examples of the genre and its resulting comments, which are full of suggestions.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of josei that we’ve seen in the U.S.: that of interest because of its subject matter (such as stories that focus on the challenges of being a working woman or maintaining adult relationships) and that marked for adult women because it’s a love story with explicit sexual content. In the former category are such titles as Suppli and Tramps Like Us; examples of the latter are the LuvLuv line of “ladies’ comics” or the Harlequin manga adaptations, about which more later.
2003-2004: Tokyopop publishes six books by Erica Sakurazawa, in an attempt to create creator awareness by branding unrelated books prominently under her name. Unfortunately, the last book in the series ends “to be continued”, with the remainder never published here, which is frustrating. Also released in this time period are 11 volumes of Happy Mania, a romantic comedy (emphasis on the latter) about a young woman desperate to find love.
2004-2007: Tokyopop brings a majority of the works by Mitsukazu Mihara, a gothic-inspired horror storyteller, to the U.S.: Doll (6 books), The Embalmer (4 of its 6 volumes), R.I.P.: Requiem in Phonybrian, Haunted House, Beautiful People, and IC in a Sunflower.
2004-2007: Viz, meanwhile, releases 18 volumes of Sensual Phrase. It’s labeled “shojo” but the explicit sex scenes earned it a Mature reader rating. To the best of my knowledge, Viz has never branded works as “josei”, although several of the titles they have released qualify, in my opinion, including Ai Yazawa’s Nana, which launches at the end of 2005.
2004-2008: Tokyopop publishes 14 volumes of Tramps Like Us, one of the most successful josei series in the U.S., although fans object to the renaming (original Japanese title Kimi Wa Petto is closer to “You’re My Pet”, which better gets at the series concept). This is my favorite josei, and the series that introduced me to the genre.
2005: Tokyopop announces “Manga After Hours“, a marketing campaign to promote certain titles, including Sakurazawa, Tramps Like Us, and Happy Mania to “older, intelligent, independent, and discerning” women. The intent was to target the series as “summer reading” aimed at “modern female sensibilities, with real-life situations and problems.” However, the planned “advertising, online promotion, and retailer positioning” never materialized.
Also 2005: Tokyopop releases two volumes of short stories — Sweat & Honey by Mari Okazaki and Galaxy Girl, Panda Boy by Junko Kawakami — under the umbrella brand of “Passion Fruit”. By lumping various josei works together, Tokyopop hoped to drive an audience, but sales were too low to continue. Lack of appropriate design and trade dress are blamed by some commenters. It still being too early to sell books based on creator name instead of content, without strong advertising, might also be a possibility.
2005-2006: Digital Manga releases Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery, a four-volume series that spurs debate over whether it’s yaoi (no, although it includes gay male characters) or josei (yes). Either way, it becomes a fan favorite.
2006: CPM Manga was due to release Sweet Cream & Red Strawberries, a much-anticipated short story collection by Kiriko Nananan (Blue) that got as far as having review copies sent out, but it never happened, perhaps due to difficulty in building the audience. (Some sample pages were later published by a journalist.)
Also 2006: In reaction to some of the above discussion, Ed Chavez posts a list of published josei to point out how many titles were available but not marketed as such, while David Welsh provides an overview of the then-state of the genre.
Also 2006: Dark Horse publishes six Ginger Blossom Harlequin manga, three pink (for younger readers), three purple (more sex, for “mature” readers). The books are even printed in the corresponding color ink; the pink, in particular, wind up physically difficult to read as a result. The line doesn’t last long, with Harlequin ending the deal within a year. A large number of Harlequin manga (adaptations, for the most part, of books originally published as novels, and without the silly color-coded gimmick) are now available to read online from emanga.com for a small fee.
2008: Aurora Publishing launches with three imprints: one for shojo, one for boys’ love, and LuvLuv, putting out “passionate manga for women”. Their first title is Voices of Love, a collection of short stories with plenty of sex included. Future volumes follow a similar pattern. They release eight LuvLuv books before the publisher goes out of business in 2010.
Also 2008: Netcomics solicits but cancels Talking About, a Korean josei manhwa.
2009: Viz begins serializing the eight-book Butterflies, Flowers, again as part of its Shojo Beat imprint, although the series is a josei comedy with a mature rating due to the sex-based comedy and explicit content.
2010: Viz releases Nana Book 21, the last of the rock-and-roll soap opera series for a while. The creator has put the work on hold while recovering from illness.
Also 2010: Tokyopop restarts Suppli after a two-year delay with a combined volume 4/5 release. Fans rejoice that the series, about a working woman who finds the demands of her job gets in the way of her love life, gets another chance, but it’s sadly cut short by Tokyopop’s demise in early 2011. Tokyopop is the company that did the most for bringing josei to the U.S., especially since they imported works that weren’t just “shojo with sex”.
Also 2010: Yen Press starts releasing Bunny Drop, a charming series about a man who becomes a surprise father with an adopted daughter.
Also 2010: Fumi Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters, published by Viz, is one of my Best Manga of 2010, demonstrating that it now may be more possible to sell short story collections based on the creator’s name, at least one that has a lengthy track record of U.S. publications. The book is promoted as great comics for adult readers, not just women.
Additional outstanding Yoshinaga releases in 2011 include another one-shot collection, Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! (Yen Press) and continuing volumes of Ooku (Viz), her yaoi-flavored alternate history in which most men are dead and the remaining are rare flowers to be protected. All qualify as josei, but none are labeled as such. Instead, Viz’s releases appear as part of the Signature line, manga aimed at adults. But with so many excellent choices for adult female readers, does it matter that they’re not being labeled for that particular audience?
2011: David Welsh begins the Josei A to Z project, a set of recommendations of good josei not yet licensed/translated for the U.S., arranged alphabetically. It’s full of insight into how much more material there is out there that we could be reading.
(Update: I have continued this timeline in a more recent post.)