Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Are You There God? It's Me, Manga: Manga as an Extension of Young Adult Literature

Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Are You There God? It's Me, Manga: Manga as an Extension of Young Adult Literature

Article excerpt

Comics have risen in popularity in recent years. Publishers, bookstores, and libraries are all changing their collections to reflect this demand, which is due in part to comics' newfound appeal to girls. Girls have primarily come to comics through manga, which in Japan has long been written for and marketed to both genders and for all ages. Gender bending and gender fluidity are common themes in manga, especially in the shojo and boys' love genres, both written for females. The boys' love genre depicts romances between two beautiful boys. Critics observe that the male-male love stories offer females safe opportunities to experiment with different sexual and gender roles. Even the more hetero-normative shojo comics, such as Sailor Moon and Ob My Goddess!, feature gay characters and characters who switch between genders.

Young adult literature has always existed to give teenagers a chance to experiment with different identities, and manga is extending this function. In this paper, we propose to demonstrate that manga's unconventional narratives give its female audience more agency as readers. Their interactions with and interpretations of the text are not dictated by conventional gender roles and expectations. Girls are driving a demand for comics and manga in the United States in unprecedented ways--and this is changing how teens read now.

Changing Shelves, Changing Selves

The bookshelves in U.S. libraries and corporate sellers have changed dramatically in the last five years. Back in 2003, trade magazines took note of the sales of manga and graphic novels. Reid remarked that sales

   have grown at such a phenomenal rate
   that they are transforming the landscape
   of American comics publishing. It's the
   only type of comic book that's more
   popular with girls and women than boys
   and men. Indeed, girls and women are
   going to bookstores to buy manga in
   numbers that are unheard of in the U.S.
   comics industry. (1)

Manga accounts for two-thirds of the U.S. graphic novel market, which was $375 million in 2007. (2) Girls, primarily those aged 13-17, make up 75 percent of the readership, and publishers are responding. Manga publisher Tokyopop recently partnered with CosmoGirl to attract new readers. In 2007 DC Comics, a classic superhero publishing house, created Minx, a graphic novel imprint for teenage girls. This spoke to "a paradigm shift in the comics industry." (3) Harlequin decided to bring their manga versions of their popular paperbacks originally for Japanese markets to America, noting "we know kids are going to the manga section of bookstores." (4) Teens are also going to the manga section of libraries. "Libraries are paying attention to manga because the numbers are clear: adding comic book titles to the shelves put circulation stats 'through the roof." (5)

Why, though, is the audience for manga overwhelmingly female? Eva Volin, a librarian who has served as an Eisner Award judge and is currently chair of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee, notes that "most manga focuses on character development and growth, along with action and humor. It pulls me in as a female reader [more] than a typical superhero comic." (6) One critic explained manga's popularity with the observation that "[m]anga offers adventure, romance, fantasy, erotica, even sports comics-there's something for readers of all ages and both genders." (7) Comics in the United States have long been marginalized, not seen as much more than a temporary diversion for adolescent males. In Japan, however, manga is a "dominant medium in mass culture viewed neither as a childish nor an impoverished textual medium...as it tends to be in the United States." (8) It is "sold ubiquitously--in newsstands, train kiosks, bookstores, convenience stores and vending machines packaged according to specific subjects and distinct audiences." (9) Manga is completely integrated into Japan's popular culture, and is read by all ages and both genders. …

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