Joy Kim

Librarian. Book Reviewer. Coffee Addict.

Female friendship in shōjo manga

kiminitodoke2.jpgOver on Twitter today, Sean Gaffney (@Toukochan) of A Case Suitable for Treatment observed that many shōjo series have the situation “heroine hated by all female classmates, has male friends.” In response, I remarked that I have limited patience for shōjo manga that do not value female friendship. David Welsh (@PreCur) of The Manga Curmudgeon asked us to share our favorite series that do respect and celebrate female friendship. And so we did.

I felt our collective list was worth preserving in a spot slightly less ephemeral than Twitter, so here it is:

  • Fruits Basket
  • GALS!
  • Gatcha Gacha
  • Honey and Clover
  • I Hate You More than Anyone
  • Kare Kano
  • Kimi ni Todoke
  • Kodocha
  • Love*Com
  • Magic Knight Rayearth
  • Marmalade Boy
  • NANA
  • Sailor Moon
  • Ultra Maniac
  • VB Rose

(Sean also cited magical girl titles in general, since they tend to have female teams.)

vbrose1.jpgTo expand a little on the thoughts behind my original tweet: I am especially frustrated by the lack of female friendships in shōjo manga because friendship is almost always a major theme in shōnen series. That’s especially true of Weekly Shōnen Jump series, where friendship themes are literally part of the editorial policy. Why do creators/editors/publishers think that boys should be friends, but girls should only be each other’s romantic rivals? Also, the frequent dearth of female friendships in shōjo manga echoes the situation in teen fiction, where all too often a heroine’s friendships are overlooked in favor of her male love interest.

This is why I love Kimi ni Todoke so very much. Not only does the creator realize that a romance with Kazehaya will not solve all of Sawako’s social problems–so does Kazehaya. In vol. 2, he actually steps back to give Sawako’s friendships with her female peers some necessary space. It makes him a very appealing manga boyfriend.

In a separate tweet, I also noted that sometimes female friendships are the best things in otherwise average series. My example? Skip Beat. I find it likable but uneven in quality. The art is fairly hideous, but the humor is pretty irresistible. If the plot had 100% less Reino and 100% more Moko (with a few bonus appearances of that chicken suit), I’d be a happy camper.

What are your favorite shōjo series that respect and celebrate female friendship? Please share them in the comments! As for me, I really have to put Banri Hidaka’s work higher on my to-read list. I’ve been hearing great things about it V. B. Rose and I Hate You More than Anything, and this might be just the push I needed to pick them up.

17 Comments

  1. Before I even saw the accompanying image to this post, my first thought was Kimi ni Todoke!

    Three others I can think of are:
    High School Debut – In which Haruna is accompanied by her faithful and level-headed best friend, Mami.

    Crimson Hero</i< – A relatively rare shojo sports manga that is at its best when focusing on friendships among the teammates.

    Boys Over Flowers – Much of this does revolve around the heroine’s interactions with a group of rich boys, it’s true, but Yuki is another faithful and level-headed best friend who gets a well-deserved story arc of her own as the story nears its end.

  2. Apparently I need to brush up on my close tags.

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  4. I missed the beginning of your twitter conversation yesterday, so you may have already mentioned this, but the friendship between Tohru, Arisa, and Hanajima is one of the things that makes Fruits Basket so special.

  5. @Michelle – My opinion of Crimson Hero is much like my opinion of Skip Beat: I would like it better if much more attention was paid to the girls’ team dynamics and much less attention was to the love triangles. I know other readers have disagreed with me on this one, though, as I’ve seen complaints that there’s just too much volleyball.

    @Eva – I completely agree! We actually did mention Fruits Basket but I forgot to include it in the list when I first published this post. It’s added now. Fruits Basket certainly adheres to the popular shōjo formula of having lots of hot guys, but Takaya is such a great writer that the balance of the story is never thrown off. In other words, Yuki and Kyo still get to angst–a lot–but Tohru’s emotional life doesn’t get ignored or pushed aside. And her friendships with Arisa and Hanajima are part of that. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Arisa and Hanajima are all sort of awesome!

  6. It’s technically seinen and the main focus is on romance, but I really like Emma‘s use of women, from Emma’s friendships with her fellow maids, her relationship with her old employer/almost-mentor, one of the side characters’ extremely over-protective big sister, and, best of all, a friendship between two women of about 40 or 50.

    And it’s not licensed here (bah!), but so far, Takaya Natsuki’s Hoshi wa Utau has a female friendship that reminds me a lot of Tohru and Hanajima. Right now, there’s a lot of guy angst, but I’m trusting her writing and don’t think she’ll push aside the friendship for the romance.

    I hope Hatori Bisco will have more with Haruhi’s friendship with Mei, as I love Ouran but really wish there were more women at times.

    What do you think about Sand Chronicles? I feel that though a great deal of the focus is on romance and romantic rivalry, I also love Ann’s relationship with Shika and how it’s weighted in the series.

    Unsurprisingly, Yazawa Ai’s Paradise Kiss, Last Quarter, Gokinjo Monogatari, and Tenshi Nanka Ja Nai (latter three not licensed, booooooo!) also have a lot of time dedicated to female friendships (I particularly love the ones in Tenshi Nanka Ja Nai), and I love how she neatly sidesteps issues of romantic rivalry between women.

    … now I am tempted to make a list for non-shoujo series too, just because I feel good female friendships and/or romances can be difficult to find overall!

  7. @Michelle – I do love Haruna’s friendship with Mami, as well as Haruna and her “greatest rival,” and I love the series a lot, but I feel like Kawahara tends to pit women against each other more often than not. As such, my overall impression is that the friendships are in the background and not given much weight by the narrative, as opposed to female rivals, who get significant plot arcs dedicated to them. I do hope that we’ll get more of Haruna and Yoh’s sister though, as I find the sister’s characterization rather frustrating and uneven.

  8. I swear, I will stop commenting soon! But I also like Chmakova’s Dramacon and (so far) Nightschool for their relationships between women. I particularly love that the primary plot of Nightschool is driven not by romance or guys or whatnot, but by sisterhood.

  9. @Oyce – One reason I originally framed the discussion within the shōjo genre is that the genre’s conventions so often seem, to borrow your words, to pit women against each other. It’s like relationships are this zero-sum game for women; they can have romance or friendship, but not really both.

    Ouran is one of my exceptions; I love it a lot even though it is such a reverse harem series. I was so glad when Mei turned up; I just wished she had appeared earlier! (How far are you? I don’t want to spoil you?)

    My feelings on Sand Chronicles are similar to yours. Though I wouldn’t put it on a list of series celebrating female friendship–family is really the theme that balances out romance in Sand Chronicles and makes it so appealing–I think Shika’s characterization had enough layers to avoid some of the usual traps. I can’t be quite as charitable about the depiction of the other girl who like Daigo, though at least that is more peripheral to the main plot.

    I almost want to put Land of the Blindfolded on the list because I really liked Kanade’s friendship with Eri. I was still left wishing, though, that Eri had a slightly bigger role in the story.

    I don’t remember Her Majesty’s Dog very well–it’s been so long since I read it!–but wouldn’t that qualify?

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  11. I didn’t see any of the Twitter posts, so I don’t know if Card Captor Sakura was mentioned? Even when the series started to focus on Sakura and Syaoran, Tomoyo was there cheering them on. There was also Sakura’s trio of friends. I think it’s one of the most friendshippy shoujo series I’ve got on my shelf.

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  13. @joy – Oh, I agree with you about Crimson Hero. I find the team/volleyball action far more interesting than when Nobara angsts about boys! :)

    @Oyce – You’re right; the rivals in High School Debut *do* get more screentime than the friends, and that’s a shame.

  14. @Joy – Very agreed about shoujo and friendship vs. romantic rivalry. I wonder how many series there are in which the women start out as rivals and then end up becoming friends instead? I feel like I can list a few, but they’re very rare (in all genres and media, not just shoujo manga, alas).

    Yeah, I have Sand Chronicles in my head as a potential series for a great friendship, and I’m really hoping that the mangaka takes more time to show Ann and Shika’s relationship sans romantic entanglements.

    Good point re: Her Majesty’s Dog! I wouldn’t include it because I’m unsatisfied with where the mangaka ends up going with the story… I really like Amane’s relationship with Takako in the beginning, but sadly, like many manga, it gets shafted a bit for the romance and for other plot stuff. I think Takeuchi tries to put it back in in later volumes, but it’s not always successful.

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  17. Fushigi Yuugi. Although Yui does go bad, it’s not really about romantic rivalry, but that Yui thought she would lose her bond to Miaka when she fell in love with Tamahome. Miaka stays intensely loyal to Yui and keeps trying to reach and rescue her- finally suceeding, in part 2 Yui repays this friendship by standing up to those that threatened Miaka’s life. You also have the bond Subaru feels toward both her former miko Suzano and to Miaka. In Watase’s Ayashi no Ceres there are several central female friendships that until the final arc do play a role in the story.