In Praise of Female Mangaka: 10 Must-Reads

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Recently, I realized that the majority of my favorite manga were created by female mangaka. Usually I discover the anime first, but often after watching the anime I then go back to read the manga because I can’t get enough of the art and story, otaku that I am. Consistently, though, when I go from watching the anime to reading the manga, I discover that the mangaka is a woman, with only a few exceptions.

Hold on. Wait. Back up. Let me start over with some terminology:

  • Manga: Essentially, Japanese comics.
  • Mangaka: A Japanese comic writer and/or artist. (Many mangaka do both story and art.)
  • Anime: Refers to Japanese animation, the majority of which is based on manga.
  • Otaku: Basically, an obsessive fan. Me, for instance. I really, truly love manga and anime. In fact, I’d like to sincerely apologize in advance if I write with excessive excitement during this post.

Right, back to the main topic. Female mangaka have claimed a special spot in my heart. Sure, I’m fond of some male mangaka, such as Tite Kubo. However, women mangaka dominate my list of favorites.

Why? Because they’re made of rainbows and chocolate and baby koalas. They offer strong female characters I can relate to. They create stories with depth that leave me thinking and wondering long after I take in the last word. I could reread their manga or rewatch the related anime over and over — I have, in fact, done just that with many of them.

Manga on display

If you have ever thought to yourself, “Gee, I’d like to discover stories by talented female artists and writers from Japan, but I don’t even know where to start,” as I’m sure you have on many occasions, here are a few of my favorites. Please bear in mind that I’m unashamedly biased in favor of fantasy stories.

1. Fullmetal Alchemist, by Arakawa Hiromu: (Male lead character) This is my ultimate, my favorite. It’s a story of devoted brothers, Ed and Al, young alchemists who have committed a horrible taboo and paid a price they never expected. They seek to recover what they’ve lost by finding the fabled Philosopher’s Stone. This story involves condemnation and redemption, comedy and tragedy. The philosophy behind it challenges me, and the spirit of it delights me. The cast of characters is rich and diverse, and although the brothers take the lead roles, the supporting females show some amazing complexity, particularly Izumi Curtis, who fills the role of teacher to Ed and Al. She made my jaw drop time and again.

2. Skip Beat!, by Nakamura Yoshiki: (Female lead character) Skip Beat! is a lighter tale, a romance/comedy. Kyoko, a teen who devoted herself to supporting her childhood friend and ideal “prince,” Shoutaro, and helping him achieve his dream of stardom, discovers that he sees her as nothing more than a stepping stone and has been using her. She swears to get revenge, but the only way to do it is by entering the entertainment industry. I adore Kyoko. She’s smart, complicated, and wonderfully flawed. She could so easily have been a two-dimensional character, another lackluster Cinderella. Instead, this hollow girl goes on a journey to find her true self. I can’t give enough praise to this mangaka for the way she shows Kyoko’s difficult and joyful growth.

3. Mushishi, by Urushibara Yuki: (Male lead character) If you’ll pardon my loose translation, the name Mushishi basically means master of bugs. Here, though, “bugs” isn’t used literally. They’re primeval creatures, and only a few humans can see them. Ginko is a Mushishi, and he travels the country solving mysterious problems with the mushi, small beings that are neither good nor evil but which occasionally cause unusual problems for humans. Set in rural Japan, this is an episodic story, and it reads like a series of introspective explorations into human nature. It has a slow, gentle pace, which stands out to me in this age of fast stories. The tone is often melancholy.

4. Ouran High School Host Club, by Hatori Bisco: (Female lead) This manga is another romance/comedy. However, it probably isn’t ideal for the uninitiated. In fact, I’m sure it would confuse someone who’s unfamiliar with the standard tropes in shoujo manga (manga written for a young female audience). This story is a brilliant satire of shoujo manga, but even as it lampoons the readers, it completely satisfies the genre, which tickles me with its cleverness. I wish I could give you a brief summary, but at the same time, the mangaka includes a quirky twist at the very beginning that I wouldn’t want to spoil.

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