Josei manga is sometimes hard to describe. It is the more serious shojo manga, the one that may have harder, darker themes and more realistic outcomes. Notice how we say “may” and not “must”, because as with all manga genres, the only certainty is the target audience, not so much the content itself.
So the target audience for Josei are women in their late teens and young adults. Because of this, some stories are easily mistaken for shounen when viewed by western audiences. They may have action, mystery, suspense, deal with mature subjects such as rape, drugs and suicide, and sometimes, even have an all-male cast.
Because of this, a really good josei mangaka is the one who can juggle those kinds of subjects, with the more delicate style that is marketed towards a female audience. And here we are going to celebrate the ten best josei mangaka in the business.
10. Matsuri Akino
Matsuri Akino’s best known work is Pet Shop of Horrors, a common staple of Best Horror Anime Lists. And with good reason, as the dark and sometimes cruel tales that conform Count D’s little gallery of the supernatural is one of the best examples of how female authors handle horror and gothic subjects in Japan. The art is almost ethereal, her inking is very light, and her androgynous characters are gorgeous.
But not only that, she has not let the huge success of one story stop her from creating new and different stories. From her debut in 1988, with Reikan Shouhou Kabushikigaisha, to her most current title Genju no Seiza, she has ran the gamut of different subjects, from mystery, horror and fantasy, to comedy, adventure and yes, even smut. She is a very versatile writer, even if her art seems to be only suited for romantic stories, as it fits many of the shoujo stereotypes –while still being gorgeous.
For all these reasons, she opens our list on the tenth place.
9. Mari Okazaki
If we’re going to talk about a more realistic view of life in manga, Mari Okazaki’s work is definitely one of the best examples. Among the best known of her manga is Suppli, a very direct and honest view to the life of a young woman who is trying to balance her work, the ideas that society has about what a woman must and mustn’t do, and the desire to have more. It has been praised precisely for not falling into the traps of other manga, where both office working and romance are seen in a very rose-tinted way, and it gives a good glimpse into how Japanese women see their own society.
The art is more mature than traditional shoujo, and very distinctive, with very thin bodies and round eyes. Some of her female figures are not very stylized, and, unlike other artists, she does draw their full lips at all times, giving them a unique look.
If you want to find a good gateway artist that can make clear the differences between a shoujo manga and a josei manga, look no further than Mari Okazaki’s work. And that is why, she is the ninth mangaka in our list.
8. Tomoko Ninomiya
One of the hardest things to pull in any drawn medium is to convey the feeling of what music sounds like. Tomoko Ninomiya managed to pull that off perfectly with her manga Nodame Cantabille, that earned her the 2004 Kodansha Manga Award. And it is because her work, as simple as it looks at first sight, has something special that shines through the delicate lines and somewhat goofy faces of her main characters. But more than that, what makes her work stand out is that she manages to give everyone their own personality, even within the simplicity of her style.
While Nodame Cantabille is the most well known of her manga (which is to be expected with three live action adaptations as well as an anime), it doesn’t mean it’s the only one worth your while. She has a very obvious passion for music, as most of her longer works deal with players of different instruments, and this is where her soft inks really shine and help one to imagine the sound and effects that each musical piece has.
If you want some heart-warming stories that will make you hum along to the music in your head, Tomoko Ninomiya is the mangaka you are looking for and the eighth place on our list.
7. Mikanagi Touya
At the beginning of this list, we mentioned that Josei manga encompasses all genres, and the most known work by Mikanagi Touya, Karneval, is a good example of an intriguing adventure thriller, as well as of a series that makes people confuse Josei with Shounen. This is not to say that Touya is a bad Josei artist, to the contrary, it is exactly her biggest strength, as she is the evidence that not all josei is romance.
Her art is very energetic, and most of her boys are incredibly handsome. Her colorwork is filled with textures, while her linework is impeccably clean, which gives her characters a bit more personality, despite following many of the common design ideas of other artists in her same generation. Because of all this, she is our seventh pick on the list.
6. Kouga Yun
A big fan of shounen manga in her youth, Kouga Yun is probably better known in the west for her BL stories. However, it’s important to note that many of these were published in Josei magazines, as Josei deals with the same subject matters as BL stories, the target demographic for both is the same: Older teens and young women. And because of this, her style of coloring and drawing is very similar to what people think of when thinking of the origins of shounen ai.
Her stories run all the genres, from the most tragic to the most heart warming, with a lot of interesting questions in the middle regarding human nature and our relationships with each other. As time has gone by, her style –that can also be seen in different art collections for many famous franchises- has gone softer, and more delicate, making her characters become more distinctive. Once you’ve read a manga by Kouga Yun, it’s impossible to confuse her with someone else.
Because of her art, and her ability to tackle certain complicated subjects, she deserves the sixth place on our list.
5. Natsume Ono
Natsume Ono is a very atypical mangaka. She was discovered when she was working on a webcomic, La Quinta Camera, in 2003; and since then, she has gone on to become one of the best in her niche. Although her art is less defined than other artists’ on our list, it is the sketchy nature of her designs what makes her stand out from the rest.
From her works, the most notable is Ristorante Paradiso, which chronicles the story of the daily life of a group of restaurant workers in Rome. Thanks to her contrasting art, it’s more moody and melancholic, creating an atmosphere that reminds us of old European movies. And this atmosphere makes her a very distinctive Josei mangaka, as people expect far more serious stories than from those with a more conventional style.
Because of this, and because there isn’t a single one of her manga that doesn’t reach her readers’ hearts, she grabs the fifth spot of our list.
4. Yuki Sutsegu
Every career has it’s ups and downs, and we’ve seen mangaka come back from very bad downs. However, it’s hard to see someone come back after being accused of plagiarism and tracing to the point that her manga has been taken off the shelves and stopped printing. And yet, this is the case of Yuki Sutsegu who after losing her Flower of Eden manga to an international scandal –thanks in part to the internet and the speed in which the news were discussed- managed not only to get back in the editor’s good graces, but also receiving the public’s forgiveness with her manga Chihayafuru, which even won the Manga Taisho en 2009.
And it’s better for Josei manga and us, as readers, that Sutsegu had the chance to show her regrets and come back to the publishing world. Her art is the perfect balance between the traditional gentle shoujo style, and the simpler, rougher josei one. Not only that, but now that she’s working her own stories, we can see her true passion and that makes for a much more interesting story. For all those reasons, she has the fourth spot of the list.
3. Akiko Higashimura
The genre most people identify as Josei is the slice of life one, because some of the best Josei are actually stories situated in the real world –or at least, a very close simile. One of the most popular manga of this genre, and probably one of those that helps perpetuate the idea that Josei titles are mostly just about real life situations, is Princess Jellyfish by Akiko Higashimura. And Higashimura portrays reality with a very distinctive style where she doesn’t idealize women, but shows her female characters with all the flaws and virtues a real woman has.
Her specialty are comedies, which go very well with her seemingly simple style, where she avoids extra lines or complex designs in exchange for a clear movement and a more homely look for her main characters. Her colorwork, mostly in watercolor, keeps that same texture that can give the idea of a retro poster at times.
Her unique style, as well as her wonderful female characters are what help her climb her way up to our third spot on the list.
2. Fumi Yoshinaga
Another josei artist who also is known for her work in shounen ai stories, Fumi Yoshinaga has done it all: Horror, Romance, Fantasy, Slice of Life, you name it, she has it. While her style may seem sober at first, and her men are all big and lack certain grace that one expects from shounen ai titles; their personalities, and the complex and interesting stories that they live, are more than enough to make us want to keep on reading. Most of her work is in short stories, which can be somewhat disturbing at times, but always leave the reader satisfied.
Despite the bulkiness of her men, and the somewhat graceless look of some of her women, Yoshinaga’s art has a thin linework that makes many of her drawings look light and soft despite some very dark situation she sometimes depicts, such as child kidnapping or sexual situations with minors.
No matter what kind of story you like, we could almost bet that Fumi Yoshinaga has written one tailored to your tastes. And because of that, she earns the second place on our list.
1. Ai Yazawa
One of the first josei manga to be noticed in the West, Ai Yasawa quickly rose to notoriety because of her amazing fashion designs for her characters, both seen in Tenshi Nanka Ja Nai, Paradise Kiss and her magnus opus, Nana. Her female characters are usually tall and thin like models, although she also has some cute, short girls who follow the gothic Lolita aesthetic –which for a while, was very influenced by her work too. Most of her stories were serialized in fashion magazines, which helped to make her stand out from other josei authors.
Yazawa also has a long career, as she debuted in 1985 after dropping out of fashion school. Unfortunately, despite the great popularity of all her stories, as well as many awards she has collected, Nana remains incomplete due to Yazawa’s health problems. Still, one can’t help but fall in love with her rebellious characters, most of them women, and how they contrast with the more traditional Japanese lifestyle.
As she is a master showing those contrasts, she definitively earns the first place on our list of josei mangaka.
When it comes to great mangaka, it is hard to make an unbiased judgment of who is better than the rest. Part of it is their longevity in the public eye, another is how memorable one or more of their stories have become. Their style, and how it influences other, also helps to measure who can be called the best.
Because of this, we’d love to hear your input regarding this list. Are your favorites included? Who do you think we missed? And while we’re at it, don’t forget to check our article on Best Josei Manga and also give your thoughts on those titles. If you haven’t had the chance to know the work of these mangaka, that’s also a good way to start.