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What Happened to Shoujo Anime?

by Kim Morrissy,

Matt asked:

Back when I was growing up (US circa ~2000s), it felt like shoujo anime were a powerhouse of the medium, closely on par with their shonen counterparts, assuming popularity at anime clubs and conventions was representative. Now in the far future of the 2020s, it feels like shonen anime are more popular than ever, with multiple independent properties getting adaptations left and right -- One Piece, My Hero Academia, Chainsaw Man, Black Clover, Dragon Ball Super, Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, heck even Bleach got a renewal! Meanwhile I struggle to name five popular shoujo anime that aired in the past few years. Are shoujo anime truly becoming more sparse than they used to be, or is this just an example of my selective memory at work?

First of all, it should be noted that anime adapted from shoujo (girls) manga were always relatively few in number compared to shounen (boys) titles. For your generation, the biggest season may have been Spring 2006, which is when Ouran High School Host Club, NANA, The Story of Saiunkoku, and Jyu-Oh-Sei debuted. But even in that period, new shounen manga titles significantly outnumbered the shoujo ones, with big hitters like Gintama, Air Gear, and the second seasons of School Rumble and Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE debuting in the same time frame.

Yet when you compare the seasonal charts then to now, there's no denying that the offerings are even slimmer, with the most standout titles being reboots of yesterday's hits, like Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, and Fruits Basket. What you may be thinking of the decline of “shoujo anime” could be the slipping influence and readership of the traditional shoujo manga magazines like Hana to Yume, Nakayoshi, LaLa, Margaret, and Ribon. Still, they are far from the only manga magazines to suffer that fate in the digital era, and there are currently plenty of bestselling shoujo titles that don't get anime adaptations.

One possible factor is the changing trends in female-targeted media. Game franchises like Touken Ranbu, IDOLiSH7, and Disney Twisted-Wonderland eschew the traditional romance and women-centric narratives of shoujo manga to focus on the inner lives and relationships between attractive male characters. Boys-Love manga is also seeing a boom, resulting in a small uptick of anime adaptations. The same applies to Korean webtoons and Japanese web manga, which eschew the traditional shounen/shoujo labeling, but are a thriving space for artists to tell stories about what it's like to be a woman.

But this doesn't mean that there is less demand for the old-school boy-meets-girl shoujo anime adaptations. At a 2021 business seminar, Crunchyroll remarked that what shoujo titles do exist tend to over-perform. It's even possible that the booming popularity of shounen anime romcoms like My Dress-Up Darling and Kaguya-sama: Love is War is partially a result of anime fans trying to fill the shoujo-shaped hole in their hearts.

At least some of the scarcity can be put down to the male-dominated world of anime business overlooking the needs of a historically marginalized demographic. Nowadays, a number of popular shoujo and josei (women) manga are being adapted as live-action films or TV shows, bypassing the anime sphere altogether. Look no further than Cartoon Network's controversial comment in June that girls “graduate” out of animation for an example of the short-sighted thinking that undermines animation for girls. The shoujo anime genre absolutely has the legs to grow if producers give it a chance.

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