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The Rise of Reiwa: Romance Manga's Current Era Explained

by Jusuf Hatic,

Will they, won't they? Do we get a confession partway through or as the series' grand finale? For some reason or another, romance manga at the start of the century and beyond found itself between a rock and a hard place, having to balance the need for plot progression (and consequently, romantic development between two characters) with keeping a successful series going for as long as possible. For the longest time, this led to fake-out confessions, returning to the status quo after a generic, episodic formula, or just no development until “the plot” called for it. Teenage characters especially suffered from the latter issue, being as mature as the plot requires them to be while simultaneously having the emotional capacity of a wooden plank to keep the show going for as long as possible.

But recently, a trend has seemingly popped up out of thin air. In the past years, more and more romance manga adopted another approach: having the story progress relatively early towards or even outright starting with actual dating, depicting the joys and struggles that come with it without the need to bullshit around for 220+ chapters, as popular series Nisekoi did. I'll spare you the details about crushed hopes in older series like Love Hina or Inuyasha, which Mother's Basement summarized well enough in a video of his, as we all did stay up to “finally see Inuyasha and Kagome hook up – this week for sure!” They indeed did, after 193 episodes or 557 chapters, depending on your medium of choice – either way, it took us just a bit more than a decade of patience to see The Kiss™ happen finally.

Insert the 'It's been 84 years…' meme here.

With recent romance manga shifting towards a more grounded approach to dating, the term “Reiwa energy” got coined and thrown out increasingly more often in the respective manga and anime discussions. One interpretation of the term is the positive feeling of progress or any conclusive development between two characters and praising the current era in Japan for its progressive stance on romance stories, but how in the name of teenage hormones, unrequited feelings from best girls in harem anime (I'm looking at you, Miku from The Quintessential Quintuplets) and final episode handholding action does the Reiwa era correlate to romance? Let's dive right into the fluff.

It all started with Kaguya-sama

Let's get the sobering reality out of the way first: While Reiwa does indeed coincide with the start of more grounded, less dragged-out love stories, neither Emperor Naruhito nor the now-deceased Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has decreed any rise in more fulfilling romance manga and anime to combat the still declining birthrate in Japan – despite what popular memes want you to believe.

Sometimes, tracing a meme's origins is far from being a clear-cut affair. This is the case for spamming Reiwa energy under every single romance manga discussion as well. Still, one theory emerges at the very least as one of the more popular ones and revolves around the Kaguya-sama: Love is War manga. Specifically, a panel in the omake of Volume 17 of the manga is the progenitor of all jokes around Heisei and Reiwa romances.


Let's start from the beginning of the chapter. The plot of the omake is essentially a mockery of any harem manga of previous decades – aptly named “Miyuki and his girls” – and continues Kaguya-sama's penchant for breaking romcom tropes left and right. Over seven pages, the series' male lead, Miyuki Shirogane, gets successively surrounded by almost every female character archetype to ever exist in harems.

Starting with his suspiciously too-attached little sister, Kei, the chapter moves on to Chika Fujiwara, who, for some reason, is depicted as the childhood friend and next-door neighbor and, of course, has promised to marry Miyuki during their younger days. Continuing with a depiction of Kaguya Shinomiya as the ice queen, who warms up throughout an entire three panels to Miyuki, before finishing the reader off with the slightly perverted (definitely not canon) maid Ai Hayasaka and the cute kouhai Miko Iino, who likes Miyuki because… well, because she “just does.” Yep, that sounds like every generic harem show ever, including the fact that no other male characters seem to exist in this world, which gets specifically called out by Miyuki himself due to a suspicious lack of Yuu Ishigami, the secondary male character. But as Kaguya shuts him down, she points out: “No one like that exists in this world.”

Thankfully (especially for my own sanity), the scene is but a dream of Ishigami, who comments on the entire scene being “straight out of a Heisei-era romcom,” with the narrator adding that you “still see them around sometimes in the Reiwa era,” which was only seven months old at the time of this chapter's release. Early discussions about the chapter revolved around the advent of the new Reiwa era, marking the Kaguya omake a probable starting point of the entire meme.

Taking the Reiwa meme and escalating it to the point of no return

A single panel or screenshot is sometimes enough for a meme to gain traction, but what stood out at the time was how many ongoing series had confession arcs released. The more popular series during late 2019 – when the aforementioned Kaguya omake got released – all started or were amid their respective confession and finale arc. Especially harem titles like The Quintessential Quintuplets and We Never Learn: BOKUBEN made waves for the conclusion of the Fuutarou Bowl and Yuiga Bowl, respectively. Entries focusing on a single relationship like Senryū Girl also finished up, cementing the association of Kaguya-sama's joke about the new Reiwa era with the end of “Heisei-era romcoms.”

Several other ongoing manga contributed to the rise of the Reiwa meme, either having started directly with the depiction of a functioning relationship or having the leads start to date way earlier than series usually let them do. The more famous examples of this are Suzuyuki's It Takes Two Tomorrow, Too, Takuma Yokota's Ponkotsu Fuuki Iin to Skirt-take ga Futekisetsu na JK no Hanashi, and Nagisa Fujita's Do Chokkyuu Kareshi × Kanojo, with the latter one being possibly the ”loudest” example of the three, practically screaming Reiwa energy throughout the entirety of its runtime, getting people more and more aware of the existence of the meme.

New releases at the time also unchained themselves from the romance tropes of the Heisei-era, with Rikito Nakamura's The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You being the most on-the-nose example. Having not one but 100 simultaneous(!) girlfriends for protagonist Rentaro Aijo as a goal is equal parts insane, hilarious, and as far away as possible from any uncertain male leads in former harem manga. Fittingly enough, 100 Girlfriends debuted shortly after Kaguya-sama's omake, giving us another taste of Reiwa energy, fully cementing the meme in the community.

Several commenters in discussions also noted the gradual shift in tone and character expression during the Reiwa era. The seemingly dumbed-down leads – especially male ones – are more grounded in reality, with a lot of the focus moving away from the slapstick comedy usually seen in romance/ecchi/harem manga that seemingly over-saturated the market. This shift can also be seen in comedy series that don't necessarily define themselves via the central relationship: Sawayoshi Azuma's Oroka na Tenshi wa Akuma to Odoru makes a good case for this, having the male protagonist Akutsu Masatora utter and think some extraordinarily relatable sentences, making for both a good comedy and realistic portrayal of teenage boys.

'That's just my sex drive!' – That's a teenage process, alright.

Curiously enough, the yuri and yaoi subgenre never really took off with the Reiwa meme. The reason for this is quite simple: Both boy's and girl's love manga were ahead of their time, at least regarding the current trend of having romantic progression between two main characters. Nio Nakatani's Bloom Into You stands out as an entry that has hit the mainstream audience, praised as one of most realistic coming-of-age and romance series in recent memory. While the yaoi genre does suffer from its seemingly smutty reputation and consequently rarely gets the mainstream recognition its yuri counterpart gets, its main themes still revolve around the struggles of actually being in a relationship rather than ending just on a confession, with early examples like Asumiko Nakamura's Classmates dating back to 2006.

There is no end in sight for Reiwa energy: Entries like Fly Me to the Moon, How to Grill Our Love, 365 Days to the Wedding, Shikimori's Not Just a Cutie, or Yuzukawa-san wa, Sashiite Hoshii all immediately start off with exploring two characters actually being in a relationship, while other romance-focused manga stopped treating their characters as comedic foils to each other and gives them meaningful development beyond asking each other out. The Fragrant Flower Blooms With Dignity, The Girl I Like Forgot Her Glasses, Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!, or Yancha Gal no Anjō-san made all very clear that their confession arc is not the final one as it was during the turning-point between Heisei and Reiwa, but more akin to a stopover on their way to tell a more coherent and complete story. The Reiwa hype train is in full swing – let's enjoy the ride.

Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. One or more of the companies mentioned in this article are part of the Kadokawa Group of Companies.

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