I have been thinking for some time about a series of posts that I am very excited about. A friend of mine told me I’d lose all my readers if I did it. However, my stats have dropped so low that I think I am safe in attempting it now. (I don’t mean you, gentle reader.)

I am bemused by the separate spheres of readers for my favorite format and my favorite genre. I mean graphic novels and romantic fiction. I read blogs about manga, and the die-hard shojo readers claim they would never read a text romance. Blogs and websites devoted to romantic fiction don’t seem to have much interest in the GN format. This, despite the fact that they are enthusiastic about ebooks, audio books and movies.

This strikes me as odd. One of the most likely reasons is the poor reputation of romantic fiction. Another reason might be that adult women still may think of comics as either kids’ stuff or men’s stuff and not for them. (This was true for most of American comics history.)

The same kind of reaction that has plagued romantic fiction for ages is being applied to manga. I have read posts by concerned adults worried that girls will be badly affected by reading the love stories in manga.

I am re-reading Austen’s Northanger Abbey and came across a small digression about this topic. Austen, satirically of course, urges women novelists to avoid slighting their own efforts. She describes women readers who hide their Gothic novels in shame when they are discovered. Then these women pretend they were reading something more socially acceptable. Things haven’t changed much. Jennifer Crusie has a response and the academic Teach Me Tonight blog has a short history of negative views of romantic fiction.

It’s a pity that young girls who are reading shojo manga might give up the format (and genre) when they are older as discussed on MangaBlog. One of the most appealing things about shojo is it is created by women/for girls in a similar way that American romance novels are created by women/for women.

I wonder how young shojo readers will approach the subject of love stories, if they become writers. Will shojo themes enter their fiction? Will they turn to American romantic comedy films as the only way to approach love stories?

It would be a shame for these girls to overlook their heritage of American female storytellers. In recent years, the genre has become more flexible than ever before. The most chaste of inspirational romances to the American equivalent of Boys Love romances are for sale. Romances can cover every topic from midlife career changes to terrorism to child abuse. The only thing holding fast is the happy ending and the centrality of the love story, as defined by the Romance Writers of America.

The first romance story in comics that I read was Cutter and Leetah’s story in Elfquest. Ever since, I’ve been convinced that the format and the genre make a perfect match. I’m going to look at love stories in comics using Pamela Regis‘ narrative components as a framework. I don’t know that I completely agree with her but it’s a good place to start. (I’ll go into detail later.)

I have ready a post about Usagi and Mariko from Stan Sakai’s Circles. I am puzzled why I picked a love story that is not a romance for my first attempt. Perhaps it is because I used to be able to find a love story in the most unpromising of comics. And, well, even the manliest of rabbits has a softer side.

(The real answer is that Mariko and Usagi’s story is deeply affecting and I wanted to stay with it a bit longer.)

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8 thoughts on “Manga and Romance

  1. Thanks for linking to my post about negative attitudes towards women’s reading. I’m pleased you found it interesting.

    I know next to nothing about manga myself, but I’ve noticed one romance blog which does discuss manga occasionally, and that’s Dear Author. One of their reviewers, Jan, posts reviews of manga there.

    Dorchester’s Shomi line of romances is supposedly at least partly inspired by manga.

  2. Hello Laura,

    I’ve been reading Teach Me Tonight for awhile and I’m flattered that you commented here. I appreciate the work that you are doing there.

    I once set a Google Alert to find negative comments on blogs about romantic fiction for a little over four months. There was such a deluge of returns that I deleted all of it because it depressed me. It was encouraging to find your post as well as interesting to read all the different reactions people have.

    I knew about Dear Author but I’m not a regular reader. Thanks for the tip about Jan’s reviews. She’s done a lot – I have some catching to do.

    I bought a Shomi book because it was SF romance and there’s too little of that. It didn’t immediately appeal to me, so it’s lost somewhere in my TBR pile.

    Dark Horse is publishing the Harlequin Pink manga based on novels by Betty Neels and Debbie Macomber and others. So, there are efforts being. I’m just impatient.

  3. I once set a Google Alert to find negative comments on blogs about romantic fiction for a little over four months. There was such a deluge of returns that I deleted all of it because it depressed me.

    I have thought a few times about setting up an alert to let me know when romance has got some coverage, but in the light of your experience, I don’t think I’ll bother. No point in depressing myself further. Enough links and outraged comments get posted on romance blogs to give me a flavour of the sort of negative articles that are written about the genre.

  4. I find that the romances in Manga are much more interesting than just reading a regular novel. Whether the relationship is steamy or tame it’s nice to see every little glance, blush, sweat and naked shonen character.

    Don’t worry Mur-Mur, it’ll come, we’re slowly going in that direction. I’ve read those Harlequin Pink romances and they aren’t bad.
    -Wuse

  5. I’m Mur-Mur???!!! Actually, I kind of like it.

    So you mean the images make the romance better? That the text stories aren’t as rich an experience as the manga?

    Do you think the Harlequin Pink romance would be better if they were longer (e.g., 4 vols. instead of one)?

  6. Hi Laura,

    Yes, the posts I found mostly fell into three categories: romances were not to their taste; romances were poorly written; romances were morally suspect.

    What depressed me were the smaller number of posts that turned from contempt for the romance form to contempt for the readers of romances.

    I don’t have the link now. But one post was by a man about his recently deceased grandmother. According to him, she was active in community service and was beloved by her neighbors and friends.

    He was helping sorting through her belongings when he found some romance novels. He said that finding such “immoral” material shattered his perception of her and he had lost all respect for her.

    I just gave up.

  7. He was helping sorting through her belongings when he found some romance novels. He said that finding such “immoral” material shattered his perception of her and he had lost all respect for her.

    I just gave up.

    Unless she became a grandmother via adoption, or was really only his step-grandmother, how did he think she’d become a grandmother? And if sexual love between two people who love each other is so immoral, why is it that human marital/sexual love has so often been compared to God’s love for humanity? Maybe he’d be shocked to find the Song of Songs/Song of Solomon if he looked through the Bible and thought a bit more about what its content implies about sexuality?

  8. That’s a good point about his grandmother. It’s an immature reaction really. Parents or grandparents can’t be people independent of their relationship to their child.

    A lot of people seem to overlook the connection between sexual and spiritual love. It seems no less valid than the bond between parent and child and that comparison is fully embraced.

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