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Women’s History Month: Spotlight on manga

Katherine Dacey
March is Women’s History Month, and in celebration, our blogging crew decided to highlight some comics with strong female characters. Here’s a list of various Eastern or Eastern-influenced comics that have strong-willed women at their center. Special thanks to Sabrina Fritz for compiling this list!

SNOW WILDSMITH’S PICKS
Pupumpkin2 Womens History Month: Spotlight on mangampkin Scissors (Ryotaro Iwanaga, Del Rey Manga)
Lieutenant Alice Malvin is the heir of a wealthy and powerful noble family, but instead of spending her time at parties, balls, and dinners, she serves her country. The Imperial Army State Section III, nicknamed "Pumpkin Scissors," is charged with reconstruction, rebuilding, and recovery from the long war that decimated the countryside. Lt. Malvin leads her people with an eye firmly fixed on justice and responsibility, despite the fact that her unit was originally just supposed to be a propaganda tool. She is also an amazing fighter, who is able to take care of herself and those around her, which is important considering the amount of corruption and crime she and her men face.

ROBIN BRENNER’S PICKS
X/1999 (CLAMP, VIZ)
Going to an old school favorite, and despite the fact that thus far, this series has no ending (argh!), X/1999 features a variety of strong, complex female characters. The epic, apocalyptic tale follows once ordinary people now destined to fight each other for the survival of the planet or the survival of humankind. In the middle of CLAMP’s usual bevy of beautiful, angsty guys, Arashi Kishu stand out as a reserved but iron-willed shrine maiden who has a tender side and is wicked with a sword.  
Miyazaki is know for favoring outstanding heroines, and Nausicaa is one of his best. She could have easily fallen into the woman’s intuition/one with the earth sort of trope, but she doesn’t: she is smart, observant, compassionate, and a skilled fighter. She’s my hero any day.

Love Roma
(Minoru Toyoda, Del Rey Manga)
Yumiko Negishi is one of the pair of young lovers in this charming, offbeat slice of life romance. Love Roma inverts and mocks a lot of the conventions of romance manga while still managed to be adorably romantic. While Yumiko is a schoolgirl who blushes occasionally (especially when her beau, Hajime, breaks out his radical honesty in front of the whole class), she is far from the usual romantic heroine. She’s smart, she’s practical, she never swoons, and she can’t make a romantic bento to save her life.  

KATHERINE DACEY’S PICKS
Bride of the Water God (Mi-Kyung Kim, Dark Horse)
When their small village suffers from a prolonged drought, the farmers sacrifice Soah, a stoic young woman, to Habek, the Water God. Soah survives the ritual, only to discover that Habek’s kingdom is equally fraught with danger. As she struggles to find out what happened to her predecessors, Soah demonstrates an unusual degree of cunning, reserve, and strength, maintaining her composure even as she begins to fall in love with the moody and potentially lethal Habek. Bride of the Water God is, at heart, a fairy tale, though one in which the heroine is the agent of her own destiny.

Crimson Hero
(Mitsuba Takanashi, VIZ)
Nobara Sumiyoshi is a classic Shojo Beat heroine: she’s spunky, capable, and fiercely optimistic in the face of adversity. The twist? Nobara applies those traits to her volleyball game, not landing the hottest boy in school. Though Nobara suffers her share of romantic travails (is there a Shojo Beat heroine who doesn’t?), her eye is on the prize–she wants to lead her teammates to victory in the Nationals. The artwork is OK, and the subplots a little tedious, but the gameplay and the team dynamic are well done; Takanashi nails the important details on and off the court, from the way Nobara serves the ball to the way she interacts with her teammates in practice.
chunhyang Womens History Month: Spotlight on manga
Kaze Hikaru
(Taeko Watanabe, VIZ)
This prize-winning series focuses on Sei Tominaga, a delicate young woman who joins the Mibu-Roshigumi (a.k.a. the Shinsengumi, a powerful band of ronin charged with protecting the shogun) to avenge the murders of her brother and father. To survive among the Mibu-Roshigumi, Sei must pose as a boy, learn how to handle weapons, and comport herself with integrity and courage. Sei must also conceal her growing attraction to Okita Soji, the young man who serves as her mentor and protector. With its clean artwork, historical setting, and dramatic storylines, Kaze Hikaru is a terrific adventure story for teen readers.

The Legend of Chun Hyang
(CLAMP, Tokyopop)
Drawing inspiration from Korean folklore, the ladies of CLAMP have created an engrossing, lavishly illustrated story based very loosely on the Chunhyangga, a nineteenth-century ballad about a young woman who faces a death sentence for defying a corrupt magistrate. In CLAMP’s retelling, Chun Hyang is a tough teen who sets out to rescue her mother from a local warlord who demands that mom become his concubine. There isn’t much plot to speak of, but this one-volume work features one of CLAMP’s most memorable, most empowered heroines kicking butt and taking names.

Two Flowers for the Dragon
(Nari Kusikawa, CMX)
Shakuya, the plucky protagonist of Two Flowers for the Dragon, is the future leader of the Dragon Clan. Before she can assume her new role, Shakuya must choose between two suitors: the straight-laced Kuwan and the mysterious, impulsive Lucien. Despite the prominent romantic storyline, Shakuya is no shrinking violet: she’s tough and resourceful, capable of transforming into a dragon when angry, upset, or threatened. Nari Kusikawa’s tale is funny and fast-paced with enough romance and butt-kicking adventure to suit many different tastes. A great book for the ten-and-up crowd.

ESTHER KELLER’S PICKS
translucent Womens History Month: Spotlight on mangaMaximum Ride (James Patterson and NaRae Lee, Yen Press)
Max is strong and brave. She takes care and she’s destined to save the world!

Translucent
(Kasuhiro Okamoto, Dark Horse)
Shizuka is a very quiet character, but to fight and withstand any sort of disease, even invisibility takes a lot of inner strength.

Train + Train
(Hideyuki Kurata, Go!Comi)
I thought Robin said this best when she nominated the title for Great Graphic Novels way back when: "This title has a strong female character who, for once, is neither buxom nor scantily clad."

Miki Falls (Mark Crilley, Harper Collins)
I guess technically this could have gone on the Western list, but I think of this as a manga. People do lots of crazy things for love, but Miki withstands a lot for the guy she loves. And she keeps true to herself at the same time.

Emma
(Kaoru Mori, CMX)
I always admired Emma for sticking it out in a romance which was mostly doomed from the start. In her own quiet way, I thougth she was a strong and admirable character.

SABRINA FRITZ’S LIST
basara Womens History Month: Spotlight on mangaBasara (Yumi Tamura, VIZ)
Sarasa’s been through it all. Her twin brother was killed during an attack on her village, and she assumed his name, Tatara, to save the world from the evil Red King. On her journey, she falls in love with a young man named Shuri, but little does she know what a huge secret he has! It’s one adventure after another for Sarasa, and the ever expanding cast of characters still cannot outshine her in all her perseverance and determination.

Naruto
(Masashi Kishimoto, VIZ)
When people think of Naruto, they think of obnoxious little blond boys in garish orange jumpsuits. They often don’t remember such vivid female characters like Sakura, who grows into a strong fighter and medic ninja, Tsunade, the eventual leader of the Leaf Village, Ino, Anko, Kurenai, and many more. For every male ninja in Naruto, there’s at least one female counterpart who’s just as strong and talented.

Bleach
(Tite Kubo, VIZ)
If there ever was a series where the women steal the show, Bleach is it. From Orihime to Hiyori, Yoruichi to Rukia, the list goes on and on. Truly, the female characters are the backbone of the plot.

Love*Com
(Aya Nakahara, VIZ)
Risa is overly tall, boisterous, and independent. She never gives up on her goals, although she can get a bit discouraged at times. She doesn’t depend on anyone else (especially Otani!) for her happiness, and can stand on her own.

Honey Hunt
(Miki Aihara, VIZ)
Yura Onozuka has been overshadowed her whole life. Her mother is an award-winning actress, and her father is a world-famous composer. When she breaks off all ties with her mom, what is there left for her to do? Go into show business, of course!
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Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

Comments

  1. Sesho says:

    I completely agree with Naruto, especially in terms of Sakura’s character. I’m glad Kishimoto matured her from a little girl that worried about her big forehead and fighting over Sasuke to probably the most powerful and skillful ninja on Naruto’s team. Besides that, she also serves as the medic, which makes her doubly important. What about Ghost in the Shell? Major Motoko Kusanagi is one of the strongest characters, male or female, in all of anime or manga. And let’s not forget xxxHolic. Would the CLAMP universe even function without Yuko running time and space? Eden is overlooked a lot, and even though it focuses on some of the more ”

  2. Sesho says:

    I completely agree with Naruto, especially in terms of Sakura’s character. I’m glad Kishimoto matured her from a little girl that worried about her big forehead and fighting over Sasuke to probably the most powerful and skillful ninja on Naruto’s team. Besides that, she also serves as the medic, which makes her doubly important. What about Ghost in the Shell? Major Motoko Kusanagi is one of the strongest characters, male or female, in all of anime or manga. And let’s not forget xxxHolic. Would the CLAMP universe even function without Yuko running time and space? Eden is overlooked a lot, and even though it focuses on some of the more ”

  3. Heather says:

    I disagree about Naruto and Bleach.

  4. Heather says:

    wow, it let me post finally. Sadly what ever configuation you guys are using does not work well. 6 times I tried to post. The system hates my comments or my titles. Shonen titles – Claymore, Silent Mobius, Maison Ikkoku and Club 9.

  5. Heather says:

    I would like to think others are having the same problem posting as me. One last time. Gakuen Alice, Azumanga Daioh, Cardcaptor Sakura and Hollow Fields. These titles were at the bottom of my list. I had twelve others I could not list.

  6. Kittyan says:

    I haven’t read many of these mangas, but I have to disagree with Bleach. The girls don’t do nearly as much as the guys nor do they kick much ass.

    The problem with identifying strong females in manga today is that truly strong females are VERY RARE. People tend to think that if the female sort of does something and contributes a little, it means shes strong. A truly strong female would be one who could do as much as the males in the manga and kick just as much butt, and is not constantly needing rescue or protection from the men. The only ”

  7. Kittyan says:

    The only “strong” females that don’t need male protection in manga that I’ve read so far is Claymore… despite the outfits and the almost S&M themes in it.

    I think I’ll try out Pumpkin Scissors from your list though. :)

  8. Katherine Dacey says:

    Ladies, I’m sorry you had so much difficulty posting! The spam filter here at the School Library Journal is robust (to say the least) and quick to reject anything it thinks is advertising. I’ve had the same experience, so I understand your frustration and appreciate your perseverance. One quick note: since the focus of our blog is on comics for kids and teens, a few of the titles you suggest (e.g. <

  9. Katherine Dacey says:

    One quick note: since the focus of our blog is on comics for kids and teens, a few of the titles you suggest (e.g. Eden: It’s An Endless World) didn’t make the cut, as they’re more appropriate for older teens and adults. If we weren’t restricted, I’d have added Club 9 and Lady Snowblood to my list of manga with strong female characters.

  10. Heather says:

    Glad to see I was not the only one having trouble posting, but it is extremely frustrating. Here are some others I would recommend Swan, GALS and Nodame Cantibile.

  11. Heather says:

    Hurray, I was able to reply again. It seems Arina Tamemura’s Fullmoon is the main culprit from my list.

  12. Heather says:

    Hurray, I was able to reply again. It seems Arina Tamemura’s Fullmoon is the main culprit from my list.

  13. taisa08 says:

    I’m glad to see Kaze Hikaru mentioned. It’s a great series featuring a very admirable female lead, but I feel like it doesn’t receive all the notice it should. Hooray for Sei!

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