13 Women Breaking Barriers in Boys' Manga

"Shonen" manga is the term for manga aimed at preteen and teenage boys. Examples of popular shonen manga include One Piece, Naruto and Dragonball Z. Though shonen manga can be any genre, it's classified as such due to the type of magazines which it runs in being for boys.

Despite its percieved demographic, many women are a fan of shonen manga. But shonen manga has been a male-dominated field for a long time, mostly featuring male artists and authors. However, there are incredible, talented women who are changing the face of shonen and breaking through all barriers.

These women have created some of the best shonen manga in the business and they are certianly worth talking about. So let's pay tribute to some of the great ladies of the shonen biz. Chime in about any women this list may not have been able to cover in the comments!

  1. Keiko Takemiya

    Keiko Takemiya is a true pioneer. She was part of the Year 24 group, a collection of women in the early 1970’s who revolutionized manga. Not only was she part of the movement who changed shoujo (comics aimed at girls) to a medium dominated by female authors, she was one of the pioneers for the genre of yaoi (comics focused on romance between boys and men).

    But most relevant to this list is her contribution to shonen manga. Takemiya successfully crossed over demographic lines and created both shonen and shoujo manga. She was among the first women to write manga for boys, if not the first.  Her manga “Terra e…” also known as “To Terra” or “Toward the Terra” was published in 1977 and won the first ever Seiun award for science fiction manga.

    Toward the Terra takes place in the 31st millennium. Humans have abandoned Earth after ravaging it with war and pollution and look to colonize nearby stars. The human race is ruled by an order of supercomputers who suppress and brainwash them, but now an advanced race of humans with psychic powers have evolved. The supercomputers aim to wipe these humans out.

    When talking about breaking ground as a female artist in a male-dominated field, Takemiya has stated, “My goal was to be unguardedly human first, and a woman second, and to proceed as though sexual discrimination didn’t exist even amidst that. At times male society considered this stance impudent. The whole issue couldn’t find a place in my heart. I believe it was by expressing myself in manga without getting into a fight that I sent a message of change to a generation of girls who are now grown women."

    Takemiya received the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon for her contributions to manga (this medal is awarded to those who achieve excellence in their field of work or have done great deeds). She is now the dean for the faculty of manga at Kyoto Seika University.

  2. Rumiko Takahashi

    Rumiko Takahashi is one of those names synonymous with shonen manga. She is one of the richest manga artists in Japan and is the best-selling female comics artist of all time. She’s been nominated for entry into the Eisner Hall of Fame and I think it’s pretty clear she belongs there. She’s reportedly sold over 170 million manga and her work has been widely translated and adapted. Her work has been sold in at least 25 countries and translated in at least 30 languages.  

    She’s been cited as a huge contributor to anime’s popularity in the mainstream and in the West and several artists cite her as an influence, including Fullmetal Alchemist’s Hiromu Arakawa, Kila Kila’s Jin Takemiya and ONEQ.

    Takahashi’s work is primarily shonen. Her works tend to blend romantic comedy and sci-fi/fantasy. Her first major serialized work was Urusei Yatsura, about a man who ends up unwittingly engaged to an alien named Lum. More well-known in the West is her 1987 work Ranma ½, a martial arts comedy about a boy who is cursed to switch sexes when splashed with cold water. Her other most well known series is her 1996 manga Inuyasha. This manga focuses on a girl named Kagome who unwittingly travels back in time to a fantastical version of feudal Japan, where she runs into a demon boy named Inuyasha.

    Takahashi's many characters

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    Takahashi is currently writing a manga called Kyokai no Rinne, which focuses on a constantly broke Shinigami (grim reaper) named Rinne. The second season of the anime adaptation of this manga will be premiering soon.

    Takahashi has won the prestigious Shogakukan Manga award twice, once for Urusei Yatsura and once for Inuyasha.

  3. CLAMP

    CLAMP is a well known four-woman manga team who officially debuted in the mid-1980s. Like their predecessor Keiko Takemiya, they cross demographic lines with their work, having created both shoujo and shonen. Their shonen titles include Angelic LayerMan of Many Faces, Clamp School DefendersTsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, and Gate 7.

    CLAMP are one of the most successful manga creators out there and are considered one of the most acclaimed mangaka groups. They are recognizable by ther distinctive, elegant artistic style and often experimental layouts.

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    Art from Tsubasa Resevoir Chronicle

    They have a diverse body of work, and their work has been noted as a big part of anime and manga’s popularity in the west. Unlike a lot of manga, all of Clamp’s work seems to take place loosely in the same universe and the mangas often cross over.

  4. Hiromu Arakawa

    Hiromu Arakawa is one of the most successful manga artists to debut around the 21st century. She’s received great critical acclaim and success. Her most well known series is her manga Fullmetal Alchemist, a story of two alchemist brothers, which ran from 2001-2010. The series has sold more than 64 million volumes, received two anime adaptations, two movies, several video games and several light novels.  

    But FMA is not her only work- she’s created some shorter ongoing series such as Demons of Shanghai (which focuses on a group of demon hunters in China) and Raiden-18 (about an amoral female scientist who creates a Frankenstein monster). She also collaborated with some other writers and drew Hero Tales, a wuxia style fantasy drama set in China about a young boy pursuing his destiny.  She’s written several one shots as well.

    Her current ongoing series are Silver Spoon, a slice of life manga about a farming school and her adaptation of Yoshiki Tanaka’s The Heroic Legend of Arslan. Both have recieved anime adaptations.

    I’m just going to be up front here and say Arakawa is one of my favorite comic creators period. The Fullmetal Alchemist manga had a big impact on me- it features a fantastic cast of characters, a tight, well-done plot and covers a lot of important themes, such as the futility of war, racism, the nature of sin and redemption and so on. Not to mention great action scenes. I highly recommend checking it out- if you prefer anime, the second anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, is the one that’s faithful to the manga.

    I particularly fell in love with her female characters, who I felt were nuanced and dynamic and easy to connect with. Arakawa has been very open about both what her female characters mean to her and how she feels about being a female creator in a male dominated field.

    Arakawa's cow self-portrait from her autobiographical manga Noble Farmer

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    She’s passionate about the fact that she includes career-oriented women in Fullmetal Alchemist, most notably the grandmother-grandaughter duo of Winry and Pinako Rockbell, who are both accomplished prosthetic technicians, mechanics and surgeons. She states that since she grew up working on the family farm, she was surrounded by hardworking women her whole life.

    “Our family motto is ‘those who don’t work, don’t deserve to eat.’ Everyone has to work hard to make ends meet, including women and kids. That’s the reason there are so many working women in Fullmetal.”

    Arakawa seems to have been wary of potential discrimination she might face as a female artist of boy’s manga, considering she deliberately chose the more masculine “Hiromu” as a penname (her real name is Hiromi). However, she is also staunch in her belief that gender should not determine anything in storytelling, saying:  “Some men are really able to imagine sensitive and complex characters, while some women are able to create sometimes violent action scenes. Nowadays, each writer has their own specialty. It doesn’t matter if they’re a man or a woman."

    Arakawa also feels that the growing number of female creators in shonen is only natural, and points out that despite the perceived demographic these comics have, there are tons of girls who enjoy manga that is traditionally considered to be “for boys.

    Arakawa has won six major awards for her work, including the Seiun and Shogakukan awards. 

  5. Yellow Tanabe

    Yellow Tanabe is the creator of the supernatural manga Kekkaishi, which ran from 2003 to 2011. The manga follows a young boy named Yoshimori Sumimura, who was born into a family that works to protect the town from supernatural creatures. His childhood friend Tokine is from a rival demon exterminator family and she often competes with him to catch demons.

    Kekkaishi was adapted into a 52 episode anime in 2006 and it also won the Shogakukan manga award. 

  6. Katsura Hoshino

    Katsura Hoshino is the creator of D. Grayman. The 2004 manga is about a boy named Allen Walker, a boy who fights destructive, evolving machines with his monstrous right arm. The series was adapted into a 103-episode anime in 2006 and there have been audio dramas, video games and novels based on it as well.

    Hoshino is often praised for her art and character design, which is called “stylish” and “visually striking”. Her backgrounds have been described as eerie and Lovecraftian. This distinction was likely why she was hired as a character designer for the 2013 Valrave the Liberator anime. 

  7. Jinsei Katoaka

    Jinsei Katoaka is the author of the 2008 manga Deadman Wonderland. As the title suggests, the manga is rather ghoulish. It follows an amnesiac boy named Ganta, who lives in a half-destroyed future version of Tokyo. After being framed for murdering his entire class, Ganta is sent to a prison that doubles as a theme park, Deadman Wonderland, where he will be put to death. It was adapted into a 12 episode anime series in 2011. 

  8. Kazue Kato

    Kazue Kato is the creator of the popular series Blue Exorcist (also known as Ao no Exorcist) which was launched in 2009. The story follows teenager Rin Okumura, who finds out he is the son of Satan and has inherited his powers. Rather than follow in his father’s footsteps, Rin decides to become an exorcist and defeat him.

    Kato has stated her only goal with the story was to intrigue young people and she was inspired by a Brothers Grimm fairy tale in creating it.

    The manga is ongoing and has received a lot of critical acclaim.  It was adapted into a 25-episode anime in 2011. The end of the anime diverges from the manga. 

  9. Shinobu Ohtaka

    Shinobu Ohtaka is best known for her series Magi: Labrynth of Magic, though her seinen (mens’ manga) series Sumomomo Momomo: The Strongest Bride on Earth was very popular as well.

    Magi, launched in 2009,  is very loosely based off tales from Arabian Nights. The manga follows a young boy named Aladdin encounters a Djinn (genie) who is willing to grant him a wish. Aladdin ends up simply wishing for the genie to be his friend. The manga follows Aladdin’s adventures with his friend Alibaba, a boy who dreams of getting rich by exploring dungeons.

    Magi is a huge success, to the point of being the fourth/fifth best selling manga from 2013 to much of 2014. It’s received an anime, as has its spinoff, Adventures of Sinbad. It won a Shogakukan manga award as well.

  10. Adachitoka

    “Adachitoka” is actually the penname of a two-woman team. The title was created by combing their names “Adachi” and “Tokashiki”. These women are the creators of the 2011 ongoing manga Noragami. Adachi is the character artist and Tokashiki is the background artist. Noragami is the story of a minor god named Yato, who is so unknown and broke he doesn’t even have a shrine to his name. He takes care of malevolent spirits for five yen apiece.

    Noragami has sold well and received an anime in 2014 that recently got a second season.

  11. Izumi Tsubaki

    Izumi Tsubaki is a woman who's all about turning demographic expectations on their heads. Her shonen claim to fame, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, also known as Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, actually reads pretty much like a shoujo. In fact, it's literally about shoujo, as it's a romantic comedy centering on a guy who writes shoujo manga and the girl who pines for him. The whole series smartly and affectionately parodies shoujo tropes, is structured a lot like the typical girls' romance comic, but it happens to run in an online magazine aimed at boys. 

    Tsubaki's previous work, Oresama Teacher, similarly scrambles expectations, as it's shoujo structured more like what one would expect from a shonen. The main character is a former delinquent girl who gets in massive fistfights literally every chapter and all the ridiculous trappings of your favorite boys' action manga are there.

    Tsubaki's manga is brazen proof that demographics don't dictate content and in fact, demographics are quickly becoming meaningless.

    Gekkan Shoujo was first published in 2011 and recieved a 12-episode anime adaptation in 2014. I highly reccomend checking it out. 

  12. Jun Mochizuki

    Jun Mochizuki is the author of Pandora Hearts, a manga that ran from 2006 to 2015. The manga centers around a boy named Oz, who was imprisoned in a mysterious place called the Abyss on his fifteenth birthday, only to be rescued by a girl called Alice, the Bloodstained Black Rabbit. Now he has to find out where he is, how to escape and what Alice's deal is.

    The series references several fairy tales, most notably Alice in Wonderland. It has been called a "new generation shonen that goes beyond the genre". The manga recieved a 25-episode anime adaptation in 2009.

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