Sunday, September 12, 2010

Romance? I think I’ll cry!

At precur, where I made a lengthy post about the unfair hierarchy of respect between men & women’s literature, and it started me thinking about the differences between American Romance and Japanese Girl’s comics. Although Harlequin Romance gets no respect on these shores, it’s still a perennial bestseller despite (or because of) their cookie-cut plots.

My knowledge of what happens in the interiors of Romance comics is severely limited to what I’ve seen on the web, but I know they tend to follow a basic formula. Woman sees man she likes. Obstacle (class differences/love rival/natural disaster) intervenes. Woman angsts. Man admits foolishness on his part / woman realizes her mistake. Happy End! I’m sure there are more intrigues involved, but given the majority of Romance comic plots were 6 pages long, there’s not much room for subtlety there.

Where Romance comics covers are filled with crying women, Japanese comics in contrast have happily smiling girls. At the time, I wrote, “Great marketing technique there – who’d want to buy something where the girl is always sad?”

The difference is, while the outside Manga cover may be featuring optimistic girls, on the inside, they’re filled with inner turmoil. Here’s the cover to the 7th Nana volume, which is the turning point early in the series’ run. And the smiling protagonists just belie the events that transpire within.

Likewise, here’s the 6th cover to Kitchen Princess, and a fairly traumatic event happens within these pages.

The Japanese covers are just a tease without any of the inner demons that lurk within. While American comics show a conflict that’s easily solved with. So which is the better one? Myself, I think the Manga versions are a metaphor for how women feel. On the outside, they may be all smiles, but in the inside, they’re crying.

When I was doing research of Romance covers, I thought it would be easy to find plenty of examples of crying women. Imagine my surprise when I found that there were more covers of the women kissing than crying.

This is probably the happiest Romance comic cover I could find, which is pretty sad if you think about it:


  1. Interesting... I'm no kind of expert on this stuff, just a shoujo manga fan who also has an obsession with cover illustrations. I wonder, are shoujo manga really all-smiles? Just browsing through a folder of Shojo Beat cover images on my computer, there's a fair range of emotions on display. I think it's worth pointing out that Kitchen Princess and St Dragon Girl were both originally written for the younger end of the shoujo demographic and display the brightest colours and widest smiles. The Nanas are smiling on their cover, but I think the subdued colours tell the reader right away that this isn't all grins and fun times. If you look at Vampire Knight or Black Bird covers, you see all sorts of brooding and pained expressions. I'd agree though, based on the sampling of US romance comics here, that shoujo manga romance covers may be happier overall.

    I also think it's interesting that the comics' covers seem to lay out the whole plot right on their covers. Maybe it's a result of their short length—no time to waste, get the story points out there first thing (compared to a 200-pg manga, which may very well have another half-dozen or more volumes to follow it, and can be more portrait-y or simply eye-catching).

    Finally, it may just be the age of the romance comics, but the first three comics remind me so much of old shoujo manga covers from the 70s or so, when all shoujo heroines wore tennis uniforms and wedding gowns. And I could totally see a shoujo or josei version of the last cover you show existing somewhere. I think it looks like a fun story :D

  2. Interesting contrast. However, I think it would have been better if you had compared and contrasted American and Japanese covers from the same time period. I don't know... say Rose of Versailles or Candy Candy instead of Saint Dragon Girl or Kitchen Princess.

    Furthermore I agree with the previous commenter about covers targeting different age brackets. It would be expected that manga for younger audiences portray bright, happy colors with smiling characters. As you get further along, you'll find plenty of shojo romance manga that do not have smiling characters. The first thing to pop to mind is Red River by Chie Shinohara, Black Bird (there's your crying heroine), Mucha Kucha Daisuki (now a teary eyed male protagonist in this instance), Vampire Knight, and so on.