Shōjo Manga morals

Heart-shaped girly mirrorShōjo Manga is a genre of Japanese graphic novel, animation and merchandising that’s marketed for a young female audience. Search images for “Princess Tutu” for some saccharine sweetness laced with cute gooeyness. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s kids’ stuff. But whatever manga is, it’s not innocent. We are not 14 anymore. Transformation features as a strong theme in manga, according to scholar June Madeley. Already there’s the graphic transformation of the young girl into an idealised Western fashion magazine stereotype (those astonished round eyes and long legs), and the thin “feminised” male characters (if they are “good guys”). Characters sometimes switch genders: “In manga there is a long history of highly fluid and often ambivalent depictions of gender, sexuality, and gender relations” (p.800). The child in the story may also have their wish fulfilled to be transformed instantly into a mature teenager or woman, even temporarily. Characters such as Madoka Magica are highly “sexualised.”

That other childhood

Manga represents a reciprocal play in otherness. There are European manga conventions. I stumbled across one in Copenhagen of all places last year. Western teenagers were dressed in costumes to look like characters from manga comics that in turn mimicked or parodied European dress, all under the purview of a vigorous merchandising regime. Of course manga shops can be found in any European city.

Panorama of teenagers. Some in costume, faces occluded. Dressing up and transformation are part of “growing up,” which is a slightly more paternalistic way of referencing what Freud identified as the “rite of passage.” Whatever the controversies surrounding his theories of human development, one of Freud’s great contributions was to take the cuteness out of childhood, and render it other: the Oedipal condition, the boy desiring the love of his mother and wanting to kill his father, the girl offering to her parents excrement as her first gift, later to be transformed into desire for a baby. These are themes of repression easily extracted from the Grimm brothers stories, Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter, or Madoka Magica. If childhood is about guilt, trauma and cover-up then nothing is indeed innocent.


  • Freud, Sigmund. 1991. The dissolution of the Oedipus complex. In A. Richards (ed.), The Penguin Freud Library, Volume 7: On Sexuality: 315-322. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin.
  • Gianoutsos, Jamie. 2006. Locke and Rousseau: Early childhood education. The Pulse (The Undergraduate Journal of Baylor University), (4) 1, 1-23.
  • Locke, John. 1690. The Works, vol. 8 (Some Thoughts Concerning Education, Posthumous Works, Familiar Letters). Indianapolis, IN: The Online Library Of Liberty
  • Madeley, June. 2012. Transnational Transformations: A Gender Analysis of Japanese Manga Featuring Unexpected Bodily Transformations. Journal of Popular Culture, (45) 4, 789-807.
  • Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Vintage
  • Taylor, Affrica. 2010. Troubling childhood innocence: Reframing the debate over the media sexualisation of children. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, (35) 1, 48-57.


  • The first image on this page is modelled and animated in Blender by Yanjie He, student in the MSc in Design and Digital Media.
  • See more on Princess Tutu, Madoka Magica and the YouTube clip of Hatsune Miku in concert
  • The Copenhagen convention was J-Popcon 2011 described as: “The oldest and largest convention in Denmark with focus on anime, manga, cosplay and other aspects of the Japanese pop culture. On top of all this is the Danish qualification round for the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya, Japan and one of the Danish qualification rounds for EuroCos in London, England.” Search “cosplay” on Google images.
  • Some quotes on childhood from John Locke: “most children’s constitutions are either spoiled, or at least harmed, by cockering and tenderness” (4); “Curiosity should be as carefully cherished in children, as other appetites suppressed” (108).
  • Also see Otaku architecture and Kim Jong Il Orz.

Young woman at a table drawing. There's a sign saying -- Yourself as a Manga character, only 60Kr. In the background is a drawing of a female manga character.


  1. Dave Thomas says:

    Re Dressing up and transformation are part of “growing up,”

    Yanjie He’s decorated heart shape reminds me of something. The nest of a Bower bird. Design, creation and decoration of nests …displays, calls and dances sparked by changes in the seasons.
    not much to do with Manga maybe, but something about our understanding of the term Art.
    cheers Dave

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