Like shoujo manga, YA (young adult) novels target demographic are teenagers girls. This alone seems enough to assume that they must be very alike, since both appeal to the same group of people. But is this enough to assume that YA is the west equivalent to shoujo, and vice-versa?
When I was a teenager, I used to consume both forms of media. Back then, I read a lot more of YA novels than shoujo manga. A big part of the reason was because it was easier to get a $10 paperback copy than trying to collect several volumes.
Allow me to get the obvious out of the way before continuing. With novels, you can get long, epic journeys or simple and short love stories, all around $3-$25 depending on the format. With manga, if you can get around 3-5 volumes for $25, you my friend, are in luck. And a lot of manga are way longer than that.
The second obvious difference is the format. With novels, everything is up to your imagination. Manga has it’s own style of visual storytelling, combining text, images, composition and paneling to deliver the story.
Third: if you’re following an on-going manga series, you have to wait one month just to get another chapter. With YA novel, you get all the chapters in one book, but with a YA series (or trilogy), you have to wait for a whole year to see what happens next.
“Umm, yeah…”, you might be thinking, “this isn’t what people mean when they say they are alike”. You aren’t wrong.
When people compare the two, what they have in mind is the content of the stories they tell. Both are written for teenager girls, so the general themes, type of characters, tropes and settings don’t vary a lot. Or so they say.
There way too many stories on both YA and shoujo, so to say I’ll analyse both mediums thoroughly would be inaccurate. Still, I’ll touch upon a few popular themes that I often came across.
Let’s go over some of the similarities first.
The high school setting is popular in both. This isn’t really surprising, considering the target demographic are high schoolers themselves. The high school experience is different, of course, taking culture into account (I’ll get back to that later). Paranormal novel INK tried to combine the two, with an american girl going to a Japanese high school.
The plain, clumsy female protagonist and the handsome and popular male love interest are also a thing in both. A couple of weeks ago I talked about the romantic trope that loved making hot brainiacs and useless girls. This often applies to both mediums, with plenty of variations. What I find interesting, though, is that both mediums, regardless of culture, love having handsome and skilled main male characters their ladies can depend on. Following this line, if the setting is fantasy, both of them also have a female protagonist with no other choice but to depend on the skills or superpowers of the love interest. None of them are strangers to the bad boy, hot jerk stereotype either.
Love triangles and reverse-harem is another thing they have in common.
Differences… well, besides the ones I already mentioned, there are many. But to keep this short, let’s go over the differences they have in the common high school setting.
With shoujo manga japanese people are the immediate consumers. With YA novels the main public are mainly american girls. If the novel is translated, there is also market in other places like Europe and South America. If is not, english speaking foreigners can still have easy access to them. But the point I’m trying to make here is: both countries, as creators and consumers, have big cultural differences, and this is reflected on their media.
One of the most noticeable differences is the japanese kawaii (かわいい) culture. While both YA and shoujo might feature “plain” female main characters, in shoujo they’re almost always cute. Not only with their pretty faces and big, shiny eyes, but in their actions as well. Even when they’re messing up, the manga might still portray them in an adorable light, and other characters will comment on it at some point (usually the male protagonist).
The portrayal of the girl’s feelings and actions towards her love interest are also different. In shoujo manga, there is a bigger emphasis on purity. YA girls rather than handsome, use “hot”. Both shoujo and YA heroines can become flustered when the very attractive main guy is around, but the sexual tension when a YA heroine describe them is more notorious.
This is also noticeable in the way the kisses are portrayed: the tone is different. Shoujo often has those sparking, one page panels to dedicate to the main couple kiss. But shoujo kisses are quite chaste in comparison to YA kisses. YA heroines often receive deep, hot and heavy kisses. “Their tongues danced”, you might read a lot. In YA, there are adventurous hands. Sometimes, t-shirts are removed. Shoujo couples keep their hands on each others heads or waist more often than not.
Japanese teenagers don’t use cars to go to school. They use the train, busses and bicycles. Some americans high schoolers might use the buss too, but they do use cars. Some even drive themselves to school. This allows very different, location-dependent scenes to develop.
Now, this difference is related to the format. A novel can get years and years to write. Or one. It’s not uncommon to find YA novels following trends: when The Hunger Games was popular, romantic dystopian novels where everywhere. Everyone and their mothers where publishing something in the genre. To have a plot that follows a current trend would be difficult for a serialised manga. You have series that started eight years ago, and even with the change of fashion and the rapid evolution of technology (smartphones), the mangaka tries to keep the continuity. After all, in the manga world, eight years haven’t passed. But they don’t always succeed in keeping things the same. Some mangakas allow themselves to accommodate their art styles according to the current art trends of the decade. Something like this could never happen with a novel, of course.
YA novels and shoujo manga are indeed directed to the same target demographic, but cultural influence, format and price difference prevents them to truly become equivalents.
They’re separate mediums. They might share some elements and settings, but they also have some exclusively of their own, which I haven’t truly analysed in this occasion. It would be interesting to so in the future.
At the end of the day, some people might be attracted to what a YA novel has to offer. Some might prefer shoujo manga. And some might just find both of them appealing.