Art style & fashion in shojo manga: a brief look

My interest in things like beauty and fashion trends and shojo manga have overlapped multiple times. This has made me notice certain things, but before starting, I want to make some clarifications.

First of all, I’m not by any means an expert. Not everything I’ll cover is exclusive to shojo and its influencers either. I simply want to focus on a couple of particular works and artists that happened to be featured in shojo magazines because, well… That’s what interests me! Consider this as a kind of laid back post by a fan. 

Faces in the art of the influences 

Every culture can have its own trends and beauty standards, but there are certain trends that can be considered more “global,” belonging more to a decade rather than just a culture. Big, puffy hairdos were in style in a considerable part of the world during the 80s, for example. 

Japan has its own set of beauty standards, but it wouldn’t be erroneous to say that the culture was open to western beauty standards as well–which I suppose result in things like Audrey Hepburn fitting in as a fashion icon when combined.

The personal care company Shiseido Company, Limited–a multinational founded in 1872–has an article on The Transition of Japanese Women’s Makeup that covers from the 1920s to the present. From the 20s to the early 70s, there’s a clear western influence in their makeup trends (it completely skips the 40s), breaking away in the second half of the 70s and developing towards unique trends towards the late 90s. 

I mention this because these makeup trends can be really noticed in the work of illustrators, like Jun’ichi Nakahara and Katsuji Matsumoto–contemporaries whose work were featured in the early shojo magazines like Shojo no tomo

There’s certain mix in the girls’ faces that’s really interesting to me: the proportions they drew–like the large size of the eyes or the tiny lips–didn’t have much interest in realism, but things like eyebrow-shape and the makeup in the eyes still imitated the way real women wore their makeup at the time. The colors are also consistent with what the Shiseido Company‘s names “the primary colors of traditional Japanese makeup,” which are red lips, pale white skin and black eye lines. 

Also, considering Takarazuka Revue’s popularity at the time–which is said to have its influence in early shojo–I can’t possibly ignore their makeup style! Curiously enough, it heavily emphasized the eyes, making them look bigger. 

Kuniko Ashihara in stage makeup (left)

In Jun’ichi Nakahara’s case, he gave the girls he drew big and glassy doll-like eyes. It makes sense given his doll-making past, but there’s a more interesting argument: he drew big eyes and small mouths “because girls at the time were expected to be seen and not heard, so the large eyes symbolized their rich, unspoken inner lives.

Nakahara’s style has influenced the shojo aesthetic considerably, with mangaka like Riyoko Ikeda and Makoto Takahashi as examples.

Katsuji Matsumoto was a big influence as well, both with his pioneering work creating manga and illustrations and taking on an apprentice, Ueda Toshiko. He was a highly versatile artist that could go for the most simplified, “cartoony styles” to more “realistic” ones, which can also be found in older girls’ magazines.

Matsumoto’s girls were cheerful, mischievous and carefree. The eyes in his most simplified style could be just a couple of dots, but in his most elaborate style, the eyes are big and expressive. They’re indeed bigger than normal, but the shape and the lines remind me of the makeup the stars of the era wore the most. 

There are times when I look at pages from 60s manga (or Makoto Takahashi’s illustrations) and the most defining features I spot are big window-shaped sparkles, either popular 60s hairdos or ringlets, and Twiggy’s eyelashes.

However, as makeup trends become a lot harder to identify–a lot of these girls are not even supposed to be wearing makeup, which you can totally tell by the absence of lipstick–it’s much easier to focus on fashion and hairstyles. 

Shojo manga: 70s-90s

While every artist has their own unique style, there are certain aesthetical trends that I’m inclined to attribute to their respective decades. There are exceptions, of course, but sometimes this is the reason some long-running series can start looking a certain way and look notably different by the end. It’s not just an artist evolving or improving their own style–sometimes, it’s the artist changing to conform to the current trends. It’s the kind of thing that makes a character start as puffy haired and/or bulky and end slender and/or with slicker looking hair. 

There are also things that seem to be consistent. Clothes could make 70s bodies look more elongated while 80s bodies are “bulkier,” but the bodies are usually thin and the bust size is generally small. Most changes take place in the way faces are drawn (besides fashion, of course).

In 70s shojo, the eyes look as if they contain either windows or galaxies: sparkles come in circles, squares and/or star shapes. Eyebrows are usually tin and eyelashes long. (Sometimes, they’re very long. Also, some of these things were already present in 50s/60s manga.) Some eyes are so sparkly that sparkles and eyelashes are practically all you can see. This is the era of the dramatic white eyes to indicate strong emotions like shock and a star in one eye in situations like getting comically hit. 

Full lips are suggested. If the noses are defined, they often look closer to a rectangle than a triangle in shape. This is also the decade with all those quirky side tongues. 

The 70s wavy hair and other hairstyles of the decade make their appearance, but all those big ringlets and similar curls seem to have been very popular. In fact, Europe as a setting seems to have been popular. Still, bell bottom pants were there, sometimes even in those period dramas. 

Around the 80s, faces start to get rounder in general. The features seem to shrink: the eyes, the nose and the mouth are closer together. Mouths are generally just a thin line, the eyes use sparkles more sparingly and mostly in just circular shapes, the eyelashes become shorter and bushy eyebrows seem more common. Noses get softer as well–if they’re defined, they don’t give the impression of a rectangular shape anymore. 

It’s a little hard to differentiate 80s and early 90s faces, kinda in the same way that’s hard to differentiate the aesthetic in the late 80s and the early 90s. We could say that certain roundness is lost in the 90s in favor of slenderness (mangaka like Kaoru Tada did the opposite though; the face of her 90s heroine is actually rounder). However, hair and fashion are the biggest giveaways. (Sometimes, just fashion though.)

To give an example, I could tell the manga Tokimeki Tonight started in the 80s and finished in the 90s before actually checking. How? Well, Ranze’s hair. 

Long black hair is probably one of the easiest ways to differentiate between the 80s and early 90s. In the 80s, it’s puffy and often with little to no shine, with a few loose strands giving it a wilder appearance. In the 90s, it’s smoother and with lots of shine. (Doesn’t necessarily apply to colored illustrations.) 

In fact, smooth is probably the best way to describe 90s hair (or just the 90s). There might be some dirty-looking styles that came out of the grunge era, but they’re not quite as voluminous and as puffy as in the 80s–which could go as far as to make heads look bigger and faces smaller.

Part of this is without considering colored pages and covers. They tend to add makeup, but it’s only lipstick or blush (or both). Colors in the 90s are calmer and/or darker than the more neon-ish 80s too, which can also be noted in the tones of the lipstick and blush the heroines have in covers. (Here’s the Kaoru Tada example again)

How the 90s evolve around the second half (and that late 90s-early 2000s period) is something that I haven’t observed as much. There are details that I’m omitting (like how some early 80s titles still looked more 70s than 80s, or the famous spiky hair). I’m sure there are things that I’m forgetting too. However, this is only meant to be a brief look, so I believe this is enough…

Until next time!


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One thought on “Art style & fashion in shojo manga: a brief look

  1. Stumbled upon this article today and I really enjoyed reading your analysis of shojo manga art development in Japan. The ’70s and ’80s were when I started drawing manga and my style at that time certainly reflected those trends. I tend to think that in the mid ’80s after Rumiko Takahashi, gender roles became less prominent in manga, so, many shojo mangaka started adopting the style of shonen (which had different beauty and fashion trends), creating another art style.
    Great work!

    Liked by 1 person

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