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Manga Before Flowers – Top Five Shojo Manga

Now that I have my own column (thanks go the good folks here at Comics Should Be Good) I’ve discovered list-making is so addictive – the following are my top five shojo (i.e. for girls! girly! girl-a-licous even! Have I scared the guys off yet?) manga currently being published in English. Actually, this list is probably close to my top five shojo manga of all time, which just goes to show how much good shojo is being published in the states.

Shojo, by the way, is not another name for “romance” — the titles below emphasize *people* and how they interact with each other and what they *feel* — about each other, themselves, the word they live in. Which means, yes, sometimes these titles are about sex and love and all those things…but first and foremost, these stories are about *us*.

Also, please note I’m still figuring out how to deal with images on this site — so forgive me, if they appear a little “off” on this post. Maybe one day I’ll get it right….

Now let’s get to it….


1. Setona Mizushiro, After School Nightmare.


This series is pure shojo-crack – it tops my list for many reasons, but primarily because it completely turns the shojo tropes of gender-bending, love triangles, the high school setting, princess-y heroines upside down. Unlike every other title on this list, Mizushiro offers a fairly tight, yet emotion-driven narrative that doesn – ™t span 20 volumes or more. In other words, she isn’t out to draw out a successful title because she can.

Basic plot: our protagonist, raised as a boy, discovers as a teenager that he (or she) isn’t fully male or female when he has his first (& very unexpected) period. Chosen as a special student who takes an after school class, Mashiro struggles to resolve his gender issues in a special dream world in which he and his fellow classmates vie for the right to – œgraduate. –  Conflicted because he desires to be a man yet finds himself enacting certain “feminine” behaviors (such as falling in love with a man), the mangaka beautifully illustrates his desires, dreams and nightmares. The title is both horror and romance, but mainly it demonstrates how extraordinary the shojo genre can be and how much strangeness it can easily encompass.

The art is also extraordinarily well done, the mangaka is clearly at the top of her game here — the pages are often beautiful even when emphasizing the horror-filled nightmare state of the students.

2 a. Ai Yazawa, NANA.


Technically, NANA is probably josei, not shojo (meaning aimed at young women, not teenage girls or young girls). But as the best soap opera currently being published in English, it would be downright criminal to leave it off this list.

NANA sounds really ridiculous when described by Viz: “Nana ‘Hachi’ Komatsu hopes that moving to Tokyo will help her make a clean start and leave her capricious love life behind her. Nana Osaki, who arrives in the city at the same time, has plans to score big in the world of rock’n’roll. Although these two young women come from different backgrounds, they quickly become best friends in a whirlwind world of sex, music, fashion, gossip and all-night parties!” It’s the “all-night parties” part that actually makes me want to smack someone, to be honest, since the whole thing sounds to damn shallow and is actually any thing but.

In reality, NANA is about the bonds, joys and pain of friendship, more than it is really about “romance” since the greatest romance in the story is really between the two Nanas than between either Nana and their boyfriend(s). NANA starts small, and moves outward from a chance meeting between two people with the same first name and the same age. Author Ai Yazawa draws us into her web and we are completely unsuspecting when she yanks the rug from under us and gives us an entirely new comic that somehow is still NANA. Don’t ask me how she does it, but in reality you can’t say you fully understand the story Yazawa intends to tell until you’ve read at least 8 volumes (I kid you not.)

Story continues below

There is something wonderful about Yazawa’s mature art style — it is very shojo but never looks like anything else you’ve seen. Pick up the first volume and enjoy two independent stories about two girls named Nana and try to imagine how in the world Yazawa can build a comic through the interaction of these two characters. Then pick up the second volume and third volume watch her pull the whole thing off in style…then stick around ’cause damn if it doesn’t heat up in the fourth, fifth and sixth volumes and if you’re still around wait for the the top of your head to explode with volume eight. Hands down, NANA is still the best damn ride in comics out there.

2. b. Natsuki Takaya, Fruits Basket.


The thing about Fruits Basket is that the first few volumes completely fail to convey the heart-rending brilliance of the later volumes. While the series looks as syrupy as all get out, it actually delves into dark waters with its portrayal of child abuse and neglect, depression, suicide – do I really need to expand? Well, if you judge the series by the first volume cover, probably.

I’m afraid I must warn you Fruits Basket has a plucky orphan heroine (see the volume one cover girl, our very own little Tohru Honda) and she is everything you think a plucky orphan heroine would be and more (she cooks, she cleans, she self-sacrifices like you wouldn’t believe!). By accident she discovers a neighboring family’s deep dark secret — that they are cursed to change into an animal of the Chinese zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex. At first it sounds so cutesy you might need insulin to recover from the premise alone — I mean, people turning into animals when hugged? — but there is a reason Takaya calls this secret “a curse” and certain members of the family shoulder harsher burdens than others due to this curse. (Imagine for instance giving birth a child and discovering the first time you hold them they aren’t completely human…then imagine what this knowledge would do to you as a parent and your child as they grow up….and imagine how many different ways this can screw up a family and a child. Takaya seems to cover all them).

While some readers never really warm to Tohru Honda and instead prefer other characters in the series, she remains the heart and soul of the title and it is with her that this family can find salvation (of many different kinds). Takaya’s art improves by whole universes by the time the title finishes and I have a real affection for her stark compositions which brilliantly convey her characters’ emotional states. The title ends up being many things over the course of its 23 volumes (19 of which are available in the states) including comedy, tragedy, romance, slice of life, and even horror.

In the end, NANA and Fruits Basket share the second spot on this list because they dare to be epic without resorting to traditional plot-lines. They are surprising and often moving and, of course, they are never perfect. But they are always approaching greatness and they often reach it. In the end, I could no more choose between the two than I could choose between keeping either my left or right arm.

3. Yoshiki Nakamura, Skip Beat.

skip beat.jpg

Skip Beat is sheer shojo genius — it takes the usual cliche of the sweet, self-sacrificing girlfriend and pretty much implodes it, and does it in the first chapter. Seriously, if you pick up first volume and don’t stick around long enough watch the heroine unleash her demons (i.e. meaning, they literally come out and attack you if you’ve angered her, that’s how strong they are) than you haven’t seen Shakespeare the way it was meant to be done…ur wait. What was I saying?

Our heroine is Kyoko Mogami, and when we start this showbiz tale she’s working two menial jobs to support her asshole prince, Sho, so he can focus on making it in the music biz. Now that he has made it, he has no use for Kyoko, who he treats like an indentured servant/maid. Once Kyoko learns about his true nature, she basically unhinges and vows revenge. How will she get revenge? By becoming a bigger star than he is, of course!

Story continues below

Kyoko’s rise to “fame” is very, very slow — she isn’t an overnight sensation, and a lot of the first 10 volumes deal with not only her “healing” from her outright rejection of loving or the need to be loved, but also situates Kyoko as a kind of show-biz therapist, as she continually bests problem children in the industry and works to “rehabilitate” them as functioning human beings (just as she herself is actually rehabilitated by her experiences with them).

Skip Beat is first and foremost a comedy, with a bit of romance thrown in (trust me, if we ever see the main couple kiss, it’ll be a miracle). Mainly the title is just so damn fun and really deserves more attention than it currently gets in the English language manga fandom.

4. Kyoko Ariyoshi, Swan.


I’m a little ambivalent about placing Swan last on this list — as far as I’m concerned, it is by far the most significant shojo title currently being published in English. Originally published in Japan in the 1970’s, it is one of those titles that expands not only shojo’s subject matter (was it Erin F. of Manga Recon fame who said Swan is so girly it actually goes full circle and becomes manly?) but whose art is innovatively brilliant, as Ariyoshi manages to convey movement and emotion by completely deconstructing very notion of a comic book “panel.” After reading Swan, you’ll believe dance can be rendered to great effect through the medium of comics, certainly no small feat.

The story follows a young girl named Masumi, who dreams of becoming a great ballet dancer but has no access to resources that would allow her to seriously train to accomplish such a goal. Masumi, though, is graced by one of those unbelievable secret shojo connections to a great Russian dancer, visiting Japan in order to help them join the rarefied ranks of European and Russian dancers, who gives her a chance to prove herself and join an established Japanese ballet school in Tokyo. As a dancer, Masumi is flawed but talented and the narrative follows her as she competes and trains, which sounds dull but the ballet matches are so damn intense, I often feel like I’m holding my breath the entire time I read through a volume of this title.

This title probably needs more love than anything else on this list — and is probably the title that is least likely to be picked up due to its subject matter and its age. All I can say is if you care even a little bit about art, Swan will surprise and startle you with its innovative, yet surprisingly natural, art. And isn’t that what all great comics should do?


Daniel Yokomizo

March 25, 2008 at 8:01 am

Yay Hachiko and Tohru!
My favorite dance related anime is Princess Tutu. It was released as manga in the US in 2004, but the anime is amazing.

P.S.: Shoujo is not just for girls, most of the manga/anime I like is shoujo.

Danielle Leigh

March 25, 2008 at 8:09 am

hi Daniel!

no, I agree shojo isn’t just for girls but in the U.S. it is a difficult task to expect people raised on very manly superhero comics to pick up something like “Fruits Basket.” (So my note about how “girly” these comics are is really tongue-in-cheek as I feel as a genre shojo explores the human condition better than any other type of comic out there).

Also, I adore Princess Tutu as well! I’ve heard the manga isn’t so great but the anime is really beautiful and is actually one of the few anime I’ve bothered seek out to own (otherwise I tend to netflix my anime).

You should be able to drag pictures around to make ‘em bigger.

Also: Man, I love lists.

Also 2: Can I miss Nana volume 1 and not be lost? I’m at the library right now and part one is “withdrawn.”

Danielle Leigh

March 25, 2008 at 9:01 am

MarkAndrew —

I think so…NANA volume 1 just sort of sets up where these girls come from, where in volume 2 they actually meet. (So you’ll miss some backstory but it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how different the girls’ lives have been up to this point.)

Cool list. How about a list for us guys or even a general “top 5 manga you must own”? Been wanting to delve into manga for a while but beyond the obvious choices (eg. Akira, Battle Royale etc) I haven’t a clue where to start.

hi Glen,

I have two lists I’ve done here at Comics Should Be Good in a series called for “manga for adults”
The first list focuses on sci-fi recs, the second expands out to other genres:



All titles listed here are HIGLY recommended by me for people who might not be familiar with manga since these titles are usually very stylish comcis with great plots. Hope this helps!

Hi Danielle,
It’s a very nice and perfectly solid list. Great job!
Your mention of Swan made me remember all the great “training, competition, romance, crises, overcoming” shojo manga published in the late 70s and 80s — I wonder if the works of mangaka like Satoru Makimura (on figure skating and dancing)have been published in English … maybe not, but a lot more of 70s-80s manga deserve to be translated, I think!

Where is Ouran High school and koukou debut? They are good too.

I haven’t read after school nightmare; probably will check it out later.

Danielle Leigh

March 26, 2008 at 5:02 am

hi elezend!

Well, Ouran might top my “characters do wacky hijinks” top five manga published in English but not my list of the top five best shojo.

High School Debut is also a gem but again, it still wouldn’t crack my top five. Not yet anyway….maybe my top ten?

Why doesn’t it surprise me that your list is virtually identical to the one in my head? I have some catching up to do with Swan and Skip Beat, but I’m very fond of both of them.

If I were inclined to add some honorable mentions, I would list Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss because it makes me swoon, Ai Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club because it’s hilarious, and Tenshi Ja Nai!! because it’s mean.

Omg… Fruits basket is so freaking good… Even the first few volumes for that matter… If you haven’t read the last few volumes [no spoilers here] you should hell read it man >_

Thanks a lot! That was a great help.

Nice. Out of these, the only one I’ve read is Nana, but Fruits Basket is one that I’ve long considered, and Swan is another I would really like to read. Someday I’ll be able to get to everything I want to. Yeah, right.

Danielle Leigh

March 26, 2008 at 8:55 am

hi David…

Why doesn’t it surprise me that your list is virtually identical to the one in my head? I have some catching up to do with Swan and Skip Beat, but I’m very fond of both of them.

If I were inclined to add some honorable mentions, I would list Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss because it makes me swoon, Ai Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club because it’s hilarious, and Tenshi Ja Nai!! because it’s mean.

Oh, see these are books that are CURRENTLY being published in States (no title above has been concluded yet) otherwise Paradise Kiss would probably have to replace NANA. Although…oh dear lord, it is like choosing between’s one children? (Not that I have any…but still.)

The Last volume of My Heavenly Club didn’t hit me quite right (I think I may just want *more outright romance* because Hana as a girlfriend? What could be crazier?) but yes, I could so go all-shojo-all-the-time even though I think my readers here would appreciate a little more variety….

Danielle Leigh

March 26, 2008 at 8:57 am


I can’t recommend After School Nightmare highly enough…it really does stretch the boundaries of shojo as far as I’m concerned and the art certainly ain’t a chore to look at….

That’s a great list. :) I’m currently reading NANA, Fruits Basket, and Skip Beat! The other two I am hoarding in preparation for a marathon of awesome crack. :)

Incidentally, I had a very similar reaction to that “all-night parties” line on NANA’s back cover. And it’s repeated verbatim on volume 2! The nearest thing there was to a party was some friends sitting up late and having beer. Ooh, crazy.

[…] Drama, drama, drama Filed under: GGN4T, Go! Comi, Linkblogging, Quick Comic Comments, Tokyopop, Viz — davidpwelsh @ 6:55 am Over at Comics Should Be Good, Danielle Leigh once again demonstrates her great taste, listing her top five current shôjo series. This reminds me that it’s time to make a few more Great Graphic Novels for Teens nominations. […]

[…] Danielle Leigh lists her top five shoujo manga in her latest Manga Over Flowers column. Some of the titles may surprise you! At Precocious Curmudgeon, David Welsh chimes in with his impressions of recent volumes. […]

Well, I totally agree with Afterschool Nightmare and Swan!! I believe Cipher by Minako Narita should mentioned :P
Nana, on the other hand, starts very well but then it becomes draggy and unbearable >_

omigod. You mentioned Skip Beat. THIS IS SO TRUE! Since no one much else commented on Skip Beat I’ll share my story then.

My college friends and I have read many shojo mangas in the past several years. As graduation approached, we were all getting bored of manga and no longer read any new series. But then Skip Beat came out…and wow, it was SOO refreshingly different from any series we had read.

The first thing my friend, an English graduate said to me after I lent her four volumes of Skip Beat was, “Kyoko is so unpredictable! You never know what she’s going to do. Do you have any more volumes?”

We talked about it more and came to the conclusion that Kyoko’s pretty relatable. By shojo manga standards, she’s kinda cynical and crazy almost. But to us, she’s just a very interesting character in that she IS the nice princess-like character of many shojo stories, but she’s also a badass. She’s bad at being a damsel in distress. Anytime she encounters a hurdle, be it a bitchy rival, actress, an accident, a humiliation, a scary producer/director, difficult contest, difficult role…she always shows up with a victorious move.

We had come to expect the typical heroine mopes or cries until someone helps her or motivates her to do better or whatever. Not Kyoko. She’s a very sweet kind girl, but she’s also hella tough. If someone crosses her, lord help them. Everytime something bad happens, we almsot expect her to cry about it or feel sorry for herself, but instead she gets up with violent vengeance and proceeds to figuratively beat the sh*t out of her opponent. And she does it with an evil smirk and evil aura (demons popping up) that always scares the crap out of everyone. lol, it’s always awesome to watch her. She’s like a force of nature.

I guess in a way, Skip Beat is like a shonen manga. The main character has a battle and looks about to be defeated but suddenly comes up with a badass move that royally screws his enemy. The main characters are like “warriors” no matter the genre of the story.

That’s what Kyoko is. She’s a badass warrior in the world of acting.

P.S. Before Skip Beat, Fruits Basket was my top recommendation for anyone interested in manga/shojo manga. When my neices are old enough, I’m SOOO reading this one to them. I always recommend it for anyone going through a tough time too. It’s very inspiring. :) I shall definitely have to check this “Nightmare” too. I think I paged through Swan, once, but upon your recommendation I’ll give it a second chance.

NANA…I dunno, it never appealed to me. It seemed to me like a very slow ride towards tragedy. Oh there were happy times and funny times, but it always felt like a fragile happiness to me. It is a grown-up series (josei manga afterall…) so perhaps that’s why it didn’t appeal to me. (I’m a psychology/criminal justice graduate…i get plenty of wacky/cynical realism in life that I prefer a bit more juvenile optimism in my fiction…) XD

I really like your picks.

Might have to check Afterschool Nightmare out.

What would your ALL-TIME favorite manga list include? Glad ParaKiss was mentioned…I just finished it. Basically…I’m still heartbroken. T_T It’s fitting, it’s poignant, but it also makes me want to kill both George and Caroline….(I just like that name better than her real one. :P) Why doesn’t Ai Yazawa let me enjoy the beautiful fantasy world of manga? It’s such a good read, and it’s SOO realistic, and really, someone as twisted as George and someone as needy as Caroline can’t go together. They grew up through each other, but they realized each other’s faults too late. The chance to change each other went by like that….So they have to go and seek other people who might be able to make them into better people. Hiro is one that can make Caroline into a great person. But still!!! GEORGE!!! Yes, I am blinded by his beautiful looks and clothes and twisted personality. I don’t care….! I don’t hate anyone within the manga, but I don’t love anyone either, not even George (maybe it’s a love-hate thing), and yet it is undeniably one of the best mangas out there.

I thought ParaKiss was depressing. NANA is 10x more depressing, maybe because it’s longer…? I heard that ParaKiss was cut short for NANA, but I don’t think the ending would’ve changed. When Ai Yazawa switched from shojo to josei, she was going for the hardcore heartbreak…..Yet I can’t put either of them down. She’s making me as crazy as her characters.

I like Skip Beat. I really do. But to me it’s not that memorable. Maybe it’s just me? It’s a definite up from shojo, and I really do enjoy it a lot. It’s probably the best out of shojo. Kyoko is a bit unrealistic but pure genius anyway. But after reading josei, it sometimes pales in comparison when I see how much more mature josei is…(but that’s a given.) But Josei does have its problems. It tends to be too melodramatic or depressing….

^_^ I adore all the series you showed at one point or another. Swan I liked as well, but its glamor wore off a bit, probably because ballet really doesn’t interest me and the art paled in comparison to say, Ai Yazawa. (Yes, she’s my favorite mangaka). I’m not keeping up with Furuba these days.

Have you ever tried Emma? I’m not even sure if it’s shojo or not….Romance is there. And I THINK it’s suppose to be from Japan. The artist’s name and some general things led me to believe that….But the art is sparse and the paneling reminds me of standard comics….If you haven’t checked it out, you should. The pure detail put into the Victorian setting was enough to make me pick up the next volume.

[…] female protagonist games for each platform:http://www.uvlist.net/groups/info/femaleprotagonistManga Before Flowers – Top Five Shojo Manga – comic Book ResourcesBasic plot: our protagonist, raised as a boy, discovers as a teenager that he or she isn??t fully […]

I’ve read Skip Beat which is one of my favorite manga right now mainly because it’s just so damn funny and Kyoko is so strong willed. If you like SB then try Tokyo Crazy Paradise. It’s written by the same author but is completely different in plot, etc. It’s very good too. I have also read Fruit Baskets. Interesting but not great. Bit boring. List of Shojo Manga I like:

1. Skip Beat – look at the description above. My favorite manga.

2. Maison Ikokku – same author as Inuyasha, Ranma 1/2, etc. A young student falls in love with his apartment manager. Many of the puns and ideas used in other manga come from this manga (coz it’s quite old). Look past the old drawing style – it’s a classic.

3. Tokyo Crazy Paradise – Life in Tokyo in 2020 is tough so much that one family raised their daughter as a boy. Now that her parents are dead she becomes a bodyguard for the leader of a mafia gang.

4. Vampire Knight – A school is divided into 2 classes, the day class and the night class. The day class just has normal students while the night class is filled with vampires. Two school prefects are assigned to stop the other students from finding out this secret

5. Kare First Love – A geeky girl thinks she’s not pretty and so is shocked to find that one of the boys on her train has taken a liking to her.

6. Ouran High School Host Club – to repay breaking a very expensive vase a girl (that everyone mistakes for a boy at first) joins the school host club to pay off the dept.

Fruits Basket is the best out there!
I might have to read After School Nightmare. It sounds a lot like I.S. maybe which i really love.
I’m kinda afraid to read NANA though it sounds great cause it might be better than Furuba to me and that CAN NOT happen. Natsuki Takaya is my idol and no one else. lol

I love your review of Fruits Basket. Its the best I’ve ever seen. Lucky for me I didn’t read volume 1 first or i might of thought it too cutesy and stopped right there. I read vol. 6, compared to other stuff in the story now that one seems kinda…silly? too, but i’d never seen anything more emotional and by my previous manga record it was a given that teenage boys should turn into monsters. xD

I hate the ussual summary for it because its doens’t portray it correctly at all.

Akito 4-ever!

Skip beat is definitely my favorite

I’m reading it again because I can’t get enough of it!

The best part is how Kyoko instead of getting depressed from a broken heart becomes
a much stronger person. After all the really typical shojo storylines its great to find a manga
which has you following a character who isn’t a love-sick puppy with tons of love problems but
who is working hard to find herself and true happiness (in acting). And seriously, its just too
funny. I actually lol by myself a lot when I read it. Anyways..

Love fruits basket! Such a touching story.. wait – such touching stories! It shows you so
many different types of love and heartbreak and of course the healing from the pains
people have.

I’ve yet to read the other ones! Great list!

No offense but, fruit baskets not that good ya know?

how dare you!
no i don’t know. how about you give a reason for not likeing something instead of just saying it?

I totally agree with the skip beat! pick. And though I understand everyone’s lists are different, is there anyone else as obsessed with Tail of the Moon as I am?? Easily the greatest manga i have ever read. The art is not the most intricate, but still smooth, and the history doesn’t hinder the plot in any way. Its actually exciting! But the character development between usagi and hanzo is the most I could ever ask for!

Everyone I’ve introduced this manga to has become obsessed with it. LOL

me encantan estos mangas pero en spcial skip beat


December 21, 2009 at 10:22 pm

I love fruitsbasket but right now im looking for a manga I read a while back on the computer but cannot remember the name.

The description is something like this:

A girl transfers to another school just to be with her fashion idol.

First and foremost: Fruits Basket is one of the most AMAZING manga I have ever read. Anyone who likes shojo–and more, really, because, as you say, it defies the genre–needs to read it. It seemed all cute and fluffy at first…but really, even from the get go, I knew there was a darker element.

Also, here are some other mangas that I enjoyed:
1. Kyou Koi Wo Haimemasu (pretty cliche but lovely art)
2. Kimi Ni Todoke
3. Honey X Honey Drops (vaguely cliche)
4. Beast Master (adorable storyline)
5. Dengeki Daisy (from the same manga-ka as Beast Master, the storyline has a darker element also)
6. Stardust Wink (love triangle, but cute art)
7. Cherry Juice (just an average read)
8. Special A (different style of art but pretty good overall)
9. Love Hina (amazing storyline with some fanservice thrown in–eh, that’s just Akamatsu style)
10. Black Bird (the heroine is very passive and girly, so I disliked here, but the art was pretty)
11. Bloody Kiss (more comedy than romance but still good)
12. The Gentlemen’s Alliance (very pretty, frilly art)
13. Chibi Vampire (like Bloody Kiss, more comedy than romance)
14. Vampire Knight (pretty art but I hated the plot, it got boring)
15. High School Debut (awesome light read)
16. AAA (interesting; vaguely cliche)
17. Maid-Sama! (hilarious and cute)

I love you so much for this list. I was at borders in the manga section and wasn’t sure what to get so I looked online for a list of the best shoujo mangas. They were either lists with no descriptions or just things that are too long and blegh. But I found yours and I read your number one pick and it was such a good description that it made me want to read this unknown series. Of course borders didn’t have it so I ended up getting skip beat! I read that and it was cute but sooo predictable. It’s a light hearted book that is an entertaining 15 mins. But my mind was still stuck on after school nightmare. I had to read it. So I found it online and read and read and continuously had my mind blown away. I felt so many different emotions and I loved it! It’s such an amazing theory and i will always carry it on. Extraordinary. I finished today and had to give props where it’s needed but everyone is mentioning nana and skip beat and vampire knight but after school nightmare tops any manga I’ve ever read. Thank you so much for the read of a lifetime.

I LOVE your top shoujo list :D :D :D I agree with them whole heartedly :D :D

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