When people talk about shonen anime written by women, Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) by Hiromu Arakawa and Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi come to mind. But there’s so many more female-led shonen works to enjoy!
A lot of them dabble in the fantasy genre, but they combine other subgenres as well. Some of them include horror, romance, and especially comedy. The five works that we’ll be talking about cover all of those genres and everything in between. It also includes some insight from the female mangaka (漫画家 , manga creators) themselves!
In terms of fame, Kore Yamazaki’s The Ancient Magus’ Bride is considered to be up there with FMA and Inuyasha. But while those two are historical fantasy stories, Magus’ Bride is more of a dark fantasy romance. Yamazaki wrote the first volume in 2013, and it’s still going today.
The story of Magus’ Bride centers around Chise Hatori, a lonely Japanese high school student. She is also an orphan who is shunned by her remaining relatives and society at large. Heartbroken and alone, Chise puts herself up for auction in London in hopes of finding a new household that will adopt her.
She is successful in her journey, but there’s a twist. The person who bought her for five million pounds is Elias Ainsworth, a seven-foot tall humanoid with an animal’s skull for a head. Through Chise and Elias’ relationship, they work together and use their respective magic powers to help themselves and each other.
During a 2017 interview with Forbes, Yamazaki expressed that while both male and female creators are poised to excel in the manga industry, “women are better than men at drawing deeper, emotional or mental aspects of the characters”.
While she’s not sure if it’s a “biological…or a gender identity thing”, she feels “that women are better at [empathizing]” with the characters they create. For a story as heartfelt, yet contained as The Ancient Magus’ Bride, empathy is key to both the manga and anime’s success.
Blue Exorcist by Kazue Kato is another dark fantasy shonen manga/anime. Kato released the first volume in 2009 through Jump Square. It has since spawned two anime adaptations and a manga spinoff series.
The story of Blue Exorcist is about Rin and Yukio Okumura, twin brothers raised by a Catholic priest. For years, they lived under his watchful care. For most of their lives, the two boys sensed that supernatural forces surrounded them, but didn’t fully understand why.
Unfortunately, when the father dies while protecting Rin from a demon, Rin learns of an uncomfortable truth. Him and his brother are the sons of Satan, and that it’s up to him and his brother to become exorcists so they can defeat him once and for all.
Kato cites The Brothers Grimm and their dark fantasy motifs as her main inspiration for Blue Exorcist. In addition, because the manga incorporates demons and exorcism, it includes a lot of Biblical references. While some critics may deem it to be cliche, Kato said in a 2017 Anime News Network interview that “[she] should not run away from these references if [she’s] working in the Exorcist genre.”
Blue Exorcist is still ongoing, and critics generally like the manga/anime. Even though some consider it to be very similar to FMA and other fantasy shonen, they consider it to be very “well-executed”.
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Our third pick, a supernatural fantasy with horror elements, is Black Butler by Yana Toboso. It was originally released in 2006 and is ongoing. Not only does it have an anime adaptation, it also has a musical and video game as well!
Black Butler is set in Victorian-era London, and centers around Ciel Phantomhive, the young head of a prestigious noble family. While the general public knows the Phantomhive family as the wealthy owners of a toy and candy company, they are actually the “Queen’s Watchdogs”, employed directly by Queen Victoria to keep London’s seedy underworld in check.
However, things took a horrific turn for Ciel on his tenth birthday. On that fateful night, his parents were killed, his house was burned down, and he was kidnapped and tormented by unknown cultists.
Fortunately, a demon rescued Ciel when the cultists attemped a forbidden ritual. To further establish his bond, Ciel named the demon Sebastian Michaels, and together, they plan to find the cultists who destroyed his family.
Black Butler is unusual in the sense that it’s a shonen manga that has a dedicated female fanbase. Many people attribute this to the bishounen (美少年; “beautiful youth”) character design. That is, the male protagonists in Black Butler are designed to be beautiful and elegant–a design choice typically reserved for shojo manga and anime.
But Black Butler isn’t only about tragedy and vengeance. There are some light-hearted moments that make fun of polite society. It’s also a unique blend of horror, mystery and drama, with some touching moments that show the characters’ depth and dedication to each other.
Angelic Layer is a science fiction comedy by CLAMP, the same all-female artist collective that created Cardcaptor Sakura. It had a short run between 1999 and 2001, and spawned a similarly short anime adaptation in the same year.
The protagonist of Angelic Layer is Misaki Suzuhara, a small and energetic middle school student who moved to Tokyo to live with her aunt. Upon arriving, Misaki comes across a popular game called–you guessed it–Angelic Layer, where players control electronic dolls in battle with their minds, via a headset controller.
Misaki becomes interested in this game and wants to try it out for herself. Between creating and training with her own doll and attending the reputable Eriol Academy, Misaki makes many friends during her journey. But by the end of the manga, she also learns the truth behind her mother’s disappearance, and that strength comes in all sizes.
Even though Angelic Layer’s story is much shorter than CLAMP’s other works, it still had a strong influence on their future projects. During development, Angelic Layer’s art direction is less detailed in character design, but much more dynamic in posing and gestures. CLAMP used this same style in later works such as Chobits, making Angelic Layer its spiritual prequel.
The anime adaptation won the Animated Kobe Award for TV Feature in 2001, and was lauded for its “colorful animation” and effortless portrayal of true friendship.
Our final and most lighthearted female-created shonen on this list is Cells at Work by Akane Shimizu. The original manga ran from 2015 to 2021, and spawned two anime seasons and multiple spin-offs.
It’s an action comedy that focuses on the day-to-day misadventures of anthropomorphized cells in the human body. The main characters are AE3803, a red blood cell who’s earnest yet naive and U-1146, a white blood cell who’s strong, yet gentle.
Cells at Work is unique for its perfect balance of education, action-comedy and drama. As a matter of fact, viewers consider it to be so medically accurate that high school biology teachers episodes assign episodes for homework!
While we don’t know much about Shimizu, the series creator, some people speculate that due to the strong accuracy of the information portrayed in Cells at Work, that she could potentially be a medical professional herself.
Regardless, Cells at Work’s impact, despite being a much more recent work, is undeniable. In addition to the anime adaptation and manga spin-offs (that cover the platelets, an unhealthy human body, etc), it also had a stage play adaptation that ran back in November 2018.
Shonen manga and anime written by women tend to explore darker elements of both fantasy and reality, but find a way to enlighten us with heartfelt moments, dynamic backstories and elegant character design.
Not to mention, now matter how heavy the story gets, the creators always make room for cute and sometimes even hilarious scenes that you’re sure to remember!
Have you ever watched any of these female-led shonen anime before? What other ones have you heard of? Let us know in the comments below!
Writer living in Tokyo who likes stories, music and video games. <3
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