Visions of possible girls : intersectional feminist narratives in contemporary Japanese boys' comics

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In this dissertation, I examine representations of girls and women in contemporary Japanese comics for boys (shōnen manga) using the framework of intersectional feminism. I identify dominant trends and manga series that challenge the misogyny, heteronormativity, sexual objectification, and conservative gender roles that often characterize the status quo of the shōnen genre. Through my analysis of prominent manga magazines for boys and young men, I argue that many manga magazines encourage readers to link fantasies about fictional and flesh-and-blood people. I pair this analysis with case studies of two popular shōnen manga series that exhibit a feminist consciousness, arguing that these series resist heteronormative and misogynist tropes through connections to contemporary struggles for equality that are promoted by producers, the media, and consumers. I examine each work in the media, social, and physical context in which it is produced and consumed. My focus is on prominent and popular works of the shōnen genre. This combination of research methodologies reveals the interconnected ways in which readers and producers link mainstream fictional manga to their lives. I challenge the dominant narrative in manga studies that manga are fantasy spaces divorced from reality in the minds of readers. This narrative, employed by fan-scholars and echoed by the manga industry, focuses primarily on the experiences of individual, heterosexual male fans, and its intentionally narrow scope obfuscates the role of the manga industry in promoting the misogyny and exploitation that girls face in Japanese society. It similarly ignores the potential impacts of derogatory representations of characters who do not align with patriarchal and heteronormative power structures, including LGBTQ characters. My analysis of the widespread use of photographs of live girl and women models in manga magazines for boys and young men illuminates the common industry practice of presenting minors and legal adults as equivalent objects of erotic desire. Through similar outfits and poses, manga magazines connect girls with women and fictional characters, who are often shown in more overtly sexual poses and situations. The prominence of manga magazines in the Japanese cityscape means that these images are consumed by wide swaths of the Japanese population, including those who do not purchase the magazines. My examination of manga series that exhibit a feminist consciousness focuses on two series affiliated with the most widely read manga magazine in Japan, Weekly Shōnen Jump: The Promised Neverland (Shirai Kaiu and Demizu Posuka, 2016-2020) and Blue Flag (KAITO, 2017-2020). My examination of the popular series The Promised Neverland demonstrates the wide appeal of the intersectional feminist utopian dream the work promotes and its critique of the patriarchal neoliberal status quo. In examining the widely praised series Blue Flag, I draw from empathy and fan studies to argue that fan communities, activists, and the media use digital platforms to frame manga series in order to inspire empathy for and potentially altruistic action towards the LGBT community and others who defy gender norms. Examining how creators, the media, and fans speak and write about these series reveals the ways in which the works are intended, promoted, and interpreted as linked to the lives of their readers. Through integrating empathy theory and drawing parallels with current events that coincide with the serializations, I demonstrate the need for academia to reassess prominent research trends that often ignore major works, broader contexts, and the experiences of casual readers.


Type of resource text
Form electronic resource; remote; computer; online resource
Extent 1 online resource.
Place California
Place [Stanford, California]
Publisher [Stanford University]
Copyright date 2022; ©2022
Publication date 2022; 2022
Issuance monographic
Language English


Author Lewis, Mia Elise
Degree supervisor Levy, Indra A
Thesis advisor Levy, Indra A
Thesis advisor Reichert, Jim (James Robert)
Thesis advisor Shamoon, Deborah Michelle
Degree committee member Reichert, Jim (James Robert)
Degree committee member Shamoon, Deborah Michelle
Associated with Stanford University, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures


Genre Theses
Genre Text

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Mia Elise Lewis.
Note Submitted to the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.
Thesis Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2022.

Access conditions

© 2022 by Mia Elise Lewis
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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