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<A HREF="http://www.studioproteus.com/mangasex.html">Sex In Manga</A>


This is the infamous article I wrote on Sex in Manga for the Comics
Journal many years ago, and recently updated for one of the final issues
of the old Manga Mania. That issue of the Journal has been sold out for
years, and Manga Mania is essentially unavailable outside of the U.K.,
so I thought I'd reprint the article here.



Sex in Japanese comics certainly began in the 1700's, with the
popularity of shunga, erotic woodblock prints produced in large numbers
for the next two hundred years. These prints were unabashedly graphic,
with the bodies of the people involved often being reduced to little
more than attachment points for the enormous genitalia. During the Meiji
Restoration period in Japan, shunga were frowned upon by the
authorities, who were anxious that Japan put on a "civilized" face
during its re-entry into the modern world. The regimes leading up to the
second world war were no more liberal, and it wasn't really until after
the Occupation was over that eroticism began creeping back into Japanese

Japanese comics did not seriously begin exploring erotic themes until
the sixties, with the collapse of the pay-library system (largely
brought about by the unexpected success of cheap comic magazines such as
Kodansha Publishing's Shonen Magazine). Artists working for the
pay-library system had already pioneered the depiction of graphic
violence, and had proudly declared that they were drawing gekiga ("drama
pictures"), not mere comics. In the search for realism (and readers), it
was inevitable that sex would soon make an appearance.

As the Japanese comics market diversified, sex spread beyond the gekiga
 to just about every conceivable niche in the marketplace. The gekiga
 continued their realistic and often violent depictions, but the other
major divisions in the manga world developed their own approach. Boy's
comics began to explore "cute" sex, mainly consisting of panchira
 ("panty shots") and girls in showers. Girls comics were more coy, with
little nudity, and the actual act depicted with such romantic restraint
as to be almost undetectable. Ladies comics were a little more bold, but
still emphasized romance over all else. Comics for women also featured
many homosexual love stories, which remain popular even today. Comics
dedicated to eroticism inevitably appeared, and in most of these, plot
and storytelling ran a distant second to the depiction of every sex act
you could imagine (and some you probably couldn't).

In order to understand why sex in manga is depicted as it is, one must
examine the laws and cultural background. Article 175 of the Japanese
Criminal Code provides the backbone of all anti-pornography legislation
in Japan, and has a number of peculiarities. Pubic hair and adult
genitalia cannot be depicted, and touching groins may not be shown.
However, "extremely cartoony" depictions of genitals are allowed,
leaving a very fuzzy loophole in the law. Another surprising aspect of
Article 175 is that children's genitals may be shown, a clause that some
feel has led directly to the interest in child pornography in Japan
(although the law restricts such to "artistic" nude portraits--no males
are allowed in the photograph, and no sexual activity of any kind).

As with anti-pornography laws in the United States, enforcement varies
widely. Each prefecture has its own statutes, and application of them is
often politically motivated. Attacks on pornography move in cycles,
often led by the PTA (surprisingly, more of a force in Japan than in the
United States). The first of such attacks on comics occurred in the
mid-fifties when the Campaign to Banish Bad Reading Matter burned some
comics along with cheap erotic magazines. But, as Frederik Schodt points
out in his superb book Manga! Manga!, "...the children kept reading, the
publishers held tight, and the parents eventually gave up." In 1968, The
PTA again moved to attack comics, goaded into action by Go Nagai's
hilarious sex comedy Harenchi Gakuen ("Shameless School"). Another storm
brewed up in 1979, with the publication of Mitsuo Matsuzawa's The Comics
That Have Ruined Japanese Minds. None of these had much effect, all in
all, and the artists and publishers kept pushing the limits.

However, in 1989 a serial killer named Tsutomu Miyazaki was caught after
raping and dismembering several pre-pubescent girls. The cameras of the
news media dwelt lovingly on his huge collection of comics, animation
and slasher movies, and panic set in in the comics field. However,
attention soon focused mainly on the slasher films, and the bulk of the
heat was applied to them. Comics had been let off the hook, but only

In 1990, Isako Nakao, a 50-year old mother of three was shocked when she
flipped through a copy of Angel, a popular sex comic drawn by an artist
calling himself "U-Jin." She felt that the "cute" art style was
deceptive, drawing children to buy a comic that was essentially
hard-core pornography. Nakao formed a group--"The Association to Protect
Children From Comics"-- that spearheaded a very effective campaign
against what they call "harmful comic books." They were backed by a
right-wing group that actually wants to change the constitution, and has
been accused of using the police to force political censorship. "
Everyone thinks these parent's groups are so powerful," said Shinobu
Watanabe, a comics editor in Tokyo. "But the total number of signatures
they collected in their famous campaign [in 1990] is only equal to five
one-hundredths of a percent of the population of Japan."

Regardless, the publishers ended up running scared, and several
immediately agreed to label adult comics as such, using a small, oval,
black and yellow label that reads "seinen komikksu" (adult comics). This
was an improvement over the originally suggested label, which read
"yugai shitei tosho," which means "books designated as being harmful [to
youth]." Unfortunately, the initial reaction from retailers and
distributors was to refuse to carry anything with the "seinen komikksu"
 label. With the label identified as the kiss of death for sales, many
manga artists refused to allow it to be placed on their comics. The
graphic novel collection of Masamune Shirow's cyberpunk story Ghost in
the Shell was to have carried such a label, but both he and his manager
fought vigorously against it, and the book was released that fall
without the tag.

Raids on several comic stores in Tokyo in the early 1990's were widely
publicized, but it is not often mentioned that the comics seized were
almost exclusively dojinshi ("fanzines") with hard-core content, often
using popular animation and comics characters. However, there is no
question that the period leading up to the raids had been a period of
increasing escalation in comics, and it was only a matter of time before
publications such as Angel ran afoul of the law. Katsuya Shirai, editor
of Young Sunday, the magazine in which Angel appeared, admitted that
part of the comic "went overboard" in a bid to win more readers. Shirai
is widely regarded as a genius among comic book editors, and his
decision to publish Angel was vigorously defended by many fans and
artists. "We are not so naive as to mix fiction and reality," scoffed a
reader in one letter of protest.

Indeed, the inability of the many anti-pornography groups to prove a
connection between the extreme comics and crime in the real world has
proven somewhat of an embarrassment. Fumio Yamashita of the National
Police Agency's juvenile division has been quoted as saying that he
knows of only three cases of crime by minors attributable to "those
comic versions of pornographic videos." Yasumasa Miyahara, a essayist
for various Tokyo magazines, has also pointed out that violent crimes,
including rape, fell in Japan during the period from 1985 to 1990. "If
these comics are as harmful as they say," he asked, "Then why didn't the
readers turn into sociopaths?"

Interestingly, it now appears the entire campaign and labeling system
has backfired. Now that they have to label the books, many of the
publishers decided they no longer needed to be worried about charges of
pandering to minors, and there was a slow but certain escalation in
graphic content. This was accelerated by a legal breakthrough several
years ago which allowed the showing of pubic hair in nude photographs
(and by extension, comics as well). The reluctance of bookstores to
carry seinen comics was eroded as they felt the pain of lost revenues,
and comic bookstores that specialized in such books sprang up across
Japan. The whole scene peaked in 1995, with the publication of such
books as Secret Plot by an artist called NeWMeN, which were, for all
intents and purposes, uncensored.

Sex in Japanese comics is more than just the sort of material calculated
to inflame parent's groups and the like, however. Dedicated erotic
comics aside, the bulk of manga contains sexual content of one kind or
another. Culturally, the Japanese have different attitudes towards their
entertainment than we do. While they live in a very conservative
society, one that emphasizes "the group," and frowns on display of
individuality, sexual and scatological humor are commonly found in all

The mildest material appears in comics for children as young as twelve
years old. Comics such as Macching Machiko-sensei contain scenes of
students flipping up girl's skirts to see their underwear, or trying to
surprise them in the bathtub. Nudity in the shower or bath is treated,
culturally, much differently than nudity in any other context. These
comics rarely go any farther, except occasionally, when a boy might
manage to actually lay hands on a girl's breasts (he is usually then
slapped silly by the girl). Everything is played for broad comedy, and
is drawn in a very cartoony style.

The next step up are the magazines for male junior high students. These
contain a wide range of sexual material, with the bulk of it qualifying
as etchi ("mildly lecherous"). A good example would be Yasuhiro
Nakanishi's B.C. Triangle, where it often takes several issues to build
up to something as serious as an exposed nipple. On the other hand, the
same artist had another series (Ikenai Daydream) running in the same
magazine a few years later. In that series, exposed breasts could be
counted on in every episode, and "will they or won't they have sex" was
the big plot element. As in almost all stories at this level, they never
do, but the possibility is always there. Another example of this is
Video Girl Ai, running in Shonen Jump. After four volumes, the hero
finally almost gets to second base with his girlfriend...but doesn't
quite make it. This is generally as far as most of these magazines go.

Girl's magazines for junior high students are predictably more coy than
the ones for boys. Puppy-love romance and idealized relationships are
the watchwords here, with sex being treated indirectly, if at all.
Nudity is treated discreetly, and is never a focus of the story.
Curiously, they is also a huge segment of the market that deals with
male homoerotic material. "Girls of that age don't know much about
boys," says manga artist Asuka Rei. "They're kind of scared of their
feelings. But a story about two men in love lets them enjoy the romance
without feeling nervous--it's got nothing to do with their life."

Magazines for high school boys address sex a lot more directly. It
generally takes a few episodes for the stories to build up to the actual
consummation of the act, but it undoubtedly occurs, and is often the
focal point of the story. The treatment of sex ranges widely, from the
well-written and classy stories such as Jun Watabe's Lemon Angel to more
seriously erotic material such as Hikaru Yuzuki's Cinderella Express.
 Still, there is little that would offend a generous liberal. Even
though Yuzuki's comics have been attacked by Women's Groups, he has a
large female following, and generally portrays women in a very positive
and liberated way.

Girls comics for that age group begin to treat sex as something to be
considered and possibly even desired, rather than glossed over, but
still do not generally include it as the main point of the episode.
Romance is still the primary focus of the stories. Girls of high school
age in Japan have often had little experience with the opposite sex.
Very few have boyfriends, many attend all-girl schools, and many have
never even spoken extensively with boys. Therefore, these comics tend to
lean towards naive, sterilized views of sexual activity.

The next rank of men's comics serve a wide variety of readers, from high
school through to early thirties. Famous mainstream magazines such as
Big Comic Spirits and Morning are included in this group. These comics
often have a sizable female readership. Here you can find sex treated
both as an unquestionable focal point of the story, or as a very
realistic plot point. The notorious Angel is a perfect example of a
comic that has practically no other purpose than to titillate. On the
other hand, Rumiko Takahashi's brilliant Maison Ikkoku generally treated
sex in a very responsible and sensitive manner.

There are also numerous gekiga-style magazines, which often are aimed at
middle-aged "salarymen." They are often samurai or adventure stories,
with strongly traditional Japanese values. A good example is Big Comics
Original, which published a story written by Kazuo Koike of Lone Wolf
and Cub fame, called Ma Monogatari ("A Witch's Tale"). It was
illustrated in classic gekiga style by Seisaku Kano, with loads of
lovingly rendered nudity and sex.

Ladies comics at this level used to be pretty tame, compared to the
men's comics, but times have changed. Magazines such as Ladies Comic
 Forte contain scenes of frontal nudity, oral sex, bondage and even
bestiality that are the equal of anything to be found in men's comics.
"Typical readers are working women, who get little attention from men,
and housewives who are tired of their marriages," says Taiki Morohashi,
who conducted a survey on women's comics a few years ago. Stories deal
mainly with love affairs between working women and their married
colleagues or housewives and their boyfriends.

Sex is also fair game for the numerous four-panel gag cartoons that are
published in just about every magazine and newspaper in Japan. Some seem
to be concerned with little else, like Masahiko Kikuni's hilarious
Heartbreak Angels series.

At this point, comics begin to split into strongly identifiable classes.
Here we begin to see not only magazines exclusively dedicated to
eroticism, but a myriad of sub-groups within the genre. So a reader not
only has a choice of dozens of sex comics, he can even pick out one that
features sex with a golfing theme (eg., Little Big Mama by Hikaru
Yuzuki). Or a mahjong theme, or a S&M theme, or...you get the idea. The
hard-core sex comics are generally constantly pushing the limits of what
the law allows. While the more mainstream comics often feature sex, the
genitals are often simply blanked out, or represented symbolically. In
the dedicated sex comics, the tiniest possible bit of black tape is
placed over the hot spots, or the interpretation of "cartoony" as
mentioned in Article 175 is pushed pretty far.

These magazines usually have a limited circulation (generally 1/75th or
less than that of the mainstream magazines) and are stocked somewhat
erratically by newsstands. A fan may have to make a special trip to a
comic store to get one, rather than picking it up at the corner
bookstore. These magazines are where you find the serious S&M stories,
and the violent sex and rape that constitute the darker side of Japanese
comics. The Rapeman is a rather minor comic that, entirely because of
its inflammatory title, enjoys more notoriety than it deserves in
America. In fact, collections of The Rapeman comics do not sell well,
and are difficult to find (in fact, the series has been out of print for
several years now). The comic itself is rather mild for that category of
sex comics. And perhaps most astonishing--Rapeman is written by a woman.

At the fringes of the comics world are the specialty books. These are
generally not serialized in magazines, but instead published and sold as
volumes in comics stores or by mail order only. Here, anything goes.
Because of their limited circulation and availability, they often
contain material that is undoubtedly in violation of the law. There are
numerous types, cheapest of which are the bunko. These are a small
format (4" x 6") book with about 200 pages, costing around $2.50. The
art in them is often poor, because the artists are paid very low page

The most common type are the larger-format books costing about $4.00 to
$9.00, again with about 200 pages. These are often collections of
stories originally published in fanzines. They come with stories for
every taste and sexual kink. The largest groups are the bondage comics,
and the "Loli-con" comics. "Loli-con" is a Japanese-coined term meaning
"lolita-complex." Confusingly, these books cover a fairly wide range of
subject matter. Some are true pedophilia comics, covering sexual
relations with pre-pubescent children. Some are breast-fetish books,
where all the women are hugely endowed--these comics are sometimes
called "D-cup" manga. Some concern sex with "girls" (some of whom look
as old as 30) in Japanese schoolgirl outfits (sailor suits), and some
focus on sex with (just barely) pubescent girls. Also in the "Loli-con"
category are the fairly recent and very popular hermaphrodite comics.

The most graphic of all the comics available in Japan are the erotic
dojinshi, or fanzines. Because they are self-published and sold
personally by the artist, they are generally outside the easy control of
the law. They depict graphic, hard-core sex of every conceivable type,
and are sold in surprising numbers. The famous dojinshi that was seized
in the 1991 Tokyo raid was one of a very popular series produced by a
group called "Minies Club." The group claims an average circulation for
their $5.50 books of 50,000 (all tax-free). The books are also sold
through the mail and at comic conventions (a recent such con had 6,000
fan groups selling their books, and 200,000 attendees). However, all
dojinshi to be sold at these conventions must now be pre-approved by a
panel of convention staff. Interestingly, these panels have proven
extraordinarily conservative, and most dojinshi are now less daring that
their professionally published counterparts.

One more small but important genre exists. These are the low
circulation, classy adult magazines such as Garo and Shukan Manga
Sunday. These often contain excellent text articles, news, and essays.
Here you find work such as Shungiku Uchida's masterfully written stories
of human relationships--Monokage ni Ashibyoshi ("Stepping in My
Shelter") being a good example. These are comics that offer genuine
insight into the human condition and rank with the best of erotic

These categories are far from rigid. Many comics and magazines blur the
boundaries, and of course the readers read what they like. It's not
uncommon to see a young businessman reading Shonen Jump (theoretically
aimed at junior high students). And kids fifteen and younger do often
pick up erotic comics aimed at a much older audience. It is this
phenomenon that drives the numerous parent's groups, who constantly
repeat that they "do not support censorship," but "just want to protect

The best of the adult magazines, such as Big Comic Spirits, often
publish sexually oriented comics of surprising sophistication. Japanese
comics are a fully-matured medium, and sex is as much a part of them as
with any media. A 1991 study sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan
Government found over half the panels contained in comic books depicted
sexual activity. This study has been savagely attacked as completely
ridiculous by the comics industry in Japan. "Check a few magazines
randomly yourself," scoffs Masami Itoh, a comics editor and writer, "and
see if half the panels depict sexual activity!" The study does seem to
be a little hard to believe--a check of Hikaru Yuzuki's blatantly sexual
comedy Minna Agechau ("I'll Give It All to Everybody") gives a rating of
only one panel in fifty. "In terms of sexual content, it is probably
best to compare Japanese comics to American movies," says Frederik
Schodt. "What you'd see if you looked in a Japanese comics store is
roughly similar to what's available in your local video shop."

The repressive days of the early 1990's are gone, and for the moment,
the attention of the media and the government is elsewhere. The success
of famous photographer Kishin Shinoyama's book Water Fruit in breaking
the back of Article 175, (by showing pubic hair) led to a new testing of
the boundaries by all Japanese media, from newspapers to movies. It's
one thing to take on a single part of the media, like comics, and quite
another to try to stem the turning of the tide of an entire culture.

And the fact is that Japan is in the midst of a sexual revolution that
rivals the sixties in America. Pick-up bars and "phone clubs" offer
young students, bored housewives, and frustrated businessmen the
opportunity for easy and anonymous sex, and the evidence is that they
are taking advantage of this in droves. The appearance of the extremely
sexually active class of schoolgirls called "ko-gals" has even set off
some alarm bells. This new atmosphere of sexual freedom is doubtless
what caused the effective death of Article 175 and the sudden escalation
of sexual activity in all media. With such a powerful societal force
backing it up, it seems unlikely that sex in Japanese comics is going to
stay down for very long.


(Special thanks to Tomoko Saito, Dana Lewis, and Frederik Schodt for
invaluable assistance with this article. Thanks also to Lois Buhalis and
Adam Warren for the loan of several manga from their vast collections.
For further reading, check out Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese
Comics, and Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, both by Frederik
L. Schodt, available at better comic book shops or direct from
Stonebridge Press, at: www.stonebridge.com/dreamland.html)


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