Shonen manga (defined in Japan as manga targeted at boys between 8 and 18, though that in no way defines the actual audience that reads it) is famed for hot-blooded battles, staunch male friendships, and themes of hard work, loyalty, and bravery. Many of the most popular manga titles translated into English—Naruto, Bleach, Hunter x Hunter, and One Piece, to name a few—fall into this demographic. While this testosterone-driven category seems like it ought to be dominated by male creators, some of the most iconic shonen manga are, in fact, written and drawn by women. Check out these seven shonen manga written by awesome women manga-ka—you might be surprised to see some of your favorites!
Inuyasha, by Rumiko Takahashi
It seems only fitting to start this list with Rumiko Takahashi, one of the most prolific and successful manga-ka of the last few decades. Famous for manga like Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, and Ranma ½, she’s best known these days for her shonen hit Inuyasha. The story begins when middle schooler Kagome falls down a magical well and is transported to Sengoku-period Japan. There she meets the eponymous Inuyasha, a dog demon imprisoned by her distant ancestor. Despite writing within a demographic aimed at boys, Takahashi has never shied away from prominent female characters—though Inuyasha gets top billing, Kagome is inarguably the reader’s access point into the fantasy setting. Nor does she balk at letting romance become a central focus of her battle manga. It’s no surprise Takahashi’s manga has been popular with both boys and girls for decades.
Fullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa
Arakawa’s blockbuster shonen steampunk fantasy Fullmetal Alchemist follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric. When their mother dies, the two break the most sacred taboos of alchemy to bring her back, with disastrous consequences. There’s a lot to love in Fullmetal Alchemist: thrilling action, an engrossing overarching plot, and a cast of unforgettable characters (including awesome women like Olivia Armstrong, Ran Fan, and Winry Rockbell). On a larger level, the manga grapples with hubris, zealotry, prejudice, and the possibility of redemption. Arakawa’s surefooted pacing and deft touch with character and theme can be similarly felt in her latest works, Silver Spoon and The Heroic Legend of Arslan.
Noragami, by Adachitoka
Rumor has is that Adachitoka is actually the pen name of two women, Adachi, in charge of the character art, and Tokashiki, who draws backgrounds. Whatever the division of labor, the two make magic together in Noragami, a smart action manga about Yato, a minor Shinto god looking to work his way up the pantheon by doing odd jobs for mortals. His plans are derailed when he becomes involved with a human girl named Hiyori Iki, who gets herself into a spiritual pickle that Yato promises to fix. Noragami is a compelling, polished manga with thrilling fight scenes, a sweet romantic subplot, and a surprisingly thoughtful take on godhood.
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, by Miki Yoshikawa
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is a supernatural romantic comedy about Ryuu Yamada, a high school delinquent who discovers he has the ability to switch bodies with anyone he kisses. Joined by a pretty honor student and the mischievous student council vice president, Yamada learns that his weird ability may be tied to an old school legend. Yoshikawa writes some of the most fun shonen romance out there—she has a knack for comedic timing and visual humor, and her work is infused with a sincerity that lends a new freshness to typical high school narratives of friendship and self discovery.
D.Gray-man, by Katsura Hoshino
Katsura Hoshino’s Victorian fantasy D.Gray-man tells the story of exorcist Allen Walker, a young man with a cursed eye that allows him to defeat demons who prey on the vulnerabilities of grieving humans. Hoshino’s particular aesthetic, which mixes 19th-century gothic with Christian iconography and a dash of harlequin flair, gives D.Gray-man unique visual character, and her gorgeous art has only gotten better over the manga’s 200-plus chapters. It’s no stretch to guess Hoshino is inspired a bit by Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist—D.Gray-man deals with similar themes of power gained through transgression and the pursuit of personal redemption.
Blue Exorcist, by Kazue Kato
Kato is best known for her fantasy hit Blue Exorcist, which follows half-demon Okumura Rin. When Rin’s adoptive father is killed, Rin discovers and he and his twin brother are sons of Satan, though only he has inherited Satan’s demonic powers. Rin is determined to follow in his adoptive father’s footsteps and become an exorcist fighting Satan’s power. Blue Exorcist is a fun battle manga, and Kato knows how to build up to big flashy action scenes for her heroes. Her real strength, however, lies in her portrayal of Rin’s struggle to both accept and control his demonic nature, and the way this affects his relationships—especially with his twin brother Yukio.
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, by Shinobu Ohtaka
Shinobu Ohtaka made her English manga debut with seinen rom-com Sumomomo Momomo, but these days she’s best known for shonen fantasy adventure series Magi. Set in a world inspired by the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, Magi follows a young boy named Aladdin who possesses a mysterious magic and commands a powerful djinn. Along with his friends Alibaba and Morgiana, he sets out to conquer dungeons and claim their treasures. Ohtaka’s expansive fantasy world and colorful characters are undoubtedly the main draw of the manga: Magi’s mixture of Middle Eastern folklore with shonen adventure tropes is a potent combination that has won this manga fans worldwide.
Looking for more shonen manga written by women?
- Yana Toboso’s Black Butler
- Jun Mochizuki’s Pandora Hearts and The Case Study of Vanitas
- Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon
- Kore Yamazaki’s The Ancient Magus’ Bride
- Tsubaki Izumi’s Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
- Tomo Takeuchi’s Welcome to the Ballroom
- Kotono Kato’s Altair: A Record of Battles