The Magnificent, Revolutionary Year 24 Group

Mangaka

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If you enjoy modern shojo manga, you have the Year 24 group to thank for it.

A group of women mangaka, the Year 24 group revolutionized shojo manga in the 1970s. Their name comes from Showa 24 (1949), which is the year many of the members were born. While the list of members isn’t concrete, the three most commonly named are Moto Hagio, Keiko Takemiya, and Yumiko Oshima. Other mentioned members include Riyoko Ikeda, Minori Kimura, Toshie Kihara, Ryoko Yamagishi, Ichijo Yukari, and Yasuko Aoike.

Shoujo’s Early Days

Long before the Year 24 group’s earliest members debuted, shojo manga as we know it was largely nonexistent. Although girls’ interest magazines were popular in the postwar years, many of the manga found in their pages were created by men. While marketable, these manga were often devoid of any deeper meaning; simply cutesy comics to fill up space and make sales.

A panel from Year 24 Group member Moto Hagio's Heart of Thomas.

A panel from Moto Hagio’s Heart of Thomas.

Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight sought to change this stagnation when it ran in 1953. Tezuka blended his knack for narrative storytelling with an interesting cast of characters, including the titular Princess Sapphire, a heroic girl who disguises herself as a prince. Princess Knight was undoubtably a hit among female readers as it introduced newfound themes and storytelling techniques that other girls’ manga lacked. But at its core, Princess Knight still was missing a certain element that readers craved: the female perspective.

After seeing the success of Princess Knight, more major publishers launched new shojo manga magazines during the 1960s, such as Shueisha’s Margaret and Kodansha’s Shojo Friend. With plenty of channels available and more readership than ever before, shojo manga matured well into the late 1960s. Eager to tell authentic stories catered exactly towards girls’ tastes, more women leapt at the chance to become manga artists. It was during this time that many of those in the Year 24 group made their professional debuts, marking the beginning of the 1970s shojo renaissance.

Enter the Year 24 Group

An overwhelming number of works by members of the Year 24 group are considered manga classics, with many focusing on themes of politics, philosophy, sexuality, and gender. Ryoko Yamagishi’s Shiroi Heya no Futari (白い部屋のふたり) is credited as the first manga to portray a lesbian couple. Conversely, Keiko Takemiya was the first to show a male-male kiss in shojo manga in her 1970 work, “In the Sunroom.” A few years later, Takemiya took it a step further as she portrayed sex between male characters—though in a much more tasteful way than we see in modern manga—in her powerful coming-of-age serial, Kaze to Ki no Uta (風と木の詩).

An example of lack of panel border from Keiko Takemiya’s Toward the Terra: in place of a line, Takemiya uses a sweeping swirl

From the artistic side, certain aesthetics are synonymous with the Year 24 group. Elongated figures drawn with sparkling eyes and flowing hair are the norm, as well as delicate linework, abstract backgrounds, and decorative embellishments.

Another common stylistic theme within the Year 24 group is the use of flower iconography to portray different emotions and scenarios. In Keiko Takemiya’s Kaze to Ki no Uta, trees are full of life and flowers are in bloom to represent beauty, while they change to lifeless with petal flowing in the wind to express grief and sorrow.

The Year 24 group chose to stray from the conventional panel layouts of the time, creating their own compositions that weren’t simple rectangles. Some of these artists would abandon panel borders all together at times to convey specific emotions. For example, in Keiko Takemiya’s Kaze to Ki no Uta, she shows a metaphorical mirror being shattered, then uses the shattered pieces to serve as her “panels” expressing the emotions of the characters. In Heart of Thomas, Moto Hagio uses layering techniques with the subject matter passing in and out of multiple panels, and at times appearing between panels in the blank space. Riyoko Ikeda uses a similar technique to depict motion in The Rose of Versailles. These elements still exist in modern manga, with some artists taking even more avant-garde approaches when it comes to panels.

These women redefined shojo manga as we know it. With the inclusion of subgenres, such as sci-fi and historical fiction, shojo manga morphed from the plain stories of the past and flourished into beautifully told stories with depth and emotion. Without their contributions, the progression of shojo manga as a genre would have indefinitely been held back.

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