If you’re burnt out from the unrealistic romances of shoujo manga where a meek high school girl falls for the resident bad boy, maybe it’s time to give josei manga a try. The term josei translates to “young woman,” hence these comics cater to older women’s interests. Josei manga touches on more mature topics that shoujo mangas can’t.
A manga in this demographic portrays realistic romances and relatable characters. These mangas often focus on the struggles women face when trying to find their place in the world. Many explore the relationship between family, friends, and lovers. If this is your first time picking up a josei manga and you don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s our top 10 best josei manga of all time!
10. Pet Shop of Horrors (Matsuri Akino, 1995 – 1998)
Let’s kickstart our top 10 josei list by introducing Matsuri Akino’s horror manga Pet Shop of Horrors. I always try to include a range of genres in each list so that you’ll have an easier time picking out a manga that suits your taste. This title earned a spot on our list for its enticing story that grips you the moment you start reading.
Imagine walking down a dark alley in Chinatown in Los Angeles. You find a quaint pet shop run by a soft-spoken shop owner, Count D. This mysterious man then charms you to enter his store and purchase a rare animal with a humanoid appearance. Unable to resist his efforts, you leave the store holding your new pet and a three-point contract with dire consequences if broken.
Pet Shop of Horrors is told in an episodic style, with new plots and characters introduced in each chapter. The only ongoing story is the subplot that focuses on the impulsive Detective Leon Orcot, who believes that Count D’s pet store is responsible for the mysterious deaths in the area.
You can find volume 1 of this series here on Amazon: Pet Shop of Horrors, Vol. 1
9. Hirano and Kagiura (Shō Harusono, 2019 – Present)
Despite being a spinoff to Shō Harusono’s BL manga Sasaki and Miyano, Hirano and Kagiura earned a seat on our list for its wholesome plot, enjoyable art style, and likable characters. It’s also nice to see the blooming romance between side characters told in their viewpoints. If you’re a fan of the widely praised Sasaki and Miyano, you’ll surely enjoy reading this spinoff.
The story follows the dorm life of roommates Hirano Taiga and Kagiura Akira – two polar opposite boys finding their purpose in life. At first, Kagiura saw his roommate Hirana only as a scary senpai. However, as he gets to know his senpai better, he falls for him. Kagiura sees Hirano’s kind and pure heart and develops a little crush. But does Hirano feel the same way? And, does he even like guys?
If you can read Japanese, you can find volume 1 of the Japanese edition of this manga on Amazon here: 平野と鍵浦 1 ( Hirano and Kagiura ) 1
8. Black Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Akiko Higashimura, 2011 – 2015)
Akiko Higashimura’s Black Canvas is an autobiography of her journey into becoming a published author. It’s not every day you see a story setting like this one, and that’s why I had to add this to our josei list. Akiko beautifully portrayed her struggles in becoming an adult who dreamed of making the world her canvas.
In the story, Akiko used her first name and changed her family name to Hayashi. The story opens up with a young Akiko whose goal is to debut as a mangaka while still in school. What’s more, she wants her favorite actor to star in the adaptation, and she wants to marry the actor. Akiko has unreachable dreams and no skills and motivation to reach them.
Then, she enters an unorthodox art school that pushes her to her limits. Her teacher, Kenzou Hidaka, is a strict and demanding old man who has no interest in manga. Under her new sensei’s guidance, Akiko matures as an artist and as a young woman and finds her place in society. If you’re looking for a truthful account of a woman’s life as an artist without any fillers, this is the manga for you.
Check out volume 1 of this manga on Amazon: Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey Vol. 1
7. Kuragehime (Akiko Higashimura, 2008 – 2017)
Kuragehime, which translates to Princess Jellyfish, is Akiko Higashimura’s most popular work. Because of its popularity, it garnered an anime, a film, and a live-action adaptation; that’s how good this josei manga is. Kuragehime touches on controversial stereotypes for men and women in a lighthearted tone.
The manga centers on 18-year-old heroine Tsukimi Kurashita and her otaku friends. Because of their unique hobbies, Tsukimi and her friends in Amamizukan are frowned upon by society. One evening, our jellyfish-otaku Tsukimi meets a beautiful boy who enjoys cross-dressing. Tsukimi is drawn to Kuranosuke Koibuchi, and the two start an unlikely friendship. Maybe even romance?
With the help of Kuranosuke, Tsukimi and her friends hone their skills and become women accepted in society without losing their individuality. Kuragehime, in all media forms, holds a special place in my heart- it’s perfect. Pick up the manga to see why.
You can get volume 1 of this amazing manga on Amazon here: Princess Jellyfish 1
The complete set in a collector’s box is also available here: Princess Jellyfish Complete Manga Box Set
6. Paradise Kiss (Ai Yazawa, 1999 – 2003)
At first glance, you’d think that Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss is just another fluffy rom-com; however, it’s far from that. Like Kuragehime, Paradise Kiss touches on sensitive issues like homophobia, beauty stereotypes, and more. The manga’s garnered so many fans that it has been translated into ten different languages.
Paradise Kiss is a haphazard story about a burnt-out student turned supermodel. All that protagonist Yukari Hayasaka wants is to get her mother’s approval. She studies diligently and gets accepted into a prestigious school. But, something’s lacking; she’s not happy. One day, a group of fashion students recruits Yukari as their model for a fashion show, which Yukari is reluctant to join.
However, she’s drawn to the affluent designer George and his extravagant lifestyle. As Yukari enters the vast world of fashion, she sees the world in a different light. What I loved about Paradise Kiss was Yukari’s growth as a young woman and the different relationships she made along the way.
Find volume 1 of this manga on Amazon here: Paradise Kiss Vol 1
There’s also a 20th Anniversary Edition available here: Paradise Kiss: 20th Anniversary Edition
5. Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku (Fujita, 2014 – 2021)
Fujita’s Wotakoi is by far the best rom-com office romance series to date. Whether main or side, all the characters are down-to-earth, animated, and unique. The plot is wholesome and doesn’t have heavy drama or conflict. And, the art is clean and light on the eyes. Put that all together, and Wotakoi gets 5th place on our list.
After changing jobs, Narumi Momose, a hardcore fujoshi (boys love) otaku, is reunited with her childhood friend Hirotaka Nifuji, a hardcore game otaku. The ill-fated meeting between the two adults didn’t end well for Narumi, who wanted to create a fresh image of herself at the new company. To keep Hirotaka’s mouth shut about Narumi’s otaku ways, the two strike a deal and start dating.
However, romance is complex for two diehard otakus who spend their free time honing their hobbies. Will Narumi and Hirotaka’s new mission end in victory, or is the game of romance over for them? I love Wotakoi so much that I reread the manga and watch the anime whenever I miss the characters. Try a chapter to see what I mean; I’m sure you’ll end up like me.
You can purchase the first volume of this manga here on Amazon: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku 1
A 3-book set is also available here: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku Manga, Vol. 1-3
4. Gokusen (Kozueko Morimoto, 2000 – 2007)
Gokusen is a classic josei manga written by Kozueko Morimoto. The series was so well-received by the public that it was made into an anime, live-action, and film adaptation. Gokusen is a perfect example of an excellent josei manga because it has a headstrong female lead finding her place in society.
All that Kumiko Yamaguchi, called Yankumi by her delinquent students, wants is to become a respectable teacher. The young woman works hard and tries her best to inspire her lackluster students to finish school. However, Yankumi has a great big secret that, if found out, would get her expelled instantly; she’s next in line as the leader of an infamous yakuza gang!
To add to Yankumi’s troubles, one of her students finds out her secret. Will Shin Sawada report Yankumi to the head principal and get her expelled, or will he help her keep her yakuza background a secret? Read, or watch Gokusen to find out.
For Japanese readers, you can get the Japanese edition of volume 1 of this manga on Amazon: Gokusen 1
A 11 volume set (Japanese edition) is also available here: All 11 volume set Gokusen
3. Kids on the Slope (Yuki Kodama, 2007 – 2012)
If you’re a big jazz fan, Kids on the Slope is right up your alley. You don’t have to play an instrument to appreciate music; music draws its listeners to it without them even realizing it. Kids on the Slope takes 3rd place on our list for its beautiful storytelling told through jazz. It’s also set in the 1960s, which helps add to its appeal.
Yuki Kodama’s slice-of-life josei series follows the unique bond between seemingly different high school students. One is an introverted wealthy pianist, the other is the resident school delinquent, and the other is a daughter of a record shop owner. These three students are brought together through their love for music, and they experience unforgettable memories because of it.
What got me hooked to Kids on the Slope is its relatability. As you read, you’ll feel like you’re there with the characters enjoying jazz in the same room. You feel like you’re a part of their group. The pacing and character development are superb as well.
If you can read and understand Japanese, you can find the Japanese edition of volume 1 here: Sakamichi no Apollon Vol.1 (Kids on the Slope)
2. Chihayafuru (Yuki Suetsugu, 2007 – Present)
Before picking up Chihayafuru, I knew nothing about karuta (a Japanese card game). Now, I want to learn it! Yuki Suetsugu’s Chihayafuru is the perfect josei manga that mixes sports and romance to create a gripping story. Down-to-earth characters, beautiful art style, and engaging plot- Chihayafuru takes 2nd place on our josei manga list.
A mere shadow to her sister, heroine Chihaya Ayase aimlessly lives her days without any goals. However, her life changes after meeting the talented karuta player Arata Wataya who transfers to her school. Chihaya is sucked into the world of karuta and decides that she’ll be the greatest player in Japan. Together with her childhood friend Taichi Mashima, the three form the Mizusawa Karuta Club.
What lies in store for these three individuals? Will they become the best karuta players, or will their personal feelings get in the way of their dream? As always, you’ll have to read for yourself to find out.
Check out volume 1 of Chihayafuru here on Amazon: Chihayafuru Vol. 1
A bilingual version (English and Japanese) is also available here: Chihayafuru [In English & Japanese] KODANSHA BILINGUAL COMICS
1. Nodame Cantabile (Tomoko Ninomiya, 2001 – 2010)
If there’s one thing I learned after reading (and watching) Tomoko Ninomiya’s Nodame Cantabile, it is to follow your dreams no matter how difficult the journey may be. This josei manga is an inspiring rom-com told through the eyes of two musical geniuses. One is strict and never strays from the sheet music, while the other is erratic and changes the sheet music.
The perfectionist Shinichi Chiaki cannot set foot on a plane due to a traumatic experience as a young boy. This stops him from achieving his dreams of becoming a conductor and reuniting with his European instructor. Cue in the lazy yet talented pianist Megumi Noda. She has no purpose in life and only wants to play for fun. After these two polar opposites meet, Megumi falls for Chiaki and harbors a one-sided crush for four years.
Throughout their musical journey, Chiaki and Megumi push each other to become better versions of themselves. Music becomes their glue that brings the young individuals closer to each other. Nodame Cantabile has a high reread value that you’ll find yourself returning to when you miss the characters.
Check out volume 1 of this amazing manga on Amazon here: Nodame Cantabile Vol. 1
A 15-volume set can also be found here: Nodame Cantabile Set – US
After reading an excellent josei manga, you’re left with a mix of emotions. Sometimes you’ll feel rejuvenated to pick up a hobby you’ve lost interest in. Sometimes it’ll make you rethink your views on sensitive issues. And, other times, you’re just left with a heartwarming feeling inside your heart.
We hope you found a josei manga that suits your taste. Let us know in the comments below what’s your favorite! We’d love to hear your thoughts.