Manga is one of Japan’s most successful cultural exports, inspiring passionate fandom and changing the landscape of graphic fiction across the world. In fact many Mangaka count among Japan’s most famous contemporary artists.
Outside of Japan, you sometimes encounter the stereotype that manga artists and fans are mainly men, but this couldn’t be further from the truth: many of the best Japanese manga artists are, of course, women. We wanted to pay homage to the fearless female manga artists who have shaken up and shaped the scene throughout their careers.
These women have crafted pieces of work that have gone on to inspire animated (anime) series, live action films and subcultures as diverse as the medium’s fandom. If you've ever wanted to know more about manga, a great place to start is with these 10 most famous female manga artists.
1. Year 24
We're kicking off the list in slightly unorthodox fashion by mentioning a collective rather than a single figure. Although each member of this collective is worthy of an entry herself, together they create something far more powerful.
Year 24 is the combined creative efforts of Moto Hagio, Yumiko Oshima, and Keiko Takemiya. In the 1970s, these three revolutionised the genre shojo manga aka 'girls comics' through their narrative and artistic exploration of gender, sexuality, and the philosophical issues that young women face.
Their name was a reference to the fact that the founding members were born in Showa 24 (1949) the group formed when Moto Hagio, and Keiko Takemiya, shared a Tokyo apartment in the 1970s. While Moto Hagio was not a mangaka, she introduced the others to works that challenged conservative notions of sexuality and inspired them to pen sexually progressive stories for female readers. Gay male narratives written for female readers was one of their major themes.
At the time, male mangakas far outnumbered female artists, so the boundary-pushing legacy of Year 24 becaume an inspiration for many other artists to come.
2. Rumiko Takahashi
If there were one mangaka to be awarded manga rockstar status, it'd have to be Rumiko Takahashi, the creator of insanely popular, and commercially successful series like Maison Ikkoku and Urusei Yatsura. It's said that Niigata-born Takahashi is one of the best-selling manga artists in the world, with an estimated net worth of over $70 million.
As well as having universally loved stories like series mentioned above, both of which were turned into anime programs, she's also been the recipient of a slew of awards and nominations from across the globe for her contribution to the form. Some award highlights include San Diego Comic-Con, induction into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and Eisner Hall of Fame. She's been prolific since the late 1970s but shows no sign of slowing down having in April this year launched a new series in the Weekly Shonen Sunday anthology titled Mao.
3. Naoko Takeuchi
Kofu-born Naoko Takeuchi is the mangaka responsible for one of the biggest crossover manga hits of all time, Bishojo Senshi Sera Mun aka Sailor Moon.
Takeuchi's tales of the crime-fighting middle-school student named Usagi Tsukino and her black cat Luna were adapted into an anime series which continues to take the world by storm, embedding itself in the international pop culture scene.
An interesting fact about Takeuchi was that prior to her career as an artist, she worked as a priest with the name Miko, an experience she wove into the narrative arch of one of Sailor Moon's characters Rei Hino.
You can start your collection with the first volume of Sailor Moon on Amazon.
4. Hiromu Arakawa
Anime series Full Metal Alchemist is one of anime’s runaway international hits, it was made into a live action film in 2018, but before all this, it was a manga series created by the one and only Hiromu Arakawa.
If you know a little something about Japanese names, you may have noticed that Hiromu is a male name; but we haven’t made a mistake here, the Hokkaido born artist whose real name is Hiromi has adopted a male moniker for most of her career.
Born and raised in typical Hokkaido fashion, on a dairy farm, Arakawa often imagines herself as a bespectacled cow in self-portraits and online avatars, which is a testament to her endearingly offbeat nature. If you want to dabble in Arakawa’s engrossing animated world of monsters mystery and unbreakable family ties, Full Metal Alchemist is accessible on Netflix, or you can buy the manga on Amazon.
5. Momoko Sakura
Momoko Sakura is the pen name of Miki Miura, the creator of Chibi Maruko-Chan an incredibly adorable family-centric series many Japanese children grew up reading and watching.
An-ultra secretive figure, Sakura has always preferred to let her art take the spotlight.
Chibi Maruko-Chan is a semi-autobiographical tale of nine-year-old Momoko Sakura (yes the same name as the author) and her family in their everyday life in 1970s Shimizu, a city now part of Shizuoka City. Sadly, the real Momoko Sakura passed away in 2018 at age 53 after a battle with breast cancer, but her legacy will continue to inspire through generations.
6. Åsa Ekström
Åsa Ekström is a Swedish-born, now Tokyo-based manga artist, who now really captured widespread attention with her 2015 release 北欧女子オーサがみつけた日本の不思議, translation: That's what Åsa found in Japan.
Influenced by classics like Sailor Moon as a young girl, Ekström first visited Japan when she was 19 and relocated to Tokyo in 2011. Since then she's continued to illustrate manga series as well as commercial illustrations.
One of the most nationality-defying manga artists, Ekström coined the term Swedish Manga (Euro Manga) to best label her work. She explains it as being "a relatively new concept where comics utilize Japanese character design and storytelling but is written and drawn by one or many Swedish (European) artists."
7. Fumiya Sato
Like contemporary Hiromu Arakawa, mangaka Fumiya Sato has long published her much loved works The Kindaichi Case Files and Detective School Q under a male pen name, but that doesn’t hide her legacy as one of the nation’s best female manga artists.
Born in Saitama as Ayako Sato, she worked with writer collaborators Yozaburo Kanari and Seimaru Amagi illustrating The Kindaichi Case Files, a mystery manga series which in 1995 nabbed her the Kodansha Manga Award for outstanding serialized manga.
8. Katsura Hoshino
Born in Shiga Prefecture in 1980, Katsura Hoshino is one of the more contemporary faces on the Japanese manga scene, but she's very much considered one of the medium's biggest heavy-hitters thanks in large part to her most notable work D.Gray-man. A period/science fiction/action adventure, D.Gray-man is a dark, story which follows the Black Order, an organization of exorcists.
A big fan of modern popular culture, she has noted fellow mangaka Takeshi Obata and Osamu Akimoto as influences on her work and has been quoted as saying that while she works she loves listening to Japanese bands Porno Graffitti, L'Arc-en-Ciel as well as the Final Fantasy soundtracks, and Dragon Ball soundtracks.
You can find D.Grayman in English on Amazon.
9. Machiko Hasegawa
Often considered the godmother of manga, Machiko Hasegawa created Sazae-san, a family the tale of a 20-something Japanese housewife, which first ran in national newspaper Asahi Shinbun back in 1946, was later turned into a radio drama series in 1955, and a TV series in 1969. 50 years later, Sazae-san is still running and just as popular as ever, making it the world’s longest-running animated TV series.
Although the story concerns a rather traditional family unit, Hasegawa's slightly leftist ideologies permeated the simple four panelled newspaper series, which did attract a level of controversy. Hasegawa's left-leaning politics was at its most blatant when she wrote a narrative following Sazae joining a women's liberation group. She was truly a brave and boundary-pushing artist.
10. Kazue Kato
Known for her popular contemporary series Blue Exorcist, Shinjuku-based mangaka Kazue Kato has garnered a fandom from across the globe, one that, as she admitted during the Anime Expo 2016 in Los Angeles, came as a bit of a surprise. But her popularity shouldn’t be a surprise given Kato’s incredible talent for illustration and storytelling.
The narrative of Blue Exorcist follows protagonist Rin Okumura who discovers he is the son of Satan and becomes an exorcist to seek vengeance for the man who raised him, Father Fujimoto. Given its popularity, the anime version of the series has also been released on Hulu for foreign audiences, or you can start reading over at Amazon.
Check out some of our other articles highlighting the works of incredible women in Japanese arts!
Who is your favorite manga artist? Let us know in the comments below!
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