Twilight Is Manga

Posted by on January 22nd, 2010 at 10:28 PM

When I need a break from comics, one of my side hobbies is hating Twilight. It’s refreshing after a long day of hating comic books.  But it’s not as complete a break from comics as it might be, because the Twilight series is totally based on manga.  And, probably, on fanfiction about manga.

Many thematic parallels to crappy shojo manga are obvious.  The heroine is a pretty and popular yet “ordinary” girl whose one (1) character flaw is clumsiness–which isn’t really a flaw, since it just makes her cute and in need of constant rescue by leggy, hot men.  The love interest is a bishonen guy surrounded by sparkles.  Their relationship consists mostly of the hero bossing the heroine around, insulting her, and periodically protecting her from other hot assholes, just like in every shojo manga published in the latter half of the 1990s.  Seriously, something happened to teen-oriented shojo manga around that time.  Shojo manga in the 1970s was feminist and transgressive, in the 1980s it got kind of apolitical but at least had spunky heroines, and then all of a sudden you had stuff like Hot Gimmick, about a girl who falls in love with a sleazy nerd who blackmails her into being his sex slave.  (Admittedly, Hot Gimmick is a hell of a page-turner, if only because you have to see how creator Miki Aihara will keep topping herself in creepiness.  Did I mention there’s also lots of quasi-incest?)

So, yeah, Twilight has a lot in common with the more retrograde manga for girls, and in fact there are plenty of manga that probably resemble Twilight more closely than the Twilight comic book will.  I’m pretty sure Viz licensed Kanoko Sakurakoji’s Black Bird primarily to hook teen fans of vampire romance and/or domestic abuse.  The supernatural boyfriend in Black Bird is a tengu (a birdlike Japanese monster) rather than a vampire, but he’s got the same mojo.  Pushes the heroine around.  Laughs at her.  Shows off his superpowers just to demonstrate how helpless she is before him.  Drinks her blood.  I didn’t even know tengu did that.

Even many diehard Twilight fans hated the ending of the last book, Breaking Dawn, especially the child-bride resolution of the Edward-Bella-Jacob love triangle.  In a plot twist even women wearing “Stupid Lamb” T-shirts found disturbing, Jacob the werewolf “imprints” on Bella’s half-vampire baby girl, falling instantly in love with her.  From that point, they are destined to marry once she hits puberty.  But even this horrible idea was executed first in manga!

It was sadder the first time, because Kare Kano (His and Her Circumstances) by Masami Tsuda starts out as a great manga, a romantic comedy about two high-school overachievers who fall in love while competing with each other.  But in its later volumes it drifts into crazy melodrama completely at odds with its early light, slice-of-life tone.  And it gets dumber.  And more unsettling in its underlying themes.  Then comes the final volume, in which the central love triangle is resolved in the same way as the central love triangle in Twilight: by having the guy who lost out fall in love with the heroine’s unborn baby, then wait for said baby to grow boobs.

Really.  Only they’re not vampires or werewolves or anything; this is presented as a normal thing for teenagers–human teenagers–to do.  (Yes, teenagers.  Yukino of Kare Kano is a glowing teen mom, just like Bella Swan.)  I don’t want to go too in-depth on this, because it was already done brilliantly back in 2007, when the final volume came out in the U.S., by Erin Finnegan.  Please do not miss the accompanying comic in which Erin chronicles her emotions while reading.

“Is this the least perverse ending you could think of?” her cartoon doppelganger rants at the artist. “Is it because you’re Japanese?” As comforting as it would be to believe this, no, apparently an author does not have to be Japanese to think this Genji/Murasaki shit is romantic.  But the Japanese thought of it first.  And that, Team Comics, is something Team Edward and Team Jacob can never take away from us.

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11 Responses to “Twilight Is Manga”

  1. Toukochan says:

    I do note that although Yukino was a teen mom, she did go back and get her medical degree and become a doctor later on. (And oh, that horrible translation choice of ‘mediocre’ that ruined that bit…) But yeah, the end of Kare Kano has issues, I will admit.

  2. Mike Hunter says:

    A fascinating essay, Shaenon! I’m utterly unaware of the types and titles of manga you cited, but the correspondences described are pretty damning. Did Meyer read those books, or is it a case of matching attitudes about Woman’s Place leading to more-than-similar results?

    I was dubious about the “Twilight” books soon as I heard their author was a Mormon. I may admire that group’s work ethic and dedication to family, but feel the opposite about their reactionary attitudes. Among which are placing women as subservient to the “God-given” authority of fathers and husbands.

    Suspicions were confirmed when I read an article detailing the countless ways in which the heroine of the series was a thoroughly passive figure, in utter sway to the men in her life.

    Couldn’t find it online just now, but these cover the same territory:

    …To say that Bella is passive would be a massive understatement.  She has no real interests that don’t involve staring at her boyfriend, Edward. She’s mostly defined by what she doesn’t want to do: shop, hang with friends, see movies, age, or travel anywhere outside the county line.

    …What makes us uncomfortable with Twilight in particular, I suspect, is that it’s marketed to kids. The “take me, break me” mentality that underscores so much contemporary romance for adult women seems a little less harmless if it’s given to twelve year-olds as a model for power dynamics in a relationship. Who wants to tell small girls that the best way to get affection is to be entirely passive (and dumb like a rock)?
    Much more at

    …The problem lies in the series portrayal of women. Specifically, of the series protagonist, Bella. Bella is presented as a submissive female, who is practically incapable of doing anything without having one of her love interests stepping in and saving the day. Her relationship with Edward is a very unhealthy one, even bordering on abusive. This is most evident in the third book, Eclipse, where Edward removes the engine from Bella’s car so that she cannot go visit Jacob, with whom she has maintained a friendship after the events in the second book. This comes along with Edward’s stalking tendencies practiced throughout the series, such as watching Bella sleep from outside her window.

    What is most troubling about these actions is how Bella in turn justifies them. With regards to Edwards extremely overprotective and jealous actions in keeping her from spending time with Jacob (Edward actually has his sisters kidnap Bella at one point), Bella gives the age old excuse “he does it because he loves me.” Her willingness to simply accept Edward’s actions without any confrontation sends the message to the fans of the books that girls should act as passive objects, never questioning the actions of their superior male counterpart.

    And, talk about synchronicity. Yesterday the latest “Entertainment Weekly” arrived in my mailbox, with an exclusive 8-page “Twilight” manga-style graphic novel preview. Here’s a write-up about that, the book’s cover and one of the preview pages:

    And (with apologies to the outstanding “Entertainment Weekly”) here are three more 2-page spreads:

    (© Stephenie [Cute spelling! …NOT!!!] Meyer and Hachette Book Group Inc.)

    The art is slick and pretty enough, but ho-hum, devoid of dynamism or interesting compositions, usage of space. (At least that dream sequence was more interesting, even if the wolves are jarringly photo-referenced.) The emptily, generically-“beautiful” heroine bears that deadpan puss which Sarah Michelle Gellar affected in 99% of her “Buffy” publicity photos…

  3. Noah Berlatsky says:

    I like Twilight, damn it.

    I even kind of appreciated in an “oh, my god, what a train wreck” kind of way how the ending was so utterly, bizarrely perverse. I should have realized that the Japanese did it first, though….

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by PreCur: Garrity always, always wins: “Twilight Is Manga” –

  5. Mike Hunter says:

    Noah Berlatsky says:
    I like Twilight, damn it.

    Dammit! No fair using your knowledge from having ACTUALLY READ THE BOOKS in debate…

    That was very well argued; your points witty and convincing. (They certainly convinced me.)

    I’m not about to read the books in order to look for objectionable chunks that might be there to catapult right back at’cha, so I’ll lay my flag upon the ground in surrender…

  6. […] Weekly has an image of the cover and an interior preview. On a related note, Shannon Garrity has a great – and amusing – post comparing Twilight with most modern-day shoujo […]

  7. […] Shaenon explains that Twilight Is Manga Many thematic parallels to crappy shojo manga are obvious. The heroine is a pretty and popular yet […]

  8. […] Dude… harsh. That’s Naoki Irie from Kaoru Tada’s Itazura Na Kiss (Digital Manga), which just happens to be the subject of this week’s Flipped. It’s a very enjoyable comic in its own right, and I think it’s interesting to consider it in context, particularly when that context is inspired by Shaenon K. Garrity. […]

  9. […] for the series and a NIBY attitude about it.  Shaenon Garrity, a respected writer about manga points out that the themes in Twilight are nothing new.  In fact, the themes in Twilight are not only […]

  10. Shay Guy says:

    Bwa ha ha! I’d read plenty of the shojo manga comparisons, but I had no idea about Kare Kano’s ending. Ah, Shaenon, you’re one of the few people I’m actually glad I get to share an Internet with.

    I don’t know much about the history of shojo manga, though I can throw out a few names like Princess Knight and The Rose of Versailles. I’ve also read that the most successful of all time is Hana Yori Dango. Oh, and Kimi ni Todoke is apparently big right now (judging from what I’ve seen of the anime, deservedly so).