Shoujo is sadly a sometimes overlooked genre of anime. Filled with the fluffy comforts and emotional nuances of bygone school days and heartfelt romances, shoujo stories are written with adolescent and teenage girls in mind. Still, despite this target audience, they have the power to move countless other hearts.
Though 2021 did not have many new anime that would strictly fit the label of shoujo, the gems that made it to television were accompanied by some equally impressive manga. For readers and viewers looking to get in touch with their sensitive sides, here is a catalog of the best shoujo series put out this year.
Fruits Basket holds a special place with many as one of the first shoujo manga localized during the rise of anime. It tells the story of Tohru Honda, an orphaned high schooler who discovers the curse of the Sohma family. Her classmate Yuki Sohma, his cousin Shigure and their rebellious relative Kyo are all possessed by animals of the Chinese zodiac. As a result, whenever they are embraced by a member of the opposite sex, they transform into their respective animals. When Tohru begins living with the family, her caring nature allows them to be seen for who they really are.
While there was a partial anime adaptation in 2001, the first complete adaptation began in 2019 with the last season airing in 2021. It is available on Hulu, Funimation and Crunchyroll.
A Sign of Affection
Few manga deal with disabilities in a realistic or educated manner. A Sign of Affection meets this challenge through the romance of Yuki and Itsuomi. College student Yuki was born deaf, but typically has no problem communicating with others. During an encounter with a foreign tourist, she is helped by Itsuomi, who speaks multiple languages, but cannot understand sign language.
As the two get to know and discover their interest in each other, they must learn to meet the other's needs by overcoming their communication boundaries. Impressively, the manga's author duo Suu Morishita consulted experts and publications on hearing disabilities to ensure accurate representation. The manga is available digitally on Bookwalker, Crunchyroll and Comixology or physically from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or RightStuf.
Sports manga are typically reserved for the action-packed shounen genre. While themes of competition, teamwork and ambition are universal ideas, its rare to see series that bring the genre to shoujo audiences. That's what makes a series like Backflip!! so special.
Aimless student Shotaro Futaba begins high school looking for something to give him a purpose. After discovering the spectacle of men's gymnastics, he is enthralled by the beauty and showmanship of the of the artform. Joining his school team, he finds a kindred spirit in Ryoya Misato, a veteran of the sport carrying the burden of victory. While the original anime, which is available on Crunchyroll, straddles genre lines, the manga was published in Kondansha's shoujo magazine Dessert. Rather than being primarily about achieving victory, Backflip!! is a tale of passion and introspection for all audiences.
One of Japan's most prolific theater troupes is the all-female Takarazuka Revue. The musical theatre troupe's iconic aesthetic has provided inspiration for countless anime and manga. Still, few series have taken their productions as a premise for an entire story. Kageki Shoujo!! does just this, bringing together a colorful cast of aspiring actresses working towards their dreams of starring in the most fabulous extravaganza possible.
Former idol Ai Narita and eccentric hopeful Sarasa Watanabe are two of the newest students at the Kouka School of Musical and Theatrical Arts, where young women train to perfect their acting, singing and dancing skills. As they aim for the top, the students learn to navigate their professional pursuits while balancing personal relationships and daily school life. The ongoing manga can be found digitally through Comixology and Bookwalker, or physically from Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Books-A-Million. The anime can be streamed exclusively on Funimation.
My Love Mix-Up!
Love triangles usually refer to two people liking one other person, but My Love Mix-Up twists this in a way that is both sweet and sincerely moving. After Sota Aoki borrows an eraser from his crush Mio Hashimoto, he is shocked to find the name of their classmate, Kousuke Ida, written on it as a love charm.
The situation becomes awkward when Ida sees the eraser with his name in Aoki's possession, leading him to believe that Aoki has a crush on him. While the almost Shakespearean misunderstanding begins as a gag, it leads to a unique and heartwarming story about first love, acceptance and self-discovery. The manga is available digitally via Viz and Comixology and physically through retailers like Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and RightStuf.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie
There's no denying that Sailor Moon is one of the most famous shoujo series of all time. Though some fans were initially disappointed with the early seasons of the Crystal remake, Season 3 changed the minds of many. Continuing the series with two films, Sailor Moon Eternal adapts the climactic Dead Moon Circus arc.
On top of the enthralling, romantic throughline that the classic is known for, this latest adaptation brings along stunning visuals, dazzling transformations and exciting action sequences. Both films are available exclusively through Netflix in Japanese and English dubs and are sure to please old devotees and new enthusiasts of the franchise alike.