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Josei Gems: Anime for Adult Women

Card games, jellyfish, and running from the cops


Josei is anime and manga created mostly by women for an audience of adult and young adult women. Since it’s aimed at an older demographic, it tends to focus more on the concerns of adulthood and is far more likely to include mature themes. The three anime and manga below show a wide range of stories that explore the rich experiences of a colorful variety of unstoppable women.



Chihayafuru by Yuki Suetsugu has been an ongoing manga since 2007 and has been adapted into two 25-episode anime seasons: Chihayafuru in 2011 and Chihayafuru 2 in 2013. A 4-volume novel series was written in 2012.

Chihayafuru focuses on a high schooler named Chihaya’s efforts to conquer the world of karuta, a card game based on Japanese poetry that requires both quick reflexes and good ear. After having been introduced to the game by her childhood friend, Chihaya is spurred into playing competitively, aiming to be the karuta Queen of Japan. But she has to get a team together if she wants to compete…

Chihayafuru makes a bunch of kids playing a non-mystic card game truly exciting. The characters even suffer injuries from battling it out! The anime is a feast for the eyes and delivers heart-pumping karuta action with unique angles and motion. Chihaya is a fun lead who is aggressively driven and singlemindedly focused on her passion for karuta is but also full to the brim with enthusiasm and affection for her friends. Chihayafuru has a bit of a sports anime vibe with a lot of emphasis on teamwork and competition, but it focuses on the interpersonal development between the characters as well.

Chihayafuru - 17 - Large 01

The overarching themes of the series are friendship and people learning to understand each other, which yields a lot of complex relationships between women. Among them are Chihaya’s beloved (and terrifying) rival Shinobu, the poetry enthusiast Kana, and the love-obsessed Sumire. These are a lot of great ladies who get character arcs and awesome achievements. There is even a nice scene where a girl sticks up for herself when she’s looked down on for her enthusiastic interest in boys, explaining that there’s nothing wrong with being interested in love and pointing out that most of the literature they read is about love.

As for possible drawbacks, there is a love triangle involving Chihaya, but it’s been handled well so far. Chihaya isn’t treated as a prize to be won, and she’s mostly oblivious to it since she’s so focused on karuta. Chihaya gives her chubby friend the nickname “pork bun” (he eats them often), which is pretty insensitive since he doesn’t like it. There was also some concern over the episode that dealt with people of other races living in Japan, though overall it can be interesting to watch to see how some Japanese people might perceive other races and how the Japanese characters in question confront the wrongness of some of the stereotypes they have. There’s also the occasional gender essentialist comment.

If you want to get immersed in the world of karuta, the Chihayafuru anime can be viewed on Crunchyroll.


Michiko e Hatchin

Michiko e Hatchin (alternately known as Michiko to Hatchin or Michiko & Hatchin) is a 22-episode anime from 2008. It takes place in a setting that appears to be Brazil, though there are bits of other cultures (like the Japanese names). The story follows the adventures of Michiko Malandro and Hana Morenos. Adult Michiko escapes from prison and rescues young Hana (whom Michiko nicknames “Hatchin”) from her abusive foster family. Together they search for Hana’s real father, who is Michiko’s ex. The cops are hot on their trail, with detective Atsuko Jackson, Michiko’s former childhood friend, gunning especially hard for them.

The first notable thing about this series is that the majority of the cast is Brazilian and African-Brazilian, which is a rarity for both Japanese and Western media. In addition to that, the core of the story is the developing bond between two women, with the series focusing on them navigating a harsh world together and fighting back with all they’ve got. Michiko and Hana clash a lot, but when the chips are down, they are always there to love and protect each other. The fact that they are on a mission to find a man who clearly left them both behind is explored, and the clear message of the show is that the bond between Michiko and Hana transcends anything to do with the father. Michiko might also be one of the most hardcore and unstoppable characters ever seen on television, especially when it comes to protecting Hana. There is a part where she’s hit with multiple tranquilizer darts and keeps going. It’s also pretty rare to see two women have the emotionally charged on-opposite-sides-of-the law-rivalry that Michiko and Atsuko have. The underlying affection and backstory the two ladies share is well done.


The series has a colorful setting, bombastic characters, and killer animation. There’s a lot of over-the-top action and adventure—from bullfighting to battles on hot air balloons to taking down corrupt circuses—plus endless psychological drama and encounters with the criminal element. Some of the side characters are queer, including a bisexual woman. The director, Sayo Yamamoto, is also one of the few female anime directors out there and made the series specifically for “office ladies” who “would be returning home, and worn out from the day” so “they could have a beer and watch it.” So another good reason to watch this series is to support more women directing anime, especially ones who make media for other women.

This series does include a ton of gang violence, gore, child abuse, violent murder, and occasional slurs. It also shows women being sexually exploited a couple times, and there are a few male gaze-y camera angles. In an article from The Untitled Mag, it was noted that while the series has a diverse array of characters, there are some obvious stereotypes present, like most of the black characters in the series technically being criminals. The article itself is no unfortunately no longer available, but I have a quote from it here.

Despite its flaws, Michiko e Hatchin is a very unique anime that is certainly worth your time. It is available for streaming and DVD purchase at Funimation and can also be found on Hulu.


Princess Jellyfish

Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish (alternately known as Kuragehime) has been an ongoing manga since 2008. It was adapted in to an 11-episode anime in 2010, and a live-action film is planned for December 2014.

The plot of Princess Jellyfish revolves around Tsukimi, a geeky shut-in who’s obsessed with jellyfish and lives with her four geeky female friends. They are all incredibly socially awkward and dislike attractive people. Men are not allowed into their domain. Tsukimi happens to befriend an attractive girl who actually turns out to be a crossdressing rich boy names Kuranosuke. When the girls risk losing their apartment thanks to redevelopment, Kuranosuke offers to help them fight back.

The first and most notable thing about Princess Jellyfish is that the nerdy female characters actually look and dress geeky and have somewhat diverse facial structures and body types. What’s more, the girls aren’t generically nerdy—they each are obsessed with a specific thing and all struggle with debilitating social anxiety. Though Kuranosuke does dress the girls “fashionably” so they can be taken seriously in public meetings, it’s also made clear that the girls have their own strengths and are far more comfortable just being themselves. So far the girls’ uniqueness has not been sacrificed. Even the makeovers sometimes accentuate the girls’ unique physical features rather than hiding them.

Princess Jellyfish - Cast


The story is just as much about Kuranosuke realizing he has a lot in common with the girls’ geekiness as it is about the girls coming out of their shells. A unique aspect of the show is that Kuranosuke is a male character who is unashamedly interested in women’s fashion while still being a heartthrob. Though it leads to humorous situations, the crossdressing itself (which he is very good at) is never played as a joke. The story also sometimes pokes at the beauty expectations heaped on women and gently examines how society treats nerd girls. However, it’s mostly a humorous series about a bunch of quirky girls who are wonderful in their weirdness and the boy who gets mixed up with them. It’s also about Tsukimi discovering her talents and specialness, so it’s a warm and fluffy wish fulfillment fantasy for nerd girls to enjoy. The manga also later introduces some darker-skinned characters from India who are pretty fleshed out.

There are some unfortunate aspects. Queerness is used as a punchline on occasion. The girls have a female rival who is shown to be sexually manipulative and willing to sleep with men to get ahead in her career. Since she’s the only incredibly sexual woman in the series, this unfortunately associates female sexuality with evil, while the virginal girls are “good.” This woman even sexually assaults a drunk man (and it is acknowledged as sexual assault by him). When the man finally snaps under her constant abuse and strikes her, she gets incredibly turned on, which is… uncomfortable. Basically, the series is good except for this character, who is walking horribleness that is often played for laughs.

Princess Jellyfish is available on Funimation’s YouTube channel and their website, plus Hulu and Netflix.

As you can see from the above, Josei is valuable because it bucks the Western stereotype that media for women must be denigrated as “chick flicks” and acknowledges the wide range of stories women can enjoy. Michiko e Hatchin targets women who enjoy action and police chases, Chihayafuru aims to excite women who enjoy competition, and Princess Jellyfish openly caters to nerd girls. This is a medium of storytelling for women, by women, so it’s a great opportunity to support female artists who create things for their fellow women to enjoy. Josei acknowledges the complexity of women as an audience and treats them with the respect they deserve.

Caitlin Donovan is a longtime comic geek and internet blogger who is currently working on her MFA and her first novel. She formerly wrote for Big Shiny Robot and for a time helped run the blog When Fangirls Attack. These days, she mostly can be found blogging on her Tumblr, Lady Love and Justice.

Previously in Caitlin’s guides to anime

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Caitlin Donovan is a longtime comic geek and internet blogger who is currently working on her MFA and her first novel. She formerly wrote for Big Shiny Robot and for a time helped run the blog “When Fangirls Attack”. These days, she mostly can be found blogging on her tumblr, Lady Love and Justice.