Happy Women’s History
Month! All through March, we’ll be celebrating women who changed free
expression in comics. Check back here every day for biographical snippets on
female creators who have pushed the boundaries of the format and/or seen their
work challenged or banned.


Beloved “Princess of Manga,” mangaka (creator) Rumiko
Takahashi has built a career around transcending gender boundaries in manga. Despite
stereotypes that women couldn’t become famous mangaka, Takahashi has created
numerous award-winning series and inspired several popular animated shows since
1978. In many ways, she is one of the pioneering creators who opened the doors
to manga for Western readers—specifically young adults.

Whether it be stories like sci-fi teen romance Urusei Yatsura, her popular
gender-bending martial arts manga Ranma ½,
or probably her most notable supernatural romantic comedy InuYasha, Takahashi’s breadth of work continues to push narrative and
audience boundaries, garnering her international acclaim and recognition and
earning her the apt title of “Japan’s J.K. Rowling.” (More accurately of course, Rowling is Britain’s Takahashi!)


Born in Nigata, Japan, Takahashi attended the college Gekiga
Sonjuku, where she received guidance from another legendary mangaka Kazuo
Koike, the writer of Lone Wolf and Cub
and Crying Freeman. Although she was
repeatedly told that manga wasn’t a women’s craft, the publication of her first
professional story in the boy’s magazine
Weekly Shonen Sunday
earned her the 1978 New Comic Artist Award and
launched her into a very successful and influential career that is still going
today. “My parents said ‘Don’t do it, you won’t be able to eat – get a normal
job!‘” recalls Takahashi in an interview with Amazing Heroes:

And to be perfectly truthful, I
myself wasn’t absolutely sure I could do it…there was a lot of uncertainty in
my own mind as to whether or not I’d be successful. And in fact, I ended up
living in a roku-jo room [about 150 sq. ft.] along with my assistants. It was
so crowded that I had to sleep in the closet!


Although her work has primarily appeared in boy’s manga
magazines and her inspirations include, amongst others, American superhero
comics like Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and Spider-Man, Takahashi’s books appeal as much to girls as they do to
boys. In fact, Takahashi points out that creating works for both boys and girls
has always been a very conscious goal for her. “Yes, that was done on purpose,”
said Takahashi
when asked about what inspired Ranma ½.
“And also, I wanted it to be popular among women and children. Ranma ½ is popular among girls now.”

Ranma ½ follows
the adventures of Ranma Saotome, a boy who has been trained in martial arts but
is cursed to turn into a girl when splashed with cold water. He resumes his
male form when splashed with hot water, and the series focuses on his
adventures and mishaps as he tries to get rid of the curse. But Ranma is no
simple victim of the curse; he often changes form willingly to accomplish
something he desires. The series features other characters who make similar
transitions, often into animals. The manga and associated anime are among the
first to find popularity in the United States. In terms of the gender-bending
plot of the book, Takahashi notes:

It’s just that I came up with
something that might be a simple, fun idea. I’m not the type who thinks in
terms of societal agendas. But being a woman and recalling what kind of manga I
wanted to read as a child, I just thought humans turning into animals might
also be fun and märchenhaft…you know, like a fairy tale.

Takahashi’s approach to comics may have changed perceptions
in Japan that women, too, could compete in the manga market and become serious
creators, but the influence that Takahashi has had as a manga creator is even
more pronounced on the international front. When the manga started making its
way into mainstream America in the late 80s and early 90s, it wasn’t just serious works like Akira and Lone Wolf and Cub
that were shaping a whole new groups of life-long readers and fans. As the
associate publisher of Del Rey Manga, Dallas
, notes, it is the art and narratives of female creators like
Takahashi’s that have “struck a strong chord with male and female manga readers”
and really opened the doors into mainstream manga reading.


In 1980, Takahashi won the highly prestigious Shogakukan
Manga Award for Urusei Yatsura and
again in 2002 for InuYasha. She has
become a beloved icon in her home country, but she’s found adoration in the
United States as well. In 1994, Takahashi was also awarded the American Inkpot
Award for the groundbreaking international contributions she has made as a

by Caitlin McCabe

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