Shoujo & Sakura: Youth is Beautiful, Youth is Blue

Words by Xenia Sanut


Those who watch Japanese animated films or TV or read Japanese comics, especially those set at school or with a touch of slice-of-life, know that the sight of sakura trees in bloom is richly symbolic. It symbolises not only a time for new beginnings since the trees bloom during the spring-time, but also the fleeing nature of life since they only bloom for two weeks. 

Hence why sakura is the perfect metaphor for adolescence and growing up in many shoujo manga. Shoujo manga are Japanese comics mainly targeted towards young women but which contain lessons that everyone can appreciate, regardless of age, gender or sexuality.


Emerging in Japan during the 1960s, shoujo manga typically explores feminine dreams and fantasies, often romantic in nature. Think of them being like popular young-adult (YA) romance novels and movies which can range from being dark and brooding, like Twilight and After, to will-they-won’t-they comedies in a similar vein to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and 10 Things I Hate About You. The plot and setting can reach the magical, the historical, and the fantastical.

But, of course, one of the things that shoujo manga has in its pocket is its illustrations which tend to be like an early Taylor Swift song: soft, sparkling, and subtly conveying feelings that characters are desperate to hide in fear of how others would react, as shown through the example below. But overall, these are feelings that we all resonate with, regardless of whether high school life is now behind us.


Some Shoujo manga, like YA romance, can have problematic messaging imbued in their stories with the main culprit being that you can change an aloof love interest with a bad attitude into a committed partner (Wolf Girl & Black Prince, Blue Spring Ride).

But just as there are thousands of YA romance stories, there are thousands of shoujo manga so it’s hard to generalise and say that if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.

While many of them, even the healthier stories, tend to be idealistic and dramatic, a theme that lies at the heart of every shoujo manga is connection, not just romantic connection but every connection imaginable.


How do young people try to become closer to their friends, their family and to their current and future self? How do they form meaningful relationships and strive to maintain them?

So, like with anything we read, watch, and consume, take shoujo with a grain of salt, but as you scour through the range of different stories, take it as an opportunity to learn from the characters’ struggles without having to experience their pain and heartbreak yourself.

Understand the many forms a relationship can take, how healthy relationships can be built, and how unhealthy ones can manifest.


Many shoujo manga heroines are also often portrayed as innocent and naïve, attributes which are celebrated within the story not because the heroines are considered more desirable for demonstrating these qualities, but because adolescence is a time where none of us really know anything and these heroines embrace that and use it as an opportunity to learn.

Sure, we might look at the heroines’ journeys and think we know a bit more in our 20s than we did in our teens, but it’s still exciting to watch someone make that journey to discovery and perhaps we’ll discover something new about ourselves along the way.


Additionally, being innocent or naïve does not make these heroines weak or helpless, instead it highlights how traditionally feminine ideals of love, compassion, and vulnerability can be a strength.

It can empower these heroines to help a friend, embrace who they are, openly share their feelings to the people they love and guide themselves and those they care about through all the problems that we think are so small in hindsight, but which eventually coalesce to make the story of our lives.


In Japanese, the word for youth, [japanese characters for blue an autumn], or seishun, is made up of the characters for ‘blue’ and ‘spring’ which is the perfect analogy for what youth is and how shoujo depicts it. Like a sakura tree in bloom, life, love, happiness, and heartbreak when we’re young is wonderful because it cannot last forever.

We should learn from it, embrace it, and appreciate it, even when life feels beautiful, even when life feels blue. Let’s cherish this new year, this new beginning with all its transience and effervescence and discover a world like we are wearing shoujo-coloured glasses: one side pink, the other side blue.

Xenia Sanut

The author Xenia Sanut

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