help me out here: where are the complicated relationship stories about straight couples?

After reading the terrific Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai, reviewed in my last post, I started sucking down yaoi manga like the crazy person that I am and I’ve got to say, it’s kind of eye-opening and here’s why.

Where are all the complex, troubled, intense, sexual, interesting relationship manga involving straight couples?  Am I missing something here?  Why can’t I find them?  And why are all the straight-couple romance stories so predictable?

Don’t get me wrong, yaoi is, as far as I can tell, chock full of sweet, romantic, predictable fluff/smut fests (your choice), just like manga written about straight couples.  But there IS a whole subset of stories I’m finding now about actual adults having actual adult relationships (vs. the idealized romance arcs typically found in shojo and even josei—written for adult women—manga).  Salarymen (Japanese “business men”) struggling in their gay relationships are not super common, but they can be found, it is a subset of the genre, for example, No Touching At All, a terrific story by the same author as Saezuru, or The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese and it’s wonderful sequel The Carp On the Jumping Block Jumps Twice.  Those were all really well done, chewy, interesting stories about complicated people.  Highly recommended.

So where are the analogous thirty-year old women stories?  Because I’m having trouble finding them.

Realistic, complex stories, about realistic, complex characters.  That’s all I’m looking for.  Is that too much to ask?

Tramps Like Us, remains the go-to working-woman-in-relationship rec, as far as I can tell, and it is tres delightful, to be sure, but it can’t be the only one.  Say, “I love you” has the sensibility I’m looking for although it is about high school, but it feels real, if that makes sense.  There are a couple of others (although nothing is leaping to my mind at this moment).  But on the whole, straight-relationship-manga seems to be, for the most part, about high school girls being wooed by older dudes in a blushing, oh don’t touch me there, kind of way.  If you want strong, complex, older characters dealing with realistic relationships in manga, it seems like you have to go to BL.

Tell me I’m wrong.  Point me to some titles. Why are woman characters so wimpy in manga?  Am I reading the wrong books?

Okay, I was trying to think of novels, too, and it’s been awhile since I read novels heavily but examples that come to mind are, say, White Palace (and the terrific Susan Sarandan movie that was based on it), or Endless Love (and the terrible Brooke Shields movie that was based on it).  I know there must be tons of others.  Recs?

Anyway.  I love me some manga—and all kinds of stories, not just romantic ones—as anyone who has read my blog recently can attest. And I DO have a soft spot for high school girls falling in love that can enjoy well done shojo, no problem.  But sometimes I crave something else.  A something else that I’ve been finding this week within BL, which surprised me.  So.  What’s up with that?   Why is it that in order to tell a juicy, complicated, sexual, relationship story, we have to make both the characters men?

I welcome recs!  Basically I’m in the mood for any complex, interesting, relationship stuff, straight or gay, I don’t care, anything as long as it is interesting.  This stuff must be out there.  I can’t be the only one who wants it.  Why is it so hard to find?

3 thoughts on “help me out here: where are the complicated relationship stories about straight couples?

  1. Pingback: character driven yaoi: high school dudes | mayaland

  2. Marfisa

    Unfortunately, much of the heterosexual-themed manga targeted at the josei (adult women’s) demographic that most resembles the complicated, often angst-ridden relationships depicted in the more character-driven types of BL is currently out of print. I’m thinking specifically of the works of Erica Sakurazawa, who had five or six separate one-volume manga released by the now-defunct TokyoPop twelve or thirteen years ago (with the result that they had pretty much become unavailable in most stores even before the publisher effectively went out of business sometime around 2011). For a somewhat more detailed description of Sakurazawa titles such as “Angel Nest” and “Nothing But Loving You,” see my 2008 article on comics and manga for grown-up women in the feminist comics and pop culture webzine *Sequential Tart*: . This article also discusses “Suppli,” a much-acclaimed, but much more humorless, josei manga that vaguely resembles “Tramps Like Us” in its joint emphasis on Japanese female career angst and romantic difficulties.

    I’d also recommend Moyoco Anno’s “Sakuran” (English-language edition released by Vertical in 2012), a historical manga about a feisty young girl sold as a maid to a teahouse (high-class brothel) in the nineteenth century, and her reluctant rise to the top of the heap as a popular courtesan. This book is a distinctly unromanticized portrayal of the on the job difficulties and co-worker conflicts of being forced to work in the sex industry. However, the heroine does indulge in one ill-fated romance along the way, although due to the nature of their work and the virtual indentured servitude they labor under, love and coupledom are, at best, a comparatively minor part of the Edo courtesans’ lives.

    For something funnier and fluffier (albeit not entirely free of disturbing gender power imbalance), you might check out Enjouji Maki’s “Happy Marriage,” volume one of which was released a month or so ago by Viz. This is the story of a young female office worker with a rather jaundiced view of men and romance who gets pressured into an allegedly in-name-only arranged marriage with the handsome young president of the company she works for. It turns out the president’s grandfather (who still has a controlling interest in the company) started out in life as a servant for the heroine’s formerly much more well-off family, and had a secret crush on her now-dead grandmother. When the CEO/grandfather learns that the granddaughter of the “young mistress” he was so attached to is in dire financial straits due to her feckless father’s unrepayably huge business failure-related debts to the yakuza, he seizes the opportunity to help her out and vicariously fulfill his own romantic dreams about her grandmother by pairing her up with his grandson (who initially merely hopes to gain control of the company by going along with this, but–after a rather unpromising start–gradually becomes intrigued by the heroine for her own sake).

    You might also want to keep an eye out for Ohmi Tomu’s “Midnight Secretary” (also from Viz), whose first volume is set to be released sometime around Halloween. This is about a hyper-efficient executive secretary who discovers that the playboy company president she works for is actually a (non-homicidal) vampire. At least for the first volume, the story after that plays out less like “Twilight” than an office-politics power struggle between two characters who are equally strong, intelligent, and complexly motivated, in their own respective ways. The art on “Midnight Secretary,” especially on the covers, leans enough toward the standard style found in manga versions of Harlequin romances that the series looks a lot less interesting than it is. But so far the actual story diverges sharply from the all too frequent shoujo and josei tropes of ultra-powerful alpha male and good-hearted but hopelessly overmatched cute girl (or the BL equivalent, bastard seme and ineffectual uke). So it’s worth looking past the occasionally uninspired art.

    1. maya Post author

      Hi Marfisa, thanks so much for your comment. That’s a good post you linked. But from 5 years ago! It’s true, it’s like complex josei just disappeared by 2010, I wonder why? I enjoyed Midnight Secretary, although Happy Marriage was a meh for me. I’ve seen Suppli mentioned, but can’t get a copy—I’ll keep looking. Sakuran sounds intriguing, I’ll check into it, and I hadn’t heard of Sakurazawa. Thanks so much for the recs!


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