As you guys may have noticed, I love 90s series. Of my favorite shojo series, at least half of them started during the 1990s, from Marmalade Boy to Fushigi Yugi. But as I began to read more and more titles that have come out recently, I started to wonder: why is it that I like 90s series so much? Is there some intrinsic quality that 90s shojo possess that later shojo series are lacking? Or is it simply nostalgia?
In many ways, it shouldn’t be shocking that out of all the decades I fell for anime and manga from the 90s in particular. I was born in the year 1990 and consider myself to be a “90s girl.” The first anime I ever got into was Sailor Moon, which is not only a 90s series itself but I also got into during the 90s. In many ways, I associate the 90s with the beginning of my anime fandom – after Sailor Moon, my next anime was Tenchi Muyo!, which I started watching around 1999 or so. At that point, my anime exposure expanded – next it was G Gundam, then Oh My Goddess! – until I became a full-fledged anime fan. All of the series that first got me hooked onto anime were 90s anime. It didn’t take too long for me to become interested specifically in shojo series: I remember seeing an article on Marmalade Boy in Animerica and thinking how much I liked it’s artstyle, and from that point on I became attracted to the series that had a similar ‘girly’ aesthetic. By the time I watched Kodocha in 2005, I basically knew I had a love for shojo anime that couldn’t be stopped.
That love of shojo anime next spread to a love of shojo manga, particularly thanks to Shojo Beat. I started to read many contemporary series that I love to this day, including We Were There, Love*Com and Dengeki Daisy. But reading more contemporary series made me realize that there is a difference between the series I’ve read that were published in the past few years and the ones that started in the 90s. Even though I really enjoyed these contemporary series, the reading experience still wasn’t the same. Nineties series capture my attention and engross me in a way even the most addictive contemporary series just don’t. For example, I can barely rip through a volume of We Were There fast enough, heartwrenching as the series may be. But when I read Boys Over Flowers, I didn’t just want to know what happened next in the series – I wondered what it was like to be a fan reading the series when the manga was first being published in Japan in the 90s. With Itazura na Kiss, I wanted to find all the artwork I possibly could from the manga, even though the artstyle may be ‘ugly’ to some. Eighties series (regardless of whether they’re shojo or not) make me feel this way too to a certain extent, but because I haven’t seen or read as many of them I don’t feel I can say whether my love for them is purely because they are classics. But 90s series don’t only take me back to my first days of anime fandom – they bring me closer to places I never was.
I’ll be the first to admit that my reasons for loving nineties series sound like pure nostalgia. However, I believe that there is more to my love of 90s series than just my admiration of the ‘good old days.’ With nostalgia comes the belief that everything from that time period was rainbows and unicorns, without looking at the bad side of the time period as well. This is where I don’t fit in: because I don’t idealize the nineties. I know there have been plenty of crappy series produced during the 90s, and even more series that are just average. Even some 90s series I’ve enjoyed I know aren’t the best – it’s hard to say that G Gundam is anything but cheesy, and Sailor Moon certainly has its problems. Many 90s series that may have seemed original at the time are clichéd in retrospect. What’s funny about 90s shojo in particular is that they simultaneously cling to clichés while breaking them as well. For example, while Itazura na Kiss presents very common shojo plots (the dumb girl in love with the cold mysterious guy, the main couple moving in together), the series goes a step further than most by showing the main couple’s life together after they get married. And while the stereotypical cheerful-but-dense shojo heroine is blatant in 90s series such as Hana-Kimi, some of the strongest shojo heroines I can think of also came from this decade, like Yuri from Red River or Tsukushi from Boys Over Flowers. And the addictive charm some of these series have, while an intangible quality, is still something that I think is more than just because of nostalgia. Overall, it’s not that I think 90s series are better than series from the 2000s – it’s just that 90s series appeal a bit more to my palette. It’s like comparing cake and chips – I love me some chips, but at the end of the day, I’m gonna choose cake. The 90s just happened to be the cake.