The art of the matter

The art of the matter

Normally, I don’t care much about whether a series has great art or not. I’ve written before that it bothers me when fans ignore great series because they have unique or ‘ugly’ artstyles. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate good art, and while shojo art often gets criticized for being ‘simple’ and that it ‘all looks alike,’ I find myself drawn to the textbook shojo aesthetic, which often features frills, flowers, pretty girls and even prettier boys.  In particular, there are some artists whose style I find myself drawn to.  Here are some of the shojo artists whose art I really love:

Wataru Yoshizumi: Some people might argue that Wataru Yoshizumi’s art is textbook shojo. And while I wouldn’t disagree, I feel that Yoshizumi does textbook shojo better than anyone else. I love her character designs – her boys are handsome, while her girls are feminine with large eyes yet still not sugary to the level of Arina Tanemura’s characters. Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the basics.

Ai Yazawa: Ai Yazawa is one of a few shojo/josei artists (along with Chika Umino and Moyocco Anno) whose style I consider to be extremely distinct. Her character designs are edgy yet realistic, featuring smaller eyes and thicker lips than the average shojo characters. Her costumes are inspired by real-life designers such as Vivienne Westwood, so her characters are always fashionable. But where Yazawa really shines is her use of facial expressions. Yazawa is amazing at being able to create drama through closeups and the way she frames important scenes. Thus, Yazawa’s storytelling is layered – rather than just relying on multifaceted characters and great dialogue, the story’s emotional punch lies just as much within it’s art.

CLAMP: I love CLAMP’s artwork, but only for a few specific series. I’m not a fan of the more angular art style shown in their older works (such as Clover), nor of their latest lanky character designs where even young characters appear to be six feet tall (which is especially prevalant in Tsubasa). However, I adore CLAMP’s character designs for Cardcaptor Sakura and Chobits, which are adorable without feeling overly saccharine, and just generally very feminine. I also love their detailed costumes, from Sakura’s battle costumes in CCS to Yuko’s kimonos in xxxHolic. But the main reason I know I’m a fan of CLAMP’s artwork is because a picture of Chi will pull me in every time, despite the fact that I don’t even like Chobits.

Yuuki Obata: At first glance, Yuuki Obata’s artwork for We Were There seems pretty straightforward. She uses bubbles, sparkles, flowers – all staple elements of the shojo aesthetic. But her character designs only appear to be typical on the surface – on closer inspection they’re rounder than the average shojo characters, and Obata depicts her characters aging skillfully and realistically. But more than for having a distinct style like Ai Yazawa or being amazingly detailed like CLAMP, I believe Obata evokes a certain warmth from her artwork that makes me go ‘awww’ every time I see it.

Yuu Watase: Yuu Watase is the queen of the recycled character design. Tamahome, Night, and Uruki (among many others) are basically the same design over and over again. So why did I put her on this list? Because it’s a damn good character design. No one knows how to draw a pretty boy quite like Watase does, and in many ways the people who accuse Watase of copying her own designs are ignoring the fact that this is true for many other manga artists as well (coughArina Tanemuracough).

There are many other shojo manga artists whose style I really like. I love Kyosuke Motomi’s character designs – they’re sharp and attractive and almost feel as though they walked out of a shonen manga. And I’ve always liked the pretty boys from Vampire Knight, despite the fact that I don’t care much for the series itself. There are even some shojo authors whose works I haven’t read but I find their art extremely addictive, such as Io Sakisaka. So are there any shojo artists whose character designs or costumes you can’t get enough of? Share your thoughts, guys!


29 thoughts on “The art of the matter

  1. I like the beautiful artworks of:
    ~Yoko Kamio(Hana Yori Dango);
    ~Naoko Takeuchi(Codename: Sailor V,Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon);
    ~Yumiko Igarashi( Candy Candy,Georgie!Mayme Angel);
    ~Yuu Watase(Fushigi Yûgi,Fushigi Yûgi Genbu Kaiden);
    ~CLAMP(Sakura Card Captor).

    1. I actually like Yoko Kamio’s art as well, especially once it evolved by the end of Hana Yori Dango. And I figured someone would agree with me that CLAMP’s art is quite lovely!

  2. I like Julietta Suzuki (kamisama kiss) work. It is so unique and imaginative with not just the artwork but with the story as well. Idk a lot of people I heard say they don’t like the artwork and won’t give it a try, but it is really good lol!

    1. I agree with you, and I actually considered mentioning Julietta Suzuki as well. I love her character designs for Karakuri Odette, and I really like the color art for Kamisama Kiss. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I like CLAMPs art in things like Magic Knight Rayearth and X. I’m not a fan of most of their current/titles style. And although Chi does have super frilly outfits, Chobits is a seinen title from them.


    1. I’m not in love with their most recent works either – in terms of both story and art. Oh, I know Chobits isn’t shojo but I can’t help but lump it in since many of CLAMP’s most famous works are shojo (Rayearth, X, CCS). Same goes for Kobato.

  4. I agree with you on liking CLAMP (for CCS), Wataru Yoshizumi (Marmalade Boy), and Yuu Watase (all her works). I definitely like the art styles of Naoko Takeuchi and Matsuri Hino. Another great one I enjoyed was Chiho Saito’s work for Revolutionary Girl Utena. It’s gorgeous to look at every time I read the manga, especially her color art.

    1. Chiho Saito is another artist who has a very distinct style – you can immediately pick one of her character designs out from a crowd. Most of these artists truly shine with their color art – they know how to choose colors and poses that will attract the reader’s eye.

  5. I guess I also like Yoshizumi Wataru and Kamio Yoko’s artwork the best. (Tanemura Arina has pretty characters and all, but her stories…)
    CLAMP’s men tend to look like walking coat racks with LARGE shoulders and tiny waists…

    I can understand how someone doesn’t want to read a series because he/she doesn’t like the artwork, though. It is a big part of the reading experience after all. Would you read a book if you didn’t like the author’s writing style?

    1. I actually don’t care much for Arina Tanemura’s art at all. It’s too crowded, and while it may look detailed (because of the abundance of flowers, sparkles, and screentone), these things are only used to mask the fact that her character designs are extremely generic. Sometimes less is more. And I agree with you about her stories.

      I can understand to some extent being bothered by bad art, but not to the extent you won’t read a story you’re very interested in just because of the drawing style. Because in the end, the writing quality is what’s most important – at least in my opinion.

      1. Haha, true about Tanemura.

        But I think for manga, the art is PART of the “writing” quality. Of course, if I was really interested in a story, I’d swallow the art even if I don’t like it, but I can understand some very visual people not wanting to do that.

      2. Art makes a difference, especially when the summary given is much of the same. In shoujo that’s very true. Boy meets girl and you don’t really know where the uniqueness of the manga lies unless you start reading it. That’s tricky though. You might not have much time and you still are not sure when a series might get a twist and improve… so if the art is attractive you at least know you haven’t wasted your time 100% even in the case when the storytelling and plot are bad and you drop the series. Perhaps just 50%

        I’m a huge fan of CLAMP’s X and Chiho’s Saitou’s artstyle – though I don’t fangirl of many of her works. Generally, I fall easily for detail and smoothness 🙂

    2. That may be true, but art has never been able to sustain my interest in a bad series. I remember liking the character designs for B.O.D.Y but that still wasn’t enough for me to stick with what I considered to be a mediocre manga. Chiho Saito is another artist whose designs are instantly recognizable. And while I normally don’t like ‘angular’ character designs, I actually quite like Saito’s style.

    3. “Would you read a book if you didn’t like the author’s writing style?”

      I have actually. It took some getting used to but I read quite a few Jane Austen books and at first I couldn’t get into the writing style because it was pretty different, but after finishing Pride and Prejudice, I’ve grown to really like it (I’ve even re-read P&P and plan to do so again). It was definitely Lizzy that kept me reading even if I had to re-read a few of the paragraphs that I didn’t quite get the first time because the English was a bit different. Also, a friend of mine forced* me to finish Twilight even thought I pretty much hated the writing style. Granted what I disliked most wasn’t the writing style, I could forgive the really bland writing if I actually liked the story and characters, but I didn’t.

      *Yes I was forced. She kept bugging me daily how much pages I’ve read and such, so I just couldn’t get out of it. She knew I hated Bella and I thought the romance was pretty meh, but she kept saying it got better and that Edward was hot, and I just couldn’t say no to her (and she knows it. ;__; )

  6. I like both Yoshizumi Wataru’s art and story telling. I agree that Kamio Yoko’s artwork in Boys Over Flowers improved greatly as the series progress. I’ve read her newer series Cat Street and like the art there a lot. I also like Kyoko Hikawa’s art in From Far Away and later series.

  7. Of the artists you have mentioned, I also adore Ms.Yazawa’s art. It’s so distinct but very stylish and pretty too. I like Clamp’s pre-Chobits art, but I still very much enjoy their clothing designs, as they are always so very intricate and pretty. Still I wish they would go back to drawing like they did in CCS and Rayearth. Their eyes were so pretty back then. 😦 And of course Ms.Watase has very beautiful art too, so it isn’t hard to appreciate that. (In fact, I’m surprised she has haters).

    From my own picks, I’d say Aki (Olympus, Utahime) has drop dead gorgeous art. It is very detailed and the characters are all so pretty. I also agree above that Ms.Kamio’s art has really improved now and it is just lovely. I don’t know why but I love the way she draws her eyes~ Ms.Hiwatari of Please Save My Earth is in the exact same boat. Her art begins really rough (I’d say it’s even worse than HYD), but at the end, it is very pretty and detailed. Ms. Kaori Yuki’s art is also quite nice. It’s got the typical shoujo fair, but still distinct enough that you can tell she drew it. And by no means very pretty, but after reading so many of her works, Ms.Tamura’s art has really grown on me, but it is definitely an acquired taste. xD

    1. You know, I forget how much I like the manga artwork for Magic Knight Rayearth. It doesn’t have all of the costume changes CCS has, but it’s still quite attractive. And I agree – I don’t understand why people dismiss Watase’s art. Even though her character designs are all pretty much the same, they’re still well-done and attractive. Ooh, I love the art in Olympus! The colors are so pretty, and I love just staring at Aki’s art. Nice choice for Kaori Yuki – although her designs are a bit too angular and ‘sharp’ for me to consider them favorites, Yuki can definitely draw a charming guy.

      It’s funny – I put Hiwatari and Tamura in the same category. Neither of their art styles are ‘conventionally attractive,’ and they certainly have a classic 80s feel to them – but they both stand out. And even though some people may feel that the art for Kamio’s contemporary series is more ‘conventional’ shojo,’ I still think it’s distinct and you can tell right away it’s been drawn by Kamio.

      1. I haven’t read a lot of Kaori Yuki works (just Fairy Cube really with a bit of sampling of Count Cain in Shoujo Beat), but that one work had such nice clean art. Perhaps I wouldn’t put her in my favourites either, but definitely in ones I really like.

        For me personally, Ms.Hiwatari’s art starts out very distinct and conventionally what most people would call “ugly”, but I’d say by the end of PSME, the art is very pretty and has some very common shoujo markers (like the eyes are drawn in a way that’s is very typical of shoujo whereas Kamio and Tamura have more distinctive eyes). It still has a bit of an 80s fair, I agree there, but I think it feels more conventional than Ms.Tamura’s art. But I still really like Ms. Hiwatari’s art because even though it does stick closer to the mainstream look, there is a level of detail in her latter art style that is rarely found elsewhere. Ms.Tamura’s art has this really rough feel to it that even the latter parts of Basara cannot escape. I can’t even say I love her art. I’ve always felt her art was her weakest point, but the characters and story more than made up for it. That said, it did grow on me, so I went from not really caring about the art to developing a sort of weird attachment to it even though I would never call it pretty. xD Agree on Ms.Kamio’s art. I can always pick it out. There is definitely a unique style there.

      2. Same here, I like Aki’s art in Olympus! Sad thing though, the art was the only thing I liked about that manga…
        Well, I can’t seem to imagine anyone who will say that CLAMP’s in Cardcaptor Sakura and Chobits isn’t pretty. I love that manga-ka quartet; they’re actually my favorite!
        I like Natsumi Ando’s art too; she’s actually me second favorite manga-ka in terms of pretty art, just next to CLAMP. Her style is strikingly shojo, but still, I’m one fan of her art.

      3. @Alyssa: Am I the only one who actually liked Olympus not only for the art but the story as well? I thought it had such a great setup and conclusion, thematically.

      4. @soaringwings At first I was actually looking forward to reading Olympos because of the pretty art and its reference with Greek Mythology, but as I read it I grew tired of the conversations between the characters as I felt that the conversations are aimless and aren’t going anywhere. My expectation of seeing the other Olympians, especially the goddesses, as portrayed by Aki’s art wasn’t granted either; but that fault is all mine.
        As for the theme, perhaps I may say that I liked it a bit: “gods holding forth on the meaninglessness of their existence”.

    2. I figured most people like CLAMP’s artwork – it’s just a matter of whether you like their art throughout their entire career. I think Ando’s art is sort of like Yoshizumi – it’s somewhat ‘textbook shojo’ art but it’s well-done. I like her art as well.

  8. I like the art for Skip Beat! by Yoshiki Nakamura It always grabbed my attention…but I can’t explain why….but my a time favorite is Kamio’s artwork. It’s simple, yet expressive.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Skip Beat‘s art seems to be pretty polarizing, but I agree with you – I think it’s unique as well. And you’re so right about Kamio’s art – it looks conventional in some ways but really isn’t, and her character designs have really grown on me. Especially the F4.

  9. I actually like Watase Yuu’s artwork the best, because many of her character designs are smooth, clean, and soft especially when they are pastel colored. The women are quite attractive and the men are good looking, Miki was really attractive and Tamahome was exceptionally good looking.

    I only know some of Watase Yuu’s characters from my cousin’s mangas (she has quite many Watase Yuu’s manga series), and from there I can see on how the way she designs the characters. My cousin also said that the reason of why she likes most of Watase Yuu’s mangas aside from the story was also because of the art designs.

    However, I just wish that Watase Yuu could do do less copying the characters look over and over, since I find some of her characters look kind of similar with each other. I think it would be better if she could make the characters’ design that look distinctive from the others while still retaining that smooth clean look.

    CLAMP’s characters artwork design on series like Cardcaptor Sakura, Kobato, and Chobits is the best. While then, on some other series the characters look either too sharp or not well proportioned or a bit weird looking for my taste. And I just don’t really like much with CLAMP’s nowadays character designs (which is shown on Tsubasa Chronicles), neither I like of some of their earlier works characters’ design.

    Cardcaptor Sakura characters’ design is cute, smooth, and adorable without looking overly saccharine (Sakura was really cute looking, Syaoran was cute and handsome, Tomoyo was breathtakingly beautiful, Touya was dashing, etc.). I still remember when I was younger, I always raving to my cousin on how cute the CCS characters are. While in Chobits, I find Chii to be really endearing looking even though I don’t really like her character. Kobato’s characters design is also really nice and adorable, I quite like Kobato’s look (she looks attractive to me).

    The clothing and background on any other series’ design on the hand, always very well-detailed and well drawn. I always find the characters’ clothing to be very beautiful and I wish if I could have some of them (no pun intended).

    I think it would better for CLAMP if they could go back to the Cardcaptor Sakura, Kobato, and Chobits characters’ design art style for once again. I would love CLAMP ever more if they could do that, even if I don’t know when they will do it.

    1. On the other hand, I don’t really like much Arina Tanemura’s and Nakahara Ann’s character design and art style that much. I don’t like their design and style because even though they may loook really pretty but they are too crowded, kind of saccharine, not so smooth, and not so natural looking. And I also don’t really like on how the way Ms. Tanemura and Ms. Nakahara draw their characters’ eyes, a bit too big almost like the eyes dominating the face (Mitsuki Koyama of Full Moon wo Sagashite and Kirarin Tsukishima of Kirarin Revolution have really big eyes).

      At least CLAMP’s design and art style for few series like Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, and Kobato look really cute but still natural, smooth, and clean without any saccharine tendencies. The same thing can be said for any of Watase Yuu’s art style and design, even though I am not really a huge fan of her stories.

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