Everything, apparently. Something that really bothers me about some anime and manga fans is how often people will dismiss a great series because they didn’t care for its artwork. I feel like this especially happens with shojo, since it tends to be less action-oriented and thus more character-centric (and thus has a reputation for being ‘pretty). Older shojo series in particular tend to be negatively affected by people who refuse to touch anything with ‘ugly’ artwork. Take Boys Over Flowers, for example. The series is a classic, but I’ve seen people say that they dropped the series not because of its plot or characters, but because of its less-than-stylish artwork. Had they stuck with the series they would have realized how much the artwork improves, to the point that most of the characters are quite pretty. Same goes for Itazura na Kiss – although the series started in 1990, the character designs are very much stuck in the 80s, and thus some people have chosen not to give this charming series a chance. Even more contemporary manga like Skip Beat! suffer from this – I once encountered a girl on a forum who although she liked the story chose to drop the series 100 chapters in because she couldn’t stand the art. The only time I’ve ever held a manga’s artwork against it was Honey and Clover, but it still didn’t stop me from at least trying the series out (which I really liked once I did). Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t see why people care about the aesthetics of the manga they read – I’m sure there are lots of people who better appreciate the series they love if they also have great art, especially those readers who create art themselves. It’s just that I’m not the type of person who would ever choose art over plot – because when I read a manga, I’m looking for an engaging plot and unique characters more than pretty pictures.
An early picture of Boys Over Flowers:
Here’s a picture of Boys Over Flowers from near the end of its run:
This works both ways, though. One of the most popular shojo right now (both in America and in Japan) is Vampire Knight. I’ve read the first seven volumes of the manga, but I found Yuki to be a pretty passive heroine, the series wasn’t engrossing enough for me to overlook the slow pace, and none of the characters’ personalities really appealed to me. But it sure has pretty boys. Because Vampire Knight isn’t exactly the best manga, I truly believe it wouldn’t be as popular as it is now if it weren’t for it’s good-looking artwork. Same goes for almost any Arina Tanemura manga. Now, to be fair, there are some people who are completely turned off by Arina Tanemura’s saucer-eyes and sugar-overloaded character designs. However, everytime I’ve heard people sing praises for the author, when they explain why they like her, their number one answer (and sometimes their only answer) is that they like her artwork. I don’t know how good or bad Arina Tanemura is as a storyteller because I’ve never read any of her series, but I have to ask: would she be as popular if her pages weren’t filled with her signature long-haired damsels and frilly dresses? It’s hard to tell.