In the last half of 2003 a number of action/adventure/horror manga series appealing to both genders debuted to great effect, including Rurouni Kenshin, Naruto, and One Piece from Viz and Trigun, Hellsing, and Berserk from Dark Horse/Digital Manga. But as the first quarter of 2004 approaches its end, it is three new shoujo titles, which appeal primarily, though not exclusively, to female readers, which have made the strongest impression. Chief among them is Fruits Basket, in which an orphaned girl takes up residence in a household of handsome young men who share a family curse-- whenever someone of the opposite sex hugs them, they turn into their zodiac animal!
So far this year Fruits Basket has sold more copies in bookstores than all but two other manga releases (Rurouni Kenshin Vol. 3 and Vol. 2). Funimation Productions released the Fruits Basket anime series long before Tokyopop put out the manga, but so far at least it is the manga series that is the major hit.
Two other shoujo titles debuting in Q1 appear to be following in Fruits Basket's footsteps. Kazuya Minekura's Saiyuki, also from Tokyopop, rocketed into the BookScan Top Ten graphic novel list. Saiyuki is yet another version of the ancient Chinese fantasy tale, Journey to the West, which has provided inspiration for numerous manga and anime series. Minekura's innovation was to make the four main characters of the saga bishounen (literally 'beautiful boy') hotties. A quartet of ultra-cute guys is also behind the success of Viz's Hana-Kimi by Hisaya Nakjo, another title that has rocketed to success in the past month. The success of these new titles indicates that manga boom is still far from over -- and the nature of the subject matter tells us that the female readership for manga titles is as important a presence as it ever was.