Is there a standardised English-English (as opposed to English that borrows words willy-nilly from Japanese) term for Shōjo manga (少女マンガ) used when describing it to people not familiar with manga and anime or the Japanese language?
No, there is not a standardised English-English term for Shōjo manga.
- There is a succinct, accurate, and accepted English-only way to describe Shōjo manga in to people not familiar with manga, anime, or the Japanese language.
- There is a standardised term for Shōjo manga but it is comprised of loanwords which were not borrowed "willy-nilly."
How to Describe to Those Unfamiliar with Anime/Manga
Although shoujo can still be used to refer to manga targeted at Japanese female teens and women, the accurate way since the 1990s to describe shoujo manga to those unfamiliar with anime/manga has been a descriptive phrase:
Japanese comics published in magazines that have a target readership of elementary school girls.
Matt Thorn, one of the world's shoujo manga experts and professor in the Faculty of Manga at Kyoto Seika University, acknowledges in his article What Shôjo Manga Are and Are Not:
For most Japanese below the age of fifty, such categories as shôjo ("girls") manga and shônen ("boys'") manga require no definition or clarification. They are as plain as the nose on your face. But to outsiders, it seems, the categories are perplexing, and therefore a little explanation is required. Most people seem to think that shôjo manga are distinguished by certain features of content and style. For example: the eyes are unusually large (even by manga standards); flowers and bubbles are often seen floating in the background; they are romances; or they invariably have a female protagonist. I've seen fans debate these fine points on English-language message boards for ten years or more, and when I intervene and offer my own two cents (based on 15 years of studying shôjo manga, their readers, their creators, their editors, their publishers, and their retailers), participants are usually disappointed. This is probably because, after they have plumbed the depths of style and content ad nauseam, I simply tell them that shôjo manga are manga published in shôjo magazines (as defined by their publishers), and shônen manga are manga published in shônen manga magazines (likewise defined by publishers).
I'm sorry, but that's really all there is to it. Naturally, there will be certain leanings in one genre or the other, since they are geared at different sexes, but just as you will find sci-fi shôjo manga, you will also find romantic shônen manga.
Matt Thorn is not alone in this definition: others well-respected in establishing the global fandom of shoujo content concur, including the following figures:
SHOUJO: Manga or Anime which was originally marketed to girls or ladies. The content is superfluous -- it is the marketing intent, not the content, which determines whether a feature is shoujo or shounen.
Shoujo (girls') is not a genre itself - it's the marketing strategy. Shoujo simply means that the title was originally marketed to a female audience in Japan. Nothing more than that. Shoujo includes its own genres that cannot be found in their original form within the shounen world, including mahou shoujo, shounen ai, yaoi, yuri, and others. . . . It is not even neccessarily work by a specific creator. For example, the beloved team CLAMP is responsible for outstanding examples of shoujo manga and anime, but has also created shounen manga. What's the difference between the shounen manga and the shoujo manga? The shounen series was serialized in a manga magazine aimed at male readers.
What is shoujo? "Shoujo manga" is the term used to classify those manga published in magazines oriented towards girls and young women ^^ This genre encloses a pretty wide variety of genres in itself; the all-famous "magical girl" genre is typical of the shoujo, and so are themes like sport-girls' life, romance, grown-up stories, etc. ^^
- Emiko of Emi-chan's Ribon
Shoujo - Literally, "young girl". It is usually descriptive of a certain genre of comics/manga. Shoujo manga is comics for young girls.
The Standardised English Term
It may sound confusing, but there is a standard English term that was not chosen "willy-nilly." Actually, the standard term is... "shojo manga", which is now a valid English phrase.
Both "shojo" and "manga" are actually English words just as much as "kamikaze" or "skosh" are legitimate words in the English language (that were derived from Japanese words). You can play the word "manga" or pluralize it as "mangas" in the official rules of Scrabble, which are rooted in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Note that the English-language word "manga" has a different meaning from the Japanese word. The Japanese word 「漫画」 (manga) can refer to all comics from any countries/cultures (i.e. including American comics), whereas the English word definition specifies that manga are Japanese comics.
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as:
shojo: A genre of Japanese comics and animated films aimed primarily at a young female audience, typically characterized by an intense focus on personal and romantic relationships
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as:
shojo: manga intended primarily for girls
Both use the spelling "shojo," rather than shoujo or shôjo or shōjo.
Demographics: Who Shoujo Manga is Aimed At
Matt Thorn recounts that
Strictly speaking, the term shôjo manga refers only to those manga geared explicitly at girls below the age of eighteen, but as often as not it is used as I use it in this article, to refer to all female-oriented manga. . . .
Manga magazines geared at adult women also began to appear in the 1980s
[T]he first successful manga targeting adult women were labeled as "ladies' comics," and these comics quickly acquired a stigma that fans of shôjo manga did not want to be associated with. . . . It wasn't really until the 1990s that sophisticated and intellectually stimulating manga for women began to really get a foothold in the manga industry in Japan. . . . [We] call them josei-muke ("woman-oriented") or josei ("women's") manga.
We see here that the term shoujo previously described a wider target age range than it generally does now. Since josei has been the term for women’s manga since the 90s, that addition to the terminology has pushed the general image of shoujo to a younger age range than it encompassed up to and during the emergence of josei. Furthermore, the older the average Japanese grows, the less manga he/she reads (see the “Have the Japanese created genres to meet the interests of those who consume anime and manga (which if I'm not mistaken, is a far larger amount than Americans who consume comics and cartoons)?” part of this answer starting from the “Unlike in many parts of the world…” bullet point for demographic info). As virmaior first noted here in his comment on a deleted answer, magazines for young girls sell more than those for older girls/teens/women, so contemporary shoujo targets younger readers more than older ones.
Evidence that the targeted age range for most shoujo manga is young elementary school age can be taken from:
- the age of the real-life models shown the photos on pages about fashion/hair/make-up or modeling next month’s advertised furoku. In the big three magazines (Ribon, Nakayoshi, and Ciao), they are always preteens.
- the age of the male idol groups featured on pages containing news or interviews with idols -- in the big three these are usually the ones comprised of younger boys such as Ya-Ya-yah and Sexy Zone.
- the type of furoku [freebies] included with magazine issues. In Ribon, Nakayoshi, and Ciao, the bulk of furoku can only be used by little kids: a Japanese high schooler couldn’t be caught dead wearing them. The furoku produced in recent years have increasingly become "kiddie" items.
- the types of commercials that air during shoujo anime. If they are advertising children's sneakers, Barbie-style fashion dolls, and eye drops for swimming at the kiddie pool, you can know the target readership of the manga that this anime was adapted from is young girls rather than teens.
- the fact that only 1) young kid characters, 2) very childish characters, and 3) hardcore otaku characters in anime/manga are ever shown reading a manga magazine. Tsukino Usagi in Sailor Moon and Gouda Takeo in Ore!! Monogatari are shown with manga magazines in their bedrooms, because it shows that these characters have the mental age of an elementary school kid despite being high school freshmen. Manga magazines aren't found in the bedrooms of mature and average teen characters, just as most real-life Japanese teen girls do not read manga.
Pitfalls in Referring to Shoujo Manga as Chick Lit
In キルア's answer and the comments to it, the term "chick flick" is posited as "the closest the average English speaker can get" to an equivalent term. Rather than posting further comment there about his rationale, I will append some cautions for this approach here:
- the slang term "chick" is offensive/disliked by some women who consider it derogatory or disrespectful, whereas the word "shoujo" isn't slang and doesn't bear any negative or controversial connotations.
- the term "chick" refers to women, not usually to young girls, whereas "shoujo" refers to girls rather than to grown woman. Accordingly, chick flicks are targeted more at adult women than they are at young girls, whereas shoujo manga is targeted more at young girls than at adult women.
- the term "chick flick" is not applied to non-Japanese animation targeted at girls (such as My Little Pony, Powerpuff Girls, Dora the Explorer, Ni Hao, Kai-Lan, and Disney Fairies) nor to live-action films targeted at girls (such as Ramona and Beezus, What a Girl Wants, Matilda, Harriet the Spy, The Secret Garden, and the American Girls franchise). If there is a term that describes these, it might be appropriate for shoujo manga.
- the term "chick flick" refers to films. Since shoujo manga is a print medium rather than film, "chick lit" or "chix comix" come closer to it than "chick flick" does.
- American feminist film critic Molly Haskell describes chick flicks as "sing[ing] a different tune" from the "women's pictures" of the 1950s and are "more defiant and upbeat, post-modern and post-feminist." In contrast, shoujo manga is a marketing strategy that has nothing to do with the content of the stories, which encompass every literary genre, and many are not-at-all feminist or post-feminist.
chick flicks are associated heavily with light romance plots. The Cambridge Dictionary defines "chick flick" as "about relationships, love, etc. that attracts mainly women.” Wikipedia says "a film genre mainly dealing with love and romance," "'chick-flick' is typically used only in reference to films that are heavy with emotion or contain themes that are relationship-based," "most films that are considered chick-flicks are lighthearted," and "generally held in popular culture as having formulaic, paint-by-numbers plot lines and characters." While many shoujo manga do feature relationships, there are plenty more which are about anything under the sun other than an angsty young woman in a love triangle. A few examples are the sci-fi classic Terra he... and tons of works written by the venerated Moto Hagio, such as her manga about Siamese twins, her manga about a man trapped in a room as a science experiment, 11nin Iru! (They Were Eleven: a space academy entrance exam mystery), Poo no Ichizoku (The Family of Poe: a serious story about a vampire family), to name only a few. Even shoujo manga stories that include romance can make it take quite a backseat and not figure as a main plot element; for example, Glass no Kamen, Attack No. 1, and Magic Knight Rayearth. These are all a far cry from the best-known staples of chick flicks (i.e. Breakfast at Tiffany's, Bridget Jones Diary, The Notebook, and Twilight).
If we consider "chix comix" as a better substitute than "chick flick," we come to the following problems:
this was a term coined by TokyoPop for their shoujo manga translations but it did not catch on in the industry. Do a Google search for the term and not much comes up.
no one uses this term to refer to non-Japanese girl-targeted comics such as Persepolis, Anya’s Ghost, Castle Waiting, Jem and the Holograms, W.I.T.C.H., Winx Club, Marvel's Barbie, or Disney Princess comics. As some of these are award-winning literature, to call them "chick"-anything sounds not only misleading but rude.
If we consider "chick lit" as a better substitute:
renowned classics of world literature targeted at female readers are not customarily referred to as "chick lit." Shoujo manga includes esteemed award-winning literary classics which deserve the same respect.
- chick lit is a genre that emerged in the late 1990s, whereas shoujo manga has been developing a vast variety of literary genres since the 1950s.
- while "Chick lit typically features a female protagonist whose womanhood is heavily thematized in the plot," the arena of shoujo manga includes many series which do not dwell on the protagonist's womanhood at all and, in fact, there are plenty of titles which feature a male protagonist --- not only the massive corpus of boy's love manga, but even mainstream shoujo titles such as Ore!! Monogatari, D・N・Angel, Tokyo Babylon, and Cowboy Bebop (yes, the Cowboy Bebop manga is shoujo).
- chick lit remains subject to harsh feminist literary criticism as the bulk of its titles feature a white, upper-class protagonist. Shoujo manga's critics and their criticisms are wholly different.
In conclusion, the terms "chick flick" and "chick lit" often evoke connotations that are more harmful than helpful in succinctly and clearly describing what shoujo manga is. "Japanese comics published in magazines that have a target readership of elementary school girls" is admittedly a bit longer rolling off the tongue but is a more neutral way to describe shoujo manga using only English words without the risk of accidentally inserting misrepresentative associations that are untrue of shoujo manga.