You’ve probably heard the term at one point or another. It’s the word “doujinshi”, sometimes it can be shortened to doujin. What does this word exactly mean though? That’s where I come in to happily explain it to you. I had misconceptions about it myself, thinking that it was just a way for people to illustrate pornographic material of their favorite anime characters. With this post, I’m hoping to help clear some misconceptions and maybe get some people interested in it since I was someone who initially didn’t find any value in it until I gave it a try!
Wikitionary defines doujinshi as “A fan-produced work, especially a manga, anime, or video game”. While this is true, I find this definition to be simple and I think I can go deeper so let’s start with that first. The word 同人 (doujin): literally translates to “same person” (the 同 kanji is for “same” and the 人 kanji is for “person”), and refers to a group of people with shared interests. The 誌 (shi) kanji that follows is short for 雑誌 (zasshi), which translates to “magazine”. When you put them all together, we get 同人誌.
“Meiroku Zasshi” is often refered to as the pioneer of doujinshi. This means the earliest display of doujinshi was during the Meiji Era of Japan. The first magazine to publish doujinshi was Garakunta Bunko in 1885. The popularity of doujinshi really started to pick up in the beginning of the Shōwa Period between World War I and World War II. During this time, doujinshi was being published and shared amongst people. However, it was hard to get them as they could only be made by hand. Their popularity declined during the postwar years, but rose again in the 1970s because of photocopy machines. Hooray for technological advancements! Then in the 1980s, there was a shift from doujinshi being mostly original stories to mostly parodies and using characters from current, popular shows to recreate setups and portray different romantic pairings. In the early 90s, doujinshi started being sold at comic book stores and there’s even a doujinshi fair held twice a year (I need to make sure when I go to Japan I go around the time Comiket/コミケット is held).
Doujin vs. Doujinshi
Some people may think doujin and doujinshi are synonymous, but they aren’t. A doujin/同人 is one person or a group of people who share the same hobby, this can refer to all people that have a certain hobby. Most of the time, doujin refers to people with an interest in anime and manga, or the “anime fandom”, but it isn’t exclusive to that. So what do these “same people” do together? Stuff. Stuff like drawing manga, writing stories, making music, etc. Now doujinshi/同人誌 is publication made by a doujin.
In this century, doujinshi is still prominent. As previously stated, Comiket is a doujinshi fair where doujinshi is sold and websites like Melon Books sell them too. Doujinshi was and still is popular in Japan, but this is not the case in western countries. Despite this, reading doujinshi is an enjoyable hobby for many people around the world. Are you like me and want to see what a romantic development between Nozomi and Nico would be like? There’s a doujinshi (actually an entire series) for that. Or maybe an exhilarating adventure featuring Goku, Ichigo and Luffy piques your interest? I don’t know if there is a doujinshi for that since I never looked into it, but considering how big this world is, there’s got to be at least one.
In the west, doujinshi is often used to refer only to pornographic doujinshi. So some people might think that all doujinshi is hentai or that all doujinshi is pornographic, but this isn’t true. In fact, a doujinshi that has pornographic material is called usui hon/薄い本, which translates to “thin book”. They are called that because they tend to have few pages so they are “thin”. On another note, a doujinshi doesn’t have to be a manga. There are doujinshi that are simply illustration books, or visual novels, or music CDs or other creative outlets.
Unlike manga, doujinshi are not serialized and never get reprinted, they’re self-made. This means once they’re sold out, it’s not likely you’ll be able to buy them so you better get ’em while they’re hot! Thanks to technological advancements (hooray again!) there are doujinshi that can be found on the internet. However, most doujinshi are still pretty much gone once the last one gets sold, so if you didn’t buy one when it was for sale, you’ll likely never get to read it.
Before I move on to the next part, I should note doujinshi can be categorized in two ways: Original (オリジナル) and Parody (パロディ). Original doujinshi are works which are not based off any existing manga, anime, video game, or someone else’s brainchild. They are completely original amateur works. A fella makes something and tries to get people interested, either for fun or profit. Cool beans. Parody doujinshi are publications which utilize pre-existing characters and/or settings. A different fella takes someone else’s characters, puts them in different situations and sells it. Also cool beans.
How is any of this legal?
Is probably one of the first questions you’d ask. After all, in America, if someone was to make money by making a comic book using Spider-Man, the legal team of The Avengers would assemble and use their litigious superpowers on them. “Spider-Man is the property of Marvel Comics!” they would say to the nefarious villain. “We won’t let you make profit off of the web-slinger with your crappy writing. That’s what we have Dan Slott for!”. This type of stuff happens all the time in this country. Works using copyrighted/pre-existing characters that obtain profit are squashed like those spiders from the Spider Stompin arcade game. However, in Japan it’s a different story. The official stance is doujinshi does break the law in Japan. That’s right, creating a derivative work of a pre-existing series without prior permission from the copyrights holder is against the law in Japan. Even if you’re in the US, creating a doujinshi based off of a Japanese work would still be considered illegal. So then, why is it allowed? The bottom line is Japanese authors purposefully choose not to prosecute doujinshi authors and there are a number of reasons for this…
1. Doujinshi is where new talent is discovered.
2. There are serialized mangaka who make doujinshi themselves.
3. It’s possible that doujinshi can actually stimulate and strengthen interest in a series, and ergo generate more profit for the official works.
4. Cultural reasons.
5. Doujinshi is considered niche in an already niche form of entertainment.
Doujinshi artists also generally don’t make a lot of money so it doesn’t make much sense to sue them. There are a few like あずまきよひこ (creator of Azumanga Daioh which is a beautiful anime you should watch if you haven’t) who end up becoming professionals, but they’re not the norm. Actually, most of them tend to lose money.
“The vast majority of creators will never get close to earning back even their printing costs, and they know it. When asked about what they liked the most about Comiket, “I can show my work to other people” was the top answer (41,5%), followed by “there’s a festival atmosphere” (21,3%) and “I can meet friends and acquaintances that I normally can’t meet” (13,1). Only 4,2% of circles chose “I can sell a lot of doujinshi there” as Comiket’s primary attraction”.
So it’s obvious most of the doujinshi artists out there do it because it brings them joy and happiness.
I can’t read Japanese!
Unlike your favorite manga, it’s not likely for a doujinshi to get translated or scanlated. Yes, there are some that do, but it’s not on the same level as manga. They seldom receive any attention, and are almost impossible to find or purchase. Since doujinshi’s origin is from a certain East Asian country, naturally, the original language will be in Japanese. Speaking from personal experience, most of the doujinshi I’ve read don’t have furigana/振り仮名 like manga does. Just a quick note for anyone who doesn’t know: furigana is the hiragana above kanji or at the right side of kanji written in a smaller font in an auxiliary line of text. It shows how a particular kanji character is supposed to be read. Doujinshi is one of the reasons I decided to buckle up and learn the remaining kanji I need to know. I can read most of the content of the ones I own, but there are times when I have to look up a certain kanji character to make sure I read it right.
My personal thoughts
Yes, that’s my のぞにこ/NozoNico doujinshi collection. かわいい でしょう? I like to read them whilst playing “My Love Is Hot” by The Cool Notes. I actually have more doujinshi that doesn’t revolve around my OTP, but those are por… anyway, I have a new found appreciation for doujinshi. It’s a recent interest of mine and currently, the only ones I invest my time in are my two yuri ships from Love Live (NozoNico and りこまき/RikoMaki). I will admit there are definitely fantastic writers and illustrations in the doujinshi scene! Even I’m not immune to partaking in it since one of the characters in my story is Seilah (from the anime/manga series Fairy Tail) and it was originally supposed to be a comic book (which I still plan on doing btw). I think doujinshi can be a very good creative outlet for many people. Through this unique and weird medium, people have not only been able to express themselves, but have been able to get indispensable experience and feedback on their drawings and storytelling.