Idols in Japan are a very curious phenomenon. While pop stars in the West depend a lot on their ability to sing, idols are more valued by their appearance of innocence and their charisma, to the point that some literally only appear in magazines smiling. They don’t act, they don’t sing. They are just very pretty and charismatic.
One would think that those kinds of idols are perfect for manga given that, as it’s a silent medium, we can’t hear their voices and be sure that they’re “good” or “bad”, except as an ability informed to us through dialogue or other type of exposition. This is also why we have so many idol anime, because not only can we hear them sing, but those series are an excellent way to promote real idols and see their fan numbers increase.
However, there are some mangakas who rise to the challenge of portraying singing idols in their manga and they’re rewarded with love from the fans. So, to celebrate those mangakas, here are the top ten idols you can find in manga.
10. Chinami from Idol Pretender
- Mangaka: Haruse, Hiroki
- Genres: Comedy, Ecchi, Seinen, Gender Bender
- Volumes: 15
- Published: April 2011 - August 2013
Chinami Eita is a very manly young man. He is very proud of his muscles, of his strength, and of the fact that everyone in the neighborhood fears him. Unfortunately, due to a mixup with his cold medicine, he loses all that overnight and ends up transforming into a very cute and non-threatening girl. The solution is sort of easy: He needs to get money to buy the antidote and the fastest way to get that money and be close to the girl he likes is to become an Idol. And so, he does.
Not only that, he becomes a really good Idol. He soon gets really famous because his attitude is completely different from other, more demure idols. And while he does start acting more like a girl as he spends more time as one—even having some feelings for his best male friend—it’s that start as the cutest girl with the worst attitude what gets him a place on this list.
9. Rurika Kuzushiro from Rising x Rydeen
- Mangaka: Fukuhara, Renji (Art), Hatsumi, Youichi (Story)
- Genres: Action, Comedy, Ecchi, Romance, School, Sci-Fi, Harem, Supernatural
- Volumes: 6
- Published: April 2012 – October 2014
In a world where people with powers are called Strangers, and are recruited to fight against other threats, Rurika Kuzushiro is both an idol and a government Stranger with a very useful power: She can revert anything she touches with her right hand into its condition five minutes in the past. So, if someone rips an important file, she can simply fix it with just a touch. However, she dislikes her power and prefers her life as an idol, being adored by everyone including people on her team.
Rurika’s presence is something to be seen: She can actually turn her “idol aura”—as she calls it—on and off, which allows her to walk among huge crowds without being noticed until the moment she decides to pose. There’s also the fact that she can be seen as very distracted and dumb, she is one of the most talented hackers in the agency, and uses her idol persona to make people underestimate her. Because of all that, she more than earns a place on our list.
8. Minami Takahashi from AKB48 Satsujin Jiken
- Mangaka: Aoyama, Gosho (Story), Gotou, Masaki (Art)
- Genres: Adventure, Comedy, Mystery, Shounen
- Volumes: 1
- Published: July 2012 – September 2012
While most manga idols are completely fictional, Minami Takahashi from AKB48 Satsujin Jiken is a real person. One of the oldest members of the group AKB48, and former captain of "Team A", she is considered as the big sister of the other 47 girls. In this particular manga, where the girls are both the detectives and the suspects on a terrible murder case (Written by none other than Gosho Aoyama, of Detective Conan fame), she lives up to her reputation by trying to protect all the girls that are younger than her.
Now, we know that a real person, in theory, should be a lot more popular than a lot of fictional ones. But the truth is that there are a lot of differences between the real Minami and her manga counterpart, starting with the fact that the real Minami is not a detective as far as we know. She also has a special charisma that made her rise on many popularity polls for the manga, where her unit mates didn't manage to win against other fictional idols, and because of that, she has a place on our list too.
7. Phantom Ace from Code Name wa Sailor V (Sailor V)
- Mangaka: Takeuchi, Naoko
- Genres: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Magic, Romance, Shoujo
- Volumes: 3
- Published: 1991 - 1995
Most of the more popular idols are girls but, from time to time, there are really popular male idols in Japan. One of those is Kaitou Ace, a young idol who also moonlights as a masked hero who at times helps Sailor V against the Dark Agency. Kaito wins everyone’s heart in his first public appearance by showering all the girls in the city with magic that made them thin again after a youma attack fattened everyone, so it isn’t hard to see why he is so popular despite having a very short time to set his reputation.
Kaitou Ace doesn’t have too long to shine. Pretty soon, Sailor V realizes that he is in fact, Danburite, the leader of the Dark Agency and thus the one behind the youma attacks. Even worse, he is the reincarnation of Adonis, a Venus Kingdom soldier who was in love with Princess Venus in the Silver Millennium and, while he manages to make Minako fall in love with him, he realizes that she will never put her own lovelife before her duty just as she lets him die. And with such a tragic end, we couldn't help but put him on the list because he really deserves it.
6. Ryou from Penguin Kakumei (Penguin Revolution)
- Mangaka: Tsukuba, Sakura
- Genres: Comedy, Romance, Shoujo
- Volumes: 7
- Published: August 2004 –December 2007
One of the most difficult parts of the idol life is keeping their private life secret and separate from their idol persona. After all, they need to be perfectly innocent and accessible to the public while keeping some degree of privacy for themselves. We know that, in real life, some idols have been fired for things like smoking in public or having a boyfriend or a girlfriend, so we know agencies mean it when they say that image is everything. Ryo Katsuragi has a very curious way to deal with that: whenever he’s not working, he pretends to be a girl in his school.
While his acting as Ryouko is flawless, he is discovered by Yukari Fujimaru who ends up becoming his manager. And thanks to her, he slowly starts rising in the ranks at the Peacock Agency and in popularity polls. Sure, he has the talent and does the hard work to be better, but Yukari's planning and management also help. Ryo is also charismatic enough that even his "rival" likes him and wants him to succeed, so that's why he places higher on our list.
5. Shinjou Takeru from Teppen!
- Mangaka: Tsukimiya, An
- Genres: Shoujo, Gender Bender
- Volumes: 2
- Published: February 2008 – June 2009
Some singers have a reputation for being difficult and prideful, impossible to work with, and thinking too highly of themselves. At least among other members of the entertainment industry who get to see them when the public doesn’t, and so see them demanding impossible things and behaving like impossible brats. Shinjou Takeru is one of those idols, to the point that his agency decides to get him a partner to soften his image in case the stories about how arrogant Takeru is manage to make their way to the general public.
Now, you may be asking how someone with so many flaws could make it to the list. The reason is Takeru’s new partner, Uehara Kobato. Unknown to the agency, Kobato is a woman who was forced to the audition by Takeru after they bumped into each other on the street. During the audition, Takeru didn’t know Kobato’s gender and, after, he promised to keep her secret despite the agency’s policy of never hiring women. Kobato, little by little, shows us Takeru’s soft side and it’s that soft side what makes Takeru land on the list.
4. Unit Flowers from ½ Love
- Mangaka: Kayoru
- Genres: Romance, Shoujo, Gender Bender
- Volumes: 1
- Published: December 2010 – January 2011
Most entertainment agencies have big groups of idols that they promote as one big group, and then divide them into small units so that certain members have the chance to shine for different fans. Or, if they have two or three clients with good chemistry between them, they put them together. This was the case of Flowers in ½ Love, formed originally by Kaoru and Yuu, who appear to be two gorgeous girls with a lot of talent. But when their manager decides that they need a new member, they are very lucky to get Akari Ochiai. She’s not really trained to be an idol, but she can learn any choreography just by watching it once and, since she’s a fan of the group, she won’t reveal their biggest secret: Both Yuu and Kaoru are actually guys.
While other idols on the list are part of units or duets and still get to the list on their own, it’s really hard to separate Flowers’ individual members as all of them have a great chemistry that is not ruined by a love triangle or a misunderstanding. When the unit wants Akari out to avoid rumors of her dating a “mysterious” guy—actually Yuu out of disguise—, Yuu, Kaoru, and the fans support her. Yuu and Kaoru even go the extra mile and out themselves in a concert so that she doesn’t have to worry about keeping their secret. And it’s because of that unity that the group gets a place on our list.
3. Akami Minaguno from Baby it’s You
- Mangaka: Yoshizumi, Wataru
- Genres: Mystery, Romance, Shoujo, Slice of Life
- Volumes: 1
- Published: March 2006 – July 2007
Akami Minaguno is not an idol known worldwide. In fact, she's just the idol of her high school; to the point that the Takaratsuka club begs her to join for one show in order to keep their record win streak. At first, Akami doesn’t want to do it, but when her crush Fukumachi Tadasu, who is her math teacher and also her volleyball coach, tells her that he’s waiting to see the show, she decides to give her all. This despite her costar Takamura Hikaru being openly hostile to her and a student from a rival school, Imanishi Shouta, following her around at all times. Both, in the end, are trying to get her away from Tadasu, each for their own reasons.
While Baby it's You is a very short story—a one-shot in the PxP only volume—made by Wataru Yoshizumi, it really shows a lot about how an admired student can get into some misunderstandings and find difficulties in love. It becomes a small version of what more famous idols go through in other manga. And Akami is so charismatic and sweet that despite her story being so short, she has managed to get into some popularity polls higher than other manga-only idols (even if she does fall behind many idols whose stories have been adapted to anime series). Because of this, she deserves her place on our list.
2. Urayama from AKB49: Renai Kinshi Jourei
- Mangaka: Miyajima, Reiji
- Genres: Comedy, Music, Romance, School, Shounen, Gender Bender
- Volumes: 29
- Published: August 2010 – January 2016
Urakawa Minori is one of the latest trainee members of AKB48 but some of the other members can’t put their finger on what it is exactly that makes her special. What they don't know is that she is in fact Urayama Minoru, a guy who, after a terrible injury, stopped playing baseball and had mostly given up on any dreams. That is until his crush Yoshinaga Hiroko announced that she wanted to audition for AKB48 and he decided to go and support her as much as he could. Unfortunately, his way to support her included cross-dressing, getting into the audition, and, together with her, winning a place in the trainee group, which could end up endangering her chances if he were to upstage her.
AKB49: Renai Kinshi Jourei was the first manga to showcase the group AKB48 together with some new, fictional members. Urakawa is one of those but, surprisingly, he managed to get a lot of fans. Mostly because, at the end, he is not into the whole idol life for fame or fortune, but to support his love even if he knows that if Hiroko becomes a formal member of AKB48, she won’t be able to date him as long as she is an idol in the public view. And yet, he doesn’t care. And because of that, and his charisma on the stage, he wins his place on this list.
1. Lynn Minmay from Choujikuu Yousai Macross: the First (Super Dimensional Fortress Macross: The First)
- Mangaka: Mikimoto, Haruhiko
- Genres: Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi, Space
- Volumes: 6
- Published: January 2009 – April 2014
For many Western fans, Lynn Minmay was the first idol they met and she made a lasting impression, both in-universe and in real life. As a young aspiring singer and actress, she found herself trapped within the super dimensional fortress with Hikaru Ichigo when the ship made the unfortunate attempt to escape from the Zentraedi invasion and ended up teleporting itself and a huge part of the island where it was stationed into space, and later became more of a celebrity when she won the Miss Macross contest. But it was when her songs helped humans win against their space enemies that her name became legendary for both human and Zentraedi alike.
Despite the fact that she and many other survivors disappeared with the SDF-2, her name still resonates all over the galaxy. She was the girl who ended a war by singing and that keeps inspiring others to try and end conflicts without violence. And her songs My Boyfriend’s a Pilot, Little White Dragon, and, more importantly, Do you Remember Love? Have been covered by almost every single singer we’ve met in the Macross world. And because it’s hard to beat that legendary status, she is the number one idol on this list and the hearts of many fans!
Idols depend on their popularity to remain on top. And the fictional ones have a great advantage over the real ones: they never will grow old, so we can always see them in their prime smiling and dancing on stage.
Which one is your most beloved manga idol? Do you picture how they would sound in your head, or just wait for a future anime adaptation? Are there any in the list that you think should rate higher or lower? Please let us know in the comments below.