What is Doujinshi? [Definition, Meaning]

You are bound to have heard it at one point or another. It is the word “doujinshi”. Sometimes, it can be shortened to doujin, or improperly spelled as dojinshi. What does this word mean? Doujinshi or 同人誌 is a piece of work, be it manga, art, hentai, or game, that features some sort of well-known character, set of characters, or series, but set slightly in a different time, setting, or set up! The “doujin” (同人) part of the word refers to a similar person, or a person who shares a similar interest with you, while “shi” (誌) refers to some sort of periodical publication.

Doujinshi is made by fans of a series for fans of the series. That is one of the reasons that doujinshi is so popular in Japan. The common misconception is that doujinshi is limited only to manga spinoffs, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In Japan, doujinshi skirts on a strange grey side of the law. Many successful manga artists nowadays have started out selling doujinshi before they made it big and some still do! So sit down, buckle up, and let’s learn about doujin!

It’s a Lot More Than Smut

Doujinshi started sometime around the early Meiji Period. The first magazine to publish, that’s right, doujinshi used to be something that was shared publicly, was called Garaka Bunko and it was founded in 1885. Doujinshi really started to pick up speed though in the beginning of the Showa (Shouwa) Period between World War I and World War II. At this time, doujinshi was being published and shared amongst friends and was considered to be a creative outlet. However, it was hard to get a copy as they could only be produced by hand.

The rise of the photocopy machine in 1970, rapidly changed things. Then in the 1980s, there was a paradigm shift from doujinshi being mostly original stories to mostly parodies and setups of current, popular shows that allowed them to recreate setups either featuring characters that were not as major as the main ones, or different romantic pairings.

Recently, this can be seen in “gaiden” (外伝) where you will see anime get a special episode, usually in the form of an OVA, that tells a side story that is not usually considered canon. Moving on, this, in turn, gave rise to Comiket which almost everyone knows, and it has seen rapid growth since it started in 1975. All of this kept growing and expanding until an incident where managers of a comic book store were arrested for selling doujinshi that depicted underage girls in it.

This is now the part where the law gets a bit fuzzy. Doujinshi can be considered an evolved form of fanfiction in that it is usually created by someone as a parody or alternate setting, whether it be the series or romantic, but that is where fanfiction stops. People in Japan are allowed to bind and even sell their copies to other fans where they make money off of someone else’s creation! The official stance is that doujinshi breaks the law in Japan. It is rare that a writer or creator of a doujinshi will be able to get permission from the actual creator. So then, why is it allowed? There are various hypotheses that exist.

The largest one is that by someone seeing and reading a doujinshi-inspired from an actual series, it will then inspire the person to go and check out the original, thus promoting the sales of the original manga/work. Another theory is that with the sheer power of the internet as well as how large the doujinshi market is, it is next to impossible to shut it all down. The final one is that a finite amount of them are made so it is very controlled. In the end, authorities would be fighting a futile fight.

To answer your curiosity, yes. The common characteristic of doujinshi is to have at least some ecchi, if not a full-blown sex scene or more. This can be your standard heterosexual porn, but BL, Yaoi, Yuri, and even Shoujo-ai are often shown, with BL and Yaoi being quite popular as of recent. However, there are sizable quantities of nonsexual doujinshi and a really big fandom that is not connected to anime perse, but still has a large doujinshi following, is the Touhou series. Its fandom is actually known for making open and friendly doujinshi for Touhou. For some unknown reason, only a very small amount of Touhou doujinshi is actually porn. Let’s take a look at one mega-series that exists and continues to evolve to this day because of doujinshi, and then we will get into a bit more!

Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki

  • Episodes: 6
  • Aired: September 1992 – March 1993

Tenchi Masaki was a homely boy until one day when he accidentally releases a demon who has been sealed for the last 700 years in the shrine behind his house. Turns out that the “demon” is actually a notorious space pirate named Ryoko. She wants the power jewels he has for her own power. She will stop at nothing until… Princess Ayeka of Jurai lands on earth with her sister Sasami. Ryoko suddenly has not only an enemy who wants her subdued and locked up but now a rival in romance?! Tenchi is going to learn some very unique things about his heritage as well as deal with these three alien women plus two more who arrive, who all want his heart.

Tenchi Muyo! was actually created by Masaki Kajishima who used the doujinshi format to not only create and develop the original series, but he has actually used it to evolve it further! That is how we went from only one six episode OVA to Shin Tenchi Muyo, Tenchi in Tokyo, the 2nd and 3rd seasons of Tenchi Muyo Ryo-ohki, the fourth season which makes its debut November 2016, and the spin-off series Tenchi Muyo GXP which features Tenchi’s half-brother.

In fact, Kajishima actually adopts a pseudonym and releases his own original doujinshi through both Comiket as there are two each year. Whether this is an attempt to create more of his series or not, he owns the rights. This makes a very unique doujinshi set up as he is the original creator and the doujinshi artist. We wonder if he does this so that he can see what sells best, and then develop that storyline to make it canon?

Tenchi Muyo; Ryo-Ohki Trailer

What Good Does It Do?

Believe it or not, making doujinshi and dancing dangerously with the law, is actually a good thing. Among other things, just like it was in its conception, it is a very good creative outlet for many people. It also creates fantastic future manga artists. This is where people are able to get real and viable hands on experience that they may not have been otherwise afforded. Doujinshi, also, as we stated above, has been proven to stimulate sales for manga and original series, thus helping the author.

However, there are two standout incidents that need to be noted. Nintendo once pressed charges against a doujinshi artist for making a Pokemon doujinshi that had a sex scene in it. Then later, another doujinshi author was threatened by the creator of the Doraemon series for making a doujinshi based on the popular children’s series. So, while it may dance with the law, it does not necessarily give you immunity from the law.

Haibane Renmei

  • Episodes: 13
  • Aired: October 2002 – December 2002

Rakka wakes up one day and all she can feel is that she was falling? She is now in the world of Haibane, a world filled with small girls who have charcoal colored wings on their backs. She lives in Grie, a small town where other Haibane are who lack halos. Haibane actually live inside of a system of walls and are forbidden to go outside. Only “Toga” are allowed to come in.

In fact, not only must they stay inside the walls, much information is withheld from them. The end-goal though is to have a day of flight where they take off. Should they fail on their day of flight, they are cursed and become “Sin-bound.” Rakka struggles now to find herself in this metaphorical purgatory of a world and hopefully take flight one day…

Haibane Renmei was created by Yoshitoshi Abe who is a graphic designer. He smashed his debut when his doujinshi Texhnolyze and Serial Experiments Lain, both fantastic anime, were selected to go straight from doujinshi, to anime. However, due to the massive plot holes within Haibane Renmei as well as his unwillingness to want to do anything with the series after it was done, he began releasing doujinshi for it and other doujinshi as well.

It really does go full circle with him as all of his anime started as doujinshi, were made then into anime, and then he has released some doujinshi later. If you are interested in an anime that has no concrete resolution and a very open ending leaving you to speculate, check out the trailer below!

Haibane Renmei Trailer

Other Major Doujinshi Creators & Their Works

The final section does not have an anime to recommend for you due to the fact that there are so many out there. The two that were listed above however, are still probably two of the most significant doujinshi-born series. Let’s look at some other creators under the doujinshi umbrella.

CLAMP. The people who gave life to Cardcaptor Sakura, X, RG Veda, Magic Knight Rayearth, xxxHolic, and Tsubasa Chronicles. They have been around since the late 80s and RG Veda, while not super well known was actually their original Doujinshi that they made on their own. Originally, CLAMP produced Yaoi doujinshi of Saint Seiya, and doujinshi for Captain Tsubasa. Members have come and go and currently there are four members within this circle, aka group, of doujin creators.

07th Expansion. 07th is actually unique to this article in that they do games. They have created one of the most psychologically terrifying series that many know as Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni. Originally conceived as a game, it exploded in popularity. Another well-known series that is equally frustrating, is Umineko no Naku koro ni. We never do know what happens, but it is still interesting nonetheless!

Minami Ozaki. Minami is another major figure within the doujinshi area, but she actually got her start as a doujinshi writer creating yaoi doujinshi inspired from Captain Tsubasa. She later went on to make her debut and create the great classic Zetsuai which was also adapted into an anime. She still does release doujinshi and is active in various yaoi doujinshi circles.

Yana Toboso. Yana is another creator who has a massive series under her belt: Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler). Kuroshitsuji is a very popular series that most anyone can enjoy. Due to her activities in Yaoi doujinshi circles before actually writing the series, there are large BL-esque moments in the series that the viewers can feel. However, she still continues to be active as well to this day with releases.

Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma ½, Inuyasha, Kyoukai no Rinne), Hajime Ueda (Q.Ko-chan, FLCL manga), and Kazuhiko Katou (Lupin III), among countless others, also all got their start as doujinshi artists. So, for those who want to produce something immediately and have the talent, rather than going to school, even though some do anyway, producing doujinshi will give them real, hands-on experience.

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Final Thoughts

Doujinshi is weird in that it is similar to fanfiction and technically illegal, but there is nothing stopping it since it does more good than harm. Through this unique medium, people have not only been able to express themselves, as well as get valuable experience and feedback on their drawing and storytelling skills but also doujinshi has been able to give life to anime that millions of people have seen without them even realizing it!

Will doujinshi be stopped one day? Probably not. It is just too big to do that. The government may put up some regulatory system, as there are whispers of it happening, but that will most likely require a major scandal or something that puts doujinshi back into the mouths of everyone since Japan usually has a “let sleeping dogs lie” approach to these sorts of things. What is your favorite doujinshi? Let us know in the comments below!

Tenchi-Muyo-dvd-300x423 What is Doujinshi? [Definition, Meaning]


Author: Nagareboshi

American by birth; international by choice. I am trying to bring attention to one of my favorite causes; me. I translate by day and write by night. Aspiring polyglot. My dream would be to be the personal translator for Amuro Namie. Other than that, my hobbies include languages, weightlifting, sleeping, karaoke, GOOD coffee and music. When I’m not doing any of the above, I am most likely laughing hysterically at Willam Belli videos or EV farming. I ain’t gunna Rupologize for it neither. Waifu are Shirai Kuroko & Euaerin.

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