There’s no denying that Cute Girls Doing Cute Things is one of the most popular genres in anime. Shows focused on adorable groups of girls have a lot of appeal, and many beloved anime like K-On and New Game fit comfortably within this genre. Like many others I’m a fan of CGDCT shows, but there’s something that often goes unadressed when talking about them: the genre is almost entirely the creation of one magazine line, Manga Time Kirara.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Kirara has total control over this genre. Manga from this magazine line make up the vast majority of CGDCT adaptations, and their lineup includes works like Hidamari Sketch, Gochiusa, Kiniro Mosaic, and many other popular anime and manga. So how did this happen? Why is an entire genre dominated entirely by one publisher’s magazine line? And will it always remain that way? Let’s try and answer these questions, starting with a look at the magazine’s history.
Manga Time Kirara started as a special issue of Manga Time, a 4-koma magazine published by Houbunsha. Kirara focused more on cute girls while maintaining the 4-koma format, and it was quickly popular amongst the otaku audience. However it’s important to note that while cute girls were a focus here, the magazine had not yet established all of its current conventions. Male characters were more common, and yuri subtext was hardly as prevalent. This can easily be seen in the recent Sansha Sanyou, an adaptation of an early Kirara manga.
As Kirara quickly became popular, more magazines sprung up that followed the same pattern. Manga Time Kirara Carat arrived shortly after the debut of Manga Time Kirara, followed by Kirara Max, Kirara Forward, and Kirara Miracle. All of these popped up before anime adaptations of their series became common, and by this point they already had a firm hold on the genre in the manga sphere. But back then, CGDCT was hardly the powerhouse of otaku culture that it eventually became. At this time their most popular series included Doujin Work and Hidamari Sketch, and while Hidamari fits their present offerings, I wouldn’t say that Doujin Work does.
Part of what gave Kirara the chance to dominate the genre, other than their early adpotion of it, was their willingness to play with it before finding a successful formula. As I said, their manga didn’t start out as female-only wonderlands with yuri subtext abound. However the manga that did fit that, such as Hidamari Sketch, were very popular, leading to an association of the magazine with those tropes, and thus an increase in those tropes amongst the line’s serialized manga. Houbunsha’s use of multiple magazines allowed for more playing with the formula, such as in the case of Manga Time Kirara Forward, which avoids the 4-koma structure of the other magazines while mostly sticking to the same general tropes, such as in Anne-Happy or Hanayamata.
The line’s dominance only increased as its manga started getting adaptations. Hidamari Sketch was the first of their major adaptations, and it experienced immediate increased popularity. Hidamari was widely beloved amongst otaku communities, and inspired further adaptations from the magazine. Within two years this resulted in the adaptation of K-On, and it’s this that really set the future tone for the line. The one-two punch of K-On and Hidamari definitively set the perception of Kirara as a series of moe magazines focused on cute girls who are friends(and maybe a bit more!) participating in some activity which is tertiary to the actual work, creating the CGDCT genre.
When I say that Kirara created this genre, I don’t mean that they made its first works. Manga like Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star also fit the genre pretty well, and they arrived before Kirara became dominant. Instead, what I mean is that Kirara turned CGDCT from a small collection of works into an actual genre, one with conventions, a history, and a shared cultural idea. Kirara drew from these works and their own early manga to transform CGDCT from a setting into a codified genre.
And this very quickly caught on. Kirara dominating the genre meant little in the manga realm, where it wasn’t that big, but K-On brought in huge numbers, giving Kirara massive amounts of power. Kirara had much more freedom with their increased sales, allowing them to make whatever decisions they wanted. And they’ve certainly done so. At this point we get a Kirara adaptation nearly ever season, and sometimes even more. Even right now there are three adaptations from the line that have been announced. Almost all of the shows from Kirara fit the same formula, and while their execution varies, it’s almost always clear what kind of show it’ll be as soon as it’s announced.
Of course, now that it’s such a big genre, some other publishers are trying to get into it. CGDCT manga have been published in various magazines before, but most notable is Comic Cune, a specific attempt by Kadokawa to get into the same genre space. To be honest, it’s a fairly mediocre magazine, having published stuff like Pan de Peace and Hinako Note, but the attempt to get into a space that was once solely Kirara’s is notable. Houbunsha’s advantage in starting the genre is clear, as it gives them the ability to publish enough stuff in their five magazines that they’re sure to end up with most of the popular series. Still, Cune’s been running strong for two years, so Kirara might not dominate the genre forever.
Ultimately Kirara’s domination of the genre comes from a head start. It’s a bit tiresome knowing that all these shows come from one magazine line, but it’s interesting and worth discussing when talking about moe or CGDCT anime. We’ve seen from shows like Gakkou Gurashi and Urara Meirochou that Kirara is still willing to experiment, so it seems like their success hasn’t resulted in total complacency. I really enjoy their shows, so I hope Kirara keeps putting actual effort into them.