The Manga Tarot
by Selena Lin and Gilly Smith
The packaging for this tarot immediately says "girly!" The lid of the pink and lavender box opens with a ribbon, revealing a slim booklet, and the whole top portion of the box twists neatly to one side to display the cards, nestled securely in two wells. It is a sturdy, but fun, affair, designed to be used and adored by girls, teens, and young women.
But, "girly" doesn't necessarily mean powder-puff or fluff. This tarot is based on shojo (or shoujo) manga, a genre of Japanese graphic novel most appealing to girls and women for its uniquely feminine treatment of social issues and romance. Rather than focus on action or adventure, shojo manga tends to delve into the significance of relationship and human experience, providing a depth not typical of comics. Main characters are usually girls who exhibit strength and independence.
The Manga Tarot
as a whole also focuses on relationships, whether they are with boyfriends, female friends, families, the world, the self, or deity / spirit. It also offers empowering messages to girls, and teaches a sense of responsibility, to self and others. The positive self-esteem that might be encouraged in shojo manga is evident here in these cards and book as well.
The cards themselves are very pretty. figures are depicted with large, jewel-colored eyes; sweet faces; and thin, delicate bodies. There is a sense of ethereal happiness to most of the cards - Death, The Devil, and The Tower do not have quite the same airiness, but it seems care was taken to keep even these three from looking too dark. The fun, innocent sensuality also has appeal.
Pip cards are not illustrated with full scenes, so beginning readers will really need to rely upon the meanings in the booklet. Written by Gilly Smith, the booklet begins with a few tired assertions - that tarot is 5,000 years old and was first used by Gypsies, for example. Fortunately, most of the booklet is well written and presents tarot as a useful tool for self-discovery and personal growth. There is a subtle feeling of instruction, or guidance, throughout - drawing a certain card might mean a girl should reconsider how she is treating her friends, or might indicate a need to pay more attention to an aging relative. These are not overly didactic messages, but gentle reminders that might be of true relevance. Also interesting (and enjoyable) is a focus on Asian spiritual tradition. There are repeated mentions of reincarnation, Buddha, yin-yang, and other Asian concepts or practices. Other religious belief is touched on - an allusion to Jesus for example, and the set does feel inclusive.
My own readings with this deck have been fun, and it has been interesting to see the depth that even such lighthearted cards can exhibit when laid out in a full spread. It demonstrates how this popular medium can be of true personal value to the girls and other young people the deck was designed for.
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Card artwork by Selena Lin
Illumination Tarot has been publishing articles, reviews, tarot spreads, and personal reflections for tarot enthusiasts and followers of alternative spirituality online since 1999.
All writing and photography © N Levine - Illumination Tarot, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2021